You’re never alone

5.5 mins read.

people walking in NYCNew York City is full of people. So full, perhaps, that you could find yourself sucked into dramas morning till night. Sometimes it is hard to see the wood for the trees. Given that there are so many people here, so many people in other cities, so many people in ant hills, so many people in samsara …  how on earth are we supposed to extricate ourselves, let alone everyone else?! It can all feel very solid and real – the sickness, the ageing, the death, the homelessness, the hunger, the cold, and so on. No wonder compassion fatigue is a thing.

It is true that there are infinite beings in the six realms of samsara, and our stories of pain and suffering, told since beginningless time, seem to show no signs of slowing down, much less stopping. Taken alone, getting us all out seems a daunting task. But when feeling besieged by samsaric narratives, it can be incredibly helpful to remember that although there may be countless samsaric beings, there are also countless enlightened beings.

To infinity and beyond

full moon surrounded by starsWhen we visualize Buddha Shakyamuni, for example, he is not appearing with only a few holy beings dotted around him, in our tiny NY room, hopelessly outnumbered by a gazillion sentient beings. Buddha is surrounded by infinite enlightened beings, “like the full moon surrounded by stars”, who stretch on and out forever and ever.

This is not just true for Buddhists. This is true for everyone. Holy omniscient beings, however or whoever we envisage them, pervade everywhere and everyone.

(Coincidentally, just as I was writing this, I heard Stevie Wonder sing: “When you feel your life’s too hard, just go have a talk with God.” 🙂 )

Countless beings, once just like us, have attained enlightenment and no longer belong in samsara. This means that although there are infinite beings in infinite galaxies, Buddhas and Buddha Lands equal, if not outnumber, them all.

Samsara is the product of hallucination. Enlightenment is reality. Pit samsaric worlds and beings against enlightened worlds and beings, and who, ultimately, is going to prevail?

What is faith?

With the practice of Dharma we get to start choosing whose company we want to keep and be influenced by. We can start to feel that we are in the company of enlightened beings whenever we want; and with Tantra we feel that we are already one of them.

This is faith, of course – but faith doesn’t have to be overly complicated or mysterious. We can believe in the existence of enlightened beings by observing our own minds and how we have been able to reduce our delusions and increase our love and patience, for example. Nothing is fixed about our thoughts, and everything depends upon our thoughts. Taking that to its logical conclusion, we can envisage ourselves free from all faults and suffering and pervaded by spontaneous wisdom and compassion.New York skyscrapers

Close your eyes for a moment and try it!

Did that work? If so, even being able to entertain a notion of being enlightened indicates our potential for enlightenment and therewith the fact that countless enlightened beings already exist – the only difference between us and them is that they have put in the effort.

Based on this so-called “believing faith”, we can develop admiration for their good qualities — they can be our role models and super heroes, we can feel happy about them. And because we have this so-called “admiring faith,” which includes that faith in our own potential, we have the wish to become just like them, which is called “wishing faith.”

As Geshe Kelsang says in the first edition of Transform Your Life:

Without faith, everything is mundane. We are blind to anything beyond the ordinary and imperfect world we normally inhabit, and we cannot even imagine that pure, faultless beings, worlds, or states of mind exist. Faith is like pure eyes that enable us to see a pure and perfect world beyond the suffering world of samsara.

The company we keep

countless BuddhasWhenever we think of Buddha, there he or she is. He is there even when we don’t think of him. Enlightenment is everywhere, always, because enlightenment is reality, always waiting to be revealed.

As Geshe Kelsang says in The New Eight Steps to Happiness:

Because a Buddha’s mind is mixed with the ultimate nature of all phenomena and is free from the obstructions to omniscience, it pervades all phenomena; and because his or her body and mind are the same nature, his body is also all-pervasive. From this we can understand that Buddhas are present everywhere and that there is no place where Buddha does not exist.

This means that enlightened beings and Buddha Lands are everywhere and always, including right here right now. Holy beings are just as close to us as all these samsaric beings popping up around us. Purify our minds and we will see these pure beings directly. In the meantime we can have faith that they’re here, and that, because they are always relating to our pure potential as opposed to our delusions and suffering, they love us unconditionally whatever we are up to.

We do have a choice. Even in the middle of a huge city, full of seemingly endless suffering samsaric beings, we don’t need to invest in every passing mirage, powerlessly pulled in every direction. With Dharma in general and Tantra in particular, we can start to enjoy ourselves and those around us as illusion-like appearances arising within the space of emptiness – not inherently suffering, potentially pure and enlightened. We are already in the living company of countless holy beings in a pure and beautiful world.

to infinity and beyondAs it continues in Eight Steps:

Buddhas are like the sun and our ignorance is like the clouds that obscure the sun. When clouds disperse we see that in reality the sun has been shining all along, and, in a similar way, when we remove the clouds of ignorance from our mind we will see that the Buddhas have always been present all around us.

Tuning into joy and purity like this, space opens up and discouragement goes away. I think there’s an enormous amount of love and support available all the time, more than enough to stop us from feeling overwrought. And, situated now on the side of the solution, we can always find the energy to help others. For if we are already in the Pure Land, what is there to worry about?

This is the highest and most empowering form of renunciation (seeking to be permanently free) and compassion (seeking to free others), which we can learn to feel all the time, wherever we are. After all, as Freddie Mercury just happens to sing in the movie I’ve been watching on this plane out of NYC:

We are the champions, my friends. And we’ll keep on fighting till the end.

