Can genuine happiness be found outside our mind?

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

6 mins read.

I calculate 3 reasons why genuine happiness cannot be found outside our mind:

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.12.12 PM1) Everything is impermanent. Our wish to find happiness from outside our mind depends on things remaining the same. We acquire a slew of external enjoyments that bring us happiness, and then work to keep them that way. Yet, in this impermanent world these enjoyments cannot help but change. As a result, we end up chasing ever-changing external conditions, which is an endless pursuit.

For example, many people invest a lot of time an effort in finding happiness in relationships. After all, isn’t the dream life one in which you meet a beautiful partner, get married, and live happily ever after? Relationships seem to be compelling sources of happiness, and society generally endorses this view.

However, if we apply the wisdom understanding impermanence,eggs-in-a-basket.png it becomes clear that putting all our eggs of happiness into relationships is not a reliable strategy. Relationships are often a roller coaster of emotion — we love the thrilling times but have no ability to be happy when things get difficult.

This doesn’t mean that we need to abandon relationships to find lasting happiness. It does mean that we need a different approach to them, which is explained below.

2) Every new thing comes with its own new set of problems. It appears as if certain conditions can make us happy, but this appearance is deceptive. That is because there is no such thing as a job, relationship, or external enjoyment without problems.

If we lack an object we desire such as a relationship, then this is only one problem: the problem of not having a relationship. If we get into a relationship, then we will have many new problems! This applies in the same way to everything we believe will make us happy.

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.25.27 PMFor example, suppose we desire a relationship because we would like more companionship in our life. In this scenario, we have the outer problem of lacking companionship, which can lead to inner problems like feeling lonely or isolated. When we think about solving this problem by getting into a relationship we often fail to recognize that relationships have many problems:

  • we will have less time and independence for ourselves,
  • there are a lot of new expenses to attract a partner,
  • we have to spend a lot of time finding someone who is a match for us,
  • we have to deal with the frustration when the relationship goes through hard times,

and the list goes on. Again, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have relationships. It means we should address the inner problem directly instead of solving all of our problems with new ones.

3) There are no objects outside of our mind. Due to ignorance, it appears as if certain people or places are causes of happiness from their own side. For example, who would turn down a free trip to the Bahamas? Isn’t that inherently a source of happiness? In reality, the answer to that is “No” because everything depends on our experience, which is mind. If we bring angry and resentful thoughts with us on vacation, then we will have as miserable a time as we had back at the office. On the other hand, if we bring happy, peaceful thoughts, we will have a great vacation, even if we don’t go anywhere.

This again applies to relationships in that we often project qualities onto our partner that may or may not be there. When we first meet someone we find attractive, it appears as if they are drop-dead gorgeous, and that this has nothing to do with the way we are looking at them. This appearance is our desirous attachment exaggerating the good qualities of this person and ignoring any faults. Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.42.18 PM.pngWe then believe this projection to be true and later, when our desirous attachment starts to fade, problems begin to appear in our mind. All the faults we were previously ignoring start to appear more clearly. Their good qualities begin to fade away, and over time we think that they have changed. Recognizing how we are involved in the appearances to our mind is a critical life skill for learning how to be happy all the time.

How to cultivate genuine happiness from inside our mind

Let’s explore these same 3 points and how we can use them to find lasting happiness:

1) Everything is impermanent. How can we learn to find lasting happiness in an impermanent world? While we are enjoying our relationships, we can equally invest eggs of happiness in the basket of Dharma. Enjoying our relationships is often a process of seeking, enjoying, and letting go of them. While we are doing this, we can also be cultivating a reliable source of happiness within.

For example, we can use every relationship to increase our expedience of the three types of love. Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.45.45 PMThat way, when things are going well we can learn to be more loving. Later, when things get difficult, relationships are a perfect opportunity to practice patient acceptance. They are also an opportunity to learn to love selflessly without expecting anything in return.

If we view our relationships as fuel for our spiritual development, then every person we spend time with will lead us to deeper happiness within.

