Dealing with fears

8.5 mins read.

There’s a lot of anxiety, fear, and sadness going around this year. It is arguably leading to people feeling fragile and on a shorter fuse, more upset and angry than usual with each other and with everything that seems to be going on in our world. If we check where a lot of this is coming from, it comes because deep down most people are scared not just of losing the way of life they’ve known but of dying.

For this reason, to get rid of the underlying fear, it is really important that we don’t shy away from contemplating what is inevitable for all of us. That we come to terms with it, come to accept it, and even come to welcome it! After all, there is no getting around it. As Buddha says in Sutra Addressed to a King:

Ageing is like an immovable mountain. 
Decay is like an immoveable mountain.
Sickness is like an immoveable mountain.
Death is like an immoveable mountain.

Many people hold off thinking about things like serious illness, ageing, and death for as long as possible because they don’t know how to deal with them — they just seem catastrophic, terrifying. Like when the Doctor tells you or a loved one some test results, “I’m afraid it is not good news,” and our heart sinks — we just want to run away, even though there is nowhere to run to. However, we can face whatever happens not alone and scared but within the context of refuge – feeling safe, protected, okay. Also, if we can accept death, we find we can far more easily accept all the other things that go wrong with our lives.

We are all mortals made of flesh and bone, and the purpose of contemplating the mortal facts of sickness, ageing, death, and rebirth every day is not to paralyze us but to give rise to deep refuge in what will actually help us – and not just when these things happen, but now, straightaway. This includes, as we’ll see more in the next article, tuning into the blessings or protection of countless enlightened beings that are always on tap, and making an effort to apply the Dharma teachings that enable us to stay peaceful regardless of what is going on. With these we can stay happy in the present, and we are also ready for the illness and death when they come. We become fearless.

There is nothing to fear but fear itself, as the saying goes. And it turns out that our fear and anxiety, along with all our other unpeaceful thoughts, are delusions arising from grasping at something that is not there, such as a real body, or a real self, or a self that is more important than everyone else. Our fears are directly proportional to how tightly we are grasping. Luckily we can all learn to let go of these thoughts, to stop grasping. And it is helpful to remember that our mind is naturally peaceful, we are just shaking it up with our own inappropriate thoughts.

Getting started

We can start to relax straightaway through a few minutes breathing exercize or clarity of mind or turning the mind to wood. As Geshe Kelsang says:

So much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from our mind, and many of the problems we experience, including ill health, are caused or aggravated by this stress. Just by doing breathing meditation for ten or fifteen minutes each day, we will be able to reduce this stress.

A lot of our ill health is enormously exacerbated – sometimes even brought on — by anxiety and tension in the mind. Therefore it would be great to start practicing these simple strategies now on a daily basis because they will be very healing. Then, through using wisdom and compassion to get rid of our grasping once and for all, we will become free from all sickness permanently.

Inner and outer problems

With our world in turmoil and anxiety, we have to learn how to keep our mind peaceful and calm. If we are peaceful, we are happy. We are also strong, which means we can help others stay strong too.

If we understand the difference between inner and outer problems we can understand why being able to keep a peaceful mind is the actual solution when things are going wrong. A quick reminder: if our car breaks down, that is an outer problem belonging to the car. It can be fixed (or not) depending on outer means, such as taking it to the garage, and it can be fixed by other people.

If we get upset that the car has broken down, that is an inner problem, an unpleasant feeling in our own mind. This is what makes us unhappy and is therefore our actual problem. It can ONLY be fixed by internal means, and by ourself.

It is never too late to start controlling our own mind – on one level it is not hard, it just takes a decision to get started, to make it a priority.

Dharma solves inner problems, that is its actual function. And on one level the solution to these problems is so very simple. If we let go of self-cherishing (believing we are more important than others) and self-grasping (believing everything is real, existing from its own side), the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. If we do not, then even if we manage to get over one fear or upset, this is a temporary relief – another is already on its way. It’s endless, life after life.

Being trapped in so-called samsara, the cycle of impure life, is not being trapped in an external prison – it simply means that we still have self-cherishing and self-grasping. If we learn how we are creating this prison, we can dismantle it. It is useful to let our daily problems remind us not that we are doomed, but instead:

Man, this health/financial/political/relationship problem is really showing me how much self-cherishing and self-grasping suck! Luckily they are just ignorant thoughts, bubbles arising from the ocean of my root mind. Therefore, I’m going to learn to stop thinking them and get used to not thinking them. And then help others to do the same.

Rinse and repeat. This way, it’s like our run of the mill outer and inner problems are giving us practice in getting rid of all of our problems once and for all!

Can we be ill and happy at the same time?!

But surely being ill is an inner problem? you may be thinking. No. It is our body’s problem, not our mind’s problem. We can include bodily ailments within outer problems. We believe our feelings of pain are coming from our body, but our body is inanimate and doesn’t feel anything. The pain is our bodily awareness, which pervades our body, but which is part of our mind. And the painful bodily feelings arise only because we have self-grasping ignorance, believing our body is inherently existent. If we get a direct realization of emptiness, we never feel any physical (or mental) pain again. Meantime, we can also have unpleasant bodily feelings while at the same time having peaceful mental feelings, such as compassion or renunciation.

Soooo…  if we make a point of stopping self-cherishing and self-grasping with respect to our body, we will be able to stay increasingly pain-free and happy even when we’re getting older, sicker, and deader. And how important is that!!

I’ve had some practice with this of late — for example my lungs got a bit infected by all the wildfire smoke and I had to have laser surgery for a torn retina – and this fear (aargh, I have lung cancer and I’m going blind!) and loathing (why did this happen to me!? I was so happy before! I don’t like it!) has given me ample incentive to contemplate that my body is not my mind, and nor is it me. It is just a possession I use, like my car or my carrot peeler. It is inanimate. Plus it is not inherently existent. (Despite numerous contemplations on the subject over the years, I think I was still kinda hoping I might get away with not having to go through all that aging and sickness stuff, just drop dead one day and go to the Pure Land. Been having to rethink my strategy 😂).

At times when things go wrong with my body, I naturally turn to think of practitioners who are really good at transforming sickness and creeping fears; and there is actually no shortage of inspiration. Lhatse Geshe visited us at Madhyamaka Centre many years ago, possibly the happiest most fun-loving person in the world. He came for a week and stayed 3 months, and we never knew till after he’d left that he’d had migraines almost every day. (He and I stayed in touch for years, and a long time later he also had an awesome death — I’ll tell you that story another day.)

One senior Kadampa nun I know has experienced painful and debilitating arthritis for years, but she is always genuinely smiling and kind. The other day someone asked her how she was and she replied:

I am fine. I am not a sick person. I just have a body that is problematical.

I find this really helpful to contemplate.

Another 40-something Kadampa has recently come through cancer but she told me that she’d happily do it all again if it meant COVID would go away for everyone else. Shows how much authentic compassion she developed in the course of her illness and treatment.

A good friend with a degenerative illness replied to me the other day:

My physical health is getting worse. My spiritual practice is getting better.

Another friend told me that if he hadn’t suffered from so much ill health, he would never have turned so much to Dharma or led such a good and basically happy life, so he doesn’t regret any of it (even the operations where there was no anaesthesia ….) What about Harriet Tubman, still running the equivalent of five marathons to save people from slavery despite the horrendous headaches that would have floored less inspired people?

And something for the Tantric practitioners amongst you … You know those car stickers you see on old bangers, “My other car is a Mercedes?” I remember conversations with my ancient friend Eileen, who suffered sickness and old age for years, when she would say,

This meaty body is not my real body. My other body is a Deity body.

Which brings me to my Mom, too. She’s had a lot of serious health challenges in her life, but manages most all of the time to stay peaceful and keep enjoying life. If she isn’t happy she isn’t one to complain, she generally just waits patiently for it to pass. This is because she can be rather wise. The other day she was saying that our body is a thing, it is not us. It is a tool or an instrument that we use. Our mind is more important. She told me she makes an effort to think about things that are “important”, not to worry about small things. The main thing is to keep our mind peaceful and happy, not to worry about all the external things that we can do nothing about, which is pointless because we can do nothing about them. That includes all the things that can go wrong with our problematical body and, as she said, hers has been that.

There is literally no point following the inappropriate attention of anxiety or fear when it comes to our body. We don’t freak out (much) when the car is dented, we just take it to the garage. In a similar way, we can learn to patiently accept whatever is coming up with the body while taking it to the doctor.

Kadampa Geshes would pray to have a mind like a blacksmith’s anvil, undaunted however hard it is hit. Sounds good to me! Shortly after Venerable Geshe Kelsang came over to the West to help us, in the early 1980s, he developed tuberculosis and almost passed away. After he had recovered, I remember his doctor telling us that he saw absolutely no difference in Geshe-la’s way of being when he was well and when he was gravely ill. He said you couldn’t tell he was ill.

More coming up soon. Meantime, over to you! In particular, do you have any helpful experiences to share on transforming bodily ailments or physical pain in particular?

Before you go … I really recommend the International Kadampa Fall Festival that started on Friday (and is available for a couple of weeks)– for one thing Gen-la Dekyong just gave a beautiful commentary on inner and outer problems and what actually is physical pain, based on Venerable Geshe-la’s Medicine Buddha teachings in New York in 2006. Simply stunning. As was the empowerment today. Still plenty of time to tune in.

The power of listening

6.5 mins read.

My dad said on Skype yesterday that we’d all get through 2020 if we stay cool, calm, and collected and if we are nice to everyone, lol. He added, “That is what you are telling everyone, isn’t it?”

Buddhism does indeed explain how we can be IN the world, as it were, without being OF the world – helping others in a practical way but without feeling helplessly swept along by everything and everyone that seems to be going wrong. We need not be dangling like a puppet on the strings of aversion, uncontrolled desire, and confusion, but more like a Weeble that bounces back to center however hard it is pushed.

And rather than being stymied by the guilty dualistic thought, “I am not doing enough,” we need the contented feeling of wholeness that sources a steady stream of action, “I am doing enough.”

Firm, stable refuge in our heart starts with a knowledge that underneath the chaos we have deep hearts of gold; there sanity lies. We have everything we need inside us and nothing truly to be worried about. If we steadily grow our reliance on wisdom and love, we come to possess an inner calm and coolness under pressure. This also has us automatically tuned in to the inspiring wisdom, bliss, and protection of all enlightened beings.

Question is, how can we deepen this reliance? I find it interesting that at both the International Spring AND Summer Kadampa Buddhist Festivals this year, Venerable Geshe-la shared this as his message to us all:

Hello to the International Kadampa community. I would like to offer you the following message based on The Stories of Rebirth by Arya Sura. I would like to explain the benefits of listening to Dharma teachings.

Why the emphasis on listening to Dharma? Partly, for reasons I talked about in this last article, I think it may be because at least some of us might be spending a bit too much time listening to things that are NOT the Dharma of wisdom and compassion, and that could even indeed be the opposite.

Are you doom-scrolling?

We need to be responsible, educated citizens, for sure, with an election coming up here in the USA for example and age-old injustices to be addressed. But with fewer IRL places and people for us to hang out with these days, we may be getting too helplessly sucked into the endless virtual noise, speculation, and inappropriate attention that just seem to take us further and further from the truth. I have seen that tendency in myself and had to nip it in the bud a few times, so I know what I’m talking about.

In fact, there is even a new word for it, “doom-scrolling”. Or, it’s even worse cousin, “rage-scrolling.”

As the great Indian Master Atisha puts it:

Avoid places that disturb your mind, and always remain where your virtues increase.

I would submit that we could apply this advice not just to physical but to virtual places. Less time on CNN/Fox News, more time on Buddhist TV! Less time in our echo chambers, or vainly talking at people, and more time doing practical things to actually make a difference in the lives of our families, community, and country. As the saying goes: “Less drama, more Dharma.”

Less drama, more Dharma

I thought in this article it’d be nice to go over some of these benefits. Please feel welcome to add your own commentary in the Comments Box below.

1. Listening to Dharma teachings is a great light that eliminates the darkness of our own and others’ ignorance.

We have been in this discombobulating darkness since beginningless time! It’s way too long. Way too long. To break out of the dystopian worlds we keep projecting for ourselves with self-grasping ignorance, we need to listen to Buddha’s teachings on reality more and more deeply.

It is hard to see that this light is even there, however, if we get stuck down a rabbit hole.

2. Listening to Dharma teachings is the best wealth that cannot be stolen by thieves and which gives great meaning to our human life.

Our external resources have always been unstable and subject to decline, which seems more obvious than ever in these days of economic uncertainty. But increasing the inner wealth of spiritual experience can come to help us so much more than any amount of outer wealth could ever do – in the short term it gives us the riches of contentment (that we can also take with us through death), and in the long term it leads us to lasting happiness and freedom.

