Think globally, act locally

who-wants-change

who-wants-changeWe cannot change everyone. We cannot get everyone to behave. You may have noticed this. So being the change we want to see in the world — as Mahatma Gandhi put it in equally trying times — really needs to be our internal starting point. As Buddhist master Atisha says:

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.

Thinking globally

But having said that, we can develop a global motivation that encompasses everyone, and the sooner we do that the quicker we will tame our own minds and be able to help others everywhere. Thinking big, aiming at bodhichitta motivation, we can learn slowly but surely to overcome our aversion, dislike, and fear of others locally, and hold them in our everything-begins-in-the-imaginationhearts.

Furthermore, with Tantra, generated as Buddha Heruka for example, we have huge vision that defies mistaken and ordinary appearances and conceptions and already sees ourselves, others, and the world as pure. This is the quickest, and frankly only way IMHO, to accomplish world peace. There is an incredibly profound, beautiful verse in Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

Through the wheel of sharp weapons of the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness
Circling throughout the space of the minds of sentient beings until the end of the aeon,
Cutting away the demon of self-grasping, the root of samsara,
May definitive Heruka be victorious. ~ p. 91

Just to get a bit deep for a moment … I like to view myself as a mere aspect of my Spiritual Guide’s mind of bliss and emptiness, and view everyone likewise as a mere aspect of my mind of bliss and emptiness. This is bringing the result into the path big time, and a way to “effortlessly” benefit others, training in meditation and trying to hold that view more and more the rest of the time.

ring the bells.jpgWe need to be in refuge. I was imagining, like I do, where I would want to be, mentally speaking, if a bomb dropped on my head today. I would want to be in my heart, in the refuge of my Spiritual Guide’s heart, full of love, compassion, and wisdom, and on my way to the Pure Land where I will then emanate bodies to help everyone.

So that makes me think that I have to get ever closer to that state as a priority because, even if it’s not a bomb, it’ll be something that turns up out of nowhere one of these days to dispatch me to my next life.

Acting locally

But locally, meanwhile, we can go to the assistance of people in need, turn things in the right direction. I had a nice little example of that yesterday.

As I was waiting for a flat white at Tucson airport, a monk dressed in orange robes was next in line holding his cashew nuts. When I offeredtucson to buy them for him, he beamed and said “What is your name? And where are you from?” I told him I was also a Buddhist and had lived in Sri Lanka as a child. He told me his name, I think I was supposed to have heard of it or something, for he paused before adding, “I have written lots of books.” Then he told me the name of his temple in Los Angeles and invited me to visit him there next week when I go. I googled him before boarding this flight, and, as it happens, he is currently the chief Sri Lankan monk in America and the advisor to the Sri Lankan president on international religious affairs.

(I have to say, this beat my standing in line next to Darryl Hannah a few weeks ago in Denver, where she apparently lives too … entertained as I was at the time ;-))

Small world, as several of my friends pointed out – and indeed our karma is what makes it a small world. We are all interconnected — all of our actions have effects not just now but way way into the future. Who knows when and how my and Bhante Walpola Piyananda’s paths will meet again, perhaps lifetimes hence or perhaps next week in LA; but it was worth creating some good karma together in our brief encounter.

Friend of the world

The Bodhisattva’s way of life is, I think, an incredibly skillful way of thinking globally and acting locally, and one that we can all aspire to, whatever our background.

The main thing a Bodhisattva promises to do, in the so-called Bodhisattva vow, is to attain enlightenment to benefit all living beings without exception. But there are no fewer than 46 secondary downfalls the Bodhisattva tries to avoid, and these include:

  • Doing little to benefit others
  • Not helping others to avoid negativity
  • Not going to the assistance of those in need
  • Not acting to dispel suffering
  • Not helping others to overcome their bad habits

leave-samsaraSo although, as Geshe Kelsang says,

Temporary liberation from particular sufferings is not good enough.

and we need liberation and enlightenment, this doesn’t preclude our doing other more immediate things with that motivation.

I have been reading some stories of hate crimes in the last week and, yes, they make one’s blood boil. But there is no point taking that out even mentally on the people perpetuating the crimes because they are being governed by their delusions, they are creating horrible karma, but inside they are okay, pure even, just like the rest of us. As Geshe Kelsang says in New Eight Steps to Happiness:

finger-up-cactus

Up yours, delusions

In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion, and wisdom. Unlike the seeds of our delusions, which can
be destroyed, this potential is utterly indestructible, and is the pure essential nature of every living being.

As explained more here, one way to understand that our compassion and wisdom are indestructible is because they are based on reality, which is not going anywhere; whereas delusions are utterly destructible because they are based on ignorance, inappropriate attention to something that just isn’t there.

Better to take it out on the delusions, as they can be destroyed, and that solves everything. And meanwhile:

Whenever we meet other people, rather than focusing on their delusions we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. ~ p. 83

This is how Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are able to keep it together when they see all us sentient beings acting crazy. They can help us tirelessly, enthusiastically, and without a trace of discouragement or depression because they have unwavering, unconditional love and respect. If we take them as our role models, we can become less and less childish and sign-americansmore and more like them.

That is seriously lame, dude

And blaming delusions while keeping our hearts in love doesn’t mean we don’t say or do anything else. I personally think that acting locally includes standing up for each other whenever the opportunity arises, not standing by and letting people be mistreated. There have been one or two heartening tales of this happening of late – some guy shoved another guy off the sidewalk with racist slurs, and some other guy came over to help him up while saying to the perpetrator:

“That is seriously lame, dude.”

Talking about childish, as a kid in Guyana, full disclosure, and to cut a long story short, my BFFs were a family of Indians called the Sookrajs. I was fiercely attached to them, we spent all our free time together, had a lot of adventures in Georgetown and inland up the Essequibo. There was a lot of racism in our neighborhood — pitting white trenchesagainst black against Indian with befuddling, to me, variations on that theme — and on a few occasions I literally rolled around fighting kids in the trenches that ran in front of the houses. I drafted my poor brothers in one time to defend my friends as well. I was really mad, angry with the stupid mainly white kids I fought and yelled at – and though I think my heart was partly in the right place, it was also very largely not. I even found myself starting to look out for trouble. And I know that my lack of equanimity and angry behavior as the ringleader did nothing to increase tolerance and harmony in the neighborhood (sorry everybody!) I had let myself forget these incidents, Did I dream it?!, until my friends turned up again in my life a few years ago and reminded me.

Therefore, I like that story above because he didn’t call the dude lame, but he did call out the stupidity of the dude’s behavior. If we all do that, call it where we see it, online and off, while keeping our cool, I think it could help. I’m going to try.

Over to you. We would probably all love to hear your comments on how you are tackling this troubled week.

Related articles 

Compassion: the quick path to enlightenment

Wanted dead or alive: our anger and other delusions

Hey, what’s going on?

Hey, what’s going on?!

reflection-of-mind

A friend just told me that the Republicans are winning by 36,000 votes in this great state of Colorado. It gave me pause, again!, as so many times I have been wondering of late, hey, what’s going on?!

(Apologies to my subscribers for popping a second article into your inbox so soon after the last one, but I thought it a civic duty to put one out about the election today 😅  And it’ll still be relevant tomorrow, I’m betting.)

delusional unicorn.jpgYes, I’m writing this slap bang in the middle of election day 2016, November 8th, 3.56pm MST. It is also Tara Day, thank goodness. For everyone everywhere has the jitters, or almost everyone, ordinary beings at least – whereas Buddha Tara & co. of course do not. This is on account of their fully mastering their hearts and minds.

My hair stylist (yes, why not have a haircut on election day) just told me that the reason he thinks visits to doctors for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, and the like have spiked by 25% during this election season is because the world is more complicated than ever before and people feel more and more like they are losing control, that they are powerless. And I agreed with him. I also told him I would be putting him in my blog, so here you go Jason, I am a woman of my word.

If there is anything this confounding reality show of an election is showing it is that everything depends on the mind. Problems or non-problems, happiness and suffering, and ugliness and attractiveness – these all depend on the mind.

Problem, no problem

That thing about outer and inner problems has never been demonstrably more true than today. I’m sorry to break this to you, if you haven’t heard, but we will never ever have full control over the outer problems in life — no one throughout history has ever accomplished this and we are not going to be the first. However, we can learn to control how we react and therefore avoid the inner problems. This is always going to be the case.

Where we feel helpless, also, it is helpful not to forget the power of prayer – one prayer suggested on 9/11 by Geshe Kelsang, and seemingly always applicable, is for our world leaders to have compassion and wisdom.

