How we think about ourselves will bring that out of us.
Even if you have only meditated once in your entire life, would you do me a favor and try this thought out for size, for it is already in some ways true:
I am a meditator.
What do meditators do?! Yes, exactly, they meditate. Whether it goes well or not on any particular day, they do it anyway because that is who they are.
If instead we are thinking, “I am not a meditator, just vaguely attempting to do it ‘cos I can see that it could help, though it is unnatural to me and I’m basically useless at it,” what will happen? We’ll stay useless at it. There will be no energy behind it, zero enthusiasm.
Also, if we think of ourselves as a meditator, life becomes a fascinating journey — meditators use what comes up in their day to feed their meditations and insights instead of letting it drag them down.
Who we are depends a lot on who we think we are and can be. We need to stop identifying with a meaty body and sad, heavy, deluded mind, setting ourselves up for endless suffering and failure.
Truth is, every living being has such deep indestructible potential, and Buddhism has the methods to dig out from the mud of the delusions this gold nugget of endless compassion, wisdom, and happiness. The sooner we think of ourselves in the light of our potential, the sooner these methods will work for us.
Have you ever been to a party where you’re doing your darndest to enjoy yourself — drinking, eating, chatting, dancing, wandering around looking for people – but you’re actually feeling really bored?!
We’re supposed to be having fun so we don’t want to admit this. But after a while we think, “Okay, that’s enough … I’m outta here.”
We walk out the door to instant relief and fresh air.
This is like giving up on trying to make samsara work. We feel free because we no longer have to buy into something that’s not working. We don’t have to pretend any more. We have made the decision to leave this idiotic party. This constantly seeking happiness outside ourselves is not working. I want to be happy and free, but this samsara is not working — I am not getting happier and freer as the days and months go by. Year after year it’s the same. I can do better. I am going to do better.
In the context of renunciation, we identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We are beings bound for freedom. We identify with this: “I am a being bound for freedom.” What do beings bound for freedom do?!
Life is short, Buddha said, like a water bubble. I was wandering alongside Bear Creek last week, watching the water flow and the bubbles rise and subside. Each one of those bubbles is like one of my countless lives in the continuous river of samsara – fragile, fleeting, but in which I have invested everything as if that’s all there is, completely missing the existential context.
We need to take a step back to see our “real situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it, or get an overview of where we’re actually at. We have had countless bubble-like lives already, and there are countless more waiting to rise up from the clear light continuum of our root mind once this one pops.
If we wake up to that truth we can use this life to become a Foe Destroyer (destroying ignorance and other delusions with wisdom), or a Bodhisattva, or at least in a position to carry on with our spiritual practice in our next life. This will only happen if we put our spiritual practice first in this life.
Dream-like nature of all things
Ever had a dream when you fell madly in love with someone, only to wake up and think, “Hmmm, what was that about?”
The point about falling for someone in our dreams is that (a) it can’t last! (b) we are making the whole thing up! They were never really there!
So what is the point of all that grasping and sadness? What’s it based on? Just illusions.
As Buddha says in King of Concentration Sutra:
In a dream, a girl meets a boy and sees that he is dying.
She is happy to meet him but unhappy to see him dying.
We should understand that all phenomena are like this.
I find contemplating the dream-like nature of things – both their fleetingness and their emptiness — incredibly helpful for letting go of individual objects of attachment. It also works to develop the wish to let go generally of all the pointless suffering and sadness that comes from grasping onto something that isn’t even there.
For is it not so painful to grasp at something that is already slipping through our fingers and that doesn’t even exist from its own side to begin with? But that is what we are doing with attachment. Such relief arises from letting go. In samsara, all our dreams are broken in the end. It is about time we realized that and released our death grip on samsara so we can spring for liberation and enlightenment.
We relax into our heart, maybe do some clarity of mind or breathing meditation, and feel the peace and freedom of a settled mind — the natural peace of our own mind when it is relatively free from delusions. There is plenty more of that where it came from; it is our Buddha nature.
We enjoy it and identify with it, thinking, “This is me. I am a being bound for liberation.” I don’t want samsara. I want the pure land and liberation.
