The year of living confidently

changing-sufferingIf we want 2017 to be better than 2016, we might want to cultivate some more self-confidence. I was thinking about how we cannot afford to become heavy-hearted or overwhelmed with all the things that will inevitably go wrong publicly and privately this year, or we will be of little use to anyone. The laziness of discouragement will kick in, wherein we will feel too dejected to help ourselves and everyone else bring an end to suffering and its causes. It is no fun to be like a dying snake, as in Shantideva’s illustration in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

If a snake lies dying on the ground,
Crows will act like brave eagles and attack it.
In the same way, if my self-confidence is weak,
Even the slightest adversity will be able to harm me.

According to Buddhism, there are four areas in which we need to cultivate self-confidence, and I thought it might be really helpful to set ourselves up with these for the new year. These will give us both courage and energy, regardless of what the day’s headlines are screaming.

Some things will go right in 2017, too, and, as you’ll see, we may need these special types of self-confidence then as well to stop ourselves getting side-tracked from our mission to save the world 😉

Tara’s story

But first I want to tell Tara’s story, as I said I would in this last article. This is because she is a perfect embodiment of self-confidence and fearlessness, and we could do a lot worse than (1) having her on our side and (2) learning to emulate her. It’s helpful to ask, “What would Tara tara-2do?” when we notice ourselves getting forlorn, desperate, or panic-stricken.

Whether you take the following account of where Tara came from as an allegory or a true story, I don’t think it really matters, for either way it shows how cool and courageous she is. In the Sutra of Praises to the Twenty-one Taras, Buddha Shakyamuni said:

Homage to Tara, the Swift One, the Heroine,
Whose eyes are like a flash of lightning,
Who arose from the opening of a lotus,
Born from the tears of the Protector of the Three Worlds.

Aeons and aeons ago, in another world system, Buddha Avalokiteshvara, who had already liberated countless living beings from suffering, thought he’d check, “How many are left?” Seeing that there were still a countless number, he was so moved that he began to cry.

The Buddha of Compassion’s tears were so great that they formed a pool.

And in response, swift as the wind, as a manifestation of the wind element of all the Buddhas, Tara arose from a lotus on the pool and said to him these words:

Don’t cry. I will help you. I will permanently liberate all remaining living beings from their suffering.

Tara is therefore compassion in action, action Buddha, superwoman. She doesn’t mess about and she never backs down. Gentle, ferocious, whatever it takes … she will do it to liberate living beings. An incredibly popular, iconic Buddha in India and in Tibet, and hopefully now increasingly amongst us in the modern world, there are many stories of people calling out to her at moments of danger, fear, and duress and immediately receiving her help.

And if we want to assist all the Buddhas, including our compassionate Spiritual Guide, in their mission to liberate everyone on this planet and elsewhere from their pain, we need to aim at Tara’s degree of self-assurance.

What is pride?

So, back to the four types of self-confidence. Judging by the number of self-help books on developing self-confidence, a lot of people like this topic – probably because our self-grasping and self-cherishing make us feel so insecure all the time.

In other teachings, Geshe Kelsang refers to these types of self-confidence taught by Shantideva as “non-deluded pride.” In general, pride is deluded. Our mind is “puffed up” with an exaggerated sense of our own importance, as Geshe-la explains in the book How to Understand the Mind.

Pride refers to an inflated sense of self for slight reasons. For example, a new haircut. New shoes. Or you just got a promotion or a hot girlfriend or something like that. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. These things are never a reason to think that we’re better or superior to others, that we are somehow more special. But due to our ridiculous feelings of self-doubt, we’re constantly longing to feel special. Our self-cherishing makes us long to be affirmed in some way, any way. Yesterday a close friend I haven’t seen in a while said to me, as if he pridemeant it, “You’re looking really great!” and although I brushed it off modestly on the outside, inside I was like, “Yeah, you’re right, thank you.” We swell up like a balloon.

Or maybe someone tells us excitedly of a beautiful place they visited and we reply, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve been there.” Subtext is that we discovered it, we got there first, it is pervaded by our ego blessings, they should count themselves lucky to be part of that. According to our self-grasping and our self-cherishing, the world basically revolves around us; and deluded pride is just an inflation of those ego minds. The self held up by our self-grasping and self-cherishing doesn’t exist, so we need pride to bolster it! Perhaps this is why deluded pride is one of the six root delusions, meaning it is pretty common, even if we hate ourselves. Perhaps especially if we hate ourselves.

Ego trips (up)

Self-confidence is not the same as self-importance, it is quite the opposite. If we are caught up with grasping at inherently existent self and inherently existent others — which leads to cherishing our important self and neglecting the importance of others — we find ourselves constantly jockeying for position. This undermines our self-confidence as we are always comparing and contrasting ourselves with others instead of just getting mountain-peakson un-self-consciously with the job of improving ourselves and helping everyone else. We feel superior, or we feel inferior, or we feel competitive. We have to focus on our own good qualities and others’ faults just to stay on top. We have to praise ourselves and criticize others, whether out loud or internally, just to feel good about ourselves. It’s exhausting.

