Twenty rules of life

6.5 mins read.

I surfed into an article while on the Internet late last night (as one does, even when one would be better off asleep) – commenting on 20 rules for a happy and fulfilled life written by a Japanese Buddhist 400 years ago. It was a pleasant and indeed Samuraimeaningful alternative to political shenanigans, climate catastrophes, Brexiteering, and other woesome late-night annoyances and, since I was still thinking about it this morning, I thought I’d shamelessly plagiarize and comment on all 20, ‘cos who doesn’t like lists?!

So, 400 years on, here are 20 rules of life updated by one modern Buddhist:*

1. Learn to accept life as it comes

I see this as the practice of patiently accepting whatever arises without wishing it were otherwise. There’s no point not accepting what is happening in the moment, given that it is happening. That’s like trying to fight reality – we can’t win.

Rather than starting from from aversion, from that internal thought “Nooooo!!!!”, we can learn to say “Yes, that’s ok, I can do something with this.” Then on the basis of peaceful acceptance we can not only grow stronger as people but also improve our own and others’ external situation as needs be and as much as we can. More articles on this here.

2. Abandon any obsession to achieving pleasure

“As humans we spend a lot of time chasing down pleasure …” We keep pursuing happiness outside of ourselves instead of relaxing and enjoying the happiness we already have within us — the contentment of our own peaceful and positive minds. We actually distract ourselves from our own happiness on the hedonistic treadmill of selfish desire, and feel worn out and discouraged in the process

hedonistic treadmillThe author suggests “we should try simply to live life in the moment and enjoy pleasure when it comes to us naturally instead of striving for it.” This is so true that I have nothing more to add. More on how to live in the moment here.

3. Do not act on an impulsive emotion

Intuition can be a good thing, as long as we know that’s what it really is as opposed to a deluded gut reaction. I find the Kadampa advice to “Rely upon a happy mind alone” to be helpful for telling the difference. If our mind is peaceful and positive, and we find we are popping with seemingly good ideas, we can generally trust those ideas. But if our mind is agitated or over-excited, and popping with ideas, maybe not so much.

4. Do not obsess over yourself

The biggest truth in Buddhism. The article says, “These days, we are so focused on online presence, taking a perfect selfie and striving for perfection, that we forget what matters in life.” There is an alarming increase in anxiety, depression, and even suicide due to addiction to social media, especially among young women.self-cherishing giraffe

(I met with a very interesting woman last week, a friend of a friend, who has written a Buddhist guide to social media based on sociology degrees and a long practice of Buddhism. It is fascinating material and highly relevant to our times, so I’ll let you know when it is out.)

Social media seems to be a modern-day manifestation of the insecurity that necessarily arises from an obsession with self. Self-cherishing is self-defeating, so we may as well just stop it, as explained here. Self-cherishing also makes for a cruel world. We are more worried about our own diets, for example, than about the fact that mankind is on the brink of its biggest starvation in Yemen.

5. Never allow jealousy to rule your life

The author advises us “never to be jealous of others, and to simply be thankful for what you yourself have.” Jealousy and competitiveness come from that obsession with self, insecurity, and feeling bad or inadequate about ourselves compared with others.

FacebookGratitude for everything we have and are, learning to be a whole lot nicer to ourselves, is one excellent antidote. Another one is rejoicing, ie, being happy about others’ happiness and good luck – after all, these things don’t come around too often, why begrudge them? Not to mention that people’s perfect lives as seen on social media are as curated as the pictures we post of our own, so not the greatest yardstick for our self-worth.

I think it’s good to remember that we actually have nothing to prove. What is going on inside us is far more significant to our happiness than what is going on around us; so we can learn to focus on that rather than on what other people may or may not be up to.

6. Abandon attachment to desire

I like the way this is phrased because we are indeed attached not just to objects of attachment but to desirous attachment itself, having relied upon it since beginningless time as the way to get happy. We may even envisage a life without attachment as unexciting or humdrum. However, it is attachment that is boring and blocks the way to true bliss. It also tortures us every day, making us repeatedly have to scratch an itch, or drink salt water to slake our thirst.

7. Never live in regret

no regretsI agree with the author that dwelling on what we did wrong in the past is pointless because the past me, the past situation, and the past delusion have all gone. Dwelling on the past and wishing it were otherwise is as futile and frustrating as dwelling on last night’s dream and wishing it didn’t happen.

By remembering impermanence, especially subtle impermanence, we can learn to reinvent ourselves anew. Whatever happened in the past, we can let go of the baggage of that old story we keep telling ourselves (and others), and embark on a new narrative for our life. And we can do this one day at a time, living freshly without being weighed down by regret.