Happiness and suffering

delusions-godzilla-still-only-a-cloudHappiness and suffering depend on the mind – people with just the same amount to win or lose from the results of this election still vary in how happy or sad they are today, for example, depending on their state of mind and perceptions. Some people are feeling very depressed whereas others are figuring a way through it while remaining relatively peaceful. But we could all probably do with taking deeper and deeper refuge in the restorative power of our own mind and potential, as explained here, and the foolproof Dharma medicine, the methods for fulfilling this happiness within. This election has been showing me the need for more refuge, not more dependence on externals.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ugliness and attractiveness also depend on the mind. And there is a lot of that going on right now – including incomprehension on both sides as to how anyone cannot see through the quite obvious undesirability of the other candidate. Yes, I have my preference and my own incomprehension, and I voted carefully on every point on the ballot; but from a spiritual point of view it doesn’t make much difference who wins this election, for tomorrow our main opponents are still going to be ignorance, attachment, and aversion. Our real work is still going to be cut out for us, either way.

Search for the hero inside yourself

remove-delusionsIt is wrong to hate Hilary. It is wrong to hate Trump. (Attachment for one would also appear to lead to more aversion toward the other, so best not to succumb to deceptive attachment either.) And it is also wrong to hate both of them! It is short-sighted, and it doesn’t come from any real compassion.

There is much at stake during this election season, no doubt — such as my ability to go to the doctor and, more ominously, the legitimization of fear and hate. Still, there is no justification for our own aversion because, as Buddha pointed out and we can discover for ourselves, living beings are not our enemies, they are our kind mothers. Only our delusions are our enemies. As Geshe Kelsang says:

We may think that our suffering is caused by other people, by poor material conditions, or by society, but in reality it all comes from our own deluded states of mind. ~ Introduction to Buddhism

And it is not as if Geshe-la has not put this to the test – he had to flee Tibet with just his robes, and before that he lived in a feudal dictatorship.

He has also suggested that we vote in order to keep creating the causes for living in a democracy.

We are the change we’ve been waiting for

So we can canvass and vote to try and stop the most dangerous delusions taking power, trying to solve the outer problem as best we can; I am all for this and, in fact, Bodhisattvas have a vow to “go to the assistance of those in need”. But let’s not kid ourselves that our real enemies are either of those two people, or any other politicians for that matter. Even if both of them were to vanish into thin air, the world will still be in a mess for as long as we are all enslaved by the master race of the delusions.

on-top-of-the-world-above-clouds-of-delusionI wonder why we have allowed delusions to ruin our lives since beginningless time and counting?! Why are we so wholly consumed by finding the threat to our happiness always outside ourselves? As Shantideva puts it:

The inner enemies of hatred, attachment, and so forth
Do not have arms and legs,
Nor do they have courage or skill;
So how have they made me their slave?

No other type of enemy
Can remain for as long a time
As can the enduring foes of my delusions,
For they have no beginning and no apparent end.

The only way to be free and stay free is to free the mind – by removing our delusions, and particularly by getting rid of self-grasping ignorance. I reckon that if I had put a fraction of my formidable energy and righteous indignation since beginningless time into rebelling against my own delusions, I’d probably be enlightened by now. And so would you. This election is reminding me of this, so for that at least I am thankful to all concerned.

Have a nice rest of election day, what’s left of it! See you later.

Update 10.55pm

Definition of red herring: Something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.

reflection of mind.jpg

“What we see is a reflection of our own mind.” ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

My conclusion: This divisive and disappointing (was always going to be for half the country and now is for much of the world) election has shown, yet again and quite resoundingly in my opinion, that trying to make samsara work is a red herring. The arc of forward progression — of tolerance, human rights, international security, climate protection, and global connectivity for example — is not an inevitability. While we let the obstructionist delusions stay in our hearts, it is a pipe dream.

But there is also little point in panicking or scare mongering because, lets face it, we wouldn’t have known what was around the corner whoever was elected.

As Buddha said over 2500 years ago, the places, enjoyments, and bodies of samsara are deceptive. Nowhere on this planet is great to live, so let’s instead give up entirely on the hallucinations that come from our self-grasping and self-cherishing. It is about time, and it won’t be a minute too soon. And meantime, as we work on pulling the plug out on the ocean of samsaric suffering by abandoning its causes, let’s not underestimate the power of prayer, “our main job” as Geshe Kelsang once said.

Heruka’s mandala, the appearance of bliss and emptiness, awaits us all, is just a trick of the mind away. Get your Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments when you can.

Perhaps you might join me in trying even harder to rely on the armor of wisdom and compassion, becoming a true refuge for ourselves and others as soon as possible, while we still have health care … I mean this precious human life 😝

If you can, please add to the comments below any inspiring words or quotes that are helping you heal and deal with what is going on, and might help others. The more wisdom, the better. 

Related articles

Lost and (un)Found ~ includes Brexit musings

Looking back at this life

The end of collection is dispersion

 

Where can I find you?

patti-and-schoolchildren

patti-and-schoolchildrenPatti Joshua has “brought hope, freedom, and inner peace to minds that didn’t believe that hope and freedom were possible,” according to a Buddhist monk in South Africa. She helped supply clean water to many rural communities over many years, and in the last year alone created 280 meditation classes at 27 rural schools all around Zululand, holding 2,100 sessions with 225 educators and no fewer than 11,039 learners. I hope you have a few minutes to watch this powerful video.

 

This video has been shown to principals at other schools in South Africa and opened the door for the healing power of meditation to be also introduced at those schools. ~ Kadampa teacher in South Africa

Patti has inspired me since I first learned about her work. I want to become a Bodhisattva like her, I really want to be like her. A devoted disciple of Geshe Kelsang, she said of the book Transform Your Life, especially the chapter on Accepting Defeat and Offering the Victory:

I tried to practice it and it worked. Incredible patience, love and compassion came out of it.

She then “used these amazing teachings from Geshe-la on Transform Your Life” in schools, rural communities, prisons — discovering that even with those “very ill with HIV, they realized they can still be happy, happiness from within.”trumpet.JPG

According to the same Buddhist monk: “The results of the school project have been swift and encouraging, with teachers, students, headmasters, and district officials all deeply inspired by what they have learned from the precious Dharma appearing in their lives in the form of Mam Patti and the beautiful Kadam Dharma from Venerable Geshe Kelsang in Transform Your Life.”

After a teaching on the Life of Buddha miles from anywhere, one little boy put his hand up … and, wanting to know more, he asked urgently,

Where can I find you?

Can you imagine having a life of such meaning, where you bring so much hope to others that they want to know how they can find you again? Spectacles held together with a paper clip, Patti’s life has been yet infinitely rich.

And the thing is, I have the same Spiritual Guide and exactly the same teachings, and there is no reason why I cannot do what Patti has done. I believe the same is true for you.

In Meaningful to Behold, Geshe-la says:

Nowadays, with the world in turmoil, there is a particular need for westerners to cultivate bodhichitta. If we are to make it through these perilous times, true Bodhisattvas must appear in the West as well as in the East.


“My heart will grow and grow until it fills the whole world.” ~ Ntuthuko

On September 28th, Patti was killed in a tragic road accident on her way to Richards Bay.

Here is another powerful video showing just what we have lost. Like Tessa, however, another of Venerable Geshe-la’s incredible disciples taken from our world too soon, I believe that Patti will now always be a light for the path.

Pay it forward

At her transference of consciousness puja on Friday, a teacher in South Africa told beautiful stories of her life, and said:

patti-black-and-whitePatti is greatly admired, respected, and loved by so many people in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, and around the world. She was a kind mother, daughter, wife, grandmother, mentor, teacher and Sangha friend to thousands of people. Her passing away is a poignant reminder that we all have to die and have no idea about when our death will come. The best way to honour Patti’s life is to embody the principles of joyful and loving kindness that she lived by, and to keep in mind “I may die today.”

And, as her family put it:

Yesterday we lost our mom…. Our hope is that you take the love she shared with you and pay it forward.

I realized earlier that I have no idea how old Patti is, and I couldn’t care less. She is timeless. Age can neither defy nor define a Bodhisattva, any more than can the sufferings of sickness, death, or rebirth. For she or he is a hero at any age, always a son or daughter of the Buddhas in line for the throne of enlightenment.

A true Bodhisattva

Here is what one good friend of Patti told me:

Mama Patti Joshua, a true Bodhisattva Heroine, a beautiful example of the practice of Dharma, an unwavering dedicated friend to everyone, especially the communities in rural Zululand and beyond, her inspiration lives on in all the thousands of hearts she touched, nurtured and guided. 