Part one: In the space of this concentration, we ask ourselves, “Am I a samsaric being at the moment?” Do I have a meaty body and a deluded mind, for example, and am I identifying with these, thinking this is who I actually am?
We can also take any problem we are having and go through the 7 sufferings to see if it belongs in that desperately monotonous samsaric pattern. If so, whatever problem we manage to get rid of, there will be another one waiting to take its place, guaranteed. And not just in this life but in countless future lives, just as it has been in our countless past lives — problems arising like waves from the ocean of our root mind, day after day and life after life.
Through a contemplation like this, we develop the wish to be free. This is renunciation. We can focus on it single-pointedly for a while, understanding that we CAN be free.
Part two: However, we cannot afford to keep following our attachment, or it will hold us back and down. We don’t want to be like a barnacle, or a bird with stones tied to its ankles, or attached to the prison porridge. Understanding the deceptive nature of worldly pleasures, and how our attachment causes most of our daily problems and prevents us from escaping even while we have the chance, we develop the wish to stop it.
We identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We have made the decision to leave this very bad party, we don’t have to pretend it works any more. We become accustomed to this feeling in placement meditation until it sticks.
To conclude …
In this way we start experiencing the deep peace of renunciation. Now, too, we have a firm foundation for the happiness of bodhichitta, the joy of wisdom, and the bliss of Tantra. Our life will never be the same again.
Which direction we go in and where we end up depends upon our motivation. The meaning of our actions depends upon our motivation. With renunciation, even brushing our teeth can be a cause of liberation. Without it, no amount of virtuous deeds can get us out of samsara.
Renunciation is great. We no longer need to buy into samsara’s dreary, heavy, repetitive, ordinary identity with its endless chapters of suffering, but instead start to view ourselves as a hero or heroine bound for freedom. We can start really enjoying ourselves!
We are very motivated also to contemplate emptiness, the doorway out of here. Renunciation gives us the lift off we need. Without it we succumb easily to the laziness of discouragement and attachment to worldly pleasures because we have no sense of the alternative.
If you ever find that your mind is not moving in the direction you want it to, or seems to keep slipping backwards, check your attachment levels. Despondency, instability, boredom, frustration, and feeling stuck are all built into attachment to samsara.
Over to you: Thank you for your interest in these 3 articles on renunciation. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.
I asked a bunch of people the other day what their New Year’s resolutions were, and most of them told me they hadn’t bothered making any because they never stuck to them. And it is true that New Year’s resolutions often don’t work because our minds are kind of too much all over the place, scattered.
If we find we can’t stick to our obviously worthwhile resolutions each new year, or any other time for that matter, it could well be because our habits and real desires go way deeper than our new plans, so they keep winning. Luckily meditation helps, perhaps more than anything.
We need to change from deep within, not just on a superficial level of consciousness – our thoughts are too changeable on the surface of our minds, like waves or froth on an ocean, so even if we manage to change them they don’t stay changed. I find it is always pretty much vital, therefore, to start the process of self-transformation by diving below the waves of chatter and thoughts directed largely outward, to access a deeper level of awareness.
Even the simplest breathing meditation, designed to overcome conceptual distractions, brings us inward and helps us to connect to our Buddha nature, which is in fact unfathomably deep, and we can sense that.
We don’t feel things in our head – we feel them in our heart. We don’t really change in our head — we change in our heart.
So we start by dropping into our heart, and experiencing already some peace and space opening up. The slightest experience of peace shows lasting deep peace and change is possible, so we identify with that, thinking, “This is me.”
An even more powerful method for accessing deeper awareness is meditating on the clarity of the mind.
And above all we can mix with the blessings of all enlightened beings — their all-pervasive omniscient, compassionate minds — because then for sure we go deeper and deeper and deeper. And our mind is purified and inspired.
On this basis we can reinvent ourselves — dissolve all our stale habitual thoughts away and start again! Reboot. Especially if we can bring even a little understanding of emptiness into the equation.
I plan to share more on how to do everything I’ve just said because it’s useful – but later. For all this to work, to really change, we need to get in the habit of relating to this potential — our spiritual depth — and identifying with it. And this brings us back to the development of self-confidence, carrying on from this article.