2) Every new thing comes with its own new set of problems. Instead of relying on external conditions to temporarily relieve our inner problems, we can directly resolve the problems in our mind. For example, if we have an inner problem of loneliness and feelings of isolation, we can solve this by meditating on the dependent-related nature of things. book-nesth-frnt_2016-04_2.jpgIn The New Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe Kelsang says:

We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate our self. Everything we have and everything we enjoy, including our very life, is due to the kindness of others.

If we contemplate this deeply, we will develop insights that enable us to see the world in a way that directly counteracts loneliness. Then, we can easily engage in relationships from the perspective of using them to develop love because we won’t be depending on them to solve our problems.

3) There are no objects outside of our mind. Recognizing how we are involved in the appearances to our mind is a critical life skill for learning how to be happy all the time. If we want to become skillful at overcoming our uncontrolled desires, we need to see how they develop. Again in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says:

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

If we watch our mind, we can learn to see how it projects good qualities onto Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.54.38 PM.pnganother person and then feels them to be a real source of happiness. Learning how our mind projects in this way enables us to understand how the delusion of desirous attachment operates and to see through it.

Eventually, we will develop a contentment within that is naturally arising from wisdom. This contentment will give us the freedom to not chase endlessly after objects of desire. As a result we will have boundless energy for finding lasting happiness from within and helping everybody else to do the same!

Please leave comments and questions for the guest author in the box below.

Meditation and mental health

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

5.5 mins read.

Last year I very nearly ditched school.

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

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

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

How do I meditate?

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

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

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

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

How does meditation improve our mental health?

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

The evidence

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

A doctor:

doctor

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

A researcher:

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

A Buddhist practitioner:

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

Two of my friends at college:

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

Me:

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

Where am I now?

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

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

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

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

To find a meditation class near you, click here.

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

 

Can I use sleep in my spiritual path?

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

5.5 mins read

Training in meditation while we sleep is one of the most important spiritual practices we can do.

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 11.36.55 AM.png

Our mind is a moment by moment continuum of consciousness, a bit like an internal Instagram newsfeed. If we fall asleep with a unpeaceful mind, then our newsfeed during sleep will reflect that. For example, we may have fitful sleep, bad dream appearances, or wake up at 3am unable to fall back asleep due to anxious thoughts.

The benefits of meditating while we sleep

If we take even a short amount of time each night before falling asleep to control our mind, then our mental newsfeed will reflect that. Our sleep will be deeper and more restorative, and we can have insightful dreams and make progress in our spiritual path.

Training in the yoga of sleep is a special method for increasing our mindfulness. Every night there are many appearances to our mind, such as our dreams and other subtle appearances. At the beginning of our training we lack subtle mindfulness, so we don’t remember any of these things. However, through increasing our subtle mindfulness, we will eventually be able to remember our dreams every night.

By learning to identify when we are dreaming we will be able to lucid dream and transform the dream experience into wisdom-based meditations. Have you ever wished to meet Buddha or your Spiritual Guide in person? Well, in your dream world, you have several opportunities to do this every night!

Once we develop subtle mindfulness, sleep is one of the quickest ways to gain spiritual realizations. Through training every night, eventually we will be able to use all our time asleep for training in deep meditation.

Sleeping our way to enlightenment

According to Kadampa Buddhism, training in the six stages of Mahamudra is one of the most direct paths to enlightenment; and the later stages of this practice occur during sleep. For an accomplished Mahamudra meditator, therefore, their main daily meditation session can take place while they are asleep.

Finding even twenty minutes a day to meditate can be challenging, so how incredible would it be if we could unlock hours of deep, uninterrupted meditation every night!

This practice makes the time we are asleep incredibly meaningful. If we can meditate through the sleep process, we will also be able meditate through the death process. This means that every night we will be creating the causes to take our spiritual practice with us into our next life. Through this we will be able to continue to practice day and night in life after life until we attain enlightenment.

The master of using sleep as a spiritual path

ShantidevaThe Buddhist master Shantideva is an inspiring example of a practitioner of the yoga of sleep.

