You’re never alone

5.5 mins read.

people walking in NYCNew York City is full of people. So full, perhaps, that you could find yourself sucked into dramas morning till night. Sometimes it is hard to see the wood for the trees. Given that there are so many people here, so many people in other cities, so many people in ant hills, so many people in samsara …  how on earth are we supposed to extricate ourselves, let alone everyone else?! It can all feel very solid and real – the sickness, the ageing, the death, the homelessness, the hunger, the cold, and so on. No wonder compassion fatigue is a thing.

It is true that there are infinite beings in the six realms of samsara, and our stories of pain and suffering, told since beginningless time, seem to show no signs of slowing down, much less stopping. Taken alone, getting us all out seems a daunting task. But when feeling besieged by samsaric narratives, it can be incredibly helpful to remember that although there may be countless samsaric beings, there are also countless enlightened beings.

To infinity and beyond

full moon surrounded by starsWhen we visualize Buddha Shakyamuni, for example, he is not appearing with only a few holy beings dotted around him, in our tiny NY room, hopelessly outnumbered by a gazillion sentient beings. Buddha is surrounded by infinite enlightened beings, “like the full moon surrounded by stars”, who stretch on and out forever and ever.

This is not just true for Buddhists. This is true for everyone. Holy omniscient beings, however or whoever we envisage them, pervade everywhere and everyone.

(Coincidentally, just as I was writing this, I heard Stevie Wonder sing: “When you feel your life’s too hard, just go have a talk with God.” 🙂 )

Countless beings, once just like us, have attained enlightenment and no longer belong in samsara. This means that although there are infinite beings in infinite galaxies, Buddhas and Buddha Lands equal, if not outnumber, them all.

Samsara is the product of hallucination. Enlightenment is reality. Pit samsaric worlds and beings against enlightened worlds and beings, and who, ultimately, is going to prevail?

What is faith?

With the practice of Dharma we get to start choosing whose company we want to keep and be influenced by. We can start to feel that we are in the company of enlightened beings whenever we want; and with Tantra we feel that we are already one of them.

This is faith, of course – but faith doesn’t have to be overly complicated or mysterious. We can believe in the existence of enlightened beings by observing our own minds and how we have been able to reduce our delusions and increase our love and patience, for example. Nothing is fixed about our thoughts, and everything depends upon our thoughts. Taking that to its logical conclusion, we can envisage ourselves free from all faults and suffering and pervaded by spontaneous wisdom and compassion.New York skyscrapers

Close your eyes for a moment and try it!

Did that work? If so, even being able to entertain a notion of being enlightened indicates our potential for enlightenment and therewith the fact that countless enlightened beings already exist – the only difference between us and them is that they have put in the effort.

Based on this so-called “believing faith”, we can develop admiration for their good qualities — they can be our role models and super heroes, we can feel happy about them. And because we have this so-called “admiring faith,” which includes that faith in our own potential, we have the wish to become just like them, which is called “wishing faith.”

As Geshe Kelsang says in the first edition of Transform Your Life:

Without faith, everything is mundane. We are blind to anything beyond the ordinary and imperfect world we normally inhabit, and we cannot even imagine that pure, faultless beings, worlds, or states of mind exist. Faith is like pure eyes that enable us to see a pure and perfect world beyond the suffering world of samsara.

The company we keep

countless BuddhasWhenever we think of Buddha, there he or she is. He is there even when we don’t think of him. Enlightenment is everywhere, always, because enlightenment is reality, always waiting to be revealed.

As Geshe Kelsang says in The New Eight Steps to Happiness:

Because a Buddha’s mind is mixed with the ultimate nature of all phenomena and is free from the obstructions to omniscience, it pervades all phenomena; and because his or her body and mind are the same nature, his body is also all-pervasive. From this we can understand that Buddhas are present everywhere and that there is no place where Buddha does not exist.

This means that enlightened beings and Buddha Lands are everywhere and always, including right here right now. Holy beings are just as close to us as all these samsaric beings popping up around us. Purify our minds and we will see these pure beings directly. In the meantime we can have faith that they’re here, and that, because they are always relating to our pure potential as opposed to our delusions and suffering, they love us unconditionally whatever we are up to.

We do have a choice. Even in the middle of a huge city, full of seemingly endless suffering samsaric beings, we don’t need to invest in every passing mirage, powerlessly pulled in every direction. With Dharma in general and Tantra in particular, we can start to enjoy ourselves and those around us as illusion-like appearances arising within the space of emptiness – not inherently suffering, potentially pure and enlightened. We are already in the living company of countless holy beings in a pure and beautiful world.

to infinity and beyondAs it continues in Eight Steps:

Buddhas are like the sun and our ignorance is like the clouds that obscure the sun. When clouds disperse we see that in reality the sun has been shining all along, and, in a similar way, when we remove the clouds of ignorance from our mind we will see that the Buddhas have always been present all around us.

