Becoming Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman’s goal is to “restore peace to the world”. Not sure that this world was ever that peaceful, but you get the point – we need world peace.

I got a lot out of the movie. It reinforced my understanding that this is not a good moment to be sitting around feeling hopeless and discouraged. There Wonder Woman-1isn’t time; too many people need help. So Wonder Woman, just out on DVD, is timely because, if we are paying attention, it can remind us of a more hopeful way of looking at the world and at ourselves. If you bear with me, I am now going to attempt a Buddhist take on Wonder Woman’s life and works… And I am more than happy for you to chip in with comments.

Buddha nature

Antiope, her aunt, the strongest Amazon warrior, said to Diana:

You keep doubting yourself, Diana. But you are stronger than you believe. You have greater power than you know.

It is the same for you reading this. This is not some corny throw-away movie line – we all have greater power inside us than we know. We all have a divine spark, akaBuddha nature. Each and every living being has both heroism and delusions within them – we are capable of becoming Wonder Woman/Wonder Man, or we can stay ordinary and weak, depending Wonder Woman don't go underon what we choose to focus upon.

It’s worth reminding ourselves too that this Buddha nature is indestructible, but our delusions are totally destructible. We will all attain enlightenment one day, so we may as well do it now and cut out all the mooching around in the middle. We have already been in samsara for way way way too long.

Who will I be if I stay?

Diana Prince left her childhood paradise on a beaten up boat without a backward glance: “I can not stand by while innocent lives are lost!” she said to her mother. This is similar to Prince Siddhartha, Atisha, and many other great luminaries of the past, who left their exquisite comfortable surroundings out of renunciation for their meaningless lives of luxury and the burning compassion to help others.

Queen Hippolyta: You know that if you choose to leave, you may never return.
Diana: Who will I be if I stay?

Later when Steve Trevor said, “I will save the day but you will save the world,” she had to let him go, she had to accept the sacrifice of his loss. We don’t have much option to hide in a domestic bubble when the world is burning and we are drawn to service. It reminds me that I cannot put my own comfort above that of countless living beings, for then “Who will I be?”

The power of love

Wonder Woman’s strength is her love and compassion. Against this, Ares, the god of war, the world leader, had no chance – even though he was far bigger and seemingly more powerful than her, she was able to glance his lightning back at him. Love is stronger than hate because it is a response to reality whereas hate arises from misconception and distortion.

loveThis is good to know at a time (2017-2018) when reason seems to be falling on granite, when regular people are up against a leviathan of self-interest and self-absorption in our world leaders. If we rely upon love and creativity, and above all don’t succumb to hopelessness, we will triumph.

It is love and compassion that ignited Diana’s super powers – she could have smitten Dr. Poison as she cowered beneath her, but instead she saw that Dr. Poison was not her delusions, and she let her go. It is love and compassion that will activate our Buddha nature too, our boundless potential for enlightenment.

By the way, Patty Jenkins directed this movie. Bring on more female directors, is what I say. Talking of why Diana Prince first becomes Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins says:

I say no to what you are all doing, how you are all living your life. I still love you. I’m still engaged with you. I still understand it’s complicated. But I say not to this. To shooting people from afar who you cannot see, I say no.

Emanations

Wonder Woman emanates as an ordinary woman in Paris, which is where we see her in the opening scenes. Wonder Woman walked amongst the land of crusty men (including British politicians), and — muttering away — they had no clue who she was. Emanations of holy beings are everywhere, usually disguised in ordinary forms. As it says in The New Guide to Dakini Land:

As ordinary beings with ordinary appearance we cannot experience anything as totally pure and perfect. Even an emanation of Buddha appears to us to have faults. It is because we have ordinary appearance that we view ourselves and others as imperfect – subject to faults such as sickness or ageing. ~ page 23

We have to do something

Wonder Woman sees a suffering woman in the WW1 trenches, and decides to cross the battlefield to save her village.

Steve: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.
Diana: So… what? So we do nothing?
Steve: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.

wonder woman patience

Then she runs onto the battlefield that no one has crossed. The German soldiers start to fire on her, but she deflects their bullets with her gauntlets, and uses her weapons and powers to free the town from suffering. And this encourages the rest of the group to risk their own lives to follow her.

It is a great example of compassion in action. Out of the intense wish to free living beings, Diana then engages in practical actions to fulfill this wish.

Diana: I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

We need the armor of patient acceptance that can handle the guns of ageing, sickness, death, and all the other daily stuff that comes up to frustrate us even when we are trying so hard to help others. Otherwise, the smallest bullet of suffering will knock us out. We need the sword of wisdom to cut down the delusions.