While Shantideva was at Nalanda monastery he emphasized this practice. Inwardly he was making rapid spiritual development, but externally it looked as though he was sleeping continuously, except when he was eating or using the bathroom!, such that the other monks began sarcastically to refer to him as the “Three Realizations”.

Since the monks believed he had no meditative experience, they decided to expose him by setting up a huge public talk with him as the teacher.

Much to their astonishment he proceeded to deliver a discourse which, when written down, became known as Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life — an incredible set of instructions on the six perfections that has been part of the Kadampa tradition ever since. When he got to the final chapter, Shantideva floated up into space until he could no longer be seen — yet his voice could still be heard delivering crystal clear instructions on the ultimate nature of all things.

This story, told in Meaningful to Behold, illustrates the miraculous results of meditating while asleep, and is an example of how we can achieve incredible results if we practice guide-to-the-bodhisattvas-way-of-life_book_frnt_2018-02in the same way. To develop this ability, we should try to train every night, starting tonight. By building familiarity, we will be creating causes that will one day allow us to meditate throughout the entire night.

There are two key sleep practices to train in:

1. Concentrating on the clarity of our mind

Before dullness pulls us into sleep, we need to prepare our mind by focusing on an object of meditation. According to the Mahamudra instructions, our main object of focus while falling asleep is the clarity of our own mind.

In particular we focus on the clarity of our very subtle mind because our gross waking minds and subtle minds absorb and dissolve inward as we fall asleep. If we don’t yet have a clear experience of our very subtle mind, we can imagine or impute it within the clarity of our waking mind.

If we are new to this practice, we can spend the time before falling asleep trying to get a clear image of this object. As we gain familiarity we can hold this object for a minute, and gradually improve until we can hold it for five minutes. Once we are able to hold this object without forgetting it, we will be able to carry it into our sleep through the power of subtle mindfulness.

We may feel like we are in no position to do this anytime soon; but everything depends on familiarity. If we can gradually build up from zero minutes to one minute to five minutes, we will one day discover when we wake up that we haven’t Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 11.44.03 AM.pngforgotten the clarity of our mind all night!

2. The determination to remember our meditation object

Setting the determination to remain mindful throughout the night is critical to the success of this practice.

We need to have a heartfelt wish to be able to carry our meditation object through the night without forgetting. Before focusing single pointed on the clarity of our mind, we can meditate briefly on the decision to keep this object in mind until we wake up. Then when we wake up we should immediately recall the object of meditation.

We will need patience in this practice because we are counteracting a deep habit of becoming mindless when we fall asleep. It is easy to become frustrated in the morning when we wake up and feel as if we haven’t improved at all. However, this discouragement will hold us back from gradually improving. Instead we can feel happy and rejoice to have created the causes to meditate while asleep.

If we identify with our spiritual potential, and keep the determination to improve our ability every night, we will gradually improve. As Geshe Kelsang says in Clear Light of Bliss:

If we practice continuously in this way, eventually, through the force of our concentration and determination, we will meet with success.

Please leave comments and questions for the guest author in the box below.

This too shall pass

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

this too shall pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything changes

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

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

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

Wherever you go, there you are

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

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

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

‘I will always take care of you.’

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

A reunion

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

Bodhisattva Centre
Bodhisattva Centre, Brighton

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

A protector

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

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

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

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

The way out

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

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

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

A request

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

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

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

Comments welcome.

Related articles

A Buddhist perspective on suicide

Reaching out — more Buddhist thoughts on suicide

Do you really want freedom? 

 

Spring Training

The guest poster is a novelist, mother, and practitioner.

The field is right there in front of me, shimmering in the bright light, filled with beings…. an expanse of color, except for our uniforms, which are gray.  Someone yells, “Come on, get a hit for Mama!” Parents sit on the sidelines, nursing cups of coffee. The dew sparkles in the grass like jewels.

My kids play a lot of baseball, so in the spring particularly my weekends are full of games.