Patti translating into Zulu.jpgAnyone who had the good fortune to meet Patti would understand from just a little time spent with this very special lady that she was there for others. Her kind, wise and compassionate ways had a depth that could pacify, heal, encourage; and in a just a few words, or a gentle look from her, there would be hope and strength in the hearts of those she was touching. Whenever we spoke of Patti in our Centres here in South Africa, our minds would turn to Mother Tara — swift, kind, selfless, a liberator from sorrow, Patti is all the above and we are all deeply inspired and our hearts touched by the actions of our own venerable lady. 

Patti worked tirelessly under the most uncertain of conditions with very little external resources, rural Africa is no playground for us spoilt urbanites, we would snap, turn to jelly. With her tremendous faith in Geshe-la and her teachers, and the power of Kadam Dharma, nothing was an obstacle for her. Her patient acceptance could absorb any situation, transforming it into a beautiful smile on her face, her eyes shining brightly through her glasses held together by a paper clip, she always had a plan. She had to, with hardly any money to pay for things, she depended on the kindness of others, such faith, and through her ocean of inner wealth she accomplished so much in her community and beyond. Quiet, yet everyone knew about her, gentle yet everyone appreciated her out-of-the-ordinarypower, loving and determined. When you were with Patti, you could feel she was focusing on your potential, drawing that out of you, gently, peacefully creating a vision together – you were always encouraged by her graceful presence.

She always had space in her heart for one more — one more community, one more person, one more class, one more child to hold, one more person to try to feed, one more person to encourage — her heart could take them all, almost naturally, without a huff or a puff, or a what about me, it wasn’t about her. Everyone was a part of her family.

We pray that this work may continue in some form, for Patti’s presence here is deeply missed. 

Always space in her heart for one more

If we exchange our self with others, we will always have space in our heart for one more. patti-tribute-to-ven-geshe-laAnd we will get good things done. Compare this to self-cherishing, where we are consumed with one person, ourselves, and which has got us precisely nowhere since beginningless time. There is a beautiful verse in Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, which Patti seemed to exemplify:

Since throughout beginningless time until now, the root of all my suffering has been           my self-cherishing mind,
I must expel it from my heart, cast it afar, and cherish only other living beings.

As another friend put it:

She always seemed to be doing everything for others all at once, and all of it effortlessly, without any drama or fuss.

The object of both our self-grasping ignorance and our self-cherishing is the same – the patti-with-small-groupself that I normally perceive. Self-grasping grasps it as existing, and self-cherishing thinks that it is most important. But that self does not exist! Which explains why self-grasping and self-cherishing are doomed to failure, every time. Far better, and far more sane, to follow Patti’s example instead.

So I made myself a promise today. Whenever I notice that I am starting to feel sorry for myself, for whatever reason, I am going to try to remember Patti and the thousands of people who loved her with good reason. That is one way to pay it forward. And then one day all of our epitaphs might also say:

Where can I find you?!

Funeral

Patti’s funeral was held on Saturday in Eshowe, and the obituary is now in the comments below. A website is going to be set up for tributes and I will link to it. Please feel free to write in the comments of this article too.

Acknowledgments

Thank you to the 2 close friends of Mam Patti in South Africa who co-wrote this article with me.

 

A disciple passes

tessa-now

Tessa now.jpgTessa Logan died today at 5am GMT. She has left a lot of friends (I am just one of them) and a very kind, decent family, including a ninety-year-old mum who has nursed her for a long time. Her tiny “bird-like” mom, with the same mop of hair as Tessa, stroked her daughter’s now bald head so gently three times to allow her consciousness to leave through the crown because she knew that this is what she would have wanted.

It is not possible to do Tessa justice in one article so I’m not going to try. (Though I think it’d be lovely if you wanted to contribute in the comments.) Truncated “facts”: She was tessa-young-1one of Geshe Kelsang’s earliest disciples, meeting him at Manjushri Centre in 1979, and a reassuring, steady presence in our tradition. Bold and smart, she helped organize Manjushri Centre in the early days, she helped organize Festivals, she helped in Tharpa Publications, and over the years she taught a lot in the UK and in America, including Saraha Center in San Francisco where I once spent the best three weeks with her. People loved her. Tributes have been flowing in all day to describe with gratitude how much she meant to people with her discerning kindness, clear teachings, and reassuring constancy.

In the last five years she inspired a lot of us with her no worries attitude and growing strength in the face of the relentless ups and downs of her cancer. She seemed to be practicing everything she had spent the decades learning at the feet of her Spiritual Guide, turning what could have been a disastrous five years into something else entirely. She may not have been perfect all the time, she had stuff like the rest of us; but through her reliance and patience she was getting closer, and it was actually a joy to watch. Patience seems to be an essential practice for all of us since we all get fed up from time to time; and for me Tessa’s example has been an illustration of its power.

And I am by no means alone in this experience, but even in the midst of grueling treatments (and she had many), she would always ask about me with genuine interest, find out how I was in detail if she could, always have time for that, for others. She would praise me for whatever she could praise me for, for transforming even the slightest adversity, even though she was the one who was always being the heroine. I tessa-lynn-margaretwould laugh with her about her deflections, she was pretty much always up for a laugh.

I sort of think that if Tessa does not now end up in the Pure Land, there is no hope for the rest of us. I am kind of hoping she might send us a sign. Please help wend her on her way there with a prayer.

I knew Tessa for 35 years. And now Tessa has gone. Lekma said that the body lying there this morning was unrecognizable and certainly not her. Not even hers, it never was. Like a hair pulled from butter, her very subtle mind has left this body and this world to experience the dream-like appearances of the next life. It happens to all of us. It is as Shantideva says, we become nothing. Tess is like a rainbow that has passed. When we die, our now seemingly solid lives will be marked by Facebook likes, comments, and emojis too, before people quickly move on. However, me and Lekma agreed that her life will not easily be forgotten. Senior students of the Spiritual Guide are very precious, an object of refuge, for are they not real Sangha from whom we can continue to receive help? Just like the disciples of other great Masters in the past, tessa-meditatingpart of the ongoing lineage of blessings, Tessa will still encourage me on my own journey out of suffering and into the Guru’s heart.

So, if you feel like sharing how Tessa touched your life, write as much as you like below, it could be inspiring for the rest of us.

Transference of consciousness puja (powa) will be held for Tessa at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre this Saturday at 7.30pm, everyone is welcome.

 

Lost and (un)Found

dream mist

In a few short hours we may have voted Brexit or Bremain, who on earth knows!? Who is in control of all this anyway?!

There is no stability in samsara because all appearances are the nature of our ever-shifting, uncontrolled mind and projected by our karma. In a flash everything can change; we can even lose everything and everyone we know.

lostLike an episode of Lost, where there is a flash of light, they all clutch their heads, and then they end up in another time. It’s not “Where am I?! But “When am I?” They are understandably disorientated and discombobulated but, being the indomitable cast of Lost, and nothing like me, waste no time in getting back to work, trying to act as if things make sense again, all (external) action all the time: “Where is so and so? Let’s get back to the beach even though it’s pointless because our camp has gone or hasn’t yet been built! Let’s join in with the Others or, on the other hand, let’s leave. Let’s look amazed and dumbfounded but still not talk things through except in the tersest of sentences! Let’s make a house and a life back in 1974 as if that is totally normal! As if the other young people in jump suits around us aren’t illusory, aren’t in fact now old or dead! Let’s get on with the action! Let’s shoot! Let’s kiss! Etc.” And so they kid themselves that regular life goes on, until there is another flash.

Anything can appear

dream mistI had a dream last night that could have been an episode from Lost. One minute I was here, the next there, I was meeting people who had died and thinking nothing of it, I was warmly greeting people from whom I have been long estranged as if I had seen them only yesterday, I was meeting new people, and everyone disappeared or appeared or morphed into new appearances. You know the kind of thing; dreams are like that. And so are our varied lifetimes – due to karma, anything can appear, Venerable Geshe Kelsang has said. We could be born anywhere and perhaps — as time is not fixed but merely imputed – anytime?!

Life sped up

Have you ever wondered what your life would look like if it had been filmed and you watched it all sped up?! Pretty darn weird, is what. Speed all our lives up — what a very peculiar, overwhelming plethora of changes!!! Love them, hate them, feed them, eat them, hug them, fight them … we have had every relationship imaginable with every living being. You know those Tee-shirts “Been there, done that”? There is no tee-shirt large enough for all the places we have been, for all the things that we have done.