Listening also includes reading Buddhist books – for example, you could start working your way through the 23 totally inspirational works by Venerable Geshe-la. How about that for a meaningful and fool-proof life plan to acquire the best wealth?!

3. Listening to Dharma teachings is a weapon that destroys our enemy of confusion.

We need a wisdom sword to cut through the never-ending hallucinations of samsara. One bit of advice I find useful: When reading or listening to stuff that I find confusing or provocative on the internet etc, when I am not sure who or what to believe, one thing I ask myself is:

What would Buddha believe?

Or “What would Geshe-la believe,” if that works for you too. We are Buddha’s followers, so follow Buddha.

4. Listening to Dharma teachings is our best friend who will never deceive us and from whom we receive our best advice.

“Time is running,” as Geshe Kelsang says, and it’s all too easy to waste it. Unlike the greatest conspiracy theorist of them all – our own self-grasping mind – listening to the advice of enlightened beings will only ever reveal things we need to know for greater happiness and freedom. We might come to prefer hanging out with Dharma more than anything else. We will never feel lonely again with this friend around.

5. Listening to Dharma teachings is a relative and friend who remains loyal even when we are impoverished.

6. Listening to Dharma teachings is the supreme medicine that cures the disease of uncontrolled desire, anger, and ignorance.

Indirectly, listening also helps us overcome all physical diseases. It certainly helps us deal better with them.

7. Listening to Dharma teachings is a powerful opponent that destroys great faults.

8. Listening to Dharma teachings is the best treasure because it is the foundation of all fame and resources.

By listening, we create positive mental actions that are “hundreds of times more powerful than verbal and physical actions,” according to Venerable Geshe-la. These create the karmic causes for anything and everything we could ever want.

9. Listening to Dharma teachings is the best gift through which we can benefit all living beings.

I think we’d all like to help as many people as we can, given the choice? Through listening to Dharma, we become a source of refuge and strength for others, and a good example of how to be happy and carefree. Eventually we become a Bodhisattva and then a Buddha, helping everyone every day.

10. Listening to Dharma teachings is the best method to make countless living beings happy.

Summer is winding down and Kadampa Centers everywhere are about to embark on their Fall scheduling. (Here in Colorado, high temperatures and sunshine are set to plunge 50 degrees and snow next Tuesday!) Longer nights and colder days give us the perfect opportunity to cozy up to our local Buddhist TV station or read more Dharma books.  It’s a great idea to make a schedule that we can stick to.

If you haven’t done so already, for example, maybe now would be a good time to join in with a consistent in-depth study program such as Foundation Program? And those of you who have been around Kadampa Buddhism for a while, have you considered joining a Teacher Training Program? – for all the reasons listed above, our world could do with more Dharma teachers. Here is more info on on the study programs of Modern Buddhism.

To finish the message started above:

Please memorize, contemplate the meaning again and again and then put it into practice day by day, month by month, year by year.

I will also pray for you and your families.

With much love,
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

A light in the darkness

7 mins read.

In this last article, When the student is ready the teacher appears, I was in the middle of talking about Venerable Geshe-la — there are just so many things to say about him, but I had to stop in order to give you time to eat your supper and scream at the TV.

Joking of course. But having said that, I do hope you’re finding time to tune into Dharma books and Buddhist TV (livestreaming meditation classes) as an antidote to all the crazy stuff going on. In these “unusual times”, and I speak here to myself as well, one thing that can be quite unhelpful is spending too much time imbibing bad news on TV or social media. If we find our anxiety, depression, irritation, or sense of powerlessness are increasing as the weeks and months go by, this could mean that we are consuming life’s appearances passively, not working with them actively*.

(*Getting pulled down the rabbit holes of addictive game-like conspiracy theories or spending hours trying to convince others of how free-thinking and right we are doesn’t count, btw. And life is so short, just a matter of months, do we even have time for that?)

Reminds me of Shantideva’s question — if there is something you can do about it, why worry? If there’s nothing you can do about it, why worry?

Legit question: How can we stay involved in social media but still cut through the noise? Samsara is nothing if not beginningless and endless noise. If we find we are getting totally caught up in it, experiencing frustration, might it be more effective and sanity-restoring to just get away from the deep diving online dialogues (monologues?!) for a while? The world probably won’t end if we stop discussing it for a bit. We could spend more time instead filling our hearts with love (and even bodhichitta) and doing something practical and “real” to help the people immediately around us, in our families and communities? Civic engagement. Volunteering. Helping our Dharma Centers. What do you think?

I think people have just spent too much time online of late, not surprisingly. We know it’s addictive. We know conspiracy theories spread in this environment. The thing I mainly don’t appreciate about conspiracy theories, as a Buddhist, is that we are supposed to be in the business of vanquishing mental elaborations and samsaric narratives, not seeking out more. We are in the business of training our minds because all of us are creating our reality with our minds. And the biggest conspiracy theorist and yarn spinner of them all is our mind of self-grasping ignorance – we have to see through its convoluted sad-world-creating lies before it’s too late.

I personally think a lot of conspiracy theories fall into the category of what Buddha described as intellectually-formed delusions, which we pile up as so much clutter on the prison floor of our innate self-grasping and other delusions, in front of the escape route. Plus holding false views as supreme, holding wrong views, and so on. Buddha knows our psychology very well, he left no stone unturned in his description of the human mind and what games we could play on ourselves. Check out How to Understand the Mind for more. We all need to be hyper-vigilant these days with respect to our own minds, not just what everyone else seems to be up to. As the saying goes:

More Dharma, less drama.

We could instead choose to take charge and advantage of how creative our mind is by using Buddha’s wisdom and compassion teachings to check what’s meaningful AND create the causes for freedom and happiness. So simple! So effective. Rather than fall victim to negative unpeaceful thoughts and hallucinations that make us feel worse and worse (and cause us to fall out with our oldest friends), we can use every appearance and experience actively to create compassion, love, unity, joy, and lasting mental freedom. Becoming more and more like those who have truly freed their minds and become a lasting source of happiness for others.

Two practical suggestions

Next time we’re about to read or see a video or article or discussion online, and are in any danger of getting sucked into yet another dystopian narrative, we can ask ourselves: “What would Buddha believe?” I find this helps me.

The other is to spend far less of our valuable days online altogether — to read Dharma books or listen to more teachings instead, schedule these in, be more disciplined.  I don’t think it’s any accident that Venerable Geshe-la’s message for us at the beginning of the last two International Kadampa Festivals has been Aryasura’s incredible benefits of listening to Dharma. We need to give ourselves this chance to stay inspired and happy. That’s really important.

What IS “in fact” going on?!

In another of Venerable Geshe-la’s recent messages to everyone, he said:

There is not much reason to worry. With respect to the difficult situations that are appearing to us, we do not know whether they are good or bad. So, we should make our own life peaceful and happy through putting Dharma into practice. This is our job. We can solve our problems through the practice of Dharma. Everything is uncertain. This is samsara’s nature of impure life. So we ourself should be an example. We can solve our problems, we should maintain a peaceful and happy mind all the time through putting Dharma into practice.

One reason we don’t know whether these difficult situations are good or bad is because everything depends on the mind, everything is empty of existing from its own side, objectively. Difficult circumstances, for example, can be immensely helpful, not harmful, if we use them to increase our renunciation or compassion.

What CAN we trust?!

In a world of hallucination, what can we actually trust? What can we beneficially believe? If we open our eyes and look with real empathy, coming from an understanding of who we all really are, we see so much more.

So, for example, when we see people doing or saying things we don’t like, rather than falling for the blame game and becoming upset or angry, we can remember that they are not their delusions, that they are being controlled by their delusions. Hating them is not helpful. Instead we can do the internal work of developing love and compassion for everyone concerned, and this will lead to sustained patient, skillful, and joyful actions on others’ behalf, really trying to help people in whatever practical way we can, without us succumbing to bitterness, exhaustion, or despair.

We can remember, for example, the Kadampa motto for a meaningful life, which is to harm our delusions as much as possible and help others as much as possible. Now is the time to be proactive and creative! Our world is not as solid as it appears, rather more like an illusion or a dream. Our thoughts are infinitely flexible and changeable, and we can vastly improve our own and others’ reality.

Which brings me back to the main subject of this article …

What does this have to do with relying on a Spiritual Guide? A lot, as it happens, because he or she shows exactly how we can harm our delusions and help others as much as possible – through his teachings, practical encouragement, and own uplifting example. He is a light in the darkness of the confusion, and we can follow that light right out of here — if we decide not to lose sight of it by falling down a rabbit hole.

Venerable Geshe-la has written 22 books that are extraordinary – if you haven’t read all or any of them yet, you are in for a treat (just ask Prince Harry, who recently listed Eight Steps to Happiness as his favorite motivational book.) These books flowed out from Geshe-la’s extensive learning, practice, and wisdom — for us — so that people in the modern day could practice Dharma in their everyday lives. He changed the whole presentation of this rich tradition of Kadam Dharma without adding anything or leaving a single thing out. He received permission from Trijang Rinpoche to teach the entire path of Sutra and Tantra to you and me so that we could actually practice it with all our modern issues, with everything that’s going on – in our jobs, in our families, in our societies, in our lives.

It was not always like this – there was a time when Buddhism was the precinct of monks (and to a lesser extent nuns) in monasteries, not just in Tibet but in other Buddhist countries the world over. Lay people would be considered the less serious practitioners, whose main job was to support the ordained community. Tibetan Buddhism came over to us from a monastic tradition, and in the very early days you could be forgiven for thinking you had to be a monk and sit in your room all day long to get anywhere, both spiritually AND in the organization. (Not that there is anything wrong with sitting in your room all day long, in fact it can be very helpful — I would submit that we probably all could benefit from more study and meditation if we can carve out the time, especially in these turbulent days. Point being, though, that we can go far by applying the teachings in the midst of a “normal” daily life.)

I had an hour-long conversation with Geshe-la back then about whether or not lay people could become enlightened. (The answer is ….. wait for it …. Yes!!!) The only reason I needed to ask him this was because of an attitude around at the time that to be ordained was the only proper way to be. Geshe-la never said this and, in fact, pretty much the day he landed on English soil he said he wanted there now to be four types of teacher – nuns, monks, lay women, and lay men – and that they would study together and be equal. He has always aimed for equality, but has had to skillfully offload the baggage that came over with that generation of Tibetans.

I will finish this article for now with a quote from Venerable Geshe-la:

I am working very hard to spread Kadam Dharma throughout the world because I wish each and every living being to attain real happiness, the pure and everlasting happiness of enlightenment. This depends on each and every living being having the opportunity to practice Buddha’s teaching. I am strongly applying effort to prepare this precious opportunity and with sincere strong prayer. This is my cherishing of all living beings in a practical way. You can do this too.

And, would you look at that, I am out of space again! There’s more on its way. Meantime, please share comments, stories, or anything you like in the box below.

Related articles

More Buddhist views on conspiracy theories 

Why rely on a Spiritual Guide?

What can we really know about anyone? 

From division to unity

An article co-written by a friend and me. 

One of Buddha Shakyamuni’s qualities is that he has love and compassion without discrimination. Sometimes we fantasize about Buddha’s time, as if it was always peaceful and magical. But the truth is that Buddha went against the grain of his society and invited everyone into the spiritual community — men, women, kings, queens, those of the lowest caste, those shunned by society, even thieves and murderers. This speaks to the foundation of the teachings — that they are for everyone. These teachings, which provide freedom, provide this freedom for everyone. It was powerful then and it is powerful now.

Tibet was pretty feudal, not the most progressive society in the world by any means. Although there were spiritual masters and Yoginis of staggering power, Dharma teachings and teachers were largely confined to the monasteries; and for whatever reason society as a whole was static for centuries. We have a better opportunity than practitioners in Tibet to use Buddhist ideas to make a difference in our world because we are already democratic in theory and because of modern communications. The last time that Venerable Geshe Kelsang, originally from Tibet, visited the States, he praised Western countries:

I find in Western countries very good examples. For example, in Europe and in America, according to their constitutions, everyone is equal. They’ve even made it into law. There is equal education, equal rights, equal freedom for free speech, no discrimination between different races, no discrimination between different religions.

 On paper at least we are doing very well, and this is actually a wonderful achievement. The truth is that you cannot find one single person who is more important than everyone else, or even more important than anyone else. We are equal. We believe it in principle. However, as we know, we don’t always believe or live this truth in practice. Why? Geshe Kelsang explained:

It is so difficult to put this law into practice because we cannot help but discriminate naturally. Due to our self-cherishing mind thinking “I am important” and ignoring others’ happiness, even though the law says everyone is to be treated equally we are not doing this practically. The government constitutions saying “Everyone is equal” looks like a Mahayana Buddhist idea; but we can’t do it practically. 

