What to do when feeling despair

getting out of bed 2

The world’s a mess! But please don’t despair …

This is the second half of this article.

Got blessings?

There is so much suffering in the world right now – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just wave a magic wand and have it all go away? Well, in a way, we can. For that is what blessings do.

I find it doesn’t hurt to tune into blessings whenever I need shadows chased away. Blessings always cheer me up. One quick way to feel them is by recognizing I am not outside enlightened beings’ minds and they are not outside mine.

Whatever faith we are – Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, etc. – we can all pray and receive powerful blessings for ourselves and others. This is because holy beings transcend our labels and help everyone who asks – that’s their job. If we are a living being, we have a divine spark in our heart (in Buddhism, we call it our Buddha nature) that will be ignited if we allow ourselves to believe in blessings.

Our prayers for others act as a bridge between them and the holy beings we are praying to. In the midst of the deepest depression, glimmers of light can appear in people’s minds through the force of our prayers invoking blessings. Some hope reappears to quell the hopelessness — a little window through which they can peek through the murk of their delusions to a brighter day. This is step #1 in their feeling better.

prayer mudraIt is always worth remembering that holy beings are infinitely larger than samsara – they can flick away our samsaric nightmare with one finger if we let them. They appear in forms to show just this – the Wisdom Buddha cuts it down at its root with his wisdom sword, for example, and Buddha Vajrayogini swipes it away with her curved knife.

We can also send blessings from our own good heart – such as in taking and giving, which can be supercharged in our Tantric practice when we have generated ourself as a Buddha (see next section). There is always something we can be doing to help those around us and in our world.

Remember who we really are …

We are usually so wrapped up in an ordinary, limited sense of ourself, replete with all its suffering and lamentation – but that self does not exist and we can learn to drop it, more and more quickly.

Who we are depends on who we think we are at any given time, as explained here. When I stop identifying with the limited, painful self that doesn’t even exist — just drop it and generate a more realistic and less deluded vision of myself, eg, as a Bodhisattva warrior or a Dakini — I find I can accept the past, present, and future perfectly happily.

So, if I am in a bad mood, I dissolve all those mistaken dream-like appearances into ultimate truth emptiness and arise in a new dream as a Bodhisattva Heroine, whereby everything and indeed every time — present, past, and future – looks very different. Plus, whenever we self-generate as a Bodhisattva or a Buddha, we automatically receive blessings.

be someone

And, by the way, we need to think “I AM a holy being”, not “I am an ordinary being pretending to be a holy being.” We are neither inherently pure nor impure. We are neither inherently ordinary nor extraordinary. Who we are is not absolute but relative for it depends upon many factors, including our thoughts.*

Self-generation as a Buddha is not a device. It is reality. It is far more realistic than grasping with ignorance at an inherently existent ordinary person and not letting go.

It takes practice and mindfulness, but there does come a time when it is harder to hold onto a deluded sense of self than a cool, happy, heroic one, because our thought habits have changed.

… and who others are

And others are not inherently impure either, so we can generate them as blissful pure appearances of our blissful pure mind. With that, we are halfway there — they will catch up to that pure view themselves one day.

We are making all this up anyway — the attractive friend I see, for example, is totally different to the “meh” stranger you see. Who is right? It depends. So we may as well make this relativity work for us by choosing the thoughts that will liberate us all.

In Sutra it is the same principle — we change people by changing our thoughts. We transform people into objects of love with our mind of love, for instance, thus making them lovable as opposed to annoying appearances to our aversion. And this helps to bring out their good qualities as a result.

(*To get profound for a sec: it is not just any old thoughts that we identify ourselves with in Tantra – we are identifying ourselves with omniscient wisdom and bliss, which in fact source and pervade all reality. We can think of our very subtle mind as like an ocean from which “all subject minds and object things arise simultaneously, like waves” as ocean wavesVenerable Geshe Kelsang put it in 2000. That root mind will, when purified, become the omniscient wisdom and bliss of a Buddha; so in Tantra we bring the result into the path by identifying ourselves with that in the present moment. Also, if we take care of the ocean by purifying it, the waves of our thoughts and appearances will take care of themselves.)

Radical acceptance

Bodhisattvas can accept whatever comes up for the sake of helping others — everything that appears to them helps their renunciation, or compassion, or patience, etc.

Dakinis or Heroines also accept all appearances as part of a totality, not discriminating between pleasant and unpleasant appearances because they are all equal in emptiness. They are all equally part of Heruka and Vajrayogini’s blissful mandala, which includes the celestial mansion and the terrifying charnel grounds.

(Just to get a bit profound again for a moment … apart from bliss and emptiness, everything is mistaken appearance, hallucination. So take it with a pinch of salt!)

Bit of purification

Purification practice also comes in very handy when we are in a really bad mood, to wipe away the most stubborn-seeming karmic appearances and ordinary conceptions. Out of space here — check out this article.

Summary

When I keep doing any of the things explained in these last two articles — letting any re-visiting sadness remind me to do it – then there is no problem.

As someone generally interested in the spiritual path, we can learn to keep our eye on the prize – which is enlightenment (however we currently understand it) and the permanent end of suffering. Then I think we will find creative ways to do whatever works to lift ourselves and others out of any temporary funk.

So, no guarantees I won’t feel sad again in samsara, but that’s ok; it can be put to good use.