In this life alone, I have lived for several years on every continent except Antarctica and I have visited nearly 50 countries. I am, predictably enough, writing this article on yet another plane (flip, nice sunset!) on the way through a brief night to a brief dream in Reykjavik, next to a charming man who has lived all over the place, having just stood in line at the airport with someone else who also travels extensively. Yet all this is nothing seven continentscompared to the infinite worlds within samsara wherein you and I have traveled through beginningless lives. And within those countless lifetimes, all those dreams …

Memento

And waking life only seems more consistent than dream life because we bring some memory or mindfulness to it and so, in a way, have more time to get used to things before they change on us. (Our waking minds are gross minds, so we are better at using mindfulness than with our subtler levels of dreaming mind.) My sister-in-law’s mother, Christine, had a bad stroke and has spent the last several years in a nursing home. She has no short-term memory and describes the experience as “dream-like”. It is memory and memory alone, it seems, that makes coherence of appearances, strings them together into narratives; and so when we lack memory we can quickly lose the plot. Or have to do the same things over and over again, like a Guppy.

Diversion from main article

Which reminds me, I read a report recently saying that human beings these days have a shorter attention span than a goldfish – approximately 8 seconds. That’s what we get, if you ask me, from spending the whole day stimulating the senses with non-stop diversions (Snapchat, anyone?! Have you managed to refrain from checking your texts or Facebook feed since you started reading this article? Have any of you indeed even managed to get this far down thweapons of mass distractione page?!) We distract our sense awarenesses while neglecting the life of the mental awareness, the only awareness that possesses mindfulness and concentration. Someone was telling me yesterday about the brave new world of Augmented Reality Glasses – we will soon be able to superimpose robots and story lines etc OVER our regular surroundings – sounds horrible, but could well become the next mass-addiction. (Update July 20 2016: less than a month later, this is already starting — look at what’s going on with Pokemon GO!!!)

Comfy sofa

We try so hard to hold on in our waking life, but in a flash everything can change. We can be evicted, we can be deserted, we can be exiled, we can be wounded, we can even be in our next life. It seems like we try to anchor ourselves in this ever-changing scenery with a partner (“us against the world!”), a family, a house, a reputation, Facebook likes, etc — trying to construct a weighty life on top of an infrastructure that is simply projection of mind. For as long as we have self-grasping — feeling alienated from our own surroundings by grasping dualistically at a world outside our mind — we seem to have an existential need to do this; which is why it can feel devastating when the seeming anchors of relationships or careers etc end. We can feel as though we have lost our still point, our northern star, our comfy sofa in samsara.

So we keep trying to build up our money, our career, our sense of who and what we are, our family, our friends, our body – but none of these fleeting, flimsy edifices can save us from new unfurling karmic projections once they are ready to ripen.

Bear and Fizz GigI think our lives are like insubstantial bubbles blown by fleeting states of mind and karma. This is why, I reckon, we have the 7 sufferings of samsara – birth, ageing, sickness, death, not encountering what we like, encountering what we don’t like, and dissatisfaction. How can these not be inevitable in a life characterized by uncontrolled minds and karma?

We try to cling to reality but there isn’t any. Not in appearances, anyway. In Lost, they at least moved time zones with the same body and gross minds and even a few select companions – but in one flash of light our body could change and so could our gross mind to go with it. For example, if we are reborn as a cat, our gross mind will certainly feel very different to how it does now, and our companions will be nothing like our friends now. If human, we have to learn all this stuff all over again, or a whole bunch of new stuff — for example if I am reborn in Iceland, I will have to say passenger announcement“Utgangur” instead of “Exit”.

Nothing can be pinned down; nothing. We can have a six-pack and a rifle, and talk in manly monosyllables; but when the flash comes this is not going to help us one bit. We need to change our minds. And we kind of need to do it right now, while we are in the relatively stable position of this precious human life and have some refuge. That’s the urgency, far more so than running through a jungle. (Apologies for all these Lost references if you haven’t seen it 🙂 I am not even suggesting you put yourselves through 5 seasons of Lost, you probably have far superior, more culturally up-to-date things to do. Like Snapchat. Or Pokemon GO. But you get the idea.) James from Lost

Unfound

Nothing can be found when we search with wisdom, which means that nothing exists inherently. Attachment is trying to hold onto hallucinations – it needs its object to have a degree of permanence and substantiality that it simply doesn’t have, which makes this all-too-common delusion at best a waste of time. (Reminds me of my favorite line from the latest Star Wars movie, “Escape first, hug later.”)

We can drop no anchors in samsara’s contaminated ocean; it has no bottom. We need to set about purifying and transforming the entire ocean of our root mind. For then, instead of it throwing up endless waves of pointless suffering, it will manifest endless waves of beneficial bliss.

hand in lakeSo there is no reason to be discouraged. The mind of renunciation — wishing to overcome the hallucinations of samsara, to wake up from mistaken appearances — is strangely uplifting. It is also the gateway to the liberating path. We don’t have to buy into what isn’t working and can never work, trying to control it. We can instead start to rely on what does work, which is going for refuge and controlling our minds.

We can go for refuge to all-pervasive enlightened beings, to Dharma, to Sangha. We can purify our mind and gain full mastery of our thoughts so that we can choose to go wherever and whenever we want. We can in particular gain an experience of emptiness — realizing that all appearances are the nature of the mind and the mind is the nature of emptiness — so that we not only realize exactly what is going on but can control it completely. And we can then be a deep, vast, source of refuge for everyone else.

(Regardless of who wins the Referendum, whose results are rolling in unpredictably as we speak …)

Your comments are most welcome!

fly the friendly skies

Tintin

Welcome to the friendly skies! …

fly the friendly skies… our pilot just welcomed us. And this reminded me of Geshe Kelang’s first flight to America in July 1990. As they set off from Heathrow, he said to the 2 students traveling with him, one of them my closest friend at the time:

We are flying to Vajrayogini’s’s Pure Land…

… and then he absorbed into meditation for the next 6 hours, only arising when prompted to eat lunch, of which he partook of a mere forkful. (As both these students were sitting either side of him, that kind of scuppered any chance of conversation… But it was still apparently a darned good flight.)

And I always think of these words when I fly. Besides, we need to go to the very friendly higher sky of Vajrayogini and Heruka’s Pure Land – Keajra – even when stationary, and we can leave through our crown chakra.

Why? Because samsara’s pleasures are deceptive. I can hear the video game violence emanating from the ear buds of the youth next to me – so how loud is it blaring into HIS ears?! Not that he cares of course, he is never going to get middle aged and old and die. That only happens to other people, like the woman next to him (me). A friend in his 50s recently developed tinnitus. Of course he didn’t see that coming despite years of headphone abuse. And who amongst us hasn’t blissed out to loud music – but even music is deceptive, my friend was telling me. All sense pleasures are. All appearances mislead us while we remain overpowered by them, not realizing they are empty, not realizing they are not really there.

As Geshe Kelsang explains in Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition, the Buddhist master Vasubandhu used various examples to show how attachment to sense pleasures creates suffering. Moths are ensnared by attachment to visual forms when they fly into the flame; deer to sounds when they are enticed by the hunter’s flute; flies to smells when they land on food and are swatted; fish to food when they are impaled on the hook; and elephants to tactile sensations when they sink helplessly into mud. Meanwhile, humans are ensnared by attachment to all five!

But everything we encounter can also teach us everything about Dharma if we let it. As Milarepa said:IMG_6603

I have no need of books because all the objects around me are my books. From these I learn about death and impermanence, the disadvantages of samsara, and the emptiness of all phenomena. Great Treasury of Merit p. 212.

Sooooo, so far today … It started with a teaching on my early morning coffee – Life is short. Stay awake for it. (Don’t know what to suggest for those of you who don’t drink coffee.)

The snack cart just came down the aisle, and my attention was captured by Buddha Bowl Foods™ (Trademark! Since when did a snack company get the trademark on Buddha’s begging bowl?) – organic popcorn with pink Himalayan salt. What will they think of next? But although it is seasoned by elements from faraway holy lands, this popcorn is still not worth the $4.99 price tag. Though it makes me shudder a bit to see Buddha smiling out from a disposable snack wrapper, I also think it is lucky that Buddha is not fussy – maybe someone will create an indestructible potential for enlightenment as they chow down on their salty morsels.

distractionEveryone is either snoozing or plugged in. Some are multitasking their entertainment — managing to be on their personal devices AND watching the latest movie on the seat-back in front of them. In this worth-reading NYT article about death, Arthur C. Brooks reports a scary illustration of the disconnect between what we want and what we do due to the power of distractions:

The women reported deriving more satisfaction from prayer, worship and meditation than from watching television. Yet the average respondent spent more than five times as long watching TV as engaging in spiritual activities.

