Escape to reality

5.5 mins read

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day!

Heruka and VajrayoginiThere were a thousand people at the recent Kadampa Buddhist Festival in Mexico, all receiving Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments and commentary. There will be several thousand more attending Heruka and Vajrayogini empowerments this Summer in England. This may be just the beginning. And, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think this development might indicate a coming paradigm shift for much of modern humanity. 😁

In my defense …. there’s loads of hyperbole around these days anyway, only most of it is painting the picture of a dystopian future for us all. There are many articles around, such as this one, bemoaning the moral decay of civilization and politics, the rise of nationalism and “strong men”, the destruction of our planet, and more. And the more of this stuff I read, the more I feel that Buddhism can help in these times, that Tantra gives us mighty tools for helping.

Carrying on from this article.

Point is, there is no inherently existent world. There is no fixed future – the future doesn’t even exist, all we have is our thoughts and imaginations about the future. These can change. We need to choose what we focus on – so that we can bring that out of ourselves and others.

futureIn this article, a guest author talks about how wisdom and compassion are needed in modern society to bring about the real shift that is necessary to empower us all.

Tantra is the embodiment of that wisdom and compassion, it gives it vision and life. A paradigm shift is defined as:

An important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.

If there are thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of human beings practicing Buddhist Tantra, the world has no choice but to change for the better. And we seem to be heading in that direction.

I don’t think for a moment that 7 billion human beings are about to become Buddhist, let alone start practicing Tantra, in the next few years. But I do think that millions may, and, given that the wisdom of Tantra tears down the illusions of samsara and builds Pure Lands in the here and now, this will surely make the biggest impact not just on them but on everyone around them.

paradigm shift

There are good people everywhere with big hearts, in all faiths and walks of life — beautiful people making a difference. As Tantric practitioners, we can help them.

Escape to reality

Buddhist Tantra is far from escapist, far from make-believe. At the moment we are hallucinating ourselves, the world, and everything and everyone else – projecting a “real” world outside the mind and then reacting as if it was actually there. Samsara is the make-believe. Tantra sees through the hallucinations. It escapes TO reality, rather than from reality.

So, I’d like to continue sharing ways I make Tantra practical.

Let’s say we have now generated ourselves as Heruka or Vajrayogini in the way described in this article — using as our basis of imputation to begin with a positive mind that is not hard for us to generate. If we are in our meditation session, this is now our jumping off point for going deep.

Then what do we do?

Well, one thing I like to do after thinking “I am Vajrayogini” is to check what’s happening in my mind, like if there are any delusions coming up. Then I find it incredibly helpful to deal with those delusions in the space of bliss and emptiness.

In Sutra we are taught not to dwell on our faults nor identify with them, and in Tantra we take this to its logical conclusion and do it in a supercharged way. Check out this section from How to Solve Our Human Problems:

Normally our need to escape from unpleasant feelings is so urgent that we do not give ourself the time to discover where these feelings actually come from. …. In reality, the painful feelings that arise on such occasions are not intolerable. They are only feelings, a few moments of bad weather in the mind, with no power to cause us any lasting harm… Just as there is room in the sky for a thunderstorm, so there is room in the vast space of our mind for a few painful feelings.

That’s just from a Sutra point of view. If we apply this to Tantra and understand that the space or sky of the mind is bliss and emptiness, then our bad weather delusions become utterly manageable, even if they feel really painful.

clouds 3

So, for example, rather than grappling with attachment or anger like a dog with a bone, we self-generate first and then look at those unpleasant feelings that are arising like clouds. Is it possible to have some unhappy feelings and be happy at the same time?! Yes, providing we are not identifying “Me” with those cloud-like feelings but instead with the blissful, spacious sky.

Painful feelings can only arise and remain in our mind because of our present self-grasping … we strongly feel “I am hurt” or “MY feelings are hurt.” The intensity of our suffering is in direct proportion to the intensity of our self-grasping.

So, if we look at our delusions from our perspective of being bliss and emptiness, they can seem weirdly fascinating, but we are neither threatened nor scared by them. We are not bogged down by them. We are not them. We have the space to look at them and understand how to work with them, and then it is easy to apply any antidote of Sutra and Tantra — all within that context of being very light and free and confident.

light and free and confidentWhatever painful feelings arise, we can see that they’re not able to harm us in any way, any more than weather can destroy the sky; and, sooner or later we’ll see that they are just aspects of clear light.

Here is a profound paragraph in The New Guide to Dakini Land that will help us let it all go:

First we should know that in ultimate truth there are no impure things, no samsara, no suffering, and no mistaken appearance; everything is completely pure in the nature of definitive Heruka, emptiness inseparable from the clear light of bliss. Impure things are only the creation of the ignorance of self-grasping and therefore actually do not exist.

Over to you.

Related articles

Getting perspective on hurt feelings

Change our thoughts, liberate ourselves

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day 

How to lighten up

8 mins read + a video

meditator

Non-attachment, or renunciation, is a really light and happy mind. Sure, we have to contemplate unpopular subjects like death and misery to arrive at it, but this is bringing us into touch with reality and we are always more peaceful when we are less deluded.

We have to want to develop renunciation and, given that it does involve contemplations that may initially seem scary, it may not be obvious to us why. Surely this is just going to be ruining our fun?!

