You may know this already, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded, that people the world over are all the same in the ways that really count.
For one thing, samsara sucks for everyone. Birth, sickness, old age, and death – who is immune from these four great rivers or from having to watch loved ones helplessly tossed around upon them?
Carrying straight on from this article,where I started talking about transforming adverse conditions into the path.
The day I arrived in South Africa, I heard that my beloved cat Rousseau, the king of the neighborhood, had met his match. He was torn to death by a coyote.
No words, really. A nightmare for him. Despite his own murderous ways, he had a heart of sweetness under those terrible instincts, and he deserved so much better. Everybody does. I am so very grateful for the hundreds of prayers that many of you offered for him, and that Venerable Geshe-la enquired after him. As cats go, despite his terrifying and painful death, he was still blessed. Only a tiny fraction of wild animals get to die peacefully in their sleep, and infinitely fewer still have anyone paying any attention to them, let alone a great spiritual master. However, it still makes me ask, for the thousandth time — how do people cope with losses like this without Dharma?
Over a month later, the panther is still on my mind. But that is not him anymore. Where are you, my dear? Why can we never know where people have gone. A friend of mine once went missing in Florida – two agonizing weeks for everyone who loved her, the just not knowing. Then she was found drowned, her car having overshot a bridge in the middle of the night; and everyone was “Well, at least we know now.” But of course we don’t know; she is still missing. We have no clue where she is. That alone is reason enough to become a Buddha, if you ask me – so that we can keep eyes on everyone always, like Avalokiteshvara with his thousand arms and eyes, because they are now always mere aspects of our omniscient blissful mind.
Rousseau’s other mom Donna asked for my input into his gravestone and I chose a stone Buddha statue from Walmart. I hope through seeing Buddha that she and all the other humans and animals in his old stomping grounds will receive continuous blessings. Even the coyote.
Outer problems in South Africa can clearly be a good deal more challenging than my own usual first-world problems. For example, I don’t need the daily fear of a deadly crash in the crazy communal taxi I rely on to get to work.
These taxis are everywhere, sidling alongside your car in the same lane, viewing every gap in the road as an opportunity to get ahead because, at the end of the day, payment depends upon meeting impossible quotas. South African traffic is crazy!!! As my old friend Cas put it in his laconic way when I asked why people didn’t follow the road rules, “They are more like guidelines.” (Some of you know Cas as no-shoes John from the Festivals – and it may please you to know that he was the first Kadampa in South Africa, requesting the first teachings.) Or I could be living in a place with zero privacy, several family members in a noisy one-roomed house, or no electricity, or insufficient money for supper. And so on.
But life is not easy back here in the States either, despite it still being the richest country in the world. For example, a friend of mine, JW, who is doing a study on senior homelessness often tells me stories of his clients’ wretched conditions in Oakland CA. This one just in:
Work today was nonstop. It was also a bit gloomy. I had an interview with a homeless gentleman who is in extremely poor health. He has a broken bone in his shoulder, another broken in his leg and has had countless falls in the past couple of months due to having problems with his balance. He is outside and the rains are beginning to fall. He is in serious need of help but is having a hard time finding it.
JW is not allowed to “interfere,” because this study is to reveal what senior homeless people need and so those results cannot be skewed. So:
All I could do for him was to give him a few large garbage bags to us as a poncho or for shelter. Sad.
As mentioned in this article, our role model in Mahayana Buddhism, called a “Bodhisattva”, works on solving both outer and inner problems — trying to come to the aid of those in need whenever the opportunity is there to do so.
But although outer problems vary from place to place and time to time, our inner problems do not — they come from our delusions grasping at me and mine, they distort our perceptions, they destroy our peace, and inside they feel the same. And these problems can only be finally solved for any of us when we get around to purifying and transforming our minds.
Our states of mind feel exactly the same – whether that be worry, irritation, or the pleasure of changing suffering. If you are really p***** off with George, does that not feel the same as someone else feeling really p****** off with Mary? Your grief or your annoyance or your depression or your attachment feels the same as mine, for example; only the object varies.
We are funny really – all feeling like we are the center of the universe and somehow different and unique. We have so little real clue about the vast majority of the world’s population of humans, let alone animals; but I think we are safe in assuming that everyday life everywhere is a mixture of the same array of negative, neutral, and virtuous minds, just in varying ratios. That makes our stories and priorities similar, world over, regardless of our background or culture; and knowing that could help us to understand and empathize with each other.
If you want to check whether Buddha’s explanation of all living beings’ negative, neutral, and virtuous states of mind actually applies to you or not, I recommend you read How to Understand the Mind. Go see if he has left any of your thoughts out.
On the basis of allowing our delusions to subside temporarily through allowing the mind to settle even a little, for example with this meditation, connecting with some natural inner peace, we can then gradually learn strategies or ways of thinking to (a) pre-empt our future problems and/or (b) deal with them or transform them as they start to arise.
With the help of mind-training (Lojong) in particular, in which we learn to apply Buddha’s teachings directly to our difficulties, we can develop a huge repertoire of coping mechanisms.
Just for starters, whatever problem we are having today, instead of thinking of it as inherently bad we can try labelling or imputing it as a useful teaching. For the sake of argument, let’s say that today you notice a strange lesion on your skin – you had been thinking it was a scratch but it’s been there 2 months and is now ominously growing. You send a photo to a friend, who sends it to a dermatologist, who texts back, “Skin cancer until proven otherwise.”
Meantime you have been chucked off Medicaid due to not filing the correct paperwork in time.
Okay. After the initial freakout — spending a panicky half hour looking at all the Google images for skin cancer and discovering that, yes, it could be benign, as your friend is trying to tell you, but on the other hand it could also be the worst possible most malignant melanoma and you have approximately 2 years left to live — you decide to slow down and, for the sake of your sanity, think about this from a Dharma point of view. Instead of grasping so tightly at me and mine, maybe you decide to let those thoughts dissolve into the peaceful clarity of your own mind, like bubbles into water, going for refuge in the peace of your own Buddha nature and/or in holy beings.
Within the mental flexibility or freedom that opens up in that space, this small but very present skin lesion can now remind us of all sorts of things, such as:
I need more inner peace, in fact lasting inner peace; and I need to identify my self with this peace, not with this mental pain and possible physical suffering.
This is what life is like for others, so it’s giving me a window into empathy – for example for people experiencing dread or fear when they receive bad news from a doctor. When we get over ourselves, we finally start to relax.
This is not inherently bad because it can make me stronger. Me myself, this lesion, and my experience of this lesion, far from being solid or fixed, all depend upon my thoughts. I can come to enjoy the challenge of transforming this problem into a solution! Why? Because I want to be a better person.
This is a true story that happened to someone I know, probably many people actually — and this way of thinking has worked for them, they feel peaceful again, inner problem solved for now. They are also dealing with the outer problem by getting on the phone to Medicaid and finding a doctor who can see them next week.
This also works for transforming other people’s problems. Someone in Joburg told me that all vegans are depressed, including her, because things are changing so slowly – and how can she transform that kind of stress? Again, heart-rending as it is when it comes to animals and other vulnerable people, we cannot immediately sort out all their outer problems, any more than one drowning person can save another drowning person, however much they want to. But as well as doing the best we can, knowing that every little bit helps someone, we can use these situations to increase our compassion and our wish to become a Buddha as quickly as possible for their sake.
As we progressively free ourselves from depression, discouragement, and other delusions and as we increase our wisdom, patience, and good heart, we can become more skillful, creative, and full of the tireless courage we need if we are to free everybody.
Since then, FB friends have been asking me to do an article on Buddhism and climate change. That is except for those who are telling me it’s a conspiracy and that they’ll boycott this blog if I do. Their version of events may be more comforting, and there is a sense in which everything we see is merely a hoax of our ignorance; but just in case the majority of scientists also have a point about global warming I decided to have a go. Especially as I have just spent several days wearing one of these masks. And in response to some other criticism that has come my way for talking about this subject, I would like to say that for me this is not about politics — ie, I am not trying to scare anyone into voting in any way. As you’ll see, this article is all about Dharma responses to the rapidly deteriorating environments of our world, which anyone can apply, regardless of their political views.
Having said that, I don’t feel qualified to speak for all Buddhists on climate change, given that Buddha didn’t address the subject directly and I am by no means an expert. But I can start a discussion that you’re invited to join in and/or to argue with below. Rather than break this article up, I have put it all here to make that discussion/argument easier.
We can also, as some have requested, brainstorm concrete pointers on how to behave responsibly and lead by example all in the comments below. Hopefully this process will contribute to the consciousness-raising needed on our planet if we are to survive.
Okay, here goes.
First off, a life in the day …
Last week I flew into San Francisco just as people were doing their best to fly out. I had thought that flying into DC during the emotional midterms was close enough to the action, but I was greeted at the airport in SF with a mask and dense toxic air thanks to the biggest fire in California history burning 120 miles away, already the size of SF and Oakland combined.
And I realized just how much I take good air for granted. How I automatically assume I can throw open windows and doors to let in the fresh air without starting to cough and experience a headache. How the choice boils down to fresh air or CO2 build up. How odd it is to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth where you are advised to stay indoors. How much I take outside in general for granted.