Over to you: Have you dealt successfully with any calamities lately? Are you finding ways to avoid falling into despair over the current world situation? Care to share?

 

The relevance of inner peace

Right now it may seem as though our problems are getting in the way of our inner peace. But the only thing getting in the way is that we’re clutching onto our problems and determined to solve them all out there. Anxiety can arise when we feel an excessive need to do this, and what it does it shake our mind up more and more with inappropriate attention – dwelling, exaggerating, conceptualizing, elaborating – whether this be our relationships, our politics, our health, our work, war with Korea, etc. We’re like a dog with a bone, we can’t let go.

Carrying on from this article.

The need to solve our problems becomes more compelling the more we focus on them with inappropriate attention.

But ironically we feel more and more powerless to solhead in cloudsve our problems because our mind is getting more and more out of control. Then, when we feel powerless, and that things have slipped out of our control, we get even more anxious and frustrated — we cannot see clearly what to do. You know that expression, we cannot see the wood for the trees.

Inner peace really does solve problems

It can take a while to become totally convinced that inner peace can solve our problems, even when we’ve had experience of this truth. This is because we have a deep habit of relying upon delusions to try and solve our problems. We are pretty attached to solving everything outside the mind.

For example, you ever had that feeling that you don’t even WANT to solve the problem you are having with an irritating person by letting go of your irritation because that just lets them off the hook!? We want to send them the irate email, we want them to know what we think of them, we want them to feel bad – and only when those goals are accomplished might we be ready to sit down and meditate. Or when we’re feeling hurt and neglected by our object of attachment, we don’t want to feel all peaceful by letting go of the attachment. No, THEY are obviously the ones who should change!

Outer and inner problems 

I’m not saying we don’t sort external problems out at all. Of course we have to pay some attention to them; but it is the kind of attention that matters. We need to approach these problems not from an unbalanced, chaotic mind, but from the sanity of inner peace.

To sort the outside out, we need to pay at least as much attention to the inside.

One of the most useful teachings we could ever stumble across is the difference between outer and inner problems. The classic example Geshe Kelsang uses is if our car breaks down — do we have a problem!? Sure our car has a problem (the outer problem); but we only have a problem if our mind gets upset (the inner problem). We deal with these problems in outer and inner ways — cars go to the garage, and inner problems need to be solved by transforming the mind.head in clouds 1

It is helpful to remember that solving our own and others’ outer problems — in itself — is never going to solve the inner problems, however busy or expert we become. But that’s ok, because even though we may never be able to solve every difficult situation, we CAN slowly but surely solve all our inner problems. And, as Venerable Geshe Kelsang says:

If we were to respond to difficult situations with a positive or peaceful mind they would not be problems for us; indeed, we may even come to regard them as challenges or opportunities for growth and development. ~ How to Transform Your Life, page 10

So we can afford to relax. We don’t need to feel bad about relaxing. Quite the opposite. Try, don’t worry, as Geshe Kelsang also says. Or, another favorite Kadampa quote:

Always rely upon a happy mind alone.

Come to love the space

As explained here, when problems come up they seem like reality because our head is in the clouds. We are caught up in the storms. We make them very real, very solid. Therefore, we are in worry.

head in the clouds 2Any problem tends to fill our mind when we’re in the middle of it. Our problems seem all encompassing — we have to get rid of them. But can you remember the problem you were having this time last week? This time last year?! It seemed totally compelling at the time, so where’s it gone, why can’t we even remember what it was?!

When we do allow our mind to experience its natural inner peace by letting go and relaxing into our heart, we see for ourselves how space solves problems. Just putting space around our problems, getting them into perspective, helps hugely. We relax and we see more clearly a way forward. We stop panicking. A cloud surrounded by an infinite sky is no big deal. On the basis of our mind being quieter, more mindful, more clear, we can then turn it to deep Dharma topics that will uproot all our problems more permanently.

Trusting inner peace

No matter how slight it is, or how relative, we can trust our inner peace. But we cannot trust our distorted, agitated states of mind, any more than we can trust a churned up lake to accurately reflect what is going on around it. The more peaceful our mind, the more in tune with reality, the more accurately it reflects the world. Truthfully, the world is just a reflection of our mind to begin with. This is why Geshe Kelsang says:

Without inner peace, there can be no outer peace.

Because we can trust inner peace, go there as often as you can. Even if it is only for a few minutes in the restroom at work, that will do it. As soon as you feel some inner peace, give yourself the permission to enjoy it, to remain with it, to remember “This is who I am.” It may sound unlikely while we are feeling anxious, but one day we will get to the point where we can bliss out whenever we want 🙂

And, far from being irresponsible or escapist, this will give us the power to solve stuff. It will give us the power to help others for, if we ain’t got it, how can we give it?

Thead in clouds 3his peace and bliss are sanity, reality. It is the delusions that are distorted. They are faulty ways of thinking that are not based on sanity and that make everything seem like a problem. Trust the truth of peace, compassion, kindness, and wisdom instead; they’ll never let us down.

How do I get started?

You may be thinking, “All this is easier said than done.” Well of course it takes no time to get these ideas written down on this page, but the reason these ideas are still around is because they work, countless people have benefited from them. We too can give ourselves permission to relax if we understand its importance and relevance to our “real world” problems. We can make time each day to sit quietly and look within, and the investment of time is going to be more than worth it. We could end up being far more productive! What have we got to lose?!