But it’s the opposite. Buddha is not saying don’t enjoy yourself – he is suggesting that we can enjoy ourselves a great deal more. I hope in this article to help persuade at least some of you that renunciation is not only kind of essential, but also a very inspiring mind to have. You’re gonna love it.

There are two parts to developing renunciation, it seems to me. One is contemplating the sufferings of samsara, including those of our countless past and future lives, so that we understand our true predicament and want out. Then to seal the deal we contemplate that samsara’s pleasures are really not worth sticking around for (as explained already here), so what do you think is keeping us here?!

What is renunciation, again?!

escape-from-prisonLike Buddha and all the other teachers before him, Geshe Kelsang is always saying that renunciation is not wanting to get away from family or our job, etc. That is more likely to be aversion! Nor are we going for the sackcloth and ashes.

Renunciation is not a wish to abandon our family, friends, home, job and so forth, and become like a beggar; rather, it is a mind that functions to stop attachment to worldly pleasures and that seeks liberation from contaminated rebirth. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Within this quote seems to be the 2-part contemplation I mention above – (1) seeking liberation from contaminated rebirth (the endless cycle of sufferings that come from misidentifying ourselves with a meaty body and deluded mind) and (2) stopping attachment to worldly pleasures.

So, first we need to understand our existential situation — how, if we are a samsaric being, we have no choice but to experience sickness, ageing, death, birth again, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, and general dissatisfaction.

Overpowered by attachment to a body?! Try this.

eye ballsThere is even one meditation, not for the faint-hearted, where we imagine the 32 impure substances that constitute our own and/or someone else’s body are separated out into piles (or buckets if that makes less mess 😁) — one for the intestines, one for the skin, one for the pus, one for the fingernails. Etc. etc. Then we can ask ourselves the question, as Bodhisattva Shantideva does:

What exactly is it that I am so attached to?

The purpose of this strong meditation (or medication!) is not to develop aversion for meaty bodies, as you may think, because aversion is a delusion. It is to balance out the exaggerated attachment we have for them so that we develop non-attachment or renunciation. For example, if we can’t stop fantasizing about someone’s incredible eyes:

Us: I love your eyes!
Them: Here, have one.

If we don’t have inappropriate attention obsessing on how gorgeous and desirable our own or others’ bodies are, and in fact are aware that they are true sufferings, we don’t need a corrective; but if you’re suffering from unmitigated attachment why not give it a go!

It also helps our love and compassion to know that people are having to wander around in these, and that they are thinking, “This is me”, when it actually isn’t; and is it any wonder that we all get sick and decay? The video in this article is a humorous look at that.

Our body is useful but unreliable

We need a human body to make spiritual progress, to house our human mind; but in itself it is a true suffering. We can use any minor shocks we may experience to bring home how treacherous our body is, how eventually it will let us down despite the decades of lavish care, feeding, and cleaning.

I’ll go first … talking of eyes, I was at the optician yesterday, and she took a routine photograph.

“Hmmm,”, she said, pointing out a couple of marks on the back of my eye on the photo. “Looks like you have a freckle here. Or it could be a melanoma.”

“A melaWHAT?” I silently screamed.

“You can come in again later for another test, or I can just do it now?”

“Ermm, now.”

So I had the test. What happens, I asked her, if I have a melanoma? Radiation straight into my eyeball, apparently.

She sent me off to choose some frames for the next twenty minutes while we waited for my eyes to dilate. I spent a ton of money because, hey, I was going to be dead soon. Excellent marketing.

Then she examined me, and said the sweetest words I have heard in a long time, “This all looks fine! It is just a freckle.”

human-life-stagesBut I have been thinking about this since, because that unpleasant feeling of anxiety or fear is common to all of us and I have had a chance to empathize. Even today some dear friends heard horrible news from their doctor. It is only a matter of time before something does go seriously wrong with these lumps of meat. We are all in this together and need to help each other get out.

It’s not just our body – our mind itches or hurts from the delusions as well.

Buddha explained other sufferings as well, such as uncertainty, no companionship, loss of status, and so on. Check out Joyful Path of Good Fortune. Whichever way we cut it, suffering pervades our samsara. That’s ok, providing we know it and are not futilely trying to make it work.

That’s not all folks …

These manifest sufferings are all bad enough in this life, but the truth is they have been going on for countless lives. We need to get our heads around that. Check out this teaching by Gen Losang to help you do just that:

 

As Geshe Kelsang says:

In every single life, I have experienced the sufferings of sickness, ageing, death, being separated from those I love and being unable to fulfil my wishes. If I do not attain permanent liberation from suffering now, I will have to experience these sufferings again and again in countless future lives. ~ How to Transform Your Life

We sort of have non-attachment already for manifest pain, at least that of this life. We may already think, like this author does, that in our current world craziness it is “time to unplug and escape this nightmare that we are living in” – only for him this means just unplugging Facebook and Twitter and moving to the countryside with a dog.

Tempting to join him, maybe, but we don’t know the extent of it, the beginninglessness and endlessness of it, so we assume we can muddle through or ignore it. We have forgotten all our countless dissatisfactory and painful previous lives, however important they felt at the time. We will be dead within a few hundred months or sooner, when this life will be no more than a forgotten dream as well.

elephant stuck in mud

So, Buddha first shakes us out of this complacency with all the talk on the suffering of all our lives until we agree, “Yes, I want out. I really want out.” We need that power in the mind, or else samsara will exert a constant gravitational pull — we’ll never get out. As Geshe Kelsang says:

Just as a bird cannot fly if it has stones tied to its legs, so we cannot make progress on the spiritual path if we are tightly tied down by the chains of attachment. ~ How to Transform Your Life

The very bearable lightness of being

The fact is that with relatively minimal effort compared with all the effort we have been putting into samsara since beginningless time, we can attain liberation.