This advice is not contradictory to developing regret for the negative potentials we have planted in our mental continuum through our delusions and negative karma. This regret is the first opponent power of purification practice, and akin to wishing to dispel poison we have accidentally ingested so that it does not harm us. We don’t identify with that poison, thinking “I am a poisonous person!”; we just purify our system by getting rid of it. In a similar way, how can we purify/get rid of our negative karma while at the same time thinking “I am a negative/bad person!” – ie, feeling guilty and holding onto it?

8. Do not dwell on a sad separation

“Constantly thinking on a sad parting of friends and family prevents us from moving on and continuing our lives.” The law of (samsaric) entropy means that everything is being flung apart all the time — however urgently or impossibly we try to hold it all together with self-grasping, permanent grasping, and/or attachment.

separation.pngAs the author says, there is no way to bring back the dead. However, with love and wisdom we might find we don’t need to as we can learn to relate to that person in the present, wherever they are, and understand that we are not truly separated. Moving on and continuing our lives doesn’t mean we have to forget about loving them. In fact, it is better if we don’t forget to love them!

9. Complaining should have no place in your life

“Dwelling on what is going wrong only prolongs the past’s hold over your life.” Patient acceptance, again, is key. It is tiring to complain and it is tiring for others to be around us if we are always complaining. My suggestion is that if we have to complain, complain not about other people but about our collective self-grasping and self-cherishing. “Gather all blame into one” as it says in the mind-training (Lojong) teachings.

the life you complain about(There might be such a thing as making a complaint with a good motivation, eg, to get things improved, but I take the meaning of complain here to be the peevish self-pitying kind.)

I can’t vouch for this but someone told me the other day that Geshe Kelsang apparently said in a meeting that it’s okay to be annoyed about something for five minutes (if we can’t help it, I guess, and because we have to start somewhere); but after that we need to be patient.

It is more energizing to be part of the solution, using gripes to spur us into positive thought and action rather than wasting time exaggerating the faults we think we see and whining about them. We can’t be wringing our hands and rolling up our sleeves at the same time.

10. Don’t let lust rule your life

… “instead strive for love and lasting relationships”.

Good advice in the age of Tinder, #Metoo, sex bots, Cam girls, and the modern slave trade.

Okay, your coffee break is probably up, so I cover the remaining ten in this article.

Meantime, if you like lists of practical advice for daily living, you can find some cool time-tested Kadampa Buddhist “rules” in the books Universal Compassion (the precepts and commitments of training the mind) and The Bodhisattva Vow.

(*ie, me. You might have other ideas on these, or you may have other “rules” altogether — feel free to share them below.)

Spring Training

The guest poster is a novelist, mother, and practitioner.

The field is right there in front of me, shimmering in the bright light, filled with beings…. an expanse of color, except for our uniforms, which are gray.  Someone yells, “Come on, get a hit for Mama!” Parents sit on the sidelines, nursing cups of coffee. The dew sparkles in the grass like jewels.

My kids play a lot of baseball, so in the spring particularly my weekends are full of games.

Spring is also the time that things speed up at our Center. There’s always an empowerment on the calendar, which inevitably falls on the weekend of my kids’ baseball playoffs.  Since I started practicing Buddhism, or Dharma, in earnest almost five years ago, this has been a bit of a challenge for me.

Tug of war?

spring training 8As parents and Dharma practitioners, sometimes it can be tough to balance everything. We miss a lot of good stuff. Empowerments, Festivals, Celebrations, workshops, pujas, retreats. We are lucky to have many opportunities to practice, of course, and yet, for me, sometimes, I have felt my commitment to my family as something pulling me away from going deeper into the Dharma. It felt like a tug of war, my family on one side, my wish to strengthen my practice on the other.

The first year I was practicing Dharma seriously, when I realized I was going to have to miss the empowerment for a playoff game, as well as a coming retreat that just wouldn’t work with my kids’ schedule…. let’s just say I was not relying upon a happy mind.  “I want to do so many of these things, but I can’t. I can’t,” I said to my teacher, my eyes welling up with tears.

He laughed (kindly, and with zero pity for my alleged predicament) and said something about modern Buddhism.

I knew modern Buddhism meant that we don’t need to go off to the Temple to practice; we can practice in our daily lives.  Which, at that moment, I took as, “if you’re unlucky enough to miss a retreat and an empowerment, just try (if you can) to make the best of it.”

That year, I paced the edges of the field, thinking about how everyone else at my Center was absorbing blessings and making spiritual progress while I was stuck there at the game.  Not only stuck: incredibly anxious. The game was close, and I ended up barely able to watch the plays, walking away a bit from the field, putting my hands over my eyes, so tense about the outcome that I couldn’t look. If they lose, I thought, my son will be so sad….if they don’t give him a good position, he’ll be so sad…if he messes up in the field, he’ll be (you get the picture)… I can’t even remember now if they won or lost.

Spiritual gifts?