I am not even talking about hours and hours a day. I’m talking 10 to 20 minutes. Seriously. That’s really not a lot of time. You’ll may want to do more as you get better at it and love it more and more, but that’s not the point, you still only need 10 to 20 minutes to get started.

To summarize, learning to let go and relax through breathing meditation (a) feels good, (b) gives us essential space and perspective, and (c) is part of reality – it is sanity.

Bonus
Je Tsongkhapa on clouds
Je Tsongkhapa appearing on clouds of compassion

As a (big) bonus, this peace is also not separate from the non-deluded peaceful reality and good heart of an enlightened being, as explained here. Feel your connection to enlightenment, however you understand it, the divine. The more we recognize this, the more peaceful, blessed, and inspired we feel. Enlightened beings see us as we really are – at heart pure and good and worry-free, just not yet realizing it.

Related articles

How to overcome anxiety

Going wide means going deep

Acceptance — the first step toward self-transformation

 

A skeptic’s guide to Buddhas and blessings

By a guest writer and long-term meditator

Buddha for skeptic.jpgI live in a country where the majority of the population identify themselves as non-religious (agnostic or atheist). They are not closed minded people, rather just naturally skeptical. So, for some time now I have been pondering how to explain the existence of Buddhas and blessings to a life-long skeptic. Most importantly, how can they come to explore the truth of both for themselves, experientially.

Connecting to a peaceful reality

Through even the simplest form of meditation — breathing meditation — everyone can learn how to connect to a relatively peaceful mind. When we are experiencing a little peace we are, at that time, tasting a little of what it’s like for someone who experiences their life as peaceful, whether that’s for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or all day!

Buddha explained there is no world outside our mind — our personal world, our life, is a reflection of our mind. If our mind is peaceful, our life will be experienced as peaceful; if it’s not, it won’t. So, those peaceful moments in meditation are revealing a little of our potential to live from the perspective of a peaceful reality.

This peaceful potential is what we call in Buddhism our “Buddha nature”. Someone who has fully actualized this inner potential and accomplished a supreme and lasting peace of mind and happiness, moment to moment, is an enlightened being, a Buddha. Everyone has this potential. To know it experientially we just need to connect to a little peace.

breathing-meditationA Buddha experiences their life always as a profoundly peaceful reality. Our moment of peace in meditation (or out of meditation) is revealing our potential to one day live from that supremely peaceful reality ourselves.

In his book The New Eight Steps to Happiness, my teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:

It is also important to understand how we too can become a Buddha, for when we are confident that enlightenment is a possibility for us we will naturally feel much closer to those who have already attained enlightenment.

For me, this has many levels of meaning. One way of understanding it is that the more we learn to access and abide in the experience of a peaceful mind, the more we become ‘confident that enlightenment is a possibility for us’; and gradually we ‘feel much closer to those who have already attained enlightenment’. Not just ideologically, but in our direct experience.

The key is, Buddha explained how our normal sense of a separate self and separate mind is mistaken. In reality there is no separate mind or self. So in reality our mind is never separate from the minds of all enlightened beings, and, when we experience a little peace, to some degree we are letting go of that experience of a separate mind and self. At that moment we are connecting with the vast peace of enlightenment, Buddha’s mind. That connection to the peace of enlightenment is what we call, in Buddhism, a blessing.

Geshe Kelsang defines blessings as:

The transformation of our mind from a negative state to a positive state, from an unhappy state to a happy state, or from a state of weakness to a state of strength through the inspiration of holy beings such as our Spiritual Guide, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Blessings, when two minds connect

reach-enlightenmentA friend of mind explains it in a very simple and practical way. He says that blessings are simply when two minds connect. We probably all know a peaceful, positive and kind friend whom, when we spend time with them, we generally leave feeling better for the encounter. It seems the best of who they are draws out the best of who we are, and we often leave them feeling more peaceful, positive and kind than when we arrived. These are the people we hear ourselves saying, ‘I feel blessed to have them in my life’. Most of us can understand and accept this explanation of blessings.

Connecting with enlightenment

The challenge is when we try to understand how we receive the blessings of a Buddha. The reason for this is very simple, we can see our kind friend, we can’t see Buddhas.

However, just because we cannot see them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. For example, have you ever seen wind? Yet, if you open your window on a windy day you will feel it and its power immediately. Although we cannot see wind, we can still harness its power to accomplish beneficial outcomes, like powering wind turbines which power electricity plants.

It’s similar with the blessings of Buddhas — we may not be able to see Buddhas (at the moment!), but we can certainly feel their presence through the peaceful power of their blessings. So the good news is that even the most skeptical of us can learn to tap into this ocean of peaceful positive energy / blessings of enlightenment, whenever we wish.

How? Simply close your eyes, focus on your breath, and connect to a peaceful mind. Then just allow yourself to imagine (and in time to know) that your little peace is connecting you to the limitless peace and goodness of enlightenment, connecting with a Buddha’s mind. Gradually this is what you will experience.

With our eyes closed, centered in that inner experience in meditation, notice how that seems quite real for you. Also, notice how when you open your eyes all your doubts naturally come back. Why?

Let your experience reveal a deeper knowing

The reason for this is that when we are focused inwards (in our inner world) we are relying upon our direct experience, and when we open our eyes (back in our outer world) we go back to relying upon our so-called 5-sitting-at-the-dock-of-the-bayrational, logical mind.