Spring is also the time that things speed up at our Center. There’s always an empowerment on the calendar, which inevitably falls on the weekend of my kids’ baseball playoffs.  Since I started practicing Buddhism, or Dharma, in earnest almost five years ago, this has been a bit of a challenge for me.

Tug of war?

spring training 8As parents and Dharma practitioners, sometimes it can be tough to balance everything. We miss a lot of good stuff. Empowerments, Festivals, Celebrations, workshops, pujas, retreats. We are lucky to have many opportunities to practice, of course, and yet, for me, sometimes, I have felt my commitment to my family as something pulling me away from going deeper into the Dharma. It felt like a tug of war, my family on one side, my wish to strengthen my practice on the other.

The first year I was practicing Dharma seriously, when I realized I was going to have to miss the empowerment for a playoff game, as well as a coming retreat that just wouldn’t work with my kids’ schedule…. let’s just say I was not relying upon a happy mind.  “I want to do so many of these things, but I can’t. I can’t,” I said to my teacher, my eyes welling up with tears.

He laughed (kindly, and with zero pity for my alleged predicament) and said something about modern Buddhism.

I knew modern Buddhism meant that we don’t need to go off to the Temple to practice; we can practice in our daily lives.  Which, at that moment, I took as, “if you’re unlucky enough to miss a retreat and an empowerment, just try (if you can) to make the best of it.”

That year, I paced the edges of the field, thinking about how everyone else at my Center was absorbing blessings and making spiritual progress while I was stuck there at the game.  Not only stuck: incredibly anxious. The game was close, and I ended up barely able to watch the plays, walking away a bit from the field, putting my hands over my eyes, so tense about the outcome that I couldn’t look. If they lose, I thought, my son will be so sad….if they don’t give him a good position, he’ll be so sad…if he messes up in the field, he’ll be (you get the picture)… I can’t even remember now if they won or lost.

Spiritual gifts?

Gradually, as time went on, I received more teachings in Lojong: transforming whatever is happening into the path. Everything is a spiritual gift, to this view, allowing us to practice when we miss our flight, or get stuck in traffic, or have a heartbreak of some kind…and everything where your kids are concerned is a possible heartbreak, even if it’s a tiny one. By accepting what occurs we have the flexibility to see it in meaningful ways.

spring training 6The game was hardly adversity, but could it be something to transform? Could I be like the peacock, eating the poison of painful baseball losses to strengthen my mind, my ability to roll with whatever happens and bring it into my spiritual path? Could I use it to begin to transform all the things my kids go through that I have no control over and worry about — not just games but school, grades, friends, health, well being?

I tried. I began to relax a bit. There’s a lot of downtime if you are a spectator at a baseball game, and I used this time to focus my mind, thinking “I accept,” every time there was a dropped ball, or a strike out, or my son wasn’t asked to play at all. The games became a little more enjoyable.

Another season, another playoff game, another empowerment — I wasn’t going to miss this one, but I would miss the commentary: This time, I was ready, or thought I was.

Go Buddha!

spring training 3The game began. My son’s team was losing a lot that year, and I felt the disappointment keenly. The pitcher on the other side was really good.

I was rooting hard for my son’s team.  I found myself rooting so hard I was asking for help. Who from? The Buddhas, of course. I recited the Tara mantra. Please, I thought. Help.

Then I thought, Help who? Help what? What am I doing?  What am I asking Tara to do?

Could the Buddhas possibly care that one side (my son’s side) would win the game over the other side? No. The Buddhas didn’t care which side won this game. I needed to look at things more deeply.

I took a few breaths and imagined my Spiritual Guide, Geshe Kelsang, standing right in the middle of the not-so-vast baseball field, about where the pitcher stood, smiling at me.

Two seconds later, from the row of seats next to ours where the other team’s parents’ sat, a chant began: “Go Buddha Go! Go Buddha Go!”

I must have heard wrong. I walked over to them. “What are you saying?”

“Buddha. It’s his nickname,” they said, pointing at the pitcher.

