I just want to stop suffering

7.5 mins read

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 usinisters 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 vacationcredit 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

happy mind aloneI 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.

leaving past behindA 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?

wishfulfilling jewelFrom 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.  

Geshe-la 1-1I 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?

And who are you today?! 😄

Related articles

Just who do you think you are?

Tired, yet, of living a cliche?

Karma and us

 

 

How much can a person really change?

9 mins read + a video

I was talking about perspective in this article, and I think it’s fair to declare that neither self-grasping nor self-cherishing have any reasonable perspective at all. They are totally self-referential blinkered minds, which also happen to serve no useful purpose whatsoever. bridge the gap

What also arises in dependence upon these ego minds is attachment, where we exaggerate the power of things outside ourselves to make us happy. In a way, we have no choice but to view the world like this. Why? Because we are really over here really wanting to be happy, and everything and everyone else that might possibly make us happy is over there. How can we ever bridge such a gap?

The endless pursuit of pleasure

We have this natural wish to please this real me, “What can I do now to make myself happy?” There is nothing wrong with the wish to be happy, but we have this pressing concern that my happiness is so important, it is so incredibly important, it is more important than everybody else’s happiness, so what can I do about it? I can have a coffee, I can meet a friend, I can inject Botox, I can earn lots of money, etc; and we start projecting sources of happiness out there, thinking, “I need this promotion. I want that car. I need this partner. I want that donut.” And conversely, if I don’t get these things, it is some kind of disaster.

This pursuit is non-stop from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. And then it even continues in our dreams. Exhausting, really.

money doesn't buy happinessAnd what is happening is that some exaggeration is going on because these things don’t ultimately make us happy, they cannot, they are by nature fleeting. They don’t even temporarily make us happy half the time — because the things that we think make us happy are also the source of our problems, vis a vis donuts, jobs, relationships, cars, etc. But with the mind of attachment we exaggerate the power of things to make us happy.

All these things can make us superficially happy for a short while, but they can also cause us much worry and suffering. They can never give us the pure and everlasting happiness that all of us, in our heart of hearts, long for. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

We externalize the sources of happiness, believing that they are out there, when in fact happiness is in here (point to your heart).

Selfish desires

Attachment can also be understood as “selfish desires”. With any delusion, our thoughts are more selfish, revolving around a stronger sense of a real self than when our mind is peaceful and positive. When we are angry, for example, it is, “You did this to me, ME!” Check out this video by an amusing friend in New York to see some of the dynamics of annoyance at play:

And if we have really strong attachment for someone, we think, “How can I get you to make ME happy? I need you to do this, that, and the other for ME.” See what I’m saying? Depending on their strength, all our delusions have at their core a more or less exaggerated sense of Meeee.

Cultivating the happiness that comes from wisdom

Happiness is a state of mind that comes from mental peace. We get some inner peace automatically the moment our mind is free from upset, when we are temporarily free from stress, worry, selfish desire, etc. Our mind is rather like a clear, still glass of water (which would feel very peaceful if it had feelings); but then our delusions shake that glass about and the water goes crazy. This is why even the simplest breathing meditation, letting go of the turbulence to quieten the mind, induces feelings of peace and well-being. i want happiness

And then we can deepen that inner peace by developing thoughts of love, or compassion, or patience, or wisdom. A rich blissful mind of wishing others to be happy, for example, or a mind that happily accepts everything that arises … there are many peaceful states of mind and they all make us genuinely happy, but donuts don’t. Donuts and cars and sex and money can sometimes induce momentary sense pleasure, of course they can — but real, lasting happiness is far deeper than that, and it arises from within. Geshe Kelsang says that everyone needs the true happiness that comes from wisdom.

As he also says in his stunning new book, Mirror of Dharma:

Some people may say, “I will be happy all the time if I become wealthy, enjoy a good reputation and have the opportunity of a relationship with the person I desire.” I am very sorry, but this is not true! We can see that people who have all these things also experience great unhappiness and many problems. Many wealthy people and those in high positions experience great suffering and many dangers. We see and hear news about such things all the time.

Quick detour

Geshe-la and Gen-lasGotta make a quick detour here to mention something very cool: The transmission of Mirror of Dharma will be given at the International Kadampa Retreat Center in Arizona at the Kadampa Fall Festival 2019, to accompany the opening of a massively huge World Peace Temple on Route 66 that will be visible to many of the 5 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon. If that doesn’t put Kadampa Buddhism on the map, I don’t know what will.

Do you have a set personality or not?

And as a result of increasing our inner peace, our wisdom and compassion, our personality changes. We change.

As we keep saying in Buddhism, because Buddha said it, the potential of our mind is infinite. He once said that the amount of our mind we use compared with the amount of mind available to be used is like a pea compared with a planet.

So, we can change. Can’t we?

The other day I was reading a 56-year-old study on a bunch of women who were interviewed every year between the ages of 14 and 70 to see how much they changed as people. And, as it turned out, it was a lot. (I cannot now find the article but I did find this.

happiness (1)Normally I think we have this idea that we have a pretty set personality, “This is just the way I am. Maybe I can get a little bit happier with a whole lot of effort, maybe I can get a little bit more chilled out, maybe I can even get a little bit nicer. But basically this is me.”