Gradually, as time went on, I received more teachings in Lojong: transforming whatever is happening into the path. Everything is a spiritual gift, to this view, allowing us to practice when we miss our flight, or get stuck in traffic, or have a heartbreak of some kind…and everything where your kids are concerned is a possible heartbreak, even if it’s a tiny one. By accepting what occurs we have the flexibility to see it in meaningful ways.

spring training 6The game was hardly adversity, but could it be something to transform? Could I be like the peacock, eating the poison of painful baseball losses to strengthen my mind, my ability to roll with whatever happens and bring it into my spiritual path? Could I use it to begin to transform all the things my kids go through that I have no control over and worry about — not just games but school, grades, friends, health, well being?

I tried. I began to relax a bit. There’s a lot of downtime if you are a spectator at a baseball game, and I used this time to focus my mind, thinking “I accept,” every time there was a dropped ball, or a strike out, or my son wasn’t asked to play at all. The games became a little more enjoyable.

Another season, another playoff game, another empowerment — I wasn’t going to miss this one, but I would miss the commentary: This time, I was ready, or thought I was.

Go Buddha!

spring training 3The game began. My son’s team was losing a lot that year, and I felt the disappointment keenly. The pitcher on the other side was really good.

I was rooting hard for my son’s team.  I found myself rooting so hard I was asking for help. Who from? The Buddhas, of course. I recited the Tara mantra. Please, I thought. Help.

Then I thought, Help who? Help what? What am I doing?  What am I asking Tara to do?

Could the Buddhas possibly care that one side (my son’s side) would win the game over the other side? No. The Buddhas didn’t care which side won this game. I needed to look at things more deeply.

I took a few breaths and imagined my Spiritual Guide, Geshe Kelsang, standing right in the middle of the not-so-vast baseball field, about where the pitcher stood, smiling at me.

Two seconds later, from the row of seats next to ours where the other team’s parents’ sat, a chant began: “Go Buddha Go! Go Buddha Go!”

I must have heard wrong. I walked over to them. “What are you saying?”

“Buddha. It’s his nickname,” they said, pointing at the pitcher.

A few minutes later, one of our players started gasping; he had asthma, and the inhalers his parents had brought were empty. The parents panicked, debated bringing him to the hospital. I went over to “Buddha’s” parents — did that side happen to have an inhaler? Turns out they did. They offered it to us, so that our team member could breathe.

I decided to get a cup of lemonade to absorb what was happening. I chatted with the coach’s kid, who was selling me the lemonade. I gave her a dollar. “It’s going to a camp for kids with cancer,” she said. “My sister used to go there, before she died.”

I didn’t know that the coach’s daughter died.

I thought the coach just wanted to win the baseball games.

But I saw, standing on the sidelines, that that wasn’t it at all. The coach knew the baseball game wasn’t really important — he was there out of love.

That’s why all of us are here at the sidelines, I thought. We’re just there to love. That’s our JOB.  And when we have our hands over our eyes when a kid drops the ball, when we wince and frown when things don’t go our way, we aren’t doing our job. In fact, that’s our job as parents. That’s our job as aspiring Bodhisattvas. To love.

The field of modern Buddhism

spring training 7The insight moved through me and I looked at all the kids and the spectators with different eyes. It was as if every meditation on universal compassion I had done was coming to life right there. I loved everybody at that baseball field in that moment. This particular insight didn’t happen in the meditation room.  It didn’t happen on the cushion (though all those meditations were necessary, of course). It happened in the field …

… the field of modern Buddhism.

That spring, I was sitting at the sidelines of my older son’s game, when I saw a wonderful woman I knew with a son on the team; I’d seen her mostly at PTA meetings. She seemed unusually upset; she walked by me and sat down in a portable chair she’d brought, fighting back tears. I asked if she was okay.

“Just having a really hard time right now,” she said. We chatted for a few more moments, about hard times and baseball, watching the game. It was a beautiful day, clear, breezy. The boys were playing all right.

“I go to a meditation class, if you ever want to check it out,” I said after a while, lightly. “It’s really helped me.”

She turned. She looked me straight in the eye. “YES!”

We made a plan to go together the next week. She’s still going, over a year later — we are Sangha now.  She tells me often how her Dharma practice has given her great joy, how much it has transformed her life.

Now, when I go to the field, I’m ready.

Sometimes, on a really beautiful day, it feels as if the air is humming with blessings, and I can feel the joy of the kids playing the game in the breeze, and it’s easy to offer all of this enjoyment up to the Buddhas.

Sometimes I focus on the kids on the other team and try to cultivate love for them, see how much they want to be happy (and get hits) and don’t want to suffer (and strike out) just like everyone else. Or I think about how we have all been born and reborn so many times that these “other people’s kids” were my children, my parents, in previous lives.

Or I try to dissolve it all into emptiness. Do we care who wins the games that take place in our dreams? I try to find it — where is the field? Can you point to it? Where is the blue of the sky…. or I imagine that the field is a field of karma, the karma of everyone ripening right now on this field in strike outs or home runs, all of us having this collective karma of playing this game together….