Over to you. Comments welcome below!

Related articles

What is the point of faith? 

Enlightenment is right here, right now 

Blessings are not that mysterious 

 

 

 

 

 

Fellow American

Sickened by political division and conflict, a filmmaker travels across the US in search of  a different story.
A love letter to a troubled nation, one face at a time. 

 

 

 

 

New York narratives

6 mins read

Subway 1A month in New York City provides more than enough food for thought for a meditator. There is no avoiding people in the city that never sleeps, and on every street, avenue, and subway all manifestations of human nature, good or bad, are on display. Here are three subway stories for starters.

Story 1 The Family

I was sitting opposite a family – the elderly mom and dad sitting close to each other, and the adult daughter standing up next to them. They were being companionable, not chatting very much if at all, but they looked sweet together. I wondered whether the parents had come to visit the daughter, or the daughter had come to visit the parents, or whether they all lived in NYC. I wondered what they all did and whether there were other children in the family. I can’t remember what else I wondered about, but it kept me occupied for at least two subway stops.

Then we reached 42nd Street and the daughter got off. She didn’t say goodbye to her parents! That’s odd, I thought. Bit rude. Or … and this was a bit of a blow … maybe she wasn’t their daughter after all!

Ah well, they still made an adorable couple. Obviously been together for years as they felt no need to make small talk. Probably still had a daughter somewhere. Maybe a dog too.

But when we reached 28th Street, the husband just stood up and left — without so much as a backward glance at his wife of 30 years! That’s odd, I thought. Bit rude! Or … and this was now not just a blow but an entire dismantling of my subway reality … maybe they weren’t a couple after all!!!

IMG_5260-ANIMATIONHmmm. I don’t know about you (well, I do a bit), but I am doing this kind of thing all the time. We are making up stories about other people, and ourselves for that matter, but then believing them as if they were the truth. Always believing whatever appears to us, which just so happens to be the same as whatever it is we are unknowingly projecting with our thoughts.

This story and its characters turned out to be completely unreal, but all felt perfectly real at the time. How many of our daily stories are actually real? What are we doing all day long?!!

Story 2 “You are a sick woman!”

Story 1 was a fabricated narrative for sure, which left me feeling slightly foolish; but no real harm was done, and I didn’t inflict my “truth” on others. This was not the case in this second story.

Subway 2

Opposite me was a man and a woman (they were canoodling so I felt safe in assuming they were a couple), and next to the girlfriend (Woman 1) was another woman (Woman 2).

The couple were chatting away while Woman 2 was contentedly minding her own business and, like 95% of the rest of the carriage, playing with her phone. All was fine. All was peaceful.

Then Woman 1, wanting to point out where they were going, accidentally waved her hand in Woman 2’s face. Woman 2 not unreasonably pushed her hand away without looking up from her phone.

Woman 1 made a face at her boyfriend, but was otherwise ready to let it go. But he wasn’t. He leaned over and said, “What do you think you are doing, pushing my girlfriend’s hand away like that?!”

Surprised, Woman 2 said it had been in her face, and in the way of her and her texting.

“I don’t care!” said the man. “That was incredibly rude”. Anyway, I will now spare you the details of what they said, but the whole carriage, including Woman 1, started to pay even more attention to their phones as this rapidly escalated into a loud argument.

Woman 1, embarrassed, put her hand on the boyfriend’s knee to try and pacify him, but he wasn’t having it, the bit now between his teeth. And instead of just saying sorry or nothing at all, Woman 2 was giving back as good as she got.

Visibly agitated, they stopped and stared ahead of them for a few moments. Peace at last, the rest of us fervently hoped, as we surreptitiously resumed some eye contact.

But then Woman 2 leaned over, having thought of something really juicy to say, and let it rip.

Within the time frame of two subway stops, two strangers had become two mortal enemies — the man was standing up and yelling at her, “You are a sick woman!”

Luckily, he had to get off at his stop. But his anger went with him; he was still fuming as he walked past the window. Subway 3

The two women sat there right next to each other in silence. Woman 1 looked like she was about to cry. I wanted them to turn to each other and say, “Sorry about that! Bit over the top.” But they didn’t. They just looked miserable. All three of those people’s mornings were ruined. That may not even be the only time anger arose for them that day. And it could all have been so easily avoided.

This was just one of million stories of anger playing themselves out all over the city and all over the world. Ruining people’s enjoyment. Ruining relationships. Exaggerating everything into such ugliness. Causing such harm. And for what? Where was the truth in any of that? To those in the carriage not under the deception of anger, for example, there was nothing believable about that narrative at all.

Story 3 The old lady fallen on hard times

Meanwhile, while the anger narratives play out on every street and subway, the stories worth paying attention to if we want to develop positive minds are instead ignored.

A woman in her seventies, I would guess, got onto the subway and started hesitantly to tell us her story. “I am very sorry to be doing this, but I never expected at my age to be staying in a shelter.”

She lived with her husband for many years and had a job just like everyone else. But he fell very ill and, having no children, she left work to take care of him. They spent all their money, and then he died, a month ago. And she realized she had nothing. That she was homeless.

This story was so so sad, I was deeply moved. I gave her some money and a smile, and her eyes brimmed with tears.