So far I have resisted the itch to swipe my credit card and watch The Martian … but temptation is always all around. I need to think this could be my last flight, and what would I do if I ever did have to follow the second of these helpful instructions (pictured)? (Has anyone ever actually survived by using their cushion for a flotation flotation devicedevice?! Ok, I admit, I got distracted and googled it. Apparently, yes, they have, in 1970.) But, should the cushion fail, given that I am unprepared for my activities just over the next week in NYC, where does that leave my next life?

In the security line

So much effort goes into becoming a functioning adult – it needs years. There are students behind me in the security line, all young, hip, fresh-faced, and about to have their moment ruling the world. “Boulder has changed so much! Like, totally,” one says, as if she has been there well over her 17 years. “I major in education,” she carries on saying to her new friends. “So are you gonna become a teacher?” “Yeah.” “Cool.” That will take years of money and resources. A small earnest boy with oversized spectacles and a watchful mother — will he be a teacher one day? How much money and kindness will make that possible? Then it starts unravelling as you see from the deeply lined woman hobbling by with a stick, maybe she was an educator once.

functioning adultIt is so easy to grasp at permanence, at things staying the same. Sometimes I fast forward in these snaky queues — where will we all be in 10, 20, 50 years’ time?

My young co-queuer from Boulder has also wasted no time telling her new friends that she is traveling to see her boyfriend, who inconveniently lives in New York. “Man! That sucks!” “I know. But it’s okay.” (Clearly right now it is way more than okay for she cannot help grinning, albeit in a cool, I can take it or leave it girls, kind of way). It may last for decades, like Alan Rickman and Rima Horton, but the odds are against it, and she may have the first of several broken hearts, perhaps even on this trip. How many have you had?! I have had my fair share. While we remain with attachment, broken hearts are an unavoidable side effect at any age. There is a joke in California – before you get serious with someone, ask yourself:

Is this who I want my kids to spend the weekends with?

Back on the plane, but on this same subject, I am now actually across the aisle from a hot couple meeting and flirting for the first time. We do quite rightly like the bliss of connection — and they are, after all, the only people around here immersed in the present moment as opposed to asleep or on their gadgets — so I think it’d be wonderful if that bliss could last forever. However, fast forward 5 years and they’ll be watching box sets on the couch with the dog like the rest of us. We need to know where our bliss actually comes from.
honey on a razor's edgeGeshe Kelsang once told me that it is not possible to get between someone and their object of attachment. (But was I applying these wise words to myself?! Umm, no. No more than I got his teaching on eating mindfully when during a tea party I offered him a huge slice of chocolate cake and he said, “This is poison for me,” — so I ate it instead, and he laughed. Geshe-la has been infinitely patient with me. With all of us, really.) Try telling someone as they start licking the honey off the razor’s edge, “That’s going to hurt you know!” And will they listen? Will they heck.

Talking of Alan Rickman, he seemed to be well loved by all who knew him for his loyalty, kindness, and willingness to go the extra mile. And his kindness will guide him to happiness now too, none of it is wasted, it’s a win win — happy in this life, creating the causes for happiness now in his next life, as well as being prayed for and wished well on his way by the many people he helped.

Back in the security line …

You snake past the same people over and over in these lines. It reminds me of being on the same flight from Portugal as someone who loathed me. We both pretended we didn’t notice each other, and got away with it on the plane; but upon arrival found ourselves in one of those long looping queues — having to look at our phones, over to some friends, up at the roof, etc — each time we were about to pass. Five times we better angelsmanaged it — only to bump right into each other as we emerged from the restrooms. It makes me think that we cannot hide forever from our karma, we have to face it over and over again until it is exhausted; so we may as well learn to love everyone in the line. We will have to keep bumping into everyone forever, so why not learn to enjoy it. Reminds me of a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Love this quote.

And, like I was saying, we need to get out of this long queue as fast as possible – like those people in the Clear Me line who have created enough merit to breeze through. Then we can fly the friendly sky of the Dharmakaya, and help everyone else do the same.

We seek transcendence. People do crazy extreme sports and jump out of airplanes to get the thrill of flying. I saw a poster trying to entice passers-by with, “Learn to stunt drive!” Why would I do that?!! I am just now noticing my neighbor with the noisy headphones watching a man walk on a wire high high above New York City. He is lying down! He is pointing at a magical sun behind a cloud! A white dove is flying toward him! This is all pretty cool, especially as I’m not distracted by the narrative. Still, I would want more than a wire between me and the ground 70 stories below. Like a direct realization of emptiness, for example.

Talking of sports, people ask why I don’t ski. I used to as a child living in Turkey and visiting good friends in Switzerland, but now I prefer to enjoy it in my mind — for some reason, maybe my precious human life and a distinct preference for a body in one uninterrupted piece — I have gone off the idea of standing at the top of a steep mountain with two insanely slippery sticks tied to my feet. Not judging, because I also kind of admire the spectacular fear-defying feats I watch from the comfort of the gondola cafe in Breckenridge or Aspen. And it makes me blissful to watch, except when people fall. TintinNurse an overpriced cappuccino long enough, and someone is bound to fall. Especially if they are sufficiently high, and/or under some illusion about their skill-set or permanence in this life. People get into all sorts of trouble in the mountains through underestimating their environment or overestimating themselves, according to an English friend in Breckenridge. He goes out whenever called to save people in an utterly heroic fashion, whether on skies, or wheels, or even by air, on a variety of cool snow vehicles. He does this in his plus fours, tweed cap, and a tweed jacket, and honestly looks just like Tintin — but the people who have gotten themselves into any number of of idiotic situations are always very happy to see him.

And my final observations for now: a full cup of coffee + rough air = bad combo. But the flight attendant did just call me “Miss” instead of the dreaded “Ma’am”, which I like, even if he is about 75 years old. And remind me again why I insist on always traveling

meanwhile in New York

I flew all the way to NY for this?

with a ripe banana that I have to clean out of my bag upon arrival?You may conclude from these rambling observations that I have way too much time on my hands, spend way too much time in airplanes, and should get a proper job like all the other functioning adults of this world. In my defence I will say that I write most of my stuff while traveling between places, and though I do, naturally, like the feeling of being on perpetual vacation while technically not, a feeling I believe I may have inherited from my parents, I also do have a few other things to do from time to time, I promise. So bye bye for now. Thank you for flying united.

Postscript: This ended up long, and I thought about putting it in 2 installments to make some of my readers happy (you know who you are, France and Philippe.) But then I realized they could just stop reading halfway and come back to the rest later. Don’t know why I never thought of that before.

 

Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust

Bowie lazarus
Hunky Dory

Click on image for soundtrack to accompany this article.

I should not have been surprised, I suppose, but when David Bowie died I quickly realized that it wasn’t just me who felt so connected to him.

People reported being “devastated”. One old school friend of mine cried all day. Another whom I’d called on urgent business on Skype just stared at me blankly and said he was in shock. This kind of thing has been happening all over the world these past few days!

I had a dream about him a long time ago that’s remained with me my whole life – he was a fellow Buddhist in my dream, and a deep friend, and I felt I had always known him. But I can see now that this is not remotely a unique experience! Are any of our experiences ever unique?

So, possibly unparalleled by any other musician or artist of my lifetime, David Bowie got to people. A lot of people. Just a cursory glance at the internet can show you that. For everyone wants a part of him, everyone seems to have a part of him. And with all the love directed his way, it looks like we are part of him, too. We are all parts of one totality that includes David Bowie! And, therefore, it would seem, each other.

subtle impermanenceWe are all made of stardust.

None of us really belong to just one person. How can we, when we belong to everyone? And in the unbounded cosmos of time, each of us has spent lifetimes with each other. So,

Fill your heart with love today … Love will clean your mind and make it freeeee.

And at the same time:

The things that happened in the past only happened in your mind. Only in your mind.

Starman influenced my teenage years, as I described here; but clearly not only mine if you saw the Brixton mass sing-along of Starman in an impromptu celebration of their local hero.

Here is a small smattering of what people have been thinking aloud on the internet:

Soundtrack of my life

Thank you so for all the beauty, creativity and inspiration you brought into the world. You definitely provided the soundtrack to most of my teenage years and your passing is like the loss of an old friend.

It is strange to mourn for someone you never knew, but the sense of loss feels the same as if it were someone close. Somehow he weaved his way into so many people’s lives in so many ways.

So very unique. I can’t put my finger on it-but man something about him just shined.

Something is missing, something I can’t explain, as if a part of my life was ripped from me.

