The stopping practice

5.5 mins read

At the very beginning of How to Transform Your Life, on page 3 to be precise, and maybe just in case people don’t read any further, the author Geshe Kelsang Gyatso evokes the heart of the Buddhist mind-training teachings – which is basically to get over ourselves and be concerned about others instead.

ca420505775bfccb6d3e2e494a912a09In this “stopping practice”,* we stop thinking about our own happiness all the time. Why? Because it’s getting in the way of our happiness.

The author asks:

Since this world evolved, human beings have spent almost all their time and energy improving external conditions in their search for happiness and a solution to their problems. What has been the result?

We can pause to answer that question, perhaps coming up with something along these lines:

Instead of their wishes being fulfilled, human suffering and problems have continued to increase while the experience of happiness and peace is decreasing.

If we agree with this at all, what does it show us? = That our methods are clearly not working. Which means we need to change them up.

Built into the mind-set of ordinary people is grasping at a real Me who is important. The effect of this is that our wishes are very important. And this leads to attachment, or uncontrolled desire, wishing to fulfill our wishes all day and all night. This is not a good set up because our wishes cannot all be fulfilled, and certainly cannot stay fulfilled, and so we end up stressed, disappointed, angry, depressed, and so on.

Self-cherishing makes everything about me. Maybe someone brings up a topic not related to us, such as their vacation in Mexico where we have never been, and we still manage to somehow make it about us, “I was on vacation once!” And because we make everything about us we do not have the happiness we long for.

We must understand this through our own experience. If we check carefully how we are experiencing problems and unhappiness, we can understand that they are all created by our uncontrolled desire, wishing ourself to be happy all the time.

selfishnessJust to be clear, there’s nothing wrong at all with being happy or even the basic wish to be happy — quite the opposite. Buddhas are really really happy, for example. But wishing me to be happy all the time, putting me first, is what is getting in the way of fulfilling this basic wish.

We are misunderstanding where happiness comes from, thinking that it is about me and about manipulating stuff out there. When it is not.

Self-cherishing sets us up for disappointment. Try checking its psychology out in reverse next time you feel annoyed or disappointed. “I’m annoyed. Why? Because I was attached to something happening or not happening and it didn’t. Why was I attached to that? Because my wishes are so important. Why? Because I am.”

Most of our energy is going into ourselves because we are so super-duper important – how is MY life, MY diet, MY weather, accommodation, job, relationship, etc etc. This Me Me Me mind would be fine if it worked, but it doesn’t make us happy, it doesn’t solve our problems, and it doesn’t lead us to enlightenment. We have been trying and testing it for many years — since beginningless time, if Buddha is to be believed — and it hasn’t worked yet.

So we have to flip this around. Flip a switch! Just stop it!!! And wish for others to be happy all the time instead!!!

By stopping this wish and instead wishing for others to be happy all the time, we will not have any problems or unhappiness at all.

The irony is that when we stop wishing for ourselves to be happy all the time and instead wish for others to be happy all the time, we become the happiest person alive.

If we check all the times we are unhappy we shall see that we have excessive self-concern. Psychologically, samsara is the experience of the Me minds of self-grasping and self-cherishing — we are trapped in the Me of it all, an ego prison.

thA fish doesn’t notice it is wet and we usually don’t notice that we are soaked in ego-grasping. But this stopping practice helps us with our mindfulness and alertness throughout the day. It is strong, quick, and effective medicine. We can ask ourselves “Who are you thinking about? Stop it!!!”

We can then think about anybody at all and wish for them to be happy all the time, providing they are somebody other than us.

We can also bear in mind that I am only one single person and the reality is that there are billions or trillions of other living beings, human and otherwise, so of course my happiness is not as important as theirs. If I take this reality on board, I’ll be a lot happier. This is a massive spiritual shift. And it works where nothing else has worked.

If we sincerely practice every day stopping wishing for ourself to be happy all the time and instead wishing for others to be happy all the time, then we will understand from our own experience that through this practice, which prevents attachment to the fulfillment of our own wishes, we will have no experience of problems or unhappiness at all.

self-cherishingI love the simplicity of this practice and the clear injunction to just get on with it. We can try it for a day or half a day or 100 times and see if it works — just Stop It! And wish for others to be happy all the time instead. We can do this experiment on everyone we meet and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we can go back to self-cherishing the very next day. What is there to lose?

The same actions can have a very different meaning through this practice, even giving our whole life a far larger sense of fulfillment, while simultaneously creating the causes or karma for a whole different and better world to appear in the future.

For example, I can eat that grilled veggie sandwich (which I’m about to order in Whittier café) with a boring small-minded motivation, just wolfing it down out of attachment because I want to be happy all the time. Or I can be smart and eat it with the wish to nourish my life so that I can better use it to help others be happy all the time, starting with the friend who is joining me later. Same number of calories maybe, but everything else is different. We can transform all our daily stuff into the path to lasting happiness and mental freedom just by changing our heart.

ignoranceThere are hundreds of reasons given in this and other books that show why this stopping practice is so effective, but sometimes it’s good to stop analyzing and just get on with something to see if it works. “I am going to try something different.” And the proof will be in the pudding, as they say.

Comments welcome below.

(*Thank you to Gen Rigpa for coining this phrase! If any of you are in LA, be sure to check out his teachings — they’re clear, interesting, and excellent.)

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Meditation and mental health

Our guest author is an 18-year-old student living in Leicester, UK.

5.5 mins read.

Last year I very nearly ditched school.

I was torn between two worlds: my father in Wales — an intelligent and charismatic individual characterised by his grand, magical thinking, and my mother in Leicester, who had always been kind and patient. After years of not understanding the conflict between the two, I had to find out more about my dad’s world. I left for Wales in January 2017 planning not to return.

However, I was back in Leicester the following week, having experienced my dad’s coercive tirades and destructive behaviour first hand. This was enough for me to realise what it is actually like to live with mental health problems, and that I needed a reliable method to be able to control my own mind.

high-school-dropoutLots of people my age have to deal with disturbing relationships, identity and gender issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and the struggles of long-term mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Some go for counselling to manage these problems, and others have turned to their medical doctors for help. Whilst these are valid avenues, for me the solution has been meditation.