It may seem counterintuitive, but we do ourselves a big favor and lead a lighter life if we can remember our precious human life and death every day. It also really helps us to lighten up by remembering that the past has gone … and to put a boundary around today.  

I sometimes find it helps to think that my past is being rubbed out by the second with a giant eraser that is following me around. All appearances or hallucinations are being erased pretty much the moment they arise. All that continues day to day, and life to life, is our very subtle mind and karmic potentials (which are also, however, changing moment by moment).

jump for joyAnd, as mentioned, we don’t need to worry that renunciation will be a scary or a sad mind. Quite the opposite is true. The peace and contentment of non-attachment or renunciation is not just a “non” mind, but a positive mind that opposes the stickiness of our attachment (attachment is translated from the Tibetan “do chag”, which literally means “sticky desire”). Non-attachment is light and happy, and enjoys everything, and even desires good things; but without all that heavy grasping. Being peaceful and non-graspy feels so great. The expectation, insecurity, anxiety, selfishness, small-mindedness, self-doubt, and disappointment have gone.

Renunciation or non-attachment also sets us up for the happiness of love and compassion. If we are bogged down in the swamp of samsara ourselves, like an elephant stuck in mud, how are we going to pull others out? But when we start to see through the illusion of samsara, we develop a strong desire to help others do the same.

It also sets us up for the joy of wisdom as we are no longer attached to hallucinations, to inherently existent things, to things mistakenly perceived to be outside of our mind.

And it sets us up for the bliss of Tantra, including the ability to transform our enjoyments into open-ended bliss. We still have non-sticky desire and we still have passion, but these are now delivering the goods.

Also, it is far more scary not to move our mind in this direction, for then we are trapped forever. And forever is a very long time.

What do I do with this renunciation once I’ve got it?

June 8 meaning of lifeOne thing it is worth knowing is that every action we do with renunciation, however seemingly insignificant, even if it is just brushing our teeth, is an actual path out of samsara. On the other hand, without renunciation, even our most hard-working virtuous actions just lead us to the contaminated pleasures of samsara.

Then we can do lots of things such as practicing moral discipline, concentration, and especially wisdom. Plus, we have now a stable foundation for our compassion – in fact we’re aiming for the mind that is a combination of renunciation and compassion.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, we will feel peaceful and contented, and thus enjoy everything, whatever it is we are doing!

So, in developing renunciation we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Second half of this twofold meditation on renunciation coming up soon. Meanwhile, please leave your comments below.

 

Practicing Tantra is not as hard as you may think

8.5 mins read

As promised in the last article on Tantra, I’m now going to share a little of what I like to do on a daily basis. Please don’t take my word for any of what I’m about to say – once you have your empowerments (next opportunity is in England this Summer), you need to read the commentary to the practice, The New Guide to Dakini Land, yourselves! But in the hopes that some of this might help some of you, here goes …

VajrayoginiYes, as I said here, in general we self-generate as Vajrayogini (and/or Heruka) in dependence upon renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom. We can deepen our familiarity with this over time – getting a feeling for how transcendent it is to be a Buddha, so that we can come back to this when we forget.

But … we don’t have to wait to perfect all these minds before we practice self-generation or every time we practice self-generation. Self-generation need not always be the culmination of all our other meditations — it can also function as a jumping off point. (As I explained here, it can be useful to meditate backwards … )

So, whether I am about to meditate on the stages of the path (Lamrim) or on Tantra, I jump straight in as Vajrayogini. I base this self-generation on renunciation, bodhichitta, feeling the Spiritual Guide in my heart, compassion for someone, or anything else — whatever you love about Dharma, start there. I don’t think it really matters which positive mind we start with — you can evoke some familiar happy mind, starting where you are, as it were (explained more here). And then use that as your basis for thinking, “This is me; I’m Vajrayogini”.

Blissings

happy mindI find that instantly the blessings are there, the positive mind becomes far more powerful, and I’m in flow. (It works even better if I think, “I am Guru Vajrayogini”, that is, one with my Spiritual Guide.)

Whenever our mind is peaceful, we are already connected to Guru Buddha’s blessings. So it’s not that much of a stretch to impute ourselves on that.

Blessings lift our awareness and make us happy, and believing we are a Buddha is a quick way to get them. It’s hard sometimes these days to stay peaceful and positive for even an hour without feeling tuned into some kind of blessings. As it says in Essence of Vajrayana:

In these impure times it is only through receiving the blessings of the enlightened beings that we can maintain the mental peace that is the root of our daily happiness.

Then, for example, if I want to meditate on love or compassion, it is within that context that I go on to deepen this. It is not that I am clinging tightly to “I am Vajrayogini, I am Vajrayogini” so much as not approaching my meditation as an ordinary, limited being, with an unbridgeable gap between a rigid immovable unloving state of mind and the blissful fluid universal love I am aiming for.

jump for joy 2In that space that opens up, in that flow of blessings, there is so much more room for Dharma minds, all Dharma minds; and then it’s much easier to gain deep, blissful, sustained feelings for all the Lamrim and Tantra.