Our daily life is all about growing our super hero skills of the six perfections so that we can be of most benefit to others. And (see more below) we can grow all these a great deal faster through the practice of Buddhist Tantra, the quick path to enlightenment:

Vajrayogini’s body is in nature the perfection of wisdom of all the Buddhas. Her five mudra-ornaments of bone are the other five perfections of all the Buddhas. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127

motley crewWonder Woman’s motley crew are inspired by her example to live out their innate heroism too. As Steve Trevor put it:

My father told me once, he said, “If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something”. And I already tried nothing.

Living beings do deserve us

Ares told her: “They don’t deserve your protection!”

But in fact mankind does deserve her. All living beings deserve to be loved and helped by us. In the mind-training teachings of Buddhism we learn to see the kindness of all living beings as the very infrastructure of our life. They are also treasure chests of love, compassion, and all the other necessary qualities that we can only develop in dependence upon them:

Once we learn to value the inner wealth of patience, giving, love, and compassion above external conditions, we will come to regard each and every sentient being as supremely precious, no matter how they treat us. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness, page 77

Also, as Diana replies:

It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.

This is also true. It is up to us to choose love over judgment and more delusion. We can choose to focus on others’ faults or others’ good qualities – depending on whether we want to believe in delusions or in love. And although it is true that we are all mixed bags, it is also true that living beings are not their delusions but the victims of their delusions, so it makes more sense to put our faith in their actual pure nature.

War and anger

world peace

I write this as Members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), while accepting this year’s Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony in Oslo, said the planet’s destruction is “only one impulsive tantrum away.” And some military analysts are also predicting that we have a 50/50 chance of nuclear war with North Korea sometime in the next 3 months …

What the heck?!?! Wonder Woman is set in World War 1, the war that was supposedly “The War to End All Wars” but of course was not. This is because war is caused by anger and hatred, and these are still alive and well in the minds of living beings. Fear and anger and threatening Tweets lead to more of the same, until it spills out of control – we’ve all seen bar fights.

Steve: You don’t think I wish I could tell you that it was one bad guy to blame? It’s not! We’re all to blame!

That is why we need the heroism of compassion and wisdom. We need both to rely upon and become actual heroes and heroines, who take the fight where it really belongs, to the delusions. In the battle of good versus evil, it is not living being versus living being; it is all of us against the monsters in all our minds. We need to purify our minds.

futility of war anger

It is generally accepted in both Sutra and Tantra that the world appears to our mind as faulty, imperfect and unsatisfactory because our mind is impure – polluted by the delusions and their imprints. In Ornament for Clear Realization, Buddha Maitreya says that when the minds of sentient beings become completely pure, their environment becomes a Buddha’s Pure Land. ~ Guide to Dakini Land, page 23

Wonder Women in Buddhism

Buddha Vajrayogini is the greatest Wonder Woman of them all. And the best thing about her is that she is the embodiment of the bliss and emptiness of a completely purified mind, so we can all become her — become a Wonder Woman or a Wonder Man — through practicing the union of Buddhist Sutra and Tantra.

Through studying the correct view of emptiness we can understand that everything is merely an appearance to the mind and, like a dream, merely imputed by conceptual thought. This understanding is extremely helpful for developing conviction in the existence of (pure beings and) Pure Lands. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 25

There is so much to say about Vajrayogini, and if you are interested you can find out more by reading The New Guide to Dakini Land. We can practice these Tantric teachings in dependence upon some experience of renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom, as well as receiving a Tantric empowerment.

Marvel’s Wonder Woman even looks a bit like Vajrayogini:

Her hair is black, symbolizing the unchangeable nature of her Truth Body. It falls freely down her back, symbolizing that she is free from the fetters of self-grasping.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127

Vajrayogini holds a curved knife rather than a sword, “to show her power to cut the cWonder Woman Vajrayoginiontinuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings.”

Vajrayogini stomps the three poisons under foot, in the aspect of worldly gods (not unlike Ares) – attachment, anger, and ignorance have no sway over her. When dealing with our own delusions, we’d be as well to remember that – we start on the right footing then, as it were, with the self-confidence, “I will conquer my delusions, they will never conquer me.”

The ultimate super hero, Vajrayogini possesses omniscient wisdom, the bliss and emptiness of her completely purified mind pervading all phenomena, including us:

Her three eyes symbolize her ability to see everything in the past, present and future.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 126

Self-generation as Vajrayogini enables us to hold it all together in the meditation break, aka most of our lives, when we are not absorbed in meditation. We cannot always be in single-pointed concentration on the source of everything, namely bliss and emptiness, because we have to get up and get practical. But Vajrayogini is the embodiment of bliss and emptiness, as well as of all Sutra and Tantra realizations, appearing in this dynamic form to help and bless others as we move through our day — a living, breathing Wonder Woman.art-vy8-frnt_3

The practice of Vajrayogini quickly brings blessings, especially during this spiritually degenerate age. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 8

Our mission

I have seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they’ll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.