Homeless at Columbus CircleThe reality is that she is our kind mother, she is just like us, and she has fallen on hard times and is deserving of our love and concern. She could have been me. She could have been you. We could be her. If I so much as lost my phone, wallet, or way, for example, or if I felt faint, I would expect the people around me to be sympathetic if I asked for help. But everyone in that carriage was way too immersed in their phone or studying the floor to even look at this entirely lost old woman. Not one person gave her money. Not one person said, “I’m so sorry.”

Then I got to wondering, because I know these people are not bad people, what if you had been sitting next to her in a doctor’s waiting room or at a friend’s funeral when she told you her story? Would you not say, “I’m so sorry” then, and mean it? What line, in other words, do people have to fall below to become invisible?

One homeless man, head bowed, had a cardboard sign saying, “I am invisible.”

homeless 2In India, a friend from Calcutta was telling me, most people don’t see the huge numbers of destitute street children, and, if they do, they look through them or down on them. And you wonder how anyone could ever become that desensitized, you think, “That could never happen in my country! Those children would be cared for!” Well, guess what, it is happening in my country, it is happening right under my nose.

Where is the shared humanity? Let’s not get started on our unkindness to other species – what about man’s inhumanity to man? We are better than this of course, much better. And if we could just learn to follow our better instincts, live in accordance with our Buddha nature, there would be no more loud arguments on the subway, no more callous disregard of an old lady’s despair.

Over to you.

Related articles

Us and them in Buddhism 

Changing our world and ourselves through compassion

Anger ruins our fun 

March of the Dakinis

5.5 mins read

Happy Heruka Day!

temple with dakinisI was thinking of our big temple in Ulverston, England, for example, the original temple for world peace based on the mandala of Heruka. This seems to have a very clear structure, with pillars and chairs in rows, ordained at the front and lay at the back, orderly rules for behavior, and even security. However, it’s also clear that this temple is the home of the Dakinis — they’re everywhere. If you look up at the walls, you will see that they have escaped from the glassed-in shrine cabinet and are flying around the room 😉

Carrying on from this article.

As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says on page 84 of The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra:

The Heroes and Dakinis who are the emanations of Heruka and Vajrayogini pervade everywhere throughout this world, and people receive their blessings and special care.

Relating to the unobstructed power and blessings of the Dakinis and Dakas, what is it and where does it come from? Bliss and emptiness — ecstatic compassion and non-dual wisdom. Not super reality, just reality.

Remembering them and how they have our back gives us immense freedom, an immense feeling of flight. We can think, I am a Space Goer. Or a Sky Dancer. As mentioned earlier, that is the meaning of “khandro”, the Tibetan word for Dakini.

heruka father and mother 1I have noticed that the Dakinis always laugh when I take myself or anyone else too seriously. We can get wrapped up with appearances, even or especially if they seem to be virtuous — and this can make us rigid and/or judgmental of ourself and others. If we begin to feel heavy, even a little, then we need to remember our Dakini nature, remember who we really are at heart. Wild, that is untamed by ordinary conceptions, and compassionately blissful.

The still point of the turning world

I’ve always loved this quote by TS Eliot:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.

In the sphere of emptiness anything is possible. Everything is a momentary manifestation of the emptiness of our blissful clear light mind, like a pure dream, a pure dance. Our Spiritual Guide and the Sky Dancers will give us everything we ever wanted, providing from our side we are doing the daily work of loving all beings and overcoming self-grasping and hallucinations. That’s the deal.

beautiful colorado“Don’t squeeze me!”, a lover once told me, because, as it turned out, he had a broken rib. Like a moth enjoying a flame without feeling the need to fly right into it, we can learn to blissfully enjoy the mere appearance of everything providing we give up the grasping.

There is that question in Heruka Tantra:

Who are you and what do you seek?

Our Spiritual Guide and Dakinis will take us wherever we want to go, so where exactly is that?!

What is the deepest compassion?

Another name for Dakini is “khachö”, which literally means “space (or sky) enjoyer”! (Same “chö” as in Buddha’s Enjoyment Body (chö ku) for those of you interested in etymology or impressing people at parties.) Dakinis and Dakas are always enjoying themselves. That is surely what we want for ourselves and everyone?

I have noticed in the past some survivors’ guilt, “How can I aim at being all happy and cheerful inside when so many people are suffering so grievously?” But I’ve come to see that I don’t need to be drowning as well in order to commiserate with others who are drowning – no, it’s better to be happy, it’s ok to be blissful, and that joy is meaningful. The best, or in fact only, place from which to help pull people out of the wretched ocean of bench and reflectionsamsara is the dry land of reality; and reality IS bliss and emptiness.

What is real compassion, what do we really want for everyone? If your Spiritual Guide, for example, only wanted you to be free from this headache or from this financial quandary, would that be enough for you? I doubt it. He is our Spiritual Guide because he wants us to be free from ALL delusions and mistaken appearances, in other words to be free from suffering and experience the reality of enlightenment day and night. I think we have to want that for everyone. That seems to be real love and compassion.

Jewel in the box

Je Tsongkhapa revitalized the organization and moral discipline of the spiritual communities of Tibet. And he did this not to create an assembly of goody two shoes just for its own sake, let alone an organization of uptight practitioners; but in order to help everyone everywhere realize their outer, inner, and secret natures, ie, get enlightened. Venerable Geshe Kelsang has been doing exactly the same since he arrived in the West in 1977.  

If we get caught up in the appearances of our organization such that we become institutionalized, I think we run the danger of losing the plot. To me that would be like having a jewel box without a jewel inside it. What is the jewel of our tradition? Bliss and emptiness, enlightenment. This lies at the heart of our tradition and is our common destination. So, if we want to fly in the sky, we don’t repress that feeling, believing that we are not ready for it or that it is somehow dangerous.