This is the downside of our over-reliance on science as the only barometer of truth. We discount our own direct experience in favor of the so-called logic and truth of science. I am not dismissing science; it has many good qualities. However, when it becomes a dogma it can limit us in our exploration of deeper truth. The only constancy in science is that it is constantly proving that what we previously dogmatically thought to be true was, in fact, wrong!

Geshe Kelsang refers to Kadam Dharma as:

Scientific methods to improve our human nature and qualities.

Meditation and Dharma is inner science, the science of conscious experience. We prove empirically that by continually centering in a peaceful heart and opening up to the idea that we are connecting to the vast peace of enlightenment, this is exactly what we prove to be true, through our own direct experience, empirically.

The key is, give yourself permission to let go of what you think you know (just for a few moments!), until your experience in meditation reveals a far deeper knowing. Discover for yourself how when we surrender our current logic to our own direct experience, we find it a far more reliable barometer of truth.

Let your peace flow to the ocean

river flowing.pngHave you ever noticed that a flowing river, no matter how small, naturally flows to the ocean. It’s always flowing to something far greater. So it is with our little peace. Whenever we are experiencing a flow of peaceful, positive energy in our heart, for example through love or any other positive state of mind, we are immediately connecting to the ocean of peace that is enlightenment, we are experiencing a blessing.

Just as the river is never separate from the ocean, so our little peace is always connected to this ocean of peace that is enlightenment. We just need to recognize this and then relax into and abide with that connection to enlightenment. In this way we allow this enlightened energy to awaken our potential for love, compassion, and wisdom, as well as pure peace and happiness.

Plug in and awaken your potential

In the eco-friendly city I live in, there is an increasing demand for Tesla electric cars. I’m not much of a car person myself, but I’m reliably informed that they are a thing of great beauty and potential. Apparently the new ones can go from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds! However, if your Tesla car is sitting on the side of the road and hasn’t been plugged into an electricity source, its extraordinary potential remains dormant and it can’t take you anywhere.

In a similar way, everyone already has an extraordinary (and indestructible) potential for enlightenment, our Buddha nature. This potential will remain dormant in us until we connect to an enlightened energy source, an enlightened being’s mind.

It’s simple really — the only way to enlightenment is through enlightenment.

Through plugging into the limitless peace and goodness of enlightenment in the form of blessings, we can awaken our potential for limitless compassion, wisdom, peace, and pure happiness.

Buddha in water.jpgPractically, it’s similar to what happens when hanging out with your peaceful, positive friend. The best in him or her draws out the best in us. Just take some time every day in the inner experience of meditation to connect to a flow of peace (or any virtuous mind), and then allow that flow to connect you to the ocean of peace and goodness that is enlightenment. Just spend time with the most peaceful, positive person there is, Buddha! And allow the very best in him or her to draw out the very best in you — to awaken your Buddha nature.

It’s easier than we think

Then we will understand what Geshe Kelsang means in the book Joyful Path of Good Fortune, when he says:

The instructions of Lamrim are easy to put into practice.

The ease comes from knowing (through experience) that we are not doing this on our own, thank goodness! Rather, we are attaining enlightenment through our creative, dynamic relationship with enlightenment.

Over to you, comments for our guest author are welcome!

Related articles

Meditation in the pursuit of happiness 

Other articles on blessings

Exploring our potential for peace and omniscience

 

Why pray?

By the way, during that meditation I described on the meditation on the nature of the mind, the moment we notice we are distracted we can ask the same question, “What is it that is aware?” so that we return to the clarity of the mind, allowing the distracting concern to dissolve back into the clarity like a wave settling into a still ocean.

Pebbles-in-water501There are other legitimate things to do as well if we find ourselves too tempted to get involved with our thoughts — we can recall subtle impermanence, that these things are already gone, and in that way let them dissolve spontaneously away. Or we can recall the suffering nature of contaminated phenomena, that the end of collection is dispersion and so on, motivating us to deepen our meditation. These ways into the clarity of the mind were taught by Venerable Geshe Kelsang in his fantastic 2000 AD teachings combining Mahamudra and the four seals, and I’d love to get around to talking about them some day as they have helped me immeasurably. The main object of meditation is clarity, so once we have found that we stick with it; but we can use various contemplations to help us get there.

This article is part of a series of Mahamudra articles. Those of you who know about Lamrim, or the stages of the path to enlightenment, may wonder where meditating on the nature of the mind appears in the 21 meditations? It doesn’t explicitly, but it is our favored object of tranquil abiding (#19), and it does appear in many other places in the Kadampa books, such as How to Understand the Mind and Mahamudra Tantra, and in detail in two chapters of Clear Light of Bliss. It also features in Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s new book, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, in which the first of the five stages of the actual practice of Mahamudra is identifying our own mind and meditating on tranquil abiding.

Prayers and blessings

You may have noticed that in this tradition we like to practice in conjunction with prayers (whether we say them out loud or not). When some of you first encounter the prayers, you think, “How wonderful, I love them!” … but there are not many of you. A lot of people’s initial response is “What? I thought they didn’t have this in Buddhism! I came to relax and now you want me to sing?!” And then we reconcile ourselves to the idea: “Ah well, I’ll settle my mind with the breathing meditation, let my mind rest and ramble during the prayers, and then focus again when I am back on the meditation.” That, of course, is not the idea. As Geshe Kelsang has warned us many times, we don’t want to get into the bad habit of parroting the prayers. Instead we can start off really well by communing with enlightened beings.