This can be our mission, too – is there any reason why not? A lot of things these days seem to be making my superior intention kick in whether I like it or not – whether the sadness in people’s expressions, tragedies in my own family, the endless bad news for humans, animals, and our planet, or just the sound of passing sirens. Everyone is suffering. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang has said, we only need to “open our eyes” to see that. 

What we need right now is armies of Bodhisattva, armies of heroes and heroines. Let’s just do it! As Venerable Geshe Kelsang once said at a Festival:

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys enemies.

I love to think of the activities of my fellow Sangha and all those heroes and heroines everywhere who seem to be striving more than ever to change the world’s direction. Together, I know we can make all the difference. Let’s not waste too much more time giving into our selfishness, attachment, self-pity, aversions, or other delusions, except when we really have to! Let’s make our lives epic in the service of others instead.

Conclusion

25360543_1747094635343269_1308743401_n-1Our world is in trouble but the situation is not hopeless. We need to inspire each other to hope and courage as they did in the movie – that bedraggled, disparate and, to begin with, self-centered group did amazing things once they were inspired. They saved the day. Despair, complacency, or personal escapism is not an option. We need to remember that we are battling not each other but the ignorance, hatred, and attachment in all our minds – it is a battle for hearts and minds, as they say, and that battle will be won with the weapons of Dharma.

 

 

 

What to do when feeling despair

getting out of bed 2

The world’s a mess! But please don’t despair …

This is the second half of this article.

Got blessings?

There is so much suffering in the world right now – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just wave a magic wand and have it all go away? Well, in a way, we can. For that is what blessings do.

I find it doesn’t hurt to tune into blessings whenever I need shadows chased away. Blessings always cheer me up. One quick way to feel them is by recognizing I am not outside enlightened beings’ minds and they are not outside mine.

Whatever faith we are – Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, etc. – we can all pray and receive powerful blessings for ourselves and others. This is because holy beings transcend our labels and help everyone who asks – that’s their job. If we are a living being, we have a divine spark in our heart (in Buddhism, we call it our Buddha nature) that will be ignited if we allow ourselves to believe in blessings.

Our prayers for others act as a bridge between them and the holy beings we are praying to. In the midst of the deepest depression, glimmers of light can appear in people’s minds through the force of our prayers invoking blessings. Some hope reappears to quell the hopelessness — a little window through which they can peek through the murk of their delusions to a brighter day. This is step #1 in their feeling better.

prayer mudraIt is always worth remembering that holy beings are infinitely larger than samsara – they can flick away our samsaric nightmare with one finger if we let them. They appear in forms to show just this – the Wisdom Buddha cuts it down at its root with his wisdom sword, for example, and Buddha Vajrayogini swipes it away with her curved knife.

We can also send blessings from our own good heart – such as in taking and giving, which can be supercharged in our Tantric practice when we have generated ourself as a Buddha (see next section). There is always something we can be doing to help those around us and in our world.

Remember who we really are …

We are usually so wrapped up in an ordinary, limited sense of ourself, replete with all its suffering and lamentation – but that self does not exist and we can learn to drop it, more and more quickly.

Who we are depends on who we think we are at any given time, as explained here. When I stop identifying with the limited, painful self that doesn’t even exist — just drop it and generate a more realistic and less deluded vision of myself, eg, as a Bodhisattva warrior or a Dakini — I find I can accept the past, present, and future perfectly happily.

So, if I am in a bad mood, I dissolve all those mistaken dream-like appearances into ultimate truth emptiness and arise in a new dream as a Bodhisattva Heroine, whereby everything and indeed every time — present, past, and future – looks very different. Plus, whenever we self-generate as a Bodhisattva or a Buddha, we automatically receive blessings.

be someone

And, by the way, we need to think “I AM a holy being”, not “I am an ordinary being pretending to be a holy being.” We are neither inherently pure nor impure. We are neither inherently ordinary nor extraordinary. Who we are is not absolute but relative for it depends upon many factors, including our thoughts.*

Self-generation as a Buddha is not a device. It is reality. It is far more realistic than grasping with ignorance at an inherently existent ordinary person and not letting go.

It takes practice and mindfulness, but there does come a time when it is harder to hold onto a deluded sense of self than a cool, happy, heroic one, because our thought habits have changed.

… and who others are

And others are not inherently impure either, so we can generate them as blissful pure appearances of our blissful pure mind. With that, we are halfway there — they will catch up to that pure view themselves one day.

We are making all this up anyway — the attractive friend I see, for example, is totally different to the “meh” stranger you see. Who is right? It depends. So we may as well make this relativity work for us by choosing the thoughts that will liberate us all.