In that meeting with my teacher, he also talked about the importance of women practitioners and Dakinis – and then he transformed into a Dakini and walked around the room. On the surface he is a pure, kind, reliable Buddhist monk. Inside he is always motivated by universal love and compassion. And deep down, who is he secretly?!

vajrayogini 3So, Dakinis are trying to get us up into the sky, we just have to go with it. If you’re ever feeling a bit squished, a bit rigid or repressed, worrying what other people are thinking of you, for example, don’t be. Or if you’re pushing, stop. If you have a chip on your shoulder, stop. All those worldly concerns, let go of them. That’s not what our tradition is about. If you ask me, anyway.

Instead, we need to remember our outer, inner, and secret natures: we need to be outwardly ethically kind and a relatable, trustworthy example, inwardly deeply loving, and secretly FREE.

If we practice like this, we will be receiving joyful blessings day and night – and blessings lift our mind and help us see that everything is in fact ok. Even delusions and mistaken appearances are ok because they are not really there, and therefore we will overcome them. Whenever they arise, they are helpfully reminding us that they are there to be dissolved away, like mist in the sunshine of wisdom and compassion.

arizona temple
Coming up, September 2019!

We talk about “the precious celestial mansion as extensive as the three thousand worlds” – and I believe that this is what we are doing with the New Kadampa Tradition. We are building Heruka and Vajrayogini’s powerfully blessed mandala everywhere, for everyone; and the Dakas and Dakinis are simply longing to help us.

Over to you, comments welcome!

Related articles

Wonder Woman 

More on Je Tsongkhapa 

Building temples for world peace 

 

 

Sky Dancers

7 mins read

And another thing … we could do ourselves an enormous favor by remeheruka and vajrayogini 1mbering that we are not practicing Tantra alone but have an immense amount of help coming to us from the Dakinis and Dakas, the Tantric Buddhas. People aren’t always feeling this — so I thought it’d be nice to say something about it, seeing as it is Vajrayogini Day today.

Carrying on from this article, I’m sharing more thoughts with those of you who have received Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments.

One reason we start Vajrayogini practice with the yoga of sleeping is because:

During the night the Dakinis of the twenty-four places visit sincere Vajrayogini practitioners and bestow their blessings… They may go to bed with a mind preoccupied with the problems of the day, but wake up refreshed, with a clear and positive mind … They may also find that obstacles to their Dharma practice inexplicably disappear overnight… Dakinis are able to help a practitioner in this way when he or she establishes a connection with them through pure Vajrayogini practice. ~ New Guide to Dakini Land, page 27-8

I believe this is so, that Dakinis are helping practitioners all the time, especially if we let them. This has been my experience in any event, including when I was on a longish retreat.

download.png

“Dakini”, or “khandro” in Tibetan, means “space goer” or “sky dancer”. (“Kha” means space or sky, and “dro” means going or dancing.) In Tantra we learn to fly in the sky of bliss and emptiness where we belong, instead of lumbering along the long and painful paths of samsara; and we let the Dakinis help. We want to come under the care and guidance of the Dakinis and Dakas of the twenty-four places and their emanations. This includes the wrathful Dakinis, Kakase and so on, who protect us from malevolent forces and everything else with flames of wisdom fire.

What or who exactly is a Dakini?

For Tantric realizations, we need complete reliance on the Spiritual Guide (Guru), Yidam (Deity), and Protector. We also need to rely on the Dakinis. But I sometimes observe that people don’t feel as guided and cared for by the Dakinis as they do by these other Buddhas.

heruka father and motherThese are some of the things I have heard about Dakinis: They are not “real” Buddhas. They are not historical figures with their own stories. They’re abstract. You can fit them all into one, for example Tara and Vajrayogini are the same; so there’s really only one Dakini!

People don’t always feel a strong personal relationship with the Dakinis. I don’t know, I’ve just heard people talking like this. Even someone said the other day that Dakinis were just the invention of men with too much time on their hands, to help male practitioners! And that view is not uncommon.

This is not the way to think about Dakinis, especially if you are a woman, or maybe even more so if you are a man!

A life-changing conversation with my Spiritual Guide

Once upon a time, I asked my teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang: “There are a ton of male lineage Gurus and Buddhas, but there are really no role models for women in this tradition, apart from Tara and Vajrayogini — who are even supposedly one person. So where are the female Buddhas I’m supposed to be becoming?”

Geshe-la then spoke to me for an hour on this subject. He explained about misogyny in ancient India and Tibet, explaining that there were many enlightened females, but due to the structure of society they were either not able to teach or else they were only able to teach a few disciples. Therefore, they didn’t become famous, or known as lineage holders even if they were.

But actually, he continued, you have many role models, because every female Dakini in Heruka’s mandala was a female practitioner just like you. They all have stories. They all have names.

paradigm shiftThis conversation changed everything for me. I realized Dakinis were real. Not “real” in the sense of inherently existent, but you know what I mean — they really existed. They were actual people. They had histories, even if those were lost to the mists of time. They were role models. They were powerful. We still have their names. And the more over the years as I’ve gotten to know them, as I’ve felt more and more guided by them, the more enjoyment I have gotten from my Tantric practice.