However, we sell ourselves enormously short given how much happier we can become, how much kinder, and how much wiser. How we can, in fact, become completely different people — people who live for others, for example a Bodhisattva who wants to free all living being from their suffering and is getting rid of all her faults and limitations to do just that.

Everyone reading this can become a Bodhisattva if you want to. You can become an enlightened being if you learn the methods and put them into practice. Literally, the sky’s not even the limit when it comes to how much we can change.

Nonetheless, due to our stuck ideas of a limited self, and before we get a sense of how extraordinary our minds are through meditation and introspection, there’s a prevalent sense in individuals and society that we all have pretty fixed personalities. That’s where this study is interesting because it discovered that these women were changing all the time and that by the time they reached 70 every single area of their personality had changed beyond recognition — socializing, confidence, wishes, habits, values, everything. Not necessarily for the better, sometimes for the worse, but everything had been replaced. The study concluded you wouldn’t recognize the person of 14 at 70, not just physically but mentally (and that is even long before we slip into senectitude).

Route 66This study is an indicator of how much we change anyway in the natural course of our lives without even particularly trying. What we call our personality is really a bunch of tendencies, wouldn’t you say? We have a certain tendency to react or behave or talk in certain ways around certain people or in certain situations. We have the sense that there is this true essence, true me, or whatever, but is there? Who is this real self who has a real fixed personality? Where is this self? It’s quite an interesting question, isn’t it?

We can use our wisdom to see if we can find it anywhere and — if we can’t – surely we are free to let it go?!

I think who we are depends upon our thoughts. Who we are is very largely, perhaps completely, who we think we are. And who we become is who we want to become, which also depends on who we think we can become.

Who we think we are determines what we do

There is a relationship between who we think we are and what we think we want. And as we always tend to put our energy and time into what we want, who we think we are determines what we do each day.

meditator in the Grand CanyonFor example, even in the course of an ordinary week we can change dramatically. We can wake up on Tuesday feeling like a complete loser – “Today is going to be horrible. I know it. I’m useless at this job, it really worries me, I’ve messed everything up in my life, and no wonder no one likes me.” We can think of ourselves like that all day long, thereby depriving ourselves of all agency and rendering ourselves pretty much powerless, not to mention miserable. And what are we going to be doing all day long? Anything fun or inspiring?!

Wednesday we can wake up feeling on top of the world – “I can’t wait for work today, I can’t wait to shine at this job, I am just great, really sorted, strong enough to face any challenge, and I have lovely friends, everything is good.” And do we not act completely differently as a result?

What has actually changed about us from Tuesday to Wednesday? Did someone switch out the grumpy me for the happy me overnight?! No, only our thoughts about who we are have changed, and therefore we have changed. We’re always having these different ideas of ourselves, it’s going on all the time. There is nothing fixed about us. Who we are, what we are, and therefore what we do depends entirely on our thoughts. And our personalities are our persistent thoughts, if you like, our tendencies, our habits of behaving and reacting in certain ways. As it defines personality in dictionary.com:

  1. the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.
  2. the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.
  3. a person as an embodiment of a collection of qualities.

There is no person to be found in that sum total or that organized pattern (not sure who is organizing it?!). A person or self is merely imputed upon it. By changing the parts — our behavioral, physical, mental, emotional, social, (and spiritual) characteristics — of course we change completely the pattern, the whole, and the imputed person, our self.

eagle in grand canyonSo, to answer this article’s title, our personalities can and do change completely, even in this life, let alone from life to life. In which case, let’s finally take advantage of this fact to deliberately transform our personality into the best possible personality — why not a Bodhisattva? — with the use of wisdom and compassion, the two wings that will fly us fast to enlightenment. Then everything we want and everything we do will be about making others happy, and as a side-effect we too will achieve the happiness we’ve always longed for.

Over to you. How much do you think you can really change?

Time to read a bit more?

Feel free to change your mind 

What about me? 

What we do depends on who we think we are

No real self

Once a Buddha, always a Buddha

4.5 mins read 

Escape to realitySometimes people get discouraged with their Tantric practice, thinking it’s beyond them and they should stick to Sutra. But I think Tantra can be pretty straightforward, especially if we can read and follow the instructions of the modern-day Vajra Master Geshe Kelsang who, like Je Tsongkhapa, is known for his ability to reveal Buddha’s wisdom and Tantric teachings in a clear and profound, yet totally accessible, way.

Carrying on from this last article about Tantra.

If we’re used to identifying with our Buddha nature from a Sutra point of view, then we do this now from a Tantric point of view, bringing the result into the path – which makes our progress smooth, joyful, and rapid.

And, as explained in the last couple of articles, we are not plopping an inherently existent ordinary miserable me onto Buddha Vajrayogini or Buddha Heruka. There is no such real me — our me or I is mere label, thank goodness. So we are generating some purity in our mind and labelling it with our mere I, Vajrayogini, and growing it from there. Try it and see!  nothing is real

Then we keep coming back to divine pride and clear appearance in very practical, usable ways, both in meditation and throughout our day. This way we transform our life into a very rapid path to enlightenment, which is what Tantra is all about.

As mentioned here, normally we believe the self we normally perceive, the one around which all our problems revolve, the ordinary limited self; and we cherish this self and protect it at all costs. We are obliged to follow its ordinary narrative and milestones. But we slowly come to understand that it is time to stop doing that — I don’t want to do that anymore! It is painful. It is daily frustrating. It is also a ginormous waste of time.