In Sutra it is the same principle — we change people by changing our thoughts. We transform people into objects of love with our mind of love, for instance, thus making them lovable as opposed to annoying appearances to our aversion. And this helps to bring out their good qualities as a result.

(*To get profound for a sec: it is not just any old thoughts that we identify ourselves with in Tantra – we are identifying ourselves with omniscient wisdom and bliss, which in fact source and pervade all reality. We can think of our very subtle mind as like an ocean from which “all subject minds and object things arise simultaneously, like waves” as ocean wavesVenerable Geshe Kelsang put it in 2000. That root mind will, when purified, become the omniscient wisdom and bliss of a Buddha; so in Tantra we bring the result into the path by identifying ourselves with that in the present moment. Also, if we take care of the ocean by purifying it, the waves of our thoughts and appearances will take care of themselves.)

Radical acceptance

Bodhisattvas can accept whatever comes up for the sake of helping others — everything that appears to them helps their renunciation, or compassion, or patience, etc.

Dakinis or Heroines also accept all appearances as part of a totality, not discriminating between pleasant and unpleasant appearances because they are all equal in emptiness. They are all equally part of Heruka and Vajrayogini’s blissful mandala, which includes the celestial mansion and the terrifying charnel grounds.

(Just to get a bit profound again for a moment … apart from bliss and emptiness, everything is mistaken appearance, hallucination. So take it with a pinch of salt!)

Bit of purification

Purification practice also comes in very handy when we are in a really bad mood, to wipe away the most stubborn-seeming karmic appearances and ordinary conceptions. Out of space here — check out this article.

Summary

When I keep doing any of the things explained in these last two articles — letting any re-visiting sadness remind me to do it – then there is no problem.

As someone generally interested in the spiritual path, we can learn to keep our eye on the prize – which is enlightenment (however we currently understand it) and the permanent end of suffering. Then I think we will find creative ways to do whatever works to lift ourselves and others out of any temporary funk.

So, no guarantees I won’t feel sad again in samsara, but that’s ok; it can be put to good use.

Over to you: Have you dealt successfully with any calamities lately? Are you finding ways to avoid falling into despair over the current world situation? Care to share?

 

Doing meditation retreat

divingJanuary is just around the corner – which means for a lot of lucky people that they get to do extra meditation because this is traditional retreat month in the Kadampa Buddhist tradition.

So, I thought I’d say something about retreat in the hope that some of you can do some. I know a lot of you, probably most, have to work and are not able to take a month or even a week off for retreat; so this article is also a bit of encouragement simply to get meditating in general ☺️

On retreat we stop all forms of business and extraneous activities so as to emphasize a particular spiritual practice. ~ New Guide to Dakini Land 

Starting several decades ago, when Geshe Kelsang first came to the West in 1977, up to six weeks each year have been put aside in the larger Kadampa centers for retreat. I personally benefited from this for many years, when I lived at Madhyamaka Centre and everything closed down for retreat. Sometimes we were even snowed in = bliss. We didn’t have Facebook back then to lure us away from thinking deep thoughts – heck, we didn’t even have the Internet. I count myself lucky that I didn’t need any will power whatsoever back then to turn all the gadgets off.the-internet

And I can honestly say that I have never gotten bored in retreat. Quite the opposite. It is those mindless habits of wanting or expecting endless distraction that really bore me. I tend also to have fewer delusions on retreat – and delusions are pretty tedious.

These January retreats engendered in me a love for using this bleak mid-winter time to go deep — to dive below the surface of the crazy ocean waves of samsaric suffering & overly complicated conceptual thoughts into clarity and bliss, into Lamrim and Tantra. They are the best possible way to start the new year, and my hands down favorite times.

We could all aim to do a few extra good deep meditations at home this month to get some control over these mad, mad times and set 2018 up in the way we’d like it to continue… how’s that for a new year’s resolution?

And if you haven’t learned to meditate at all yet, now could be a really great time to start 😊

2016

(I wrote this article last year — and 2017 has proved to be an even weirder year in many ways! Retreat is very needed in our world if we have the chance to do some, holding the space for others.)

If ever there was a good time to get some perspective and space from all the craziness, the beginning of 2017 would seem to be it. Still four days of the strange 2016 to go, and the last two days alone have brought us the deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher (and just now her mother, Debbie Reynolds). Closer to home, this year, we lost Patti, Tessa, and Mimi.

This is all skirting dangerously close now to the one-by-one steady dropping off of everyone in my generation. Soon, not a person I grew up with will be left. And it is certain that I am no longer going to die young.

Plus, the number of celebrity and personally-known deaths of course barely scratches the surface of the millions of other deaths in the last few days, let alone in the last year. (An average of 55.3 million humans and untold billions of animals and others.) Any illusion we may be under that we are long-term residents of this world is just that, an illusion. We’re here on a month-by-month rental with nary a day’s notice.

