Will this make me happy?

I asked some people recently if they want to be happy all the time. I thought they’d all say yes, duh!, but some of them weren’t in fact quite sure. When I asked why, they come things that make me happyup with two classic observations (1) because they felt that without unhappiness they wouldn’t appreciate what happiness was, and also (2) how can you be happy when you get cancer or people die?! 

These seem like reasonable points. Made me remember that we have to understand what Buddhas might mean by happiness as opposed to what the rest of us usually mean by it. There are two types of happiness, which Geshe Kelsang has called artificial and real. Both are pleasant feelings, both feel good (even great), so what’s the difference?

Real happiness is not the pleasant feelings such as excitement that come from worldly enjoyments such as a new relationship or a new hairdo. That is worldly pleasure, and the reason it is not real happiness is because it doesn’t last and is simply the changeover point between unpleasant feelings and more unpleasant feelings (as is explained more here.

mosquitos in Dallas Texas

Buddha called this type of happiness “changing suffering” —  not because it feels bad or because there’s anything wrong with it per se, but because it is not the pure or unconditional happiness of inner peace that arises from wisdom. It’s like the relative pleasure we get from scratching an itch (and I know about that, as I’ve just spent the weekend in Texas with about 1,234 mosquito friends). As it says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

The mental peace that develops from worldly enjoyment is not real happiness but changing suffering.

So in response to the first observation, it is true that without unhappiness we wouldn’t know what this kind of happiness is, because it is just the temporary alleviation of unhappiness.

In response to their second observation, I would say that actual happiness is not the same as excitement or glee. It is not generally appropriate to jump around with joy when someone drops dead.

To get closer to what Buddha means by the real happiness that comes from wisdom, I decided to ask the same people a different question – did they want to be at peace all the time? This time, everyone said yes.

For one thing, it is easier to see how being at peace is not just in contrast to being depressed — it is not part of that seesaw, but an underlying way of being. It is also easier to understand how we can learn to be at peace even when things go wrong. We are learning to maintain an internal locus of control, taking ownership of our lives.

The practice of meditation

And when we’re at peace, we’re happy, are we not? That’s the happiness we’re talking about, the happiness that we can grow more and more deeply by meditating, aka familiarizing our mind with wise positive thoughts both on our cushion and in our daily activities.

The Oral Instructions says:

This book principally presents the practice of meditation, through which we can develop and maintain a peaceful mind all the time. If our mind is peaceful all the time, we will be happy all the time.

As Gen-la Dekyong pointed out during this year’s Kadampa Summer Festival, there is a difference between these two questions:

Will this make me happy?

and

Will this make me happy all the time?

I’ve been finding this very helpful. For sure, as I’m about to take my first sip of this Costa cappuccino and have my first bite of muffin, if I ask myself the question “Will this make me happy?,” the answer is “Of course!” But will it make me happy all the time? No.

muffinOnly inner peace can do that. Therefore, I can get a lot more out of this cappuccino and cake by learning to enjoy it with inner peace. And I can recognize too that the happiness of those first few bites (before the worldly pleasure wears off) is in fact coming from the inner peace rather than from the muffin – if I remain in a miserable mood, for example, no muffin on earth has the power to make me happy from its own side.

What this means is that if I can keep the inner peace going, my enjoyment can go on! It’s like having my cake and eating it! But otherwise it can’t – the eating will just turn back into a sickly feeling and/or the need to lose 5 lbs.

Searching for happiness

Since beginningless time, in life after life, we have all been roving around in search of happiness. If we subscribe for just a moment to the narrative of evolutionary biology … in just this one world, Planet Earth, we can see how living beings — whether dinosaurs, marsupials, mammals, fish, or primates — have been trying nonstop to find happiness and get rid of suffering. Home sapiens (that’s us I’m afraid) have been uniquely cruel, koala bearsselfish, and destructive in our pursuit of happiness and profit, managing in the past few millennia as we roamed further and further afield to “domesticate” (ie, own and entrap) untold living beings while driving the majority of other species to extinction. And we’re obviously still at it (including Koala Bears!), justifying ourselves every step of the way.

Nothing exceptional about me

Self-grasping, thinking everything really is out there for the grabbing, is why we are in samsara experiencing one hallucination after another. That constant craving of uncontrolled desire — seeking happiness out there — then perpetuates samsara, keeps it rolling on and on, traveling everywhere but nowhere.

I’ve been reading the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s very thought-provoking – not least because it reminds me that the difference between me and a monkey is … yikes, monkey handsnot much! I am a primate!! So are you!!! There is only 1.2 percent genetic difference between me and a chimpanzee! Look at your hands … they’re designed for climbing trees!

I mean I went to school, so I knew that — but this book has brought it home to me and made me appreciate even more that I have to use this life to break free. It’s obvious. I cannot afford not to because there is nothing at all exceptional about me, especially my body. Feelings of human superiority are very deceptive. I am simply a part of this ancient scary endless horror movie, nature red in tooth and claw; and if I remain as such, how can I hope for anything other than disaster and pain to befall me sooner or later? It’s all very well fearing taking rebirth in the lower realms, such as the animal realm, in our next life – but it turns out we’re already in the animal realm according to this paradigm. We even have tail bones!

monkey babiesRight now, due to the power of a more creative imagination, I am finally able in this life — after countless lifetimes as monkeys, albatrosses, cockroaches, and dinosaurs etc in this and many other world systems — to use my mind to break free. This is due to some out of the blue good fortune whereby I have met enlightened beings who know that life does not equal samsaric suffering, that there is an alternative. They are explaining clearly how I can manifest and purify my very subtle continuously residing mind, the formless awareness that goes from life to life, in order to realize my potential for enlightenment. They are revealing that none of any of this is as it seems, that there is nothing beyond mere appearance, that everything depends 100% upon thought; which is what makes it possible, at long last, to break it all down.

I saw this video of a toddler last week – he wanders up to a mirror, looks curiously at his reflection, and then walks around the back of the mirror to find out where it’s coming from. We are, according to Buddha, childish ones – but we can learn through our own experience that the things we normally see do not exist, that there is nothing behind mere appearance. And that truth will make us blissfully happy, forever.

This opportunity is what makes my current life a precious human life as opposed to an animal life with no freedom or endowments. I may have a primate’s body, complete with opposable thumbs; but there is nothing to stop me at the moment from developing a Bodhisattva’s and then a Buddha’s mind. Notwithstanding I have only a few hundred months left (at most) to get this done before I find myself in a new body, perhaps with an actual tail.

Luxuries become necessities

However, I do digress ever so slightly, because what I was planning on quoting from that Sapiens book is this (when the author is talking about when the human species started to domesticate their world):

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.

It’s like me with camping, or rather not camping. I camped at UK Kadampa Festivals for years, maybe even a decade or more! The tents did become larger as the years went by, I admit, and the thermoses, pillows, and so on became more and more fancy. But the point is that I didn’t much mind camping, and I might even have quite enjoyed it from time to time. Slowly but surely, however, I was invited to stay a night here or a night there on a Amelia tentsitting room floor by someone who took pity on me when it rained. These invitations grew over the years to being offered more nights inside, space in a caravan, a bed in a shared room, even my own room from time to time … Then some very generous  American friends said I could share a modest house with them in my own small room for the whole Festival! What luxury!!! However, sure enough, the moment I put down my suitcase and lay down on my soft bed, I had started to take this for granted. Fast forward several years, Summer Festival 2019, and I am writing this in a beautiful house that is a darn sight posher than my own apartment … and there is no place to go from here but down. I am already plotting neurotically how to maintain this level of luxury next summer.