Pride with respect to our potential
The first type of self-confidence, also known as non-deluded pride, is called “pride with respect to our potential”. This state of mind is:
… based on a recognition of our spiritual potential and leads us to think, “I can and will attain Buddhahood. ~ How to Understand the Mind
With this we identify with our Buddha nature, our potential for lasting happiness, total freedom, universal love, omniscient wisdom, etc. In short, our potential for enlightenment. We trust our Buddha nature, not our superficial desires and aversions, however seductive or on our side these may pretend to be.
In How to Transform Your Life, which you can now download for FREE! here, the author Geshe Kelsang says:
In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion, and wisdom. Unlike the seeds of our delusions, which can be destroyed, this potential is utterly indestructible and is the pure essential nature of every living being… Recognizing everyone as a future Buddha, out of love and compassion we will naturally help and encourage this potential to ripen.
“Everyone” includes ourselves. We are all future Buddhas. In our society, we have phrases like, “You gotta have vision of yourself”; but our vision tends to be who we are now, just a little bit better, right? In Buddhism, we develop a really big vision. We say “Identify with your Buddha nature ~ you can become an enlightened being.”
With this first non-deluded pride, we aren’t just saying I CAN become a Buddha, we are saying “I WILL become a Buddha.” I am going to become someone with perfect love, perfect compassion, perfect wisdom, total patience. A mind pervaded by joy. I’m going to do that. That’s proper vision, isn’t it? And if we identify with that, well, that’s a big sense of self. But this self, unlike our ordinary, painful, limited sense of self, is imputed on the truth. I have the potential and I am going to become a Buddha. It’s true.
Some people might think, “Hey, that’s a bit arrogant or far-fetched.” But you know what? It’s possible. It’s actually possible for us to become a Buddha.
Whereas it’s not possible for us to develop lasting happiness or meaning through our looks. Or through our ability to sing. Or through our ability to make money. Or through any of the other things we tend to develop pride in. We might or might not get a temporary happiness hit, but sooner or later these things all just disappear.
In other words, it is MORE possible to achieve enlightenment than to achieve lasting happiness through external things.
We are by nature unlimited, and once we have purified our mind we will have purified our world.
So why put our efforts into trying to achieve happiness through external things that will never amount to anything, instead of into something that we know is possible, and infinitely more desirable, which is to achieve enlightenment? The first non-deluded pride helps us overcome this discrepancy because we identify with our potential and with our wish for enlightenment.
Try it out
In meditation, in our heart, we can just try it out. Just allow that self-confidence to resonate deep inside, just that insight and determination, “I have the potential for enlightenment, that’s who I really am, and I am going to realize that potential and become a Buddha.”
Actual enlightenment is a mind, and anyone can develop that mind of pure love, pure wisdom, and pure compassion, from which we manifest in whatever form benefits living beings.
Enlightenment is a state of total freedom, for which we all have the potential. So why not go for it? Why not develop a big vision? And say deep inside, “I’m going to do that!” Unless you have a better idea. But what could be a better idea?
It may seem a fairly outrageous thought if you are new to Buddhism, it may even seem slightly terrifying; but it is actually a very relaxing thought. Why? Because we’re no longer identifying with our limitations. It is identifying with our limitations that’s the main reason for our laziness of discouragement — looking at ourselves and thinking, “I’m such a twerp. I’m such a deluded being — I’m so angry, and I’m so jealous, and I’m so attached to my stuff, and I’m incapable of moving on, and that’s me.” And then we’re walking around trying to improve an inherently existent twerp, which is really tough. We’re thinking, “I’m useless, I’m so inadequate, I’m a stupid person, but at least I’ve made some New Year’s resolutions here, at least I’m trying” – but we can’t move away from that if we think it’s the truth, if we feel intrinsically useless.
Luckily, it’s not the truth. We’re just creating it with our mind. An intrinsic twerp is just an idea. And it’s a useless idea at that, it’s a wrong idea. We’re not useless. We are by nature empty, which means we are by nature free. If we think we’re a limited being, we’re a limited being. But if we think we have an unlimited potential and we identify with that, that’s what we have.