A few minutes later, one of our players started gasping; he had asthma, and the inhalers his parents had brought were empty. The parents panicked, debated bringing him to the hospital. I went over to “Buddha’s” parents — did that side happen to have an inhaler? Turns out they did. They offered it to us, so that our team member could breathe.

I decided to get a cup of lemonade to absorb what was happening. I chatted with the coach’s kid, who was selling me the lemonade. I gave her a dollar. “It’s going to a camp for kids with cancer,” she said. “My sister used to go there, before she died.”

I didn’t know that the coach’s daughter died.

I thought the coach just wanted to win the baseball games.

But I saw, standing on the sidelines, that that wasn’t it at all. The coach knew the baseball game wasn’t really important — he was there out of love.

That’s why all of us are here at the sidelines, I thought. We’re just there to love. That’s our JOB.  And when we have our hands over our eyes when a kid drops the ball, when we wince and frown when things don’t go our way, we aren’t doing our job. In fact, that’s our job as parents. That’s our job as aspiring Bodhisattvas. To love.

The field of modern Buddhism

spring training 7The insight moved through me and I looked at all the kids and the spectators with different eyes. It was as if every meditation on universal compassion I had done was coming to life right there. I loved everybody at that baseball field in that moment. This particular insight didn’t happen in the meditation room.  It didn’t happen on the cushion (though all those meditations were necessary, of course). It happened in the field …

… the field of modern Buddhism.

That spring, I was sitting at the sidelines of my older son’s game, when I saw a wonderful woman I knew with a son on the team; I’d seen her mostly at PTA meetings. She seemed unusually upset; she walked by me and sat down in a portable chair she’d brought, fighting back tears. I asked if she was okay.

“Just having a really hard time right now,” she said. We chatted for a few more moments, about hard times and baseball, watching the game. It was a beautiful day, clear, breezy. The boys were playing all right.

“I go to a meditation class, if you ever want to check it out,” I said after a while, lightly. “It’s really helped me.”

She turned. She looked me straight in the eye. “YES!”

We made a plan to go together the next week. She’s still going, over a year later — we are Sangha now.  She tells me often how her Dharma practice has given her great joy, how much it has transformed her life.

Now, when I go to the field, I’m ready.

Sometimes, on a really beautiful day, it feels as if the air is humming with blessings, and I can feel the joy of the kids playing the game in the breeze, and it’s easy to offer all of this enjoyment up to the Buddhas.

Sometimes I focus on the kids on the other team and try to cultivate love for them, see how much they want to be happy (and get hits) and don’t want to suffer (and strike out) just like everyone else. Or I think about how we have all been born and reborn so many times that these “other people’s kids” were my children, my parents, in previous lives.

Or I try to dissolve it all into emptiness. Do we care who wins the games that take place in our dreams? I try to find it — where is the field? Can you point to it? Where is the blue of the sky…. or I imagine that the field is a field of karma, the karma of everyone ripening right now on this field in strike outs or home runs, all of us having this collective karma of playing this game together….

Or I think about how, when I am hoping for my son to get a hit, I am really wanting his samsara to work out….We want our kids’ samsara to work out, don’t we? We want thespring training 9m always to get A’s and home runs and everything they want in life — but samsara never works out, as we know, and happiness does not lie in these things.  When I focus on this, I start wishing for him to learn to cultivate peace and resilience and kindness and a sense of freedom and many good qualities that have nothing to do with winning the game.

And then…when in spite of all this, I still feel some tension — when the whole game relies on something my kid is about to do, for instance, which happens a lot in baseball, and I feel painful anxiety arising in my mind (please, let him not strike out right now and lose the game!) — I try to look at that tension within a larger, more peaceful mind, to see that self-grasping ignorance…. this vivid sense of wanting success and fearing failure for “my” kid, for this “me” that I really believe exists at this moment.