Geshe-la also went on to explain and demonstrate all the good qualities of female practitioners, including their relative humility and fearlessness compared with men. He talked about the vital need for female teachers, both ordained and lay, in the modern vajrayogini is everywhereworld. But I won’t rub it in!, there are men reading this, lol 😄

Dakini nature

Dakinis are extraordinarily free, blissful, transcendent beings. Every one of us, male or female, has not just Buddha nature but Dakini nature.

The terms “Hero and Heroine” and “Daka and Dakini” are interchangeable. Shantideva said that a real Hero or Heroine is someone who has destroyed their enemy, the self-grasping and self-cherishing minds, has conquered their delusions, and has developed the courage to help countless living beings. ~ page 191

Sometimes I think we’re attracted to Buddhism and to Tantra in particular because we have this yearning for freedom and unconventionality, there’s this little bit of rebelliousness in all of us. But we can sometimes find ourselves in what may seem to be a hierarchical spiritual society; and may perhaps feel intimidated by how conventional and even rigid things can appear to us.

vajrayogini 2If this is the case, it’s worth remembering that all outer structures, all Buddhist hierarchies, are ways of helping others that are emanating from bliss and emptiness, and designed ultimately to guide everyone into bliss and emptiness.

Modern Buddhism

Our main object of refuge in modern or Kadampa Buddhism is Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka – our Spiritual Guide is appearing as Je Tsongkhapa, with Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, and Buddha Heruka and Vajrayogini at his heart. This reveals our outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice through which our Spiritual Guide is drawing us all into his heart of bliss and emptiness.

Guru Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of moral discipline and renunciation and, totally relatable, represents the visible or outer structure for helping others, such as the organized centers, ordained community, and lay Pratimoksha community. We can “remain natural while changing our aspiration” as the Kadampa motto goes – obeying traffic rules, for example, improving our ethics, showing the genuine example of humility and trustworthiness, while inside things are changing.

guru sumati buddha herukaJe Tsongkhapa emanates from Guru Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, who is the embodiment of his inner realizations of love, compassion, and bodhichitta, which flow effortlessly throughout the whole world of living beings.

And Buddha Shakyamuni in turn emanates from the ultimate Daka and Dakini, Heruka and Vajrayogini, at his heart, who are the embodiment of the secret or hidden Tantric practice of bliss and emptiness that sources and pervades all phenomena, that is reality itself, that already exists as the solution.

As it says in Great Treasury of Merit:

According to Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition, a skilled teacher will gradually lead his or her disciples through the stages of Lamrim, Lojong, and Secret Mantra (Tantra), and show how to combine all these into a regular practice.

(You can find out more about this outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice in Great Treasury of Merit and in this article.)

Dakini nature

So we need to keep in mind our secret Dakini nature, which is completely free from protocol, actually, even rather anarchic. Every ordinary appearance and conception – whether it is virtuous or non-virtuous, it still has to go. If we remember how everything is pervaded by Pure Dakini Land, then we don’t have to feel oppressed by any seeming hierarchical structure because we understand its real nature and intention. samsara

Identifying with this secret nature is crucial if we are to use our realization of bliss and emptiness to overcome ordinary appearances and conceptions to attain inner Dakini Land, ie, meaning clear light and enlightenment. Otherwise, if we are not careful, we can just get bogged down with more appearance and more elaboration, even judgment of ourselves and others.

We need never feel constricted, staid, boring, inadequate, or bad about ourselves. In fact we are better off just forgetting all about our ordinary mistaken sense of self, dissolving it into emptiness every chance we get and joining the Dakinis instead.

We can embrace our unfettered Dakini nature, just as Je Tsonghapa did. In the Tantric tsog offering, which we do on the 10th and 25th of every month at Kadampa Centers worldwide, we sing the Song of the Spring Queen. Je Tsongkhapa originally sang this to the Dakinis, and the Dakinis also sang it to him. He was completely free, Je Tsongkhapa, a Tantric Buddha. Je Pabongkhapa had visions of him riding on a tiger.

Part 2 of this article coming up on Heruka Day, January 25th.

Meantime, your comments are welcome below 😊

Related articles

Outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice

Escape to reality

Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust

 

 

 

Emergency aid for a troubled mind

9 mins read

bla bla meditation

Do you ever wish you had a quick fix for an unhappy mind? Like you even know what you could be doing to feel better, but your mind is just too roiled to be able to do it? The craving is just too strong and convincing, the irritation just too, well, irritating?

Well, I’ve been wanting to talk for ages about a really helpful meditation that has a lot of benefits, including being emergency aid for strong delusions (unpeaceful, uncontrolled thoughts). Called “absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thought”, it’s surprisingly easy to do and takes as long as we have, even if that is only five to fifteen minutes.

In addition, we can also use this meditation to absorb deeply into our heart, into a subtler level of our consciousness, as explained below. And this happens to be perfect preparation for success in other meditations, so I hope it’s particularly good timing for those of you lucky enough to be doing Lamrim or Tantric retreats this month.  

I’ll talk about some of its benefits and then outline how to do it below.

Switch off unhappy thoughts

To bring about instant, temporary freedom from a very disturbed or deluded mind, Shantideva, the great 8th century Indian Buddhist Master, advises us to “remain like a mindless piece of wood” for a few minutes.block of wood

One effective way to deal with this strong arising of delusions is to remain for a short while as if we were a piece of wood: unmoving, non-reactive, and without thoughts. ~ Meaningful to Behold page 143

Briefly, after relaxing into a good posture and dropping into our heart, we imagine we become an inanimate object, as if made of wood or stone, devoid of thought and feeling. We switch off our thoughts like switching off the TV.