If you think you’re someone who is going to become a Buddha, that’s exactly who you are. So go for it.
Ok, enough for today. Maybe you’d like to try this out for a few days and report back in the comments below?! And here is the next article on the subject.
Meditation is the way to access our own pure potential for mental freedom and happiness, gain deep experience of Buddha’s teachings, and really change for the better.
My tradition, the New Kadampa Tradition, is a meditator’s tradition – every sentence we hear in the teachings is intended to be an object of meditation, to be taken into the heart so that it becomes part of us. This Buddhist tradition stems from Buddha Shakyamuni, who clearly was the master of meditation. Later Je Tsongkhapa mastered all Buddha’s teachings of Sutra and Tantra, spent many years in meditation retreat, and taught immensely practical, experiential, and profound methods for gaining all the realizations of Lamrim, Lojong, and the union of bliss and emptiness (Mahamudra) revealed by Buddha. As a result of this, many of his disciples gained enlightenment in 3 years and 3 months.
The founder of the New Kadampa Tradition, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, has also spent about half of his life in meditation retreat on these same methods, much of it solitary, and has been meditating since he was a child. Many of Geshe Kelsang’s disciples are very proficient meditators too. We have no shortage of powerful examples showing how far meditation can take us.
Sometimes this tradition can be a bit talky – we talk a lot about the teachings but may not get round to meditating on them as much as perhaps we could. And over the years I have heard a number of people say that they find meditation hard and that they are not making as much progress in meditation as they’d like. They love the teachings, but find they can’t make them stick, and are sometimes discouraged to find they not really changing much. Some people even give up altogether.
I have thought about this quite a lot because I believe that we can make meditation harder than it needs to be even though, thanks to Buddha, Je Tsongkhapa, Geshe Kelsang, and their students, we, unbelievably, have access to the same liberating methods. I have always loved meditating, and I have already written a few things that I thought might be helpful here based on what I like to do (see end of article). But the other day in England, an old friend dating back to the early years of the NKT came to visit me. She told me that in the last couple of years her meditations had improved exponentially, and we discussed why. She volunteered all the things she had been doing “wrong” over the years and, with her permission, I thought I’d share this with you.
How not to meditate
(1) Start by feeling inadequate, insecure, limited, perhaps even depressed, and think: “I really should meditate because I am so inadequate, insecure, limited, perhaps even depressed.” ie, identify with being a limited person from the outset, rather than identifying with your pure potential.
(2) Do a few minutes half-hearted breathing meditation to try and settle the mind and get rid of at least a few of those strong distractions and delusions, but know really that it is a hopeless cause to try and get rid of all of them because, after all, I can’t meditate.
(3) Perhaps do some prayers if we haven’t already done them distractedly at the beginning of the session – find it hard to stay focused on them as we’re not really in the zone, and thinking it doesn’t really matter as at least we’ll be creating some good karma.
(4) Follow the guidelines for meditation – intellectually follow and repeat lines of reasoning that should lead us to our desired object, which is something we are not feeling at all at the moment; and, if we don’t get to our object, make it up. When the object fades, talk to ourselves some more. (Perhaps spend most of the meditation talking to ourselves and practically none of it absorbed.)
(5) Push for blessings. I am inadequate etc and can’t meditate, but bless me anyway to get this object.
(6) Feel slightly exhausted and make yourself a cup of coffee. Try and be good all day, but not from a natural place of deep inner peace and connectedness but because you know you’re supposed to be.
(7) Result = no taste. Guilt. No fun. No progress. Commiserate with others experiencing the same thing. “I really can’t meditate!” “Don’t worry, nor can I!” Eventually stop trying at all.
My friend was not alone – she told me she found many people with whom to commiserate! Kadam Morten helped a lot of them when he led meditations in the new year at Manjushri Centre. As he and I have a long connection and practice in a very similar way, I thought I’d share some of these solutions. (Then please feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.)