And how useful it is to be able to see it wriggling there, to pinpoint it and see it operate so I can begin to let it go, so that someday I can be truly helpful to my children and also everybody else’s. How amazing it is to have this opportunity to train in going for refuge at a baseball game, so that I can be there when I really need to be.

I tried this yesterday at my son’s game, which by the way we lost in the very last moments, because my son did indeed strike out, and the thought occurred to me:  wanting to win this game is just like samsara itself.

It’s not important, after all, a baseball game — we will forget about it tomorrow, or the day after — so it’s essentially meaningless. And we know it’s insignificant, especially when we think of the intense suffering that so many living beings are experiencing. Yet we often feel tension anyway when something like this is happening, when we want to “win.”

The ball game of samsara

spring training 2And the worldly activities we engage in with so much energy– aren’t they the same thing? Won’t we forget them by the next life, if not sooner? We know they won’t cause lasting happiness — samsara’s a ball game that can never be won. And yet we get so anxious about it all…

Wouldn’t it be great to reach a place where we could be relaxed about everything that came our way, if we could see the baseball play happening within the play of bliss and emptiness? And if — by training our minds in this way — we could move closer to being able to help others, and thus make every game really count?

It’s my field of practice now, the baseball field. (And I’m not even sporty.)

It’s modern Buddhism in action: a gift from our kind founder that gives us everything we need, in real time, today, right now.

What’s the baseball field in your life?

Finding a quick way to spiritual realizations

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 10.46.40 AM4.5 mins read

Have you ever thought to yourself anything along these lines: “How am I supposed to develop a state of perfect concentration — I can only focus for a few seconds before my mind wanders away?!” In Buddha’s teachings we learn about attaining incredible spiritual realizations, such as universal love, single-pointed concentration, and omniscient wisdom, yet we might feel as if these are something completely impossible for us.

Luckily, this is not true. Spiritual attainments or realizations arise as a dependent relationship — they are not something we either have or do not have. It is more helpful to think of them as an inner evolution. If we keep creating the causes, then the results we are looking for will necessarily appear.

Increasing the potentials for spiritual realizations

Tharpa Publications just released Geshe Kelsang’s new book The Mirror of Dharma. The eBook of this is now available for download. In it, Geshe Kelsang says:

If we have within ourself a strong potential for spiritual realizations, then with this condition we will easily develop and maintain profound knowledge and spiritual realizations. We can accomplish this condition, a strong potential for spiritual realizations, within ourself by sincerely practicing the Guru yoga of the Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa.

buddha teaching

During the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, many people easily attained high spiritual realizations. This was due to the strong potentials for spiritual realizations already in their minds.

In these spiritually degenerate times, it seems far more rare to possess these strong potentials, such that making progress on the spiritual path can often feel rough and difficult. Nonetheless, due to our connection to the Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa, we can become exactly like the disciples of Buddha, making quick and easy progress on our path to enlightenment.

Imagine the unbelievable confidence we would possess if we received the teachings on the perfection of wisdom directly from Buddha Shakyamuni! Through the kindness of Je Tsongkhapa, who was predicted by Buddha Shakaymuni, we are able to develop this same confidence and experience these same results.

The easiest way to develop these potentials

Geshe Kelsang goes on to say:

Through this we will receive the powerful blessings of all the Buddhas through our Guru so that we will easily develop and maintain profound knowledge and spiritual realizations.

Je TsongkhapaIn general, we say that all spiritual realizations ripen through receiving Buddha’s blessings. In particular, as Kadampa Buddhists we rely upon the blessings of Buddha Je Tsongkhapa.

Je Tsongkhapa was a Tibetan Buddhist Master and scholar who founded the New Kadampa lineage. Buddha Shakyamuni predicted him in King of Instructions Sutra, explaining that he  would spread and clarify Buddha’s teachings of Sutra and Tantra and prevent people from following mistaken views. Believing this Wisdom Buddha is in the space before us or at our heart and holding a mind of faith in him creates potent conditions for easy spiritual attainments.

As with any relationship, we first need to discover who Je Tsongkhapa is and then get closer and closer to him. Over time we’ll come to see in our own experience that the skill of his methods and the power of his blessings are unequalled.