As we get going in our Tantric practice, for a long time we move back and forth between generating as a Deity and identifying as an ordinary being. This is normal, so there’s no need to entertain discouraged thoughts such as: “I thought I had this! I felt so blissful – I can’t believe I got all neurotic and graspy and sad again!”

Subtle impermanence and the emptiness of time

And here is a profound contemplation that I have always found enormously encouraging in this regard, and hope you might too.

When we appear as Vajrayogini or Heruka, we remember that we dissolved away all ordinary appearances, including their time, ie, including the pasts and futures of all ordinary appearances.

Past and future are mere name, mere appearance, now disappeared – so when we arise as Vajrayogini, we have always been Vajrayogini. Our previous identity has dissolved into emptiness, disappeared entirely, and we, Vajrayogini, have never been that person.

samsaric life

Remembering subtle impermanence is invaluable – always, but especially in Tantra. For the present moment to arise, the previous moment has to go out of existence, completely. Yesterday has gone, or where is it?! It had to go for today to arise. Everything before this moment in time has completely disappeared. By the same token, everything after this moment doesn’t exist yet because this moment has to disappear first.

In this article I talk about this incredibly useful teaching from Geshe Kelsang:

In reality we do not remain the same for one moment without changing, let alone for one life. Without the I of the previous moment ceasing, the I of the next moment could not arise. The I of one moment is the cause of the I of the next moment, and a cause and its effect cannot exist at the same time. A sprout, for example, can develop only when its cause, the seed, disintegrates. ~ How to Understand the Mind, page 134

When we arise in bliss and emptiness as a Buddha, the whole past is transformed because there is no past, only pasts of things (as explained in Ocean of Nectar), and Buddha’s past is bliss and emptiness. In that moment the whole future is transformed too, as there are only futures of things.

How long is a dream?

To help us understand this, we can consider our dreams. Dreams arise fully and all at once – they are mere projection of mind, and always present, unravelling moment by moment; but when we meet people in our dreams they have a past and a future, do they not? They were born in Clapham and they are going to die who knows where. All that is part of them in the present moment because this is the only moment there is.

Vajrayogini 1

The me of this present moment has a past and a future – so if I am ordinary I have an ordinary & suffering past and future and if I am Vajrayogini I have a pure & blissful past and future.

Wild, huh?! But true.

How old are you?

I was at the Grand Canyon recently, thinking about these rocks. They are, mind-bogglingly enough, millions of years old! Yet at the same time they are a momentary arising, an appearance to mind that is completely new in this moment. In this moment, which I am sharing with this rock, the rock has a past of millions of years whereas I only have a past of three (ahem) decades. old rocks

So once you are Buddha Vajrayogini, you have always been Vajrayogini. And always will be.

Yes, we may forget this due to lacking effort, mindfulness, and familiarity, and the ordinary person might reappear with an ordinary past and future, just like another dream. But it doesn’t invalidate the pure dream of being Vajrayogini; and at the next available opportunity we can dissolve away all the ordinariness and hallucination and go back to the Pure Land.

Eventually we can stay here  24/7, which is liberation. And then guide everyone else to this reality by helping them drop their self-grasping and ordinary appearances as well.

Check out these articles on subtle impermanence for a better idea of all this. And I have a bit more to say on the subject later.

Meantime, the Kadampa Summer Festival in the English Lake District (or Keajra Pure Land), offering the Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments and teachings, starts this Friday! Talk about a life-changing experience. Hope to see some of you there.

Comments very welcome – please scroll below to leave one.

Related articles

Subtle impermanence 

How to be enlightened right now per Tantra

Tantra is not as hard as you may think

Improving the narrative of our lives

 

Can too much bad news make us sick?

DSC_0134.NEFHow can we make a non-existent me happy?

How can we get rid of its suffering?!

Answer: we can’t.

Which is probably the main reason why it makes sense to get rid of our self-grasping and self-cherishing and cherish others instead.

As of now, self-cherishing hasn’t gotten us anywhere – any happiness and good fortune we are experiencing is coming about despite our self-cherishing, not because of it. Meanwhile, cherishing others gets us everywhere we need to be.

Any pain and problems you’ve had already today come from your self-cherishing. Do you believe that?!

For a few minutes this morning before I got out of bed, I was for some bizarre reason itemizing everything that didn’t seem to be working out properly – it was quite a long list, and I was beginning to feel a bit agitated.

Then I decided to do what I like to do, which is take the self out of the equation, cherish others instead, and see if I still had all those problems.

I didn’t.

Health problems

Rash on skin?! – nothing compared with a friend’s sister who has Behcet’s syndrome. Look it up. It is no fun and considerably more excruciating than my own red splodges. DSC_0170.NEFAnd I have been praying for said sister, so my own rash is in fact a very useful reminder, and now I want to do some taking and giving for her. Therefore, although my skin has problems, I do not.

Work problems

Meanwhile thinking about work, I was beginning to entertain this distasteful idea that people are not being as efficient or organized as I’d like. Heck, more importantly, that I was not being as efficient or organized as I’d like! Then I realized that anything less than being able to help countless living beings on any given day is never going to be quite enough for a Bodhisattva, while at the same time helping even one person is more than enough. So I need to remember to be a Bodhisattva and, indeed, a Buddha who has already made it; and work from there. Might seem like the same activities – but they become a lot more blessed and enjoyable, and far less about ME trying to get things done or prove something.