Anyway, that’s deluded pride. There are seven types as a matter of fact, and you can check these out in How to Understand the Mind – they have names like “pride in identity” and “pretentious pride”, and the descriptions are embarassing. This pride stops us improving. And pride comes before a fall, as they say. It makes us vulnerable and sets us up for suffering because it’s only a matter of time before we’re not being acknowledged in the way we want to be acknowledged, or people are ignoring us, or suddenly there’s a biting comment, and whoooosh, all the wind goes out of the balloon, just like that.

Feeling full of ourselves based on external stuff that doesn’t last is highly suspect – youth and good looks, for example, are neither a stable nor genuine basis for feeling cool. (Doesn’t mean we’re not appreciative to be young and good-looking, but we don’t need to be all conceited about it.) Pride also leads to disrespect and gets in the way of empathizing with others. On the subject of ordinary coolness:

For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder. ~ John Lennon

Buddha Vajrayogini often appears as an old hag to help her followers realize that youth and looks aren’t everything, aren’t much in fact. And of course there is Tara, who is totally cool, as is Geshe Kelsang, not because he is young or has movie star looks but because he is fully in control of his mind. In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe-la says:

At present we might be beautiful, fit, intelligent, and successful, but we have no power to remain like this. Eventually, without any choice, we will have to become old, decrepit, impoverished, disabled or senile. If we compare ourselves to realized beings who have perfect freedom and whose happiness cannot be destroyed by external conditions, we will soon lose our pride.

Non-deluded pride is completely different to deluded pride. Non-deluded pride is also a strong sense of self, but this self is not the inherently existent self, which doesn’t in fact exist, but a self that is identified with the truth, or imputed on something that does exist. These are the four types of non-deluded pride, or self-confidence:

  1. Pride with respect to our potential.
  2. Pride in thinking we can destroy our delusions.
  3. Pride in our actions.
  4. Divine pride, taught in Buddha’s Tantric teachings.

I’m out of space, so can come back to these in the next article.

Meantime, over to you. Comments very welcome! (To leave a comment, by the way, just scroll down to the bottom of this page.)

Related articles

Living fearlessly  

Saying bye bye to the painful, limited self

In praise of integrity 

Ain’t no thing

BuddhaIn the last few days I’ve had a few things go wrong with this body – none of them worth writing home about, but, added together, annoying enough. Bad allergies, stomach pains, an infected finger, a fever, and less of my taken-for-granted ability to dive into my heart and stay there.

High time to transform this physical suffering because that is what Kadampa Buddhists do – we love suffering! Don’t we?! Hmmm. Maybe. Or at least we try not to mind it too much, and use it to make spiritual progress. Eventually, yes, we love it, for I have met lots of practitioners who love quite major suffering already. I admire them and aspire to their attainments, for then suffering will hold no fear. The end goal is to put a stop to our own and others’ suffering forever, and we use the appearance of suffering to help us get there. So this is a short tale of what I tried today.

(Look, admittedly, this is not going to be an inspiring account of how I transformed cancer. A few minor ailments are nothing in the grand scheme of things, I know that, in fact it is sort of the point; but you have to start somewhere and the important thing is to deal with whatever is arising for you.)

The tale of a sore finger

So this story starts first thing this morning with my finger, or, more precisely, the top inch of my finger. Who knew that such a small area of the body could throb so much! It makes me realize that there is not an inch of my body that is not ready to hurt me, that inevitably will hurt me if I insist on identifying myself with meat and nerve endings.

finger
Yuk.

I made the mistake of looking up infected fingers on Google, to discover the horrible truth that, left untreated, I was about to lose my whole finger… and that the infection could spread to other fingers and (left unsaid but I could see where this was going) I would soon lose my entire hand!!! Aarggh! My finger is now the most important finger in the whole wide world! It has to be saved! Moral of the tale: stop surfing the internet while under the influence of self-cherishing, it doesn’t help. To be fair, Google was useful on the home remedies front, and I’ve been dutifully dipping said finger into a mixture of warm water and apple cider vinegar for 15 minutes several times a day, during which times it is interesting to see how little else gets done.

kitten
Jampa the Kitten

Between finger-soaking and nose-blowing and stomach clutching and general woe-is-me’ness, early this morning I decided to be nice and wash some of the soiled litter off the tiny soft paws of this harmless-looking round kitten. But appearances are deceptive, I discovered not for the first time, when he yowled and sunk his nasty scratchy sharp nails right into my poor swollen finger. I allowed myself a little optimism as the blood spurted, “Perhaps he has lanced this wound, saving me a visit to the doctor for surgery and amputation!”, but alternatively, I then thought, he might have added cat scratch fever to my list of ailments. I’m never going to foster horrible little kittens again …

Aarrghh! self-cherishing feeling sorry for itself and blaming others again … Clearly it was time for some contemplation on all of this, or my day was going to get away from me.

Lesson #1 ~ renunciation

Samsara throws up one problem after another, waves on an ocean. No sooner have we dealt with one thing — the thing we thought was all that was standing in the way of us and unbounded happiness – then something else comes up.