It is because of Je Tsongkhapa that we are now able to easily integrate all the practices of Lamrim (the stages of the path to enlightenment), Lojong (training the mind), and Tantric Mahamudra into our daily life. He compiled all 84,000 teachings of Buddha into one complete and straightforward path to enlightenment.

The fact that this path can be completed by even the busiest person is one of the miracle powers of Je Tsongkhapa. If we entrust ourselves to these methods and blessings, we will soon develop advanced spiritual attainments.

(There is more explanation about Je Tsongkhapa in the books Heart Jewel and Great Treasury of Merit.)

Identifying with these potentials

Practitioners such as Gyalwa Ensapa and his disciples and Je Sherab Senge and his disciples are witnesses to this. They attained the state of enlightenment within three years. This is magical. Through this we can understand how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to practice these instructions. ~ The Mirror of Dharma

When we hear about enlightenment, we may concede that it could be possible if we could give it a few lifetimes worth of training. Thinking like this underestimates both our potential and the power of our teacher’s blessings.

Pure minds create the experience of pure worlds and impure minds create the experience of impure worlds. This means that experiencing our own pure world is a change of mind away.

If we want to have magical results in our practice, we need to learn to stop identifying with our limitations and ordinary appearances, to see through them and past them. Our limitations are momentary appearances arising from potentials in our mind. If we quickly increase our spiritual potentials through Guru yoga practice, and identify with these every day, then what appears to our mind will soon start to be radically different. It is just a matter of time before we experience the same results as the practitioners who have come before us.

Make the future an enlightened one

just-shower-thoughts-0-when-people-talk-about-traveling-to-the-past-30585898In movies about time travel, characters are very cautious of changing even the slightest detail of the past because they fear how it might affect the future they came from. We can apply this notion to changing our mind.

Even the slightest positive imprint we place in our mind has the potential to create dramatic consequences for our future self. Every day we can create these spiritual potentials and receive blessings. Eventually, maybe even in a few years, we will find we have traveled to a future in which we are now enlightened and benefiting every living being!

Over to you, comments welcome.

Good beginnings . . . to everything

A guest article from a Kadampa practitioner in New York who is determined to start the New Year right … everyday.

6 mins read

new years

Well looky looky, here it is again. The New Year. The time when we are reminded that a “fresh beginning” is again upon us and that perhaps (perhaps) this would be a good time to make some internal and/or external life changes. . . or at the very least, some worthy tweaks.

But first …

I know, I know, I know. . . The whole New Years resolution thing…it’s a ritual schtick. There is nothing intrinsically “transformagical” about the beginning of a new year. It’s a construction. It’s a convention. I’ve got that. It’s not really any different than any other random moment of the Earth’s solar orbit. January 1st. February 14th. July 4th. All these “special” days are simply designations, names and numbers bundled together and endowed with various agreed-upon meanings. As many a Kadampa teacher would say, “Find January 1. You can’t. It’s not really there, at least not the way you think it is.”

I love that.

It’s not really there.

Picture2I love this because what it means is that we get to assign meaning. How is it that the “New Year” can posses its fabled rejuvenating qualities? How can there be actual power on this very day in our resolutions to start doing this, quit doing that, begin eating this way, etc.?  Simple. Because we choose to name it as a day of power. That’s it, folks. The magic wand of our mind says it is so. Presto change-o. It’s nothing else but what we name it. So I’d strongly suggest that we name it well.

Beginnings

So, let’s scoot back for a moment to Day One of this life. Happy New Life. Your own personal January 1. How do we begin our life? No real news flash here, it’s with our breath, correct?  Inhale. . . exhale. . . cry like a baby. All of us, at some point in this rebirth, we each took our very first breath. We sucked some of that good old O2 down into our little chests. And so it began: the appearances of this life. Welcome (back) to Karmaville. Happy New Life.