“His music was immortal, so we thought he was too.” That pretty much sums up my feelings for the great David Bowie…my past 40+ years of music, my hero!

Visionary

This video shows that Bowie was pretty prescient, 15 years ago, on how the internet would affect the world (and how it’s a life form from outer space ;-)) Bowie was indeed a visionary. He saw the impact of the internet, especially in music and art; and he reveled in the interdependence between the artist and the audience. Perhaps this joy in connecting contributed to his alien mystique combined with his everyman approachability – you felt you could hang out with this rock god in your local pub, and indeed many people did.

As he said at the end of at least one concert:

God you are a great bunch of people, you really are. It’s been a pleasure playing for you.

He inspired and still inspires creativity. A friend of mine wrote and played music in a band for years largely because of him. Someone else just said: “Bowie’s parting album has got right into my skin. So much that it’s re-inspired me to start composing again after a long and empty void.” Stories like this are everywhere. As my talented filmmaker friend Julie said earlier today, we all have our own forms of creativity and means to connect meaningfully with others, and Bowie made it safe and possible for untold numbers of people to express themselves as they wanted to.

And I have got way too much on at the moment to find the time to write this article, but I find I have written it anyway.

Here is a lovely story, told properly and in length here, and now paraphrased probably poorly by me:

In 1989 a young student was sitting in his room feeling sorry for himself when a mummy walked into his room and asked if he knew where he might find a hotel? The answer was No.

“Oh, that’s OK,” the mummy said. “But could you at least tell me where I could get a decent cup of tea?”

I began to sob.

“No,” I cried. “We only have Bigelow!”

He placed his elegant hand on my shoulder and said, kindly:

“Hey, sad kid, it’s OK, don’t feel this way, you are a beautiful comet in the infinite universe.”

The mummy then peeled the bandages off his face, and stayed for a cup of tea. The rest, as they say, and for this author, was history. As he said:

… the little nuggets of weirdness inside us just needed a divine spark so we could become the celestial children we were always meant to be.

“I didn’t know David Bowie could die …”
David Bowie and skull

To be or not to be?

… as someone said on Facebook. And as someone else added:

I think that’s part of why his death hurts so much. Because for my generation, it is the loss of our youth. It’s a harsh reminder that for all of us time is truly short and that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, you cannot stop its cold march forward. Someone like Bowie, who has been there through most of our lives, who seemingly goes on and on, we find is mortal after all. It gives us a reality check, it brings our lives into perspective as its shows us, with a hammer blow, that we are all mortal too.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven.”

I don't know where i'm going from hereAt the same time, I find his death to be strangely hopeful – if we transform our minds, who knows what adventures we can look forward to upon passing from this impure, often painful life. Death doesn’t have to be bad providing we go toward it with wide-open eyes, having been aware of its reality our whole life.

In a touching tribute on Facebook, Annie Lennox says:

The bejewelled remains of Major Tom lie dormant in a dust coated space suit…
It leaves me breathless.
You must see it to believe it…
He knew…
He could see through it all.

The jeweled skull in Blackstar is reminiscent of Tantric bone implements, where it symbolizes impermanence, of course, but also the transcendence of an impure body and mind (Major Tom’s?!) through the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness. The clear light of death, if transformed into the clear light of bliss, has the power to destroy the hallucinations of samsara once and for all.Tibetan jewelled skullcup

In the Lazarus video, the artist seems to retire back into a CS Lewisian wardrobe, while Bowie is transported to another realm:

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me.

The man who fell to earth is hopefully returning to the Pure Land from whence he came. “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” Maybe he is. For he did die on Vajrayogini Day, and one of the principal Vajrayogini practices is being transported to Keajra Heaven, the “higher sky” above us; she has that power. Just as our ordinary mind can go to the moon just by thinking about it, so our un-ordinary mind Vajrayogini can go to the Pure Land just by thinking about it. We can go to the Pure Land out of an intense renunciation for the impure world of suffering, yet also remain here to help others. We can sort of be in two places at once. Be in the world, but not of it. Be practicing our spiritual path and helping others as if we have already arrived at our destination. And that feels wonderful, quite inexpressibly wonderful.

Just how that works is explained in the special powa (transference of consciousness) practice called The Uncommon Yoga of Inconceivability – a practice I love because it is mind-blowing in all the right ways. If you have a chance to attend Kadam Morten’s guided Highest Yoga Tantra retreat on this at Manjushri KMC starting next week, I really hope you take it, and discover your superhuman powers. (If you don’t have Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments yet, they are coming up in October in Canada.) From the Bowie song I listened to a thousand times aged around 14 to 16, identifying with every line (which explains a lot):

I’m not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with the potential of a superman. I’m living on. ~ Quicksand

Bowie seemed quintessentially in this world but not of it, both from outer space with those eyes, and an impeccable gentleman. Whom he was or whom he was not, we may not know for some time. For, when all is said and done, who are any of us?

The unbearable lightness of being

double rainbowIn New York City, there were double rainbows photographed all over on the morning of January 10. And it turned out they coincided with Bowie’s passing. As well as with Vajrayogini self-initiation practice at KMC NYC

Bowie was interested in Tibetan Buddhism around 1965-1967, the very early days. He said of that time: “I was within a month of having my head shaved, taking my vows, and becoming a monk.” He was, he said, looking for salvation. As we know, he found another way to inspire the world instead; but you can still sense many liberation themes running through his work.

According to The New York Times, the song people are listening to most after his death is “Heroes”.

skullcup for a king

Skullcup for a king

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day.

One day at a time, maybe. King Heruka and Queen Vajrayogini can beat delusions, ordinary conceptions, and all suffering; and is this not what it really means to be a hero?

We can be heroes, forever and ever,
What d’you say?

Blackstar

David Bowie left Blackstar as a parting gift, just short days before he died. And everyone seems to be listening. Someone said:

Blackstar is playing on repeat in every country on the planet .. isn’t that incredible? It’s stirring, it’s sad, it’s joyous, it’s soulful, it’s haunting, it’s timeless, it’s true genius …

Bowie lazarusApparently, a black star is a transitional phase that is created when a collapsing star is close to reaching singularity, where the star’s influence becomes infinite and spacetime itself ceases to exist within it. Although the star at this point has died, it has been transformed into something else altogether and its energy will continue to be released indefinitely…

We are all the same, we are all constantly transforming into something else; and we all have infinite potential. And meanwhile almost every physical element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star.

Shape-shifting

We are pretty darned attached to our bodies, thinking “Mine!!!” and even “Me!!!” When, although we have this illusion of separateness, all that’s happening is that a little bit of stardust comes together for a while and then it all disperses, and our consciousness is once again released. Hopefully to the omniscient wisdom of the Dharmakaya, if we focus properly.

man who sold the worldBowie was always hard to pin down, never feeling quite as solid or real as other great artists. His shape-shifting and androgyny helped people let go of grasping at these fragments — these bodies, minds, and selves — as absolutes, which is the ignorance that keeps us trapped in one dimension. Omniscient wisdom sees the totality of all things existing interdependently, which allows us to fly anywhere and everywhere. And I am reminded of Buddha Tara’s excellent quote when, in a previous life, accosted by a sexist monk who condescendingly says she should pray for a male rebirth next time, she stamps her foot and says:

In this world there is no man, there is no woman.
There is no person, self, or consciousness.
Man and woman are merely imputed and have no essence.
Thus, the minds of worldly beings are mistaken.

We can all be Heruka and Vajrayogini, they are the same nature. Once Venerable Geshe-la was talking to me about the importance of female practitioners when, all of a sudden, he got up from his chair and “pretended” to be a woman. Right in front of me he transformed himself into a Dakini.

Rising from the dead

Tomorrow, 4 days after his death, I half-wonder if Bowie will arise like Lazarus and say his death was a fake, an elaborate publicity stunt?! His death may be mere appearance to mind, a fake in that respect, like all our deaths; but I don’t think Bowie was ever into stunts for their own sake – his impressive dying enterprise shows he was a genuine artist. Blackstar is what he wanted to do when he was dying, it means something.

Knowledge comes with death’s release. ~ Quicksand

I have of course no idea what his motivations in life were, but it seems he didn’t care about fame for its own sake, he even refused a CBE and a knighthood (easy to say, “Ah yes, I would refuse them too, I didn’t do all this for that!”; but would I refuse, when the invitations actually plopped through the letterbox?!)

I just read this a day after I wrote this article:

“David Bowie’s body has reportedly been privately cremated in New York following his death at the age of 69. In line with his wishes, no family or friends were present at the ceremony in the city where he had lived for much of his life.”