So, what about this lasting happiness then?

In Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings on developing love in 2009, he said:

Probably we think: If I have money I will be happy all the time. If I have a good friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, I will be happy all the time. If I have a good reputation or a higher position, I will be happy all the time. This is wrong.

More on why “This is wrong” (ie, worldly enjoyments don’t make us happy all the time) is explained all over this blog, including here.

We need stuff, but we probably don’t need it quite as much as we think, and we definitely don’t need to grasp at it for happiness. As soon as we do that, it is like trying to drink water from a mirage, we will always come up thirsty. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:

It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction for which we had hoped.

It doesn’t matter how hard we try, or how speedy, inventive, or efficient we become in the pursuit of pleasure. Talking about the transition from snail mail to emails etc., for hamster treadmillexample, Harari says:

We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

To be happy all the time, we need to learn to enjoy mere appearance without the grasping – enjoy the mirage without grasping for the water, or enjoy the muffin or the hairdo or the relationship without grasping at something actually being there causing happiness. As it says in Oral Instructions:

When I search with my wisdom eye,
All the things that I normally see disappear
And only their mere name remains.

The point is that we can come to enjoy everything if our mind remains at peace thanks to wisdom, whether that be mirage-like muffins, relationships, or whatever. But not if it’s not. That’s the difference between liberation and samsara.

Tried and tested method for finding lasting happiness

As it says in Oral Instructions:

Meditation is a scientific method to transform human nature from bad to good. Everybody needs to be good-natured with a good heart.

Why do we need to be good? Why shouldn’t we all just stay like we are, each man out for himself, with occasional heroic flashes of selflessness (recorded on social media?)

I don’t know about you, but whatever I see in the news, in history, around me, or in my own life confirms that being selfish and mean doesn’t seem to be a remotely successful self-defeatingstrategy for finding lasting happiness or freedom, either individually or collectively.

Instead, the way to develop deeper and deeper happiness is by getting rid of our inner problems – our delusions – and cultivating our boundless potential for good qualities such as love, compassion, patience, and wisdom.

This is the real method to solve our own inner problems – problems of ignorance, depression, anger and so forth – and is also the real method to benefit others practically.

You’d think we’d know this by now! But we seem to have surprisingly short memories about what makes us really happy and what doesn’t.

Rather than just lumber around like great apes, we need to unleash our spiritual side. It is there, have no doubt – it has always been there inside you. As Buddha says in a Sutra:

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.

When we manifest our very subtle clear light mind we can mix it directly with the true nature of all things, emptiness, the mere absence of all the things we normally see; and the mental peace that arises from this wisdom is real deep happiness, pure and lasting. As Ven Geshe Kelsang says:

So, if we really wish for ourself and others to be happy all the time, we must learn to practice meditation. Eventually, through practicing Mahamudra meditation we will be able to benefit each and every living being every day.

makes me happyThere is life with suffering and there is life without suffering. There is life without any real or lasting happiness, and there is life with real and lasting happiness. At some point we have to choose because it looks like we can’t have both.

Which brings me back to Gen-la Dekyong’s practical question that we can ask ourselves throughout the day:

Will this make me happy?
Will this make me happy all the time?!

Over to you. Comments are warmly invited.

Related articles

Meditation in the pursuit of happiness

Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive

Buddhism and the hedonic treadmill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buddhist meditation: one of the world’s best-kept secrets?!

Scientists say they have evidence to show that Buddhists really are happier and calmer than other people.  ~ Reuters

For more than twenty years now, in the press — in the cracks between all the disasters erupting all over the world — there has been increasing talk about the scientific findings which indicate that meditation and mindfulness within or from the Buddhist tradition leads to genuine lasting happiness and mental freedom.

Over these years, I have seen articles with titles like “Buddhists Really are Happier”, “Buddhists Transcend Mental Reservations”, “Meditation Shown to Light Up Brains of Buddhists”, and “Buddhists Hold Key to Happiness”.

The quantum folks are famous for their research into the role of the observer in creating reality — but it is not just in quantum physics that people are getting to the bottom of why the benefits of meditation might be so mind- and life-changing. Other studies — including within the scientific disciplines of epigenetics, neuroscience, electromagnetism, psychoneuroimmunology, psychology, and even public health — are now coming into synchronicity with the ancient Eastern understanding about the unbreakable connection between mind and matter.

Numerous experiments are showing how our thoughts and intentions can literally rewire our brains in all the right places, change our brainwaves for the better, fill our brains with those feel-good hormones, heal our bodies, and delay ageing cells.

In other words, consciousness changes matter. Ideas become things. Everything starts in the imagination. With our thoughts we create our world.

Buddhists have been saying this kind of thing for at least 2500 years, but it was not so long ago in the West that pretty much all conventional wisdom held it to be entirely the other way around.

With a dualistic view of mind and matter, reductionists for example were unable to come up with a bridging mechanism between two — as they saw it — ontologically diverse realms of mind and matter. One of these realms had to go, so they did away with the “ghost in the  machine”. The only primary reality was seen to be physical, so everything was “reduced” to the material. Thus, consciousness was regarded as some kind of by-product of matter, secreted by the brain like the liver secretes enzymes for example — although that has always been hard to prove, let alone to reconcile with people’s own firsthand experience of thinking. People’s subjective awareness is not experienced as physical or material — hence 20th century Western philosophy’s ongoing perplexing “question of consciousness”, a question that cannot be answered within the paradigm of mind-matter duality.

The pervasive materialistic world view, seemingly unquestioned for decades, has led to a great number of problems, such as a preoccupation with material development at the expense of moral, mental, or spiritual development. The winner is the one who dies with the most toys. As it says in the Big Short:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

There has never needed to be any problem with asserting two primary realities, as I mention in this article – for they are not dualistic, competing, ontologically oppositional realms, but arise in synchronicity, as the same nature.

Anyway, all that philosophy and fancy adjectives aside, studies of meditators’ brains are showing conclusively that we are not, as once believed, hard-wired, but that our thoughts change our brain throughout our whole life.

(And yes, just to reiterate — it is our thoughts that change our brain, not our brain that changes our thoughts.)

This change can happen even really quite quickly, such as in the example of Dr. Graham Phillips whom I read about in this pretty fascinating book: Mind to Matter (being read as we speak downstairs by my dad).  This skeptical Australian astrophysicist underwent a battery of tests, including MRIs, both before and after starting an 8-week course of meditation, to find hard evidence of whether this “feel-good technique” actually could do anything for him. After just two weeks he reported that he “notices stress but doesn’t get sucked into it.” After 8 weeks, the key discoveries were:

  • A 22.8% increase in the volume of the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation
  • Enhanced brain response time, better memory, increased cognitive powers, improved behavioral abilities
  • A more relaxed and energy-efficient brain
  • No drugs, surgery, supplements, or major life changes – just mindfulness

Here are some other quotes, and a Google search will surely deliver loads more…

(From Reuters:)

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison used new scanning techniques to examine brain activity in a group of Buddhists. They have discovered that certain areas of the brain light up constantly in Buddhists, which indicates positive emotions and good mood. This happens at times even when they are not meditating.

Researchers at University of California San Francisco Medical Center have found the practice can tame the amygdala, an area of the brain which is the hub of fear memory. They found that experienced Buddhists, who meditate regularly, were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry compared to other people.