We should merely be as unresponsive as possible to the thoughts flooding our mind. By depriving them of energy in this way, we shall prevent our delusions from motivating our behaviour and they will soon fade away of their own accord. ~ page 147

A “technique of non-reaction,” as Shantideva puts it, this temporarily solves all our problems. And Geshe Kelsang explained it during the 2006 Medicine Buddha teachings in upstate New York:

Meditation on this absorption is very useful for solving human problems temporarily because through this method we can temporarily cease gross conceptual thoughts, such that there are no unpleasant feelings, painful feelings, unhappiness. This is a very special method, and very simple; and it can be practiced by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, anyone.

Remaining impassive like wood for a few minutes will calm us down and give us a welcome break from unhappiness. Geshe Kelsang also said:

Practicing this is not difficult, it is very easy. The only thing we need is interest, energy, and effort.

You can stop reading the article here and try it out, if you need to!

It can also be a means to an end because we can then, optionally, advance to a second stage of the absorption of cessation (as described below).

Advance through neutral

absorption 3If we are driving 150 MPH in reverse, taken over by strong annoyance for example, it is hard to go straight from there to 150 MPH in the right direction, with, for example, loving kindness. If you’ve ever driven a shift stick you’ll know we have to go through neutral first. Breathing meditation, clarity of mind meditation, and this absorption of cessation meditation all bring us back to a peaceful center, so any of them is helpful preparation for productive meditation on a positive object.

Overcome distractions quickly

In the same Medicine Buddha teachings, Geshe Kelsang defines this meditation:

The absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thought is a subtle mind that is single-pointedly absorbed or focused on the cessation of gross conceptual thought.

He explains that our various gross minds are “very rough, uncontrolled, disturbing, distracting, and interfering with our inner peace” whereas our subtle mind is “a very special mind” that is “very calm, peaceful, controlled, tranquil, without distraction, and so forth.”

creating peace in our mindNormally we only have subtle minds when we sleep or die, which is not that helpful at the moment because we don’t have the mindfulness to enjoy them. By becoming as impassive as wood, we can manifest a subtler mind even while awake:

At this point in reality we have established a cessation of gross feeling and discrimination on our subtle consciousness. Because we stopped gross feeling and discrimination, there is no gross mind. Therefore, only our subtle mind remains. ~ Geshe Kelsang, Sutra Mahamudra teachings 2003

So as well as temporarily giving us a break from unhappy thoughts, this method frees us quickly and effectively from all inappropriate attention and distraction, enabling us to experience a more subtle, spacious, mindful, and joyful mind.

We are calmed down and set up, if we wish, to meditate more deeply on whatever object we choose, including the mind itself, or a Lamrim object. As Geshe Kelsang explains:

With this subtle mind, this absorption, we can concentrate on any virtuous object, including emptiness, bodhichitta, or compassion.

planting flowers

 Journey to enlightenment

In Mahamudra Tantra, this meditation is included in the third stage of training in the six stages of Mahamudra, allowing our mind to become more and more subtle. As such, it is a time-honored part of a profound, blissful, direct journey to enlightenment itself, providing we’re doing it with bodhichitta motivation.

How to do the meditation

Step 1

We make a strong determination to cease our gross conceptual thoughts, self-grasping, and other delusions, remembering how they are the source of our daily problems. Then we follow the instructions in Mahamudra Tantra:

First, we stop paying attention to any object; we should not think about anything but remain like a stone or a piece of wood, without experiencing or perceiving anything. We remain in this state for few minutes.

meditation and inner peaceWe bring about a temporary cessation of our gross conceptual thoughts, or thinky minds, by thinking “I am completely inanimate, as if made of wood or stone. I am not perceiving, paying attention to, or feeling anything. It is as if the TV has been switched off. There is no more projecting going on. I am as if unconscious. All my thoughts have ceased, including all my delusions and anxieties.

We remain as an inanimate block of wood without feeling or attention for a few minutes.

NB: We can stop the meditation here if we only want to calm down and stop giving energy to our disturbed thoughts. Or we can continue to meditate on identifying our subtle mind as follows.

Step 2

And then we imagine that all our gross minds dissolve into our subtle mind like water bubbles disappearing into the water from which they arose. ~ Mahamudra Tantra

Through generating this cessation of all gross conceptual thoughts, these distracting, superficial thoughts subside like bubbles into water. As a result, a naturally quieter, deeper, calmer, more lucid, less distracted, and more blissful level of mind manifests or surfaces; and we understand this to be our subtle mind at our heart. buddha

Step 3

As it says in Mahamudra Tantra:

We then try to perceive our subtle mind by contemplating:

Its nature is the cessation of all gross minds, and its function is to perceive an empty like space.

With our subtle mind we very gently recognize the cessation of all our gross conceptual thoughts, including all delusions and unhappiness, and perceive an empty like space.

We have found the main object of meditation according to the third stage of the six stages of Mahamudra training.

We remember this cessation and stay in this deeply peaceful absorption for as long as we can, without forgetting and also without pushing, just very relaxed.

(According to his Sutra Mahamudra teachings in 2003, Venerable Geshe-la adds that as we gain familiarity with this meditation, “instead of observing the cessation we are observing the subtle mind itself.” And we can then also, if we wish, perceive that its nature and function are clarity and cognizing, like all minds.)absorption 2

We may only be able to focus on this meditation object for a few minutes or seconds to begin with. If so, depending on our time, we can rinse and repeat. If our mind starts moving and distractions re-emerge such that we lose our object, we repeat steps 1 to 3, seeking and finding our object through first turning our mind to wood and so on.