How do I meditate?

When meditating, I sit cross-legged, shut out the outside world, and focus on developing specific positive feelings, such as love or compassion. Sometimes the only thing I can focus on is the pain in my knees, but when all my distractions cease I can feel a profound sense of calm and peace.

‘So what?’ you might say — ‘I feel pretty relaxed after a couple of pints. This sounds like airy-fairy nonsense to me.’

I would have probably agreed with that a year or two ago. In fact, it’s true that for the first sessions you may not experience instant results. Hence, there is a lot of confusion about meditation. Some people think it is about losing yourself, whilst others think it is about finding yourself; some think meditation is about being mindless like a stone, or even listening to whale noises. For me, after enduring so much pain and confusion during my childhood, I was determined to find a method that, based on logical reasoning, was bound to produce lasting positive results.

Meditating-1After researching various traditions and schools of meditation, I came across the clarity of the Kadampa teachings and discovered that a key part of the meditative process is being able to identify the states of mind that produce negative feelings and then working to reduce them, and identifying positive states of mind and working to increase them. Therefore, meditation is a methodology for familiarising the mind with positivity.

How does meditation improve our mental health?

The principal driving force of meditation is concentration and mindfulness. By learning to concentrate solely on positive states of mind without distractions, we train in developing positive thought patterns. This is akin to a musician practising scales and chords, or training our muscles in the gym through repeated exercises. Eventually through training in meditation, positive mental sequences become ingrained and it becomes possible to tap into them effortlessly. Since good mental health comes from positive states of mind, we can thus understand how meditation, when practised correctly, has great power to improve our mental health.

The evidence

To find out more about how meditation has helped others, I made a case study of five people who use meditation: a doctor, a Buddhist practitioner, a researcher, and two of my friends at college.

A doctor:

doctor

Doctor Judith Casson, a GP at Hinckley surgery, has been practising mindfulness meditation for fifteen years. She has found it to be an invaluable tool for her own mental health and has witnessed the positive implementation of mindfulness practices in junior doctors and her patients. She thinks of meditation as like “planting a seed from which grows long-term compassion and patience”.

A researcher:

There is abundant scientific evidence for meditation improving mental health. Neurobiologist Sara Lazar, PhD, states in an interview with the Washington Post that after conducting studies, meditation was found to increase grey matter in different parts of the brain, including the left hippocampus which is associated with regulating emotions. This could prove a direct neurobiological link between emotional stability and meditation.

A Buddhist practitioner:

Derek is a Buddhist practitioner who started meditating nearly fifty years ago. As a child, he struggled with serious health problems and nearly died. “I had to learn to deal with a wealth of suffering and mental torment, which acted as a big incentive to try to work with my mind.” 45 years later, he is now able to maintain mental stability despite ongoing health challenges.

Two of my friends at college:

After just one month of practising a basic breathing meditation, my friend Ellie, who suffers from PTSD and anxiety, says, “Meditation has allowed me to find peace in the most difficult times – it has been an absolute lifeline.” Similarly, my friend Alex who suffers from cerebral palsy and depression has also turned to meditation. In his words, “It’s given me clarity when rationality goes out the window.”

Me:

After a year and a half of practising meditation, I myself am much better able to deal with daily challenges, my stress has reduced, I don’t fall into frustration so easily, and I rarely get depressed. Most of the time I’m not fazed when things don’t go the way I expect. My empathy and compassion have dramatically increased and I’m also better able to think clearly and organise my time. I’m not perfect, but I can clearly see an upward trajectory of peace and mental stability.

Where am I now?

It has been a year and a half since I’ve had to cut ties with my dad, and although I am still dealing with grieving and loss, meditation has helped me to move on and I can face my adversities with a happy mind. Through meditating on compassion, I have also learned to see things from my dad’s perspective, which has been an eye-opener in understanding his suffering due to his mental health disorder.

Despite the rocky territory I have passed through in the last year and a half, I finished my A Levels in June 2018 with great results. I have just started an art course at De Montfort University in Leicester, and, let me tell you, I am loving life! Through the special qualities of modern Kadampa Buddhism, I can now take my peaceful mind wherever I go and do all the normal student things at the same time.airplane

Just like becoming a pilot takes many years of training and knowledge, from my own experience I believe that through consistent practice we can fly our mind to profoundly better mental health through meditation.

Ed: This week (Oct 7-13) is Mental Health Awareness Week …. Please share this guest article to raise awareness of the benefits of meditation in helping with mental health issues.

To find a meditation class near you, click here.

For articles on getting started with breathing meditation, click here.

 

I just want to stop suffering

7.5 mins read

While we continue to harbor the 2 ego-centered minds of self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing, our lives can quickly take a sinister turn. Everything that was working out for usinisters can so quickly go wrong when our own and others’ delusions such as anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy wreck everything – work, supreme court nominations, families, marriages, these can all implode and leave us finding everything and everyone so weird and distasteful, even the people we thought we understood.

Do you ever have thoughts like this: “I don’t like this! I want to escape! I want to get away from all these annoying and/or demanding people and crushing responsibilities/anxieties/stressors! I want to get away and forget about it all — the worrying family, the depressive exes, the needy friends, the daily grind, the constant pressure of the endless to-do list, the boring commute, the insane politics, the scary climate change, the racist system, the cruelty everywhere I look, the sickness and ageing and death ….” And that’s just for starters.

Maybe we save up all year to go on vacation to get away from it all, but before long we want to get away from the airport queues, the sunburn, the sand in our teeth, the vacationcredit card debt, and the bad memories and anxieties we accidentally brought along in our luggage.

The thing is, regardless of our circumstances, and wherever we find ourselves in samsara, the only way we are going to finally get away from our suffering is if we learn how to increase our inner peace and, above all, learn how to dissolve all suffering into (bliss and) emptiness. We need to take time to do this every single day. Even taking ourselves off to a deserted cave in the middle of nowhere to do a long solitary retreat is not going to crack it otherwise.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has explained over and over again in all his books on Sutra and Tantra exactly how we can do this. I find this too incredible for words. Because these methods work every single time. No matter how busy or over-scheduled I become, giving myself a little time to meditate on emptiness is to find the way out of the feelings of being overwhelmed, the tight crowded thoughts that make everything seem unmanageable.