(From The UK Independent:)

“Buddhists who meditate may be able to train their brains to feel genuine happiness and control aggressive instincts”, research has shown. According to Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy at Duke University in North Carolina, Buddhists appear to be able to stimulate the left prefrontal lobe — an area just behind the forehead — which may be why they can generate positive emotions and a feeling of well being.

(From New Scientist:)

Writing in today’s New Scientist, Professor Flanagan cites early findings of a study by Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, who used scanners to analyse the active regions of a Buddhist’s brain. Professor Flanagan said the findings are “tantalising” because the left prefrontal lobes of Buddhist practitioners appear to “light up” consistently, rather than just during acts of meditation. “This is significant, because persistent activity in the left prefrontal lobes indicates positive emotions and good mood,” he writes. “The first Buddhist practitioner studied by Davidson showed more left prefrontal lobe activity than anyone he had ever studied before.”

There was a time in the Western world when meditation in general and certainly Buddhist meditation was considered somewhat weird, probably escapist, impractical, and most certainly “alternative”. When I got interested in Buddhist meditation over 37 years ago in the north of England, most people had barely heard of Buddhism or even meditation. Back then, unless asked directly, I rarely mentioned that I meditated, let alone that I was a Buddhist, because it would generally lead to blank stares and a quick change of subject. That still happens sometimes today, of course, but nothing compared to then.

Those days are going. With the explosion of interest in Buddhism and mindfulness (derived from Buddhism) throughout the Western world, taught even in schools, both meditation and Buddhism have now become mainstream words and concepts.

For me, it is not that these articles have told me anything I don’t already know about how great meditation makes me feel, or how it keeps on changing my life for the better in pretty much every single area I can think of. Also, although curious, I’m not really bothered that my squidgy brain as a long-term meditator may look relatively impressive today compared with how it looked 37 years ago. 😁

However, what I do really like is that modern science is catching up to and even recording some of the very tangible benefits of meditation, benefits that anyone can gain if they just do it. I think it means that more people will gain the confidence to try it out and stick at it, and then they’ll get these great results.

One last quote from the New Scientist:

Buddhists are not born happy. It is not reasonable to suppose that Buddhists are born with a ‘happiness gene’. The most reasonable hypothesis is there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek. Antidepressants are currently the favored method for alleviating negative emotions, but no antidepressant makes a person happy. On the other hand, Buddhist meditation and mindfulness, which were developed 2,500 years before Prozac, can lead to profound happiness.

Meditation may not be a best-kept secret for much longer.

Over to you. Comments very welcome!

Related articles

Two quick, easy meditations to get started

Buddha & the brain

Mind-matter connection

 

 

 

 

Permission to Relax

A Kadampa Buddhist practitioner for 25 years, this guest author is a self-employed, healthcare business owner who practices Asian Medicine in the rural American South. She claims that she can provide a stainless example of the trial and error of integrating Dharma into a busy modern life. Her disclaimer: “My observations are neither new nor unique, but I can sincerely share what it’s like to NOT use the power of rest and relaxation!”

This morning, I woke up aware (again) of a self that starts the day thinking, “TIME TO GET GOING!! SO MUCH TO DO! … Better HURRY!”

Picture1

Yeah, so maybe this is not necessarily a bad thing … IF the energy of these thoughts were used with positive spiritual intentions. They could be quite valuable to motivate and energize a self to get up out of bed.

But, usually, if you are anything like me, this starts up mental PUSHING.

The voice of this “I” or self has some strong belief that I need to push to “get through” the day.

And, the gaping agenda of any given day: the household chores, the email, the messages, the work tasks, ah, the ToDo List … and, not to mention, getting on the meditation cushion … I will have to push myself to get to it all. It can certainly feel like it’s not “okay” to relax my mind or my body. 

Picture 2However, what I have learned in over two decades as a Kadampa practitioner is that I have a strong identification with a uncomfortable limited self, one I have drolly named “Nagatha”.  She “nags” me on.  She schemes and plots, always pushing me — she is never satisfied.  Her list is never done and, although she “lets” me have some daily formal meditation, it is rare that she allows for much satisfaction for some inner peace.

Reading the more recent Kadampa Life posts HERE about self-hatred and being self-critical, I started thinking about how this very critical-nagging-Nagatha self takes a lot of license to keep pushing me around. Nagatha wants to keep me believing that I have to push for the energy to “get through” the day.  But, sadly, it’s never enough for Picture 3her. And the overall “I” or Self that gets reinforced is the one who believes she’s never been enough, she’s not enough now, and she never will be enough. 

How easy it is, then, to start to hate that self, to believe that “she” is a failure, day in and day out.  This further fuels Nagatha, of course, to keep on criticizing, nagging, and pushing.

I realize more and more that this is the very opposite of what the enlightened beings have long been saying to us.  Geshe Kelsang has spelled out in many places the importance and power of rest.  My Nagatha tends to stay busy overriding and drowning out his words.  She bullies me into believing that I will be able to rest my mind when (and only when) my ToDo List is finished. I call this the “Unfinished Business of Busyness” — which Nagatha is determined to make me DO.

When someone in my clinical treatment room looks at me wearily and elaborates on how exhausted they are, I usually find that they also picture 5don’t believe that they have permission to stop, to rest. Even the mention of making “time to meditate” seems like just a really cute little ideal. “Yeah, right, like I have any time to stop or sit still! … I can’t do THAT!” 

But there’s always much to do and many things to pay attention to (read: distractions). Our family, our culture, and our world all make for plenty of evidence.  However, no amount of evidence alters Buddha’s verdict. This inner battle we create — between our striving and pushing self and our wiser, more peaceful self — has never delivered lasting happiness. 

We continue to engage in a kind of inner ‘Warfare” instead of developing inner ‘Well-fare’. It doesn’t make for a healthy day — much less a healthy experience of the spiritual path.

Geshe-la says, actually, in How to Transform Your Life (free for download HERE), that we need to:

take care of ourself and look after our needs…otherwise we undermine our capacity to benefit others. … Moreover, others may conclude that we are imbalanced and consequently will not trust us or believe what we say … so we will not be able to help them. 

He also says that if we are

not happy with ourself or foolishly neglect our own well-being, we will have neither the confidence nor the energy to effect radical spiritual transformation.

picture 6Sounds to me that this masterful spiritual teacher of mine is directly highlighting something I have definitely experienced along the way: that if I am going to be self-critical or neglect my own need for rest and replenishment, it will set me up for failure. A failed self who wishes to be of benefit to others.  I won’t be able to provide authentic or lasting assistance (right again, thanks Nagatha!)

In the past I was able to override basic physical needs for much stopping or resting … and eventually it caught up. What was also terribly dispicture 7heartening to discover was that it began to  threaten and undermine my confidence in my potential — my Buddha nature — which is inexhaustible in its power to benefit others.

Nagatha’s pushing kept feeding the self I would normally see and then believe: the self who is never enough, doing enough, having enough, being enough.   

So, I had to check: Who IS this self or “I”? 

picture 8

And is this really the self I am going to ask for permission to relax and be happy?!

If I keep on asking Nagatha, can I really expect to be granted time to stop, reflect, regroup, or refuel for a positive, relaxed, much less joyful daily life?

I don’t know about you, but I found that I would rather find and listen to someone who has a bigger mind than I do. Who has seen and explained that rest itself is a power — it is one of the four essential powers of joyful effort. And, after all, Buddha seems pretty darned positive, relaxed, and joyful!