Tuning into joy and purity like this, space opens up and discouragement goes away. I think there’s an enormous amount of love and support available all the time, more than enough to stop us from feeling overwrought. And, situated now on the side of the solution, we can always find the energy to help others. For if we are already in the Pure Land, what is there to worry about?

This is the highest and most empowering form of renunciation (seeking to be permanently free) and compassion (seeking to free others), which we can learn to feel all the time, wherever we are. After all, as Freddie Mercury just happens to sing in the movie I’ve been watching on this plane out of NYC:

We are the champions, my friends. And we’ll keep on fighting till the end.

Over to you. Comments welcome below!

Related articles

What is the point of faith? 

Enlightenment is right here, right now 

Blessings are not that mysterious 

 

 

 

 

 

Buddhism & the hedonic treadmill

9 mins & 2 videos

Happy New Year! Here’s a bit of New Year’s encouragement to either learn meditation or keep meditating in 2019 … The world might just become a better place.

hamster eating cheeseFirst a question: What do you reckon happens when we try to make ourselves happy all the time through external means, via the places, enjoyments, or bodies of samsara?

We’ve been trying it long enough, we should know. Basically, Buddha observed (and we can too) that there is no permanent gain in happiness. We have spikes of excitement followed by spikes of despondency, but we don’t get overall happier.

For example, we get a flat white at Starbucks – yum, little spike for however many slurps there are in a cup of coffee. Then we need a bathroom but there isn’t one to be found – hmm, little jag in the opposite direction. Or we get a promotion at work – exciting! Until it sinks in that we have to work harder – darn! Or we get a bigger house – cool! But now we have to clean more shelves – boring.

We can dream about a job or a partner for months, fantasizing about how happy we’ll be, only to be disappointed when the happiness boost lasts approximately five weeks or five minutes (and too often followed by searing heartache).

Essentially, no amount of money, technology, sex, romance, friendship, muscle, prestige, music, or travel will ever make us permanently happy. We will always need more or different. We cannot fulfill all our desires, and a lot of them simply cancel each other out, as mentioned in this article.

hedonistic treadmillThis is a helpful chart, especially if you can visualize that happiness flatline going on long enough to see how it also goes around in circles, bit like a hamster wheel — not ending up somewhere different, our life not really having gone anywhere by the end of it all, just turning into death. And then rebirth — starting up all over, accumulating stuff and losing it all again, ad infinitum.

Plus, as is the nature of treadmills, IMHO, it’s all exhausting and really quite boring.

If our energy and effort have all gone into things outside our mind, we will end up the poorer because nothing physical lasts — we can’t take a smidgeon of that stuff with us. All that goes with us past death is our subtle mental continuum, which is like a storehouse for all the karma we have created in this and previous lives. Some of it good of course, but much of it stemming from selfish desires and leading us who knows where, but probably nowhere we want to be.

Forever chasing froth?

At my first time at the seaside, I remember being mesmerized by the glistening froth on the ocean  — so much so that I fetched my bucket to take some of it home. I don’t know how old I was, 15?! No, seriously, I wasn’t that old, but I was idiotic. My parents watched me doing this and, though they may have gently pointed out that the froth may not look quite so good later, I ignored them as usual and carried on scooping up the sparkling rainbow bubbles.

Even by the time I got to the car, it was grey, flat, and lifeless. I was disappointed, I think I may even have cried. But worldly enjoyments are all moreorless like that. The excitement disappears, and we’re left with the greying aftermath. Plus whatever karma we created. And, like my wiser parents, the Buddhas have been trying to tell us this but we won’t listen, or only half-heartedly anyway, because this fleeting insubstantial froth is still so enticing to our childish minds. Bucket and spade

In The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says:

Of all worldly possessions the most precious is said to be the legendary wish granting jewel… that has the power to grant wishes.

Only caveat is that this jewel can fulfill wishes for superficial, fleeting happiness, aka “contaminated happiness”; not the pure happiness that comes from a pure mind. But even if we ever come to possess everything we ever wanted externally, which of course is impossible while we still have the itch of attachment, pure and lasting happiness still eludes us. We still feel moreorless itchy and dissatisfied. Furthermore this jewel only has “the power to grant wishes in one life – it cannot protect its owner in his or her future lives.”

So, as it says in The New Eight Steps to Happiness:

hamster on happiness lineThe only thing never deceive us is the attainment of full enlightenment.  It is only by attaining enlightenment that we can fulfill our deepest wish for pure and lasting happiness, for nothing in this impure world has the power to fulfill this wish. Only when we become a fully enlightened Buddha will we experience the profound and lasting peace that comes from a permanent cessation of all delusions and their imprints. We will be free from all faults and mental obscurations, and will possess all the qualities needed to help all living beings directly. We will then be an object of refuge for all living beings.

Maybe we’re thinking this sounds a bit far-fetched – I don’t even like my neighbor, and here it’s being suggested that I can become an all-loving Buddha?!

But try closing your eyes and imagining all this for a moment, being profoundly peaceful, an object of refuge, and so on….

Can you?

Yes?