And the more we have to do, and the more people who need our attention, the more we need to apply this wisdom, as I talk about in this article, “Going wide means going deep.”

Moreover, quite the opposite of being irresponsible, Geshe Kelsang explains in his mind-boggling new commentary on Avalokiteshvara practice how cultivating the recognition of all forms, sounds, and thoughts as mere name not other than emptiness is the only way to quickly release all six classes of being from suffering. Please read this latest book, The Mirror of Dharma, when you get a chance; it feels very blessed to me.

A quick fix meditation

happy mind aloneI shared my thoughts on how to meditate on the emptiness of the self in this article. Once we have gotten a taste of that, we can try this quick-fix meditation – it is my main go-to when I’m feeling oversubscribed or worried about anything.

So, let’s say you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed. Soon as you can, take yourself off to a quiet place (even if that means letting the restroom live up to its name.) Sit down, breathe a little and get into your heart, and ask yourself:

Who is upset?

Answer: ME. I am.

Then ask yourself: Is my body upset? Is my mind upset?

Answer: No. I am upset. That I or Me seems to exist all on its own, from its own side, pretty darned solid and real and upset; and I seem to be grasping at it without question.

But now I will question it. So now look for this I or Me. Is it your body? No. That’s just flesh and bone. Is it your mind? No. That’s just formless awareness, just thoughts, no me embedded in them. I am not just a thought, I am ME.

So take away the body and mind, and the I or Me remains? No. Not at all. It’s gone.

When we have some experience of this searching and not finding, our strong sense of self disappears. There is empty-like space there, the absence of self, NO self — and big relief.

It is not the appearance of our I and other things existing in a certain fixed way, or external to the mind, but the belief in that appearance as being true that leads to our being upset. If we can let go of that belief that our I or me exists in a certain fixed way by observing how it dissolves into emptiness, this frees us up to name or impute or project our self, our world, and other people differently. We can arise within the space of that emptiness, inseparable from that emptiness, as a mere appearance who is very relaxed and happy, or a Bodhisattva, or a Buddha, or whoever we want.

“The Pure Land is closer than thought”, a friend just messaged me. Make of that what you will.

Getting some context

If we are confident in our path to liberation and enlightenment, and hold that as our main priority and job, we are less inclined to become “too closely involved in the external situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it in How to Transform Your Life — like children building sandcastles, excited when it’s built and anxious when it’s swept away. Instead, it can be an enjoyable daily challenge to use the arising and subsiding of all fleeting, insubstantial cloud-like appearances as fuel for our renunciation, compassion, and wisdom. We have a big mind perspective, like the sky, and thus the space to play with the clouds.

leaving past behindA practical idea … instead of reaching for the Smartphone first thing in the morning (get another alarm clock!) and/or starting to itemize all the things to worry about that day and/or ruminating on everything that is going wrong with our life, thus cramming our mind with clouds before we’ve even got to the coffee, it is a really good idea to start the day by counting our blessings. We can do that by tuning into our precious human life and the kindness of others, for example, letting happiness wash over us.

We can also set ourselves in flight by remembering impermanence — laying down the heavy burden of the past (which is in fact no more substantial than the dream from which we have just awoken). Considering that this could be our last day on Earth, we may as well use it to be a Bodhisattva or Buddha.

Wanna be a wishfulfilling jewel?

wishfulfilling jewelFrom a Tantric point of view, as someone said the other day on Facebook, what’s stopping us from thinking of ourselves in this way, using the words from the Liberating Prayer:

Your body is a wishfulfilling jewel,
Your speech is supreme, purifying nectar,
And your mind is refuge for all living beings.

This is a description of Buddha Shakyamuni and, if we play our cards right, one day this will be a description of us. In Buddhism, faith in Buddha necessitates faith in our own enlightened potential. We may as well start practicing.

Maybe just give this thought a go and see what it feels like. What’s it like to think outside the box about ourselves? There is nothing to stop us arising from emptiness as a Buddha or, if we don’t feel ready for that yet, as a magic crystal:

It is said that there exists a magic crystal that has the power to purify any liquid in which it is placed. Those who cherish all living beings are like this crystal — by their very presence they remove negativity form the world and give back love and kindness. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

How are you?

Someone asked me how I was the other day, and for some reason I couldn’t find the words to reply. But it got me thinking that a more interesting question than “How are you?” might be “Who are you?” For who we think we are will be determining both how we feel and what we plan on doing, including the karma we create.  

Geshe-la 1-1I don’t suppose this question will take off 😄 But I find it useful because it reminds me of who I want to be and what I want to do, rather than just how I am feeling at that moment. “Who are you and what do you seek?” as it asks us in Heruka Tantra.

Atisha used to ask the people he met,

Do you have a good heart?

This question might not take off either, but I think it could help society if it did, putting the emphasis on what we are all intending rather than how we are all feeling.

Our intentions are more significant than our feelings or experiences as they are what create the causes or karma for our feelings and experiences – not much we can do about the ripening of our previous karma, but much we can do about the karma we are creating now. What do you think about that?

And who are you today?! 😄

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What to do when we feel alone

6 mins read

lonelinessLoneliness doesn’t just crop up in romances – it crops up in every relationship or thwarted relationship where there is self-grasping and attachment.

Carrying on from this article.

How did you get interested in Buddhism and/or meditation (at least enough to be reading this blog?) I like asking people this question, for they often have very interesting stories to tell. And I find that people often find their way to Buddhism in the wake of a loss or tragedy, recognizing that it answers some profound questions about suffering.

Existential loss/grief

In Buddha’s time, there was a young woman called Kisigotami who lost her baby and was devastated by grief. Buddha helped by showing her the universality of this suffering. GampopaYou can read the story in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, or a shortened version here.