Picture6Here’s a question for you. Meditation. Our precious tool for transformation. How is it that we begin our meditations? Well, traditionally, it’s also with the breath. Once we have settled in on our cushions (cracked our knuckles, scratched our head, readjusted our legs, rubbed our nose, noticed some dustballs on the floor near our shrine…) we close our eyes and bring our attention to our breathing. Many people, it turns out, have trouble with this part. It’s boring (they say). It’s too hard to do. It becomes its own distraction (“Am I breathing correctly?”).

I don’t dare reveal how many years it was that I did the shabbiest of all jobs in this “bring your attention to your breath” part of my practice. Along with the excuses I just listed, part of this shabbiness was due to my urgency to get on to the “real” stuff. You know, the contemplation, the single-pointed focus, the insights, the clear light mind, the liberating of all sentient beings from their suffering through the power of my correct imagination and compassion and wisdom, etc. Why the heck should I sit here and stare at my boring old breath when I’ve got all these more fun and more important matters to attend to?

Who knew? The breath rocks.

As it turns out, this neutral object is an astounding thing. It’s a fantastic vehicle to start us on our road to all those powerful places we want to go. Inhalation … exhalation . . . inhalation . . . exhalation.

Perhaps it will help if you stop thinking of it as breath. Try thinking of it as a tide that washes up onto the shore then draws back from the shore, clearing and cleansing with every single cycle.

Picture4Or as a wind that blows smoothly and calmly through your entire body and mind, dislodging and dispersing any sort of stuckness and ugh-ness that has been building up there. That’s nice.

Or let it be light: a cascade of radiant illumination silently blasting away any and all shadows. Your call. It’s just breath. It’s invisible. It’s about as “not really there” as you can get. So you can picture it any way you wish. Go wild. Designate at your pleasure. And “pleasure” is the key here, isn’t it?  We need to enjoy. The best advice on meditation in general that I’ve heard from my beloved Kadampa teachers is: Have fun with it. It is being presented to us as a joyful path to good fortune, not a frustrating or boring one.

So we begin with our breath. Just like we did on that day we were reborn. But rather than simply breathing mindlessly as we did then, now we make skillful use of it to help direct us toward the experience of peace, of stillness, of expansive inner relaxation that is our potential. And of course the breath is so convenient an object. It’s right there. All the time. Usually being ignored. It’s like Dorothy’s red shoes…just sitting there waiting to start you on your way to fantastic places.

Picture5Lately, I’ve been employing the phrase, “Follow the breath into the heart,” as one of my encouragements, one of my suggestions to myself. “Do this. This will be nice. Follow the breath into the heart. This will help.”  And it has helped. Quite a lot. Geshe Kelsang provides a potent encouragement of his own (no surprise) in How To Transform Your Life:

Even though breathing meditation is only a preliminary stage of meditation, it can be quite powerful. We can see from this practice that it is possible to control the mind, without having to depend on external conditions….So much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from the 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. We will experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well disposed toward other people, and our relationships with others will naturally improve.

Beginnings are important

Which is all to say (among other things), that beginnings are important. They can set the stage for what comes next. Little baby sucking in that first breath . . . a very good thing. Little meditator taking the time to create focus and inspiration with those first breaths . . . a very good thing.

And now, back to the New Year. 2018. It’s coming. That thing that holds no inherent meaning. That thing we get to imbue with meaning, if we so choose. What I’m going to suggest is that when 2018 rolls around, we notice our very first breath of the new year and make a resolution to follow it into our heart. Let it take us there. And let’s remain there.

Picture3Even better, what say we follow that first breath into the hearts of those we know? Or of those we encounter in the course of our days and nights? And those we hear about or read about, or even merely think about?  Good idea? And then follow the next breath there as well . . .and the next . . . and the next . . . “and so forth.”

The New Year is empty.  Beginnings are relative. Lucky us. We choose. We can fill that first moment of our new year with good purpose, and then holding that intention, see where it leads us.

I will prostrate to the new moon . . .

Good Beginnings.

Happy New Year.

Over to you. Comments welcome.