When Gen-la Dekyong was talking about this in this year’s Summer Festival, she said we need to check inside our heart: “Am I discriminating that everyone is equal? When we think I, I, mine, mine, we naturally cherish that I, thinking it is most important, and neglect others.” As Geshe-la says:

We can’t practice equality if we have never trained in thinking ‘Self-cherishing is bad. It causes problems and suffering.’ Thus the constitution is the law and Mahayana Buddhism is the practice of this law.

As Buddha’s ideas spread into the modern world at large, where everything is connected, we now have a new and inspiring opportunity to use them to reshape our society and become truly democratic. Everyone can make use of these ideas, not just Buddhists, for they are in many ways just super-charged common sense.

Over to my co-writer again for some very helpful suggestions on how we can get started.

Equalizing self and others

If we want to move from division to unity, if we want true equality, one way is to practice equalizing self and others. We can contemplate this for example: 

Just as we value our own peace and happiness, so too should we value the peace and happiness of all living beings; and just as we work to free ourself from suffering and problems, so too should we work to free others. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness 

If we’re going to get to true or actual equality, equalizing is what we each need to practice. This is a very deep attitude, a deep spiritual conversion of our heart. Believing that other people’s happiness is equally or at least as important as our own, we will really help them and pray for them. 

If we all go deep into this, how would it affect the people around us? How would our world change as a result? I think our personal world would change immensely, and the immediate world of our family and community would also change. Our contribution, our influence, would be powerful.

We need to examine our own perceptions and attitudes through introspection or meditation; this is our responsibility. What about those who are not doing this though, who are careless with their self-cherishing, who don’t even know or care that they have it? 

The only appropriate response to those who are driven by their delusions to harm others is compassion. Sometimes it is necessary to force those who are behaving in very deluded ways to stop both for their own sake and to protect other people, but it is never appropriate to blame or become angry with them. ~ Eight Steps

Which means to hate them. We know this. To hate someone who is acting out of ignorance or hatred is no better. It is no solution. It is a deeper transformation of our mind to see that people are being harmed by their hatred as opposed to being their hatred. It takes the wisdom born from meditation to really see the difference between a delusion and a person. It’s not intellectual.  

We are all family

Right now, there’s a lot of division. Broadly speaking, we have friends, we have people we don’t like, and we have a huge group inbetween for whom we feel nothing at all. This is all mis-identification because, according to Buddha, we are all family. We have all been each others’ mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters a million times over. Through the countless rebirths we have had, we’ve changed our relationships repeatedly. We have taken a different rebirth now, but that doesn’t mean the connection we’ve had is gone — it does still exist. We are connected deeply. 

Along with this basic category of friends, enemies, and strangers, we further divide ourselves up in so many different ways: by culture, race, sexual preferences, politics, income, and more. So then what happens? We develop attachment for the people who seem to be like us or who agree with us. And we develop unpleasant feelings — maybe even hatred — for people who do not seem to be like us or who do not subscribe to our views. Doesn’t this sound like what we do!? We create division. We’re fractured.

Dualistic thinking

Just to get profound for a bit … on the deepest level, the origins of these classifications and divisions are what we call “dualistic appearance” and “dualistic grasping.” There’s the truth or reality of me, and there’s also what appears to be me. We see these two things to be separate when they are not

For example when you go to work there’s a professional you in your uniform, then when you go home there’s an at-home you in your old comfy jeans. The professional you is not different from the at-home you — they are just different aspects of what appears to be you. The truth of you is that you are undefined and unlimited in aspects. Gardening you, jogging you, angry you, happy you. There are so many aspects or appearances of you! All of these “you’s” are unified in your truth, which is what Buddha called your emptiness. 

One way to look at it is this — you are truly empty of definition. You are the unlimited possibility of emptiness. It’s a very positive liberating emptiness!  

Your emptiness, or lack of true definition, is how the many aspects or appearances of you are possible in the first place. For the sake of argument, if you really were just one of these aspects entirely, defined only in that one way, the other aspects of you would be impossible. However, how you live your varied life every day in all these aspects tells you what’s really going on. 

All of these modes of you, these ways of being, exist because of your lack of true definition. Your unlimited true nature (your emptiness) and your various aspects are unified.  However we normally perceive these two, our emptiness and our aspects, as two different things, which is called dualistic appearance or mistaken appearance. Out of deep habit we believe this difference or inner division to be true, which is called dualistic grasping. From The Mirror of Dharma:

When we see our body, in truth we see only the emptiness of our body because the real nature of our body is its emptiness. However, we do not understand this because of our ignorance. We normally see our body as something that exists from its own side. This is mistaken appearance. ~ The Mirror of Dharma

Whether talking about our body or our self, we are perceiving something that is true as well as something that is not true. We perceive our emptiness, because emptiness is our true way of being, yet we don’t apprehend or relate to it. Instead we see and relate to an ordinary limited self that is independent in its way of being. 

For example, we can think “I’m stuck,” and have this strong sense of a limited real self, yet not understand how that sense of self depends upon our way of thinking and is therefore empty of being stuck, not really stuck! Our mind is obscured by confusion, although the truth is already before us. 

Becoming whole

If our confused mind is creating division in ourself at a very deep level, you better believe it’s going to divide everyone and everything else up too. However, due to Buddha’s great and practical wisdom, we can remedy this situation. We can become whole — individually and collectively. 

If we believe that there is an independent me or self, then this means there’s an independent you or other too. We have divided ourselves into independent me and independent you. Or into real, or actual, self and other. 

Then come the many layers of classification and division that pile on from that ignorance. We believe in so many things that don’t exist from their own side! We put everything into separate boxes, not seeing their interconnection and 100 percent mutual dependence. Understanding the origin point of the mistake, we can address it or abandon it, as Buddha explains fully in the four noble truths

Uprooting systemic ignorance 

Samsara, from a Buddhist definition, is the cycle of impure life — a life that is created by this dualistic self-grasping ignorance along with the self-centeredness (Me first!) that goes with it. This world that we normally see is definitely impure life — created, controlled, and perpetuated by ignorance. It is not so hard to see this truth when it is pointed out. The root of samsara is deep, deep systemic ignorance, and it is therefore pervaded by systemic division and systemic inequality.

The inequality that we see in society is a manifestation of the deep levels of samsaric divisiveness. Because in the origin point of our thinking there is a false duality, everything else is a projection of this duality, this separation, this division. However, instead of believing in an objective or actual “self” and “other” — or an independent me divided from an independent you — we can learn to see ourselves as gathered together into one. Parts of a whole. Unified in truth.

Abolishing inequality

Going back to equalizing, we can see for a start that each one of us is interconnected in a dimensionless, huge, universal wish to be happy and free. We are unified or one in this wish. We can easily begin to overcome our mistaken divisiveness by seeing and feeling that we are all interconnected rather than independent. It’s so necessary, because this view of independence is literally killing us.

Geshe Kelsang says:

Loving others is principally an attitude of mind. The way in which we express it depends upon the needs, wishes, and situations of each individual as well as our karmic connection with them. We cannot physically care for everyone, but we can develop a caring attitude towards all beings. This is the main point of training the mind.

We can spend weeks, months, our whole life on deeply seeing others’ happiness and freedom as important as our own, and developing a caring attitude towards them. If we can do this, we will move beyond division. When we do this, we become someone who creates harmony, who creates peace, who can repair trouble. We become more and more fearless, an abolitionist of inequality. We have the methods. We’ve got such clear instruction that holds incredible power. We’ve got the wish and people are waiting.

Over to you. Please leave your comments and questions for us in the comments so we can answer them.

Related reading 

The meditation on equalizing self and others 

What is self-cherishing and what is wrong with it?

What can we really know about anyone? 

Living beings are not their delusions 

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

Je TsongkhapaYesterday Michelle Obama, an amazing woman who always strikes me as grounded, wise, and resilient under pressure, offered comfort to others by sharing how she herself of late has been coping with low-grade depression. It’s not at all hard to understand why. And people all over the world are feeling it too, for all kinds of reasons.

Lying in bed late last night, unable to fall asleep with all that’s been going on, I found myself mulling over everything seemingly wrong in my life, in my friends’ and relatives’ lives, in this country and the world at large, and not restricted to human beings. It was a lot! Yet I also realized it was nothing — on one level, a deeper level — that I couldn’t actually handle.

In these unusual and unsettling times, would you agree it is more apparent than ever that we need actively to be seeking something trustworthy? Something and/or someone to help us navigate beyond anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and overwhelming confusion to a heartfelt peace, stability, inspiration, and transcendence? The time-honored benefits of relying on a qualified spiritual guide are compelling in this regard, not just for ourselves but for others — so that we can provide an ongoing brave and safe space for them to land. If we really want to change things, I think we all need the firm basis of refuge.

Carrying directly on from this article.

Once we have decided to rely upon a spiritual guide, the big question is – obviously — who?! Who is my Spiritual Guide?Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 4.46.52 PM

In the book Great Treasury of Merit, Geshe Kelsang says that our Spiritual Guide

… is any spiritual teacher who sincerely leads us into spiritual paths by giving correct instructions.

This can be anyone – from East or West, lay or ordained, male or female, black, white, or green with pink spots. It doesn’t matter who they are as long as they are able to guide us along the spiritual path because they’ve been there themselves, always showing us an inspiring example of what is possible. That is our Spiritual Guide, that person.

We have complete choice over that – everyone in Buddhism always chooses their own Spiritual Guide, that’s how it works. I can’t tell you who yours is, but I can tell you more about mine.

Moreover, not just for me, but for this current generation of Kadampa teachers and practitioners, I would say we are probably in unanimous agreement that our Spiritual Guide is Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche, otherwise known as “Geshe-la”.

GeshelaJust so you know, “Geshe” is short for “ge way she nyen,” the Tibetan term for “spiritual friend”. “La” is a term of endearment and respect. “Rinpoche” means “precious,” and is an honorific for highly regarded Teachers. “Kelsang” means “good fortune”. “Gyatso” means “ocean”. And “Venerable” means “Venerable.”

This generation of practitioners who have been lucky enough to be in this world with him would probably all agree that Geshe-la is our root Spiritual Guide, even if we have also received a lot of teachings from his other disciples. Some of his disciples have more experience and knowledge than us, so they can help show the path, act as role models, advise us, encourage us. But for anyone who wants to follow the path of Kadampa Buddhism to its completion, I would recommend Geshe-la as their fully qualified guide because (a) he is the obvious candidate for the job, and (b) anything we learn from any other Kadampa teacher is coming from him in any case — they’ll all tell you that. Also, any love, wisdom, or skill these practitioners have gained comes largely from following his example.

Therefore, if we can go direct to the source, then why not?! But it is nonetheless entirely up to us who we end up choosing, and it depends on our karma as well.

Meeting Geshe-la

Within that, of course, many people have not met Geshe-la in the flesh, as it were. However, luckily, he is not a fleshy person, there is a lot more to him than that – he is an enlightened being who possesses omniscient wisdom and compassion. That’s one reason why he makes such a good Spiritual Guide — he is everywhere all the time. His physical body is like some kind of overcoat, as he once said, and not who he really is. You may not have been in his direct physical presence but you still know him.

Geshela youngIt’s a bit like how, right now, I’m not in your physical presence and you’re not in mine – we could well be on different continents. If I know you are in London, say, and I think of you there, then my mind is in London right now, as well as up a mountain in Evergreen, Colorado looking after some friends’ chickens. Mind is extraordinary. Even an ordinary mind like mine can be anywhere I decide to put it, so of course an enlightened being’s mind can go anywhere and is everywhere all the time. Geshe-la’s mind is very much with us all the time. He said, “My mind will always be with you;” and I’m not the only one who has had innumerable experiences where I know this to be true. If we understand that enlightenment is reality, it is easier to understand the real nature and power of a Spiritual Guide.

Relying on a Spiritual Guide is a bit like tuning in and just knowing he is there. And the sheer act of knowing he is with you, always, means there is a connection and relationship right there already. From his side he already knows you. From your side you just need gradually to get to know him.

I am always with you

Geshe-la is exceedingly quiet and humble, he doesn’t really put himself forward, much less make himself the center of attention; but his wisdom is everywhere, in everything. He is in all those 23 books because he wrote them – one time he said he was like the tape recorder for the tapes of Manjushri Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings. He is responsible for over 1200+ Buddhist centers around the world and all their teachers who are his disciples. All the five World Peace Temples, portals into the Pure Land, that are being plonked all over the world — Heruka’s mandala — all come from him. All of this comes from his heart of compassion and wisdom, his enlightenment.