There is also the inspiring story (told in Universal Compassion) of the Tibetan man Gampopa, who tragically lost his wife but found his way into Dharma, becoming a highly realized lay Master.

We lose every single one of our loved ones to death sooner or later – if we don’t die first. Is there a remedy for this unbearable grief? Perhaps, yes, if we realize we can do something about mental pain by changing our way of thinking and by realizing that we are not ever actually alone.

We have a saying in Buddhism, “Suffering has good qualities.” It is not inherently bad. We can gain the deepest spiritual realizations and strength at the very times when things are the most broken down, eg, when we are bereaved or after a big break-up. Buddha was kind enough to show how even this agonizing heartache doesn’t have to be bad for us; and it’s worth acquiring some of this understanding before tragedy strikes again!

sufferingWe live and die alone – this is a characteristic of samsara because we’re all isolated by our delusions. But enlightenment is union, one iconic image being Buddha Heruka in embrace with Buddha Vajrayogini, the embodiment of the union of great bliss and emptiness. In samsara, we experience ourselves in a state of isolation. In a Pure Land, we experience ourselves in a state of communion. Why? Because samsara is created by delusion whereas the Pure Land is reality.

Shine the sun of wisdom and love

If you like, here is a short but sweet meditation based on some of the previous loneliness articles that you can do before moving onto the rest of this article …

We can start with a feeling of inner confidence and space by getting into our heart and identifying with our infinite-sky-like Buddha nature

Then we can revisit our determination to decrease our ignorance and attachment because these simply don’t work as a strategy for overcoming loneliness. We can bring examples in our own experience to mind, and remember that these are just unhelpful habitual thoughts – we don’t have to identify with these thoughts (we are not them), we don’t have to think them, we can in fact just let them go. These delusions take form as thick dark clouds, and we breathe them far out through our nostrils, letting them disappear forever.

clear light of blissWe can spend a few moments considering how we need to climb down the mountain of self and up the mountain of other.

Then we can feel the wisdom, non-attachment, and love of all holy beings around us in the form of clear light, the most beautiful light we can imagine, and breathe this in deeply through our nostrils. We can ride the light rays of wisdom and love into our heart, where they mix with the inner light of our Buddha nature.

We can focus on the radiance in our heart, like a sun shining inside. We can let its rays spread to the people around us, in our lives, taking away their loneliness and filling them with bliss. We can let this love spread as far as we like, even to pervade anyone who ever experiences loneliness, placing them in a deep feeling of communion and bliss.

Then we can make a plan to bring this love in our heart into our day, letting it be in the background of all our thoughts, and making an effort to give comfort to all the lonely people in our lives.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from

To overcome loneliness we all need to move away from our sense of being a real, solid, isolated self. When our mind is full of love, as in the meditation we just did (if you did it), we can see for ourselves that we are neither isolated nor more important than anyone else. This sense of self is only held by the thoughts of our ignorance of self-grasping and self-cherishing. Our version of our self is not ultimately true – if we look for it in our body or mind it disappears, like chasing a mirage.

all the lonely peopleBut because it feels limited, we set ourself up in neediness – we need someone to make us better, complete us, validate us, etc, and so we feel lonely because others cannot or will not fill that void. Whatever people say to comfort us, we still feel pathetic. We look for qualities in others that we feel we are missing, such as confidence, when it’d be far better to develop these qualities in ourselves. We cover up our weaknesses and try to hide behind others’ strengths.

We find it difficult to receive love because we are holding ourselves to be inherently unlovable, even though that version of ourself doesn’t actually exist.

Existence is relationship

When we are on “this mountain”, it feels absolutely this mountain, appears as such even to our eye awareness. But when we climb up “that mountain,” it also now appears to be this mountain from its own side and we believe that appearance. In which case, what happened?! Who switched around those real mountains?!

Self and other too are just objects of our thoughts or perceptions, incapable of existing on their own. They have no existence from their own side but totally depend one upon the other – what is this mountain without that mountain, or self without other?

other side exchanging self with othersOr in the similar case of left and right – what would be a world of lefts? Or one side of the coin without the other?

(By the way, when we use the word “dependent” we don’t mean it in a needy way – more like interdependent, dependent arising, dependent relationship.)

In universal love we never feel separated from anyone – we realize that we exist only in relationship, as relationship, with all living beings – part of a totality. In emptiness, too, there is no gap between ourselves and others because we are empty of existing from our own sides.

With a perfect realization of love and wisdom, completely in tune with the way things are, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are therefore entirely blissful and whole. They need no one but love everyone. We can be like this too.

More in the next and final article on overcoming loneliness – hopefully it’ll take less than the four years it took me to get around to this one!

Over to you … please comment in the box below and I’ll try to answer.

Related articles

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How much can a person really change?

9 mins read + a video

I was talking about perspective in this article, and I think it’s fair to declare that neither self-grasping nor self-cherishing have any reasonable perspective at all. They are totally self-referential blinkered minds, which also happen to serve no useful purpose whatsoever. bridge the gap

What also arises in dependence upon these ego minds is attachment, where we exaggerate the power of things outside ourselves to make us happy. In a way, we have no choice but to view the world like this. Why? Because we are really over here really wanting to be happy, and everything and everyone else that might possibly make us happy is over there. How can we ever bridge such a gap?

The endless pursuit of pleasure

We have this natural wish to please this real me, “What can I do now to make myself happy?” There is nothing wrong with the wish to be happy, but we have this pressing concern that my happiness is so important, it is so incredibly important, it is more important than everybody else’s happiness, so what can I do about it? I can have a coffee, I can meet a friend, I can inject Botox, I can earn lots of money, etc; and we start projecting sources of happiness out there, thinking, “I need this promotion. I want that car. I need this partner. I want that donut.” And conversely, if I don’t get these things, it is some kind of disaster.

This pursuit is non-stop from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. And then it even continues in our dreams. Exhausting, really.

money doesn't buy happinessAnd what is happening is that some exaggeration is going on because these things don’t ultimately make us happy, they cannot, they are by nature fleeting. They don’t even temporarily make us happy half the time — because the things that we think make us happy are also the source of our problems, vis a vis donuts, jobs, relationships, cars, etc. But with the mind of attachment we exaggerate the power of things to make us happy.

