Intimations of mortality

5.5 mins read.

Not just anyone can be a Spiritual Guide, of course — it has to be someone who can guide us along the spiritual path. As a reminder of some of their necessary qualifications:

A pure Spiritual Guide must have authentic spiritual attainments, hold a pure lineage, cherish the Buddhadharma, and with love and compassion give unmistaken teachings to his or her disciples. If we meet such a Spiritual Guide we should consider ourself to be very fortunate.

Carrying on from this article, What if Buddha was around today

Once we feel we have found a reliable source of spiritual guidance, here are 5 simple practical things we can do to rely on them.

(1) Feel happy

We can just feel happy about it, for a start. As it says in Great Treasury of Merit:

We should try to feel close to him [or her], maintaining a happy and affectionate mind towards him at all times. We should regard our Spiritual Guide as our mother who cares for us and cherishes us, as our father who provides us with all we need and protects us from danger, as the moon that cools the heat of the delusions in our mental continuum, as the sun that dispels the darkness of ignorance in our mind, and as a kind benefactor who gives us the priceless gift of Dharma.

Why feel happy? Because:

Geshe Potowa says that if a pure disciple meets a pure Spiritual Guide it is not difficult for him or her to reach enlightenment. ~ Great Treasury of Merit

We can hopefully see from these articles that relying on a Spiritual Guide is not about having another authority figure in our life – who wants one of those, really?! Not me. Relying on a Spiritual Guide helps US make spiritual progress – there is a lot more in it for us than for our Spiritual Guide. We can keep reminding ourselves of the benefits until we feel lucky to have found ourselves in this position.

If through relying upon a Spiritual Guide we develop the realizations of the stages of the path to enlightenment within our mental continuum, we will be truly rich, even if we have no material possessions.

No other wealth is going with us. Only our faith and/or spiritual realizations can truly protect our mind when old age ravages our body and death comes knocking.

Not long ago Venerable Geshe-la said something along the lines that ten years goes very quickly. I have been finding this a helpful way to feel the brevity of this human life.  

When we’re 10, 20 seems a zillion miles away, and 30 positively ancient. When we’re 20, 30 on the horizon signals the end of youth but is still a long way ahead, we’ve got this, and there’s no way we’re ever going to be fat and middle-aged let alone old. At the slightly alarming age of 30, time is speeding up, but being 40 and middle-aged is still at a safe distance. Until all of a sudden we rather shockingly hit 40, where even looking at a chocolate donut puts on 5lbs and we are now the lucky recipient of those hilarious “Haha, not enough candles!” birthday cards. We now have to kid ourselves that people are not really middle-aged until they reach 50. At that slightly surreal half-century milestone — “No way can I be 50?!!”– wrinkly 60 seems like the beginning of old age and we are beginning to sense that we might, after all, end up one day being one of those bent-over old people. (Luckily “50 is the new 30!”, only of course it’s not, and you won’t find any 30-year-old agreeing.) When we’re 60, the illusion of youth and beauty — or even middle-age and being relatively presentable — is rapidly slipping, yet we tell each other that old age doesn’t begin until we’re 70. When we reach 70, the decrepitudes of the 80s and 90s are now just around the corner, we’ve seen what happens to people when they hit this wall, but we’re still not too old yet, we still have time to get our acts together … don’t we?!

Point is, don’t these decades actually fly past?, and we only have 8 of them, give or take. We can count them on both hands. It seems like mere months since my friends and I were at those earlier milestones, commiserating or joking with each other about how old we were becoming and how the heck did that happen?! And it was just months.

Nowadays when I look at someone and think “They’re pretty old”, there is an increasing chance that they are younger than me. And I can see from Facebook that younger friends are racing through the decades at the same speed, always relatively young but also undeniably, well, middle-aged. None of us gets away with it, no matter the glamor, wealth, or good genes. The sufferings of sickness and old age get all of us in the end, if we don’t die first. The meaty body and brain always wear out. In Sutra Addressed to a King, Buddha says:

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

Now in London this summer helping my dad take care of my mom, who just got out of hospital, it is very easy to think back to the time when they were both fit and forty and traveling the world — yet here they are now largely stuck inside. This is increasingly the same for the dwindling number of their friends who are still alive, eking out their health and pleasures as long as they can. This is entirely normal. And my generation is next in line. If ever there was a good time to get a move on, that would be now.

Luckily we are not our bodies, our brains, or even our gross minds, not even close. There is an incredibly blissful clear light within all of us, our real home whence life after life we forgettingly arise and return, that totally transcends all these ravages of time. The spiritual path is at its essence being gradually guided to the clear light of bliss by our Spiritual Guide’s teachings and blessings so that we can enjoy it forever.  I must say that my mom surprised me at breakfast this morning by quoting word-perfectly Wordsworth’s mystical Intimations of Immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.

Out of time (as I might soon be saying on my death bed 😳) The remaining four ways of relying upon a Spiritual Guide are coming up in the next article. Meantime over to you, I would love to hear your comments below.

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The end of collection is dispersion …

Clarity

I’m not claiming to be any expert, but I love the meditation on the clarity of the mind. So I thought I’d do some articles and invite your comments.