It is the motivation of bodhichitta that is important, and where that is taking me and how many people that allows me to help at least indirectly each day. How can I hope to be at DSC_0146maximum efficiency while I remain as a limited self-revolving being?

I was also thinking that instead of pondering what people are not doing, the fact that anyone is doing anything to help me and help others is incredible; and I focused on that instead so as to feel grateful instead of annoyed. It worked very well.

As did making one of my favorite requests to my Spiritual Guide, namely to help me help him help as many people as possible today. I hope that includes this article, because that is what I seem to be doing with this morning so far.

Relationship problems

A friend was supposed to meet me and bailed. I also don’t like that people I know are sick and I can’t do anything about it.

When we are focused on how friends are not doing what we want, or when we are feeling burdened by the illnesses of relatives, and so on, there is always a pronounced sense of ME. Even when we are supposedly trying to be there for these people in our lives, feeling let down or discouraged indicates that it is more about us than about them.

DSC_0183

Because … when we believe that they owe us nothing, when all we want is for them to be happy and free from suffering for their own sake, the mental pain goes away and we lighten up. This happens whenever we genuinely cherish them. If they’re not happy, we want to help them be happy, and if they are suffering we want to help them get rid of it – not because of us but because of them. It is as simple as that. There is nothing for us to lose, we just try and don’t worry, as Geshe Kelsang puts it. Unconditional love works every time. And it increases, as opposed to undermining, our compassion.

World problems

The day’s headlines, while also initially infuriating and problematic, reminded me of a report I just read about how over-exposure to bad news is making us sick: Too much bad news can make you sick.

There is a lot in that – one being that mindless consumption of the 24/7 news cycle is overwhelming and over-stimulating while also being deadening; another being that if we take all of this stuff personally we are going to be in a constant state of stress.

Things are not getting better despite all our external development. These are degenerate times. People’s minds and environments seem to be getting more and more out of control. As the article claims:

The United Nations’ disaster-monitoring system says that since 1970, the number of disasters worldwide has more than quadrupled, rising to about 400 per year.

It is true that, “Thanks to technology, exposure to traumatic events has rapidly increased over the past few decades”. However, I was thinking that if we are training in compassion and wisdom, we have a way of dealing with every bad appearance. Every news story is a reminder of our need to control and transform our minds.

DSC_0213.NEFAs one professor says in the article, we need “to learn effective ways to engage with reality without being consumed by it”; and compassion and wisdom help us with this, not least by helping us to understand what “reality” is in the first place.

The world has always been stressful, but experiencing acute events occurring thousands of miles away is a new and challenging phenomenon. On any given day, it feels like the world is falling apart.

This is true. And it has always been true – only now we get to see it close up through our screens without having to get out of our chairs. The report asks three rhetorical questions, which I’m going to answer 😉

“How can we brace for disaster and find the strength to withstand it?”

Understand that samsara has been forever thus … and the other realms are even worse. Far worse. Only Dharma is the truth — we need that refuge in Dharma to give us strength.

We also have to watch out for compassion fatigue:

Inundation of news and trauma can also lead to what is known as disaster fatigue, making us less concerned and more apathetic and feeling a diminished sense of urgency about the crisis at hand. Disaster fatigue occurs when prolonged exposure to news coverage of disasters causes potential donors or volunteers to lose motivation to address the problem.

DSC_0152Check out more on that in this article.

We can get strength by making an effort to rely on our community or Sangha, whoever they may be:

The research points to social connection as the bedrock of resilience and the best way to combat apathy. … The more that you are connected to others and you can call upon them, the more likely it is that your entire community will withstand.

Knowing the truth of suffering helps us all — everyone has indestructible compassion in them, and truly recognizing each other and what we have in common can bring this heroism out of us:

The most dire situations can lead people to be their best selves, serving others and coming together across difference.

And this is especially true for Bodhisattvas, who grow stronger from adversity, like peacocks thriving on the hemlock that harms other birds.

“How will we adapt to our greater exposure to trauma?”

By using everything to remind us to destroy our self-grasping and self-cherishing and help everyone else do the same. Those are the real causes of disaster, directly and indirectly; and luckily we can get rid of them.

The article says:

DSC_0190-EFFECTSIdeally, after the perceived threat is resolved, the body’s resting state of homeostasis should be regained.

Meditation — from the most simple breathing meditation to the subtle mind meditations of Tantra — can restore our homeostasis every time we are exposed to trauma. Trauma is “psychological injury”, and if we get rid of the real enemy of our ego minds we can’t be injured any further.

As it says in the article:

Self-care can seem indulgent, even selfish, in the face of destruction. … But in crisis, self-care is one of the most selfless actions. Practicing the ability to self-soothe and improve our nervous system’s response to stress will buffer the negative impacts of crisis and help us help others.

To go wide, i.e. to help everyone, we have to go deep. Carving some time out each day to meditate and experience the restorative nature of our own peaceful minds, even through a simple breathing meditation for example, is invaluable not just for ourselves but for everyone we want to help.