Geshe Kelsang explains very clearly in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that if

we relax at the right time we shall soon be able to apply new effort again. … Timely relaxation maintains the constancy of our practice. … If we neglect the need for rest we become  overtired and we are not able to apply effort again with joy.

I have seen over time that following the advice of the self I normally see makes not only my day, but my spiritual life path, a less than joyful one. Instead it can become all about pushing, hurrying, and busyness.  And the self who lives that life eventually gets really really tired.

picture 9Why is it that when we’re thirsty we get a drink and when we’re hungry we find some food, but when we’re tired we’re like: “What is WRONG with me?!”

Perhaps we can check in: “Do I need to find ways to rest more?” I am betting that if you’re like me, you will see that resting the body and the mind, even for a few more peaceful moments throughout the day, goes a lot further to fostering more heartfelt presence for others.

A more relaxed mind naturally has more space for kindness, love, and compassion. There’s more available energy to be satisfied and fulfilled in our own efforts.  If we ourselves can experience these inner resources, we will naturally be more able to resource others.

Do you permit yourself to take a rest, even a short break from pushing, or from your nagging self? 

How often do you make one of your own “ToDo” items Rest and Relaxation?  Do you give yourself that permission?

I spend my days at work offering these questions in the spirit of permission. (People actually PAY me to offer some room and time to rest and physically and mentally stop!) Surely this indicates a basic need — one that Geshe-la has always told us about. Not to mention, the enlightened beings themselves don’t seem to be busy hurrying around in a bustle of dissatisfaction!

Maybe, if you will, just think about it.  Maybe take a moment to stop and contemplate (dare I say ‘meditate’ on this?) … I am talking to myself here, as well as to those of you who have been self-professed meditators for a long time but are still feeling less than deeply relaxed.

Here are some simple instructions to start giving it a try — a short mental rest break. 

And here’s a Permission Slip: picture 10

Heartspace

7 mins read.

I think we could all do with some kind of conversation between our heart-mind and our thinky head.

rock in gardenI remember some years back already knowing exactly what to think and do, Dharma-wise, when undergoing a break up, and even clearly understanding that I was far better off without this person. My head knew all this very well. But still my heart would yearn for him.

The heart wants what the heart wants, so I realized I needed to change at a heart level. To meditate from a deeper level of awareness, if possible, so as to overcome the deluded habit of attachment and develop wisdom wishes at a more sustainable level.

I am sort of carrying on from this article, Aligning with reality.

Head vs heart

Do you ever feel there are two of you – the wise person who sits in meditation and understands what’s really going on, and the crazy monkey-mind person who goes about their busy day getting overwhelmed by everything, sucked into the vast panoply of appearances, unknowingly driven here and there by the invisible habits of countless spring flowerslives? “Deceived by grasping at things as they appear”, as it says in Essence of Vajrayana.

There can be a struggle between these inner and outer selves. After all, if there is a disconnect between our heart and our head, superficial determinations to change may be drowned out in our habit-driven distracted daily lives and personas. How long did this year’s New Year’s resolutions last, for example?! How long did this morning’s resolutions last in the hurly burly of the day?

One of my favorite quotes is in Meaningful to Behold:

You should not let your habits dominate your behavior or act as if you are sleepwalking.

We are currently controlled by our mental habits and past actions. Our habits are anchored in the mind, engrained by repetition, programming us to act and respond in certain ways, such as automatic irritation when we would much rather be patient, or automatic yearning when we would much rather be content. We probably all sense this, so what can we do about it?lotuses

Luckily, lots. There is extraordinary spiritual technology available to us.

The stillness within

Before we launch into contemplative stages of the path (Lamrim) meditations, we need to be sure we’re feeling it. Any of these 3 methods can help get us there.

  1. Breathing meditation

Even the simplest breathing meditation, designed to let go of scattered thoughts, brings our awareness inward. Eventually we learn to “Leave the object alone”, as my friend Gen Losang puts it.

We are a bit addicted to movement, our monkey mind jumping all over the place. All this going outwards to objects of distraction is dualistic conception – me over here, the world and all its stuff over there. It feels different already just to bring our awareness inwards to examine the mind — already we sense the space around our thoughts, how we are not our thoughts. It is very relaxing just to stay a bit stiller for a while.tree

The slightest experience of peace indicates that lasting peace is possible, so we identify with that. We can learn to live more and more in our heart, where we know and feel things most deeply, where true happiness is. We are connecting to our Buddha nature, which is in fact unfathomably profound, and we can sense that.

Never meditate in your head. You can’t anyway.

And at those times we can believe we are accessing a subtler or deeper level of mind because, even if we are not yet using it directly, we can still know this mind. It also really helps to recognize that our peaceful mind is mixed with the blessings of all enlightened beings, their minds, because for sure we’ll feel ourselves going deeper if we do that.

  1. Clarity of mind

An even more powerful method for dissolving away distractions and going deep is meditating on the clarity of the mindlake.JPG

  1. Absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thoughts

And then we also have this wonderful meditation on accessing our subtle mind by remaining “unmoving, with a mind as impassive as wood.”

owl blending in
Look closely 😉

This meditation on turning our mind to wood temporarily shuts down all the deluded habits of ignorance, attachment, and worry etc. going outwards. It stops the projector, so that we can meditate at a deeper level and so change at a deeper more sustainable level. We are using absorption of cessation to stop the projector of the gross mind, which is only projecting mental images that aren’t really out there.

It doesn’t seem to work to superimpose Lamrim thoughts on top of hallucinatory thoughts. We need to scrap this movie or dream altogether and start again. Every day, until it takes.

The heart wants what the heart wants

Since the heart wants what the heart wants, it is best to start each Lamrim meditation in the heart, identified with our boundless Buddha nature, ideally mixed inseparably with the blessings of our Spiritual Guide, Buddha. We can observe self-limiting habits and conditioning in the light and space of our own indestructible potential, letting them fade away like mist in sunshine.

Having dissolved away our gross over-thinky thoughts and ordinary conceptions, we can generate the new ideas and language of Lamrim, the new naming, labelling, and discrimination at a subtler level. This will then show up in our lives, as our lives. In the beginning was the word, and the word was made flesh, as my favorite line in the Bible would have it.lotuses 2

By the way, as mentioned in this article Start where you are, it is effective to tune into an example of whatever object it is you’re going to meditate on, eg, the love you already have inside you for a nephew or a pet. This is because we have the seeds for every single stage of the path, so we are watering these, rather than adding something that is not there.

So we do our Lamrim meditations in our heart, with a peaceful undistracted mind. On this basis we reinvent ourselves – having dissolved everything away into inner empty space, we now have a chance to start from scratch. This is because everything is empty and therefore entirely unfixed, including, and especially, ourselves.

Check out this excellent guest article, The Meditation Game Changer, for more on that.

New me

rock gardenMoreover, we need to identify deeply with these new understandings and determinations, believing “I am a being of boundless potential who has a precious human life,” to take the first Lamrim meditation as an example. This wisdom discrimination will bring about very different actions and results in our daily life, don’t you think?, than the deluded discrimination that we cannot change, “I am pathetic. I can’t help even the people I want to help, and my life is going nowhere.” We might feel guilty or doomed, like we’re a total loser who is wasting this precious opportunity …  instead of inspired, feeling that we are the luckiest person alive.