(1) Tune in to what you have
Relax into your meditation posture and then start where you are, allowing yourself to just sit there feeling positive and happy for a few minutes. Connect to any of the positive feelings you already have inside you, such as love for a cherished niece, compassion for a suffering animal you saw online, or a happy feeling you had when you understood that everything was dream-like. Enjoy that for a while. Don’t identify as a limited person and then take this into your meditation, “I am a terrible meditator, but here I am about to try and meditate”; this is self-defeating. Your good feeling is part of your Buddha nature, your endless capacity for kindness and improvement; you are going to meditate with this mind.
(2) Settle the mind effectively
Start with one of the methods for overcoming distraction (see below), but to make this effective, recognize from the outset that you are just getting back to who and what you actually are. Your mind is naturally at rest and concentrated. Below your chattering thoughts, it is spontaneously pure, spacious, warm-hearted, vast, even blissful. But we don’t appreciate this. We are addicted to movement, skitting around on the surface of our minds with our constant inner chatter, babble, and anxieties, forgetting, if we ever knew it, who we really are and of what we are capable.
We are like droplets of water constantly thrown up on a vast, deep, boundless ocean, glinting and glittering and sometimes dancing around, but with no idea that they are water. We are so busy focusing outward that we forget or neglect the wellspring of happiness we already have inside. We have to remember this, our Buddha nature, if we are to allow ourselves to go deep and make progress. As Geshe Kelsang says in the chapter What is Meditation?:
“When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arises from within…. We shall experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well-disposed toward other people, and our relationships with others will gradually improve.” ~ Introduction to Buddhism
Notice the expressions “naturally” and “fall away” – there is no pushing here, you are just allowing those droplets of water to dissolve back into the profound stillness and clarity of your own root mind.
(3) Identify with who you are, not who your ignorance says you are
Identify with this peace and spaciousness at your heart, thinking:
“This is who I actually am. Any peace I have, however slight, is my potential for lasting peace and happiness.”
It is the peaceful, happy mind we liberate, not the agitated mind. Our inner peace is our Buddha nature or Buddha seed. Give yourself permission to experience this inner peace. Then enjoy this mind and deepen the experience. (You don’t need to grasp at the experience of inner peace and get tense, or you’ll lose it. Just sit back and relax.)
The inadequate, insecure, limited, perhaps even depressed you is not in fact you. This self is part of samsara, and is created by your ignorance. This self is just a thought, an hallucination, an idea – and a bad idea at that, so let it go. Don’t believe it. This is not the self that is going to become enlightened. Relate to yourself as inner peace and endless potential. Don’t relate to a limited self; you are limitless. You are not intrinsically a loser at meditation or anything else. Remember the lack of intrinsic characteristics, understanding that the only limitations you have are the ones you are creating.
(4) Tune in to enlightened reality, blessings
Our peace and happiness are actually related to enlightened reality, its very seeds; and we naturally open ourselves to blessings if we understand this. Once you have realized your full potential you’ll become a Buddha, just like the Buddhas whom we can remember in front of us, around us, and/or inside us. Faith in the Buddhas necessitates faith in our own enlightened potential.
Also, others have this same potential and I want to help them realize it – you can remember that you are surrounded by living beings, those you’re already feeling connected to next to you, and tune into love and compassion.
As we’re in the presence of enlightened beings, we can think we are already in their vast, blissful, pure land, filled with offerings that we’re all enjoying. (This is included explicitly in the first 2 verses in Essence of Good Fortune, “May the whole ground become completely pure” and “May all of space be filled with offerings”.) If you do this, you’ll probably then have fun doing the prayers either verbally or mentally, and find it easy to focus on their meaning.
If you set your meditation up right, you will have no need to push for blessings because you’ll be receiving them naturally and can simply enjoy them. Your happy mind is a natural conduit for them. You can visualize them as lights and nectars if it’s helpful. Although Buddhas are blessing everyone all the time to bring them any measure of inner peace (it’s Buddha’s function), you can’t receive so-called “special” blessings to grow the seeds of your realizations if you’re holding tightly onto a limited sense of who you are and therefore feeling separate from them and miserable – trying vainly to feel the sun without opening up the shutters.
At any point in the meditation, right at the beginning even, as soon as it feels right and you’re ready, dissolve Guru Buddha into your heart, let your mind mix with his like a stream flowing into a vast, blissful ocean; and he can do the meditation with you.