If so, that is significant. If you really couldn’t become a Buddha, you wouldn’t be able to imagine becoming one. And vice versa.  Everything starts with our thoughts, our correct imagination.

It’s only the hallucinations of our self-grasping ignorance that make us buy into being fixed, small, and limited. As I started to explain a bit here, we can change our programming fast by dropping into the clear light mind at our heart, dissolving away the self we ordinarily see, and then identifying with our boundless potential.hamster on swing

The first step: getting over ourselves

We now have the big picture. And according to the presentation in Eight Steps, once we’ve decided that enlightenment sounds interesting to us, and is something we might want and are capable of experiencing, we then go back to the beginning, to the first step, which is cherishing others.

Slowly but surely we overcome our bias and partiality to broaden and deepen our love — and what happens is that instead of experiencing that same old flatline happiness, with those pointless peaks and troughs, our happiness increases as the weeks, months, and years go by, and our delusions, sadness, and depression begin to melt away.

happy hamsterThis mind of cherishing others will take us in an ever upward trajectory — the happiness line ascending up and up infinitely until it disappears into space. With enlightenment, we have off the charts happiness and mental freedom.

“Quite remarkable”

I don’t know if this kind of thing impresses you or not, but this video talks about an experiment showing that the brainwaves of the “highest level meditators” are really different.

The main thing apparently is the gamma waves – we have these for a very short period when, for example, we solve a problem, or bite into an apple, or imagine biting into an apple (or drink a flat white). But “what was stunning” in people who have meditated a lot is that their “gamma waves are very strong all the time, a lasting trait, just their everyday state even when they are not meditating.” And apparently “science has never seen it before.”

Another remarkable discovery is that “when they meditate on compassion, their gamma jumps 700 or 800 percent, and this also never been seen by science.” The psychologist concludes that these meditators have “a state of being that is not like our ordinary state — sometimes it’s called liberation or enlightenment or awake or whatever the word may be. They feel spacious wide open.” And while he says we don’t know what this is exactly, we do know “it is quite remarkable”.

I would just like to add that we start to experience these kinds of joyful effects as soon as we start meditating regularly, especially if we do so skillfully in the context of identifying with our potential – these effects don’t just suddenly pop up overnight. Hence the ever-ascending line of the graph.

We have a taste

The deep joy or bliss we already experience inside us from time to time, when the clouds of delusions clear, gives us a taste of what it is like to be enlightened and experience deep profound bliss day and night, feeling connected to all living beings, blessing their minds. That seems compelling to me.  No longer to have to be all wrapped up in a small fixed boring me.

As Geshe Kelsang says, it’s up to us:

We are faced with a choice: either we can continue to squander our life in pursuing worldly enjoyments that give no real satisfaction and disappear when we die, or we can dedicate our life to realizing our full spiritual potential.

This is our choice: no one else can make this choice for us.

Unplugging the hedonic treadmill in 2019

hamster treadmillJust to conclude, I’m going to point out to those of you who are relatively new to Buddhism that unplugging the hedonic treadmill and dedicating our lives to realizing our full spiritual potential does not mean that we stop drinking flat whites, enjoying time with family and friends, watching movies, or getting promotions at work. It means that we understand where real happiness comes from and bring that understanding into whatever we’re doing each day.

We don’t abandon anything outside our mind, only our selfish attachment and other delusions for therein lie our actual problems. There’s a great saying in the Kadampa tradition:

Remain natural while changing your aspiration.

Using this life, or even just this year, to seek enlightenment doesn’t mean we have to go all strange. We can carry on doing pretty much the same things on the outside (unless we are a butcher or something). We transform our daily life into the spiritual path, and in this way experience greater and greater happiness as time goes on. As Geshe Kelsang puts it:

If we make the effort to practice Buddha’s teachings we will definitely attain enlightenment.

Definitely.

We don’t need to abandon our family, friends, or enjoyments, and retire to a mountain cave.

(Tempting as that may be from time to time … )

All we need to do is change the object of cherishing.

We could try this out in 2019 and see what happens. I don’t see what we’ve got to lose? And if it doesn’t work, we can get back on the treadmill in 2020.

Over to you. Comments are welcome.

 

Enlightenment is reality

9 mins read

clear light of blissMeditation is now marketed as an antidote to everything from anxiety and depression to poor sleep and workplace inefficiency.

These are tangible benefits into which it is worth investing time and energy.

But why stop there? This is only the tip of the iceberg.

While meditation can certainly help enormously with all these things, if we stop there we are starving ourselves of the really best parts of Buddhist technology: the attainment of liberation and enlightenment.

When we engage in simple breathing meditation, we find that we are more peaceful and relaxed. This indicates that our mind is naturally peaceful, and is an important start. However, this only scratches the surface of the power of meditation and our potential to help ourselves and others.

In general, in the West, there’s a tendency to market an extraordinarily transcendent process, meditation, only as a solution for stress. Meditating to bring out our innate compassion and deep insight can sometimes get lost in translation. But traditional Buddhist meditation has these two main objectives — to develop universal compassion and gain insight into the true nature of reality — and by practicing these we can use this life to attain incredible joy and freedom for both ourselves and others.