The fire has affected so many thousands of innocent beings — due to the strong winds, it spread at the rate of 3 football fields a minute, so how could humans or animals have outrun that wall of flames? (If they hadn’t succumbed to the heat and fumes first.) 83 humans so far declared dead, still over 500 missing, and how many animals dying in pain and fear? Saw footage of grown men crying — grown men with tattoos crying — because they have lost everything or everyone. Saw images of the makeshift shelters in a Walmart parking lot – not exactly Paradise any more. Down the coast in Malibu, likewise, deadly fire licking a place once synonymous with Paradise. Sure, it is possible to improve forest management – but don’t tell me these rapidly escalating fires or hurricanes are nothing to do with climate change.
I got to thinking about the homeless, who have nowhere to escape the air. On Monday, Choma and I went to Oakland to visit a friend John, who is a research coordinator on senior homelessness (and appears in this thoughtful article I found). It’s frightening to find yourself on the streets when you are over 55 and NEVER expected to end up there. So many people are just a pay check away. I wouldn’t want it for even one day, yet getting off the streets once you’re old and prematurely ill is hardest of all.
Meantime, air quality around the world means that 9 out of 10 humans don’t have clean air, EVER. And they don’t have masks either, plus you can’t wear those things for long, they’re awkward and make it hard to breathe – you can’t wait to take them off at the first opportunity. 7 million people a year die from bad air, according to WHO. And don’t even get me started on the water I take totally for granted as well.
Which also reminds me of all those incarcerated with little to no access to fresh air, spending up to 23 hours a day in often windowless cells. Those prisons must be as stuffy and smelly as hell, and I hadn’t even thought about that element of being locked up until now.
Which leads me to think about what life must be like for the pigs and chickens and cows locked up in all the stinking factory farms, hidden from us in plain sight. Or for that matter what life is like for the animals and fish in the Dallas Aquarium I visited two
weeks ago – how on earth is this fish ever going to get out of there, not just out of the Aquarium but out of the lower realms? What is that going to take? Human problems are a cake walk in comparison; and this despite the fact that human mental health problems around the world are reaching epidemic proportions.
I could keep musing like this forever on the problems in our world. One item leads to another and then to another. It seems never-ending.
It is time to break free from samsara
But that is the thing about samsara — it never is just about one thing. Or one calamity, I should say. It is about calamities on all fronts – climate change, for sure, and fossil fuel profiteering, but also homelessness, mass migration, poverty, intolerance, racism, consumerism, cancer, greed, fascism, starvation, cruelty, hurricanes, factory farming, war, terrorism, shootings, etc, etc, etc. (And that’s just the humans). When this karma starts to ripen on us, we cannot outrun it any more than people could outrun the fire.
Bizarrely enough, this may be the place to start talking about climate change. It is part of a far bigger and more interconnected problem than most people even realize – it is the problem of samsara itself, the vicious cycle of impure life. If we have delusions, we are all caught up in it, like fish in a net.
Even the uber wealthy are not immune – just ask those celebrities who lost their homes in Malibu last week — and even the most powerful humans on this planet are just as bound up in the vicious cycle of birth, ageing, sickness, and death. As it says in the powerful prayer called Request to the Lord of all Lineages, which Geshe Kelsang is encouraging people to contemplate deeply every day:
In this cycle of impure life, samsara,
There is no real protection from suffering.
Wherever I am born, either as a lower or higher being,
I will have to experience only suffering.
We need very deep solutions, or this is all any of us will ever be able to expect. However, according to Buddha solutions do exist, if we are prepared to look for them not just outside but within.
In samsara we can assume the worst and we won’t be far off, sooner or later. It is no pleasure garden, as Buddha said. We can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The only way all this is going to change is if we change. Who wants to be the same in 5 years anyway? 10 years? The only way to improve is to improve.
Understanding this, I will make continuous effort to cease samsaric rebirth
By striving to permanently abandon its root, self-grasping ignorance. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages
The entire special presentation of Buddha’s teachings called the “stages of the path to enlightenment” (Lamrim) gives us insightful, proactive, and tried-and-tested ways to deal with suffering – I tried explaining that once here: Can we make sense of the senseless? And if we had time e could apply all 21 contemplations just as easily to climate change.
Here I will highlight just some of Buddha’s wisdom. One place to start is karma …
The environmental effects of karma
Our mental actions or karma have four effects, one of which is called “the environmental effect”, whereby:
… our environment and the things that surround us are hostile, dangerous, or uncomfortable. The environmental effect of killing is that the place in which we live is poor and it is hard to find food and other necessities; the environmental effect of stealing is that the place in which we live is barren and plants and crops will not flourish there; and the environmental effect of sexual misconduct is that the place in which we live is unclean and breeds disease. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune
We can ask ourselves whether or not we have created any negative actions of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and so on. If we haven’t, cool, but the chances are we have and thereby created an incalculable number of causes for these kinds of experiences. These are like seeds waiting to ripen as suffering — and once they do we cannot outrun these karmic appearances. We need another approach. As it says in Request to the Lord of all Lineages:
The cause of suffering is non-virtuous actions
And the cause of happiness is virtuous actions.
Since this is completely true
I will definitely abandon the first and practice the second.
We never think calamity will strike until it does. But on what basis can I go around being so complacent, I wonder.
As someone on Facebook put it:
Perhaps I am experiencing a world being destroyed because in previous lives I destroyed the environments of others? It is possible, when I think of things I did as a child to ant’s nests, for example — even in this life I destroyed the environments of others 😮.
I think the answer is that we have to work on different levels. I’ve spoken before about how Bodhisattvas and trainee Bodhisattvas operate on the level of going to the practical aid of those in need, helping others overcome their negativities, avoiding destroying places such as towns, and so on, while at the same time using everything as fuel for the journey to enlightenment so that they can end up helping everyone. As someone said on Facebook:
There must be some combination of inner and outer efforts. Inner efforts to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible for everyone’s sakes! And outer efforts to protect humans’ and animals’ homes, as well as our waters and trees and air.
One thing is for sure: without empathy coming from an understanding of our inescapable interconnection, we are doomed. If we insist on holding onto our self-cherishing like some kind of perverse security blanket, we are doomed. From The New Eight Steps to Happiness:
All the problems of human society, such as war, crime, pollution, drug addiction, poverty, injustice, and disharmony within families, are the result of self-cherishing. Thinking that human beings alone matter, and that the natural world exists to serve human desires, we have wiped out thousands of animal species and polluted the planet to such an extent that there is great danger it could soon be unfit even for human habitation. If everyone were to practice cherishing others, many of the major problems of the world would be solved in a few years.
The power of love and compassion
We should never underestimate the purifying power of a mind suffused with love. Because it is in alignment with reality, it is more powerful than a deluded mind.
It is said that there exists a magic crystal that has the power to purify any liquid in which it is placed. Those who cherish all living beings are like this crystal –by their very presence they remove negativity from the world and give back love and kindness.
A friend today was saying how we could imagine that we are like the trees in a forest — sucking out the carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen.
To find out how to increase love and compassion, and do the magical practice of taking and giving, check out the clear and inspiring instructions in The New Eight Steps to Happiness.
Whenever we are engaged in any outward actions to protest climate change and do something about it, it is worth remembering that these actions will be infinitely more powerful if we do them with a mind focused on love and compassion, and especially if we do them with bodhichitta.
We are all in this together
The Bodhisattva perfections (see below) are all motivated by the compassion wishing to free not just our family and neighbors but everyone from suffering and its causes by fulfilling our own potential for enlightenment. We are all in this together. As someone said on Facebook:
The suffering that we are causing as a species is getting out of hand. We are creating hell-like realms for both other species and the less fortunate of our own species plus the (not so far) future inhabitants of this planet. As Bodhisattvas, our compassion should be such that we are driven to take action.
Different levels of compassion
There are also different levels of compassion that we can work on, explained in Ocean of Nectar:
Living beings are seen to be transient and empty of inherent existence,
Like a moon in rippling water.
We develop compassion wanting to free all living beings from suffering and its causes, but we can also deepen this to take in how much suffering arises from grasping at permanence and grasping at inherent existence, even though we are nowhere near as permanent nor as solid as we believe. Compassion is explained in a very beautiful chapter called A Praise of Compassion, if you get a chance to read that.
Toward planetary health
Here’s a whistle stop tour of the six perfections that a Bodhisattva practices every day, to hopefully whet your appetite – you can discover everything you need to know about these in Geshe Kelsang’s books.
To permanently liberate all mother living beings
From suffering and mistaken appearance,
I will attain the Union of the state of enlightenment
Through the practice of the six perfections. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages
There are so many practical ways to get over our insecure miserliness and help others in our world with our time, money, attention, advice, skills, fearlessness, and so on. John, as mentioned, works to help the senior homeless population every day. Many other friends are social workers, doctors, teachers, film makers, climate activists, etc, etc – all making this world just that bit kinder. We can offset our carbon footprint with some dollars. We can plant trees. We can do many things.
As in most crises, stories of Buddha nature emerge, like that of the garbage collector and the old lady. Though he’d been ordered home, he risked his life to check on some elderly neighbors – discovering the 93-year-old trying to escape the Camp Fire on her Zimmer frame. She had no chance till he showed up and put her in his truck. Then, rather than making her endure a shelter, he took her to his house. His kids love her, so she’ll be there for 2 months until it’s safe to go home.