We don’t use the word “subconscious” in Buddhism, but, if we did, I think this would be what I’d be talking about, changing at a subtler level.

I like to practice Lamrim in this way, in the light of our boundless potential that is part and parcel of our increasingly blissful levels of mind. (You can learn all about how to identify and realize the three levels of mind in Mahamudra Tantra.)

This is part of the union of Sutra and Tantra that is the hallmark of the Kadampa tradition. We are basically going with the deepening heart bliss (taught in Tantra) on the tulipsone hand and the infinite possibilities of the wisdom realizing emptiness (taught in Sutra) on the other – thereby rebooting and completely transforming our reality from a samsara of suffering, ordinariness, and fixed existence into a Pure Land of bliss and the endless possibilities of emptiness.

As it says in Request to the Lord of all Lineages:

Through enjoying great bliss and the emptiness of all phenomena I have pacified all  ordinary appearances and conceptions,
And thus I have accomplished the real meaning of human life.

We are waking up so that we can wake everyone else up as well.

And, one last thing for Tantric practitioners …

In Highest Yoga Tantra completion stage, just so you know, we are aiming to get the energy winds from the left and right channels into the central channel for a completely orchidsblissful non-dual experience of the mind and its objects – that gap between them vanishes because it is an optical illusion of the ignorance that rides upon impure winds. With this manifest very subtle mind mounted on pure wisdom winds, we are finished with the powerlessness of confusion. An explanation of how to do this is given in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra.

Over to you. How do you keep your meditation determinations, or practical plans to apply the teachings, alive and well in your busy life? 

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Time to unlock our infinite potential

6 mins read.

We need to develop a healthy sense of self based on something genuine. Fame won’t crack it, as this example from The Week shows, and nor, probably, will any other worldly concern, such as fortune or worldly enjoyments:

Maisie Williams says fame has had a negative effect on her mental health and self-esteem. Williams, who was 13 years old when she was cast as Arya Stark (in Game of Thrones) said there was a period of time where she was sad after becoming overwhelmed by the criticism on social media.

“It gets to a point where you’re almost craving something negative, so you can just sit in a hole of sadness,” Williams said.

While she has tried to move past what people have said online, Williams, 22, said she still thinks about comments that hurt her.

“I still lie in bed at, like, 11 o’clock at night telling myself all the things I hate about myself,” Williams said. 

This is the last of this series of articles on overcoming self-hatred and toxic self-criticism. It follows straight on from this article, which looked at the first step for overcoming these delusions once and for all = changing our experience.

Step 2 ~ New improved sense of self

Allowing ourselves to feel even the slightest peace, we are changing our experience. We know too that this is the tip of the iceberg, from which we can deduce that there is a lot more peace where this comes from. Identifying with this peaceful experience is how our experience will grow. So we think:

This is me. I am peaceful! And there is a lot more where this comes from. I really do have boundless potential.

We are experiencing a new view or a new sense of self based on different feelings — feeling good about ourselves.

And on this legit foundation we can build – positive, wise states of mind, all the stages of the path to enlightenment of both Sutra and Tantra.

Another tip: Whenever we sit down to meditate, it’s always a good idea to start by tuning into a positive and happy mind that we’re already familiar with, so that our experiences are rooted in something we are already experiencing. We can use something or someone that we already find it easy to feel good about, such as affection for a pet or gratitude for a kindness. Anything that can move our mind quickly to peace and happiness will do, for we can then smoothly seguey from that into fully-fledged Dharma minds. We are not, in other words, obliged to start from scratch. More on that in this article, Start where you are.

It makes all the difference also to remember that whenever our mind is peaceful or positive in any way, we are already connected to the blessings of all enlightened beings, to enlightenment itself. We can develop refuge: 

This peaceful mind, however slight, is my Buddha nature. It is already mixed with the peaceful non-deluded reality of my Spiritual Guide (Buddha’s) mind — love and enlightenment. It is me.

This open us up to even more blessings, with which we feel our minds fuse even more fully with positivity.

Step 3 ~ New improved intentions

If we are genuinely feeling, “I am a happy peaceful person, I have boundless Buddha nature,” what wishes and intentions will naturally arise from that? We will want to do well, we will want to share this with others, we will have more patient acceptance of ourselves and others. In other words, this new improved sense of self will now naturally lead to new improved intentions.

Step 4 ~ New improved actions

This in turn will lead to new improved actions or behavior, as we always follow our wishes or intentions. We will naturally try to fulfill this destiny. If we think we are peaceful, we will engage in peaceful actions. If we think we have boundless potential for love, wisdom, and compassion, we will be acting to realize those qualities, as well as enjoying the daily challenges that allow us to improve.

Step 5 ~ New improved life

And this will lead to a new improved life and experiences, in a virtuous cycle. Because our karma has also improved, this leads to longer-term good results as well.

Summary

To summarize, just telling ourselves we’re great doesn’t work. Nor does attempting to change our intentions or our actions while still identifying with being an inherently limited person. If we miss out on the changing of our experience, none of this is sustainable.

So, to those of you who have been meditating for years — if you find you are not changing as fast as you’d like, do check to see if this is because you are not changing what you are actually imputing yourself on/identifying yourself with. If we do change our experience — our basis of imputation — the rest will follow.

No one can give us freedom. We have to claim it. And thanks to meeting these Buddhist psychological and spiritual insights, we can get started right away.

“Look within you to find peace”

At any time we feel unpeaceful, including self-critical, we can ask ourself:

What version of myself am I relating to? And does it even exist?

We can dissolve that limited self away with breathing meditation or something stronger (as explained here for example), and identify with the resulting peace, freedom, and potential. Only THEN should we do our meditations.

As Arya Starck (Williams) puts it:

“Honestly, I want a normal life,” she said. “I don’t want any of this crazy, crazy world because it’s not worth it.”

Williams said the first step to finding her happiness is to stop trying to be who people want her to be, and instead, focus on being herself.

“It sounds really hippy-dippy and like ‘look within you to find peace’, but it is true,” she said. “At the end of your day, you’re making yourself feel this way for a reason.”

Just one last thing

When we impute ourselves on our pure potential, we can’t find that self either; which means we are not inherently pure. However, there are two good reasons for doing it anyway:

  1. This basis of imputation is more valid because we can’t ever destroy our pure potential whereas we can completely eradicate our delusions.
  2. It works a lot better – it leads to better intentions, actions, and results, which propel us toward growing freedom and the happiness of enlightenment.

And, if we want to make it even more effective, we can recognize that we are merely imputing this self on the basis of our pure potential. This self is mere name, not solid, real, or findable — but it functions very well.

That’s it, folks

In these last 7 articles we looked at the inner critic, where it comes from, and what’s wrong with it. We looked at how our whole life depends on our actions, intentions, sense of self, and experience. We saw first how NOT to break that cycle, and then HOW to break that cycle by getting in touch with our pure and kind nature, identifying with it, and building upon that experience. All this can start with the simplest skillful breathing meditation.

Thanks for reading! I hope you have found these 7 articles on overcoming self-criticism helpful — I have enjoyed writing them 😄 I’d love your feedback and comments.

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Modern Buddhism Study Programs

BuddhaTo celebrate Buddha Shakyamuni’s Turning the Wheel of Dharma (Skt. Dharmachakra) Day, which also happens to be Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s birthday, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the study programs in Kadampa Buddhism. Today, these are turning the Wheel of Dharma at hundreds of Buddhist centers around the world.