From engaging in meditation we can increasingly understand that we all have within us a vast potential for peace and happiness, even if it isn’t fully manifest as of yet. We are infinitely transformable, and potentially infinitely peaceful, wise, and loving.

Step into reality

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Once we’ve fully realized this potential, we’ve attained enlightenment — the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance and whose function is to bestow blessings and mental peace upon each and every living being every day.

And the thing about enlightenment? …

Enlightenment is reality.

Everything else is mistaken appearance — it is unreality. And buying into it is why we are suffering.

Using Buddha’s teachings, we can understand that we are engaged in a process of practical contemplation and meditation that is drawing us closer to reality. Revealing reality.

Sometimes we think about enlightenment in the sense of a higher state of mind, a transcendent consciousness. And from one point of view that’s true. But the problem with this type of articulation is that enlightenment can sound difficult. It sounds like a good idea in general, but probably not for me because it feels unattainable.

Instead, it’s much more helpful to understand that enlightenment is just reality. Enlightenment is the only mind that that is IN reality, that is experiencing reality, and that, finally, IS reality.

So what does it mean if we’re not enlightened? It means we’re not in reality, which means we’re in an hallucination of mistaken appearances.

And this hallucination — because it’s not in reality — is producing suffering simply automatically. So whatever suffering is appearing in our life is coming about because we’re not enlightened.

welcome to reality

We can challenge our Western notions — just because it is common doesn’t mean that suffering is inevitable.

Reality cannot be destroyed

What or who is a Buddha? A person who has “awakened from the sleep of ignorance and seen things as they really are.”

We have the potential for no less than enlightenment. This is called our Buddha nature and every living being without exception has this extraordinary capacity to change, get rid of all their suffering, and cultivate all their good qualities to perfection.

The reason we have this indestructible potential is because it is not possible to destroy reality, only delusions.

This profound but simple wisdom — that enlightenment is reality — is weaved through all Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s books, both Sutra and Tantra. For example, in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, it says:

Because a Buddha’s mind is mixed with the ultimate nature of all phenomena and is free from the obstructions to omniscience, it pervades all phenomena …. From this we can understand that Buddhas are present everywhere and that there is no place where Buddha does not exist. Buddhas are like the sun and our ignorance is like the clouds that obscure the sun. When clouds disperse we see that in reality the sun has clouds and sunbeen shining all along; and, in a similar way, when we remove the clouds of ignorance from our mind we shall see that the Buddhas have always been present all around us.

To get a bit philosophical for a moment …

Emptiness is the real nature of all phenomena – always has been, always will be. But emptiness doesn’t exist from its own side, in isolation. It exists like everything else only through being known by mind. The mind that is permanently mixed with emptiness is the clear light of bliss. This is the very subtle mind that all of us have had since beginningless time, but purified of all obstructions.

So wherever emptiness is — ie, everywhere — there too is great bliss. Nice!

Here is a cool bit from Essence of Vajrayana:

Definitive Heruka is Buddha’s mind of great bliss mixed with emptiness. Since the ultimate nature of all phenomena is emptiness, definitive Heruka pervades all phenomena. In Tibetan Heruka is sometimes called “kyab dag” Heruka. “Kyab” means “pervasive” and “dag” means “nature”, so “kyab dag” means that all phenomena are pervaded by Heruka’s nature…. If we have deep understanding of this there is great hope that we shall be able to perceive whatever appears to our mind as Heruka.

Omniscient wisdom is possible because it simply knows reality, the union of bliss and emptiness. We don’t need to think of bliss and emptiness as too high for us to know or experience because it is right here, just obscured. Practicing the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra gradually reveals it.

rubik cubeSometimes we see Buddhas or enlightened beings as separate from us, denizens of a distant world. But they are just enlightenment, or, strictly speaking, imputed on enlightenment.

In other words, Buddhas are people, like us, but they are entirely unlike us in that our self or I is imputed on a contaminated body and mind whereas a Buddha, such as Buddha Heruka, is a self or I imputed on the bliss and emptiness that is the real nature of all phenomena, and is therefore everywhere, including right here right now.

Another way of putting this is that someone who has realized bliss and emptiness directly, and imputed themselves on this reality, is called a Buddha.

And since our I or self is not at all fixed, once we get rid of our ignorance and mistaken appearances we can become the Buddha we’ve always been destined to become. We too can be everywhere, helping everyone.

As I sometimes like to put it, enlightenment is just a trick of the mind away.

Or as a friend of mine put it the other day, “All we need to do is stop tripping.”

One way to get started …

In Highest Yoga Tantra, the essence practice is dissolving our Spiritual Guide into our heart, mixing our own mind with his/her mind of bliss and emptiness, and imagining we arise as a Buddha ourselves within that space.