(5) Make it your own idea through contemplation and meditation
Feel you already have the object of meditation for a few moments, eg, “I think others are important and their happiness matters.” Pause to feel that. “Now I need to make this insight stronger and more stable.” We already have the seeds for every single realization needed for enlightenment; through contemplation and meditation we are now watering these to grow them, not adding them from elsewhere to our mind.
Contemplate skillfully by asking yourself questions to make the meditations relevant to your own background, “Is this true for me? What examples do I have of this? Is today’s body really a result of others’ kindness?”, for example. Tune into your own experiences and build on those. Be creative in your meditations, use examples and analogies that move you. The idea is to make this your own idea, not just a good idea that someone else has had. Don’t dryly repeat things to yourself.
Although we know all our meditation objects through conceptual thought to begin with, this doesn’t mean that we have to over-think things or be exaggeratedly intellectual. When you want to protect your beloved dog, you are knowing him through a generic image; but that is not any kind of obstacle nor a dry intellectual thought — you still know him and love him viscerally, in your heart.
A lot of our meditation objects are hidden in that they depend upon reasoning for us to discover them. So, let’s say you are meditating on emptiness, contemplating that all the things we normally perceive do not exist because they are analytically unfindable and whatever cannot be found cannot exist from its own side (and, if you like, throw in an example, like a mirage). We do gain our initial realizations of emptiness through correct beliefs and inferences, through such conceptual reasonings as this, but we still do realize our object and it does appear to us, and we need to stop thinking around it and just absorb into it.
For example, fire is a hidden object that we can know through the existence of smoke because we have reasoned correctly that wherever there is smoke there is fire. But let’s say you see smoke and know there is fire. Are you earnestly repeating to yourself: “Wherever there is smoke, there is fire; here there is smoke, therefore there is fire. Wherever there is smoke, there is fire; here there is smoke, therefore there is fire etc.”? No. You just know fire. You can stay with that knowledge; stop reminding yourself about how you came to know it. Also, its consequences are implicit, eg, you need to run get a hose! But in the case of emptiness, we don’t need at this point to run do anything, we can just sit with it and its extraordinary implications will sink in without the need for further analysis.
It is similar with all our meditations – as Geshe Kelsang says, for example, we start off by using the rounds of reasoning for realizing that death is definite and its time is uncertain, and we conclude: “I may die today, I may die today”, but then we concentrate on the feeling that it evokes. We stop repeating the reasoning and the words to ourselves and, like an eagle flying with barely a movement of its wings, we stay with the object in a spacious environment, identifying with it, enjoying it. Feel like you’re home. You’ve just arrived in your holiday cottage by the sea and can sit back and put your feet up. (And you’re not alone – the enlightened beings are right there on holiday with you.)
Bear in mind that it’s easy to generate any Lamrim mind when we are connected to our happiness and our potential. It is actually impossible to generate any Lamrim mind when we are identified with the self that we normally perceive, in other words when we are identifying with our limitations. See this article for examples.
(6) Take your happiness for a walk
In the meditation break, keep connecting to that peaceful mind and insight so that when you return to your meditation seat you can quickly get back to it as there has been no real gap. Morten uses the analogy of walking a dog – take your happiness for a walk with you, remembering your happiness in and out of meditation. “Enjoy your mind”, he says, keep bringing the mind back to peace. Familiarize your mind with this source of happiness, then you’ll become a happy person. Don’t stamp on the small seedlings of peace/good experiences like a bad gardener stamping on tiny shoots of plants by identifying yourself with any delusions that arise. Protect your small seedlings of peace and happiness, go for refuge in them as your Dharma Jewel, and they will grow naturally. As the Kadampa motto goes:
“Always rely upon a happy mind alone.”
If you understand that your happiness is your inner peace and you identify where it is and connect to it, and then you combine this knowledge with your constant, spontaneous wish to be happy, you will naturally go for refuge in your own inner peace both in and out of meditation.
I hope this helps. If we become good meditators, we can help others become good meditators too, and what a gift that will be.
Your turn:please share your own methods for being a happy, successful meditator. Or if you have any questions or doubts you want to clear up, please spell them out too.