If instead we are supposing, “I have to work myself up to generating myself as Vajrayogini — I have to have perfect renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom, not to mention get through every practice in the sadhana, before I can authentically be Vajrayogini,” then I think we rarely get there. We probably never even get started, to be honest.

I am a great believer in finding time for a daily Tantric sadhana, btw, long or short depending on time and inclination, and especially in spending quality time dissolving everything into the clear light. But there’s a reason why most sadhanas start with instantaneous self-generation.

Switching channels

As Buddha said:

All phenomena are mere name.

We are not inherently anybody or anything — there is no self to be found behind the name or label. And names have power. “I am Luna” brings up various associations, for example, that free me up to write this blog. “I am mere appearance not other than the emptiness of all phenomena” sets me free. “I am Vajrayogini” brings up enormously positive, light, and blissful connotations.

As soon as we think, “I am Vajrayogini,” then the basis of imputation for ourselves has changed because we have changed the imputed object.

VajradharaFor example, I was asking a monk called Chodor, whose name means “Vajradhara”, if he felt different when he was given that name. “Yes”, he said, “Instantly”. The moment he got his new name he felt a shift. This didn’t mean that he was real Vajradhara — rather that the space and possibility and connotation opened up so that he could flow toward being Vajradhara rather than struggling for many years with no Vajradhara qualities.

Tantra is about bringing the result into the path, so there’s no way around it; we jump in.

I would submit we jump in as often as possible, both in and out of meditation. Switch from the Samsara channel to the Pure Land channel. And then ignore the temptation to switch back just in case we might be missing something — we’re not. There’s nothing on at all.

Changing the trajectory of our lives

We have to change the narrative of who we are if we are to overcome the inertia to escape from samsara. That is, we cannot keep identifying ourselves as an ordinary samsaric being and then expect to ever be a pure being.

Normally we abide with the self we normally perceive – impoverished, exhausted, isolated, deprived, insecure, in pain, worried, overwhelmed, stressed, bitter, or angry (just for starters) … and we cherish this self and protect it at all costs. All our thoughts are wrapped around this self, off in the hallucination

narrative of samsara

That’s enough – we need to think, “I don’t want to do this anymore!” We cannot make samsara work. It’s always frustrating – every step we take gives rise to some inconvenience. We’re so used to it, we think it is normal. A mildly disturbing day is seen as a “good day.” Self-grasping disturbs our inner peace all the time. Even our happiness is inadequate, a changing suffering. We do not want to fully accept that samsara is miserable so we tend to be ½ in and ½ out. We need to leave samsara, also, so we know how to get other people out of it.

We need to switch channels. We need to go to the Pure Land and stay there.

We need vision

There is a question posed in the Tantras that we answer on the occasion of receiving empowerments:

Who are you and what do you seek?

This shows the need for bringing the result into the path, identifying right now with who we want to be and what we really want out of life. This is based on the wisdom understanding that we are not inherently anyone and so can be anyone (as explained more here)

It is worth really thinking through each day who we want to be and what we really want. Everything depends on this – what we do all day, what delusions we have or don’t have. Samsara doesn’t deliver the goods. Wouldn’t it be incredible to have renunciation, bodhichitta, wisdom, and spontaneous great bliss instead?

The answer we give on this occasion is:

I am a fortunate one seeking great bliss.

A “fortunate one” (in Tibetan “Kelsang”) means a Bodhisattva. So, we are identifying with – or thinking “I AM” — a Bodhisattva seeking the great bliss that is the quick path to enlightenment.

Please note that the answer is not: “I am a hopelessly inadequate one seeking some vague sense of peace if at all possible, though knowing my luck it probably isn’t …”

We need that divine pride, that self-confidence, if we are to conquer our discouragement and other delusions – we have to feel stronger than them or they will continue to trample on us.

samsaric lifeOn this point, next time you have a delusion, check who you think you are at that time and as a result what you think you need. Chances are you are identifying with being an ordinary being in samsara who really needs things like jobs, money, relationships, and reputation to go well. For example, “I can’t be happy if I’m not coupled up; I’ll just be lonely my whole life!” Or “I need to accomplish something in my career or I’m just a failure!” Or the guilty, “I’m such a good for nothing son/partner/parent/person.” Or thinking we actually are this meaty body, “I’m so fat and ugly and getting stiffer every year!” etc, etc.

If we are identifying as Vajrayogini or Heruka, with built-in renunciation, compassion, and wisdom, these concerns are no longer an issue and so we drop our delusions with respect to them. We love everyone and are surrounded by Dakas and Dakinis, so there is no basis for loneliness. Far from being a failure, we are spontaneously benefiting all living beings. Far from being fat, ugly, or uncomfortable, we are blissful Deities made of wisdom light, transcending samsara and lifting everyone else out as well. And so on. Switch channels from ordinariness to pure view … and see why Buddha has always wanted to introduce us to this incredible spiritual technology.

Dakas and DakinisAs the Tantric Master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso puts it:

When we cling to being an ordinary person, thinking “I am Peter”, “I am Sarah”, etc, we are developing ordinary conceptions. Because we cling to an ordinary identity, if someone attacks us we feel fear, or if we run out of money we become anxious. If instead of clinging to an ordinary identity we were to overcome ordinary conceptions by developing the divine pride of being Heruka or Vajrayogini, we would not develop fear, anxiety, or any other negative state of mind. How can anyone harm Heruka? How can Vajrayogini run out of money?  ~ Tantric Grounds and Paths page 14.