Or I think about how, when I am hoping for my son to get a hit, I am really wanting his samsara to work out….We want our kids’ samsara to work out, don’t we? We want thespring training 9m always to get A’s and home runs and everything they want in life — but samsara never works out, as we know, and happiness does not lie in these things.  When I focus on this, I start wishing for him to learn to cultivate peace and resilience and kindness and a sense of freedom and many good qualities that have nothing to do with winning the game.

And then…when in spite of all this, I still feel some tension — when the whole game relies on something my kid is about to do, for instance, which happens a lot in baseball, and I feel painful anxiety arising in my mind (please, let him not strike out right now and lose the game!) — I try to look at that tension within a larger, more peaceful mind, to see that self-grasping ignorance…. this vivid sense of wanting success and fearing failure for “my” kid, for this “me” that I really believe exists at this moment.

And how useful it is to be able to see it wriggling there, to pinpoint it and see it operate so I can begin to let it go, so that someday I can be truly helpful to my children and also everybody else’s. How amazing it is to have this opportunity to train in going for refuge at a baseball game, so that I can be there when I really need to be.

I tried this yesterday at my son’s game, which by the way we lost in the very last moments, because my son did indeed strike out, and the thought occurred to me:  wanting to win this game is just like samsara itself.

It’s not important, after all, a baseball game — we will forget about it tomorrow, or the day after — so it’s essentially meaningless. And we know it’s insignificant, especially when we think of the intense suffering that so many living beings are experiencing. Yet we often feel tension anyway when something like this is happening, when we want to “win.”

The ball game of samsara

spring training 2And the worldly activities we engage in with so much energy– aren’t they the same thing? Won’t we forget them by the next life, if not sooner? We know they won’t cause lasting happiness — samsara’s a ball game that can never be won. And yet we get so anxious about it all…

Wouldn’t it be great to reach a place where we could be relaxed about everything that came our way, if we could see the baseball play happening within the play of bliss and emptiness? And if — by training our minds in this way — we could move closer to being able to help others, and thus make every game really count?

It’s my field of practice now, the baseball field. (And I’m not even sporty.)

It’s modern Buddhism in action: a gift from our kind founder that gives us everything we need, in real time, today, right now.

What’s the baseball field in your life?

Enlightenment might be closer than you think

A guest article by a modern Buddhist and full-time worker who aspires to become an actual Mahasiddha soon.

Je Tsongkhapa
The great Tibetan Buddhist Master, Je Tsongkhapa

Realized teachers of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition have taught that it is possible to attain full enlightenment in a few short years. In the 16th century, Khedrub Sangye Yeshe explained that thousands of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples accomplished this. How many practitioners must have done the same since then?!

An even more important question to ask, I think, is whether we believe that modern disciples of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition have done the same? Is it possible that any of our teachers and Sangha friends have these realizations? If the answer to these questions is not a resounding ‘yes’, then we may have to consider this further. In my mind, there are two clear reasons why yes is the only answer to these.

It is likely that your Sangha have reached their full potential

Pure mind, pure worldFirst, ordinary minds can only perceive ordinary appearances. This means that as our mind draws closer to purity, the purity of those around us will appear more clearly to our mind.

For example, when we become a Bodhisattva who can meditate with our very subtle mind, our teacher will still be able to guide us further on the path. At this point, will we have any doubt that they have followed this inner path to its completion? Since this will soon be the case for us, wouldn’t it be helpful if we adopted this recognition now?

Second, modern Kadampa practitioners can’t talk publicly about their completion stage experience. This is not because they don’t have deep experience, but rather so that they can remain a humble example of a practitioner whom others can emulate. What did the thousands of disciples of Je Tsongkhapa do after they attained enlightenment? They remained as humble practitioners and teachers to help others follow the same inner path to freedom and happiness.

The quickest meditation for reaching our full potential
Ghantapa
“We should meditate single-pointedly on the indestructible drop that always abides at our heart. Those who are familiar with this meditation will definitely develop exalted wisdom.” ~ Ghantapa, the Mahasiddha who attained enlightenment using the same practices taught in the book Modern Buddhism

Now we agree that our Sangha may have attained enlightenment (or be well on their way), we need to understand how they did it. Modern Tantric master Geshe Kelsang explains the blessed meditation below as one of the quickest paths to enlightenment.

Although these practices are publicly available, to engage in them we require a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment. We also need a foundation in Sutra and preliminary practices as explained in Modern Buddhism, Part 1.

This is the actual meditation as explained in Modern Buddhism, Part 2:

First we find the object of this meditation, that is, the clear perception of our indestructible wind and mind, by contemplating as follows:

Inside my indestructible drop is the union of my indestructible wind and mind in the aspect of a tiny nada, which symbolizes Heruka’s mind of clear light. It is reddish-white in color and radiates five-colored rays of light. My indestructible drop, located inside my central channel at my heart, is like a cave, and the union of my indestructible wind and mind is like someone living inside this cave.