As you may or may not know, Buddhism has always put an emphasis on (1) listening to lots of teachings, (2) contemplating them to check they work in our own experience and transform them into our own idea, and (3) meditating on them to bring them deep into our heart where they will be a constant joy and protection, leading us all the way to enlightenment. Buddha gave 84,000 teachings of Sutra and Tantra, and basically the idea is to learn the jist of all of these and put them into practice 😊

I will be quoting Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s words from a talk he gave called A Wishfulfilling Dharma Jewel, and you can read the whole thing here.

At present in our Centers we have a Foundation Program and a Teacher Training Program. This is not a new tradition. In the past there have been other programs specially designed for Dharma students according to their particular circumstances.

All these programs involved studying a certain number of texts, memorizing material, passing examinations, and being awarded a degree or certificate. For example, the ancient Kadampa Geshes had a program in which they studied six texts. Later Je Tsongkhapa introduced a program based on ten texts, and later still Tibetan Monasteries such as Ganden, Sera, and Drepung introduced a program based on five texts.

Nalanda University
Nalanda

Even for the 1,000 years before Buddhism got to Tibet, deep learning and meditation had always been integral to the Buddhist tradition – for example the famous monastic university of Nalanda in Southern India produced generations of famous master practitioners from the fifth to twelfth century CE.

Now Geshe Kelsang has made all these teachings and meditations accessible to us in the unwieldy modern world through modern books, teachers, centers, temples, and study programs. Most of us definitely don’t have the same kind of time for formal study that they had in the old days, so he has made the time we do have incredibly efficient, and put more emphasis on sustaining and deepening these teachings and meditations through mindfulness in our regular daily lives.

Geshe Kelsang said:

Inspired by my own experience, I developed a strong wish to introduce a similar program for western Dharma students so that they could reap the same results. However, I understand very clearly that the program designed for Tibetan Geshes is not suitable for westerners.

For one thing, most western Dharma students are lay people … Shar Gaden monastery

Recently I asked some of my teacher friends to tell me what they thought were the main benefits of the Foundation Program (FP) in particular, as this is the program that most people tend to join. I wanted to hear what they had to say in particular about the commitments of the FP and why someone might want to take those on. So here goes, their ideas and mine, all jumbled together.

Becoming our own Protector

I agree with Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. Studying Dharma consistently guarantees our getting to know ourselves and our lives a lot better, and overcoming all our faults and limitations. This gives our life a spiritual dimension, and a vision far less ordinary.

As Geshe Kelsang says:

GeshelaWith wisdom and Dharma experience we can bring our deluded minds under control. We can reduce our attachment, anger, jealousy, and so forth, and subdue our self-grasping and self-cherishing. By controlling our deluded minds we will come to experience permanent peace day and night. We will bring about a permanent cessation of human problems in particular and of samsaric problems in general. In this way we will become our own protectors.

The commitments of the FP involve attending every class for the enrolled book, reading ahead, memorizing the root text and main points of the commentary, discussing, doing pujas (chanted prayers), and taking an exam.

Their overall purpose is so that our practice is not stop/start but regular and consistent, leading to guaranteed results. Buddha’s example for this kind of steady effort is like leaving water in a pot on the stove to boil at a low heat rather than moving it on and off a high heat such that it never gets around to boiling.

Mixing our minds with Dharma

In a busy, distracted, ofter overwhelming world, it’s only too easy for other stuff to get in the way; so committing to attending each class (or catching up with the recording and study summary in a timely manner) moves us past that problem. It helps us fulfill our wish to help ourselves and others.

facebookWe go deeper than in drop-in General Program classes because each class can build upon the one before it, presupposing knowledge, and shifting the responsibility of learning from the teacher to the student. And then we start to change.

This is good for the group, as we all literally stay on the same page. It becomes teamwork. The team is strong and unified and so everyone likes being on it. It is also good for the teacher as they don’t have to repeat the same points each week for people who weren’t there, and can take all the students more deeply into the material.

Reading ahead is a bit like toasting bread into which the hot butter of Dharma can easily soak during the class. That’s my analogy anyway! We come prepared with questions and looking forward to hearing the commentary on what we’ve already read and studied.

At the end of discussion the students come up with creative ideas together on what to practice in the meditation break to transform our everyday lives. We can troubleshoot how to practice Dharma throughout all our activities, lifestyles, and challenges. There are so many examples of people practicing Dharma in all walks of life, and we can learn from each other’s practical wisdom.

study program NYCAs Geshe Kelsang puts it:

The nature of western people is to study something one day and to want to put it into practice the next. This is a very good quality because they are always trying to gain practical experience of what they study.

Scale the highest mountain

One friend sent me this:

The Foundation Program is an opportunity to turn intellectual understanding into insights that authentically move our mind. For example, we understand intellectually that real or lasting happiness cannot be found outside out mind, and yet we still have a strong pull to find happiness from outside. FP is a chance to make a lasting change on our mind so that we genuinely want to find happiness from within.

We do this by giving more structure to our practice and spiritual development. FP is the opportunity to go through the training the mind teachings in depth, discuss, ask questions, and meditate on them. We make a commitment to study in this way so that, when difficulties come, we already have the structure in our mind to transform them. We have internalized the meaning. This means we will be able to actually transform adverse conditions in real time which is so much more difficult without this foundation.

FP creates the “foundation” for lasting happiness in our life. It’s an opportunity once or twice a week to reconnect deeply with our intention to improve our mind. We learn to consistently rely on Buddha and his teachings to solve our inner problems. We learn to trust and grow with our Sangha friends who are on the path with us. It’s a much more enriching way of experiencing this inner transformation.

StudyProgram advert
Click here for an FP near you.

As Geshe Kelsang says:

Our present understanding and experience of Dharma is quite superficial. We are like someone who has entered a huge food store and seen many things but sampled only a few. We may have received many different teachings from many different Teachers, but we have taken in very little, just a few morsels. Therefore our actual experience remains superficial. There is a gap between us and the Dharma. It feels as if Dharma is there and we are here. Our mind is not mixed with Dharma and so we cannot apply it in our daily lives.

As a result our ordinary everyday problems remain. For example, we may have received many teachings on Lamrim and read many books. Intellectually we find it relatively easy to understand and we accept it all, but we find it difficult to integrate into our daily lives, and so we cannot use this Dharma to solve our daily problems. When we study Dharma our mind remains passive, like someone watching television. It does not engage in the subject and mix with it. Therefore our daily life and our Dharma remain completely separate and unrelated.

Why is this? It is because we are not studying systematically according to a specially-designed program. If we just pick at Dharma randomly we will never gain a deep and stable experience, and our wisdom will never become like a full moon.

Commitments

Geshe Kelsang has always said we should not view commitments as “heavy luggage” (Ed: it’s more like a purse).

We are simply making time for the things we actually know are good for us and love to do. I read a study the other day where a large group of women were questioned on how much time they spent meditating and so on versus watching Netflix – they replied that although they felt far better when they were meditating, they still spent about 5x more time on Netflix.

As Geshe-la puts it: 

study program 7We should try to memorize the important points of the subject and combine whatever we understand in a practical way with our daily activities. We also have to observe the various commitments of the program. These commitments are designed to help us accomplish our aim. Without them there is a danger that we will be distracted by laziness or other circumstances and not complete our studies.