2. Moral discipline
Moral discipline or ethics involves refraining from harming others by, for example, consciously using fewer plastic bags or eating fewer or no animal products. I don’t know if you know this, but 51% of global warming is caused by animal agriculture. As someone on FB put it:
I believe with all my heart that the planet will begin to heal when we treat all of its inhabitants with respect. There is a very deep interconnection between meat/dairy consumption/production and climate breakdown.
(On this point, we could also work on our realization of emptiness, become like the great Buddhist master Chandrakirti:
Chandrakirti refused to take milk from the cows because he felt it should be saved for their young, and he left them to wander freely on the neighboring hills. Nevertheless, he still managed to provide the monks with an abundant supply of daily produce!
If you want to know how, you can read the rest of the story in Ocean of Nectar.)
We can offset our carbon footprint. (I have started offsetting my flights, using this website.) We can press our world and industrial leaders into investing in sustainable energy, including these 100 companies. We can make Ecobricks out of our plastics. We can rake the forests (kidding 😉)
That is just for starters – I know some of you’ll come up with more ideas below. And there are more pointers here from people who have been thinking about this for 50 years. (In brief: Stop using pesticides. Stop with the single use plastic. Plant a tree. Reduce your footprint. Eat less meat.)
If for no reason I begin to perform actions
That cause damage to the environment,
I should recall Buddha’s advice,
And out of respect stop straightaway.
Moral discipline also involves helping others whenever and however we can, all the while overcoming our obsessive self-concern. It is an essential protection for us against creating negative karma, and helps us to purify the tons of negative karma we’ve already created.
3. Patient acceptance
Patience is what we need to get through the day without blaming everyone else for what goes wrong, disliking others or ourselves, feeling upset when we read the latest news, or becoming helpless, fearful, and angry. We need to get from anger to compassion, which is actually a far more passionate though realistic response. As it says in How to Understand the Mind:
Some people are angered by the existence of nuclear weapons or pollution, while others become upset if their food is not to their liking. Whenever we encounter inanimate objects that cause us suffering we should remember the futility of getting angry with such things. ~ page 69
It is degenerate times alright!
With patient acceptance of what is going on — because that is what is going on — we are now in a position to transform adverse conditions into the path to enlightenment. When things get tough, the tough get going, as the saying goes. Buddha predicted that times would degenerate – particularly in five ways:
In this spiritually degenerate time there are five impurities that are increasing throughout the world: (1) our environment is becoming increasingly impure because of pollution; (2) our water, air and food are becoming increasingly impure, also because of pollution; (3) our body is becoming increasingly impure because sickness and disease are no more prevalent; (4) our mind is becoming increasingly impure because our delusions are getting stronger and stronger; and (5) our actions are becoming increasingly impure because we have not control over our delusions. ~ Modern Buddhism (available free)
Our current enormous challenges are more grist to the mill for a mind-training practitioner:
When the container and the contents are filled with evil
Transform adverse conditions into the path to enlightenment. ~ Universal Compassion
The container and the contents refers to our world and everything and everyone in it, filled with the effects of negative actions. And as it explains in Modern Buddhism:
Because of these five impurities, suffering, problems’ and dangers are increasing everywhere. However, through Lamrim price we can transform our experience of all these impurities into the spiritual path that leads us to the pure an everlasting happiness of liberation and enlightenment.
It is worth knowing that impurity and suffering can be transformed – by motivating us into renunciation and compassion for example — because in that case we no longer need to fear it as we have been. We don’t need paralyzing self-cherishing fear, but motivating, refuge-inspiring, and not unpleasant fear that comes from the wisdom understanding deeper causes.
Effort or enthusiasm gives us all the energy we need every day to get over discouragement and hopelessness, even upon reading the latest Climate Report that says we have only 12 years to get our acts together. Effort gives us the power and self-confidence to do what needs to be done for as long as it needs doing, without ever giving up on ourselves or anybody else. As Kadampas recite twice a month in Offering to the Spiritual Guide:
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort
By striving for supreme enlightenment with unwavering compassion;
Even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell
For many aeons for the sake of each being.
I agree with this from someone else on FB:
Raising awareness is good and positive encouragement for collective action is good. What I read in the groups I am part of is a lot of despondency by people trying to do their best, but feeling the tide is against them. Encouragement of positive actions, therefore, has to be a good thing, supporting people in the changes they make.
At the same time, I think it’s helpful to know where most usefully to put our time and energy so that we don’t get burned out or despondent, and so as to aim for maximum benefit. As a Dharma practitioner, my main priority is mastering my mind and trying to give others that opportunity – and, when I’m doing that, then I am always doing something useful, so I don’t have to feel so discouraged or hopeless. Someone suggested:
I honestly think, as Buddha teaches, the answer is training our own mind and helping others to do the same. Awakening compassion for all would be the solution. So supporting our local Dharma Centres, volunteering, teaching Dharma, and training our own mind, while setting the example of practising moral discipline and mindfulness around these issues, is the answer for me.
Concentration and mindfulness are essential for mastering our mind, overcoming the distractions of our delusions, and creating the karma for deep and lasting inner peace and happiness. Concentration makes our mind extremely powerful. As it says in How to Transform Your Life:
We can sometimes help others by providing them with money or better material conditions, but we should remember that the greatest benefit we can give is to help them overcome their delusions and find true, lasting happiness within.
And to pull that off for others, we need to start with ourselves.
Wisdom realizing the way things are is the actual and only door out of the prison of samsara, and something we can keep in mind whatever else we are up to, both in and out of meditation sessions.
In general, all those problems and sufferings mentioned above are coming directly or indirectly from our delusions of ignorance, attachment, and aversion, and the negative karma we create in dependence upon those delusions. As someone said on Facebook:
I can certainly work on my delusions and try personally to break free from my uncontrolled desire that contributes to the polluted world, and perhaps also encourage others skillfully to do so — done with the right intention I think this can be powerful purification.
These three so-called poisons poison our minds, spilling over into the world that appears to us because our world is a reflection of our minds. So we have to dig deeper to solve our problems – solving not just outer problems but our inner problems with both compassion and wisdom. Otherwise:
Through technological progress and by organizing society in fairer, more humane ways, we can certainly help improve people’s lives in some respects. But whatever we do will inevitably have some unwanted side effects. The best we can hope for is to provide people with conditions that bring some temporary relief from problems and difficulties, but we cannot give them true, lasting happiness. This is because the real cause of happiness is inner peace, which can be found only within the mind, not in external conditions. ~ How to Transform Your Life (available for free here)
Our polluted world is mere appearance to mind like a dream – we need to destroy the hallucinations of climate change along with all other impure appearances through purification practice and especially through realizing that all the things we normally see do not exist.
The phenomena that I normally see or perceive
Are deceptive – created by mistaken minds.
If I search for the reality of what I see,
There is nothing there that exists – I perceive only empty like space. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages
This brings us back to karma. As things don’t exist from their own side, whatever appears to us depends upon our minds and our karma, both individual and collective. If you want to check this out from Ocean of Nectar, it says:
If a god, a human, and a hungry ghost were to look at a glass containing a moist, liquid substance, the god would see nectar, the human water, and the hungry ghost pus and blood…. There are not, however, three different liquids on the same base. ~ [from VI.71ab]
How am I supposed to remember all this?!!
To keep in mind these different levels of dealing with climate change, I find it truly helpful and inspiring to remember the meaning of Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka, as explained a little bit in this article.
So, out of renunciation, symbolized by Je Tsongkhapa, we are avoiding negativity on a day to day basis, striving to get rid of our inner poisons and attain liberation. My feeling is that we need to do whatever we can on an immediate practical and visible level, setting an example of someone who actually cares — because we do care. It’s all very well talking about getting enlightened for the sake of all living beings, but if we are still part of the brigade trashing our planet we are not setting a very relatable example, and can in fact come over as a complete hypocrite.
We need to be grounded, balanced, and moreorless normal or we will just put people off. Our head can be in the clouds providing our feet are firmly planted on the earth.
Out of bodhichitta, symbolized by Buddha Shakyamuni at Je Tsongkhapa’s heart, we are trying to help others in every way possible. All the while we can be inwardly dedicating all these six practices to the swift purification of our own and others’ negative karma, praying that by this virtue may everyone soon inhabit a Pure Land, the reflection of a pure and blissful mind.
And with our Tantric practice, symbolized by Heruka at Buddha’s heart, we are bringing the result into the path, speedily purifying and transforming our bodies, enjoyments, deeds, AND environments with no time to waste. With Tantra we are already abiding in the solution – and it turns out that reality is not — after all — relentless suffering, but sublime and blissful enlightenment. I would submit that mystics of all traditions can relate to this through experience.
A lot of discouragement comes from having a very limited view of ourselves and helpless view of what we can do — “What can little old me do to prevent climate catastrophe!?!” Tantra gives us the vision we need to feel deeply inspired on a daily basis.