If you have walked through the door of any Kadampa Center or listened to the livestream of any class, you already know Geshe-la. When you see your local Kadampa teacher, or any other disciple, Geshe-la is at their heart. Buddhas’ minds can go anywhere, is everywhere, and Venerable Geshe-la has appeared in this world for the Geshe-la humilityspecific purpose of leading us to enlightenment. That’s all he has ever done — lead people along the path to increasing freedom and happiness. In all the 39 years I’ve known him I’ve never known him do anything else. I think this all means that he is very well qualified for this job of Spiritual Guide.

Modern Day Kadampas booklet

I want to say a bit more about him, referring to a booklet called Modern Day Kadampas written by a dear old friend called Jim Belither, who was the NKT secretary for about an aeon and is now the chief Tharpa editor (thank you for over 40 years of non-stop usefulness, Jim!) I don’t know if this booklet is still in circulation or not, but it is still true, even though many more good things have happened since its publication. (Hey, Jim, maybe you should update it … ) This tradition of Buddhism is growing fast because people are able to apply the teachings to their everyday lives and are getting results.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche is a highly respected meditation master and scholar. He was born in  Tibet in 1931 and ordained as a Buddhist monk at the age of eight.

Modern Day KadampasBack in the early eighties, other Tibetan Lamas such as Venerable Geshe-la’s friends and sometimes his teachers like Kyabje Song Rinpoche would come teach us and spend time with us. (Once or twice I practiced my Tibetan on them to help them feel at home, but they just laughed at me uproariously.)

Anyway, a fellow monk from Geshe-la’s childhood told me that even as a child Geshe-la was unusual. At the age of 8 or 9 he would study the philosophical treatises all day long with the rest of them, and then meditate on Lamrim all night long while they slept.

It was traditional for the young monks to have an older disciplinarian monk in charge of them, and Geshe-la and two friends had one who was almost blind. One of the little monks played a trick on him, I don’t remember what, and the elder monk was not happy: “Who did this?! I will beat you.” And Geshe-la spoke up, “It was me.” It wasn’t him, but he took the beating.

Geshe-la’s own Spiritual Guide

He studied both philosophical and practical subjects of Buddhism under many highly qualified Teachers, especially Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.

Geshela and lineage GurusThe beautiful Lama Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was the Teacher of all this present generation of Gelugpas who came out of Tibet, including the 14th Dalai Lama.

Geshe Kelsang has likened Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche to a vast reservoir from which all Gelugpa practitioners of the present day received waters of blessings and instructions.

Trijang Rinpoche was widely revered, and Venerable Geshe-la was a heart disciple. Geshe-la has always said that everything he has and that he can pass on comes from his root Guru – he shows a very good example of relying upon his own Spiritual Guide. In this year’s Summer Festival during the commentary to Eight Verses of Training the Mind by Geshe Langri Tangpa, Gen-la Dekyong quoted Geshe-la as saying:

When I was in Lhasa I met my Spiritual Father, Vajradhara Trijang Rinpoche, for the first time. Just seeing him reminded me of Bodhisattva Langri Tangpa. I felt great devotion towards him. I often thought he must be an emanation of Langri Tangpa. A senior monk later gave me a small book that listed the names of Trijang Rinpoche’s previous incarnations, among these was the name ‘Geshe Langri Tangpa’. I was so happy to find my previous belief confirmed!TrijangRinpoche-1024x796

Any time and any place Trijang Rinpoche taught, Geshe-la said he would try to go:

I thought only if I receive his speech, if I hear his speech, this is enough. From his teachings, from his blessings, he gives me spiritual life, real spiritual life. I was born  from him. All my teachings of Sutra and Tantra came from him. Through receiving blessings from him, I have the opportunity to benefit and help internationally with people’s spiritual development. All my ability to teach, write books, organize, help, benefit — everything came from this Lama. Without this Lama, Geshe Kelsang is powerless. He is still my life. He is still in front of me.

Coming to the West

Back in Modern Day Kadampas, it says:

Geshe Kelsang arrived in Engand in late August 1977 at the invitation of Manjushri Buddhist Centre, then Manjushri Institute. [Ed: now Manjushri KMC].

No time for the whole story here (more here), but, in brief, Geshe-la was one of two Geshes at Manjushri Institute back in the day, the other one teaching the traditional monastic Geshe studies; and he became an English citizen asap so he could freely teach what he wanted to as opposed to what Tibetan Lamas were told to teach by the Tibetan government in exile. He has always been a bit of a freedom fighter, to put it mildly. And he learned English as soon as he could. I was around by 1981, reading stuff to him in English that he’d asked me to transcribe and edit, and he was like a sponge – you only had to explain a word once and he would never have to ask twice, nor ever forget it.

When he first flew over London … and London is really big, especially for someone coming out of an 18-year solitary retreat in the Himalayas — he asked his translator: “How many people live in London?” Upon hearing the answer, 10 million, he said: “There are only 5 million people in Tibet! I must stay here and bring Dharma to London and England.” (And the rest of the Western and then whole modern world, as it turns out.)

I might have told this story in the wrong order … what brought all this about is that the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959 and Geshe-la escaped over the Himalayas with just two texts and his robes.

mountains panorama

After leaving Tibet in 1959, Geshe-la spent the next 18 years mainly emphasizing retreat in various locations in the Himalayan region and northern India.

He left the only country he had ever known (the snowy-mountained roof of the world), his monastery, his family, his language, to live in hot India with its very different culture, food, etc. He had lost everything, but people who saw him at that time said he remained just as blissful as ever.

(Given the unusual times we are all living through in 2020, where even my own country is feeling alien, I find there’s a lot to be inspired by in this example.)

He entered a long retreat of 18 years, receiving teachings from the Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa directly; and perhaps he might have stayed there happily forever. Luckily for us however Manjushri Institute invited him to come over and teach them — and Trijang Rinpoche asked him to accept Manjushri’s invitation. So he agreed, and that is how he ended up on that airplane over London. He came to these barbarian lands where people like you and me live, to bring us the entire path to enlightenment.

A bit more about him … 

Geshe-la is a complete Yogi, having studied every teaching on Sutra and Tantra and realized it in his own experience He is happy day and night, and needs nothing from us other than our help in establishing Centers to offer the same teachings that are so precious to his heart. He has never been remotely seduced by worldly pleasures. As it says here:

Geshe-la with bowl in TibetHis personal life continues to inspire his students as an immaculate example of someone who has found inner happiness through practicing Buddha’s teachings. Despite repeated offers from Manjushri Centre to prepare more spacious accommodation, Geshe-la continues to live there simply in the one small room that he moved into in 1977.

He has never been bothered about comfort. I remember the admin team wanted to update his very old bathroom, and he declined, saying “What does a monk need with a washer tap?” (It is worth pointing out though that he knows modern people generally prefer far higher standards of living, and encourages the NKT Centers to make everything comfortable.)

As mentioned in this article of how Kadam Dharma came to America (the so-called “frog story”), a student offered him a car, but when Geshe-la saw the famine in Ethiopia he asked this benefactor, “Can I sell the car and give it to Live Aid?” He gave his house away. If you would visit Venerable Geshe-la, you might give him a gift, only to see the next person come out holding it 😄 Everything flows through him, he is the epitome of generosity. He doesn’t need wealth, fame, or a good reputation – he has never given a monkeys about any of these things. His only interest is in helping people and in Dharma – I have never seen anything to contradict that.

He is a great healer (see this story here.) And he loves animals (he has a couple of dogs and a cat with 3 legs), with compassion for even the smallest insects. Once I was visiting him in his room at Manjushri KMC, when the wasps were dying by the window, as they do in the Summer. Picking one up, he blew ever so gently on her as she died — the love coming out of him was mesmerizing. He loves everyone like that, finds everyone to be important, with no exception, equally. For this is what Buddha teaches, and he has fully internalized those teachings. He embodies them.

Geshe-a in Tibet with child

This is a good example of how we can be too.

It would be really really hard to write a biography that does justice to Geshe-la. I know this because he was once kind enough to let me attempt it – just ten glorious and inspiring days later he took the project away, saying it was too hard, which is true. Someone else continued for a bit, but now I think it is shelved, at least for the time being. Me and this other person both agreed that there are just so many versions of him – hundreds of thousands of people now have stories to tell of how he has transformed their lives. How do you begin to get that down on paper?

Beyond some sparse biographical details, I think he will be known publicly with regard to the preeminent qualities of his teachings, practical example, and Dharma activities, including the tradition he has established. When I really think about that, isn’t the same true for all the great Buddhist teachers of the past, including Atisha, Je Tsongkhapa, and Trijang Rinpoche?

It appears that everyone has their own Geshe-la guiding them. And that’s how it is with an authentic Spiritual Guide, everyone has always had their own. Although there is just one moon in the sky, its reflections show up on every body of water – and in the same way, Buddhas can and do emanate in numerous receptive minds and lives.

Out of space! But there’s a bit more coming in the next article. And do leave any comments you like in the box below.

A Spiritual Guide

Buddha’s teachings on Sutra and Tantra take us places we’ve never been before mentally, or for that matter physically.

Spiritual guidanceIn our beginningless lives, in lifetime after lifetime, including year after year in this one, we have been searching for happiness high and low, pretty much non-stop. We have also been searching for freedom non-stop. Yet here we are, still not perfectly happy, still not free. Despite our unending search for happiness, liberation and enlightenment are magical inner destinations that (speaking for myself) we have not yet reached.

Every day seems to bring difficulties and pains — do you know anyone who is as happy as they’d like to be? Why not? It’s not through lack of trying. Maybe it is  because we haven’t yet travelled the path to real happiness and freedom. And one reason we have not yet travelled that path is because we have not yet followed a trustworthy guide.

Without a Spiritual Guide to lead us, we have no idea where we are going, existentially speaking. No Google map can point us the way to mental freedom. No YouTube video can show us how to fix the endless pains of our samsara. No pilgrimage to Mecca or even Bodh Gaya can land us in the invisible destination of bliss and emptiness.

To quote Gen Rabten at the really really good International Kadampa Summer Festival (still ongoing til Aug 25th, click here!)

We are here because we want new ideas. We know that if we always think what we’ve always thought, we will always feel what we’ve always felt. We want different outcomes for ourself, for our family, for our communities. We look at the tarnished history of our world, and the suffering and the injustices, and we want something different. That is going to require different ideas, new ideas, new ways of thinking.

The spiritual path is one that will definitely take us through some unfamiliar terrain within our own minds – terrain that is fascinating, wonderful, sometimes challenging, and ultimately transcendent, eventually culminating in full enlightenment for everybody’s benefit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know someone who has already taken this journey, who in fact lives there? Especially if they are offering to guide us along the way, inspiring us to deal with the challenges, and showing us how to avoid any pitfalls?

The practice of relying upon a Spiritual Guide is common to all Buddhist schools, Hinayana and Mahayana, and has been since time without beginning. It is considered an essential ingredient of the path both to liberation and to enlightenment. As Geshe Kelsang said (quoted by Genla Dekyong in the Festival):

Geshe-la with BuddhaHow to solve human problems is very simple in reality, but because we are ignoring the  advice of enlightened beings, our problems are endless and never finish.

Personal spiritual trainer

The big yellow book, Joyful Path of Good Fortune, contains all the stages of the path to enlightenment in detail, and is the go-to book for Buddha’s teachings on relying upon a Spiritual Guide. At the beginning of that chapter, Geshe Kelsang says:

Reliance upon a Spiritual Guide is called the “root of the path” because all other spiritual realizations of Sutra and Tantra depend upon it.

One reason for this could be that we had no idea these realizations even existed before meeting our Spiritual Guide. Generally, we don’t know we need a Spiritual Guide until we’ve tasted some Dharma, at which point it becomes a bit obvious, and increasingly more obvious the more we delve into these deep and far-reaching teachings on Sutra and Tantra.

Just as in our ordinary education we need to rely upon the help of well-qualified teachers to guide us from the level of nursery school to the completion of college or university training, so in the spiritual training that leads to full enlightenment we need to rely upon a well-qualified Spiritual Guide.

Joyful Path

If I decide for some reason that I would like to make airplanes, the day I start reading the manuals is the day I know that I am going to need someone’s help and instruction.

It’s all very well to dismiss this seminal practice to say we need to follow our heart or follow our bliss, except that we’ve already basically been doing that for a inconceivably long time. We’re going around in circles. If we want to learn things that we’ve never learned before, things that are going to take us somewhere completely new, if we want a transcendent route out of the cycle of suffering, we have to follow a transcendent Guide.

As Gen Rabten put it last week:

We have had countless lives, in every one of which we longed to find a lasting happiness and an end to suffering. We have travelled through each and every realm countless times. And never once have we fulfilled our wish for happiness and peace. This cyclic existence, samsara, is not an external prison, but a prison created by our own mind. There is just one door through which we can escape.  That door is the realization of emptiness. In this life we have met a pure spiritual path that has led us to this door. Not once in our countless previous lives have we found a better position than this. If we step through this door, our samsara and all our sufferings will cease. We will find our own nirvana and the ability to lead others to theirs.