So, he even died in the manner of the old Yogis. All alone.

Frank Hatch, a local legend

David Bowie was not the only one to pass on January 10th. An old friend Frank Hatch taken Nov 13 2015of mine, Frank Hatch, died at the same time, which, knowing Frank, may be no accident, particularly as it was Vajrayogini Day too, and he liked her and Heruka a lot.

Like Bowie, you’d be forgiven for thinking Frank was supposed to be immortal. When I first met him, at Manjushri Centre about 20 years ago, he weighed about 120 pounds. He was fading away physically (never mentally!), but new drugs then surprisingly saved him. He lived with HIV for more than 20 years, only to be diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer in 2010.

Frank jumping off a rope swing with a caption

“Mol, let’s hang back from the pod so we can eddy out real quick and jump off the rope swing before anyone realizes we’re gone.”

But he kept going. Frank lived every single day to its fullest – one of the last things he did was guide a 16-day rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. I wrote this article on rebirth with Frank in mind a few years ago, when he was ambivalent about dying; but it seems he died very well when it came to it.

So to both David Bowie and Frank Hatch, I would like to say, “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too.”

Goodbye, Starmen, thank you for falling to earth, don’t go too far.

Thanking our lucky stars, thanking everyone

thank you for kindness

thank you 2I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving, probably because it is Thanksgiving today – and I’m thinking that Buddhism teaches two very good reasons to give thanks, both of which have universal relevance.

The first is being thankful because we have such a precious human life right now. The second is being thankful to others, because without them this life would be impossible. Contemplating our good fortune makes us feel lucky to have it – and feeling lucky is feeling happy. Contemplating others’ kindness opens our heart to gratitude and appreciation, and feeling grateful is also feeling happy. Feeling happy in turn makes us value what we have and value others, and then we are far more likely to use what we have to pay others back.

So, if we really want to embrace the full meaning of “Thanksgiving” and feel doubly happy and energized to pay it forward, it seems like a win-win meditation to put these 2 meditations together … therefore I thought I would quickly offer a few ideas, providing I can get this written before I fall into a sugar coma (I ate already.)

richerAs for the first, we have everything we need to make spiritual progress in this life. And even leaving the opportunity for attaining permanent freedom and enlightenment out of it,  from a mundane point of view we are also far luckier than most of the other humans in this world, not to mention all other living beings, such as the cat on my lap. In an earlier article I listed the results of some research showing what happens if the whole world is to be shrunk to a village of 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same. That list of what could be but isn’t shows us where we fit in the grand scheme of things, and it occurred to me that every one of these good fortunes comes entirely from others. As a kind of contemplation, therefore, I’m going to list each one and then explain (1) how lucky that makes me, and (2) how this luck is all thanks to others.

  • 80 would live in substandard housing. Yesterday I was standing outside in Denver waiting for someone to givehomeless me a ride home as it felt bitterly cold and I was carrying shopping. I waited next to a guy in his twenties whose face was blue with cold. He had a skinny Chihuahua with him, and they were walking quickly up and down the sidewalk to keep warm. “When are they going to get a chance to get warm?”, I thought, for they were both homeless. I on the other hand live in a well-built house, and it comes entirely from others’ kindness, as I have never built a house in my life and wouldn’t know where to begin.
  • 67 would be unable to read. How much I take for granted my ability to read and write. When I read writewas staying in a remote Brazilian rain forest some years ago in meditation retreat, none of the valley dwellers had a reading age past 12, and as a result their world was quite confined. Primary school teachers spent many hours or even years teaching me to read and write, skills I use hugely every day; and I can’t even remember their names.
  • 50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation. I just ate a huge dinner, every morsel of which came from others. I brought some peas, it is true; but, honestly, all I had to do is open the freezer door, provided by others, take out the frozen peas, grown, harvested, and packaged by others, put them in a saucepan manufactured by others, add boiling water from plumbing and a kettle provided by others, boil them on a stove made by others … anyway, you get the point. And I still took the credit when people thanked ME for the peas! (not that they did, but had they …)
  • 33 would be without access to a safe water supply. I may complain when the water doesn’t come out of the faucet, but we know how far many people have to walk each day just to carry back a bowl of water, the amount I probably use washing a few pieces of cutlery. And all the water I take for granted comes entirely from the kindness of others.
  • 39 would lack access to improved sanitation. I certainly take my bathroom for granted. But why!!? And how water scarcitykind of others to provide me with sanitation so I don’t have to use a hole in the ground or wash once a year. 
  • 24 would not have any electricity. It’s been cold outside, as I said. But I am very cozy and warm inside. I can also stay cool in summer. The lights are on; I just have to flip a switch. Yes, it is worth thinking this one through – the moment by moment infrastructure of my life is a result of others.
  • 7 people would have access to the Internet. I am able to write and post this, for a start. And all I have to do is move my fingers over the keyboard – fingers provided for me by my parents and typing taught me by … again, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten their name.
  • 1 would have a college education. The fact that we have any education is a blessing, and it all comes from others.
  • 2 would be near birth; 1 near death. I will indeed be near death before too long, in that regard we are all the same; however, I have better chances of good health and a long life than most due to doctors, good nutrition, etc. – all again coming from the kindness of others.
  • 5 would control 32% of the entire world’s wealth; all 5 would be from the US. Hmmm. The richer we are, the MORE we depend on others.

Also, in the same article I spoke of how much religious freedom we have compared with most people in the world. And, again, this makes us both very lucky, and also very indebted to those who provide us with everything we need to make spiritual progress and bring an end to suffering.icing on cake

All told, we are outrageously lucky and it is worth thinking about this from time to time rather than focusing on what is wrong with our life – of course we all have problems, but our problems are a walk in the park compared with those of others (see above.) Better to count our blessings on a regular basis. We may not have all the icing, but we DO have the cake.

I hope you enjoy your cake and eat it this Thanksgiving, and indeed every day. We can thank our lucky stars for being so lucky, and thank pretty much every living being as they have all directly or indirectly had a hand in bringing us this good fortune. And now we can pay it forward — using these current great conditions to become a better person, hopefully even a Buddha, for others’ sake.

Equanimity and the Dalai Lama

Kelly Ingram Park 1
Unkind DL

Click on image for Dalai Lama’s own speeches on the ban

This blog is about applying meditation to transform daily life, and as my own daily life of late has included protesting the Dalai Lama, I am going to write an article about what I did with that.Kind DL

 

I don’t feel the need to explain again why I was at the demonstrations, I did that here. The media are now at any rate asking more probing questions of both sides, and this means the tide is turning and our efforts at free speech feel well placed. But I did want to say a bit about how it has been as a long-term Buddhist to be participating in demonstrations at all. I didn’t sign up as a Buddhist all those years ago with a view to one day protesting the Dalai Lama, but I do find this unusual experience has opened my mind and heart in some helpful ways.

Tibetan demonstrating 4

Some fellow demonstrators, now on the Tibetan administration’s wanted list

hit list These were peaceful demonstrations, with hundreds of Westerners and Tibetans requesting religious freedom and an end to slander, all to the beat of some very melodious drums. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood and, more importantly, personally dedicated to practicing what they were making so much noise about — the freedom for everyone to practice the religion of their choosing, to live together in harmony, free from slander and persecution.

many Tibetan followers of Dorje Shugden

There are many Dorje Shugden Buddhists worldwide. But the Dalai Lama has banned their religion.

I got to see parts of America that I may never have visited otherwise – in Birmingham Alabama we ironically demonstrated in Kelly Ingram park in front of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and from there we travelled to the privileged Princeton where we were the first demonstrators ever to be permitted to march through campus. I saw the value of taking the self out of it, remembering to abide in a dream. Like in a drama, I felt the need to play my part Kelly Ingram Park 1because it is very important to me to stand up for this tradition and preserve it for all future generations. But though this is a serious issue, it doesn’t have to be a heavy one – and the protestors did not seem heavy in the least. The police everywhere said that we were the most considerate or well-behaved Kelly Ingram Park 3demonstrators they have ever seen. They didn’t need to control us, some of them said, but mainly protect us from the Dalai Lama’s unruly followers. At one point, for example, out leafleting and explaining the issue to the general public, two NYC police officers escorted me away from some angry Tibetans, stopping the traffic so we could cross the road, “for my own safety.”

One of many signs

One of many signs

The Dalai Lama’s supporters have not taken to the protests very well. Sometimes, if I got too close to the Dalai Lama’s followers and counter-demonstrators, I was spat at, told I was going to hell, told I was only a westerner with no understanding of Buddhism, told to go away and practice my spirit worship elsewhere, and had money shoved in my face (apparently the Chinese pay me for demonstrating).