More coming up soon on how Tantra helps us to destroy our everyday delusions. Meantime I hope you’re enjoying these articles and, if you don’t have them already, might be inspired to receive empowerments soon … 😇❤️😊

Itchy feet, itchy mind

I was just thinking about Puerto Rico earlier, much of which, almost 7 months on, is still without power. I have good friends there who have built a beautiful retreat center in the rainforest, you can visit there if you like, it is so conducive to going deep in meditation. I was sort of planning to go back last Christmas but Hurricane Maria had other ideas.casa-kadam

Carrying on from this article on refuge.

Anyway, I was thinking that if you’re in Puerto Rico right now, you probably really want a shower. And if you got in the shower, and got all clean and fresh and cooled down, it’d feel just great, wouldn’t it? So it’d be great if everyone in Puerto Rico could have a shower; if they could have everything they need right now.

Indeed, it would be wonderful if everyone could have whatever they need, whenever they need it, especially shelter, food, and medicines. These are necessities for human beings’ basic survival, and worth striving for.

But are they enough? No, not if we want real or lasting happiness and freedom. For we can also recognize that if the Puerto Rican was to stay in that shower for more than about an hour, he would start suffering again.

While we’re in the shower it can feel fantastic, can’t it?, especially if we haven’t showered for a while. So we assume that a shower is an actual source of happiness. But if it was an actual source of happiness, then the longer we stayed in the shower the happier we’d become. After 3 hours in the shower, we’d be so blissed out it’d be crazy. But as it is, even the person in PR just can’t wait to get out of that shower. It becomes like a torture, doesn’t it?

shower

If someone just came along and locked you in the sauna because you’re loving it so much, it would not be long before you were hammering at the door, “Have mercy, let me out!” I rest my case.

What are true causes of happiness?

The great Indian Buddhist master called Aryadeva says in Treatise of Four Hundred Verses:

Although it can be seen that the increase of happiness is destroyed by its cause, it can never be seen that the increase of suffering is destroyed by its cause.

This is only fair: If something is an actual cause of something, then it has to produce that effect every time. If someone hits us on the thumb with a hammer, we’re gonna say, “Ouch!” If they keep hitting us on the thumb with a hammer, that pain is only going to grow – it is not going to turn into happiness. This means that it is an actual cause of suffering.

However, when we increase the cause of any worldly happiness, instead of feeling better and better we instead start to feel pain (to experiment, try eating the whole can of Pringles or having sex for 24 hours straight).overreating

If we enjoy eating food, our pleasure may increase as we eat the first few mouthfuls, but if we continue to eat more and more, our pleasure will turn into pain. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune

That’s what happens with food, isn’t it? The first few mouthfuls of that doughnut are always the best, aren’t they? And at some point we push away the box and say, “No! No more.” If we had to keep eating them, if we had to eat 10 doughnuts, our pleasure would decidedly morph into pain. We pull faces when we see people in those overeating competitions, it’s almost frightening. This means that eating doughnuts or hot dogs is not a real cause of happiness because if it was it could not cause suffering.

Which pleasures are overrated?

The point about worldly or external pleasures is that they are all changing sufferings, meaning that sooner or later they ALL turn into pain, every single one of them. Every single worldly pleasure, every “temporary refuge” if you like, turns into pain unless we stop in time. Try and think of one that doesn’t.

This is like Buddha’s challenge to us – find something outside the mind that is always going to make us happy, and that the more we have of it the happier we’re going to get. If you can think of that thing, you’re going to get very rich. No one has invented it yet. It can’t be invented because this is not where happiness or refuge come from. fleeting pleasure

I read a survey recently on “Which pleasures are overrated?” The replies included the usual suspects – partying, drugs, sports, food, drinking beer, etc. Respondents also mentioned kids, spouses, jobs, and traveling. And one or two wise folks replied, “any fleeting pleasures”. But the fact is that all external enjoyments are overrated.

My neighbor has been playing Candy Crush saga since we got on this flight. (So now I know who is playing that game!) Her nosy neighbor (me) sees that she has reached level 274! That’s got to be good, right?! She doesn’t seem that ecstatic though. No resting on laurels here. A glancing smile, perhaps, before she’s off again, chasing level 275.

The world is wounded

plastic in oceanThe great Indian Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna says our mind is like an itchy wound. Worldly enjoyments only ever work when we need to scratch the itch. Doughnuts, for example, only work if we are hungry. They don’t work at all if we have just had a six-course Indian curry or have a cold and can’t taste anything. If we’re lonely, company feels fantastic, sometimes, and so on.

If we have a big itch, we want to scratch it — it feels great, scratching itches. But we all know what happens if we keep doing it — itches turn back into pain. Buddha is saying that these kinds of temporary refuges or changing sufferings are like scratching an itch – there is some temporary relief, and then it turns back to pain.

Sometimes more pain than we started with, in fact. The things that we turn to for solutions to our problems are also, ironically — or samsarically — the sources of our problems. Our problems come from our food, they come from our doctors, they come from the police, they come from our medicines, they come from our relationships, they come from our living quarters, etc. All the things we turn to for protection or refuge are just as capable of giving us problems.