All these things can make us superficially happy for a short while, but they can also cause us much worry and suffering. They can never give us the pure and everlasting happiness that all of us, in our heart of hearts, long for. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

We externalize the sources of happiness, believing that they are out there, when in fact happiness is in here (point to your heart).

Selfish desires

Attachment can also be understood as “selfish desires”. With any delusion, our thoughts are more selfish, revolving around a stronger sense of a real self than when our mind is peaceful and positive. When we are angry, for example, it is, “You did this to me, ME!” Check out this video by an amusing friend in New York to see some of the dynamics of annoyance at play:

And if we have really strong attachment for someone, we think, “How can I get you to make ME happy? I need you to do this, that, and the other for ME.” See what I’m saying? Depending on their strength, all our delusions have at their core a more or less exaggerated sense of Meeee.

Cultivating the happiness that comes from wisdom

Happiness is a state of mind that comes from mental peace. We get some inner peace automatically the moment our mind is free from upset, when we are temporarily free from stress, worry, selfish desire, etc. Our mind is rather like a clear, still glass of water (which would feel very peaceful if it had feelings); but then our delusions shake that glass about and the water goes crazy. This is why even the simplest breathing meditation, letting go of the turbulence to quieten the mind, induces feelings of peace and well-being. i want happiness

And then we can deepen that inner peace by developing thoughts of love, or compassion, or patience, or wisdom. A rich blissful mind of wishing others to be happy, for example, or a mind that happily accepts everything that arises … there are many peaceful states of mind and they all make us genuinely happy, but donuts don’t. Donuts and cars and sex and money can sometimes induce momentary sense pleasure, of course they can — but real, lasting happiness is far deeper than that, and it arises from within. Geshe Kelsang says that everyone needs the true happiness that comes from wisdom.

As he also says in his stunning new book, Mirror of Dharma:

Some people may say, “I will be happy all the time if I become wealthy, enjoy a good reputation and have the opportunity of a relationship with the person I desire.” I am very sorry, but this is not true! We can see that people who have all these things also experience great unhappiness and many problems. Many wealthy people and those in high positions experience great suffering and many dangers. We see and hear news about such things all the time.

Quick detour

Geshe-la and Gen-lasGotta make a quick detour here to mention something very cool: The transmission of Mirror of Dharma will be given at the International Kadampa Retreat Center in Arizona at the Kadampa Fall Festival 2019, to accompany the opening of a massively huge World Peace Temple on Route 66 that will be visible to many of the 5 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon. If that doesn’t put Kadampa Buddhism on the map, I don’t know what will.

Do you have a set personality or not?

And as a result of increasing our inner peace, our wisdom and compassion, our personality changes. We change.

As we keep saying in Buddhism, because Buddha said it, the potential of our mind is infinite. He once said that the amount of our mind we use compared with the amount of mind available to be used is like a pea compared with a planet.

So, we can change. Can’t we?

The other day I was reading a 56-year-old study on a bunch of women who were interviewed every year between the ages of 14 and 70 to see how much they changed as people. And, as it turned out, it was a lot. (I cannot now find the article but I did find this.

happiness (1)Normally I think we have this idea that we have a pretty set personality, “This is just the way I am. Maybe I can get a little bit happier with a whole lot of effort, maybe I can get a little bit more chilled out, maybe I can even get a little bit nicer. But basically this is me.”

However, we sell ourselves enormously short given how much happier we can become, how much kinder, and how much wiser. How we can, in fact, become completely different people — people who live for others, for example a Bodhisattva who wants to free all living being from their suffering and is getting rid of all her faults and limitations to do just that.

Everyone reading this can become a Bodhisattva if you want to. You can become an enlightened being if you learn the methods and put them into practice. Literally, the sky’s not even the limit when it comes to how much we can change.

Nonetheless, due to our stuck ideas of a limited self, and before we get a sense of how extraordinary our minds are through meditation and introspection, there’s a prevalent sense in individuals and society that we all have pretty fixed personalities. That’s where this study is interesting because it discovered that these women were changing all the time and that by the time they reached 70 every single area of their personality had changed beyond recognition — socializing, confidence, wishes, habits, values, everything. Not necessarily for the better, sometimes for the worse, but everything had been replaced. The study concluded you wouldn’t recognize the person of 14 at 70, not just physically but mentally (and that is even long before we slip into senectitude).

Route 66This study is an indicator of how much we change anyway in the natural course of our lives without even particularly trying. What we call our personality is really a bunch of tendencies, wouldn’t you say? We have a certain tendency to react or behave or talk in certain ways around certain people or in certain situations. We have the sense that there is this true essence, true me, or whatever, but is there? Who is this real self who has a real fixed personality? Where is this self? It’s quite an interesting question, isn’t it?

We can use our wisdom to see if we can find it anywhere and — if we can’t – surely we are free to let it go?!

I think who we are depends upon our thoughts. Who we are is very largely, perhaps completely, who we think we are. And who we become is who we want to become, which also depends on who we think we can become.

Who we think we are determines what we do

There is a relationship between who we think we are and what we think we want. And as we always tend to put our energy and time into what we want, who we think we are determines what we do each day.

meditator in the Grand CanyonFor example, even in the course of an ordinary week we can change dramatically. We can wake up on Tuesday feeling like a complete loser – “Today is going to be horrible. I know it. I’m useless at this job, it really worries me, I’ve messed everything up in my life, and no wonder no one likes me.” We can think of ourselves like that all day long, thereby depriving ourselves of all agency and rendering ourselves pretty much powerless, not to mention miserable. And what are we going to be doing all day long? Anything fun or inspiring?!

Wednesday we can wake up feeling on top of the world – “I can’t wait for work today, I can’t wait to shine at this job, I am just great, really sorted, strong enough to face any challenge, and I have lovely friends, everything is good.” And do we not act completely differently as a result?