If you haven’t got empowerments yet, you could perhaps get started by dissolving your Spiritual Guide, Buddha Shakyamuni, through your crown and into your heart and letting your mind mix with his like water mixing with water, feeling happy. Then impute yourself on that peaceful pure mind. There is a bit more about self-generation as Buddha Shakyamuni in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.

Not an ordinary life

In some ways, we can think that everything is already enlightenment, everything is Buddha. Which is why in Tantra the main obstacles to liberation and enlightenment are called “ordinary appearances and conceptions”, ie, the mistaken appearances of things as not being Buddha-like, and the mind that assents to those appearances as the truth.

As it says in Modern Buddhism (available for free here):

Suppose there is a Heruka practitioner called John. Normally he sees himself as John, and his environment, enjoyments, body, and mind as John’s. These appearances are ordinary appearances. The mind that assents to these ordinary appearances by holding them to be true is ordinary conception. Ordinary conceptions are obstructions to liberation and ordinary appearances are obstructions to omniscience.

We see everything not only as impure and suffering, but as ordinary as opposed to enlightened; and those perceptions are in fact a mistake, grasping at which is perpetuating our samsara.

grumpy cat in landscapeI, for example, am going around thinking, “I’m L. I have this boring old body and I have this neurotic personality and I live in this okay house in this problematic country surrounded by these other regular people, all of us doing all these regular activities.” It’s all just ordinary.

But this ordinariness is not really the truth, it is just ideas, mere imputations of an ordinary mentality. None of the things I normally see exists = reality. And, providing I have some understanding of what reality is, I could instead be thinking, “I am Buddha Vajrayogini. I have this incredible body of light and I have this winning personality and I live in this blissful Buddha Land surrounded by all these pure beings, helping everyone without exception!”

These are also just ideas, but they are far better ideas, and far closer to the truth. As we discover over time, as our wisdom of bliss and emptiness grows, our hallucinations die down, and eventually enlightenment becomes our own direct experience 24/7.

Revelation

lightbulb momentsOnce we have a feeling for how enlightenment just is reality, all Buddha’s teachings make a huge lot of sense. We have more of those light bulb moments. We can understand how right now we are not in reality. Which is why enlightenment is not an option, it’s the only place to be. And how through Buddhist meditation we can step into an enlightened perspective that has always been available to us, we just needed it to be pointed out (probably more than once!) That’s the real meaning of meeting a Spiritual Guide.

Therefore, enlightenment isn’t a philosophical talking point, or the goal of superhuman meditators, like climbing a distant mountain. If we are not in enlightenment, not in reality, we are necessarily trying to make unreality work. Everything is deceiving us more or less.

So when we go deeper in our meditations with the motivation to attain enlightenment, in addition to addressing our stress and other temporary problems we are also drawing every day closer to this blissful primordial reality. Two for the price of one!

To engage in Buddhist meditation is to understand that we all have within us this unlimited potential for the truth of bliss and emptiness, even if it isn’t fully manifest as of yet. So whenever we meditate, even if it is just a breathing meditation, we can try starting with this understanding and see what happens. (In this article on meditating backwards, I explain a bit about how I practically do this.) Even an intellectual understanding that enlightenment is reality is inspiring; and, if we can get a feeling for this in our heart, everything flows so much more effortlessly from there.

I find this immensely encouraging: we are not having to go anywhere strange and new, much less having to create something from scratch, or something that is not already in some sense there. What we are doing on the journey to enlightenment, the journey into the clear light of bliss at our heart, is gradually letting go of all mental elaborations so that we can at last directly enjoy what has always been.

Over to you. Comments welcome.

Related articles

On peace and omniscience

The path to enlightenment

Is enlightenment pie in the sky?

What is Buddha’s enlightenment?

 

 

 

Who wants an existential wake-up call?!

8 min read 

past-life-signsLast night I dreamt that my spiritual teacher showed me all my lifetimes so far. These were not at all vivid, but I got a sense of the non-stop and varied installments in this interminable story of my samsara; and this was powerful. I cannot get it out of my mind – and nor do I want to.

It made me realize that if I don’t get my spiritual act together in this short life I am set to experience infinitely more chapters in this cycle of existence. Why am I at all interested, still, in buying into all these dramas, especially now that I have tasted the alternative of wisdom?

Then I woke to a foster kitten jumping onto my bed, and the recognition that this purring creature now kneading me with his paws was in yet another installment of his own beginningless story as well. This time, a cat book, filled with cat chapters. And right now our story is overlapping for a few paragraphs, but we will soon be moving on. Forced to move on. And I felt very sad for him because he has no way of understanding what all this means or what is in store for him, much less any way of escaping. And his confusion and suffering have already been going on for far too long.

Loved and lost

And then I thought of some of the humans I have loved and lost in this life alone, and realized that our endless stories had also intersected for just a few pages. At the time, it seemed that those relationships were deeply significant, and maybe in some ways they were. But they were never permanent – just a few shared paragraphs in the never-ending tomes of samsara.

Talk about getting things into perspective …! I am sorry to sound existentially terrifying, but a more realistic perspective brings us some measure of peace, and this has.