The main purpose of prayers is to change our mind in a good direction and to receive blessings. With blessings we are essentially connecting our mind to an enlightened being’s mind and, in doing so, adding a lot of power and fluidity to our meditations. This exponentially facilitates and deepens our experience.

This meditation on the nature of the mind is part of the Mahamudra practice, which is the heart essence of our lineage, the Ganden Oral Lineage, and lies at the very heart of our Spiritual Guide’s experience. So this particular Mahamudra lineage that we are receiving comes directly from Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the new Kadampa tradition; and it is exceedingly blessed. As Venerable Geshe-la says in Great Treasury of Merit, thousands of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples gained deep experience through putting these methods into practice, attaining the illusory body, clear light, and full enlightenment.

It is very important for us to recognize and think about blessings, for otherwise, when we meditate, WE try to meditate. Meaning that while identifying ourselves in an ordinary limited way, we try to coerce our mind into having very profound experiences of the subtle dimensions of reality. Basically, we are TRYING in the wrong way. We are putting the onus on our SELF, and in particular our ordinary sense of self.

I think often when we sit down to meditate we immediately bring up an association with our self, the one that is not that good at meditating. We only think about this sense of self when it is time to meditate, when we feel we need to cajole it, “This time, you are going to do it!”, and then basically push to have an experience of the clarity of the mind. And of course what can happen is that we end up not having this experience, which in a rather subconscious gratifying way affirms what we knew all along, ie, that we are not very good at meditating. It reinforces our underlying sense of discouragement, a common type of laziness.

This is a great shame with this great gift of Mahamudra. Hence, blessings.

Buddha is not outside our mind

Everything we experience is not outside our mind, nothing is outside the mind. For example, is the sound of the bird inside or outside? You cannot separate it from your perception, you cannot draw a line between the perception and the sound; so it is inside. Your experience of your friend is your experience of your friend, inside, not out.

Homs Syria
Aleppo, Syria, February 2016. We need enlightenment.

So when we bring to mind Buddha, he or she is not outside my mind. There is no need to buy into the dualistic appearance of a gap or separation – my isolated meditation over here and the Awakened Ones having a great time over there. When we pray, we are not petitioning external forces but awakening our own potential by recognizing it is not separate from the minds of all enlightened beings. And we are doing this for everyone.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang says every single peaceful mind and happiness arises through Buddha’s blessings. (There is a great explanation of that in this guest article.) According to Geshe-la:

Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and whose function is to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day. Only human beings can attain this through practicing meditation. How fortunate we are! ~ The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, p. 3.

We can understand that whenever we develop a positive mind, in that moment, when we allow ourselves to be happy, we have disengaged from delusions to some extent. We have allowed our mind to come into alignment with a Buddha’s non-deluded reality, which is pervaded by peace, joy, love, etc; tapping into a profound enlightenment.

Settling

So we need to allow that to happen rather than the clutching “Yikes, grab my peace, it’s disappearing!” rodeo experience of meditating. Our meditation should not be a rodeo; it should feel instead like a settling. The word we use, in Clear Light of Bliss for example, is “Settling like a still ocean.” We use our own experience of peace to help settle into a vast transcendent experience of peace, joy, etc.finding happiness

My peace is already connected to Buddha’s peace, great! So we start not from disconnection but from connection, from refuge, and allow the prayers to deepen that experience naturally. Geshe Kelsang has likened prayers to an old man’s stick, a reminder to their meaning. So we let the words suggest the minds, as opposed to forcing the minds and getting tired and distracted. We enjoy what we’re saying, saying it from the heart, while abiding in that communion.

Then when it is time to meditate, we do so while continuing to bathe in that experience – we don’t LEAVE the blessings. It’s not like filling our car up with gas and then driving off, here I am all on my own again. We meditate WITH blessings, we can even let the Spiritual Guide do the meditation for us for he really wants to help and he is very good at this. Instead of combat with obstacles, nay-saying, and distractions, we can really relax. From the point of view of the Spiritual Guide, there are no obstacles, and we are already fantastic. We could do a lot worse than to get into the habit of seeing ourself through his eyes.

Look in the mirror

Do you want to know what else I do?! I look at a picture of my favorite enlightened being and think I am looking in the mirror. We don’t have to feel that we are unworthy or light years pebble in wateraway from our Spiritual Guide or the Buddhas. That is ordinary appearance, and they don’t ever see us as ordinary or limited.

So feel free at any time during the meditation to reconnect with the Spiritual Guide and simply ask, “Please help me with clarity.” If we throw a pebble in the pond and wait, ripples will gradually arise. We ask for some guidance or inspiration, and then we wait.

Do leave a comment to add anything else that is helpful or ask questions.