Any meaningful relationship requires commitment. For example, what would a marriage be like without any commitment? Or our job? Or working to combat climate change, or improving social justice, etc.? I think we find things more meaningful or of benefit when we have some commitment to them; and we get more done.

The FP commitments are also largely a commitment to each other. If everyone turns up and gets with the program, the group becomes stronger. If attendance is sporadic, the group weakens and our fellow students’ Dharma experience suffers.

only peace

One friend puts it like this:

On FP we come to experience in our heart (1) who we truly are, and (2) who we can become, and (3) more importantly, who our family, friends, and everyone else can become. Not through hearing ideas that it’s easy to soon forget, through dropping in on General Program (GP), but through a relaxed, consistent, dynamic engagement and deepening experience of Dharma and meditation on FP. FP closes the gap between the teachings we hear and experiencing them in our heart.

If we signed up to be a doctor with the goals of (1) having a good life ourselves and (2) benefitting others, but then didn’t turn up to classes consistently or seal that study programunderstanding through exams, out in the field we’d quickly realize we’re not equipped to fulfil our goals. From this point of view our 7 years in medical school would feel meaningless, because meaningful just means we feel we have accomplished or are accomplishing our goals.

In a similar way, to derive the greatest meaning and fulfillment from the time we have chosen to spend on FP, the commitments and exams are not rigid rules, but rather helpful guidelines and opportunities to accomplish the goals of (1) having a good life ourselves and (2) benefiting others. Or, in Geshe-la’s words, 1) to be happy and 2) to make others happy! In this way taking the commitments to heart is the best way to make our time on FP FEEL meaningful for us (not to placate the teacher or program coordinators) and be beneficial for others.

As Geshe-la explains from his own experience:

standing on the highest mountain

I studied this program at Sera Monastery. When I completed it and was awarded my Geshe degree, I felt as if I had reached the summit of the highest mountain. My faith and experience had increased considerably and I felt great confidence in teaching others. My mind was very happy and I felt completely free from problems.

Become a really good meditator

We learn how to have a regular practice that is sustainable at home, know what to meditate on clearly through structured study, and build up self-discipline. Plus being there for other meditators in the FP group.

Geshe-la meditating in his roomOn the Foundation Program we can learn to meditate very well and always know what to meditate on — we learn how to do analytical meditation (contemplation) and placement meditation (single-pointed meditation) on every aspect of Buddha’s Sutra teachings. This leads to results, confidence, and joy.

The power of discussion

Geshe-la says:

Discussion is a particularly important aspect of the program because we can help each other greatly by sharing our experience and understanding of Dharma.

Discussing with each other resolves our doubts, increases our understanding, and shows us what we don’t yet understand. Talking about gaining a realization of emptiness in particular, Geshe Kelsang says in The New Heart of Wisdom:

If we develop doubts or cannot accept what is taught we should discuss the matter with others. In this way, our understanding will become clearer and clearer. We should not keep doubts hidden inside our hearts — we need wisdom in our hearts, not doubts!

Geshe Kelsang has said that, in terms of his own understanding, he got 50% from the teachings and contemplations and 50% from his discussions with others! Which is quite a statement given how much he understands. He also gives some great advice on how to discuss in this talk.

Community

study program 6The Foundation Program builds the spiritual community so everyone ends up with more friendship and support. Connections strengthen due to weekly study, discussion, meditation, and so on; and once an FP group has been studying together for a while, people connect with each other at a deep level (a bit like people who do retreats together). This is the true meaning of Sangha community. And, as Sangha are the third Jewel of Buddhist refuge, who can really help us to make spiritual progress, the more the better.

Why prayers?

The study programs involve prayers as a support for the meditations. Sometimes people are a bit like, “I didn’t know Buddhists did prayers!” But we do, as explained more here. Prayers give us the opportunity to quickly purify our mind, accumulate merit or good karma, and bathe in inspiring blessings.

study program 2One of my friends says he puts it like this to his students: If you don’t think you like prayers, perhaps let go of what you think about them until your growing experience of them reveals a far deeper knowing. Buddhist prayers are just another form of meditation. We are so used to skimming the surface of life (caught up in busyness and trivia, numbing the pain of ordinary life) that we can miss out on the opportunity to experience something far deeper and incredibly rich. Prayers empower us to connect to and directly experience the greater depth that life has to offer, such as our pure potential and connection to enlightenment. They provide refuge.

So if you are new to a study program and faced with the prospect of doing prayers, for now just sit back, relax, and enjoy. We don’t have to understand all the meaning of the words of a beautiful song to enjoy the experience. We don’t go into existential meltdown because we don’t get it! It’s the same with prayers — just enjoy the experience of the peaceful resonance of the prayers for now, which is connecting us to our pure nature and enlightenment, whether we know it or not. Over time their meaning unfolds in any case.

Pujas 

There is a commitment to try and attend a weekly puja (chanted prayers) at the Center. Many people don’t even know what a puja is yet; so don’t sweat this one. It will come gradually and be explained over time. The main thing to know about pujas is that they are beautiful and saturated with blessings, and people always seem to leave a puja feeling better than when they arrived.

study program prayersPlus group pujas increasingly bless the center or temple so that these become refuge zones for everyone who visits them, which is providing a beautiful service to this troubled world.

Memorization and examinations!

Now we get to the commitment that generally freaks modern-day disciples out the most 😄. A dollar for everyone who says, “I left school years ago, I can’t memorize a thing, I’m way too old for this,” and variations on that theme.

It can be helpful to think of the exam at the end of the book as a self-assessment in six questions. They are marked, but no one but you knows your score (candidates have numbers, so even the marker doesn’t know.)

One teacher told me that with exams he likes to encourage people to regard it as a retreat rather than as preparing for a test. The exam is not the important part. The important part is the reading and contemplating. We can just have fun with it.

study program 10As mentioned earlier, if we are training as a doctor we need all the essential knowledge in our hearts, not on a dusty bookshelf. So this is Geshe Kelsang’s skillful way to encourage us to take the time to study – for when else are we going to be sufficiently motivated to do that?!

Another teacher says: “Don’t worry about it. This is a wonderful opportunity to study, get lots of Dharma — the cause of happiness — into your mind. Ask people who have taken exams – they have initial resistance sometimes but once they do it they realize why. Don’t be a perfectionist American (if you are) – remember Geshe-la’s advice:

Try, don’t worry.

And no one cares how you do on your exam.

If none of that works, how about regarding exam prep as an excellent way to ward off senility in a culture that is overly dependent on Google. Memorizing beautiful Dharma greatly improves our mindfulness.

We recite the Root Text and Condensed Meaning every week in class as well, so we find that we pick a lot of it up naturally.

The Kadampa way of life

Another friend, when I asked him what the benefits were, said succinctly:

This made me think of the old Kadampas and the Kadampa way of life. Foundation Program is training in a way of life. Transforming our life into Kadampa life. This takes real training – mindfulness, blessings, discipline. Do you wish to become a Kadampa?

Tharpa booksBy studying all five subjects (in six books) on FP, we come to know all of Buddha’s Sutra teachings, joining the illustrious company of tens of thousands of modern-day Sangha around the world. We will help provide hope for our society in the form of practicing and sharing Buddha’s teachings with the people around us, which amount to profound common sense that can be applied usefully to most of their everyday problems.

You can see some of these programs and students around the world in this video:

The six FP books are like jewel mines, and the FP allows us to delve deep. In this context the word ‘foundation’ does not mean basic or for beginners. It means we are constructing a strong and stable foundation for our daily Dharma practice and for attaining high realizations in the future.