We can find refuge in pure view. Nothing exists from its own side, as mentioned above. So at some point the mandala and Deities, who are the appearance of bliss and emptiness, will feel more authentic to us than this samsaric chicanery. As it says in The Mirror of Dharmaon page 25, when …
… we directly experience the union of appearance and emptiness we will directly experience our environment, enjoyments, body and mind as the enlightened environment, enjoyments, body and mind, and we will directly experience ourself as an enlightened being – the union of Buddha, the union of Vajradhara, the union of Heruka, and so forth.
The whole reason for doing this is to lead everyone to the same blissful state.
Four complete purities
I just read this succinct paragraph from Al Gore quoted in this week’s (Sept 2019) Time Magazine:
Humanity is now spewing more than 110 million tons of global warming pollution every day into the exceedingly thin shell of atmosphere that surrounds our planet as if it were an open sewer. The extra heat energy being trapped on earth and exacerbated by man-made climate change is now equal to what would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding on earth every single day, according to James Hansen, a leading climate scientist.
And it made me think of this essential practice of Tantric Buddhism, wherein instead of spewing pollution into the atmosphere we could be emanating wisdom blessings and love. All the time, if we want. Our minds are very very powerful if we focus them, and if everyone started doing this the world would improve very quickly. Even if we alone start doing this, our world will transform, and we’ll naturally be raising global awareness because we are all interconnected.
Having generated ourself as Heruka with a completely pure body and mind, we now imagine that five-colored lights, the nature of our five omniscient wisdoms, radiate from our body and pervade all worlds throughout the ten directions, completely purifying these worlds and the beings who inhabit them. We imagine that all impurities and imperfections of samsaric environments are purified. All rocky and uneven ground is made smooth, all extremes of heat and cold are removed, deserts are transformed into beautiful parks, floods abate, darkness is dispelled — the whole environment is transformed into Heruka’s Pure Land. ~ Great Treasury of Merit
You can find out more about these Tantric practices in the Tantric books. If you don’t know anything about Tantra, you can practice taking and giving and consider the analogy of the magic crystal explained above. There is always something we can do.
Just one more point I’d like to make (and thank you for reading this far! … )
Don’t forget mandala offerings!
One spiritual practice that is astoundingly powerful for offsetting our negative karma and creating the causes for everyone to live in a Pure Land is the mandala offering. We even say, as we offer this completely purified universe to all the holy beings, “May all beings enjoy such Pure Lands.” I am out of time, or else I’d explain how it is that mandala offerings are in fact my favorite Dharma practice, and that is saying something. You can read about them all over the place, including in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra.
Phew. Thanks to Buddha, we need never be at a loss for what to do again.
Over to you! Please feel free to discuss with each other below. I already took the liberty of copying and pasting some of the comments from the Facebook thread to kick it off.
While we continue to harbor the 2 ego-centered minds of self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing, our lives can quickly take a sinister turn. Everything that was working out for us can so quickly go wrong when our own and others’ delusions such as anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy wreck everything – work, supreme court nominations, families, marriages, these can all implode and leave us finding everything and everyone so weird and distasteful, even the people we thought we understood.
Do you ever have thoughts like this: “I don’t like this! I want to escape! I want to get away from all these annoying and/or demanding people and crushing responsibilities/anxieties/stressors! I want to get away and forget about it all — the worrying family, the depressive exes, the needy friends, the daily grind, the constant pressure of the endless to-do list, the boring commute, the insane politics, the scary climate change, the racist system, the cruelty everywhere I look, the sickness and ageing and death ….” And that’s just for starters.
Maybe we save up all year to go on vacation to get away from it all, but before long we want to get away from the airport queues, the sunburn, the sand in our teeth, the credit card debt, and the bad memories and anxieties we accidentally brought along in our luggage.
The thing is, regardless of our circumstances, and wherever we find ourselves in samsara, the only way we are going to finally get away from our suffering is if we learn how to increase our inner peace and, above all, learn how to dissolve all suffering into (bliss and) emptiness. We need to take time to do this every single day. Even taking ourselves off to a deserted cave in the middle of nowhere to do a long solitary retreat is not going to crack it otherwise.
Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has explained over and over again in all his books on Sutra and Tantra exactly how we can do this. I find this too incredible for words. Because these methods work every single time. No matter how busy or over-scheduled I become, giving myself a little time to meditate on emptiness is to find the way out of the feelings of being overwhelmed, the tight crowded thoughts that make everything seem unmanageable.
And the more we have to do, and the more people who need our attention, the more we need to apply this wisdom, as I talk about in this article, “Going wide means going deep.”
Moreover, quite the opposite of being irresponsible, Geshe Kelsang explains in his mind-boggling new commentary on Avalokiteshvara practice how cultivating the recognition of all forms, sounds, and thoughts as mere name not other than emptiness is the only way to quickly release all six classes of being from suffering. Please read this latest book, The Mirror of Dharma, when you get a chance; it feels very blessed to me.
A quick fix meditation
I shared my thoughts on how to meditate on the emptiness of the self in this article. Once we have gotten a taste of that, we can try this quick-fix meditation – it is my main go-to when I’m feeling oversubscribed or worried about anything.
So, let’s say you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed. Soon as you can, take yourself off to a quiet place (even if that means letting the restroom live up to its name.) Sit down, breathe a little and get into your heart, and ask yourself:
Who is upset?
Answer: ME. I am.
Then ask yourself: Is my body upset? Is my mind upset?
Answer: No. I am upset. That I or Me seems to exist all on its own, from its own side, pretty darned solid and real and upset; and I seem to be grasping at it without question.
But now I will question it. So now look for this I or Me. Is it your body? No. That’s just flesh and bone. Is it your mind? No. That’s just formless awareness, just thoughts, no me embedded in them. I am not just a thought, I am ME.
So take away the body and mind, and the I or Me remains? No. Not at all. It’s gone.
When we have some experience of this searching and not finding, our strong sense of self disappears. There is empty-like space there, the absence of self, NO self — and big relief.
It is not the appearance of our I and other things existing in a certain fixed way, or external to the mind, but the belief in that appearance as being true that leads to our being upset. If we can let go of that belief that our I or me exists in a certain fixed way by observing how it dissolves into emptiness, this frees us up to name or impute or project our self, our world, and other people differently. We can arise within the space of that emptiness, inseparable from that emptiness, as a mere appearance who is very relaxed and happy, or a Bodhisattva, or a Buddha, or whoever we want.
“The Pure Land is closer than thought”, a friend just messaged me. Make of that what you will.
Getting some context
If we are confident in our path to liberation and enlightenment, and hold that as our main priority and job, we are less inclined to become “too closely involved in the external situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it in How to Transform Your Life — like children building sandcastles, excited when it’s built and anxious when it’s swept away. Instead, it can be an enjoyable daily challenge to use the arising and subsiding of all fleeting, insubstantial cloud-like appearances as fuel for our renunciation, compassion, and wisdom. We have a big mind perspective, like the sky, and thus the space to play with the clouds.
A practical idea … instead of reaching for the Smartphone first thing in the morning (get another alarm clock!) and/or starting to itemize all the things to worry about that day and/or ruminating on everything that is going wrong with our life, thus cramming our mind with clouds before we’ve even got to the coffee, it is a really good idea to start the day by counting our blessings. We can do that by tuning into our precious human life and the kindness of others, for example, letting happiness wash over us.
We can also set ourselves in flight by remembering impermanence — laying down the heavy burden of the past (which is in fact no more substantial than the dream from which we have just awoken). Considering that this could be our last day on Earth, we may as well use it to be a Bodhisattva or Buddha.
Wanna be a wishfulfilling jewel?
From a Tantric point of view, as someone said the other day on Facebook, what’s stopping us from thinking of ourselves in this way, using the words from the Liberating Prayer:
Your body is a wishfulfilling jewel,
Your speech is supreme, purifying nectar,
And your mind is refuge for all living beings.
This is a description of Buddha Shakyamuni and, if we play our cards right, one day this will be a description of us. In Buddhism, faith in Buddha necessitates faith in our own enlightened potential. We may as well start practicing.
Maybe just give this thought a go and see what it feels like. What’s it like to think outside the box about ourselves? There is nothing to stop us arising from emptiness as a Buddha or, if we don’t feel ready for that yet, as a magic crystal:
It is said that there exists a magic crystal that has the power to purify any liquid in which it is placed. Those who cherish all living beings are like this crystal — by their very presence they remove negativity form the world and give back love and kindness. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness
How are you?
Someone asked me how I was the other day, and for some reason I couldn’t find the words to reply. But it got me thinking that a more interesting question than “How are you?” might be “Who are you?” For who we think we are will be determining both how we feel and what we plan on doing, including the karma we create.
I don’t suppose this question will take off 😄 But I find it useful because it reminds me of who I want to be and what I want to do, rather than just how I am feeling at that moment. “Who are you and what do you seek?” as it asks us in Heruka Tantra.
Atisha used to ask the people he met,
Do you have a good heart?
This question might not take off either, but I think it could help society if it did, putting the emphasis on what we are all intending rather than how we are all feeling.
Our intentions are more significant than our feelings or experiences as they are what create the causes or karma for our feelings and experiences – not much we can do about the ripening of our previous karma, but much we can do about the karma we are creating now. What do you think about that?