“There’s always something”, as my friend M said to me last week, “until there isn’t.”

And that “isn’t” time will only come when we recognize, reduce, and abandon permanently our self-grasping ignorance, destroying the ocean of samsaric suffering once and for all.

If we think about our suffering out of self-grasping and self-cherishing, we suffer. If we think about it to inspire us to overcome true sufferings and true origins, we have the liberating thought of renunciation, not suffering.lotus 1

This sore finger ain’t no thing — doesn’t matter — as they say, compared with the sufferings of my countless future lives.

We blame others, even kittens, whining away like “childish ones”, as Buddha described us; but all the blame can rightfully be laid on our own self-grasping. Not understanding that the things we normally see do not exist, grasping at a world outside of the mind, we develop self-cherishing, anger, and attachment, which in turn create the contaminated karma that cause our endless problems to appear. Other living beings and situations can only ever be conditions for our own karma to ripen.

Lesson # 2 ~ no self, no problem

To destroy the whole of our samsara with its literally endless problems, we only need to re-think the way we are viewing things. How hard is that, given that we currently have access to all the teachings on how to do it? As the great Yogi Saraha says, in one of my favorite quotes:

lotus 2If your mind is released permanently from self-grasping, there is no doubt that you will be released permanently from suffering.

Or, put this way:

No self, no problem.

The things we normally see do not exist, and that includes ourself, sore fingers, and everything else.

I cannot be found anywhere in my body or mind, and nor can I be found anywhere else. I hurt because I mush my sense of I up with my finger, but I am not my finger. You cannot find me in there, even though I say “Ow, I hurt”, or “This is hurting me,” or even “My finger hurts”. Where is the I that owns the finger? 
Geshe-la

Also, Geshe Kelsang says:

It is true that our body that we normally see does not exist, and there is no body other than this; but we mistakenly believe that our body that we normally see actually exists and, because of this, we experience sufferings of the body such as sickness as a hallucination, as a mistaken appearance, as like a dream. ~ How to Understand the Mind, p. 311

My finger cannot be found in its parts or anywhere else — try pointing to your finger without pointing at its parts.

So the suffering finger that I normally see is not really there — it is like an hallucination, like the suffering in a dream.

This sore finger ain’t no thing, for it cannot be found anywhere.

Lesson # 3 ~ compassion

I decided that my finger was like a portal into the lives of others — those, for example, who have lost limbs in fighting, or those not born with any limbs to begin with, or burn victims with large parts of their skin in agony. Let alone all those in the lower realms. I wouldn’t necessarily think about these people if I didn’t have to transform this paltry finger pain, and so my compassion would not develop.

Similar to renunciation, if we think about our own suffering out of self-cherishing we suffer, but if we use it to think about others’ suffering we develop the wish to free them, which is the peaceful mind of compassion, not suffering. 

Just as I was thinking this, the kittens climbed up onto my shoulders, where they are now as well, and started snuffling into my ears. (Sometime in their journey to safety from the kill shelter in Pampa, Texas they developed upper respiratory problems). It was not hard to see that my suffering is NOTHING compared with theirs, and all I want is for them to be out of those kitten bodies and into human bodies or better, ASAP. How is that going to happen if I don’t make it happen?

This sore finger ain’t no thing compared with the sufferings of countless other living beings.

Lesson # 4 ~ Tantra

There is no suffering in the Pure Land. If out of renunciation and compassion I dissolve everything into bliss and the wisdom realizing that all the things I normally see do not exist — including my entire meaty body, self, mind, and world — I can then appear myself Buddha's handsas Buddha Vajrayogini in the Pure Land, and the basis of suffering has gone for ever. Buddhas’ fingers give rise to nothing but endless bliss and benefit.

So my sore finger is reminding me to go straight away, now, to the Pure Land — why hang out any longer in a meaty body that can hurt all over, and sooner or later no doubt will, especially given my increasing age? Let alone all the bodies I’ll have to keep taking in all my future lives. Nasty stuff. It has to stop now, I have to stop ordinary conceptions and appearances.

I am switching to Keajra channel and staying there, resisting any temptation to flick back to samsara channel on the frankly remote chance that something better might be on. That hasn’t happened yet.

This sore finger ain’t no thing in the Pure Land.

Conclusion

Having had quite some success with this contemplation despite my fever, and feeling pretty darned good by now, I then applied these lines of thought to my running nose and my stomach ache, and threw in a few emotional issues too while I was at it. And, just as Buddha promised, I felt better and better the more grist I threw to the mill.

rainbow swingI even came to the conclusion that I’m loving me some suffering! (However, lets not push it … )

The ability to transform our everyday appearances of suffering into something immensely meaningful and joyful is HUGE, and a major hallmark of a genuine Kadampa. So I’d like to open this conversation up to you — inspire us, have you used Buddha’s teachings to transform your suffering?

Ps, My finger miraculously cured itself while I was writing this.

 

Are we hallucinating all this?!

shoes on mountainI was on a walk the day Prince died, in the freezing/hot Colorado spring weather, which took me through no fewer than 12 snow-melty streams; and I didn’t see another person all day, not even a bear. And I got to thinking all philosophically about what’s life all about; so I thought I’d share some thoughts.