Making the most of our precious time

george-michael-leaving-his-home-in-north-london-britain-17-oct-2012Our most valuable and rare possession is our precious human life, but we don’t have a whole lot of time left with it. All we have to look forward to, really, is spiritual realizations, insofar as everything else is dust in the wind. And to gain these realizations – actualizing our full potential and bringing about an end to suffering — we need time.

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time. ~ George Michael

To have time, we need to MAKE time.

This is what going deeper into our center, our spiritual heart, as explained here for example, can do for us – it can make us more time. It gives us a certain sense of timelessness in fact. Identifying with our pure inexhaustible potential instead of with our annoying off-kilter delusions makes us feel far more alive and present, and so time slows down. We might even feel for a change that we have all the time in the world.

I hear a lot of people, including me, complaining that life is too busy – and ordinarily it can feel that way; but I think that a lot of that feeling of busyness comes not from all that we have to get done but from not having sufficient mindfulness and concentration. These qualities, which improve on retreat, give us all the time, space, and freedom from surplus worrying thoughts we need to do what needs to be done.

We are none of us strangers to suffering, but Dharma gives us the ability to break free, and retreat gives us the opportunity to spend more time in Dharma. What’s not to love about spending several hours each day in freedom and happiness?! Even with poor concentration, we are generally more peaceful on retreat than in our ordinary fast-paced, externalized lives. We can become ridiculously happy.

dream-like-elephantIt’s very relaxing not to buy into the hallucinations of the gross mind for a while — to let these fevered imaginings die down, stop taking them quite so seriously. Meditation gives us the chance to see them for what they are and to let them go so we can enjoy the peace and bliss of our own mind in deep rest. I have yet to find anything more relaxing than giving up on trying to find this peace and bliss in objects of attachment or in getting one over my enemies.

Even one breathing meditation allows us to stop shaking our mind and discover that an unshaken mind is naturally peaceful. A whole week or month of doing this gives us invaluable insight and confidence.

I also think that when we meditate a lot our lives start to flow – we are not so much living second-hand through Facebook or the news or Netflix, trying to get our thrills vicariously, or even in the made up narratives of our own lives, the product solely of our conceptual thoughts. We start to abide in the reality of wisdom and compassion, our true nature, and freedomeverything flows naturally from there.

Silence is golden

Whether in retreat doing the traditional four meditation sessions a day, or in the space of our own house once a day or so during January, we can let go of the demands of our daily life and reconnect to the stillness within ourselves. We can be quiet, for a change, verbally and mentally. As it mentions here, and I’ll now loosely quote:

“Silence is powerful. It creates space in our mind and fundamentally changes the way we connect with the teachings and meditations. Observing silence is a powerful method to disengage us from busyness, and it leads us naturally to deeper levels of being. Our heart begins to open and we feel the blessings of all Buddhas pouring into and filling our mind.

Through deepening our experience of meditation we can take our spiritual practice up to the next level (and this will keep us going in the following months when we are back at work.) By integrating this meditative experience into our daily activities we will improve the quality of our life and bring happiness to our family and friends.”

I think diving deep below the froth of the ocean waves is also an incredibly important way to identify with our pure potential and disengage from endless feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, and lack of control that come from identifying with a limited, painful self. We need self-confidence during these difficult times if we are to be of any help to anyone. We don’t need discouragement.

Who am I?

In each of the stages of the path (Lamrim) meditations, therefore, we can get into the habit of identifying with our Buddha nature and the result of that meditation, asking each time, “Who am I?” For example, instead of “I am angry”, “I am lonely”, “I am hurt”, “I am useless at this”, etc., we can think, “I am someone with a precious human life”, “I am someone who is on their way out from this prison of samsara”, “I am someone who has compassion for everyone”, etc.

In this way we can enter the Pure Land of Lamrim, enjoying ourselves each day with these beautiful minds, getting in the habit of identifying with them so much that we can then keep doing that the whole rest of the year.

Blessed monthheruka-vajrayogini

January is also Heruka and Vajrayogini month. Again, even if our concentration is not brilliant yet, there are a lot of blessings flying around this month, so we may as well tune in the radio receiver of faith as often as we can.

Check out this Onion article if you get a moment, ‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Day. Spoof though it is, it still shows how we can all fall prey to humdrum mediocrity, even when things are not going particularly wrong in our lives; and how mediocrity doesn’t make us happy. If you have a chance to do some Tantric retreat, this immersion can be a swift way to transform these ordinary conceptions and appearances into an experience of great bliss and emptiness, transforming your world into the real Pure Land of the Dakinis.

(All this makes me think it should be called “Advance”, really, not “Retreat”.)