Unless we make some time every day to meditate, we will find it very difficult to maintain peaceful and positive minds in our daily life, and our spiritual practice as a whole will suffer. Since the real purpose of meditation is to increase our capacity to help others, taking time each day to meditate is not selfish. ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

It is also important to pay attention to our states of mind through the day in general so we can “stop” self-cherishing and its delusions when we notice their grumblings. As the article says:

What is important is to pay attention to when you are overloaded, when you start to get stressed, when you feel numb and moody or irritated or feel other outward symptoms of a nervous system response. Whenever you feel like you’re ‘off,’ that is a signal. That is your signal that you need to stop.

“And will our mental health be sacrificed in the process?”

DSC_0155Not if we do the above … quite the opposite.

Both our compassion and our wisdom protect us from stress and suffering, while enabling us to increasingly do what we need to do to help our world, including realizing the union of appearance and emptiness so that we can end our own and others’ hallucinations once and for all.

A sample selection

So that is how I dealt with today’s problems so far by remembering to change the object of my cherishing from myself to others. No doubt I will have plenty more opportunities to practice this even before the day is out. The challenge is always interesting and, I find, uplifting and confidence-building whenever I bother to make the slightest effort to greet it 😄

DSC_0164Meanwhile, as it’s my day off, I get to go to the park and read the new Mirror of Dharma as my hard copy has now arrived. And pictures of foster kittens (and flowers) taken with my new camera can’t hurt either (let me know if you’re in the business for a cat).

I am going to let CNN have the last word ‘cos it’s nice:

We might not be able to predict the future, but we can prepare for it using these strategies — a future that might be filled with catastrophe but that is hopefully brighter and more beautiful than the present.

Over to you …  comments invited as always.

 

 

Meditating on the emptiness of our self

emancipate yourselves10 mins read

Someone told me today that he felt like he was a very ordinary person. I am not sure whether he wanted me to contradict him or not, but the point is that he is neither inherently ordinary nor extraordinary. What he is and what he does depends on what thoughts he is identifying himself with. Same goes for you and for me.

According to Buddhism, by far the best thing we could do for ourselves is to stop believing in a limited, ordinary, and often painful sense of me as if it was the truth. To understand instead that we are merely imputed by conceptual thought like everything else.

If we don’t know how to stop holding on, it is hard to let go and reimagine ourselves because we don’t realize we exist in that state of freedom.

This is why we need to do the meditation on the emptiness of our self. Once we can dissolve away our stuck sense of self, we can start being who we want to be. We can change everything.

Step One of this meditation explained in this last article, identifying the negated object, involves gaining a clear image of the Me or I we normally perceive, the one that appears real or inherently existent. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe Kelsang says:

There is something quite strange about the inherently existent I. If we do not investigate it, it will appear all the time and even in our dreams we shall grasp at it; but as soon as we actually examine it, it becomes very unclear. As we search for it, instead of being able to locate it we lose it. This very experience is a sign that the I does not exist from its own side, because if it did exist from its own side investigation would reveal it more and more clearly.

We can start by recollecting or imagining a vivid personal example, such as walking along a narrow path in the Grand Canyon (no railings!) when a GC pathtourist coming the other way bumps into us with his oversized rucksack and we start to lose our footing …. At that time we’re not thinking “My body is about to fall” or “My mind is about to fall”, but “I am about to fall!!!” And that I seems independent of the body and mind, real and solid, existing all on its own. Luckily I didn’t fall. True story! Happened last week.

(Given me an excuse, at least, to litter this article with my Grand Canyon photos …)

It is practical to use any of our current greatest hits — whether that be the afraid me or rejected me or worried me or stuck me or frankly any me we’d rather we shot of — because the greater the impact of our emptiness meditation, the more we’ll come to enjoy it.

This first step is the most important part of the meditation because the remaining 3 steps are really not that hard if we get it right.

And by the way:

When it is said that inherent existence is the negated object of emptiness, this does not mean that it is put out of existence by emptiness, because inherent existence has never existed. Nevertheless, because we believe that inherent existence really exists we need to examine this object and get a clearer idea of it. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune

Step Two: Ascertaining the pervasion

If that self or me exists from its own side, as solid and real as it appears, it should be findable — and the more we look for it the clearer it should become. We should be able to take away everything that is not Me and be left with Me.

Likewise, we should be able to point to it and say, “Here I am!”, without pointing at anything that is not it. That’s only fair, wouldn’t you agree? You wouldn’t accept that someone had found the ketchup in the fridge if they are pointing at the mayo.

Where would we search for our self?!

In The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, Geshe Kelsang says:

We should know that if our self that we normally see exists, it must exist in our body, in our mind, as the collection of our body and mind, or somewhere other than these.

The first obvious place to look for me is within my body and mind, as opposed to over there down the street somewhere.

But if I cannot find me in my body and mind, the only other option is that I am somewhere else.

In other words, I either have to be somewhere around here (imagine my hands waving around my body) or somewhere else. Grand Canyon view

In this part of the meditation we think this through and understand that there is no third possibility. This means that we can now look in these two places with the certainty that our search will cover, or pervade, everywhere this I could possibly be.

This is a helpful analogy from Joyful Path of Good Fortune (providing you don’t go thinking that the fish is jumping in and out … )

If we think there is a fish in our house, there are only two places where it could be. Either it is inside the aquarium or it is outside the aquarium. There is no third place it could be. If we establish that there is no fish inside the aquarium and no fish outside the aquarium, we can firmly conclude there is no fish in our house.