23622102_10155844260527442_2370081359763870875_nNo difference between those loved & lost humans and this kitten, really – at least, the only difference being a very small matter of time. As the equanimity meditation shows, I have been as close to this kitten in the past as I ever was to them. And it is this kitten, not them, who is currently appearing directly to my senses in this latest story line, and who is the one I can show love to directly.

Fleeting narratives

So each lifetime is like a new book, and within each book, whether short or long, are the transient chapters of that life. Within the chapters are paragraphs, including sentences and words. These make up the narrative of our lives, and the narrative we have largely been telling ourselves all these eons. For there is nothing behind these tales, or even these characters, when we look. Everything is mere name.

The common denominator holding this narrative together life after life is grasping at ME. Even though that me is changing all the time, even day by day, we believe it it real, that it is there, not just a projection of our thoughts. And then our self-cherishing, attachment, aversion, and other delusions emanate from that grasping in life after life, like a spider weaving her web. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:

 We need to understand that the inherently existent I that we grasp at so firmly and continuously does not exist at all. It never has existed and never will. It is merely the fabrication of our self-grasping ignorance. ~ page 51.

Moreover, our stories with each other may have interwoven in extraordinary or mundane ways, but they have all been, thus far, entirely ephemeral. And pretty much entirely out of our control.

We don’t own others. We cannot begin to own them. We don’t even own ourselves.

Swept along

201306-orig-past-life-949x534Most of the time – maybe the whole of beginningless time — we have been swept along by each unfolding drama and its bardo interludes, believing in it as if was the be-all and end-all, as if there was something solid behind those mental projections. We have clung on for dear life to every appearance – trying to solve our problems and get happy through the use of ignorance, attachment, and aversion all trying to manipulate the objects outside our mind. We have not yet realized that all subject minds and object things co-arise and subside simultaneously, like waves from an infinitely deeper source, the ocean of our own root mind that goes from life to life.

You may have noticed — we cannot solve an attachment problem with the attachment that is in fact creating the problem in the first place. Same for aversion. We can’t force the objects of our attachment or aversion to behave better while at the same time allowing our attachment and aversion to stay put. We can’t solve any actual problems or unpleasant feelings outside of changing our thoughts. But we sure do try.

If we cannot gain control over our mind through wisdom, we will have no choice but to believe in and be carried along by its projections or mistaken appearances. As Je Tsongkhapa says, in a graphic depiction of our real predicament:

Swept along by the currents of the four powerful rivers,
Tightly bound by the chains of karma, so hard to release,
Ensnared within the iron net of self-grasping,
Completely enveloped by the pitch-black darkness of ignorance,

Taking rebirth after rebirth in boundless samsara,
And unceasingly tormented by the three sufferings —
Through contemplating the state of your mothers in conditions such as these,
Generate a supreme mind of bodhichitta. ~ The Three Principal Aspects of the Path  

The imperative to get enlightened

beyond-1157000_960_720How can we help others, really help them, if we are as helplessly carried along as they are, and incapable of staying with any of them for very long, much less forever? Even the people we love the dearest in this life, who have always been there for us, such as our parents – we cannot even hold onto them. My mom turns 80 in two short days, on December 24th. I have known her for over half a century, I think about her every single day, I feel like I have never not known her, but …

This all adds up to … we have to become enlightened. We need to be the clear light of omniscience itself, the wisdom of bliss and emptiness, and to allow all new books, chapters, paragraphs, and even commas to appear within that completely purified, transformed, and blissful mind.

Otherwise everything that appears to us (other than to our very subtle mind) is going to remain as the mistaken and often painful projection of self-grasping. We will keep trying to believe in it as the truth, but like any hallucination or mirage it will thus forever and always keep letting us down.

Buddha_sunBuddha is the “supreme unchanging friend”. Enlightened beings are brighter than the sun, constantly shining in our lives, in all our lives. They are more stable than the great earth. They are omniscient wisdom mixed with universal compassion that pervades all beings. They have pulled this off as they have directly realized the non-duality of subject and object. We are mere aspects of their completely purified mind already, even if we don’t realize it.

Through following Buddha’s teachings, eventually we too will attain the non-conceptual mind of great bliss. With this we have direct experience that there is only one truth – ultimate truth emptiness – and that all conventional truths, ie, all story lines without exception, are mere appearances not other than ultimate truth.

Start here

If we want to help other people a lot, we can’t keep losing them. We can’t settle with just throwing them temporary lifelines as they drift in and out of our range. And how can any lifeline be enough if we are floundering in the waves ourselves?

We need to have everyone in our story all the time — not outside our mind, nor we outside theirs — sharing our mandala now and for always.

Leonard CohenI know that this may sound a very long way off, but we can start straightaway. There is nothing to lose, and every step we take will make our existential situation better.

What is the first step? Trusting in our own inner peace. We can start with just one simple breath carrying us into our heart.