State of flow

Some people talk these days about “peak experiences”, and how they give meaning to a human life; like when you skateboard over the great wall of China with a sprained ankle and your mind is so focused and death-aware that you are totally and utterly in the zone, you can put weight on your foot painlessly, you seem to drop down into a more spacey, subtle level of consciousness, and it feels great. But, honestly, you can gain the same blissful effect far more safely (and inexpensively) by learning to meditate properly.
hacking-flow-achieving-ultimate-human-potential-1-638Not only that, but there is no comparison in terms of meaning, for meditation lets us have peak experiences not only now but in all our future lives. Meditation is transcendent – it increases our human capacity from initial scope to middle scope to great scope. A few years ago a friend of my cousin’s was telling us how she liked to jump out of airplanes because it was the only time she felt so “incredibly alive”. Ironically (or not), she died quite young last year, of commonplace cancer. Already with initial scope we are mindful of death, so each moment of this fleeting precious life can be an opportunity for a peak experience, for feeling just as incredibly alive as my once-acquaintance plummeting through the sky.

And through meditation we grow into relaxed Yogis bound for liberation (middle scope), cool, heroic Bodhisattvas (great scope), and then fully Awakened Ones, omniscient beings who can bless each and every living being every day, freeing the world from suffering. No skiing, skateboarding, surfing, skydiving, or high-wire walking can ever do that for us, even if we don’t have a fatal accident.*

One thing that does inspire me about people who push the boundaries, though, is that they are not discouraged, they have vision. They don’t assume, “I’ve never done this before so I will never be able to do it.” We could be more like that. Just because we haven’t gotten enlightened before doesn’t mean we cannot do it now. Just because Buddhism is new to the modern world doesn’t mean that it is not going to take this world by storm, with the help of our own examples.portugal-festival-2

I was in NYC for the last few weeks and many people were pouring in for meditation classes every day. This upsurge of interest is happening in other places too, and is light years away from the early days of Buddhism in the West. I remember, 35 years ago, the organizers being excited when 100 people showed up for Geshe Kelsang’s teachings in the so-called North Wing gompa at Manjushri Center, whereas now, at Kadampa festivals around the world, thousands is the norm. And studies on the benefits of mindfulness and other Buddhist techniques are everywhere you turn, mainstream, such as in the big display on the ground floor of Denver library. The snowball has already started its roll.

There is also related talk these days about being in a state of flow – extreme athletes or insanely talented artists being prime examples, but I think we all enter the zone to some extent whenever we engage in some creative act with concentration, eg, gardening, flowwriting, acting, composing, playing music, etc. We do love this because we are experiencing some degree of euphoria or bliss at that time, our most gross, chunky, talky, concretizing mind is temporarily turned down so we are at peace.

And Dharma minds put us in a state of flow – refuge and love spring to mind, but also wisdom, compassion, maybe all of them! And not least Mahamudra. 

Training in concentration

In this article, I talked about what was Mahamudra Tantra, namely the union of bliss and emptiness. Meditation on the nature of our mind is the access point to Mahamudra, enabling us to improve our mindfulness so that we can then meditate on emptiness and the union of bliss and emptiness. According to the Ganden oral lineage, Je-Tsongkhapaour “ear-whispered lineage” passed down through a succession of awesome practitioners to the present day, it is the recommended object for training in concentration.

Geshe Kelsang, modern-day Mahamudra Master, has said:

Make meditation work.

This means we make it work for us, and I think we need not be scared to experiment with the ingredients previous Yogis and Yoginis have given us, any more than those crazy snowboarders are afraid to experiment with what they have learned. We can put together these following elements of dropping into our heart, experiencing peace, receiving blessings, and meditating on clarity in whichever way helps us gain the peak experiences.

Short meditation

So here is a short suggested meditation to help you enter the state of flow without having to leave your armchair (though do put your coffee cup down for a moment …)

We first drop from our head into our heart chakra in the middle of our chest, sensing already some peace and space. (Our heart is where we feel things most deeply – for example, where do you place your hand when you want to express love?) We feel grateful and happy at our good fortune at still being alive, still having this opportunity (for forget skateboarding, even shoveling can kill us); and make a decision to apply ourselves gently without expectation to our meditation.

With this decision, we consciously breathe out whatever is on our mind, let it go with each natural exhalation. Our thoughts only have the power we give them; we don’t ever need to feel intimidated by them. We are infinitely bigger than them, bigger even than the sky is to the clouds. With each breath, space opens up in our mind and we feel lighter and cleaner.

As we inhale we experience the breath as radiant light, the most beautiful, blessed light we can imagine, which we breathe right down into our heart. Through enjoying this process, our awareness is also drawn naturally toward our heart, riding upon our breath. This light is the nature of our Spiritual Guide’s mind, peaceful inspiration that soaks into our root mind. We feel our awareness becoming centered within a light, calm experience at our heart, and there we abide.

Within this, we ask: “What is the mind? What is it that is aware of the sounds, sensations, distractions? Where is it?”, so that instead of focusing all our attention on their “content” we use these thoughts to help us become aware of awareness itself. We recognize the clarity — the inner empty space with no shape, no color, no size, no material properties, no form — that possesses the power to perceive, that is conscious. We stay here, experiencing clarity moment by moment.

zone_4We can appreciate the extraordinary beauty of the nature of our mind, which is limitless clarity and unbounded potential. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could gain deep experience of the nature of our mind, and through this accomplish Mahamudra and full enlightenment? For this, we need to do ourselves an enormous favor and receive blissings — commune with the mind of enlightenment itself, with our Spiritual Guide and all the Buddhas.