Our whole planet is being polluted and the oceans turned into plastic by all of us trying to derive refuge from this, that, and the other, jostling to get as comfortable as we can while treading on other people’s needs and future in the process.

Therefore, although we are turning to these kinds of temporary refuges to get rid of our problems, to get comfortable, to get happy, at best they are only palliative, scratching an itch. And if we keep going, they give rise to further pains. And this is because we’re in samsara, whose very nature is suffering. scratching itch

In Joyful Path, Geshe Kelsang also gives the very helpful example of sitting and standing:

If we sit in the same position for a long time, and then stand up, it will seem that standing is a cause of happiness, but …

… if we remain standing for a few hours, we’re desperate to sit down again. Then lie down. And then prop ourselves up. And then move around. The amount we have to move these bodies around in the average day just to keep them comfortable!! — sitting up and lying down and moving around over and over again, all day long, just one mini-relief after another, or mini happiness hits. Meaning that neither sitting nor standing are real causes of happiness because both of them are causes of changing suffering. And the same goes for all our worldly pleasures.

Thought experiment

Here is a thought experiment to help us see this. It might even save you loads of time and money!!!

Close your eyes and imagine you have already got everything you have ever wanted or worked for – enough money, career, relationship, house, vacation, well behaved kids, fast car, no body fat, equitable society. Whatever it is – you can imagine having all the material things and/or worldly pleasures you have ever wanted or worked for. Right now. Already. You did it! Congratulations!

(Impossible of course to get all our ducks in a row, let alone keep them there; but imagine it anyway.)

You have got everything you want! Are you happy? Finally … are you happy?!

donkey and carrotHmmm. Maybe for a few minutes. Until we want something else as well. Or until someone annoys us and our mind starts hurting again.

Has that preempted years, maybe lifetimes, of throwing time and money after dreams that can never come true?! I’m half-kidding. But half not.

Point is, we can still go to work, build a career, etc., of course, and we need to gather necessary conditions; but we need be under no illusion that these are actual or lasting sources of refuge or happiness. The pressure is off. The false expectations are dropped. We can relax. Maybe spend some of that money and time on making other people happy instead – just a side thought. Right now the global divide between rich and poor is getting so crazy and it is helping no one.

In our countless lives since beginningless time we have actually had everything. There is no tee-shirt large enough to list all the places, enjoyments, and bodies (our own and others) we have had. Nonetheless we have lost them all. Indeed we have forgotten them all. We have forgotten everybody and everything.

So what are we supposed to do?

teeshirtDoes this mean lasting refuge or happiness is impossible? Of course not. But Buddha’s point in explaining this second type of suffering, changing suffering, is that we need to stop selling ourselves short, just muddling through life trying to make it bearable; and instead discover actual comfort, satisfaction, joy, happiness, and deep bliss by seeking refuge in a different source. This will help us not just now but in all our future lives as well. With non-attachment to worldly pleasures, we will also discover a lot more energy and patience for helping others.

We are not starting from scratch, either, of course. We already have a taste of the potentially limitless joy inside us whenever we experience any contentment, love, faith, wisdom, and so on. When we have these states of mind going on inside, we can also enjoy everything going on outside, not least because we’re in a great mood. So it’s a question of what we want to emphasize.

Here concludes what I have to say on changing suffering, as part of a series on refuge. More on the third type of suffering, pervasive suffering, in a future article.

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How to be enlightened right now per Tantra

4.5 mins read

Vajrayogini is a female enlightened Deity of Highest Yoga Tantra who is the manifestation of the wisdom of all the Buddhas. By engaging in the Tantric practice of Vajrayogini under the guidance of a qualified Spiritual Guide, sincere practitioners can completely purify their body, speech, and mind and attain the state of full enlightenment.

Vajrayogini at festival

I didn’t make that up — I just got it from the back cover of The New Guide to Dakini Land. It seems like a good time to talk about Buddha Vajrayogini and Buddha Heruka seeing as thousands of people are about to receive these Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments in Mexico and/or are intent on doing so in England this summer. If you have these empowerments already, or are getting them soon, please read on. Otherwise, you may prefer to wait

Bringing the result into the path

In Tantra, we bring the result of our future spiritual practice into the present by generating ourselves as a Deity, ie, a Tantric Buddha or enlightened being. This is based on renunciation, bodhichitta, and the wisdom realizing emptiness, all explained in Buddha’s Sutra teachings. These so-called “three principal aspects of the path” are said to be like the runway, and Tantra the airplane that flies us non-stop from samsara to the city of enlightenment.

I want to be free right now

Heruka and VajrayoginiIn general, therefore, we generate ourself as a Buddha out of renunciation. For as long as we impute ourselves upon, or identify with, a samsaric body and mind, thinking “me” — which we don’t need to do, by the way, if we understand that self is mere name with nothing behind it — we have no choice but to inhabit all the sufferings thrown up by a meaty body and a deluded mind.

So what is it like to be a Buddha instead? To have a body made of wisdom light instead of this painful crunchy old bag of bones? To have an omniscient blissful loving mind completely free from ignorance, mistaken perceptions, and suffering?

I want others to be free right now

And we self-generate as a Buddha especially out of compassion. We cannot bear kind living beings to suffer for even one more day — dawdling along the spiritual path is not an option. So we have to get enlightened, and quickly. We are thinking, “I can do this. I am already arising as a Buddha in an enlightened Pure Land, with pure enjoyments, helping all living beings.”

radiating light

As soon as we can already imagine doing this, that is the point when it starts becoming a reality. And everything is speeded up. We can go around all day blasting blessings from our heart, giving everyone peace and bliss. 