Step 4

Optional: I like to do my other meditations with this mind. As mentioned above, unlike our gross minds, which tend to be rough, uncontrolled, disturbing, and interfering of our inner peace, our subtle mind is very calm, peaceful, controlled, tranquil, and free from distraction – making it a great deal easier to stay concentrated.

Step 5

cosmic energyAs we prepare to arise from the meditation, we can think:

I will carry this deep experience of being still and centered, free from unhappy minds, out of the meditation and into my everyday life.

Our day then arises from a place of stillness within, rather than bombarding us from all directions in a stressful or aggravating manner.

As we gently relax our concentration, we become aware again of our body. Then we become aware again of the room, but staying centered at our heart. We can learn to carry this deep inner feeling of stillness and freedom into our everyday life. We are not in the world, the world is in us, is what I like to think.

We need to get in the habit of identifying with our deep peace, knowing that however weirdly life appears or however crazy our gross minds become, we can always drop into our hearts and return to this.

And, by the way, in case you were wondering, feeling peaceful inside doesn’t mean we stop trying to solve outer problems such as climate change and so on. As Geshe Kelsang put it, our main aim to solve all our inner problems, but:

inner peace outer peaceOf course, we human beings need external conditions. Of course, whatever problem we see, we need to solve it. For example if I have torn my yellow robe, I need to repair it. If I need anything, I need to prepare it. If I am sick, I can rely on a doctor and medicine, of course; this is normal. But no matter how hard we work to solve outer problems, our real or inner problems never reduce. So in this way we need to try to solve both our outer and inner problems.

And here is the meditation in brief
  1. Remain like a piece of wood for a few minutes.
  2. Our gross conceptual thoughts dissolve into the subtle mind, like bubbles into water.
  3. With our subtle mind, we very gently recognize the cessation of all gross thoughts and perceive an empty like space.
  4. If we like, we do other meditations now that our mind is peaceful and concentrated.
  5. We carry this peace into our day, as the background to solving outer problems.

Over to you. Do you have any experience of this practice that you can share here?

Related articles

 Using this meditation to heal grief

15-minute peace meditation 

Want quicker results from your meditation?

Can I use sleep in my spiritual path?

 

 

 

 

Buddhism & the hedonic treadmill

9 mins & 2 videos

Happy New Year! Here’s a bit of New Year’s encouragement to either learn meditation or keep meditating in 2019 … The world might just become a better place.

hamster eating cheeseFirst a question: What do you reckon happens when we try to make ourselves happy all the time through external means, via the places, enjoyments, or bodies of samsara?

We’ve been trying it long enough, we should know. Basically, Buddha observed (and we can too) that there is no permanent gain in happiness. We have spikes of excitement followed by spikes of despondency, but we don’t get overall happier.

For example, we get a flat white at Starbucks – yum, little spike for however many slurps there are in a cup of coffee. Then we need a bathroom but there isn’t one to be found – hmm, little jag in the opposite direction. Or we get a promotion at work – exciting! Until it sinks in that we have to work harder – darn! Or we get a bigger house – cool! But now we have to clean more shelves – boring.

We can dream about a job or a partner for months, fantasizing about how happy we’ll be, only to be disappointed when the happiness boost lasts approximately five weeks or five minutes (and too often followed by searing heartache).

Essentially, no amount of money, technology, sex, romance, friendship, muscle, prestige, music, or travel will ever make us permanently happy. We will always need more or different. We cannot fulfill all our desires, and a lot of them simply cancel each other out, as mentioned in this article.

hedonistic treadmillThis is a helpful chart, especially if you can visualize that happiness flatline going on long enough to see how it also goes around in circles, bit like a hamster wheel — not ending up somewhere different, our life not really having gone anywhere by the end of it all, just turning into death. And then rebirth — starting up all over, accumulating stuff and losing it all again, ad infinitum.

Plus, as is the nature of treadmills, IMHO, it’s all exhausting and really quite boring.

If our energy and effort have all gone into things outside our mind, we will end up the poorer because nothing physical lasts — we can’t take a smidgeon of that stuff with us. All that goes with us past death is our subtle mental continuum, which is like a storehouse for all the karma we have created in this and previous lives. Some of it good of course, but much of it stemming from selfish desires and leading us who knows where, but probably nowhere we want to be.

Forever chasing froth?

At my first time at the seaside, I remember being mesmerized by the glistening froth on the ocean  — so much so that I fetched my bucket to take some of it home. I don’t know how old I was, 15?! No, seriously, I wasn’t that old, but I was idiotic. My parents watched me doing this and, though they may have gently pointed out that the froth may not look quite so good later, I ignored them as usual and carried on scooping up the sparkling rainbow bubbles.

Even by the time I got to the car, it was grey, flat, and lifeless. I was disappointed, I think I may even have cried. But worldly enjoyments are all moreorless like that. The excitement disappears, and we’re left with the greying aftermath. Plus whatever karma we created. And, like my wiser parents, the Buddhas have been trying to tell us this but we won’t listen, or only half-heartedly anyway, because this fleeting insubstantial froth is still so enticing to our childish minds. Bucket and spade

In The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says:

Of all worldly possessions the most precious is said to be the legendary wish granting jewel… that has the power to grant wishes.