We feel that our present mind of peace or contentment, however slight or relative, is connected to our Spiritual Guide’s mind of peace, that we are already abiding in a heart-to-heart communion with all the Buddhas, and in particular to their full experience of Mahamudra. We take a moment to recognize this, to relax into our peaceful mind, knowing that we are not separate from Buddha’s transcendent consciousness, knowing that there is an ocean of assistance on hand. We are really in the zone now; whereas before we may have felt unsure, now we feel very confident that we can pull this meditation off.

We can feel too that we are meditating on our root or very subtle mind, which is naturally blissful. (Imagine bliss if you don’t feel it, everything begins in our imagination, it is still authentic.)

With this connection, we can if we wish engage in Liberating Prayer, Prayers for Meditation, Heart Jewel, or any prayers we like, and then continue with more Mahamudra meditation, pausing any time to feel that connection with the mind of enlightenment. Or you can open your eyes and get on with your day, thinking it could be your last & staying in the zone …

(*There is a bit more to say about the state of the flow, and how it increases performance; so I’ll explore it a bit more in a future article on refuge. This is intended as a conversation starter, so I welcome your insights into the subject. Indeed, Helen has already written a very helpful comment below.) 

Mahamudra blessing

DMV
Boring!

I just failed my drive test. I was sort of speeding without realizing it, so I guess I deserved that and don’t mind too much. (I also knew things didn’t bode too well when, unavailingly trying to woo the instructor with my suave in-control persona, the alarm went off as I opened the door … and, being as it wasn’t my car, I had no clue how to turn it off again.) More to the point, however, is why am I even having to take a drive test when I’ve already been driving for 30 years?!* But one may just as well ask, “Why do I have to take rebirth and go to school all over again? I already flipping well did that.”

I was asking myself just this while I waited the 50 unsettling minutes at the Denver DMV leading up to my failed test. Samsara is relentlessly monotonous and we keep having to do things we don’t want to do, not just once but over and over and over, ad infinitum. We keep having to take tests, even though I have only met about 3 people in my life who like them, and no one looked too exhilarated to be on their plastic chairs in the DMV. A friend of mine has to re-sit her whole psychotherapy exam just because she has moved to a new state, even though she has been a psychotherapist for hundreds of years. It’s annoying. And that is just in this one life. In samsara, we keep on having to re-learn stuff we already spent way too long learning and have no need for – I sometimes think the only thing I have retained from geography lessons, for example, is a rudimentary knowledge of ox-bow lakes, and I have yet to find a way to put that to any use.

Why do I mention this? Well, because when I think about dying and taking even a best-case scenario human rebirth, I think how much I dread having to go to school all over again. So then I think I want to get out of samsara quickly by accessing and purifying my very subtle mind, and how right now, in this precious human life, I have the opportunity to do so, lucky me. Which motivates me to practice meditation with an appreciative mind, with a good feeling of gratitude in fact.

Continuing from this article on Mahamudra.

An ocean of helpMahamudra

Whenever we practice meditation, especially meditation on Mahamudra, it makes a huge difference if we know that we are not doing this on our own. We are connecting to a lineage through our Spiritual Guide, through his or her Spiritual Guide, and so on, back through an ocean of practitioners to Buddha himself. Their minds are all on offer so we can connect to a vast reservoir of assistance. It is not us duking it out with our delusions on our own. Not at all. Receiving blessings may not come intuitively, we need to train. Why? One reason is that we are in exile in our head most of the time, and it doesn’t occur to us to go into our heart and connect.

First way to receive blessings

This is something I like to do before doing any meditation, and it works very well with Mahamudra.

We imagine we are receiving the blessings of Buddha and all holy beings in the form of blissful lights or rays of sunshine, coming from their hearts and filling our body and mind. This enlightened energy, enlightened mind, mixes with our mind like light mixing with light. We can do this after reciting some prayers, if we like, such as Prayers for Meditation or Heart Jewel, where “receiving blessings” is almost always indicated – but we can also do it anytime, anywhere. We are bathing in an ocean of delicious blessings, which are very interesting and also everywhere.

As explained more here, blessings, or “jin gyi lob” in Tibetan, means “transformation through inspiration”, and they are not that mysterious — we are affected Man walking through doorway with ocean, in desertby even ordinary  waves of mental energy so of course we can be uplifted by transcendent minds if we tune into them. This makes everything easier. We can receive blessings from any holy being we believe in, whoever works for us. Traditionally for Mahamudra meditation we rely on Je Tsongkhapa.

Why Je Tsongkhapa?

Je Tsongkhapa is the founder of our Buddhist tradition, the Kadampa tradition. He lived in the 14th century but his teachings are still flourishing because they have been carried from generation to generation in an unbroken lineage all the way, marvelously enough, to us. I believe that Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is the latest in the line of fully realized adepts in this lineage, and he has made it his life’s work to help us gain these realizations. And Mahamudra (literally, the union of great bliss and emptiness) is the specialty of this tradition. Buddha Shakyamuni gave 84,000 different teachings, and the pith essence of all of them is Mahamudra. As one scholar, Gungtang, puts it (using Je Tsongkhapa’s ordained name, Losang Dragpa):

The emptiness that is explained in Buddha’s Sutra teachings,
And the great bliss that is explained in Buddha’s Tantric teachings –
The union of these two is the very essence of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings.
May the doctrine of Conqueror Losang Dragpa flourish for evermore.