What has actually changed about us from Tuesday to Wednesday? Did someone switch out the grumpy me for the happy me overnight?! No, only our thoughts about who we are have changed, and therefore we have changed. We’re always having these different ideas of ourselves, it’s going on all the time. There is nothing fixed about us. Who we are, what we are, and therefore what we do depends entirely on our thoughts. And our personalities are our persistent thoughts, if you like, our tendencies, our habits of behaving and reacting in certain ways. As it defines personality in dictionary.com:

  1. the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.
  2. the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.
  3. a person as an embodiment of a collection of qualities.

There is no person to be found in that sum total or that organized pattern (not sure who is organizing it?!). A person or self is merely imputed upon it. By changing the parts — our behavioral, physical, mental, emotional, social, (and spiritual) characteristics — of course we change completely the pattern, the whole, and the imputed person, our self.

eagle in grand canyonSo, to answer this article’s title, our personalities can and do change completely, even in this life, let alone from life to life. In which case, let’s finally take advantage of this fact to deliberately transform our personality into the best possible personality — why not a Bodhisattva? — with the use of wisdom and compassion, the two wings that will fly us fast to enlightenment. Then everything we want and everything we do will be about making others happy, and as a side-effect we too will achieve the happiness we’ve always longed for.

Over to you. How much do you think you can really change?

Time to read a bit more?

Feel free to change your mind 

What about me? 

What we do depends on who we think we are

No real self

Transference of consciousness for those who have committed suicide

10 mins read

This week (Sept 9-15) is suicide prevention awareness week. I would submit a week is not enough. We need more awareness every week, as suicide is on the rise and it is destroying lives – not just those who kill themselves but those who are left behind.

BuddhaAvalokiteshvaraIn this final article on suicide, I want to say something about a powerful practice we can do for those who have died in general, and suicide victims in particular.

Back to my thoughts on Denis at the time

Denis believed in transference of consciousness (Powa in Tibetan, pronounced Poe Wa). In a letter written a few months ago to a mutual friend, he said:

“My dear friend my dog Jake died last weekend. I think I told you he had heart problems. His heart stopped early Sunday morning while he slept so he was in peace. He had sat with me through many meditations and listened to many prayers. I completed Powa for him the day after he died so I know he exists in a pure land now, but I experienced many feelings of loss and sadness.” 

In his suicide note, Denis also asked for me to guide Powa as his funeral. So of course I did. I mention some of the things I said below.

If someone you love has committed suicide, please feel that you can pray for them, whenever it happened – it is never too late. And you can also ask for this Powa practice to be done for them at Kadampa Buddhist Centers. Here too is a beautiful Facebook prayer request group.

What is Powa?

In Great Treasury of Merit, Geshe Kelsang explains:

Transference of consciousness was taught by Buddha in both the Sutras and the Tantras. According to the Sutras, transference is accomplished primarily through the power of aspiration, while according to the Tantras it is accomplished primarily through the power of controlling the winds. Tantric practitioners who can dissolve their winds into the central channel through meditation can eject their consciousness and take rebirth in a Pure Land through their own power. 

A Pure Land is a place or an experience beyond suffering. We have the potential or seeds for both heaven and hell, as it were. Which comes to fruition depends on which seeds we cultivate and water.

According to Buddhism, the “Pure Land” is the experience of a purified mind, whereas “samsara” is the experience of an impure mind that is still contaminated by the inner poison of delusions. Here is a short description taken from Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully:

In a Buddha’s Pure Land everything is pure; there are no sufferings, no contaminated environments, and no impure enjoyments. Beings born there are free from sickness, ageing, poverty, war, harm from fire, water, earth, and wind, and so forth. They have the ability to control their death and rebirth, and they experience physical and mental suppleness throughout their life. Just being there naturally gives rise to a deep experience of bliss.

LMDJThe Pure Land could be considered similar to the Christian idea of heaven (or other religions’ idea of paradise), but in Buddhism a Pure Land is the experience of a pure mind — there is no external creator who rewards us with it (or who, alternatively, can send us to hell.)

The mind is the creator of all. To attain a Pure Land primarily involves purifying and mastering our own thoughts. Faith (mixing with the pure minds of holy beings) and positive karmic potentials also play a part in helping us reach the Pure Land.

As does doing Powa for people who have died, which is a very powerful spiritual practice. I share some of my first-hand experience with it in this article. You can read all the details of how to do it in Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully. Many Kadampa Centers around the world also offer it once a month.

Denis’s Powa

The room was packed with 120 people — Sangha friends, his daughter, his brothers, his ex-wife, other family, clients, and a lot of Veterans. Most people in the room had never set foot in a Buddhist Center, some had no clue that Denis was a Buddhist. His family and friends packed the sitting room before Powa started, watching videos of him and crying. After the Powa, the atmosphere was very different. Many family members thanked us and said they felt real peace, a peace they were not expecting. His daughter said she felt huge relief and could start to move forward. People said they deeply appreciated being part of the ceremony, doing something so active to send him off.

chink of light

These are some of the things I said at Denis’s Powa:

“We are all here because we love Denis. We also know his good qualities. We want to help give him what he so yearned for, which is freedom, finally, from his pain.

Buddhism and other religions explain how the person is not their body. There is a lot more to Denis than his body. His formless mind, or awareness, continues now, past death; and so now through our connection we will help him, act as a bridge between him and the holy enlightened beings, however you envisage them, and especially the Buddha of Compassion.

Denis asked for this Powa and he had faith in it. He did it for many people himself, including his dog.

Denis had a lot of faith in the Three Jewels and a lot of love for his family and friends. From a Buddhist perspective we would say that he was not in his right mind last Friday and his uncontrolled, unpeaceful thoughts, or delusions, got the upper hand over his pure and kind nature. But the actual Denis is not these inner demons who tormented him — he was their victim. We are all very sad about this, but we can channel this sadness into compassion, sending him to a Pure Land where his body no longer hurts and these inner demons can harm him no longer.