Meditation tip: stop relying on your ordinary self
Completion stage Heruka
Two-armed Heruka

The self we normally see and relate to simply cannot do this meditation — it is too subtle, rich, blissful, etc. for our ordinary self to orchestrate. (Plus that self doesn’t even exist!) That’s one reason why generating ourself as our personal Deity is a preliminary for this meditation.

We never rely upon our ordinary self to internally guide these meditations, but instead upon our completely pure self as the Guru Deity and our connection to blessings. Relying in this way is a lot more important, I think, than focusing on meditation technique.

To receive blessings and make smooth progress, we feel that the nada (or HUM if you are following The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra) is our own teacher inseparable from Heruka. That is why another essential preliminary for this practice is dissolving our teacher into our heart. It allows us to connect with his or her experience of these meditations, which he or she has already completed.

Here we are recognizing that the HUM or the nada is our teacher’s clear light mind, which is the synthesis of all Buddhas’ clear light minds. It is the clear light mind of all of our Sangha friends who are Heroes and Heroines. The purified blissful true nature of all things is appearing inside the drop at our heart. Nothing other than this bliss and emptiness appears to our mind, and we hold this awareness with deep faith and concentration.

The union of appearance and emptiness in completion stage

Our practice of completion stage is based on the foundation of our practice of generation stage. In the generation stage meditations, Geshe Kelsang often emphasizes the union of appearance and emptiness. We don’t leave behind this experience, but instead can learn to integrate it into our practice of completion stage. This is a perfect way to stop the grasping and pushing in our mind.

Meditation tip: stop grasping by recalling emptiness

To stop grasping at our subtle body (the central channel, indestructible drop, and indestructible wind), we can recall how its true nature is emptiness. One skillful way of doing this is applying the same lines of reasoning that Geshe Kelsang provides for the emptiness meditation on our gross body to our subtle body.

The channels, winds, and drops of our body exist but are all unfindable upon investigation. They have no true existence, and if we search for the subtle body or any of its parts with wisdom, their true nature, emptiness, will appear to our mind.

Meditation tip: stop pushing by recalling mere appearance
knowledge letter hum
The letter HUM

Pushing in our practice of completion stage is something that Geshe Kelsang cautions against in many of his books. I find that one skillful way to stop pushing is by recalling the words from the Yoga of Buddha Heruka sadhana:

My subtle mistaken appearance of all phenomena, including the channels, winds and drops of my body, is purified.

This means that our central channel, drop, and nada are just a mere appearance not other than emptiness.

Inside this space of emptiness, we recognize these objects are the mere appearance of the Guru Deity’s subtle body and a blissful imputation of our pure mind. With this recognition, everything will be a blissful appearance, and there will be no basis for pushing in our mind. Instead we can simply allow our mind and winds to absorb into this blissful, empty appearance at our heart.

This is so easy, even I could do it

oral Instructions of mahamudra

If you made it this far into the article, I will let you in on a little secret buried in Part 4 of The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra. In here, Geshe Kelsang says that once we are able to reach the second mental abiding on this meditation, our winds will enter into the central channel. This is incredible, seeing as the second mental abiding only requires five minutes of single-pointed focus!

If we do this meditation repeatedly, when we attain the second mental abiding our inner winds will enter into our central channel. ~ page 126

Once we develop this blissful experience, we can continue to meditate with it and it will not be hard to reach the fourth mental abiding. At this point, not only will our winds enter, but they will also abide and dissolve within the central channel. As a result, we will be able to manifest our very subtle mind, attain tranquil abiding, and use that incredibly blissful concentration to remove the two obstructions from our mind.

What are we waiting for?! Let’s go do this meditation and keep doing it until we unlock the full potential of our mind and liberate all living beings …

Over to you: Comments and questions for the guest author are most welcome.

Are we doing enough?

who wants changePeople everywhere are suffering. Mass murder in Las Vegas. Climate catastrophes. Rampant racism. Growing inequality. Sanctioned homophobia. The clear and present danger of nuclear war. Millions more animals butchered without conscience. Even bad so-called Buddhists in Myanmar. Oh, and let’s not forget what’s been going on in all the other realms of samsara.

And that’s just today.

When I read these things I wonder, as a Buddhist, am I practicing enough? Am I giving enough? Am I helping enough? Am I putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak? Or am I still allowing myself to get too distracted or too complacent, “I’m alright, Jack”, given that Buddhism, or Dharma, makes it increasingly easy to feel all peaceful and happy inside? Or discouraged and fatalist, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s nothing I can do about this mess of a world so there is no point even trying.”?