Now is the time

Oral InstructionsMaybe some of you have reached that place known as “over the hill” and things look very different from this perspective – if you’ve ever biked downhill, you know you speed up. So maybe, we think, maybe we better wait till next time round to attain enlightenment, we might have left it a bit late this time. But the truth is that the opportunity we have now will never get better. We can come under the care and guidance of an exceptionally qualified Mahamudra master. His new book, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, published in Tibetan at the request of many Tibetan practitioners and now translated for us into English and other languages, is unbelievable. Geshe Kelsang is now regarded as the authority in this world on Mahamudra. Sometimes I think we have no idea how fortunate we are. “Kelsang Gyatso” means “ocean of good fortune”, and all the ordained Sangha are given the name “Kelsang Somebody”, meaning “Fortunate Somebody”.

Second way to receive blessings

In the second way of receiving blessings, we can imagine that Buddha, or Guru Tsongkhapa, comes to our crown and his body of wisdom light shrinks to the size of a thumb, facing the same way we face. There is all that Buddha power on our crowns, enlightened beings are all within that space; and then we can imagine Buddha entering through our crown chakra and flowing slowly and blissfully into our heart. As he descends, we slide down with him into our heart. Now he is a presence in our heart, and once again we can think that our minds mix. This helps us get into our heart and also appreciate that he is doing the meditation along with us. It’s not necessary to visualize him clearly, we just think he’s there with us in our heart. We can experience bliss, and then mix that bliss with emptiness or the conventional nature of the mind. Also, we can use that bliss in any meditation, and we can invite any holy being.

Hope you have fun with it!

*The technical, if not karmic, reason is that I let my Florida driving license expire. Like letting life expire before getting some stable, ever-lasting realizations, I guess.

 

Caring for others and helping ourselves

at what distanceAt what distance do we stop caring?

I think this cartoon applies not just to animals in abattoirs, but to all manner of suffering in our world.  At the moment it seems that a lot of us, a lot of the time, try to keep suffering at a distance so we don’t have to think about it. Perhaps we feel forced to deal with it otherwise. How else to explain why we turn a blind eye to the billions of animals being butchered daily behind iron doors, but most of us would label as a sociopath someone who beat an animal to death on the street in front of us? Why we tolerate the gun violence when it is happening in some other country, some other state, some other town, but freak out when it gets closer to home?

Continuing on from this article.

I think due to our Buddha nature,  our innate goodness, we do have a sense of responsibility that kicks in when suffering gets close enough. Maybe it is for that reason that we prefer to physically or emotionally shut it away. However, suffering is around us all the time, and it requires a lot of exhausting mental calisthenics to ignore that. All we need to do to see suffering is “open your eyes” as my teacher Geshe Kelsang says; but we have to want to open our eyes.

Look around. Every person you see has some suffering, something they’d like solved, do they not? It is everywhere but we don’t look around as we don’t feel we can deal with it. But although our self-protective self-cherishing doesn’t want to be bothered with it, “I have to protect myself from suffering!” – in reality we are not protecting ourselves from suffering, we are carrying on suffering by ignoring others’ suffering. It is not self-protective but self-defeating. By ignoring suffering and staying absorbed in our own problems, we never solve our own problems. We’ve tried that, we know. It doesn’t work.

Suffering is not solid

animals belong in our heartsWe also need to overcome the ignorance that believes suffering is so real and so solid and so just there, so what are we supposed to do about it?! Gradually over time we understand more and more how the causes of suffering lie within our minds, and then it becomes more and more obvious how we can help solve our own and others’ problems. It is not that we have immediately to go out and save the whole world – we can’t do that – but compassion is a good and necessary step to getting closer to helping everyone. Eventually our compassion becomes the universal compassion of a Buddha, which is immensely active – protecting, blessing, and inspiring. It can genuinely help everyone experience peace of mind every day.

If we understand how blessings work, we can see how our state of mind in itself will become a source of refuge for others. And opportunities to help others will also arise more and more as our intention expands, as Nagarjuna explains, quoted here.

You may, for example, already be a very compassionate person, and although you are not always necessarily doing something, still the people around you are picking up on it. They feel better around you. We feel better around people who care for us, who want us to be free from suffering. Whether they are doing something about it or not in some ways doesn’t matter – we just want to be in the same room as them. Then, when the opportunity arises, they can help us practically too.

A Bodhisattva is someone who is developing their compassionate Buddha nature to perfection; an enlightened being is someone who has accomplished that. This is a big, universal, deep mind. We can all take the compassion we have now and slowly extend it until it becomes that, at which point we can protect people everywhere as our mind is everywhere. We can become like the sun, or the great earth supporting all living beings. Compassion is a very powerful force, as the article I quoted earlier says too:sunshine

The desire is that people see that kindness isn’t soft or syrupy but it’s actually a really powerful force and that if we actually started to prioritize it, not in a sentimental way but in the same way we might go to the gym to keep fit, it can really make a huge difference to people’s lives.

Eight Steps to Happiness explains a beautiful and extensive meditation on compassion, hopefully you have some time to check it out. In brief, we can bring others into the orbit of our compassion simply by thinking they matter, by loving them, by seeing how they suffer, and by wishing them to be free. We can start with the people for whom we already have an open heart, and then extend our love and compassion as widely as we wish. We can finish our meditation with the big thought:

May everyone be free from suffering and its causes. How wonderful this would be!

Imagine that! Everything starts in the imagination. The world is not fixed. Suffering is not fixed. Life without suffering is possible, and this is where it starts.