Only caveat is that this jewel can fulfill wishes for superficial, fleeting happiness, aka “contaminated happiness”; not the pure happiness that comes from a pure mind. But even if we ever come to possess everything we ever wanted externally, which of course is impossible while we still have the itch of attachment, pure and lasting happiness still eludes us. We still feel moreorless itchy and dissatisfied. Furthermore this jewel only has “the power to grant wishes in one life – it cannot protect its owner in his or her future lives.”

So, as it says in The New Eight Steps to Happiness:

hamster on happiness lineThe only thing never deceive us is the attainment of full enlightenment.  It is only by attaining enlightenment that we can fulfill our deepest wish for pure and lasting happiness, for nothing in this impure world has the power to fulfill this wish. Only when we become a fully enlightened Buddha will we experience the profound and lasting peace that comes from a permanent cessation of all delusions and their imprints. We will be free from all faults and mental obscurations, and will possess all the qualities needed to help all living beings directly. We will then be an object of refuge for all living beings.

Maybe we’re thinking this sounds a bit far-fetched – I don’t even like my neighbor, and here it’s being suggested that I can become an all-loving Buddha?!

But try closing your eyes and imagining all this for a moment, being profoundly peaceful, an object of refuge, and so on….

Can you?

Yes?

If so, that is significant. If you really couldn’t become a Buddha, you wouldn’t be able to imagine becoming one. And vice versa.  Everything starts with our thoughts, our correct imagination.

It’s only the hallucinations of our self-grasping ignorance that make us buy into being fixed, small, and limited. As I started to explain a bit here, we can change our programming fast by dropping into the clear light mind at our heart, dissolving away the self we ordinarily see, and then identifying with our boundless potential.hamster on swing

The first step: getting over ourselves

We now have the big picture. And according to the presentation in Eight Steps, once we’ve decided that enlightenment sounds interesting to us, and is something we might want and are capable of experiencing, we then go back to the beginning, to the first step, which is cherishing others.

Slowly but surely we overcome our bias and partiality to broaden and deepen our love — and what happens is that instead of experiencing that same old flatline happiness, with those pointless peaks and troughs, our happiness increases as the weeks, months, and years go by, and our delusions, sadness, and depression begin to melt away.

happy hamsterThis mind of cherishing others will take us in an ever upward trajectory — the happiness line ascending up and up infinitely until it disappears into space. With enlightenment, we have off the charts happiness and mental freedom.

“Quite remarkable”

I don’t know if this kind of thing impresses you or not, but this video talks about an experiment showing that the brainwaves of the “highest level meditators” are really different.

The main thing apparently is the gamma waves – we have these for a very short period when, for example, we solve a problem, or bite into an apple, or imagine biting into an apple (or drink a flat white). But “what was stunning” in people who have meditated a lot is that their “gamma waves are very strong all the time, a lasting trait, just their everyday state even when they are not meditating.” And apparently “science has never seen it before.”

Another remarkable discovery is that “when they meditate on compassion, their gamma jumps 700 or 800 percent, and this also never been seen by science.” The psychologist concludes that these meditators have “a state of being that is not like our ordinary state — sometimes it’s called liberation or enlightenment or awake or whatever the word may be. They feel spacious wide open.” And while he says we don’t know what this is exactly, we do know “it is quite remarkable”.

I would just like to add that we start to experience these kinds of joyful effects as soon as we start meditating regularly, especially if we do so skillfully in the context of identifying with our potential – these effects don’t just suddenly pop up overnight. Hence the ever-ascending line of the graph.

We have a taste

The deep joy or bliss we already experience inside us from time to time, when the clouds of delusions clear, gives us a taste of what it is like to be enlightened and experience deep profound bliss day and night, feeling connected to all living beings, blessing their minds. That seems compelling to me.  No longer to have to be all wrapped up in a small fixed boring me.

As Geshe Kelsang says, it’s up to us:

We are faced with a choice: either we can continue to squander our life in pursuing worldly enjoyments that give no real satisfaction and disappear when we die, or we can dedicate our life to realizing our full spiritual potential.

This is our choice: no one else can make this choice for us.

Unplugging the hedonic treadmill in 2019

hamster treadmillJust to conclude, I’m going to point out to those of you who are relatively new to Buddhism that unplugging the hedonic treadmill and dedicating our lives to realizing our full spiritual potential does not mean that we stop drinking flat whites, enjoying time with family and friends, watching movies, or getting promotions at work. It means that we understand where real happiness comes from and bring that understanding into whatever we’re doing each day.

We don’t abandon anything outside our mind, only our selfish attachment and other delusions for therein lie our actual problems. There’s a great saying in the Kadampa tradition:

Remain natural while changing your aspiration.

Using this life, or even just this year, to seek enlightenment doesn’t mean we have to go all strange. We can carry on doing pretty much the same things on the outside (unless we are a butcher or something). We transform our daily life into the spiritual path, and in this way experience greater and greater happiness as time goes on. As Geshe Kelsang puts it:

If we make the effort to practice Buddha’s teachings we will definitely attain enlightenment.

Definitely.

We don’t need to abandon our family, friends, or enjoyments, and retire to a mountain cave.

(Tempting as that may be from time to time … )

All we need to do is change the object of cherishing.

We could try this out in 2019 and see what happens. I don’t see what we’ve got to lose? And if it doesn’t work, we can get back on the treadmill in 2020.

Over to you. Comments are welcome.