We can always operate on two levels – inside and outside. Training our mind does not preclude being active to help our world. With a peaceful, grounded, and stable heart, above all practicing compassion and wisdom, we can also act externally to try and make a difference in whatever way seems appropriate, and according to how much time and skill we have.

What to do about Las Vegas?

sign-americansFor me, for example, I am using what happened on Sunday to remind myself that I have to address any hatred or even dislike in my own mind. If this is what uncontrolled aversion can do, I cannot afford to let this delusion feel at home in my heart.

And then I’m trying to figure what I can do to help counteract the culture of violence in the USA, partly by seeking to understand it more fully in the first place. I may not be able to do much, but I can contribute in some ways.

There need be no contradiction between practicing Buddhism on the inside and on the outside – when we try to protect others by, for example, campaigning for gun control with a good heart, this is a Bodhisattva perfection, giving fearlessness.

And we also have to practice patience with the outcome. We cannot be attached to the results of our actions in the near future because so many other factors are already in play. However, we can know that this giving and patience are creating good karma that will lead to good results.

And I accompany any actions with a prayer for the best possible outcome, for prayers are never wasted.

And North Korea?!

What about even more seemingly out of control situations such as climate change or the nuclear escalation between North Korea and the US? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we’ll be faced with a “limited nuclear option” that would claim an impossible number of lives and throw this world into hell. So what do we do about that?

I don’t think we should pretend it is not happening. I don’t think we should pretend that we are not part of this world or that this world is not part of us. I don’t think this is a good time to be distracted by our own small problems and entertainments. I do think we need to be motivated by this to become Bodhisattvas and Buddhas as quickly as possible, so that we can use our wisdom to destroy our own and others’ samsara.

And as prayers do make all the difference, we need to direct our prayers toward world peace not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, but NOW.

It is not an either/or

Some Buddhists frame our activities as an either/or: either we are studying and meditating to attain enlightenment or we are helping others “externally”. But that’s a bit precious human lifeof a red herring because we can do both, and both can be leading us closer to enlightenment.

In any event, it is not as if many of us get to sit around in monasteries or their equivalent any more, studying and meditating all day long, like it was in Tibet. The chance would be a fine thing! Although I am of the opinion that most of us could indeed profitably spend more time studying and meditating, most of us will still have to go to work every day in any case to earn our keep, obliged to interact with a bunch of people, acting “externally”. So what are we DOING all day long at work? Most of us are probably in a position to love and help and influence at least a few people every day, to help transform their lives.

Fact is, too, that we never know how we are being received. We never know how far our influence might be spreading. An old friend of mine, Kathleen Dowling Singh, died on Tuesday. She was a wonderful woman, a fearless warrior for love. In mid-SeptemKathleen Dowling Singhber she had written to tell me she had just been diagnosed with cancer, requesting prayers and thanking me for “all you have given me.” Her heart was always deeply grateful to Geshe Kelsang and his teachings, some of which I was able to share with her when we both lived in Florida. And tributes are coming in from many people to say how much her series of “Grace” therapy books have helped them, books whose ideas come mainly from Buddhism.

You can’t keep a good idea down. So let’s share these ideas whenever possible.

Our Buddhist Centers

As I talked about in this last article, helping our Dharma Centers is always going to be an invaluable, even cosmic, use of our time — helping at the core of things. Even if you have no clue what to do about some of this other stuff, you can always volunteer practical help at a Center. Helping keep the doors open to people seeking refuge is increasingly vital and meaningful.

Can we up our game?

web of kindness

A friend sent me this article called Radical Buddhism and the Paradox of Acceptance. Someone on Facebook pointed out that this article may be a bit of a straw man misrepresentation of Slavoj Zizek’s apparently complex arguments, but I think that reading it could still serve a useful purpose because people do sometimes have these questions about the relevance of Buddhism.

In this tumultuous day and age — and as we seek to integrate Buddhism as a new development into our Western world — each of us probably needs to try answering these kinds of questions for ourselves individually. At least, I have found recently that in questioning myself, “Am I complicit in the status quo because I am personally alright, or am I doing enough to end world suffering?”, I have been inspired to up my spiritual game. So with that in mind I asked a question on Facebook:

How would you debate this misconception about Buddhism? Do you find Buddhism helps you escape or engage the world? Or both?!

Related to this, I also asked:

What can we as Buddhists do about (a) violent incidents like the one in Las Vegas (2) the real and present danger of nuclear strikes (3) the growing divisions and inequality in modern society (4) climate disasters. Answers on a postcard! No, seriously, what are we each doing individually and as a Sangha to end this kind of suffering?

Please give your own answer in the comments, if you have time! And I am going to share some of the excellent replies I have already received in the next article.

Related articles

A case for Buddhist Centers

What is modern Buddhism for?