Guest article. I put out the following question on Facebook, receiving replies from all over the place, and would like to give Kadampa Life’s floor to these voices 😊
What do you think you can do best as a spiritual practitioner to help the world practically, given its current circumstances?
(I have grouped the answers in sections for convenience, despite overlap.)
Conquer delusions, including anger
Fight evil…. in our mind. Flat refuse to be stirred into hatred. See the facts for what they are and support those taking a stand against harmful actions with encouragement and resources.
Keep calm, stay loving, do a bit of meditation every day, call out evil when I see it, but be careful to manage my time well and not get sucked into too many debates and mud-slinging.
I will try to use these situations to show me where I need to work on my own feelings of pride, anger, fear, etc. There seems to be never ending opportunity. Sometimes I forget that many people are overjoyed at the things I find most disturbing. Practically, I will do all I can to support tolerance.
Be mindful of the 3 poisons in my mind, just waiting to divide everyone I meet into friends, enemies, and strangers. Remember that everyone wants to be happy, and, if engaging in debate on the state of the world, I need to always (gently and without attachment!) argue with that motivation in mind.
Unwavering determination to never give up.
Renunciation and patience – samsara has always been like this
Use it to increase renunciation, grow bodhichitta, and focus on my practice more.
There are certain people for whom I have a tough time generating love. I’m noticing how much fear arises when I attempt to release grudges/old anger/hurt from my heart. I’m trying to sit with the fear, and identify it, rather than identify with it, in an attempt to loosen the grasping to an “I” that has been hurt, and to an “I” that is still angry.
Realise that the actions of others are merely a reflection of my own mind and previous actions, and joyfully accept the training each day brings.
It also occurred to me later today that samsara was always bad, and always had the potential to get worse. All that’s changed now is what is manifesting for us. Samsara being a bit more honest about its true nature if you like.
My main job is to keep renunciation, compassion, and bodhichitta to the forefront of my mind and quickly attain liberation so that I can really help all my mothers to do the same.
For me, I am using patience, “I stop wanting things to be otherwise.” Then I contemplate what I can do to help with resistance to these dire times, imo. I donate to organizations that I think are positively involved in supporting the people. It is the best I can do.
Purify my mind — a pure mind perceives a pure world.
Compassion and love
Really, sincerely work on developing compassion for everyone. This experience is making us dig deep in our practice!
Keep supporting the idea of love and compassion for all beings (including — especially — those who disagree with us), and the effectiveness of a peaceful, focused state of mind.
Keep compassion as our main practice and be the change we want to see in the world.
Really wish for others to be happy – equalising self and others.
Promote unity/foster empathy. We need to remember we all want the same things, and stay united against divisive “isms”.
The point is exchanging self with others at all times and giving compassion to all living beings.
I have been having different things arise to practice at different times, but today’s theme has been to see how we are more the same than different. Equalizing and equanimity.
All living beings have two things in common: they want to be happy all the time and free from suffering. But out of ignorance they destroy their happiness like a foe. I wish all living beings could find permanent happiness and freedom from suffering. I don’t care who they are. We are all the same in our long-standing two wishes – in that respect there is NO difference. We need to dwell on our common goals and wishes. Not our differences as these maintain the continuum of dualistic appearances. There is no limit to our patience, our love, and our forgiveness. We could not cultivate these without the objects of our patience, love, wisdom, and forgiveness. How kind other living beings are. I must repay their kindness. I will repay their kindness. Then we can realize that there was nothing to forgive other than a simple appearance created from the ripening seeds of our karma. Let’s sow some beautiful seeds in our mental garden. Heal our mind and be like our Spiritual Guide, full of humility and wisdom.
Internally – lots of taking and giving or remembering pure view. Practically – encourage and point out people’s good qualities, relate to everyone’s potential, and give Dharma in all its guises wherever needed.
While this state of the world is dividing people, it is actually galvanizing the rest of us to try harder, reach out more, understand others, help those who need it.
Remember that Donald Trump is our kind mother and meditate on that. Of course all beings are, but sometimes I like to zone in on an individual whom I am manifesting as a challenge to my peaceful mind at present.
Our main practice is the practice of the six perfections: giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration/meditation, and the wisdom realizing emptiness. We need to become enlightened to benefit all living beings. In the process we do our best with pure intentions. Our daily practice of reliance on the Three Precious Jewels, renunciation, bodhichitta, unwavering faith, and cherishing others will take us there, with a happy peaceful mind.🙏
Can we really ignore the suffering and in-humanity, and should we remain silent? What would a Bodhisattva do? What would Buddha do? Jesus?
Showing kindness to those experiencing suffering. Showing compassion and love towards all. Practicing purification. Wishing for enlightenment with a strong faith in my Spiritual Guide. Seeking his help for myself and everyone I meet throughout these degenerate times.
One thing I am practicing is looking at people and smiling if their eyes meet mine. Most people smile back. We are all the same … frightened, alone, and wishing it were not so. I try giving my own human presence and acceptance in that moment. It is a small thing. I am really just trying to train myself to be kinder — but I think it is also helping the world practically.
Smile at others with Geshe-la at our heart. Find creative ways to make others feel good. Mentally bring people and animals into the mandala. Try not to forget the unseen suffering of animals and lower realm beings — they need our help so much.
Taking the meaning “practically” to mean “action”, I’d suggest: Listening without judgment.
Being what others need you to be. Holding boundaries without anger. Intention without self-grasping, delusion, or self-indulgence.
To most sincerely follow the advice of my Spiritual Guide with respect to authentically living, to the best of my current ability, the Bodhisattva’s way of life.
Integrate my bodhichitta motivation into all my actions in protesting racial, societal, political, and environmental injustices … Emphasize to myself that my social justice life and my spiritual life do not in fact have to be separate and that they can empower each other in the best way. Inner peace and outer peace are a dependent arising …
… I agree. I think that we can think of ourselves as Heroes and Heroines when protesting injustice, putting our bodhichitta motivation into practice by protecting others. We also pray and meditate. The meditation break and meditation session support each other.
Love the spontaneous peaceful demonstrations. Please let’s keep it peaceful and respectful, for it is for ALL OF US … as they did in Standing Rock, keep it prayerful and peaceful. Our lesson here I think is to learn how to transform adverse conditions …”always keep a smiling face and a loving mind, and speak truthfully without malice.” As we know, sometimes you have to make a stand, but you can do this creatively, and with a loving mind …
If we are a member of a dominant group (white people, males, straight people, upper income people, etc.), then humbly seek out, listen to, honor, and act in solidarity with people who are experiencing oppression (people of color, women, gay/lesbian/bi/trans folks, low income people, etc.). It’s unhelpful – harmful actually – for those of us in dominant groups to remain silent and inactive when others are suffering.
We need to protect others, using our compassion and wisdom.🙏
Be the ‘best’ me I can be. Remain as centred as I can without falling prey to the delusional dramas playing out in multitudes here on FB/internet/TV etc. Keep a strong mind of love, compassion & patience for all beings, no matter what their views or actions; & rely with strong faith on my Guru at my heart & all the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas to know what is best for me at each & every moment. Also to hold a strong wish to become just like Arya Tara so that I may help her to liberate all living beings from suffering and sorrow … And if I struggle to achieve this, I try to remember to breathe 😉
Become an enlightened being as soon as I can. Otherwise, I have no real power to help anyone.
The main thing: seize the day NOW! by increasing my efforts to train in realizing emptiness in this life, recognizing this is the most powerful act of compassion there is. Also, give love and fearlessness to those who are suffering by peacefully voicing my support for inclusive policies and leaders.
Gen-la Khyenrab once taught us that the best thing we can do to help others is to meditate on their emptiness.
Keep repeating over and over – “For though it appears, it does not truly exist — like a mirage.” “Although it does not exist, it appears — like an illusion.” Remember emptiness like this … let the solidity dissolve a bit … then act out of compassion for all living beings. Be a protector – without anger – without grasping – protect all living beings. (Something i aspire to 😊 – work in progress.)
I’ve been having fun – and a bit of a breakthrough – offering my mandala as the absence of all the things I’m (normally) seeing and fearing in the world right now.
None of our ordinary judgments or ways of looking at and reacting to the world will ever change the world in any significant way. The acts of the Bodhisattva, however, can change everything in every way. All things are appearances of our karma — if we purify our karma by opening up the great treasury of merit within ourself by giving birth to a Bodhisattva, everything will just purify. From joy to joy, from purified appearance to purified appearance, our very presence can transform everything for everyone in a radical, magical way.
I too will try to remember emptiness and work at making progress on the path. But we also live in this world, where we act “normal” while changing our aspiration. I think it is important to speak up in your community and to donate money to organizations that try to protect our democratic institutions, and to try to talk across the divide, without rancor, whenever that possibility arises.
At the end of the day, remembering none of it is separate from my mind.
Power of prayer
Call a representative. And pray.
I think we need to try and remember the power of prayer and that we are heading towards degenerate times, as Geshe-la has previously warned us many times. Also by aiming to control our own mind and show an example.
“We can always pray” — when I move to remember this more swiftly and more flexibly, I simply feel more spiritually confident and refreshed in blessings.
Maintain love and compassion for all, and make prayers for world peace.