So now we go looking for our self with analytical wisdom — trying to find an actual me that corresponds or matches up with our vivid idea of me.

Step Three: Ascertaining the absence of oneness

We start our search in our body and mind.

Is my body me? (We can ask this question the other way around too – “Am I my body?” Whichever works better for you.)

No, my body is my body, not me. I’m not a pile of inanimate flesh and bones; there is a lot more to me than that! I have lots of interesting ideas, for a start. I have a body but I am not a body. My sense of me doesn’t even feel like flesh and bones. I cannot find my me anywhere in this body.

Also, try saying “My body” – and see how that has a different connotation or feel than saying “Me”.

Is my mind me? (Am I my mind?) Perhaps this is a more likely candidate?

No, my mind is my mind, not me. I am not a thought or an idea, there is a lot more to me than that! I can sit down, for a start. And I can type on this keyboard; something my formless awareness cannot do. If someone insults me, I don’t think they are insulting my thoughts but ME. And today my body has a fever and I feel ill, even though my mind doesn’t have a temperature.

Also, saying “My mind” has a different connotation than saying “Me”. They don’t denote the same things.

As and when you get time, do check out How to Transform Your Life or Joyful Path of Good Fortune or some of the other books for more reasoning on how you are neither your body nor your mind. One of these reasons may work well for you, it’s good to find one that clicks.

We will never find anything anywhere in our body or our mind that matches up or corresponds with our sense of me. I have thoughts and I have a body, but I am not my thoughts nor my body. pointing at the GC

Whenever we try to point at our Me, physically or mentally, we cannot. If we point at ourselves sitting here reading this, for example, and follow the trajectory of our finger, we end up just focusing on a part of our body, eg, our chest. I am not a chest. And it is even harder to point to the mind — we end up pointing at a thought, and I am not a thought. Or, if I am, which one?!

Everything we point to as we attempt to point to me turns out to be NOT me.

Is the collection of my body and mind me? (Am I the collection of my body and mind?) Since my body and mind individually are not me, perhaps I can find my self in a combination of the two?

But it is impossible for a collection of non-me’s to be me. For example, if we put two non-sheep together, such as two cows, how do we magically get a sheep out of that? We don’t, we just have two cows. My body is a non-me and my mind is a non-me; so how do we get a me out of that? We don’t, we just have two non-me’s.

We conclude that I am not my body, not my mind, and not the collection of my body and mind. Or that we cannot find a me in my body, my mind, or the collection of the two.

Step Four: Ascertaining the absence of difference

tree and hole Grand CanyonThat leaves only somewhere else for that me to be – perhaps as some separate possessor of my body and mind?

So, where would that be? Can we point to Me without pointing at our body or our mind?

Here is a helpful bit from The New Meditation Handbook for this part:

We should imagine that our body gradually dissolves into thin air, and then our mind dissolves, our thoughts scatter with the wind, our feelings, wishes, and awareness melt into nothingness. Is there anything left that is the I? There is nothing. Clearly, the I is not something separate from the body and mind.

Conclusion

The conclusion of this meditation is that we don’t find our I anywhere. It disappears. Where there previously appeared an inherently existent I, there now appears an absence of that I, like an empty-like space. As Geshe Kelsang says:

We allow our mind to become absorbed in space-like emptiness for as long as possible.

This is the emptiness of the self. It is the truth of the self, and meditating on it directly undercuts our ignorance, the root of all our suffering.

What an incredible sense of lightness and relaxation! I no longer have to cherish this thing or worry about it, because it’s not there! When we get it, we want to stay with that wonderful realization for a while. Forever, if we could.

So what, we may now be wondering, is my self?

The I is merely a designation imputed by the conceptual mind upon the collection of the body and mind. ~ The New Meditation Handbook

In other words, it is no more than an idea. And often quite a bad one!

hole in Grand CanyonDue to self-grasping ignorance, our I appears as far more than a mere imputation or label. It feels solid and independent, a real I existing behind the label, and we grasp at this as the truth; but if we do this meditation we find out for ourselves that we have been clutching at straws this whole time.

The I that we grasp at so strongly is merely a fabrication of our ignorance, the non-existent object of a wrong awareness. What happens to a thought when we stop thinking it? What happens to the self when we stop believing it is there?

Practicing wisdom

Please try out these four steps until you get a taste for losing your I. It can take a bit of practice, but that’s okay – we are generally happy to practice patience, love, etc, and so we can be happy to practice wisdom too, knowing it’ll get easier and more powerful the more we do. Unless we actually meditate on Buddha’s instructions on emptiness, they’ll just sound abstract or intellectual or complicated – when in fact they are the liberating path to incredible happiness.

Geshe Kelsang says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

We should learn to stop grasping at our self that we normally see by remembering that our self that we normally see does not exist. If this works practically, then there is no basis for experiencing problems and suffering.

squirrel at GC

If we really get a sense of its disappearance,  “practically”, we immediately feel a freedom. We are immediately opening the door to freedom. We don’t have to wait until we are Superior beings with a direct realization of emptiness; we can start accumulating mini-freedoms starting today.