Denis led a very caring life, creating huge good karma and many connections with us and with enlightened beings, so there is no doubt we can help him. Venerable Geshe Kelsang, Denis’s spiritual teacher, wrote to say he had done Powa for Denis and was praying. We all have love and compassion for him, and so now all we need is some openness or faith, and some concentration on the words and meditations. I will guide it a bit.”

What else can we do?

 “What do we do with the information that those whose lives we admire cannot bear to live … What hope is there for the rest of us?” ~ Time magazine, reporting on the celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade 

Perhaps we can develop more compassion for each other, both the people we know personally and the ones we don’t.

be kindRather than feeling envious, competitive, or annoyed when we see the lives of people more rich, famous, or powerful, here is an insight from Time magazine:

There’s also a case to be made for having more compassion. If people’s lives aren’t as amazingly blissful as they appear, perhaps people are not as evil or stupid as they appear, either.

I need to pay more attention to the people close to me who may be silently suffering. Not assume they are okay. Not neglect people for years on end. It doesn’t take much to reach out in genuine interest.

Correspondence with a friend

I would like to conclude these articles on suicide with emails I had with a friend whose husband of nearly 40 years killed himself in 2010. At the time she told me this correspondence helped her a great deal, so I repeat some of it here in case it might help other people too.

After she first told me M had committed suicide, I replied:

“You are strong, but I can only imagine how hard this is. It surely is one of the largest challenges we can face in a life full of challenges — having to let go so completely and utterly of our person whom we love very deeply, knowing there is nothing we can do to control or change his own path and karma, however much we want(ed) to. All we can do is to love him unconditionally forever, wherever he is, staying connected. And it helps to love and connect more closely with those who are still here, your beloved children, your friends. We can always ask holy beings for help, and prayer works very well when we are so close to someone.

If there is anything I can do, I will do it, please let me know. Meanwhile, I am going to continue to make many prayers for M so that he is protected and pain-free and takes rebirth in a Pure Land. I am also praying for you and your children to find all the support and inner resources you need to get through this time.”

A few weeks later she sent this:

birds flying image.png

In Geshe-la’s books, where do you think I could find some words to help me with my attachment to M … wanting him back on earth …. Can you give me guidance to passages that could ease my pain?

I replied:

I think that mourning is the process of letting go of our attachment and loneliness and being left with the love and feeling of being alive again. Everyone has to move through this when they suffer a great loss, but you can help this process along and even get something valuable out of it.

Almost any teaching would help as it will give you a bigger perspective and so diminish the pain. Sometimes when I am in pain I just pick up any of Geshe Kelsang’s books to a random page and see what happens, and the medicine always seems to help.

However, the Lojong or mind-training teachings are often the most helpful of all in combating severe pain because that is what they are designed for, to enable us to transform any adverse conditions, however desperate – Eight Steps to Happiness and Universal Compassion. Suffering doesn’t have to end up being bad. Understanding that in itself can lead to a certain mental freedom. My favorite Geshe-la quote for dealing with suffering is in Universal Compassion:

Moreover, suffering has many good qualities.
Through experiencing it, we can dispel pride,
Develop compassion for those trapped in samsara,
Abandon non-virtue, and delight in virtue.

Tara prayerDon’t underestimate the power of prayer, “wish paths”. Through prayer you’ll get blessings and your mind will be lifted. There are many stories documenting how radical blessings can be in helping us. As you know, a Buddha is someone who has overcome all distorted perceptions (mistaken appearances) permanently and has the power to help each and every living being find mental peace every day by blessing their minds.

Please ask the holy beings for help, they want to help you, they are waiting to. Tara for example. From the depths of your heart ask Tara to help you by taking refuge and reciting her mantra OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA. When we are feeling sad and vulnerable, we understand our existential situation and can go for deeper refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and our spiritual friends; and as a result we experience more blessings than usual.

Personally as well I like to do the equanimity meditation (eg, taught in Joyful Path of Good Fortune and The New Meditation Handbook) when I find myself finally parted from someone I love. I find it broadens my mind and scope of interest so that, in the words of that song, “if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one(s) you’re with.” Everyone is a suitable object of our love and you have been as close to everyone as you are to M. You can use your great love for him as an example to help you increase your love for others, and that love then becomes truly transformative. Imagine if you loved and wanted to protect everyone as much as you love and want to protect M. You have a lot of love in you already.

Over to you. I have been really appreciating your comments, stories, and other feedback on previous suicide articles, so please feel invited to contribute anything that might be helpful to yourself or other readers. Thank you.

Further reading

A Buddhist perspective on suicide

Reaching out

A first-hand experience of transference of consciousness

What is a Pure Land? 

A brother’s suicide

This too shall pass

 

 

 

This too shall pass

Our guest author is a single parent and a professional based in London, UK.

this too shall pass

When my husband and I first met we had a lot in common — mutual friends, common interests, same sense of humour, we laughed all the time at the silliest of things — but I clearly remember the moment when we really connected, like I had never connected with anyone before. It was when we both admitted that we had often in our lives seriously contemplated suicide.

If any of our mutual friends had been present at that conversation they would undoubtedly have been deeply shocked, as externally neither he nor I showed any signs of having such thoughts. It was at this point that our relationship moved on to a much more committed level, as though we had shared our darkest secret and still been accepted by the other. Not long afterwards we were married, and soon there was a baby on the way.

You see we were not without hope, we still thought we could ‘get it right’; but at times we just couldn’t work out what the purpose was in life and why we couldn’t make life turn out the way we wanted. I think we both had a sense that we were somehow ‘owed’ happiness but someone ‘up there’ didn’t seem to have got that memo; instead our lives had been complicated and painful, very painful.

When we married, the UK was in the middle of the economic crisis of the late 80s. As mortgage rates soared, my husband’s business disintegrated and finally collapsed, and we faced a mountain of debts as well as the understanding we would have to move out of our lovely home. One night, having gone to bed before my husband after what I thought had been a positive discussion of plans for our future, I was woken by a continuous ringing on our doorbell.

The two policemen informed me that my husband had been killed by a train — a train that he was kneeling in front of as it came around the corner. Our daughter was seventeen months old.

crunkled manThis story is shocking I know, but not unusual. All those statistics about suicide are about people like you and me. All those deaths devastate the lives of the people left behind, people like you and me.