What’s step two? High-quality encounters day by day. Learning to love people unconditionally in the moment. If we hold and remember people with love, they will not feel wrenched from our mind even when appearances change. We need not feel separate from them. We are always losing people through attachment, let alone aversion, so we must learn to dissolve these deluded conceptual thoughts and their objects away. As William Blake said along these lines:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

We can practice day by day to increase our love and compassion within the understanding of impermanence and space-like emptiness, until, as a Buddha, we can hold everyone all the time.

This way we will become supreme unchanging friends for the people we already adore, and for everyone else we have forgotten we adored in the past.

This may not be the Christmassy article you were hoping for, sorry; but it’s what I’ve been thinking about since I woke up 😁 Blame my mother — I wouldn’t be typing this fast if she hadn’t forced me to do a typing course back in the day. Or if she hadn’t given me my fingers.

That said, please join me in wishing her the most pure and peaceful of birthdays and years ahead!

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Don’t quit your day job (to practice dharma)

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

kamparipa
“Transform your daily task into an internal meditation … the result is the immaculate dharmakaya.” ~Kamparipa, the Mahasiddha who attained enlightenment in his daily life as a blacksmith

What do a Weaver, Musician, Cobbler, Blacksmith, Merchant and Potter all have in common? They are a few of the professions of ancient practitioners who attained full enlightenment through their day jobs. How did they do this? The common theme in the stories of these great yogis is that they used their daily appearances as fuel for their practice of meditation.

These ancient Mahasiddhas knew that everything is a mere appearance to the mind. By changing our mind and learning to see the appearances of our day job as a Dharma teaching, there is no need to change external appearances. Rather than our job being an obstacle to realizing Buddha’s teachings, it becomes our path of meditation. Then the focus of our job is not on escaping it so that we can really practice Dharma. Rather, the focus will be on transforming it in the most profound and meaningful way possible.

Our day job is not an obstacle to our practice
Manibhadra
“When I realized my mind is the nature of emptiness, all phenomena that appeared to my mind became emptiness itself.” ~Manibhadra, the female Mahasiddha who attained enlightenment in her daily life raising her family

Thinking that we need to quit our job to practice Dharma puts the results of our practice into the distant (and often unlikely) future. Often the wish to leave our job to practice Dharma is an aspect of aversion. We believe that if we only could have the space and time to actually focus on our practice, then we could make a dent in our delusions. This way of thinking obstructs us from living in the moment. It also disengages us from transforming every experience into one that destroys our delusions.

The most common objection to this is that we need to do solitary retreat for years to make progress. Geshe Kelsang has explained that with consistent practice we can attain the fourth stage of tranquil abiding in our daily life. In Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe Kelsang explains how to attain actual tranquil abiding and superior seeing using this level of concentration. This teaching unlocks the complete path to enlightenment without the need to quit our day job.

The complete path to enlightenment is available in daily life
Tantipa
“I weave the strands of my experience … and the finished fabric is the dharmakaya.” ~Tantipa, the Mahasiddha who met his teacher at the age of 89 and attained enlightenment in his daily life as a weaver

Geshe-la has explained again and again that we can easily attain the same results as the ancient practitioners of the past. He said that their stories are our proof that these practices work. We have access to the same techniques, presented in a modern context that are clear and easily understood. Due to many special qualities of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings, attaining the results of these practices is even easier now than it ever has been before!

So what other excuses do we have that stop us from fully embracing every appearance in our life as our spiritual path? What is stopping an Art Manager, Graphic Designer, Performer, Event Coordinator, or Software Engineer from becoming a modern-day Mahasiddha?

We need to fully believe that we can attain enlightenment in our day job and encourage ourself again and again until this becomes our reality.

The gift that keeps on giving

Do you ever feel out of sorts? I saw this Onion article, “Woman Either Quits Job or Goes Home and Watches 4 Hours of Netflix” the other day, which seemed to sum up some of the malaise and hollowness of modern society.Onion woman

But, now we’re settled on the couch, before we start streaming House of Cards, we could do a lot worse than to spend a few minutes turning on the faucet of love. Eventually, we discover

… an inexhaustible fountain of happiness within our own mind — our love for others. ~ New Eight Steps to Happiness

Carrying on from this article.

One way to turn on the faucet of love is by remembering how much we need others in order to practice love, compassion, generosity, and everything else that can fulfill our deepest wish for lasting happiness. Others are the gift that keeps on giving.

What makes something precious or valuable? For example, if you were offered the choice of a diamond or a bone, which would you choose? Obvious, perhaps. But what would really get your dog’s tail wagging? This example shows that preciousness doesn’t giftexist from the side of the object but depends on our needs and wishes. So, as it says in New Eight Steps to Happiness:

For someone whose main wish is to achieve the spiritual realizations of love, compassion, bodhichitta, and great enlightenment, living beings are more precious than a universe filled with diamonds or even wish-granting jewels.

The first step in this love practice, therefore, is really wanting those spiritual realizations. And why would we want them? Because we want to be happy all the time. “This day after day of unadulterated bliss is driving me crazy”, said no one ever.