Liberation doesn’t happen overnight – I think it is the result of many freedoms that we accomplish over the course of our lives through identifying our vividly appearing limited self and letting it dissolve away into the space of emptiness. Our daily neuroses start to subside immediately. For example, if we have let go of being that person who needs someone else to make us happy, we have instant confidence. Or if we are no longer holding ourselves as a competitor, fearing that our rival is getting all the glory and we are being passed over, we can enjoy our work again.

The possibilities are endless.

“Who am I relating to now?” This question is great for the meditation break, particularly when a painful feeling is arising. For example, if an inadequate neglected self is appearing, instead of immediately feeling. “Oh no, I’m stuck again!” we can be happy. “Oh yes! Fantastic. I need you to see you. Now I can identify you, which means I can abandon you.”blackbird at GC

If we are putting these instructions into practice, we are happy to recognize the enemy, to learn from it. “Let me see how this self is appearing to be independent and how I am grasping it as such.” We want to watch that until we see it clearly, at which point we realize how ridiculous it is. We see that it has no power other than the power we are giving it. The thoughts that revolve around that me create our present and future suffering, rendering us powerless and pathetic; but the moment we apply wisdom we can easily vanquish this enemy. And now we can be whoever we want to be.

As the great Yogi Saraha said:

If your mind is released permanently from self-grasping, there is no doubt that you will be released permanently from suffering.

I have this quote on my fridge. I sometimes think it’s all I need.

Over to you. Any questions or comments?

Related articles

Just who do you think you are?

How our sufferings revolve around a limited self

There is no boogeyman under the bed

 

Just who do you think you are?!

I saw someone at the airport recently carrying just a wallet and a skateboard. That’s it. Now, that is traveling light, I thought. And this dude was smiling at everyone.

traveling light

I was thinking it’d be even more wonderful not to be weighed down by our self-grasping and projections, our emotional baggage that we’ve been lugging around from life to life, including this one. Just to skate lightly through this life, loving everyone we meet, with an open, accommodating heart, knowing we are all just passing through.

Putting 2 and 2 together and making 5

In How to Transform Your Life, Geshe Kelsang says quite directly: 

We may have the sincere wish to avoid suffering permanently, but we never think to abandon our delusions.

Do you ever wake up wanting to suffer? Thought not. This means that you do want to avoid suffering permanently; and presumably you’d also prefer to always wake up peaceful and relaxed if you could. But we keep getting the real causes of suffering and happiness all wrong.

Why do you think we are never deeply happy for very long, even though that’s all we want? Buddha’s diagnosis is that it is because of our delusions, and especially the self-grasping ignorance that “always abides at our heart destroying our inner peace.” There is always some tension and discomfort in our minds, or, if not, the threat of it. There is always some underlying dissatisfaction, feeling cut off, or needing something else — even in the midst of supposedly enjoying ourselves. And a world of pain when we are not.

ignorance is bliss

And all this suffering is because “The foolish mind of self-grasping believes or grasps at I, mine, and all other phenomena as truly existent.” This wrong awareness creates our other delusions, negative karma, and their suffering karmic results in life after life.

And it is also the basis for all our everyday annoyances — I think that “grasping” is a good descriptor for it, because we squeeze and we push, rarely able to relax into a non-dual experience of deep peace and wholeness.

The thing we grasp at most tightly is our own self or me. It’s exhausting, actually. We are all wandering around day and night clinging to this painful limited version of ourselves, one that no one else can even see; and it is incredibly important to see exactly how we are doing it and then stop doing it.

Four essential points

So I have been wanting for a long time to talk about the four essential points, or steps, for meditating on the emptiness of the self, like I did for meditating on the emptiness of the body. In brief, if the self, me, or I that we normally perceive exists, it must be findable in its parts or separate from its parts. We should be able to point to it without pointing at anything that is not it – that’s only fair.

But luckily we cannot find a real me anywhere if we look for it with analytical wisdom. I am not the body, not the mind, and not the collection of the body and mind – yet take the body and mind away and I disappear. It’s like trying to pin down a mirage. I’ll expand on those four steps now, hoping you have a few undistracted minutes to read this.

A Tale of Two Selves

But before we start, may I suggest we take a moment to connect to the peace at our heart, recognizing it as our limitless potential for change, our Buddha nature. Our principal peace of mind arises from our connection to enlightened beings (however we envisage them), especially through our Spiritual Guide. We are already communing with them the moment we experience just a little bit of peace at our heart, so we can receive their blessings and connect with their truth not by grasping or “working it”, but just by relaxing and abiding in it, letting go. Then this peace feels limitless. We have a deeper knowing. And we identify with this, thinking “This is me.”

There is more on how to do this explained here

lotus reflectionWe now have the space to take a step back and watch our painful limited self in action = Step One, below. It is a bit like A Tale of Two Selves – and their different paths and results. Here on the one hand is my Buddha nature – relating to and nurturing that will lead me to enlightenment. Here on the other hand is my hurt and limited self – relating to and nurturing that will lead me to more neurosis.

Our choice.

Step One: Identifying the negated object

When we meditate on the emptiness of the self, it is very helpful to start with the painful, limited self that we are currently holding onto – this is our target into which we fire the arrows of wisdom.

So, bring to mind the limited, painful self you are grasping at today.

If we are having any kind of delusion, this will not be too hard to do. For center stage of all our delusions is a big sense of Me or ego – and the stronger the delusion, the stronger that sense of me.