The aim of Buddhist practice and, if you ask me, the meaning of life, is to gain the realization of Mahamudra, the union of bliss and emptiness. This will obliterate samsara, freeing us and enabling us to free those connected to us, which is everyone.

And there are two complementary approaches (I was thinking on my mountain) into this. One is through the mind (aiming for the clear light of bliss) and the other is through the object (aiming for a realization of emptiness).

In The New Heart of Wisdom, Geshe Kelsang explains how all conventional truths are created by our mind of self-grasping ignorance (albeit not apprehended or established by it.)

In How to Understand the Mind, he says that everything appearing to our gross and subtle minds is hallucination. It would seem that of all ordinary beings’ minds, only our very subtle mind is not mistaken because it perceives emptiness, the way things are.

Yikes, we’re hallucinating all the time!
it'll be fun
Fooled again!

Taken together, it looks like we are always hallucinating, except when we can use our very subtle mind. All appearances to these gross and subtle levels of mind, and even the mind itself, are hallucinations that we need to learn to see through.

We end up with the union of these two approaches by practicing the union of Sutra and Tantra. We get closer to the very subtle mind by understanding its object, emptiness, as taught in Sutra; and we get closer to emptiness by learning to manifest and use the very subtle mind, as taught in Highest Yoga Tantra. It seems these realizations are symbiotic.

We can start practicing this union now by feeling that we are meditating with and on our own very subtle mind whenever possible, seeing all other minds and their appearances as simply waves from that ocean.

So, what can we trust?!trees

In the meantime, trapped in hallucination, how on earth do we function at all? How do we know what to rely on? How can we trust anything that doesn’t exist as it appears?

We can because some things have relative meaning, are relatively meaningful. Within our hallucinations we agree on some things, eg, we can sit on chairs, and that is relative or conventional reality (shared experiences arising from the similar perceptions/appearances of our collective karma). We can rely on it to a certain extent. It functions in the way it is supposed to, and we can have a relatively valid apprehension of it, with a so-called ‘conventional valid cognizer’.

One way to understand this is by using the example of a dream. As Geshe Kelsang explains in Modern Buddhism:

Conventional objects are false because, although they appear to exist from their own side, in reality they are mere appearances to mind, like things seen in a dream.

The world we experience in a dream is deceptive because it appears to have its own existence independent of the mind, and we discover this when we wake up. However, within the dream we can say that there are relative truths and relative falsities.

Within the context of a dream, dream objects have a relative validity and this distinguishes them from things that do not exist at all. ~ Modern Buddhism

Geshe-la gives the example of our stealing a diamond in a dream – if we confess to it, we are telling the truth, if we say we didn’t steal it we are telling a lie.

Another example – if in my dream I nod to the six-stringed instrument I am playing and tell you, “This is my guitar”, this is true, but if I say “This is my ukulele” (a four-stringed instrument), this is false. However, within the whole context of the dream both are deceptive because they appear to be real when they are not. (As I discover when I wake up and can no longer play either.)

flowers.jpgSo, it seems that everything in a dream is created by the self-grasping of the dream mind and is therefore deceptive; but within that experience some thoughts are ‘valid’ and establish the ‘truth’, relatively speaking, and some thoughts are not, namely our delusions, whose objects don’t exist at all.

I think we can say the same for conventional truths while we are awake — all conventional truths are ‘created’ by self-grasping, true only for self-grasping; but compared with non-existents they are relatively true, truths by convention or agreement, ie, conventional truths. A non-existent on the other hand is still hallucination, still projected by self-grasping, but has no validity at all. It is apprehended or established by self-grasping delusions. An example would be an object of anger, such as an inherently existent faulty person, who doesn’t exist at all. (The anger itself however does exist and is a conventional truth, as is every mind.)

Perhaps I will stick my neck out and say that conventional reality is collective hallucination?! But please don’t take my word for it, please feel free to debate this in the comments.

Given all this, how are we to navigate through these mistaken appearances and make our lives meaningful? Answers on a postcard …! And Part Two is here.

Reflections in a clear lake

flying crowMahasiddha Saraha was a Mahamudra master who gave some very helpful analogies to help us settle the mind, explained in Clear Light of Bliss. One is about a crow and a boat. In the olden days, before GPS, sailors would take a crow with them and periodically let it go to see if they were near land. If they were, the crow would not return; if they were not, it would fly around a bit and then have to return to the boat.

(I am continuing from this article on Mahamudra.)

Where do you want to land?

We can be the same with our various distractions – we do not give them anywhere to land. We don’t let them land, we just watch them. They’ve arisen from the mind and are the nature of mind so — although they’ll give us reasons as to why we SHOULD think them, fascinating or useful as they are — if we just wait they will rejoin the meditation object, the mind itself. And we don’t need to worry that we have lost anything, a useful train of thought for example, for we have lost nothing. In fact, we have gained a great deal.