I can do it right now

And we CAN self-generate to become the embodiment of renunciation, bodhichitta, and all other good qualities because everything lacks existence from its own side and is mere projection of the mind. We dissolve ourselves and all other phenomena into the clear light of bliss and emptiness — the mere absence of all the things we normally perceive — and, like a rainbow appearing in an empty sky, arise from that as a Buddha in a Pure Land full of pure beings and enjoyments.

Our main basis of imputation for “me” is bliss mixed inseparably with the mere absence of all the things we normally see — the absence of all those real things that usually draw us in, bog us down, and make us develop self-grasping and other delusions. We are now vast, omniscient, and effortlessly all-compassionate, able to emanate or appear whatever people need whenever and wherever they need it.

So this is what we are aiming for! This is what it will be like to be a Buddha. So this is who we imagine we are now.

Everything is imagination

rainbow lightAs I explain more in this article, this so called “correct imagination” is based on the wisdom realizing that nothing is fixed, everything is mere imputation or conceptual label. It is just as “realistic,” indeed far more so, than the limited, hallucinatory sense of self projected and fixed by the ignorance of our self-grasping. It also works a great deal better. Regarding ourselves as stuck, ordinary, useless, and suffering keeps us exactly that way, whereas every moment of regarding ourselves as free, enlightened, powerful, and blissful draws us into liberation and enlightenment for our own and others’ sake.

Self-generation is not as hard as you may think

By the way, generating or identifying ourselves as Vajrayogini or Heruka is not as hard as we sometimes make out. And far from being abstract, irrelevant to “real life”, or fantastical, it is an immensely practical and realistic way to overcome daily run-of-the-mill delusions and effortlessly help others.

In degenerate times, when discouragement and low self-image abound, I think the practice of Tantra is essential not just for attaining enlightenment but for making any real headway against our delusions and sustaining the energy and confidence needed to help others.

So I plan to share some tips and tricks on this shortly 😊 Starting with this.

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Get Up to Speed and Out the Door

6.5 mins read

Where on earth is there no suffering?world peace

From just a cursory look at CNN’s daily Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door, which drops into my inbox each morning: The recent bombings of children in Syria, where “words are no longer sufficient to describe the horror, terror, and suffering.” The leader of the free world calling to congratulate a “dictator on winning a sham election.” The 17-year old who tried to murder his classmates, now numbingly routine. The vigil for those crushed under a Miami bridge. The abysmal life of pigs who are kept in cruel iron cages no bigger than their bodies. And the “good” news that some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram have been released. (However, most have not; and what kind of shape are these girls in now?) And so on. These all help my renunciation and compassion – I like to call it Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara.

Manifest suffering

There are three types of suffering that we want to get rid of by being in refuge, which include all the sufferings endemic to samsara. The first is the suffering of manifest pain. We know this one all too well – it refers to any unpleasant bodily or mental feeling. Toothache, heartache, CNN’s five things, etc. This manifest pain is what we normally think of as suffering — we think suffering refers to when something hurts.

Carrying on from this article.

Manifest suffering is obviously horrible. It is the easiest-to-understand suffering. We don’t need to be taught about the suffering of manifest pain – we’re all well aware of what it is, how much we dislike it, and how we’d like to find refuge from it and help others do the same. We try hard day and night to get rid of our own manifest pain, and many people try hard day and night to help others get rid of theirs.

And it’s not just five things of course – there are countless painful reasons to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara. It’s not just me — everyone around me is experiencing some variety of discomfort at any given moment.CNN five things

A random example: As I was walking to my seat just now, on this evening flight to Chicago, I wondered in passing why a woman was hiding behind huge dark glasses.

Turns out she is in the seat in front of me, 25F, and I can hear her talking into her phone before take-off:

“Oh, honey I’m a wreck. I could pass as the twin of the Terminator. I can’t take these glasses off. And, honey, if you could see my arms and legs — I am covered with hives!”

She is doing her best, as many of us are:

“Anyway, I love you. See you soon.”

But whatever improvements we are able to make in our own and others’ lives, that is not the end of the story. There are two other types of suffering in samsara, which underpin and cause this manifest pain; and we need more wisdom to identify these. If we don’t identify changing suffering and pervasive suffering, we cannot bring an end to all suffering. We will have to carry on experiencing both physical and mental pain endlessly, however much and often we try to patch it up.

Changing suffering

The second type of suffering is called “changing suffering”. In the big yellow book called Joyful Path of Good Fortune — which contains all of Buddha’s teachings if you get a chance to read it, sort of like the Buddhist bible — there’s a section on how the three sufferings of samsara pervade our experience, including our worldly pleasures:

For samsaric beings, every experience of happiness or pleasure that arises from samsara’s enjoyments is called changing suffering.

beer drinking

This experience of pleasure is called “changing” suffering (or “suffering of change”) because it’s a kind of changeover or switchover point between manifest pain and more manifest pain. It is those brief feelings of relief.