Let’s say we are really worried about something or someone. We even want to help them so bad, but we can’t, and it makes us feel inadequate, helpless, or infuriated.

What is going on here? Three things. We have a perception of that person as being in a bad way and it seems fixed. And we have a perception of ourself as someone helpless and hopeless, and this too seems fixed. And we are also grasping at the perception itself as real or fixed. These are called the “three spheres of emptiness” because none of these exists in the way that they appear, ie, real. We can learn to dissolve them all away.

Let’s focus on this perception of Me and ask ourselves: does this me feel limited? Does it seem fixed? Does it feel real, as if it is actually there? Does it seem to exist from its own side, nothing to do with anything, including the body and mind? Does it seem to be just arising independently, just arising on its own? Just a big distended me sitting here, existing in and of itself? 

self-cherishing 1As Geshe Kelsang suggests in Joyful Path of Good Fortune

We begin our meditation by considering, “How am I grasping at self? What is the I that appears to my mind?”

This real me is in fact the non-existent object of the wrong awareness of self-grasping. But this is certainly not how it appears — it seems to exist solidly and have nothing to do with our thoughts. It appears to be real. If this me is not real, what is?!?

Hard ego capsule

This me seems so solid and real, it’s a wonder no one else can see it. But they can’t, so where is it? If it was really there, outside our private thoughts, someone should be able to see it, surely?! 

So in this first step we bring to mind this inherently existent me or I as strongly as we can, such that we wonder, “If this me doesn’t exist, what on earth does?!” We want maximum impact on our mind when we go onto realize that this me doesn’t exist.

This is the worried self we want to serve and protect – but it is difficult because this depends on the other person cooperating and not worrying us anymore. This is on them – they are worrying me. The stronger the worry, the stronger the sense of the worried me and the stronger the sense of the problematic person causing my worry.

We can also use examples of embarrassment or fear. If we are standing next to the train tracks losing our balance, for example, we are not thinking, “My body is about to fall!” or “My mind is about to fall!”, but “I am about to fall!”; and that I appears to be something different from, and independent of, our body and mind.

about to fallEven if we are just sitting here reading this blog, we can consider what Geshe Kelsang says in Joyful Path of Good Fortune:

We do not feel that “I am reading this book” means the same as “My body is reading this book” or “My mind is reading this book.” The I appears to exist from its own side. This independent I, if it exists, is the inherently existent I, the I we cherish.

Although we cannot find that me (as we shall see), for as long as we continue to believe it and cherish it not a day will go by when we don’t experience problems and suffering. And this will continue in our future lives as well, as we hallucinate one painful and/or circumscribed self after another. We need to wake up from the nightmare of this ignorance and wake everyone else up too.

So in this first step we have to get this I in our sights. Allowing it to manifest obviously by remembering situations where we have a strong delusion functioning and we are self-centered — “What is that me that is so upset?!” — and then simply stepping back to observe it.

The worried sense of self. The hurt sense of self – imagine someone says something hurtful and the hurt self pops up. Or the neglected sense of self. The irritated sense of self. The needy sense of self. Something real and vivid. There it is! Recognize how you immediately believe it. So fast — it is instant. I am now in pain. And we want to serve and protect that self – it feels inherently in pain and therefore needs protection.

emptiness mirrorsWe all have a playlist of our personal greatest hits. So you apply your meditation not to an abstract notion of who you are, but to YOU. This way our meditations will change us.

This fixed me comes up all the time depending on our delusions.  We can see how our horizons shrink very small whenever we are caught and wrapped up in this painful, bounded, fixed self. When we have delusions, pretty much all our valuable energy goes into protecting this real me or I, leaving very little left over for other people.  We inhabit a very small universe. We are fragile — it is so easy for us to feel slighted and even more upset. Someone looks at us funny …  even someone walking past us can seem deeply personal!

I think our self or I can feel sometimes like a hard ego capsule, sometimes an insoluble one. But when we meditate on emptiness or selflessness we find it is not as solid as it appears and we can dissolve it away.

Freedom is just some wisdom away

The thoughts of a real me are just thoughts. If we go looking for this real me, we won’t find it.  Once we identify how we are grasping at the me or I that we normally perceive, there are many ways to understand how this is grasping at a false me or I – for example, everyone is me, so I cannot be the real me. And, as we will see, we cannot find this me anywhere.

Good to bear in mind that we are capable of wisdom, of understanding everything, of having infinite love and compassion for everyone. With self-grasping and self-cherishing, we stick our head in a thick obstructing cloud — oblivious to our potential and oblivious to other people. If our head is stuck in a cloud, it doesn’t much matter that there is infinite sky around it because we can’t see it. We are just thinking about me. 

However, if we dissolve away that me that doesn’t exist, we no longer have to change the world to suit it. We just get rid of it.  We can feel happy. Full. Contented. Not needing anything; we are free. If we see how we are not that limited needy person, we no longer need to try to manipulate and control others around us. The urge to do that has gone because we now feel fine. for whom emptiness is possible

And we are now also free to think “I am a being bound for liberation!” Or “I am a Bodhisattva!” I am not fixed so I can be anyone. That is who I am. That is what I want to be. We are in the driver’s seat now. 

Therefore, now that we have a fix on this negated object — the real me, the one we normally perceive — we can now use Steps Two to Four to dissolve it away. You can find those here.

Comments welcome!