Who benefits from this practice?

We do. A qualified Spiritual Guide is not going to be bothered from their own side whether or not we rely upon them because they already have everything they could possibly want or need.

mountains 1

In Buddhism, as I think I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions, faith in Buddha and our Spiritual Guides depends on faith in our own Buddha nature. If on the basis of at least suspecting that we have the potential for boundless freedom, and perhaps first giving ourselves a few moments to feel some of the peace we already have in our heart, we think through some of the following benefits we’ll experience from relying upon a Spiritual Guide, this will increase our wish to find and rely upon one. This in turn will increase our effort or enthusiasm, which will lead to all these benefits.

We progress towards enlightenment

If I rely completely upon my Spiritual Guide, he or she will reveal what I have to practice to attain full enlightenment …

(For the purposes of keeping this article reasonably short, I’d like to direct you to Joyful Path to find the rest of this quote and other quotes below, page 98 onward).

Our Spiritual Guide reveals the truth to us and explains what we need to do, such that we can accomplish our spiritual goals swiftly, even “in this very lifetime”. How is that even possible?! If you are wondering that, check out Buddha’s Tantric teachings. Enlightenment in one lifetime is possible if we find a qualified Tantric teacher.

Here is one of my favorite quotes, which is by Padampa Sangye in One Hundred Verses for the Tingri People:

If we rely upon our Spiritual Guide he can lead us wherever we wish to go and so we should repay his kindness by offering faith and respect. If we wish to attain enlightenment, our Spiritual Guide will lead us there….   If we wish to be reborn in a Pure Land, he will lead us there. He will lead us to whatever virtuous destination we desire.

mountains 2Decades ago I had a clear dream in which Geshe-la told me:

I will take you wherever you want to go. Don’t be concerned about what other people are doing or how they are looking at you, just follow me.

And it’s true. It has been true for me so far, and for many others, and for practitioners since the time of Buddha including Buddha himself — they have all had Spiritual Guides who took them where they wanted to go. No one has ever attained enlightenment without a Spiritual Guide. I don’t think you’re going to be the first.

We delight all the Buddhas

Buddha Vajradhara says:

When disciples make offerings to their Spiritual Guides, I myself and all the other Buddhas enter into the body of the Spiritual Guide and accept the offering.

And there’s more, it’s pretty deep, you can learn more about how that works from the chapter.

We are not harmed by demons and other evil influences

 When we have refuge in our Spiritual Guide, we are not going to experience spirit attacks and so on. Most humans cannot see spirits, and probably a lot of humans don’t even believe in them; but a lot do as well. (Recently I have been told by various housemates that when I’ve been away they’ve heard voices and seen lights flicker on and off in my attic apartment. I don’t mind. In any case, these apparently benign spirits go away when I come home.)

mountains 3According to Buddha, there is a whole so-called spirit or hungry ghost realm, one of the six realms of samsara; and quite apart from the fact that life is ghastly for them, some of these spirits can give us a hard time. There is no space in this article to look more into this, but it reminds me of the quote from Hamlet:

There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

We easily overcome our faults and delusions

If I rely upon my Spiritual Guide, through his or her kindness he will show me how to abandon faults and delusions and so I will be able to avoid harmful actions and their results.

Here, Geshe Kelsang mentions the example of Milarepa, which, if you haven’t read yet, and even if you have, I strongly recommend – it is a really good story, popular in Buddhism. Milarepa had done some atrociously bad things, like murdering about 30 people, by the time he met his Spiritual Guide. I am assuming that none of you reading this is a mass murderer, but even if you are, and have gotten away with it this far, Milarepa 2although it is eating away at you, if you rely wholeheartedly on your Spiritual Guide and their instructions you can abandon and purify every single evil action.

Milarepa attained enlightenment in that very same lifetime! Which means there’s a lot of hope for the rest of us. The stronger our faith, the more “easily” we can overcome our faults and delusions. “Easily” sounds good to me.

Our experiences and realizations of spiritual grounds and paths greatly increase

The story is told here of Geshe Jayulwa, who had no time for meditation or study because he was always serving or cleaning up after his Spiritual Guide. One day he went outside to empty the trash and

… his mind naturally developed single-pointed concentration on emptiness and, without having to exert extra effort or engage in meditation, he gained a realization of emptiness.

This happened due to the purification and huge good karma he got from humbly serving his kind Spiritual Guide, who in turn was freed up to help so many other people. Without us helping Venerable Geshe-la, for example, he cannot get much done practically speaking – he has said that he is like one hand and his students are like the other.

We never lack spiritual friends in all our future lives

Je Phabongkhapa is the Spiritual Guide of Trijang Rinpoche, who is the Spiritual Guide of Geshe Kelsang – making him, I do believe, our spiritual great-grandfather. Which is good news because he was a formidable Lama. He says:

Although our Spiritual Guide may at present appear to be ordinary, if we do not assent to this ordinary appearance but practice regarding him or her as a Buddha, we shall create the cause to have actual Buddhas … as our Spiritual Guides in the future.

Right now everything appears to us as ordinary because we have ordinary minds. This makes ouropinions unreliable, and even if Buddha Shakyamuni or Manjushri or Tara sky 1were to appear in all their glory in front of us, their illusory bodies made of wisdom light, and say “Hello!”, what would we see? An ordinary person. (In fact, they may have already tried to say “Hello!” to you.) Buddhas are already all around us all the time. Enlightenment is reality. In The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Venerable Geshe-la says:

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 shall see that the Buddhas have always been present all around us.

Traveling the spiritual paths of Sutra and Tantra is very much the process of unveiling that reality – we’re not seeing all that wonder because our ordinary appearances and projections are getting in the way, like clouds. So we practice seeing our Spiritual Guide as an embodiment of all these Buddhas appearing in a form that we can relate to, talk to, and understand – but never for a moment thinking that the ordinariness we perceive belongs to our Spiritual Guide, but rather to our own perceptions. You can see how this unordinary view is creating the cause to see Buddhas in their actual forms.

We do not take rebirth in the lower realms

You may think, “I wasn’t planning on doing that anyway.” But the thing is that we have been in samsara since beginningless time and are travelers bound for future lives. This world is not our permanent home, as Buddha said, and we have at most a few hundred months left before we have to leave this body and its world.

travellersWhen we fall asleep tonight, everything about today is going to disappear and we will enter a different world in a different dream body — maybe it’ll be a nice world, but it could just as easily be a nightmare. Then tomorrow with any luck we’ll wake up into a world similar to today’s world (though not the same, as explained in these articles on subtle impermanence).

A similar thing will happen when we die, except that we won’t be waking back up into anything even remotely resembling what is appearing to us now. In the time it takes to go through the death process, the few hours or less that it takes to die, everything about this life will disappear. We will be parted from everything and everyone we know in this life, including our body, friends, career, and children. We have to think about these things because it is only a matter of time before this happens to us.

And at that point, we will definitely want our Spiritual Guide with us. He is the one person who can accompany us in the death process and stay with us in all our future lives. No ordinary being can do this, however much we want them to come with us. Our Spiritual Guide can, and he will. Therefore, this is a very important benefit.

All our wishes, temporary and ultimate, are easily fulfilled

I don’t have anything to add for that one, at least not right now.

Does any of this sound good to me?

mountains 5We can close our eyes and contemplate all or any one of these benefits, asking ourselves, “Is this what I want? Would I like this benefit? How might that work?” If we do this, and it moves our heart, we’ll naturally have a wish to find and rely upon a Spiritual Guide. And if we have that wish, we will find and rely upon one. As the old saying goes:

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

For which Buddha could refuse you?! All of them attained enlightenment because they found living beings’ suffering impossible to ignore and wanted to be in a position to guide us out of samsara. Therefore, if someone is finally seeking lasting freedom and happiness, what Buddha is going to say, “No, not you, sorry. Mm mm. I attained enlightenment to guide all living beings to freedom and bliss, but there is an exception to every rule, and I’m afraid that’s you.” No, that’s not going to happen. Therefore if you want to follow the path with a Spiritual Guide, one will appear, one has already appeared to be honest.

Coming up next … once we have decided to rely upon a Spiritual Guide, the big and obvious question is – Who?! Who is my Spiritual Guide?

Meantime, please leave your comments in the box below!

Harnessing our spiritual power for change

Guest article by British Kadampa Julie Stewart — filmmaker, theatre practitioner and actor living in Harlem NYC. 

Julie portrait

To begin with, we can gently allow our focus to be on our breath — on the sensation of the breath going in and out of our nostrils. If any thoughts arise in the mind we simply don’t follow them, and if it wanders we can bring our awareness back to our breathing. We can recognize that when we focus on the sensation of our breath, our mind automatically becomes more peaceful. Now we can gently open our eyes.

Today is June 19,  Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the US. It’s also known as “Freedom Day.” I have been thinking a lot today about freedom and how we all want it in one form or another. We all like the idea of freedom. And I’ve also been thinking how fortunate it is we’re here today with the freedom to learn these teachings; that we even have access to these amazing Buddhist practices that have the power to change our minds. How many people in this world right now don’t have access to these teachings, don’t even know that they exist?

Then I was thinking about another kind of freedom, freedom of mind. Do we feel that we are the masters of our own minds? Do we have control over our thoughts, our feelings, our reactions to external situations?

We all tell ourselves a story about who we think we are – we all have this inner monologue, which may be characterized by mistakes, shortcomings, perceptions of what other people say and think about us, and what we can and cannot achieve. This inner monologue may be very limited but it also goes on and on. What is your inner monologue? What’s your story that you keep telling yourself, “Who do I think I am?”

I can probably guarantee that whoever you think you are, it’s a very limited version of who you actually are, because if I asked you, “Do you think you have the capability to love all living beings, to have universal compassion, to possess the deep wisdom that understands the nature of reality?, you’re probably going to reply “No.” We’re believing this limited inner monologue but it is not who we are.

Love on the streeetIt is not who Buddha thinks we are, knows we are. Buddha says that within each and every one of us there is a seed that can grow into the limitless minds of love, wisdom, and compassion.

Each and every living being has within them the seed or potential to become a Buddha, a fully enlightened being. This is our Buddha nature. ~ How to Transform Your Life

This is what we’re being told. Now we need to ask ourselves, “Am I willing to change my story? Am I going to add this to the inner monologue of my life?” Or are we thinking to ourselves, “That’s not true” or “That’s not possible for me. It might be possible for everyone else, but not for me!”?

If we don’t think it’s possible, why is it we don’t believe Buddha but do believe our own limited monologue, including others’ perceptions of us? Why would we listen to those voices and not Buddha’s voice?

Buddha was a master of his own mind. He was a mental scientist. He revolutionized how people thought about their own reality. He wasn’t just a passive figure sitting calmly meditating – within that meditating was activity, he was experimenting, exploring the contents of his mind, examining it. Through this he conquered all the delusions in his own mind and has been able to inspire other people to do the same. Including us, that’s what Buddha’s asking us to do. That’s what we do with Buddhist practice.

Improv your life

We’re so familiar with telling ourselves the same story over and over again, and Buddha is saying, actually, No. There’s a malleability. There’s a flexibility of self that we haven’t even begun to explore. He’s inviting us to take the opportunity to look within our own mind and question that inner monologue so that we can smash it to pieces. And he’s able to do that because he did it himself.

In Buddha’s teachings we have found the best method to ripen this seed or potential. What we need to do now is to put these teachings into practice. ~ How to Transform Your Life

These profound Buddhist teachings are not just an intellectual exercise — we have to allow them to move our heart because an intellectual understanding alone does not motivate spiritual action. We have to do the work. It’s a two-way conversation.

Where do our delusions come from?

The reason we don’t experience the vast sky of the mind, the potential that resides within us, which is there all the time, is because of delusions. Delusions are  mistaken ways of looking at reality, and every time we have an unpleasant feeling, that’s a delusion at work. Our problem is that we’re so familiar with these unpleasant feelings that we think that these are just who we are.

But what Buddha is telling us is that delusions are simply bad mental habits. We all have bad habits that we want to break, whether that’s eating too much, smoking, taking drugs, or not doing enough exercise, but they are not who we are.

Why is it that when I hear a song on the radio that I don’t even like that I keep on singing it?! It’s because I keep on hearing it. I keep hearing it and hearing it so I start singing it and then I catch myself and say, “I don’t even like that song. Stop it.” And that’s what it’s like. you know, listening to these delusions or other people’s perceptions of us. We listen and take them to heart, and then we use them to define ourselves. It’s really quite crazy.

And the thing is about delusions is how natural and familiar they can feel to us, such that we do not think we can get rid of them. Like anger. Or attachment, because we’re thinking, “That’s just who I am. I’ve got to base my happiness on wanting this thing. That’s what I always do.” But delusions are not who we are, they are just mental habits.