Not to discount the importance of helping in worldly ways, but I feel we should never underestimate the power of our concentrated prayers and sadhanas such as Tara and Kangso, Migtsema ritual actions, mantra recitation of the four actions with precise objectives, pacifying fire pujas and so on. If they weren’t practical and effective for solving daily problems, they wouldn’t be taught.
Transform it all by training in shepherd-like bodhichitta in conjunction with the four complete purities in Tantra.
The power of Heruka increases in degenerate times. Now, in these times, I feel my inner love growing. I think these are the times to grow our love, compassion, tenderness, and understanding. All is always changing, fields of illusions — have courage and faith in our loving-kindness in all moments, progressing to a pure, loving state.
Being a good example
Try to show people around me that Dharma really does work by showing patient acceptance, love, compassion, and refraining from all non-virtuous actions.
Set a great example by protecting and standing up for the less fortunate and doing it with love rather than anger or self-righteousness. Compassionate action!
Be a calm, peaceful, patient, reasonable example to others and control my mind.
I need to flourish Kadam Dharma. I need to flourish it in my heart first – really practise from the depths of my heart because it feels like we’re running out of time. If I can increase my wisdom and compassion I’ll be better able to help people. And I need to help Kadam Dharma flourish in the world through strong prayers and physical action. The world needs Kadam Dharma more now than ever before. People need a reliable source of refuge that gives them hope for a happier future.
I’m learning that being a Dharma teacher forces us to deal with our own deluded ways of responding to the current situation – being a good example is probably the best thing we can bring to this suffering world.
Speak out against injustice — participate at whatever level necessary, be it taking part in protests, writing letters to senators and representatives, giving money to organizations that help your cause (human rights, amnesty international, doctors without borders…) Be a good role model by showing kindness and respect, compassion and love. Use our spiritual practice to maintain a good heart – when we are with others, keeping our thoughts and mind mixed with our Guru. Try not to sink into negativity by guarding our mind, and remembering impermanence. And that love is the Great Protector.
I think we need to model patience, love, and compassion; and speak from wisdom, speak from wisdom, speak from wisdom only. Teach people to have compassion when someone is doing outlandish things and separate him/her from his/her delusions …. in other words, LIVE Dharma. SHOW people a way that’s very different from acting out of fear, hatred, or judgment.
Not spreading anger, and taking a calm stand when necessary. Also, showing a good example according to particular circumstances, helping others with love in practical ways. In Chile, for example, there are big fires right now, so it’s important to do our best to help all the victims. Another example, there are lots of stray dogs in our country and a couple of days ago we saw a big bucket filled with fresh water fixed to a house fence — dogs stopped by and drank happily, one after the other. We shouldn’t lose this kind of detail, whatever the circumstances are.
To be an example … to live as best we can as Buddha taught … to not be a crusader but to follow the teachings to the best of our ability.
Sounds easy, but keeping a happy mind is the best thing we can do for anyone.
“Rely upon a happy mind alone.” This means really noticing when my own mind is not peaceful and then not trusting it to be giving me suitable guidance about anything. It also means remembering to rely upon the purest of peaceful minds that I know, and taking my guidance from there instead.
Over to you! How would you answer this question? Would love to hear from you.
For the inner demons who do not come out into the open, or at least only in such shadowy ways that we cannot properly identify them, purification is immensely helpful. It is also very helpful when we are overwhelmed by appearances and need extra help in overcoming them.
Stubborn recurrent sadness is still no match for purification practice – and we can feel that we are purifying not just that karmic appearance or karmic tendency but ALL similar versions since beginningless time. For example, if you have been suffering from attachment, you can use that as an example, and purify all your attachment since beginningless time. If you have been getting irritated with the sweet people around you despite your best intentions, you can purify your needless irritation since beginningless time. If you are feeling depressed because “things just aren’t what they used to be!”, you can even purify all that despondency since beginningless time.
Magnet for misfortune
Bad karma is a magnet for misfortune. And it ripens in different ways, for example irritation or anger we have had in the past can ripen as an experience (eg, someone does something we find really annoying) or in the tendencies we have to react in a certain way (eg, we get really annoyed.) Karma also ripens in the way our environment in general appears to us (eg, not quite right, uncomfortable), and even in the type of rebirth we have taken. You can read all about these four fascinating effects of karma in that chapter in Joyful Path of Good Fortune. They explain a lot.
So if we don’t like something that is happening to us or how we feel about it or indeed how we are reacting, this is a perfect reminder to us to purify this karma. Taking responsibility for our karma can turn our lives around, as Gen-la Khyenrab said the other day.
The power of promise
The power of promise is one of the four opponent powers of good purification practice, and it purifies our heavy tendencies to negativity that we lug around with us from familiarity with these in the past. So after a good purification practice, we promise not to do that thing, whatever it is, again. But, as a friend of mine was saying yesterday, sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly to promise. For example, declaring “I will never get angry again!” and a host of other big promises is unrealistic – we are likely to forget them sooner or later and blow it. So we then get discouraged that we are not keeping our promises, wondering if we’ll ever remember them for longer than ten minutes, and whether there is even any point in making any more promises when we are so useless at keeping them.
What I like to do to make effective promises, I told her, is tie in my purification practice to whatever is coming up in my life – as part of my mind-training, transforming difficulties. For example, in her case, she has been feeling despondent because something she really wanted to happen didn’t happen, and she also blames herself because that is her tendency. Soooo, what I would do in that situation, having recognized that tendency in me, is purify that situation, and while I am at it to purify all my tendencies to feeling despondent and lacking self-worth since beginningless time. Then, once my mind felt all cleaned up from this tendency due to a good purification practice, I’d promise to not feel despondent again in similar circumstances. I am likely to remember that promise as it ties into what I am up against and I therefore have a vested interest in remembering it, in incorporating it into my mind-training. And it is powerful because I want it; it is not a vague open-ended promise, but one stemming from my everyday wishes to stay happy despite this thing or that thing not working out.
Phew! I can get rid of all of it!
Even when we are a bit vaguer about all the negative actions we need to purify and the kinds of effects these are specifically wreaking on our day-to-day lives, it still works very well to do a general spring-clean of our mind. I really enjoy doing prostrations to the 35 Confession Buddhas first thing in the morning (and before you get impressed, it takes less than 10 minutes), purifying basically everything I could possibly ever have done. There are some great words in that Mahayana Sutra (written by Buddha Shakyamuni himself), such as “I confess without concealing or hiding anything.” The Buddhas know exactly what we need to purify even if we don’t; that’s an advantage of omniscience. So we praise them: “Who have become witnesses, who have become valid, who see with their wisdom.”
Dry rot creeps up on us without us noticing, until the fabric of our house is destroyed. We’ve forgotten the vast majority of our negative minds and actions, which is why we contemplate these when we purify – not to feel bad but because we want all the mold, visible or not, to be gone as it is affecting our minds and our lives. We purify our greatest delusion first, whatever keeps coming up; but at the same time we want to purify the whole lot, and we can. Our negativity is mere imputation and literally no match for omniscient wisdom.
Turn on the lights for goodness sake!
You know how horror movies always take place at night in the pitch black and you just wish someone would turn on all the lights? And you know the darkness of our ignorance? The Confession Buddhas and Buddha Vajrasattva throw open the shutters to broad cosmic daylight and the sunshine streams in everywhere.
The ultimate purification is mixing with the mind of bliss and emptiness so that we destroy our ordinary appearances and conceptions – that is what will tear the whole samsaric moldy structure down so we can build ourselves and others a celestial mansion of delight. So we request Vajrasattva:
Please permanently purify my non-virtues, downfalls, and ordinary appearances and conceptions.
And then let him enter through our crown, dissolving into our “inner darkness”, vanquishing it instantly and permanently.
Whether we are doing Vajrasattva purification or the 35 Confession Buddhas practice, we feel their purity flooding into us, we don’t hold back. Our negativity doesn’t exist from its own side – like everything else, it is mere aspect of mind. Purify the mind by mixing it with the extraordinary bliss and wisdom of enlightened beings and where’s that negativity going to go? Nowhere, is where — it disappears, because it is only appearance to mind.
Build some purification practice into our daily lives, therefore, and we can relax — as Gen-la Khyenrab also said the other day. And it doesn’t have to take long, especially if you are convinced it is working. How long does it take to switch the lights on?
I believe there is nothing that a well-aimed Vajrasattva mantra cannot purify.
We don’t talk about the subconscious in Buddhism but we do talk about subtle and very subtle levels of mind and, even if we can’t yet reach these directly ourselves, the Buddhas certainly can as, in fact, this is their abode, their being. It’s where they hang out. Kind of fun to hang out with them, don’t you think?!
Good purification is like having a massive spring clean of the mind, it feels amazing, uplifting. We feel that we can do anything now, for the slate is clear, today is a brand new day.
Over to you! Comments and queries on purification practice are welcome.
In the last few days I’ve had a few things go wrong with this body – none of them worth writing home about, but, added together, annoying enough. Bad allergies, stomach pains, an infected finger, a fever, and less of my taken-for-granted ability to dive into my heart and stay there.