But, although we want ongoing or permanent happiness, for as long as we associate happiness with stuff outside ourselves we settle instead for little happiness hits. Bit of food here, bit of sleep there, watching, talking, jobbing, texting, vacationing, etc. Sometimes things can work out well, but even then there’s usually still some underlying tension and frustration because the cause of happiness is perceived as outside of us so we have to keep clinging onto it for dear life. Plus it always goes away sooner or later.

IMG_0986

In any event, for this love meditation to work, we can conclude that there is no guaranteed pure or lasting cause of happiness other than Dharma, ie, purifying and transforming our minds to increase our mental peace, preferably shooting for the supreme peace of enlightenment.

In the recent Kadampa Spring Festival, Gen-la Jampa taught the beautiful method to develop affectionate love that comes from Shantideva and also appears in the Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, where you can read it. I thought I’d summarize the main steps. As you go through them you can ask yourself, “Do I agree? Is this true for me?”

  • We all want real, lasting happiness. See above.
  • We human beings now have the opportunity to gain this — the pure and everlasting happiness of enlightenment — because we have met the path to enlightenment.
  • This path is any spiritual realization motivated by compassion for all living beings. This can be anything, including giving, ethics, helping others, studying, meditating, etc.
  • The only gateway to this path is therefore universal compassion.
  • How are we going to get universal compassion? Only by relying on all living beings in the universe as the objects of our compassion.
  • Therefore, they are very kind. Without them, even if we met Buddha directly we would not have the opportunity to attain enlightenment. As Shantideva says, they are as kind as Buddhas. They are the same as Buddhas in the opportunity they give us for attaining enlightenment, and so are worthy of the same respect.
  • So we can conclude:

Each and every living being is supremely precious and kind for me because they give me the supreme happiness of enlightenment – the ultimate goal of human life.

IMG_0978

Thinking in this way we will generate a warm heart and a feeling of being close to all living beings without exception, and we can meditate on this affectionate love. Nice!

Competitors or invaluable?

If we want the pleasures of samsara, Gen-la Jampa said, it is hard to see others as kind because we are in competition with them. But if we want enlightenment, then each and every one of them is invaluable, more so than a universe of jewels, which in any case could never protect us from suffering or give us lasting happiness.

And we need them all, every single one. They are all equally beneficial, equally objects of love and compassion. And the objectionable ones are arguably the kindest or most beneficial, given that they are the causes of much needed patience.

The more we want worldly attainments, the more others will be the sources of our attachment or annoyance. The more we want spiritual attainments, the more valuable others will become for us. So, which is it to be?!IMG_0981

In our daily life, we can see what we actually want most by watching our minds to see how we are finding others — irritating or lovely. I will go first.

As I write this, there is a chubby little girl across the aisle from me on the supposedly Quiet carriage of this Virgin train, who is chattering loudly and singing songs about dinosaurs, despite her dad shushing her. She is also offering her dad ridiculous theories about fairies, and he, with his eyes closed and clearly trying to nap, is nodding his head absently. And I have the uncharitable thought, “What happened to that old adage about children should be seen but not heard?! After all, didn’t I deliberately choose the Quiet carriage so I could meditate on love & stuff uninterrupted?!!” But then her patient dad laughed at something she said, and she was delighted, and suddenly it was the sweetest scene. This is because he cherishes her and doesn’t find her at all annoying. So I don’t have to either, especially as I need her in order to get enlightened; and now I really quite like her.

Earlier, in a social setting I could not escape, I found myself landed with someone I’ve never had much in common with, who indeed has a diametrically opposed way of seeing the world. Was I bored and judgmental, or was I happy to have this opportunity to love and understand them?!

And even earlier, I was trying to give someone some really great advice, but they just kept talking and didn’t hear a word I was saying. Did I feel attachment to being heard, “They should be listening to me! Don’t they realize how much I know what I’m talking about here?!” Or was I happy to have the opportunity to just cherish them by listening?!

IMG_0984There was not enough rice left for everyone in the food caravan at the Festival, so as I watched someone in the line before me have the last scoop, was I jealous or happy for them?

Someone else was telling me about how much the National Health Service has deteriorated in Britain and how demoralized the doctors and nurses are. Did I get into self-preoccupation mode: “Oh no, who is going to look after my parents, and indeed even me if I ever want to come back to England for the free healthcare?” … or did I think about everyone concerned and increase my peaceful, compassionate wish to liberate all living beings from their sickness forever by becoming enlightened?

With these teachings fresh in my mind, dear reader, you’ll be relieved to hear that I was pretty much able to do the right thing on each of these occasions 😋

One useful question would really seem to be, “What am I most interested in? What do I want?” This seems to entirely determine whether I have a good time with others or see them as surplus to requirements or even an obstacle in my way.

So, encouraged by my experiments, I have decided that when I meet people I’m going to think — and from my heart not my head ‘cos it works — “I am going to get enlightened both thanks to you and for the sake of you.”

Over to you, comments welcome.

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