Normally we are very good at giving our thoughts somewhere to land … indeed a sofa to sit on, a house to live in, a bed, a family, a history, a town … Distraction is like poison. If we get sufficiently stuck in one thought it can derail our entire life, it has that power. Any depression or fury that we’ve had started with one thought.

reflection in lakeSo in the meditation on the nature of the mind we learn to let go, and we learn that it is safe to let go, because the thoughts arose from and subsided into our own mind, nowhere else. And once they’re gone they’re gone but we are not missing much, if anything.

Delirium

Bear in mind, after all, that we are hallucinating like crazy most of the time! Whenever we are suffering from the delusions of anger, attachment, and even just our underlying ignorance, the engaged objects of our mind don’t exist, as explained in detail in How to Understand the Mind. I spent time in a ward for people with so-called “confusion” not long ago. Some of the patients were clearly hallucinating like crazy due to infections, “delirious” as the doctors put it, and, you know something, I couldn’t help thinking that they were not really that much more “delusional” than anyone else, it was just that no one was sharing these particular narratives with them. No more than people share our dreams. Not that it was pleasant for anyone concerned, but no hallucinations are pleasant, not really, and they just go on and on and on, which is why Buddhists have had enough and want samsara to end.

Let it be

When we are meditating and we get distracted, eg, by the sound of someone moving around, then instead of going immediately out to this distraction we can remember Saraha’s crow analogy and let it be. We can stay focused on the clarity and know that the distraction will rejoin it. One corner of our mind is observing that a thought is arising, but we also know that it will rejoin the mind. This is the same for any awareness or thought we have – they are all equally mind, or clarity, so however compelling, or however far they threaten to take us away from the meditation, in fact they can’t if we don’t let them.

So we are not conceptually pushing the thoughts away, rejecting them – there is no aversion, we are just letting them rejoin the object and dissolve away, quite naturally. We are relaxed – concentrated for sure, yet in a state of acceptance rather than resistance. And both our concentration and our wisdom are improving all the time.

Being alive

In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe Kelsang says that our very subtle mind “holds our life”. It seems to me that when we are tuned into the clarity of our mind, this is really feeling alive. I also think we can do this to a certain extent anytime, not just in deep meditation – be aware of the awareness rather than fixated on its objects. We tend to stay more in the heart too when we do this, which feels more peaceful and spacious.

We do not need to go OUT to objects any more than a lake needs to go out to its reflections – they are mere aspects/appearances. This really helps us stay in the present moment for how can a reflection in a lake be in the past or in the future?

Have you ever noticed what happens when you are starting to feel a bit disturbed or deluded – how your mind wants to go OUT? It starts to feel unsettled. We can feel our energy winds going outwards, if we observe carefully – trying like the crow to find somewhere to land. When we allow ourselves to absorb inward by remembering that there is nothing actually out there to go to, we experience contentment, and eventually non-dual bliss.

We can get a taste of how it is possible to enjoy endlessly, without craving, with the blissful Heroes and Heroines (the Tantric Buddhas) of Heruka’s mandala; and learn to bring everyone else in. As we pray in the Heruka tsog offering:

Please bless me so that I may experience delight with the messengers of the vajra mind family.

Quick meditation on the mind

Here are a few quick pointers to the Mahamudra meditation again.

With a decision to apply ourselves, we can breathe out our obstacles and open up the space in our mind to inhale radiant light, the nature of our Mahamudra master’s fully realized consciousness. We can draw peaceful blessings deep into our root mind at our heart with each inhalation. Through enjoying this process, we allow our own awareness to be drawn in too, until we feel centered within this light, peaceful, experience at our heart. 

While relaxing here, we ask: “What is the mind? What is it that is aware of the sounds, sensations, thoughts?” So that instead of focusing on these we use them to help us become aware of awareness itself, which is like an inner empty space that has the power to perceive. Then we abide within the experience of the mind itself, recognizing it as the root mind at our heart, moment by moment.

The moment we notice that our mind is distracted outward and wants somewhere to land, we can remember the crow analogy. We can ask, “What is it that is aware?”, and stay inwardly focused on the clarity of the mind.

Fancy winter retreat here at Madhyamaka Centre? It’s near (old) York, in England.

You may or may not have much time to practice this meditation over the holiday period, but I hope these Mahamudra articles so far have given some of you a little appetite for retreat in January 2016 (also Heruka and Vajrayogini month). Meditation retreats will be taking place at residential and non-residential Kadampa centers all over the world, for example in upstate New York. It’s always been my favorite part of the year.

What is life according to Buddha?

samsara's oceanWe can start the meditation on the mind, as mentioned here, just by watching the cloud-like thoughts come and go within the clear sky-like mind, without reacting or intruding or indeed thinking them through. Our mind may not seem much like a clear sky to begin with – it may indeed feel totally overcast, with no glimpses of clarity – but we just watch the clouds scud by. Then we can come to observe what is beneath those scudding thoughts, asking, “Where is each thought coming from? Where is it going to? What is it? Where is it? What is that space between the end of one thought and the beginning of the next?”

(I am carrying on from this article.)