High time to transform this physical suffering because that is what Kadampa Buddhists do – we love suffering! Don’t we?! Hmmm. Maybe. Or at least we try not to mind it too much, and use it to make spiritual progress. Eventually, yes, we love it, for I have met lots of practitioners who love quite major suffering already. I admire them and aspire to their attainments, for then suffering will hold no fear. The end goal is to put a stop to our own and others’ suffering forever, and we use the appearance of suffering to help us get there. So this is a short tale of what I tried today.
(Look, admittedly, this is not going to be an inspiring account of how I transformed cancer. A few minor ailments are nothing in the grand scheme of things, I know that, in fact it is sort of the point; but you have to start somewhere and the important thing is to deal with whatever is arising for you.)
The tale of a sore finger
So this story starts first thing this morning with my finger, or, more precisely, the top inch of my finger. Who knew that such a small area of the body could throb so much! It makes me realize that there is not an inch of my body that is not ready to hurt me, that inevitably will hurt me if I insist on identifying myself with meat and nerve endings.
I made the mistake of looking up infected fingers on Google, to discover the horrible truth that, left untreated, I was about to lose my whole finger… and that the infection could spread to other fingers and (left unsaid but I could see where this was going) I would soon lose my entire hand!!! Aarggh! My finger is now the most important finger in the whole wide world! It has to be saved! Moral of the tale: stop surfing the internet while under the influence of self-cherishing, it doesn’t help. To be fair, Google was useful on the home remedies front, and I’ve been dutifully dipping said finger into a mixture of warm water and apple cider vinegar for 15 minutes several times a day, during which times it is interesting to see how little else gets done.
Between finger-soaking and nose-blowing and stomach clutching and general woe-is-me’ness, early this morning I decided to be nice and wash some of the soiled litter off the tiny soft paws of this harmless-looking round kitten. But appearances are deceptive, I discovered not for the first time, when he yowled and sunk his nasty scratchy sharp nails right into my poor swollen finger. I allowed myself a little optimism as the blood spurted, “Perhaps he has lanced this wound, saving me a visit to the doctor for surgery and amputation!”, but alternatively, I then thought, he might have added cat scratch fever to my list of ailments. I’m never going to foster horrible little kittens again …
Aarrghh! self-cherishing feeling sorry for itself and blaming others again … Clearly it was time for some contemplation on all of this, or my day was going to get away from me.
Lesson #1 ~ renunciation
Samsara throws up one problem after another, waves on an ocean. No sooner have we dealt with one thing — the thing we thought was all that was standing in the way of us and unbounded happiness – then something else comes up.
“There’s always something”, as my friend M said to me last week, “until there isn’t.”
And that “isn’t” time will only come when we recognize, reduce, and abandon permanently our self-grasping ignorance, destroying the ocean of samsaric suffering once and for all.
If we think about our suffering out of self-grasping and self-cherishing, we suffer. If we think about it to inspire us to overcome true sufferings and true origins, we have the liberating thought of renunciation, not suffering.
This sore finger ain’t no thing — doesn’t matter — as they say, compared with the sufferings of my countless future lives.
We blame others, even kittens, whining away like “childish ones”, as Buddha described us; but all the blame can rightfully be laid on our own self-grasping. Not understanding that the things we normally see do not exist, grasping at a world outside of the mind, we develop self-cherishing, anger, and attachment, which in turn create the contaminated karma that cause our endless problems to appear. Other living beings and situations can only ever be conditions for our own karma to ripen.
Lesson # 2 ~ no self, no problem
To destroy the whole of our samsara with its literally endless problems, we only need to re-think the way we are viewing things. How hard is that, given that we currently have access to all the teachings on how to do it? As the great Yogi Saraha says, in one of my favorite quotes:
If your mind is released permanently from self-grasping, there is no doubt that you will be released permanently from suffering.
Or, put this way:
No self, no problem.
The things we normally see do not exist, and that includes ourself, sore fingers, and everything else.
I cannot be found anywhere in my body or mind, and nor can I be found anywhere else. I hurt because I mush my sense of I up with my finger, but I am not my finger. You cannot find me in there, even though I say “Ow, I hurt”, or “This is hurting me,” or even “My finger hurts”. Where is the I that owns the finger?
Also, Geshe Kelsang says:
It is true that our body that we normally see does not exist, and there is no body other than this; but we mistakenly believe that our body that we normally see actually exists and, because of this, we experience sufferings of the body such as sickness as a hallucination, as a mistaken appearance, as like a dream. ~ How to Understand the Mind, p. 311
My finger cannot be found in its parts or anywhere else — try pointing to your finger without pointing at its parts.
So the suffering finger that I normally see is not really there — it is like an hallucination, like the suffering in a dream.
This sore finger ain’t no thing, for it cannot be found anywhere.
Lesson # 3 ~ compassion
I decided that my finger was like a portal into the lives of others — those, for example, who have lost limbs in fighting, or those not born with any limbs to begin with, or burn victims with large parts of their skin in agony. Let alone all those in the lower realms. I wouldn’t necessarily think about these people if I didn’t have to transform this paltry finger pain, and so my compassion would not develop.
Similar to renunciation, if we think about our own suffering out of self-cherishing we suffer, but if we use it to think about others’ suffering we develop the wish to free them, which is the peaceful mind of compassion, not suffering.
Just as I was thinking this, the kittens climbed up onto my shoulders, where they are now as well, and started snuffling into my ears. (Sometime in their journey to safety from the kill shelter in Pampa, Texas they developed upper respiratory problems). It was not hard to see that my suffering is NOTHING compared with theirs, and all I want is for them to be out of those kitten bodies and into human bodies or better, ASAP. How is that going to happen if I don’t make it happen?
This sore finger ain’t no thing compared with the sufferings of countless other living beings.
Lesson # 4 ~ Tantra
There is no suffering in the Pure Land. If out of renunciation and compassion I dissolve everything into bliss and the wisdom realizing that all the things I normally see do not exist — including my entire meaty body, self, mind, and world — I can then appear myself as Buddha Vajrayogini in the Pure Land, and the basis of suffering has gone for ever. Buddhas’ fingers give rise to nothing but endless bliss and benefit.
So my sore finger is reminding me to go straight away, now, to the Pure Land — why hang out any longer in a meaty body that can hurt all over, and sooner or later no doubt will, especially given my increasing age? Let alone all the bodies I’ll have to keep taking in all my future lives. Nasty stuff. It has to stop now, I have to stop ordinary conceptions and appearances.
I am switching to Keajra channel and staying there, resisting any temptation to flick back to samsara channel on the frankly remote chance that something better might be on. That hasn’t happened yet.
This sore finger ain’t no thing in the Pure Land.
Having had quite some success with this contemplation despite my fever, and feeling pretty darned good by now, I then applied these lines of thought to my running nose and my stomach ache, and threw in a few emotional issues too while I was at it. And, just as Buddha promised, I felt better and better the more grist I threw to the mill.
I even came to the conclusion that I’m loving me some suffering! (However, lets not push it … )
The ability to transform our everyday appearances of suffering into something immensely meaningful and joyful is HUGE, and a major hallmark of a genuine Kadampa. So I’d like to open this conversation up to you — inspire us, have you used Buddha’s teachings to transform your suffering?
Ps, My finger miraculously cured itself while I was writing this.
I seem to be here again at the Denver DMV. I thought I’d left this grimy place forever, but here I am back all over again. “Weren’t you here just the other day”? asked the man who failed me in my first test and whom I’d never felt the great urge to see again. But our karma was clearly not done. At any rate, he was a good deal more friendly this time (so I discover he is not in fact an inherently nerve-wracking smile-less robot). He was curious as to all the details of the theft of the spanking new Colorado driving license (amongst other things) that was bringing me to his desk.
I have learned many lessons from this, as it happens, which all goes to show that difficulties can be our best spiritual teachers, as explained in the Lojong teachings. I thought I’d divide this into Sutra and Tantra lessons learned. It’s a long post, sorry in advance!
Sutra lessons learned
I must have stolen in the past, and this is not even the first theft I’ve had. There were some curious incidents growing up where thieves would break into my parents’ house but only steal MY stuff. They broke in in Guyana and stole only my treasured radio. They broke in in Singapore and took a stereo my parents had literally just given me. They broke in in London and took just my relatively worthless jewelry. And when I was a supposedly innocent five-year-old, they stole the shipment of my toys alone when we were moving from Sri Lanka back to England. Yikes. This may be a good sign that my parents are as honest as the day is long, but me?!? This karmic mirror reminds me to check whether I am still being dishonest in any areas of my life.
Never safe in samsara
Another lesson bought home is that while I am in samsara, I am not safe. A good friend shared his experience of being robbed (he managed to have not just one but two MacBook Airs stolen in 1 day):
I don’t know how you are experiencing this, but for me it was very unsettling. I felt extremely vulnerable, exposed, and violated, while simultaneously holding compassion for the perpetrator, and praying for his delusions to be removed.
Nothing is truly mine, certainly not lastingly mine. In samsara, the end of collection is dispersion, and our karma to have stuff comes to an end. This samsaric entropy is also the second law of thermodynamics, I discovered the other day:
There is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.