We should understand that although delusions are deeply ingrained, they are not an intrinsic part of our mind and so they can definitely be removed. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Life is shortWe can think about our own dominant delusion that we have – it could be anger, jealousy, pride. We can think about how it arises in certain situations – without us even having to think about it, it is just there in a finger snap.

What about anger?

What about anger, say? We can feel that it’s justified, but Buddha is saying that it’s a distorted way of viewing reality. And I know that this can be controversial because we think anger brings about change. We do. I’ve seen it. I’ve believed it. I’ve felt it, myself, in these last few weeks. Rage. Anger. And I’ve had to really examine that mind. I’ve had to ask myself a fundamental question that Buddha asks us to consider:

Is the anger coming from inside or outside of my mind?

In Buddhism we are always saying that happiness and suffering are states of mind. And what I have been experiencing a lot in these last challenging weeks is that we can’t be fifty/fifty. We either believe it or we don’t. There is no, “In this situation it applies, but in THIS situation it doesn’t.” We really have to examine this because what happens is we get confused. So, in these challenging times, and I’ll say it as a person of color: “Is the anger coming from inside or outside of my mind?”

Buddha is not giving me a “get out” clause, and he is not going to give you one either. So, your dominant delusion – is it coming from inside or outside of your mind?

We have to contemplate this deeply, so deeply. Because what happens when we have an angry mind – and I will just talk here about my own mind – is that it feels like energy. It is visceral – it feels like a fuel that will power me to communicate, to act. But the big question that I ask myself is “Could I have the same results with the mind of compassion? Better results, even?” Because we may not think that compassion has the same fuel, but it does. However, it is motivated by love, so then why not use compassion, because compassion is not a distorted mind. Compassion is based on reality. Why? Because it’s based on love and is the natural state of our mind. Anger isn’t.

The space of acceptance

The only magicWe have to experiment for ourself. If a mind of anger arises, that’s ok, Buddha said – we first just accept the delusion in terms of accepting that it is there. We don’t fight it – instead we welcome it wholeheartedly. Then we can transform it into a wisdom that can propel us into reality.

Once delusions have arisen in our mind, accepting them wholeheartedly means that we accept the fact they have arisen. We do this in the framework of asking ourself, “Is this coming from inside or outside of my mind?” Just by asking this question we are separating ourself from the delusion and can begin to examine how a delusion works instead of following it to its unfortunate conclusion.

For example when we get angry with our partner or our friend, how do we see them? We see them as intrinsically bad, don’t we? In that moment they seem to have no good qualities, and as a result we say some really horrible things. People get hurt; and then when the anger subsides we are full of regret and have to say things like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I was really angry.”

So we don’t deny the delusion once it’s in our mind – we accept it and look at it from a place of space, knowing that it’s not an intrinsic part of our mind. It’s important to give ourself that space because we really don’t want to be repressing our anger – which means we are pretending not to feel the thing that we are feeling. That’s no good. It doesn’t help.

This anger is not who we are – it is just a mental habit arising in our mind and it cannot destroy our mind any more than a thunderstorm can destroy the sky. We don’t keep defining ourselves by our delusions, by saying, “I’m an angry person. I’m a depressed person. I’m a jealous person.” Let’s stop the inner monologue of limitations. Let’s just stop. It’s not helping us. It’s not helping us reach our full potential. We can learn to stop that limited monologue and replace it with  a limitless one.

What is true change?

A lot of people think that spiritual practice is passive, as if we’re not supposed to be doing anything to change things, that we are just sitting here – it can almost be used as an excuse not to do anything. But what would actually instigate change more than being in control of our own minds and using to instigate external change?

Buddhas says there are two types of problem — the internal problems of unpleasant feelings and the external problems such as what is going on in our world – and we get the two mixed up. What is going to govern the way we solve the external problem? The wisdom knowing that there’s an inner problem and an outer problem. With this, there is such flexibility – it’s a bit like Bruce Lee. If you’ve ever watched his films, he’s got like twenty people around him and he fights them all in a matter of minutes and then he’s done, finished, all his enemies down. How? Because he’s got flexibility of body – he knows where and how to move. We should have that same flexibility with our mind so that when delusions come for us we are not afraid – we are done, finished, we have defeated the real enemies.

We are governed by the flexible power of compassion — and there is huge power in compassion. There is power in love. There is power in wisdom. These are not passive states of mind.

Holding up a mirror to our minds

Buddha says that everything is created by mind and nothing exists outside of our minds. In these last few challenging weeks I have been recollecting:

This is all a mirror to my own mind because nothing exists outside of my mind.

What is that mirror reflecting? What is that mirror telling me? It is teaching us to look at our minds of anger, rage, or trauma, or other things that I’ve heard people say, “shame”, “denial”. It’s a mirror for us to look at the things that are being brought up from inside our own minds.

Make no mistake, I am not saying that we don’t do anything to change external situations. Looking at the unpleasant feelings that are arising through causes and conditions, I’m gonna welcome them all wholeheartedly because I need to, me, it’s MY responsibility to get rid of the unpleasant feelings in my mind. Then I can look at the outer problem and deal with it in a completely different way – I can challenge it with wisdom.

Buddha Shakyamuni disrupted the caste system in India because what he said was that it doesn’t matter whether someone is low, middle, or high caste – everyone has the same Buddha nature. He also allowed women into the Buddhist order at a time it was unheard of. He even advised kings and queens how to use their power in the most beneficial way. And he accomplished all of this outer change out of compassion.

What do you really want?

I think we have to think really spread the worddeeply about what it is that we want. Do we want to follow our delusions or do we want to conquer our delusions and encouraged by an inner monologue of our limitless potential? This is after all who we really are. Our naturally peaceful mind is like a golden nugget encased in dirt. We need to identify with this indestructible potential, not the dirt around it.

When we’re embarking on any meditation, we need the confidence that knows we have a resource of inner peace available to us at any time. When we do even a simple breathing meditation, we get rid of all the distracting conceptual thoughts that fill our mind because normally we can’t see the wood for the trees. Beneath all this busy chaotic thinking is actually a source of peace to which we have access at any time. This is also a place of wisdom from which we can start to make good decisions, and a place of clarity where we are no longer defining ourselves by our limitations, shortcomings, or mistakes.

Try this short meditation

We can breathe out whatever is on our mind, allow our mind to stop thinking, to become still but relaxed. We can think that our mind is like a stone, or inanimate object, not thinking or feeling anything. Then, where our mind was full of thoughts, with the absence of thoughts there is now space; and we allow our awareness to absorb into that space, to be pervaded by it. Like a stone descending to the bottom of a clear lake, we can allow our spacious awareness to descend to our heart. We recognize that this space is the nature of peace, and that this peace is our Buddha nature. It has clarity and is as vast at the sky. We allow ourself to recognize this and rejoice in this recognition. “This is my natural source of peace at my heart. It is the source of my limitless compassion, wisdom, and love.”

Thank you for reading this! If you like, we can dedicate all the positive energy we have just gathered through this reading and contemplation to all living beings:

May everyone be free from suffering. May everyone experience a peaceful and happy mind all the time.

Over to you. Please leave comments or questions for the guest writer in the box below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The power of humility and emotional honesty

A guest article. 

Who we really are is love. This is the essential indestructible nature of our mind — love. And if we’re going to solve our personal problems and the problems of our nation and our world, we need never to lose sight of this.

make people feel loved todayIn How to Transform Your Life, Geshe Kelsang says:

All the problems of human society, such as war, crime, pollution, drug addiction, poverty, injustice, and disharmony within families, are the result of self-cherishing.

With self-cherishing, we lack love. All the problems of human society stem from a lack of love, and because we haven’t identified ourself as love.

Geshe-la continues:

If everyone were to practice cherishing others, many of the major problems of the world would be solved in a few years.

With Buddha’s teachings we are learning how to identify ourself and others correctly, and to act from that vantage point — with the kindness that is the pure expression of our nature. This is beautiful. We all have this nature of love and it is indestructible. This means that it will never leave us. We will never lose it. Eventually, we’re all going to identify ourself correctly as love.

Imaginary friend

How do we not get stuck or trapped by our powerful emotions, but instead creatively transform them? At the core of our strong feelings is the sense of ‘I’ — and of course, in terms of how we identify ourself and others, there’s ‘I.’ We’re always thinking ‘I. I. I’ “I want. I need.” We have an imaginary friend called ‘self’ and we are talking and listening to them all day long. We need to look clearly at how we create this self, this identity.

imaginary-friendI think Geshe Kelsang’s phrase “identifying ourself and others correctly” is very contemporary, speaking right to the moment. We identify or create ourself based on so many shifting variables: our personal history, our family history, our culture, our race, our sexuality, our religion, and so forth.

Pride in identity

Then, as Geshe-la says in How to Understand the Mind:

Since we regard our self or I as so very important, we exaggerate our own good qualities and develop an inflated view of ourself. Almost anything can serve as a basis for this arrogant mind, such as our looks, possessions, knowledge, experiences, or status.

This is hilarious. It’s a great caricature of the mind, but it’s our caricature. “I’m so clever. Look at me. I have so much information. I’m so worldly wise.” We develop a sense of I that’s important and very well-defined based on pretty much anything.

We also base our sense of self on the things we like. If we like cats, we think, “I’m a cat person” – and maybe we get a cat illustrated tote bag and stickers that we put all over our laptop. Maybe we go to a cat party with all our cat friends wearing our cat sweaters and hauling along our tote bag with a cat inside. However, maybe we don’t understand dogs, so we think, “I’m not a dog person” — now dog people are over there, and cat people are over here. We have developed pride based on some sense of identity, in turn based on something we like or are attached to. This is crazy. What are we doing?

racial-discriminationWe can create a self based on anything. Wine, beer, cats, dogs, sports. And yeah, it’s all in good fun, and so forth, but sometimes it’s not. When the mind and emotions get out of control, then fighting ensues – for example the soccer hooligans who deliberately cause brawls. This mistaken way of identifying ourself can be very toxic.

In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe-la gives an insightful and practical explanation of seven types of ordinary or deluded pride. We say that samsara is the cycle of harming and being harmed endlessly, in life after life after life. And all of this can be understood to have its origin in deluded pride. We must overcome this.

Humility in action

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is the most humble person I know. He’s an extraordinary being, an extraordinary monk and teacher. I think it’s really worth knowing a little bit about his life. He entered the monastery at the age of 8 – his mother sent him at his request, and also so he didn’t end up being a serf. Later, he had to flee from Tibet due to the invasion, when he became a refugee in India, experiencing Geshe-la in 1959immense poverty. After this, he emigrated to England, again not knowing the language or the customs. Still later, out of his fearlessness in wanting to preserve Kadampa Buddhism for the benefit of the modern world and break it away from feudal Tibetan politics, some of the institutions in which he was brought up in Tibet rejected him, tried to strip him of his degrees. He has experienced quite a lot of challenges, from a common understanding of his life.

Yet he loves all beings. And through his love for all beings, his extraordinary humility, and his conviction, he has brought ancient Kadampa Buddhism to the modern world.

He has often made jokes: “I don’t know how to use a computer. I don’t know how to do any of these things. You people helped me and together we have done this.” Humility is real power. Love is real power. We can see him as a great hero, as a role model, as an example. He’s been able to accomplish everything he’s accomplished in this world due to the purity of his intention. He said, “Whatever I’ve been able to accomplish, I’ve been able to accomplish because I respect everyone.” That’s a statement of truth and not a statement of deluded pride because he respects everyone.

With his humility, he has had the openness to understanding the ways of modern people. Through this beautiful display of love and humility, he’s actually transformed our world. He’s transformed my world. I think he’s transformed some of yours. Geshe-la at play

Pride in identity continued …

The fourth type of pride, pride in identity, is an inflated sense of self-importance based simply on our identity, such as being proud of being an English person, proud of being white, proud of being a man, or proud of being a Tantric meditator. ~ How to Understand the Mind

It’s very interesting what he points out here. And depending on who we think we are, we can say it other ways — proud of being an American person, proud of being Asian, proud of being a woman, proud of being a Christian. Or whatever. It goes all ways because, due to ignorance, we all do this.

This pride in identity is a real poison. This mistaken way of identifying ourself and therefore drawing distinctions between ourselves and others is a big problem. We do this within our mind.

Naming and labeling

There’s a very particular part of our mind called “discrimination.” And we know this word in general, right? We understand in general what it means to discriminate. We think, “I have fine discriminating taste because I’m a wine connoisseur and I can discern the tones of oak and cherry and chocolate,” or whatever. In How to Understand the Mind, we’re given a very interesting description:

The definition of discrimination is a mental factor (ie, part of our mind) that functions to apprehend the uncommon sign of an object.