Now, a few weeks later, I am on the tube from Heathrow to North London, my journey colliding with the morning commute. And the expression on many people’s faces, or rather the studied lack of expression, brings to my mind the word “heaviness”. People seem weighed down. One bloke ten years younger than me I reckon, but with heavy creases in his brow, speaks into his phone, “Hey, mate, just got in, you alright?” A pause, then, louder, “What? he did what? That’s just what I told him not to do! Idiot.” He stared dejectedly at the ground. “Look, mate, let’s meet up in about an hour. I need a pint.”

People’s lives are difficult everywhere. And over the course of a lifetime, many people are struggling to muddle through their lives without things going too badly wrong, catching excitement, release, and pints of beer wherever we can.

Changing suffering is pleasant feelings. It feels like a kind of happiness. Buddha called it changing suffering not because it feels like suffering, but because it is not real happiness, it is just relief. This experience is contaminated by delusions and ignorance, and actually has the nature of suffering. Geshe Kelsang also calls it “artificial happiness”.

We may sense that things are not quite right even when they are going well, but we need to know exactly why this is in order to fix it. And we need not fear that this knowledge will depress us further, for it is this knowledge that in fact will finally set us free.

In Joyful Path it says:

We need to meditate repeatedly on this point because it’s not obvious to us that our worldly pleasures are worldly suffering. We can gain a better understanding by considering the following analogy. If we have a very painful illness and our doctor prescribes painkillers we take these and for a while we stop feeling the pain. At that time we actually experience a feeling that is merely the reduction of pain, but because the strong painful feeling has gone we feel happy and experience pleasure. This pleasant feeling is changing suffering.

Selling ourselves short

I’ll just point out that Buddha is not saying don’t go to the doctor or take painkillers. This is subtle, trying to understand what Buddha is saying here. It’s not that we don’t enjoy or take care of things, but that we understand what’s going on. Then we don’t sell ourselves short.

sell yourself short

Because, extraordinarily enough, every person on that tube goes unfathomably deep. Everyone I saw racing along the pavements in the unusual spring snow-freeze and darting in and out of the crazy London traffic goes unfathomably deep. We are seeing a tiny fraction of who people are — a fleeting appearance, their body of this life, of this day, just a reflection or imputation of thought. Their real body and mind are indestructible and full of the potential for lasting mental freedom and bliss. As it says in The New Heart of Wisdom:

Each and every living being has their own body and mind, which are their subtle body and mind. These are called the “continuously residing body and mind,” and are his or her Buddha nature, the lineage of a future Buddha. Because they have this, when living beings meets Buddhadharma they will all finally attain the state of an enlightened Buddha.

However, at the moment impure appearances seem so real to us that we are perpetually overpowered and sucked into the daily drama of samsara. Most people of course don’t even know what they have inside them, nor the future that could be. We have been through countless lives already without finding this out.

(Not only are we selling ourselves short by not knowing who we really are and of what we are capable, we are also not even enjoying life’s pleasures a fraction as much as we could be. When we know about changing suffering and the dangers of its usual corollary, attachment, we have the impetus to transform these enjoyments into the spiritual path and make super speedy spiritual progress! But this can be the subject of other articles, such as this one.)

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Where is everything?

Unfindable, impermanent shapes — everything is like this!

Here is an (unusually) short but (hopefully) sweet article.

Everything is made of parts, including even the smallest part. And those parts are continually changing both individually and collectively.

Our body, for example, is changing all the time like this in dependence upon causes and conditions. So is every part of our body, as is every part of every starling.

Things may move at different paces, but move they do.

Atoms whizz around exceedingly fast, in fact, giving the illusion of solidity where there is none.

And absolutely everything changes moment by moment. Nothing lasts even a moment. Check out these articles on subtle impermanence to find more.

And, even more profoundly, everything is empty of existing from its own side.

We are attracted to the five sense objects and, like a moth to a flame, we get burned again and again. We need to learn to enjoy lightly without getting absorbed into everything, taken over and burned.

We get so attached to shapes — bodies, houses, art, carpets, mugs, and any number of other shapes, such that we think we can’t even live without them. Sometimes it seems that we are more attached to the shape of things than anything else?! Maybe the color too. This might be because our visual awareness is so important to us. In the old days, some meditators would even pray to be born blind! However, there is an easier way, which is to remember emptiness. Hence me posting this video as a visual reminder.

We think these shapes are actually there, solid and real. But if we go looking for the object of our attachment, such as our lover’s body, we’ll never be able to find it, any more than we can point to a shape in those birds. There is only emptiness. Every shape is mere appearance or mere name — nothing behind that. So what exactly are we so attached to?

(We like the smell, taste, sound, and touch of physical things too, of course, and they are all just as unfindable.)

The problem is not with attractive appearances, but with the belief that they are outside of our mind and hence outside of our control. Hence attachment, or “uncontrolled desire”. So we seek to own (or be owned). We seek to control (or be controlled).

Ideally, in the world of moths, there’d be a flame education program… “Listen guys when you next see that bright shiny thing, fly around it and not right into it. Discover how to enjoy its warmth and beauty from a safe distance and you’ll be happier – trust me!” Similarly, we can learn how to enjoy the mere appearance or mere name of beautiful things, such as we enjoy these starlings, without getting sucked into something that is not actually there.

On the basis of contentment (or renunciation), compassion, and wisdom, we can find out how to channel the desire energy aroused by attractive things into open-ended non-dual blissful wisdom, rather than falling into the flames of attachment and craving and experiencing suffering.

What do you reckon?