One day at a time

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist
Like it doesn’t exist ~ Sia

Some of my best advice on doing retreat is to take one day at a time – once you’re in retreat you put up so-called “retreat boundaries” of body, speech, and mind, which basically means you’re not thinking of anything outside of the retreat; so there is in fact no need to plan. (And there is never any need to wallow in nostalgia). This means you have a good shot at living in the moment, remembering that today is your first and possibly also your last day. This is really quite unbelievably relaxing.

Practical plan

kailashIf you have lots of time, you could think about booking into one of the big residential KMCs such as KMC Manjushri or KMC New York, or into an other-worldly retreat center such as Kailash in Switzerland. And, now, in 2017, we have the incredible International Retreat Center (IRC) Grand Canyon just opening up, and the opportunity to do six weeks of Lamrim retreat with Kadam Morten.

These IRCs and KMCs all offer incredibly special retreat programs with experienced meditation leaders that “address the needs of anyone wishing to deepen their experience of Kadam Dharma in modern day times.”

If you have medium amounts of time — say a day here or there, or a few days, or a week — check out this link for retreats near you, including in Denver, where I live.

If you can’t take any whole days off, you could think about using January to get along to some inspiring meditation classes and establish a good meditation habit for 2018. Check out this link for meditation classes in your area.

Over to you. Do you have any encouragement to share from retreats you may have done in the past?

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A rising tide lifts all boats ~ the power of Sangha

You know, there is nothing fixed about you. You can change the narrative of yourself, go down a whole new road. For example, of these two, which to identify with?:

I am now middle aged with all those affairs of the gorgeous young me with the beautiful young lovers behind me, increasingly wrinkly and achy atranscending fear and anger.jpgnd irrelevant, and heading for the graveyard (via smelly old folks’ home).

= dead end street, no happy ending in sight.

VERSUS

I am a spiritual practitioner with incredible opportunity and strong renunciation and compassion, like Buddha and all previous practitioners, heading closer and closer to the Pure Land and the ability to liberate all living beings. I am Heruka, trampling on delusions, wielding the wheel of sharp weapons to cut through the self-grasping of all living beings.

= liberating path to somewhere completely new and blissful.

Or whatever story line we like. You can figure something out, especially with the help of Dharma. Conventional truth depends entirely on mental perspective – that’s maybe why it is also called “relative truth”. So if we give ourselves a different perspective on whatever is going on in our lives, the meaning of our life changes. For example, in the context above, I have found in the past that periods of solitude or being fired from a job are not galling but a springboard to far, far greater things.

NKT Summer Festival 2016

international assemblyThe recent summer festival was amazingly inspiring in this respect because there were 4,000 people focusing on a vision of being enlightened, not ordinary, all in the same place at the same time. I hope I get a chance to share more about some of the actual teachings in future articles. But this is a bit of what I wrote down about the Festival in general at the time. I apologize in advance to those of you who may be new to the subject of Buddhist Tantra and wonder what on earth I am so rhapsodic about. Next year’s Summer Festival will be focused on the new version of Transform Your Life, Buddha’s Sutra teachings. (By the way, do check out the photo-journalism in these Festival Diaries, written by Kadam Morten.)

Wheel of sharp weapons

I’ve been having wonderful conversations and connections with an unusual assembly of cool people from all over the place. No one is normal around here. I have loved sitting in the temple with this huge Sangha, and there are plenty more practitioners back home too. I’ve been wondering about the causes and conditions we and others around the world must all have created to have met this fully realized Spiritual Guide, these ear-whispered instructions, this Tantric technology, this quick path to full enlightenment. It was feeling to me like we have done most of the work just to get to this point, perhaps in many previous lifetimes, and now all we have to do is fall off a log, spiritually speaking.

We can and usually do have pretty ordinary views of ourself and others, but there is nothing ordinary about any of this. There doesn’t have to be anything boring or ordinary about anything or anyone in our world. The key is to remember this every day, even when we are back home and at work.

The “Sangha” is not an exclusive club, by the way. There are no rules of entry. There is not a single person who does not equally have the potential to attain the happiness of enlightenment so, as soon as someone wants that, even a little bit, they are on their way. And who knows what spiritual work anyone has already done in this or previous lives?

Oral InstructionsAs it says in Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

Through the wheel of sharp weapons of the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness,
Circling throughout the space of the minds of sentient beings until the end of the aeon,
Cutting away the demon of self-grasping, the root of samsara,
May definitive Heruka be victorious.

It is said that thousands of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples attained enlightenment. Despite my faith in the methods, and Geshe Kelsang’s oft-stated conviction that we modern-day practitioners can gain the same results, I admit I used to be a bit skeptical about this: “Steady on! That’s a bit unrealistic, surely! Maybe two or three people could go all the way?!”