Here is a quick meditation we can do for starters:

Meditation

We breathe out whatever is on our mind, and all scattered thoughts, gently opening up a space in our awareness.

We enjoy our in-breath as light, drawing it into our heart, allowing our own awareness naturally to be drawn into the heart along with it. Its aspect is light, its nature is peace. We can ride the rays of light into our heart, where they join with the inner light of our pure potential, our natural good heart.

We can focus on a peaceful, light experience at our heart, not a care in the world, allowing our mind to settle here without pushing or expectation. Whatever level of peace we are experiencing, we enjoy ourselves.

We can add to this experience of peace by becoming aware of the mind itself. We simply recognize that we are experiencing our own mind. Clarity. Something that is empty like space, that can never possess form, and that is the basis for perceiving objects.

Our mind is like an inner empty space that has no shape, no color, no size, no physical properties. But that clarity has the power to perceive, to cognize, to remember, to imagine, and even to create reality. It is awareness. And if we get a sense of that clarity, then we gently abide with it, feel absorbed into it.

If we become aware of other thoughts or sounds, rather than rejecting them we simply ask, “What is it that is aware?” We are using the distraction or sound to bring us back to the clarity because the awareness of it is also clarity. And then again we gently abide there, moment by moment.

We allow all our thoughts in this way to dissolve back into the clarity, like waves settling into a still, clear ocean. And we stay there as long as we want, knowing we can always return here.

We always go for what we want

human life cycle 2This meditation, part of Mahamudra, has been practiced for centuries by Buddhists as the method to pacify all distractions, to gain single-pointed concentration and mindfulness, to understand the conventional and ultimate nature of the mind, and to become enlightened. It has so many benefits. If we think about some of these benefits, we may go for it, because we always go for what we want.

And we’ll also be more likely to put effort into this meditation if we compare these benefits with the samsaric alternative. I was reading that famous quote from the Vinaya Sutras recently, where Buddha talks simply and to the point about the sufferings of the cycle of impure life:

The end of collection is dispersion.
The end of rising is falling.
The end of meeting is parting.
The end of birth is death. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune page 285

How does thinking about this change the way we relate to our own life? For the first, for example, we can see that we popped out naked and gradually acquired stuff, maybe a lot – clothes, possessions, friends, a bank account, a mortgage, a garage full of clutter. But the end of collection is dispersion, so instead of thinking “These are mine forever” it is more realistic to think “I’m going to lose these.” Then we’ll naturally be less inclined to seek refuge in them, and more inclined to seek refuge in the happiness that comes from absorbing within to meditate on our own naturally peaceful mind.

death awareness 2At the end of their lives, people often understand pretty well that the end of rising is falling. Maybe we don’t start with much of a reputation, unless we are Prince Harry; but as life goes on it can be that we become better known, and our renown and position increases. Then we retire and shuffle around in our slippers. No one is that interested any more in what we have to say. The other day a friend wrote to me about the funeral of another friend’s father, a colorful bigwig in Fleet Street back in the day, but who, after a slow, painful decline, still ended up in a box:

B was a very big character and obviously widely loved. For me, as always with a death, there is that emotional incomprehension that someone can be there (in a box) and yet no longer there.

There are countless examples of positions gained and lost – the person coming to mind just now is the new Republican Presidential front runner (Ed: oops, spoke too soon 🙁 ); but the fact is we are all bound for a fall however high we have risen. And that is not to mention all our future who da manlives, where we will continue to cycle around and around on a karmic wheel — migrators, Buddha called us, if not refugees. This is unless we can use our lives to train our minds, in which case the older we become, the better off we become; and at the end of our life and in future lives we have a wealth of happiness to help ourselves and others.

As for “the end of meeting is parting”, what effect does contemplating this have on our social life?! Buddha says “parting”, not “partying”!! It is more like, “Hi honey, great to meet you, did you know we were going to part?” How many of our friends do we really feel we are going to lose? Forever?! We say things like “I’m always going to be there for you,” but the fact is we’re not. For most of us, although intellectually we may know it, we feel that this friendship will last forever. It always seems like such a surprise or disappointment when a good friendship ends for whatever reason. But contemplating the truth of this, because I’m afraid it is true, we will naturally stop seeking security where it cannot be found and start to seek it in the clarity of our own root mind, from which all of this stuff comes anyway (more later). And if we do really want to be there for people, and not to lose them, we need to become enlightened as soon as possible.meeting and parting

As for the last line, “The end of birth is death”, not much more to say. Except that if you die today, where will you be tomorrow?

The appearances of this life, as it says in Heruka Tantra, are as fleeting as a flash of lightning. Perhaps we have a few hundred months left to get through the elusive doorway to liberation and enlightenment if we’re lucky. But if we do apply the effort to make that journey, what will it be like? Our mind will be the inner light of wisdom permanently free from mistaken appearances, utterly blissful, able to bless each and every living being every day, pervading all phenomena, and pervaded by universal love and compassion.

Or we could opt for the usual old birth, sickness, ageing, and death instead.

Next installment here. Your comments are welcome!