The uncommon sign is what is seemingly unique to that object, that differentiates it from other objects.

The function of discrimination is to distinguish an object from other objects and to identify the object as this and not that. With this we impute, we name, we label.

Race Discrimination in the WorkplaceAgain, this is so contemporary. We all know about naming, labeling, and so forth because we know that, by labeling, an identity is created or imposed. However, who a person is depends entirely upon our mind, how we identify them; and who we are as a person depends entirely upon our mind. Therefore, for every different person who’s perceiving us, including ourself, there is a different person that is created, named, labeled, and imputed.

It’s not surprising how hard it is to communicate because we’re all in our own “self” bubbles, totally viewing different selves, based on our karma, based on all manner of factors. We think there’s me, and there’s you, and there’s this, and there’s that, and everything is so solid and objective — but everything is subjective. Everything depends upon the mind. Buddha gave us this teaching so that we can break out of the jail cells of our mistaken identifications.

Defined by our good heart

When I first met Kadam Dharma, I was maybe 21. I thought a lot about identity, being a mixed-race person growing up in the American South. When you are in high school, you have all kinds of questions about your sexual identity and so forth; but when I met Buddha’s teachings and learned about ultimate truth emptiness, I realized that we didn’t have to be defined by anything other than our good heart, our Buddha nature.

I found that incredibly liberating. That is a correct way of identifying ourself. This is a way that we can choose to correctly discriminate, and if we identify ourself like this, then we can do so with others.

hands claspingGeshe-la says that we have choice how we discriminate, it is up to us. For example, we can choose to see those who are challenging for us as objects of our spiritual growth, such as patience, wisdom, and compassion. This is not necessarily easy, but if we can understand that everything depends upon the mind we will see that it is nevertheless our choice, and we can become more and more familiar with making this correct choice, in meditation, out of meditation, when we’re having challenging conversations or reading difficult things in the news.

If we hold onto this correct way of thinking of ourself and others as defined by Buddha nature, but being temporarily controlled by the enemies of the delusions, we can have a deep level of respect and compassion for others while also still righting wrongs. Actually, we’d be able to right wrongs far more effectively.

Emotional honesty

Buddha identified discriminations and feelings as two of our main bases for self-identification.

There’s a phrase these days, “Don’t be in your feelings. Why you all in your feelings?” which is really quite Buddhist. Why are we trapped by our feelings? Feeling is really important and now, perhaps for many of us, individually, collectively, we can see that we have powerful emotions. These are not a problem. Perhaps if we are a Buddhist, we sometimes think that they are a problem because we see strong emotions as the opposite of inner peace. I’m sure there’s some validity to that, but we must never deny, suppress, ignore, or intellectualize our feelings. Why? Because then we are not practicing Dharma.

What we are trying to get to is the realization of ultimate truth, but how are we going to get there if we don’t start with a realization of honesty? Being emotionally truthful. If we don’t start off from truth, we’re not going to get to truth. And this is where the hard work comes in of looking at our faults in the mirror of Dharma. I’m not equating faults with strong emotions, but just looking honestly in a spiritual mirror at how we feel.

This is why the Buddhist approach was founded in meditating because through meditating we watch our mind. Without the practice of meditating, we can’t watch our mind well. We can’t see what we’re thinking and believing in every action. Without going emptiness freedomdeep into the heart in meditation, we remain stuck in our intellectual realm. Thus, we need meditation to see what’s happening within our mind, to dislodge our mistaken discriminations, to be completely honest about how we feel. And then, to direct our mind along a positive path, not suppressing, denying, or ignoring, but honestly seeing.

The phrase that’s really helped me lately is ‘emotional honesty.’ Mental honesty. Looking in the mirror without judgment or criticism. And if we have strong and powerful emotions, just allowing them to be, to wash over us. They won’t remain. And maybe we cry. Maybe we feel rage, and so forth. Until we have really great mastery over our mind, we’re going to experience these things. And  that’s okay.

I think the measure of our Dharma practice is not about not experiencing these strong emotions, but how we practice with them.

For instance, we may have very strong anger, rage even. We want to blame. And within Buddha’s teachings, we say we can blame something. We can channel our anger. What can we blame? We can blame ignorance. We can blame delusion. But we never blame living beings. We never blame people, because people are not their delusions. People in some ways are already like enlightened beings. They are love. That is their nature, just as it is ours.

Over to you dear reader. Any comments for the guest writer are very welcome below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living beings have no faults

Guest article co-written in Arizona by one Black and one white Kadampa. 

Do you sometimes feel that the problems of our world are insurmountable? We feel confused about the way forward. What are the solutions, how can we effect change, and how can we effect it quickly? Because we need to make some changes now.

goodnessAlthough it can appear that the problems of our self and of our world are overwhelming, we can know from our own direct experience that things change so fast. Ven Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:

If everyone in the world were to practice cherishing each other, all the problems of our world would be solved in just a few years.

This could happen if we all practiced love because love has such extraordinary power. Things can change dramatically in a very short amount of time. This is not a platitude; this is the truth. Why? The problems in our world have arisen because we do not practice love for one another. So, if we do the opposite, we get a new and different result and our problems will quickly disappear. We need to practice cherishing love and we need to do it now, not later.

The moment is calling us

I think that’s what this historic moment is calling us all to do. The future is now. From an ordinary point of view, if we think, “later,” what is the future? Fantasy. Some idealized vision. We need to bring the future into the present moment. That means that we can try our very best to practice love now, to practice powerful compassion now, to be wise now, to be patient now. Not later — we don’t need it later. We need it now. If we practice love, patience and wisdom right now, then we will see different results right now, and we will bring that future into the present moment.

The solution to the problems of our world is grounded in the transformation of our mind because if we change our mind, we change everything. This is Buddha’s essential teaching. If we change our mind, we change our world because what we see or experience exists in relationship to our mind.

linking hands

This isn’t a statement to gaslight you and your reality, but to show that our mind has extraordinary power; so let’s harness thatcreative power our mind has to create good, to create peace, to hold onto the virtues of love, wisdom, truth, and patience, which are so necessary for us. We can take hold of the solution right now.

Change minds, change (inter)actions

When we look at what’s going on in our world, we automatically go to changing things. I’m not saying we shouldn’t change things — things need to be changed — but we sometimes neglect the understanding that if we change our mind then the quality of our actions changes. If we change what we feel and believe about others then the quality of our interactions changes. Thus, the way we go about making change is dramatically different because what we are bringing to it is not ordinary.

It is a challenge to think about changing our mind, to look within ourself and to take personal responsibility, to say “I’m going to be part of the solution and it starts within my mind.” We can rise to this challenge in a very balanced way, addressing both the outer problems and the mind.

Buddha taught that because our mind creates the world — our experience, our emotions, our actions. Our mind is so powerful and mental actions are hundreds of times more powerful than physical and verbal actions, as Genla Dekyong explained two days ago during the US Spring Festival.

In this video above, you can see the moment Venerable Geshe Kelsang says:

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all of our enemies.

If we have a powerful mind of love and we see love as real power, and we develop that stably within our heart, we would have no personal enemies. Yet we would have extraordinary power to do good things for others, and to move through the challenge, the hatred, the obstacles, unwaveringly. We are beings with so much power. We need to find it, claim it, take it back. And we can do so through rising to the spiritual challenge and taking these methods to heart.

What does world peace mean?

Buddha Shakyamuni dedicated all his activities to the benefit of all living beings. Similarly, the teachings of this tradition, called the New Kadampa Tradition, are dedicated to world peace. That is the vision of our world now. It’s not the vision of our world sometime later. We have built these temples, established these Centers for this world now as well as for the future, but also for our future, now.

Another way of looking at world peace is that we’re working on developing communities and societies that are founded in truth as opposed to deception; founded in love as now thenopposed to self-interest; founded in wisdom as opposed to ignorance. This is world peace. Buddhists need to think about this. We talk about what’s called, “the Pure Land” as if it’s some future fantasy; but the Pure Land can be now, and if our compassion is strong, powerful, passionate, then we will bring that into reality very soon.

What is the Mahayana?

The nature of Buddha’s teachings is compassion — and also wisdom that overcomes ignorance. The teachings of modern Kadampa Buddhism are part of what is called, “the Mahayana.” “Maha” is a Sanskrit word that means “great” and “yana” means “vehicle” — “Great Vehicle.” It refers to the huge scope of our motivation that we can develop through practicing these teachings. This means that we can develop great compassion, which is universal compassion. This means that we don’t leave anybody out. These teachings, this Great Vehicle, is a vehicle that takes everyone out of the ocean of suffering.

The Mahayana asks us to develop this great compassion. It is a big goal, but a goal worth pursuing; and it is something that we can all accomplish. Why can we accomplish this pure, altruistic mind of the Great Vehicle, of great love, empathy, and eventually great compassion? Because it is our nature. Our nature as sentient beings is essentially good. We essentially have a heart of gold. Right now it is a gold nugget in dirt, but who we really are, what the nature of our mind really is, is love. Truth. Kindness. Compassion. Since these qualities are all part of our pure nature, we can accomplish this great scope of our vision and intention. We can access these qualities in meditation and, if we can enjoy the peace within and be it, then we will gain real confidence in who we actually are.

Our Buddha nature

If we can do this, we can develop confidence and even faith in who others really are too. I degenerate vs Buddha naturebelieve this is the starting point for this journey to ending all suffering for all beings. It starts in recognizing what we call our Buddha nature, our compassionate seed of enlightenment. Bringing about the end of our own personal and collective suffering necessitates this faith in ourself personally, and in all of us collectively. This is logical.

What’s the danger of not really relating to our Buddha nature as the essential quality of ourself and others? When we see others and ourself thinking, saying, and doing harmful things, then we will become discouraged. Angry. Ashamed. If we don’t relate to our essence and have faith in that as who we really are, then we get sucked into the drama and negativity because we’ve just lost sight of our own and others’ pure nature and potential.

We’ve lost our faith in each other, in our common humanity and so then we just descend into fighting, arguments, and destruction. equal rights
We need to work on developing faith in our common goodness. We know how powerful beliefs are. They guide all of our actions. Everything that we do and say comes from our beliefs, so what we believe about ourself and others is the foundation of how we live. Therefore, what we believe, what we have faith in, is power. It’s real power.

There’s nothing wrong with sentient beings

Therefore, how do we develop faith or confidence in our nature being essentially good? In How to Transform Your Life, Geshe Kelsang says:

Although sentient beings’ minds are filled with delusions, sentient beings themselves are not faulty. We say that sea water is salty but in fact it is the salt in the water that makes it salty.

This is exactly like our mind. Our mind is like pure, clear water. It just has salt in it. On the one hand, we think that the water is contaminated. On the other hand, we think, “But we can make it good.” And essentially it is good because the contamination, the salt, is temporary.

Similarly, all the faults we see in people are actually the faults of their delusions, not of the people themselves. The fault is the salt, not the water, so people are like pure water, pure in essence. They are good, but what makes them salty? Delusions. We are not our delusions — but we are often controlled by them.

Delusions are part of the characteristics of a person’s mind, not of the person. Since we can never find faults in sentient beings themselves, we can say in this respect sentient beings are like Buddhas.

Since enlightened beings are people who have purified their minds, they have only love and wisdom, constantly and spontaneously. That’s a simple way of understanding what is  an enlightened being. Therefore, they benefit everybody with no concern for themselves and they’re always peaceful and happy. They’re free.

We are like enlightened beings already because our essential nature is like pure, clear water. Our essential nature is love and wisdom. It’s just that we’ve got the salt of delusions that we need to remove. You and I and every sentient being has Buddha nature, we’re almost enlightened already. We’re so close.

What do we relate to? Unfortunately, the salt. “There’s a whole glass of water here, but all I see is salt.” We forget that actually it’s pure water, just clouded over. We’re just mistaking who we are. We have mistaken appearance and beliefs. We’re not seeing the truth and it’s this mistaken perception of ourself and others — which is a projection of the mind — that traps us into believing something that’s not true. Therefore, we get angry and we harm each other. However, our root mind is completely pure.

lightningAnother example is that it is like blue sky, and our delusions and all other conceptions are like clouds that temporarily arise. We know there are storms in the sky. There are dark clouds and all of a sudden it looks ominous. However, so quickly the weather changes, and then there’s blue sky for days and days.

The mind itself is pure like sky. And the delusions – our ignorance, anger, hatred, shame – these are just dark clouds. Not only are they not the sky, but they do not destroy the sky. They’re temporary, only moving through.

Therefore, living beings have no faults. If we can apply this correct belief to ourself, have faith in ourself, and really understand this logical way of thinking, we will have faith in other people too. How could it be that we ourselves are essentially pure while a whole lot of other people are not?! I don’t think that logic works. Every living being’s mind is equally pure.