Once we are through to the clarity of our mind at the level of our heart, we think that we are meditating on our root mind, our deepest level of consciousness, also known as our “very subtle mind”.

No matter how good or not we are at this meditation, we can always create very special causes by thinking that we are meditating on our root mind itself. As Geshe Kelsang said in 2000 (and it also comes up in his new ear-whispered Oral Instructions of Mahamudra):

We don’t need to expect quick results. Whenever we train in using our root mind as our object of meditation, it causes our realization of the very subtle mind to ripen. We will get closer and closer. In reality this is like the preparation for the Highest Yoga Tantra practice of clear light. It is very special.heart chakra 2

If you get a chance to sit down with the chapter on “The Gross, Subtle and Very Subtle Minds” in How to Understand the Mind, please do, as it is quite — for want of a better word — mind-blowing. As for our very subtle mind, also descriptively known as our “continuously residing mind”, Geshe Kelsang says in this book:

Without the very subtle mind we would have no life because our gross and subtle minds cannot hold our life. This is because they are only temporary minds, and very unstable.

They are like the waves on the ocean, where the root mind is the ocean itself. Or like the clouds in the sky, where the root mind is the sky itself.

Therefore only our very subtle mind holds our life continuously throughout the day and night, and in life after life until we become an enlightened Buddha. ~ How to Understand the Mind

“Almost mind”

There is more philosophical stuff coming up in this and future articles, but really the meditation on the mind should be done in the spirit of relaxed experimentation. We’re not pushing for a result or an insight, but allowing our own simple observation of our thoughts and what is appearing to those thoughts to improve our understanding of the nature of the mind and its objects.

So in this meditation we are meditating on the conventional nature of the mind, but also indirectly gaining a deeper insight into ultimate truth, emptiness, by seeing the interdependence of perceiver and perceived; that we can’t have one without the other. Thoughts and their objects are not identical, but they depend on each other, and you cannot separate them out.

The clarity of mind is the basis for perceptions AND their objects. A mountain, for example, is form, not clarity itself; but it is also not other than that clarity.
elephant in dreamTake dreaming. We know that an elephant in a dream is not the mind, or clarity, itself, as it is grey and big whereas the mind is colorless and shapeless. However, it is also not other than clarity. It is not outside the mind. It is mere aspect of clarity, mere appearance of mind.

One way we can know this is because when the dreaming mind dreaming the elephant ceases, so does the elephant. That’s the only reason the elephant ceases, according to Geshe Kelsang in How to Understand the Mind. Only mind has that power.

In the same way, waking objects are all mere aspects of the minds that perceive them. Although forms and so on are not mind itself, they are “almost mind”, Geshe Kelsang has taught.

Karmic movie

When we did the meditation mentioned at the beginning of this article, we began by watching our thoughts. This is rather as if we are watching a karmic movie – wave after wave of appearance arising from the winds of karma blowing on the ocean of the root mind. Through this simple observation, it looks like we are already improving our wisdom.

Once we have a feeling of watching the karmic movie, we move to the clarity. We don’t force it or hold onto a dry, intellectual image, but observe that it is our actual mind that is clarity.

If we allow all our wave-like thoughts to dissolve into the clarity of our mind, all the objects of those thoughts also disappear. They have no life of their own, they cannot exist without being apprehended. When we develop deep concentration on the clarity of our mind, everything dissolves away into it.

The ocean analogy can really help this happen – wave-like thoughts arise from the root mind and they also dissolve back, we can actually observe this. We get a feeling for the waves returning to their source, rather than trying to hold a hard generic, or mental, image of a clear mind.

Appearances don’t obstruct the clarity because they are aspects of clarity. For example, the sound of a bird appearing to the clarity of ear awareness is not other than clarity itself. It is not outside it.

A wave is just the ocean making itself known.

By the end of our meditation on the mind, all appearances have settled into our root mind like waves settling into the ocean, and we focus on the clarity, which is the main object of meditation.

Inner luminosity

Instead of staying endlessly preoccupied with the most superficial of appearances, in this meditation on the mind we can learn to recognize instead the inner luminosity that allows us to experience everything, which is always present and always accessible. Only our mind is “clear enough to perceive objects”, as Geshe Kelsang has said. It is animation itself. It is life.

(And, mind-boggling as it may seem to us at the moment, once this mind is no longer obstructed by delusions and their imprints through the practice of Dharma, we will know everything simultaneously and directly; we will be omniscient.)

life after deathAs mentioned, whenever there is an appearance – eg, a memory, or a feeling, or a physical sensation — there is a mind to which it is appearing that is the same nature as that appearance. We try to see that the mind itself is the cognizer; we are aware of the cognizer. We can see ourselves how it is formless. Experientially, it is observed to be rather like an inner empty space with the power to perceive.

This is proof enough that the mind is not the body and, indeed, as a formless continuum it will go to future lives – we don’t need to debate whether or not the mind is the brain as it clearly is not. It’s enough to gain at least some understanding of past and future lives. As Geshe-la says in How to Understand the Mind page 6:

Through understanding the nature and function of the mind correctly, we can understand that our mind is completely different from our body, and this proves that, after our death, although our body will cease the mind will not.