A vision of hope in these troubled times

Beneficial believing

To carry on from here, I want to add that conventional reality is not just a question of agreeing with each other. There is no safety in numbers. I was just reading about the odd phenomenon of presumptive nominee Trump:

The internet creates a sense of universality; it’s easy to think your bubble is more representative than it actually is. Facebook curates our feeds so we get more of the stuff we ‘like.’ What do we ‘like’? People and posts that agree with us. It’s sort of a mass delusion. ~ The Week

hallucination 1We can all be wrong about something and agree; in fact we often are. So my point about conventional reality being collective hallucination in the last article only goes that way around – collective hallucination is not necessarily conventional reality, it can just be sheer madness with no basis in any reality. For we are hallucinating both conventional truths and non-existents.

No dream, no dreamer

It is so helpful to use our dreams to delve into reality, as explained here. Geshe Kelsang gives this beautiful verse in The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra:

All my appearances in dreams teach me
That all my appearances when awake do not exist;
Thus for me all my dream appearances
Are the supreme instructions of my Guru.

I often think too, when I wake up and the dream has disappeared, the dream has gone and so has the dreamer. If there was never a real dream, where was the real dreamer? So where is the I who is now awake also? Dream minds, people (including ourself), and objects are all created by the self-grasping dream mind. Waking minds, people, and objects are all created by the self-grasping waking mind.

Beneficial believing

Understanding lack of true existence is the wisdom realizing emptiness and it will set us free from samsara permanently. However, although a direct loverealization of emptiness is our goal, we also need to learn what to do with appearances for our own and others’ sake. Eventually we will come to see appearances and emptiness (lack of true existence) as one object, at which point those appearances are no longer technically conventional truths, but ultimate truth.

Ultimate truth appearing.

So, meanwhile, until we realize this union of appearance and reality directly, how are we to navigate through the false appearances, the hallucinations, and make our lives meaningful?

I think through “beneficial believing,” as Geshe Kelsang has called it — believing things not because they are true from their own side, but because they are beneficial and will lead us in the right direction. This includes toward the one and only true object, the only truth that exists in the way that it appears — emptiness or lack of true existence — realized by our very subtle mind, the clear light of bliss.

(By the way, even ultimate truth is not ultimately true – even emptiness is empty of inherent existence.)

Buddha’s teachings are divided into two: the instructions for directly realizing emptiness (wisdom practices) and everything else (method practices). Method practices such as renunciation and compassion do not apprehend ultimate truth directly, but they do apprehend the best of the conventional or relative truths, and they lead us to relative happiness, including the requisite merit or good karma for developing the Form Body of a Buddha. Method practices nurture the growth of our Buddha nature and wisdom practices free it from obstructions.

Fulfilling our two basic wishes

To reiterate, as Geshe Kelsang says in Modern Buddhism:

All conventional truths are false objects because the way they appear and the way they exist do not correspond. ~ p. 129

bear quiz
This may help me, relatively, up the mountain.
In other words, conventional truths are all fake. However, some conventional truths are more useful than others; so those are the ones we need to focus on to go in the direction we want to go in. Which is? We all want to be happy all the time, and we never want to suffer. Anything that takes us toward the fulfillment of those wishes can be described as beneficial believing, or even wisdom.

For example, although neither me nor you exist from our own sides and are creations of self-grasping, understanding the equality and interdependence of ourselves and all other living beings (as explained in the mind-training teachings) is far more realistic and valid, and therefore beneficial, than grasping onto an isolated or inherently existent self and other. These do not exist even relatively, do not appear to any valid mind; for no one in the universe can agree, for example, that I am the only real me.

Here is an example.

“I don’t understand it!”

If we ever wonder why we get so confused in our dealings with others, we need look no further than the fact we are all hallucinating and not all our hallucinations match up. A sad friend told me this week that someone broke up with them and they can’t understand it — they were sure they were getting on so well and that the other person really liked them too. And according to them that felt like the truth; but according to their ex-lover it did not. So where did that truth exist? Did it exist at all?

Unlike a chair that we are agreed we can sit on, what was appearing so vividly to their attachment never existed. All they had was their own version of events, total projection, and in this instance no shared reality. The ex-lover’s apparent truth, that this person was no longer love 1interesting or whatever, was also not objective but a mere reflection of her own mind. In this instance, these reflections did not coincide. Their perceptions were not in agreement, in fact they clashed, and so pain arose. It’s happening all the time with all of us.

When we manage to let go of our delusion of attachment for people, all we are losing is our illusions. Letting go of illusion, we are now free to experience a totally different and more realistic relationship. It seems that the best “truth” to be salvaged from these kinds of situation is love and compassion recognizing our equality and interdependence and wishing the other person to be happy and free. That mind is valid, for its object does have a relative truth to it. And it fulfills our basic wish, it makes us happy again.

More coming soon. Meantime, your comments are most welcome! Just use the box below 🙂

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.