If you want to train as a Kadampa Buddhist teacher, you can join the Teacher Training Program, which adds extra subjects and books including all of Buddha’s Tantric teachings, and has more of a retreat commitment.

Final encouragement from Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Sometimes five years or seven years may seem like a very long time, but if we practice steadily every day without giving up, gradually we will reach our goal. If we start today, tomorrow we shall already be a bit closer to completing! We should think like this and then one day we shall have completed our training.

Sangha in South Africa
Young Kadampas in South Africa

How wonderful that will be! We shall be able to give pure teachings with confidence on any subject we have studied, and people will believe us and develop faith in us because we have prepared so well. They will appreciate us from many points of view: our teachings, our personal experience, our ability to help them solve their problems, and so forth.

These are benefits that we shall experience just in this life. In reality, future lives are much more important. We shall experience the beneficial results of studying on this program for life after life until we reach enlightenment. The benefits are inexhaustible.

Over to you please! From your own experience, would you like to add anything? 

 Happy Dharmachakra Day! May Dharma flourish, may everyone be happy, and may our world be peaceful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to overcome toxic self-criticism 

7 mins read.

It all starts with changing our experience.

If we want to change our actions or behaviors, we need to change our intentions. If we want to change our intentions or wishes, we need to change our sense of who we are. feeling smallAnd if we want to change our sense of self, this has to be based on changing our experience.

Carrying on from this article, Giving up self-hatred once and for all. 

We underestimate ourselves badly a lot of the time — in the case of self-dislike by experiencing and relating to an inherently limited unworthy small self. But where is that self to be found? What is it?

That self is who we are not rather than who we are. We want to get to the point that whenever it appears it actually reminds us that it is fake — it is appearing, but not really there. It is like — to use an analogy from the Buddhist scriptures — seeing two moons when we press our eyeball reminding us that there is only one moon in the sky.

Our sense of self at any given moment feels independent, existing in and of itself; but it arises 100% in dependence on what we happen to be thinking.

With self-criticism, we have a lack of patient acceptance for ourselves. We are never waking up happygood enough; we always have to do more or do better. Fighting this self-image, there is no room or energy for growth. We might also have the master emotion of guilt — the feeling that we’re not worthy, competent, or good, that we are, in a sense, rotten at the core.

The opposite is the case

But the reality is in fact the OPPOSITE of what we are telling ourselves. Far from being flawed, we are a being of boundless indestructible potential, pure and good at heart, and in a position to connect to the infinite wisdom of enlightenment.

By learning to accept ourselves happily within an understanding of our enormous capacity for freedom and growth, we will begin to awaken a source of deep inspiration and wisdom from within.

It is terribly sad to go through life not knowing about what we have inside us, or who we already are and can become. As mentioned in this passage from How to Transform Your Lifewhich I’ll repeat because it’s so significant for our spiritual development — our pure essential nature, who we really are, is mind-blowingly good:

Buddha compared our Buddha nature to a gold nugget in dirt, for no matter how disgusting a person’s delusions may be, the real nature of their mind remains undefiled, like pure gold. In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion, and wisdom.

Yes, this means us too. However badly we are thinking ourselves to be, we are not.

Unlike the seeds of our delusions, which can be destroyed, this potential is utterly indestructible and is the pure essential nature of every living being.

hero insideOur delusions, such as disliking ourself, are all based on faulty or distorted thinking, inappropriate attention — so once we get rid of that faulty thinking for good, the delusion goes away and can never come back. But the seeds of compassion and wisdom will be our essential nature for as long as reality remains. (For more on how that is, check out this article.)

And now is the best time to really figure this out, while we have this precious human life.

Buddha’s analogy for our current opportunity

Buddha gives the analogy of a person living in poverty, in a hovel, scrabbling around to be happy and make ends meet for himself and his family. He is working really hard but feeling really poor.

But one day he gets a visitor – a wise person comes to his door and says: “I don’t think you realize this, but below your house is a gold mine. You are in fact exceedingly rich.”

The man may be skeptical at first, but he gets curious one day and checks it out. Sure enough, he realizes that he has been living on top of a gold mine since he was born. And his and his family’s life now changes completely.

gold mine.gifIn a similar way, Buddha has turned up in our lives to tell us that we have an incredible gold mine inside us — innate goodness and purity, possessing the capacity for lasting peace and happiness. Perhaps we don’t really believe him because we have gotten so used to identifying with being a poor person, but one day we check it out anyway and discover that he is right! And our life changes beyond recognition.

As Geshe Kelsang says:

Whenever we meet other people, rather than focusing on their delusions, we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. This will not only enable us to regard them as special and unique, but also help to bring out their good qualities. Recognizing everyone as a future Buddha, out of love and compassion we will naturally help and encourage this potential to ripen.

This includes meeting ourselves!

We are not doomed!

In other words, you are not doomed, and nor is anyone else. It is so important that we understand this because, until we do, our wish for lasting freedom for ourselves and others will never be sustainable. We will just keep getting tired, worried, and discouraged, losing energy, burning out. We can’t sustain a wish for something we don’t actually believe in, and if we don’t wish for it we won’t have any energy, effort, or patience to achieve it.

super womanStep 1 ~ new improved experience

Given all this, the first step is to allow our inner chatter to stop for a bit. We can simply turn inward to examine our mind, as explained here, and then use breathing meditation or clarity of mind meditation or absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thought.

As result of not focusing on our distracting thoughts, they disappear, because thoughts can only survive for as long as we are thinking them. Initially, just by allowing delusions to go away for a short while, we already feel better.

But please don’t be perfectionist – we don’t have to have a perfectly clear mind; any clearing of the clouds will do. Even a handkerchief of blue sky on an overcast day encourages us that there is plenty more where that comes from. We don’t want to over-judge our meditations, but instead be gentle and relaxed.

Concentration is not about pushing. We can simply relax into whatever peace we have, even if it is tiny. We can allow ourselves to enjoy this. Otherwise we are just buying into being useless at meditation as well – I am too useless even to learn how to be less useless!

When we first start meditating, we realize that we have an endless inane talk show going on. It takes a bit of time and practice to switch this off, so don’t have expectations, aka pre-meditated resentments! Just practice happily without grasping at results. This is how we get good at meditation. It doesn’t matter if our mind is full of busy thoughts — provided we are alert to that and letting them go we are doing really well, as explained in this article on mindfulness, alertness, and concentration. monkey mind

A friend said this the other day:

I love the admonition regarding meditation: “expectations are pre-meditated resentments.” For me, one of the greatest delights of meditation is knowing that any meditation is a good meditation and that judging simply gets in the way of absorption, concentration, and realizations.

I tend to be hard on myself in everything else I do and, unconsciously until recently, use high expectations and my regular failure to meet them as certifications of my not-good-enough self. Sitting down to meditate and just exhaling “Ahh!” is my empowering opponent to and vacation from beating myself up – at least once a day.

Saying “I cannot meditate because my mind is too distracted!” is like going to the doctor with a bad stomach ache but refusing to take the medicine. The doctor says, “Take these pills, you’ll feel better!”, but we reply, “I can’t because my stomachs hurts too much.” It is precisely because our mind is so distracted that we need take the medicine of breathing meditation 😁.

The rest of this explanation on overcoming self-hatred is on its way soon — I figured your coffee break might be up. Meantime, your comments have been very helpful up to now, so please leave more below!

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