Typical conversations with Dalai Lama supporters during the protests:

“You worship a spirit!” “No I don’t.” “Yes you do.” “Okay, then.”
“You are paid by the Chinese!” “No I’m not.” “Yes you are.” “Okay, then.”

That is why I generally avoid conversations with die-hard Dalai Lama supporters. I find I get more results from hitting my head against a brick wall.

(A friend of mine at the most recent demonstrations in London, September 2015, has just had this experience: “Tibetan followers were getting really nasty and aggressive. Following N & me all over the place. Shouting in our faces – calling me “ugly face – horrible face” – etc etc. And I apparently am speaking to the Chinese government through my phone head set. And they seem to really believe that.” She added: “It was a stark reminder of what we are up against, just trying to speak up, as the Dalai Lama has all the power and this was just a small experience of what it must it be like for the Tibetans under his power. I got to walk away, they don’t.”)

To be fair, not all the followers were aggressive and angry, some did seem to be practicing the values of tolerance and compassion that Buddhism is famous for, and a lot of people have started asking questions.

In any event, the demonstrations afforded me a fantastic if unexpected opportunity to meditate on equanimity. When you are obviously disliked and everyone is staring at you as if they just wiped you off their shoe (just as Dorje Shugden practitioners are pretty much every day in the exile communities and I Do not enter 5was while out leafletting near ardent followers of the Dalai Lama), it is a good time to get your self out of the way and just try to love your “enemies”. Otherwise, you might get tense, fearful, or angry, and want to leave. When you get back in your own demonstration pen, with your own “tribe”, and those peaceful Buddhist practitioners are requesting religious freedom and an end to deception — it is all too easy to think “Phew, I like these people, they’re brave and good-tempered, and they like me.” But it was also a perfect opportunity to see them and the crowd opposite as equally my kind mothers and closest friends, the only difference between them being time. And then, again out leafleting, there were the masses of pedestrians walking by on the street who were total strangers – or, were they?! An interesting challenge too to watch their reactions – some sympathetic, some a bit hostile, others utterly indifferent — and not be swayed to feel close to some and averse to others.

autumn leaves fallingI was lucky enough to be in Boston in the Fall – everyone says you should visit New England when the leaves turn, and thanks to the Dalai Lama I had my chance. The falling of the leaves always reminds me of the meditation on equanimity. Leaves that have been together, side by side, for all their lives are blown by the wind to all directions, some landing close to each other again, some so far away, subsequent gusts of wind possibly bringing them together again, but rarely. When we die, we will be blown by the winds of karma to our new lives, worlds, identities, companions – and all the companions of this life will have moved away, maybe or maybe not to reappear later, but in unrecognizable forms. In the light of this existential situation, it makes no sense to have attachment, aversion, and indifference – better to open our hearts wide enough to include everyone everywhere.

Don’t leave me alone in here! ~ a Buddhist’s thoughts on Smartphone addiction

smartphone addiction

smartphone addictionSociety today could do with some meditation!

Science journal recently published a sobering study that has not surprisingly created a stir in the psychology and neuroscience communities. Get this:

“In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.”

6 to 15 minutes?! Apparently they reached for their Smartphones after only a couple of those minutes and, when these were denied them, they even administered themselves electric shocks — anything to stop themselves from being left alone with their own minds.

It’s true that people hate waiting in line, at airports, for friends, in traffic, in doctor’s offices, etc. What did we do in the old days, before we had our gadgets?

The study said people found it “unpleasant” because a lot of their thoughts were unpleasant or negative. There’s a lot of unprocessed sadness, loss, sorrow about. Louis CK does a very good riff on this in this video, worth a watch:

smartphone in carExtract: “Sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything and you’re in your car and you start going, oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone, and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness,” he said. “And that’s why we text and drive.”

He describes sitting through his sadness one day, and coming out the other side actually happier, accompanied by a Bruce Springsteen song. Ironically, the day before seeing this video I was listening to “Philadelphia” and had a similar experience of a loss coming up and then subsiding, good old Bruce. You know how people say, “It’s okay to be sad”? There is truth in that. (As long as we are not identifying with the sadness, though – see below). If we let ourselves experience our thoughts, we see that they are not as scary as they seemed while they were still lurking in the shadows. The more we understand what our mind actually is — a clear formless awareness that is naturally peaceful — the more we realize that the passing shadows of clouds can in no way affect its spaciousness and natural freedom.

Give yourself a real break

In a readable commentary to the Science study called No Time to Think in the New York Times, Kate Murphy says:

“But you can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.”

happiness 2Life is full of loss for all of us. I once heard a Tibetan Lama say:

“Anyone who lives a long life has a sad story to tell.”

But the way to deal with sorrow is not just to pretend that these things aren’t happening, try to change channels, try to keep ourselves insanely busy. If we don’t allow ourselves to observe these sad thoughts, we are not going to take responsibility for them, nor discover that they are not in fact as frightening or harmful as we dread. We are not going to process them. We are not going to accept them, see them as just waves arising from the natural clarity and peace of our formless awareness. We are not going to be able to let them go, or transform them, or become happy. They are going to be recurrent thoughts. This distraction doesn’t work anyway – as one psychologist says:

“Suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, leading to intrusive thoughts, which makes people get even busier to keep them at bay. The constant cognitive strain of evading emotions underlies a range of psychological troubles such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and panic attacks, not to mention a range of addictions. It is also associated with various somatic problems like eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, inflammation, impaired immunity and headaches.”

So in Buddhism, we do the exact opposite – we spend a lot of time with our thoughts, coming to know our own minds well through empirical observation so that we can transform them. We develop mindfulness, or presence of mind, to actually loosen our grip on the distractions and sorrowful thoughts as opposed to pushing them down like a jack in the box.

The patience of voluntarily enduring suffering jack in the box

Actual problems or suffering are the unpleasant thoughts or feelings in our own minds, nothing outside. When we think compassionate or wise thoughts, for example, about the things we perceive, we inhabit a different world – there is no world outside of our perception of it. To transcend suffering, to think differently, however, we first need to be able to accept these problems wholeheartedly without wishing that they were otherwise. Pushing them aside out of fear or denial, repressing or suppressing them, just makes us more deeply tormented and unhealthy, and can perpetuate a vicious downward spiral due to their inevitable, insistent recurrence.

In How to Solve our Human Problems, there is a really helpful section on this so-called “patience of voluntarily enduring suffering” (pages 42 onwards in my edition), and I really hope you get a chance to read all of it. Here is an extract:

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

Buddha said that the root cause of our mental pain is the two distorted ego-minds of self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing. The article would also seem to suggest something along these lines:

“To get rid of the emotional static, experts advise not using first-person pronouns when thinking about troubling events in your life. Instead, use third-person pronouns or your own name when thinking about yourself. “If a friend comes to you with a problem it’s easy to coach them through it, but if the problem is happening to us we have real difficulty, in part because we have all these egocentric biases making it hard to reason rationally” said Dr. Kross of Michigan.”

As Geshe Kelsang succinctly puts it in a sentence that has helped thousands of people, including me:

“There is an enormous difference between the thoughts “I am feeling bad” and “Unpleasant feelings are arising in my mind.” ~ How to Solve our Human Problems

As soon as we stop identifying with our problems, “Oh woe is me!”, we can step back and look at them curiously, objectively even. We can practice transforming difficulties into interesting challenges, and experience the sweet taste of victory as the fear and sadness subside. Sometimes all in the time frame of one Bruce Springsteen song 🙂

And that’s not all …

The article also talks about empathy, or the growing lack of it in an over-stimulated society, when we don’t reflect on our own thoughts and feelings — for how then are we supposed to understand the experiences of others? In Buddhism, we use our own suffering to remind us 3d rendering of a water splash with ripple shaped as a heart.of the suffering of others so we can wish them to be free – this is compassion, vital for spiritual growth and happiness.

Also, there is no sorrow if we have not actually lost anything. If we go further and use our wisdom to understand how everything is simply the nature of our mind, all appearances and their minds arising and ceasing simultaneously from the same karmic seeds in the clarity of our root mind, like waves arising and falling in an ocean, we can relax deeply. There is nothing really out there to grasp at or to lose. Check out Joyful Path for more on this (p. 319-320).

So, next time we find ourselves alone, perhaps all of us could put down our Smartphones and look inside our own minds for entertainment instead. We and society might be a lot better off for it.

Over to you. I would love to hear your insights into this subject and any solutions!

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