My appearances of a shiny new iPhone 5S, driver’s license, and handy credit cards, all contained in a beautiful new turquoise wallet, came to an abrupt dissolution on Sunday morning. All our karmic projectionscome to an end whether we want them to or not. And then other karmic projections come up, ones we don’t want, eg, having to sort out things we thought were already sorted rather than doing the other more fun things we had planned.
We only have so many appearances to mind left before we die.
And due to self-grasping we feel the loss, we feel vulnerable and violated as my friend pointed out. I’ll not deny that I had some attachment to my phone (not least as my mother had given it to me at Xmas). So my first reaction was some numbness – things seemed to slow down as I searched the pockets of everything I was wearing and looked in every room, and then did the same again, just in case. That sinking feeling, “It’s gone, it’s really gone.”
I bow down to that compassion for living beings
Who from first conceiving ‘I’ with respect to the self,
Then thinking ‘This is mine’ and generating attachment for things,
Are without self-control like the spinning of a well. ~ Ocean of Nectar, page 25
This feeling of discombobulation was useful for showing my permanent-grasping at myself and my infrastructure, instead of recognizing at all times that it is as insubstantial and fleeting as last night’s dream.
I could not help but feel compassion though because I got into my nice borrowed car and went to my nice house and was able to have some nice lunch and call everyone I needed to, while meantime the perpetrator rather pathetically managed to spend all of $10.12 just getting something to eat at a 7/11 at 1.20pm EST before I closed my cards down. I may not be very rich, but I do have more than $10.12 in my account, so he could at least have treated himself to a swanky restaurant. He also got a $4 drink at Starbucks at 6.30pm with my Starbucks card, and there was a little cash in there too. (This knowledge courtesy of Find my iPhone.) It is doubtful that he (or she) has anywhere great to live, if anywhere at all; and he is clearly hungry and/or desperate enough to sneak into an unknown basement and grab what he can and get out before he is caught. And I am not oblivious to the utter privilege of having these things to lose in the first place, so lucky even compared with most human beings, including him.
The police detective called me today, two days later, offered to meet me in the parking lot if my phone shows up online again, for a “civil standby”. But I have already given the phone away, though it is useless to the thief because it is locked – not even the FBI could break in, not even with a law suit against Apple.
(Last year, J, in Florida at the time, had her iPhone stolen and F and I, in New York, watched the dot zooming down I275, reporting coordinates to J and her sister, who were in hot pursuit. Forty miles later, the phone ended up in a theater parking lot, beeping away inside a black jalopy; and they waited until the thieves came out of their movie and were obliged by the police to open their car and hand over the phone. Not sure what the moral of that tale is, but it was surprisingly exciting at the time, like an OJ Simpson redux. (OK, now I have to tell you my true OJ Simpson story for I can’t imagine getting another chance. I was at Miami airport with N. early one morning, who asked if I would go over and “get us a couple of OJs” while he watched the luggage. And guess who was standing next to me at the same counter. No, I’m not kidding. Mere name, eh. And he had a beautiful blonde with him, for whom I felt a little nervous.)
I gave the stuff away so that the thief would not get the complete action of stealing. He (or she) will still incur some negative karma if he had a deluded intention, but I thought I could offset it. It can’t be offset completely as not even Buddhas can do that – if they could, it’d be impossible to create negative karma with respect to Buddhas.
After the theft, I came back to the 2 cats I am babysitting who, for some reason, were in a very demanding mood, jumping all over me and making a lot of noise while I was trying to call the bank etc. It crossed my mind to get irritated with them, but then I remembered that although they may not give a monkeys about my human problems, in fact the cat problems they have are far, far, far worse.
So I feel luckier than the perpetrator for many reasons, but mainly because he may well not have access to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, whereas I do. As another good friend JS messaged me yesterday, after her camera equipment worth 10,000 quid was stolen from right inside her own house:
There is a huge back story to people’s crime. I want to ask him questions like when did he decide this was the route to take, does he still want to carry on, what did he want to be when he was a kid … does he think it’s possible to change his life …. That’s what I will be putting in my “victim’s” statement, but who is the real victim? I have Geshe-la in my life and the Dharma, I gave up any thoughts of my possessions being important … the victim to me seems like the burglar, he has no Dharma to help him.
My theft is not really different to a theft in a dream. Overall, this has made me more determined than ever to bring an end to my own and others’ samsaric hallucinations while I still have the chance. The compassion that wants to overcome this root cause of suffering is called compassion observing the unobservable, you can read about it in Ocean of Nectar. Samsara sucks, samsara sucks for everyone, but luckily samsara is not real.
Death is on its way
It can be useful to imagine losing one thing at a time to get our heads and hearts around the fact that the entire infrastructure of our life is going to collapse. This includes the people we adore, not just our shiny gadgets. As this inevitability could be just around the corner, this is, as JS put it:
Good practice for death, when I won’t be able to take anything with me. It’s always good to see where one is at with our possessions so I thank him for that.
The kindness of others
I feel almost fraudulent to be writing this, this theft was such a small fry incident in the grand scheme of things, yet people have been astonishingly generous.
A Bodhisattva immediately, and I mean immediately, the moment he saw my stuff had been stolen, said, “Oh, this iPhone I have is spare, you can have it!” Then he wiped his phone clean and gave it to me, along with his phone number, before I had a chance to protest. And he did this utterly convincingly, not even with the slightest hesitation like the one I had when I gave my actually totally spare iPhone 4 away just last week. He reminds me of that quote from Ocean of Nectar:
If from hearing and contemplating the word ‘Give’,
The Conquerors’ Son develops a bliss
The like of which is not aroused in the Able Ones through experiencing peace,
What can be said about giving everything? ~ Ocean of Nectar page 69
Giving does feel pretty good when we manage to pull it off without any regret – the day before this theft I had given a jacket (left here by a Buddhist monk) to a homeless man in Cheesman Park. Long story, but it felt great to see Michael pull it over his skinny shoulders on a freezing day.
But the person who helped me is in a class of his own – he even went so far as to thank me for allowing him to help me. As if he meant it! Which I do believe he did. And I have to add that this same nameless (for his own sake) person said the other day just after I passed my test, “Oh, this car I have is spare, you can borrow it indefinitely!” (Naturally I am now waiting for his spare house and his spare cash.)
There are emanations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in our midst whatever we want to call them – angels, saints, or just very kind people. Maybe they don’t appear so often to a very cynical mind, but they are still there, trying to help, waiting for the first moment they can dive in there. They may appear as the regular folks around us – nurses, neighbors, co-workers, homeless people, family members, strangers at bus stops – but as a Buddha’s job description is to emanate whatever people need, it’s cool not to succumb to ordinary appearances.
Tantric lessons learned
When we realize that we are completely empty of inherent existence, our possessions are completely empty, and our relationship with our possessions is completely empty (the so-called “three spheres”), we can see that we already have everything we need inside us. Why? Because everything is merely projection of our own minds.
I’m going to get a bit philosophical and Tantric for a moment …
Nothing is inherently anything. If we understand this, we can say “This is not that”, about everything, and this truth frees us up. For example, “This is not Denver” frees me up to think “This is Heruka’s Pure Land”. “This is not an annoying co-worker” frees me up to think “This is an emanation of Buddha.” “These are not my possessions” frees me up to give my iPhone away happily.
Bounty of the Dharmakaya
I find myself comparing this “loss” to what I like to call “the bounty of the Dharmakaya“. Within the bliss and emptiness of the Dharmakaya (or Truth Body), everything exists and everything is possible. The divinity is there as you are mixed with the Truth Body of every Buddha. You can manifest anything out of that.
Buddha Heruka and Buddha Vajrayogini, for example, are simply the bounty and infinite good qualities of the Dharmakaya appearing – their symbolism includes absolutely everything good about Buddhahood. So when we focus on them, our bliss and good qualities and so on increase – we are able to itemize, focus on, and identify with them, and gain a greater understanding and experience of the Dharmakaya. And vice versa.
This is why these meditative practices of pure appearance, introduced by enlightened beings, are so important; and why focusing on bliss and emptiness alone, though it is the essence and truth, make it harder or perhaps even impossible to manifest the creative elements of the Dharmakaya and gain full enlightenment for the sake of all other beings.
Bliss and emptiness can appear in any form whatsoever, of course, but we may as well embrace the blissful forms of the Buddhas and their Pure Lands. Why go to the trouble of inventing the appearance of infinite good qualities, imagining how they might show themselves, when generations of enlightened beings have already shown them to us?! Why wish for mundane or ordinary good things to happen when we can set our imaginations free to have the glorious body, enjoyments, environments, and deeds of Buddha Heruka and Buddha Vajrayogini?! Their reality, as evinced in everything about the way they appear, is wild and free and blissful and compassionate already. It is a blessed and powerful expression of the completely pure mind of bliss and emptiness.
Point here being that I can and already do have anything I want within the Pure Land of Heruka and Vajrayogini, so why bother about the loss of a few ordinary appearances to an ordinary mind? Why not just stay in the Pure Land full time instead?
A similar point could be made about making mandala offerings, the offerings of entire pure universes. I can offer countless iPhones appearing from the pure mind of bliss and emptiness on behalf of me and everyone else. And these offerings will result in the appearances of bliss-inducing iPhones sooner or later …
Okay, enough of that for now, I can see my Dad shaking his head. Your comments are most welcome in the comments section below.