Start from your blissful clear light mind

We have deep within us what’s called our root mind, our consciousness at our heart. It’s the root because it’s the source from which all our other minds develop. This heart-based blue skymind has a beautiful name, “clear light.” Within Buddha’s teachings, we are taught that the deepest level of our mind, its nature, is always bliss, always peace.

When we do even a little breathing meditation, we experience a new level of peace. And the more that we meditate, the more peace we find. If the nature of our mind were not peaceful, then what we’d actually find would be just more and more layers of junk. We’d just go deeper and deeper into confusion and negativity. However, this is not the case.

We call this mind at our heart, “continuously residing.” Its nature is indestructible bliss. So this is the starting point – Buddha nature. The whole Buddhist path is a path of discovering and revealing this nature. If we hold onto the belief in our own and others’ pure nature without a doubt, and we engage in actions with this in mind, we will always be moving in the right direction. And, as Geshe Kelsang says, if every living being cherishes one another, believes in each other in this way, and pursues the common goal of real happiness and liberation from suffering, then the problems of our world will be solved in a few years. Truth.

Over to you. Please leave your comments for the guest authors in the box below!

 

 

Applying Buddhism to daily life: one Kadampa’s journey

A guest article.

hate hasn't solved problemsI’m a white Australian/American and the video of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer, while other police officers watched, is not something I can ever “un-see”. While painful, as a Buddhist practitioner discomfort is something I am trying to learn to work through, not repress. I am no expert, but I would like to share my journey of looking deeper into this with you in case it’s of any help.

I have been studying and practicing Dharma for around 20 years now, and I am quite aware of the concept of reading/listening but not hearing, hearing but not knowing, knowing but not understanding, and understanding but not realizing. We can read about, listen to, and feel that we understand many things without it deeply touching our heart or moving us. Anyone who has ever had a Dharma insight will understand this point.

My profoundly kind Spiritual Guide has been giving me more or less the same words of wisdom for two decades, and I smile, enjoy the small progress I make, and don’t rise the next day with the fury of a Bodhisattva in my heart to decry all the simple and silly attachments and other delusions in my life in pursuit of protecting all living beings. I have access to the most complete and clear Buddhist path, I have faith in the teachings — and yet I hide in the so-called-comfort of my own samsaric existence — somewhat knowingly!

Just before I start ….

From the different opinions I am hearing on the matter of racism against black Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement, I realize that what I am about to say might not resonate with all people, including all Buddhists. All I can reply is that I understand you and I hear you.

iTo those who say this conversation is necessarily political, I reply that I feel the lines between political and civil & human rights seem to be blurred. People are confused with the verbiage and politicians are also standing on platforms that are about humanity – making “taking sides” about humanitarian issues seem political. But the issues are humanitarian whether a politician agrees with them or not. And the deep solutions are not political but spiritual.

On this subject, I think a lot of people are mistaking being asked to “take a side” as being political. If this were the case then the whole of Buddhism is political. I think that the only thing being asked of people is for them to pick the side of the Bodhisattva. I am no expert at being a Bodhisattva, but in my experience of trying, the best way to arrive at the act of having compassion for “all living beings” is through specific living beings, in a targeted way. I believe that Venerable Geshe Kelsang says that at the end of almost all the Mahayana meditations on developing love and compassion — start with our karmic circle.*

 What can I myself do?

With that out of the way, I will now talk about my own journey. Before my very recent insights, I was looking but not seeing. I believed that because I had heard of the racism against black Americans, I understood it. In the past I also believed I knew Dharma before I had any actual insights. Neither were the case. And I suspect I am at the very beginning of my journey. As Buddhists, this is our specialty — so my feeling is that we do not need be afraid or have self-judgement. Instead we can have plenty of joy that we are trying – trying to get in there and root out anything keeping us in samsara.

I have read about the disparity between white Americans and black Americans. I have seen it on the news, including the numbers of deaths during the coronavirus being disproportionately weighted towards black Americans. I have seen videos, and more than I would like to count, not just of abject racism, but of the police murder of black Americans. Captured on video! And yet, I have done little for the cause.

I support several charities regularly, one of them against animal abuse. I never open the mail they send because I can’t un-see those images, and they are horrific. Why is that? I know many gay women and men who have been abused, women who have been raped, and black people who have suffered deeply at the hands of racism. Again here, I am supportive and loving, but have not necessarily actively engaged in practical or maybe even specific spiritual solutions to these atrocities in the past. So why not?

Isn’t it good enough to be a good person? Isn’t it good enough to do good things when you can?

botanic gardens 1I am a Buddhist. I am a Bodhisattva-in-training. And, as such, I believe deeply in the merit of Buddhism as a solution to all of our actual or inner problems. Only once I am enlightened will I truly be able to help all living beings … all of the time. So, what of my journey to enlightenment? How should I spend my time on the way there? How should I prioritize the many demands pulling me in a multitude of directions? And how does my spiritual practice intersect with practical solutions in my daily life?

Being true to the tenet of Mahayana Buddhism, having compassion for all living beings without exception, a Bodhisattva finds the suffering of all living beings – which means any living being — unbearable. The caveat here is that the Bodhisattva actually “finds” the suffering. This would take not just looking, but actually hearing – or deeply understanding what that meant. That is when we find something unbearable. This is also the reason I don’t open my mail if I don’t want to look at what it is showing me because it is unbearable. It’s not that I don’t care, in fact, I care deeply; but I am making a number of fatal flaws as a human and especially as a Buddhist.

First, I am letting the discomfort of the “unbearable” feeling prevent me from really looking, from really knowing, from really seeing. I think this is where a lot of well-intentioned people fall short. We look, find it painful to see, briefly acknowledging how terrible that must be “for all involved,” and we look away, getting back to our busy daily lives.

This same feeling keeps me from even engaging in conversation about the topic or racism when it comes up for fear of saying something “wrong” that would lead to a feeling of hurt or embarrassment. I know this does not reflect well on my character, but it is true. I raised this issue with a black girlfriend recently, to which she said:

Can you bear a small moment of discomfort in pursuit of a solution to racism, for a lifetime and generations of deep suffering?

I hope this sentence never leaves my mind.

if you are always trying to be normal

Second, on the basis of the fact that we “look away”, we deprioritize because we have not truly understood what the problem is. Today as I write this, it is a Saturday. My to-do list, like any other day, has more on it that I can possibly achieve in the time I have. I run a company, and between my work and home life, I seem to not have a moment to spare. And yet, if I looked up the street and saw several houses on fire, I would immediately abandon what I was doing and go help. Why? Because I can see it clearly. Lives are in danger. I couldn’t sit here finishing the financial reports for my company while simultaneously watching a house – with people in it – burn to the ground, all because I was too busy with other priorities.

Third, and just as important as the other items, is that even if we do have the time, the money, or the inclination to act, we are not identified with the solution, and we don’t have the confidence that what we are doing is really helping. This discourages us from continuing to act. This in turn undermines anything ever changing.

A Bodhisattva not only finds the suffering of any other living being unbearable, but is, at the same time, identified with the solution, knowing that freedom from suffering is possible. They have a clear vision of the solution and result, and a path to get there. In this way, a Bodhisattva is always confident in their actions, never stops working for the sake of all living beings, and never feels discomfort. The mind of compassion is a peaceful happy mind.

We need to be very honest with ourselves when we check – is my compassion a happy mind or not? If not, why not? Or maybe we even need to check by asking – how can I feel happy when I see the suffering of other living beings? It is not that Bodhisattvas feel happy when they see suffering, rather that their mind is never moved from peaceful confidence in the solution; and, when they see suffering, moved by it, Buddha naturethey act, knowing that what they do will be moving in the right direction.

Diving in …

And so, with all of this in mind, I went on a deep dive into racism against black Americans and its implications.

Seeing this, and knowing how little I had actively done in the past and considering my own opportunity or privilege, coming to this understanding about myself was actually a little bit of a shock. I had been resting on a belief that it was good enough to be a good person. It was good enough to consider all beings as equals. It was good enough to do the things I am already doing (of which there are some…). But the truth is, if we look (and we don’t have to look too far or deeply), the house is burning! And we must act now.

This is surely how a Bodhisattva would feel.

Going out of my way to help

And so what now? For me it is time to act personally, on both a spiritual and practical level, and it is time to use any platform I have to work against the disparity. The time to act is now!

Last week I got together with a group of Sangha friends with the explicit purpose of talking about this issue. We were there to be honest with one another so that we can change, and we were there to hold one another accountable to our wishes to change. We plan to continue these conversations regularly, and we are all committing to actions.

solidarity

Last week I held a meeting with all my employees. In the meeting I read out some topline statistics about the differences between black lives and white lives in America. After this I stopped and I asked everyone to take a moment of silence to think about what this really meant. Because this is where we need to start. We need to notice how things actually are. We need to truly see, to move, to act.

After this, I showed pictures of many black Americans who had been shot by police in 2020. I read their names, their ages, their home cities, and for a few of them, I read their stories. After this I asked people to take a moment to mentally place the pictures of their own family members on these photos, in these stories and asked them to spend a few moments thinking about how they would feel if it were their child, parent, cousin, uncle, etc. Because if we contemplate this deeply, we will be unable to bear the suffering.

And finally, we talked about action.

For my company, this will mean making systemic and formal changes as to how we hire people, where we spend our money, and how we leverage our communication channels as platforms to bring about positive change. This will also mean that we will commit to keeping the conversation and the action going.

For a Buddhist, this means spiritual action, which incidentally will lead to practical action. We (me) need to uproot our own ignorance through looking honestly at our own mind, and our own racist tendencies, even if that is avoidance or concealment or denial. We need to examine those places we feel discomfort, and look at why we feel it and how to move past that. (If we find we are already completely free from discrimination, which some of you reading this may well be, then that is wonderful too, and there was no harm looking.) We need to develop authentic compassion, which is a peaceful, action-oriented mind. We need to understand the great and unnecessary tragedy that mistaken appearance and conception keep us trapped in this place. And we need to use all of this to develop a strong intention to become an actual Bodhisattva and a Buddha.

I want to finish this article with a quotation from Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

Although there are many different parts of the body, such as the arms and legs,
We protect all these parts as equally as we protect the body itself.
In a similar way, although there are many different living beings,
I should cherish them all as equally as I cherish myself.

The suffering I experience
Does not harm others,
But I find it hard to bear
Because I cherish myself.

Likewise, the suffering of others
Does not harm me,
But, if I cherish others,
I shall find their suffering hard to bear.

Therefore, I should dispel others’ suffering
Simply because it is suffering, just like mine;
And I should bring happiness to others
Simply because they are living beings, just like me.

Postscript

*Since I wrote the above, I have received some more feedback. In response to people saying things like (these are real questions), “Why don’t you feel it necessary to have black lives matterthese huge debates about the Syrians, the Palestinians, the Muslim Burmese? Are they not quite important enough? Where do we draw that line I wonder? Racism will not stop until delusions stop, it’s that simple. Why don’t you care equally for all the other minority groups and oppressed people around the world?”

Fair questions. One answer is that with regards to the Syrians, the Palestinians, and the Muslim Burmese, these people ALL MATTER. A child dies in the world every 10 seconds from hunger. More than a million (known) children are trafficked each year. Almost 30% of the world does not have access to safe drinking water. And I could go on… those trapped in refugee camps, victims of war, living in abject poverty, child marriages, the violence and abuse of animals….. These living beings ALL MATTER. All the time.

Drawing attention to one group is the only way we learn about it and can learn what it is that we can do to help. Don’t we want to help everyone? We can’t learn about gross injustices against “all living beings” at once. We are also not in a position to help everyone all at once either. But this happens to be an opportunity to speak up and do something about racism, which affects people all around me and right under my nose.

our job is to prayI think it is interesting to think about what it means that our job as Kadampas is to pray, and that the only way we will truly end racism is by ending self-cherishing and self-grasping. Until then, samsara will prevail over us. I agree full-heartedly with all of that. That being said, Geshe Kelsang tells us that modern Buddhism means to be “out there” in the modern world, the world we helped create, amongst people, helping them through example, through peaceful minds, through teaching, through giving advice, and, when able, through practical help too. Geshe-la would never say to NOT help someone if we see something practical that we could do. But do we see?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what activism means, and how it doesn’t mean going to demonstrations or even writing blog articles, but how it does mean living a life where we take every opportunity to protect the lives of human beings and animals we are intertwined with. I think if people have a platform – like a well read blog, or if they are a celebrity or a business owner or even a politician — then it is valuable to many people that they use their platform to speak up. Because this is what a black Kadampa said to me today:

The silence around racism is very loud
Touches us at the core of who we believe we are and who others are.

Over to you! Comments for the guest author are welcome below.