Good night, sweet Prince

U turn on the telly and every other story
Is tellin’ U somebody died ~ Sign o the Times

PrinceI wonder if celebrities everywhere are getting nervous?! But of course it was forever thus. None of us gets out of here alive, famous or otherwise. As a friend put it, rather well I thought: “We all have a shelf life. When our expiration date is up, that’s it. … We are all at the big funeral everyday.”

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life.

I liked Prince but wasn’t intending to write anything about his death – that is, until I saw this arresting Facebook post by the same person who wrote this last article:

What I Learned from Prince’s Death

* Death can come suddenly at any time – no one is immune.

* Fame means nothing at the time of death.

* Everybody loves you when you’re dead, but it’s too late then.

* It’s only when you’re dead that you would realise from everyone’s reactions what your life meant to them, but you’ll never see it.

Prince 1* Obviously, you don’t exist in a post-you world; everything and everyone has to go on without you, and they do, no matter how indispensable you think you are.

* When you’re dead, from your point of view, what you did means nothing. It’s like a dream that has passed.

* Whether you have lots of talent and are famous, or not, death treats everyone the same: extinction of ‘you’.

* Death shows there is no real meaning in this ordinary human life: everything you were ends instantly, unexpectedly and finally.

* Your wealth means nothing as it becomes someone else’s – even your clothes aren’t yours.

* Life is an unfinished story because it ends for you but not for everyone you know.

This got me thinking. And wanting to add something to these points in particular: “Everybody loves you when you’re dead but it’s too late then” and “When you’re dead, from your point of view, what you did means nothing. It’s like a dream that has passed.”

How is it that we keep affecting people after we’re dead? And I mean not just emotionally, but karmically? Prince is dead, yes, but he has not inherently ceased and still has a connection with the beings of this world, whose love and well wishes are having some effect on his mental continuum – that’s how transference of consciousness and other prayers for the deceased work too. His music will still give pleasure – so, providing he had the intention to give people happiness, he will still create some merit, or good karma, from it.

I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain.

According to Van Jones, his friend and a CNN commentator, Prince was a humanitarian but wasn’t allowed to talk about his numerous good deeds as he was a Jehovah’s witness. So news of these is just emerging now.

It’s not all over

Prince 3The dream that was Prince’s life is ended, for sure, but it is not inherently over, any more than yesterday or even the moment before this one has inherently ceased. Our life is a cause leading to an effect, not to non-existence. Of course there is no more access to his body or gross personality or the identity “Prince”, but Prince was only ever mere imputation anyway. We are still all connected to that living being, just as we are always interdependent with all living beings. We cannot separate ourselves out from others and they in turn are affected by everything we do. As Geshe Kelsang puts it:

It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

And this truth spans life and death. We are each waves made up entirely of one another and all arising from the ocean of clear light, the very subtle mind. (More on this later.)

This is why love is the answer, as it is the natural response to reality; and why what Prince did does mean something, not nothing, though he most likely won’t remember. (As for the fame part, I agree that fame is meaningless after we die, which makes it meaningless now too, unless we are using it for good.)

Creativity

We need to make our lives count with our mental actions, for sure, because they are the most creative actions – with our thoughts we create our world. But we also make our lives count with physical and verbal actions, leaving something intentionally helpful and uplifting behind us too if we can, such as a temple or other tangible improvement in others’ lives. Geshe Kelsang says, for example, when talking about helping at Kadampa centers, “We are working for future generations.”

Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.

How we use our creativity as modern Buddhists is still new territory over here in the West – in Tibet, there was no art outside of painting Buddhas, no music outside of spiritual chanting, and so on; the culture was entirely different. But over here, to “remain natural while changing our aspiration” may mean that between us we need to hijack today’s culture to our own and others’ spiritual ends as much as we can. That’s why I am hijacking some of Prince’s lyrics and quotes for this article 🙂

The Forgetting Time.jpgMy take on it so far — and I am totally open to ideas in the comments — is this. The ultimate spiritual goal of human life is attaining enlightenment for the sake of all living beings because that is the way to fulfill all our own and others’ purposes. That is our main job, our main creativity. And making Buddha’s teachings accessible to as many people as possible by helping meditation centers and so on also seems important because if we don’t do it, who will, plus it is powerful karma. Within that, with an increasingly good motivation and skill, we can embrace and enjoy our creativity however it manifests — eg, film-making, painting, music, song-writing — and channel it into helping others. A lot of people are doing this already, it is I think inevitable; and I also think it will make Buddhist meditation relevant to more and more people — bring it into the global mainstream as an idea whose time has come. For example, this readable new novel, The Forgetting Time, is bringing the idea of past and future lives to a huge audience that possibly would never have considered it otherwise.

New world needs spirituality that will last. 

Good night and thank you

Wishing Prince a swift rebirth in the Pure Land surrounded by the celestial music of offering gods and goddesses. Or, to hijack the Bard:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.