(I still thought even two or three would be pretty good … after all, think of the power of even one more person in this world having Geshe Kelsang’s realizations of meaning clear light and pure illusory body?!)

A rising tide raises all boats

meditatingBut you know that expression, “a rising tide raises all boats”? Of late I have been beginning to intuit that as some of us start to gain deep completion stage realizations, we might all start doing it. If you or me or any of the Sangha gain realizations, others around us will be raised naturally due to our karmic interconnections and the fact that our minds are not inherently separate. Let alone fellow practitioners, even our family and friends and colleagues will naturally experience benefits. I didn’t find it at all hard during this Festival to appreciate my rather epic fellow international Sangha, old and new, because I could tell that we are all in this together. We rise and fall together, aspects of Guru Vajradhara’s mind.

It is not the individual, isolated, separate me who will attain enlightenment after all – that is the me that has to dissolve away so that I can identify with my actual self. In Tantra we learn to impute ourselves no longer on a contaminated deluded mind and meaty body, but on our own indestructible, blissful very subtle mind and body. These, once purified by dissolving all phenomena into ultimate truth emptiness, will transform into the actual mind and body of a Buddha. How hard can that be? Once we’ve been shown how to do it?! As Nagarjuna says:

For whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.

jumping with joyLike I said, even if one or two people were to gain the union of meaning clear light and illusory body and be like Geshe-la, this world would transform. So what about ten? Or a thousand!? It is degenerate times alright (thank you Mr. Trump, Isis, the age of distraction, and co.), but the blessings of Heruka and Vajrayogini become more powerful in degenerate times; so who is to say that collectively we cannot and will not transform this thing? When the distractions are few and the Festival blessings strong, it all seems perfectly doable. Now I just have to tune into this refuge in Sangha every day.

Over to you. Please share your experiences of this year’s Summer Festival if you were there. (And maybe you’d like to attend another international Festival some day if you were not there, the next one being the Fall Festival in Toronto.)

You might enjoy this video:

 

Change our thoughts, liberate our self

lotus botannical gardensIn this article I was talking about changing our thoughts to get past the grasping at an uncomfortable, limited self. We can also do some Tantric thinking at this point to effectively and quickly (once we’re used to it) re-generate or re-label ourselves and solve our problem.

Who needs validation?

I found myself in the odd situation not that long ago of having my hitherto closest friend stop calling me. It got me to thinking on more than one occasion that I’d like them to call me and show their appreciation, if indeed they have any left, which of course they may not.

And when I got to thinking like this, I viewed it as a challenge to look at that limited self that needs validation. And because it was an exaggerated sense of self, it was ironically easier to spot and therefore dissolve away into emptiness.

Do I want them to call my body? Do I want them to call my mind? No, I want them to call ME! And that me appears independent of my body and mind, as if it can exist all on its own. So where is it? Where is that me that needs someone to call it? Is it my body? No. That me is nowhere to be found anywhere in my meaty body, my meaty body cannot converse for a start. Is it my mind? No. I am not a mind, I have a mind. Is it then the collection of body and mind? No. That’s just a collection of things that are not-me – a whole bunch of not-me’s plonked together does not magically make a me.

So this neglected me, or self, cannot be found; it doesn’t exist. My sense of it is just an invisible (to everyone else) idea I have of me, and not even one I can see most of the time. And it only functions when I do hold onto it – when I let it go through wisdom, I’m immediately free from the problem of being unloved.

Vajrayogini in phenomena source
Buddha Vajrayogini

From there I can come up with a new rather more interesting idea of me – generate myself as a Buddha and ask the question: Does Buddha Shakyamuni need this person to call him? No. Does Je Tsongkhapa wonder why they never call? No, never. Does Manjushri care a whit? No, not even slightly. Does Vajrapani? You kidding?! And what about Vajrayogini? She doesn’t give a monkeys.

It works every time. So-called “pure view” and “divine pride” solve all our problems quickly. As Ven Geshe Kelsang says in Tantric Grounds and Paths p. 14:

If instead of clinging to an ordinary identity we were to overcome ordinary conceptions by developing the divine pride of being Heruka or Vajrayogini, we would not develop fear, anxiety, or any other negative state of mind. How can anyone harm Heruka? How can Vajrayogini run out of money?

If I don’t need any more from others, this frees me up to try and give them what they might need, if they ever want it. And instead of wasting my energy trying to fulfill the needs of my limited self, which necessarily leads me to neglecting countless other living beings (some of whom might actually like my attention), and is rather like trying to fill a black hole, I can replace that attachment with compassion and have a rich life, like a sun radiating endlessly.

Which brings us back to the Mahamudra meditation, which greatly helps us to dissolve away our thoughts in the first place so we can recreate our world. There is nothing behind our thoughts.