Life continues through and after the death of our meaty body, as life is mind. So, if our body ends today, where will our mind and all its experiences be tomorrow? Today might be a good day to think about this, before that tomorrow is upon us!

Subtle impermanence

(Carrying straight on from Living in the moment.) We can ask ourselves how many of the decisions etc we make are truly new and how many are just impermanence 3recreating the past? Let’s say someone was critical of us yesterday and we became defensive. Then we see them again today. They are a completely different person — today’s person, not yesterday’s —  but we see yesterday’s person and so interact with them edgily and uncomfortably again.

Relating to yesterday’s person and not today’s gives rise to problems as the assumptions we make about them, and the ways we then interact with them, are completely false. And we can end up perpetuating the negativity for days, weeks, or longer. A grudge is a perfect example of this. We sustain anger in the present about a person who has long gone. And it doesn’t help them, or us. Resentment is, as the saying goes, like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Two ways to address the problem

There are 2 ways to address the problem of being stuck in the past illustrated in this example. The first is wisdom, cultivating insight into the nature of impermanence and change. The second is determination, combining this insight practically into our daily activities by deciding strongly to stop grasping at the past.

First, wisdom

this too shall passI’m going to spend this article and the next exploring the wisdom of subtle impermanence as explained by Buddha and my teacher Geshe Kelsang (in his books and oral Mahamudra teachings), and incorporating insights from a wise friend called Gen Samten, whom I find to be an expert on this subject.

In general, wisdom is defined as a virtuous intelligent mind that understands a meaningful object. It is not the same as just being smart. We don’t need to know everything to be free and happy — we need to know what is meaningful to be happy. Buddha illustrated this by picking up a handful of leaves in a forest, saying to his disciples that the numerous leaves in the forest represent all that can be known in the world, but the leaves in his hand represent all that needs to be known to attain liberation.

For example, when a king asked his Buddhist teacher for advice that would both lift his mind in adversity and prevent over-excitement and distraction when things were going well, his teacher taught him the simple phrase: “This too shall pass.”

Two different models of change

time lapse 2Do you agree that things change? I think pretty much everyone agrees that everything changes — we even say things like, “Things are changing all the time! Things are changing so fast!” That much is true, but our understanding of what change actually is is wrong.

There  are 2 different models of change, one coming from confusion and one coming from wisdom.

Suppose you walk past a house on way to work every day. That house undergoes changes, cracks appear, masonry falls down, and so on. Why does it change? The bigger changes are happening because moment by moment the building is changing. We can’t perceive that with our eyes, but moment by moment it is changing and we notice the more obvious results of this. We’d all agree with this and this is correct, BUT generally we feel that it is the same basic building that is changing from moment to moment. It has changed a bit but it’s the same house.

It’s the same with the relationship with our significant other. We can acknowledge that the relationship changes but we still feel it’s the same relationship – it’s the same as yesterday’s relationship but has changed slightly.

This thought is confusion because it isn’t true that it is the same building. It is not the same building. It is a completely different building. And the same is true for the relationship — no part of yesterday’s relationship carries over into today’s relationship.

What about us? We woke up, we had coffee, now some time later we’re here reading this, and we feel that I’m the same basic person who woke up this morning and had that coffee. I’ve changed a little bit, but I’m the same basic person.time lapse 3

But this is not true. We are a completely different person. The person drinking coffee and the person reading this now are completely different. Not even an atom of the person drinking coffee exists now. If they did exist, if the previous me had not ceased, where is it, and why are there not two me’s wandering around, one drinking coffee and one reading this?

We are a continuum of moments that are causally related but completely different. So, yes, the person who drank coffee this morning is the cause of the person who is sitting here now, but is completely different. The person sitting here is not that person who drank coffee — that person has completely finished, gone, not even an atom of them remains.

In How to Understand the Mind, page 134, my teacher says:

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.

seeds sprouting
Five replacement sprouts

This is the real meaning of change. The person who begins the sentence is not the one who ends it – every single atom has gone by the end. The person who begins a thought is not the same as the one who finishes a thought. Moment to moment to moment we are changing and not even a tiny trace of one moment is carried over into the next. The next moment is completely new, the previous me has completely gone, the person who drank coffee has completely gone. 

Yesterday’s weather has completely gone, we accept this, we know not a trace of it remains today. Heck, the whole of yesterday is like that – it has all completely gone, including yesterday’s me. 

So why hold onto the past, to something that has completely gone?

weatherUse bigger than smaller chunks of time

It can be helpful to begin relating to this truth with bigger chunks of time and then making them smaller. Where is the child we were? Completely gone. Where is the person we were ten years ago, five years ago, one week ago, one minute ago …? Completely gone. “But it is still basically me!” Only it is not. If it was, the five-year-old you would still be wandering around. But not one atom of that child remains. Not one atom of the you who started reading this sentence remains.

Today is your first day.

Continued here.

Dealing with suffering

BAMHappy Vajrayogini Day 🙂 This transcendent Buddha of Wisdom is all about helping us destroy our suffering at its root, in the course of one short lifetime.