I thought I had known pain before, but it was nothing like this — so powerful that my mind would turn to stone to protect me, or I would find myself gasping for breath, feeling that the pain would, in fact, kill me.

Everything changes

The recovery was very long, many years, with good times when everyone thought I was ‘over it’, followed by deep, dark troughs of grief and confusion. But significant things happened along the way. The first came two weeks after his death when I took my daughter to the park on a beautiful, sunny, spring morning. She laughed, the sun shone, the crocus bulbs bloomed, and I realised he would never see any of these things again: no changes in the seasons, no child growing into the beautiful young woman she is now, no opportunity for the sadness and confusion to heal and happiness to arise again.

In that moment I realised that ‘everything changes’ and that, no matter how terrible things may seem, they will change. ‘This too shall pass.’ In that moment I decided that no matter how bad things seemed I would stay for my daughter, that I no longer had the choice my husband had taken, that she needed me and I would live my life for her. crocuses in snow

People would say to me, ‘It must be so much harder for you with a child to look after,’ and I would think, ‘She is what keeps me putting one foot in front of the other.’ This is how compassion and love work. By thinking of her and wanting her to be happy, by wanting to protect her, I was no longer paralysed by my grief. My love for her took me away from my pain.

Wherever you go, there you are

I am sorry if the next few paragraphs are a bit ‘out there’ for some of you. I am in general a very practical Dharma practitioner, not ‘airy fairy’. I believe Buddha’s teachings are scientific; if you create the causes the effects will happen, and Buddha teaches us how to create the best possible effects. However, the following ‘out there’ things did happen, and I am telling you about them in the hope it will help others.

A couple of years after my husband died I was fortunate enough to be offered a teaching job in the Bahamas (I know!). Such idyllic conditions for myself and my daughter, good friends, great job, beautiful beaches with white sand and sapphire seas, and an incredible social life with millionaires and rock stars. And yet one day I found myself sitting on a beach feeling the familiar crushing sense of despair. I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. Apart from the joy of my daughter, I could not find a happiness that wasn’t superficial and short lived; everything led me back to pain.

BahamasI was sitting on the silky, white sand, looking at the jewel-like sea, knowing I couldn’t die but not knowing how I could find the energy, or wish, to go on. Then, as clearly as if the person was standing right over me, I heard:

‘I will always take care of you.’

I quickly turned but there was no one there. I even stood up to look all around — no one. I just knew in my heart that what they said was true, that I would be alright; and I went home and booked us on a flight back to England.

A reunion

Over the coming years I found myself moving quite a lot and not finding what I was looking for – difference being that I now had a sense that there was something to look for. I wanted to find the source of the voice. I ended up in Brighton, and in the local paper I saw a photo of the teacher at the newly opened Bodhisattva Centre. I knew nothing about Buddhism, but immediately had an overwhelming sense that I knew this teacher very well, that I loved him dearly. It was like finding a long-lost brother. I had to go to the class. The feeling of knowing him never left me but, out of shyness, I never spoke to him. It seems like he was one of the lamps to the path.

Bodhisattva Centre
Bodhisattva Centre, Brighton

I loved the statues in the Centre, the prayers, but I particularly loved the practical nature of the teachings. To be told that samsara was the nature of suffering but that a spiritual path could take us out of it was such a relief for me. After attending classes for a few years, I was persuaded to attend the Festival in Portugal for Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s last teachings. The best two weeks of my life, I spent most of it crying with joy. I was home.

A protector

While I was there I noticed a young mum with a little girl in the video link tent who seemed to be without help, so I offered to look after the child the next day so that she could go into the temple itself. The girl slept as I held her and, looking down at her, she seemed just the same as my daughter in the weeks after my husband’s death. The same warmth against my skin, the same weight in my arms, the same peaceful sleeping expression and soft curling hair — it was beautiful and painful at the same time.

Later I paused under an ancient tree in the park next to the temple, and the moment I sat and my hand touched the root of the tree, the last years of my life played across my mind like a film. The death, my daughter, the recovery, the beach, the voice, Bodhisattva Centre … all the way through to me sitting under the tree, next to the temple where Venerable Geshe-la was teaching. Then I knew, as clear as day, that Venerable Geshe-la was the source of that voice. He had been guiding me all the way along, gently and imperceptibly leading me to this moment, to this temple, back to him.

i will always be with youSomeone told me not long ago that when their girlfriend met Geshe-la for the first time, he took her hand and told her, ‘I have been taking care of you since you were a little girl.’

‘Yes,’ I thought when I heard that, ‘he was.’ He was looking after her, and me, and indeed all the people who end up meeting him through his centres, books, disciples, and so on. So that even when we thought we were alone and isolated in our suffering, he was blessing us and drawing us closer.

The way out

Now, through meeting him, I understand that in samsara no one is owed happiness and the only happiness we experience is temporary. That instead of seeking death what I was really seeking was renunciation, the desire to get out of samsara channelled in the right direction.

I pray often that people who are having suicidal thoughts and fantasies should come to know renunciation. They are correct that this contaminated life is the nature of suffering, that their own and other people’s suffering is sometimes too painful to bear. travel path to liberationIt’s just that the solution they think they have found is no solution. The escape from the suffering is not death – it is seeking permanent mental freedom for ourselves and others through liberation and enlightenment.

If you are suffering today, please remember that no matter how bad it appears to be now, everything changes. ‘This too shall pass.’ Remember that you are always being taken care of by spiritual guides such as Venerable Geshe-la — he is praying for us and our families. Remember that you will always find the solution if you go for refuge to the Three Jewels.

A request

I would be grateful if after reading this you would turn your thoughts and prayers to those affected by suicide.

I pray that my husband and all those who take their own life find the everlasting peace of enlightenment. May everyone be happy. May everyone be free from misery.

(Editor’s note: September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month).

Comments welcome.

Related articles

A Buddhist perspective on suicide

Reaching out — more Buddhist thoughts on suicide

Do you really want freedom?