We don’t like suffering, at least I don’t. Strange how much time we spend, then, dwelling on our own suffering each day.

Geshe Kelsang has said it is meaningless to think about our own suffering unless we want to develop renunciation, the wish for permanent freedom from all suffering and its causes. Dwelling on our own problems out of the context of renunciation can just lead to more self-cherishing. We tend to bat away one problem at a time, which is a bit exhausting and overwhelming. This is one reason why we need genuine renunciation, a compassion for ourselves that wants to be free from the whole ocean of samara, not just one wave at a time.

My friend K went to ER on Wednesday morning – waited 7 hours to be seen, all the time experiencing attacks of agony from kidney stones. She said the main thing she learned was that temporary cessations from particular sufferings, as Geshe Kelsang puts it, were indeed not good enough. In between the bouts of vomiting she’d experience temporary relief, and for the first few hours she though each time, “Phew, that’s it.” She said she even forgot quickly about the pain, thought she was free. But by 11 at night, experience had shown her that this short respite was just the precursor to another pain attack, and that she needed permanent freedom.

Keeping suffering in context

prison and freedomInterestingly, we can be overwhelmingly sad about any given daily mental or physical suffering, but when we manage to view that in the bigger existential context of the four noble truths and develop renunciation our mind becomes lighter and happier, already on the side of liberation, on the side of the solution.

Imagine you’d been born in a prison but had no idea, and you spent your life complaining about the prison food, the bars on the window that ruined your view, the rough and annoying people around you, the cold showers …. You tried to fix these problems as they arose, with greater or lesser success, but generally the whole experience was frustrating. Then someone comes along and says, “Your actual problem is that you are in prison. Until you get out, you are going to experience prison problems, whatever you do.” Buddha was like that when he pointed out the truth of suffering, the first of the four noble truths, likening samsara to a prison. It was not to depress us that he explained how we suffer from mental and physical pain every single frigging day of our lives, but to energize us to break out of the prison of suffering, whose walls and prison guards are our own delusions and negative actions.

hunger gamesWe’ve been enslaved by a master race of delusions since beginningless time. Katniss may be cool, but never mind the Hunger Games (a nod to the 4 nieces who told me to read/watch it) – that’s small fry. It’s time for us all to really rebel, shooting the flaming arrow of wisdom into our ignorance by realizing the ultimate nature of things, the mere absence of all the things we normally see.

Life is short

As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Understand the Mind p 275:

“Normally we believe that solving the suffering and problems of our present life is most important, and we dedicate our whole life for this purpose.”

But the problems of this life are very short-lived – if we die tomorrow, those problems end tomorrow.

I was talking with a friend over Xmas who was saying he wanted to win the lottery. I replied, “Don’t we all, but all the same it won’t solve our problems for very long.” He disagreed, regaling me with the varying levels of debt he and his family are in, and how much more wonderful life will be when those debts are paid off, how they’ll be free. Yes, perhaps, (I might have said if I’d thought of it at the time) — but not if you pay your debts off on Tuesday and then die on Wednesday.

Springboard to freedom
flicking off a rock
Quick, learn to fly!

Far more serious are the problems we are carrying deep inside us in the form of delusions and negative karma, as these undercurrents will flow into our countless future lives, constantly churning up new sufferings. If we use this short, very precious human life just to bat away at our immediate problems, I was thinking it’s a bit like using a million dollars to pay for a bag of salt & vinegar crisps at the airport because we feel peckish and happen to like Walkers. Precious human lives packed full with opportunity don’t come out of nowhere – we may not remember, but we must have spent a huge amount of time and effort in previous lives creating all the causes for this one, our potential springboard to freedom. Do we want to squander all that trying to solve the problems of just this life when we can use it in advance to solve the problems of all our future destinations?

Same for others

I think we can use a similar line of reasoning for developing compassion. Let’s say someone we love has been diagnosed with a horrible perhaps incurable illness. We can’t bear it, and we want them to be free from it; but we are not a doctor and, even if we were, we cannot cure them. So we are unhappy, the suffering seems overwhelming, seems to be just there, just sitting there. If however we transform that simple wish for them to be free from this particular illness into actual compassion for not just this sickness but all their sicknesses forever, already our mind is lifting.

Vajrayogini
What would Vajrayogini do?!

Because it is true, isn’t it, that if we want our mother, say, to be free from her neck pain today, we would also like her still to be free from it next week, and the week after, and the week after that … and, if we stop to think further, we want her to be free from ANY physical illness and mental suffering now and forever too. And if we understand that for her to be free from suffering forever she needs to be free of the causes of suffering, and we develop that wish for her, our mind becomes the very peaceful, solution-oriented, pure, even blissful mind of genuine compassion. Try it and see, and report back in the comments if you would. (Doesn’t mean of course that we don’t also try to alleviate her immediate neck pain eg, with Tiger Balm patches.) 

Spread that out to all our kind mothers and our mind gradually becomes vast and powerful, developing first into universal compassion and then the compassion of a Buddha, like Vajrayogini, that actually has the power to protect living beings from suffering.