Tripsy the Dog

When we get used to this meditation we’ll see that where our mind was full, we’ll begin to sense the space in our mind – which really helps us solve our problems. Usually we get a thought in our head and we cannot let it go. Totally wound up and bound up and controlled by that situation that we have created for ourselves, and the more we think about it the crazier we get, like a dog grappling with a bone.

dog with boneYou ever tried to get a dog away from a bone once it is really into it?! I had a Doberman-mix called Tripsy when I was 8, he was our guard dog in Guyana, theoretically; but the problem was that he had no discrimination between intruders and friendlies, and would instead bite everyone. Everyone, that is, apart from me, as he liked me a lot. Except, and here’s my point, except when I tried to take his bone away from him. I always had to snatch my hand back just in time, it was a strangely exhilarating game I invented (no TV back then.)

My father got fed up paying for people’s stitches (well, it happened once, but it was enough) and Tripsy got sent off to the countryside.

Our mind can be a bit like Tripsy the dog – it has gotten used to grabbing onto this situation or that problem in this way, shaking it all about, doesn’t really want to let it go, and may even snap at someone who tries to get us to see things differently. We have this idea, “This is my problem, I have to solve it, nothing will be right until this is sorted” – instead of dropping the bone and walking away.

This meditation is not about pushing a problematical thought out of our mind, but dropping it — just dropping it — and relaxing into the natural clarity and space of our own mind, letting everything dissolve. If we can do this, almost all our problems truthfully disappear. When we go about our daily life again, we find that our ways of letting go 8thinking about things have changed, we are grasping less, and so we are experiencing far less mental pain and anxiety. We always have things to take care of, sometimes very challenging things; but our approach will feel so different if we allow ourselves to let go sometimes and just experience the natural clarity and purity of our own mind.

Incredible peace comes from a settled mind. When we quieten our mind, our natural capacity for feeling good manifests naturally from within. We don’t need to be a dog with a bone week after week, life after life. Knowing that space can solve problems is a very useful insight for daily life.

More coming soon.

What’s really going on in New York City?

Halloween 1We stumbled into a metamorphosized New York on Halloween, a veritable charnel ground, when we decided to watch the parade down in the Village. The altered reality started for me on the subway, people dressed in outlandish costumes and behaving larger than life, but I was not expecting the sheer torrent of ghouls, torture victims, skeletons, Playboy bunnies, Spidermen, Spiderwomen, Clark Kents, bananas, skyscrapers, and slices of pizza with eyes we encountered from the moment we exited a 6th Avenue subway and were herded in some strange dream down the sidewalk by a (genuine) New York cop. I saw another cop standing commandingly on a bench, and flinched as he turned to point his gun at me – turned out to be plastic, of course. (Thought you weren’t allowed to impersonate police officers?!) I saw a homeless person in a doorway – only he turned out to be “real”. I saw someone with folds of flesh hanging from his face – he sadly turned out to be “real” too. So did a couple of dogs, visitors from the animal realm, who were looking around in absolute bewilderment.

Halloween 2But although all appearances are deceptive all the time, sometimes it is even harder than usual to tell what is “real” and what is “pretend”. Wave after wave of vampires, bubbles, jellyfish, cuddly tigers, drag queens, schoolchildren, footballers, skeletons  – the sidewalk every bit as outlandish as the parade. We walked for miles with no let up, Gotham simply teeming with strange creatures, like some kind of Star Trek convention, only weirder. Me and my companion were wearing jeans, woolly hats, thick jerseys, and Patagonia overcoats (it was freezing, though try telling that to the Playboy bunnies and gay prostitutes) – the party-goers were probably guessing we were dressed up (maybe a bit too) convincingly as boring, straight, middle-aged friends from somewhere (anywhere) other than the coolest city on the planet, if they noticed us at all.

There is nothing fixed about us at any time. We tell stories about ourselves to ourselves and then believe them as the gospel truth, even though our sense of self changes from day to day, from hour to hour, and perhaps especially on Halloween, America’s favorite holiday.  So who were these New Yorkers? Who did they think they were for that one night only?! And could you really say that they were the “same” people we saw in their macs and umbrellas the following grey morning? Did they believe their own new identity, or after a few minutes were they having “normal” conversations based on their normal personas, forgetting they were Halloween 6supposed to be the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man? We did witness quite a few arguments, one ballerina screaming, “We were trying to have a good time, and you RUINED it! You ignored me! You are totally different with your friends!” (I wonder whether his friends are also Yetis.) Is she always high-strung, or was she relating to herself as a beautiful but half-starved neurotic dancer?! Is it easier or harder to have a good time in samsara when you are masquerading as some other samsaric being? Or are all worldly appearances deceptive and, sooner or later, painful? Is there happiness to be found as any being in any realm in samsara, from the scary denizens of the hells, to the spirits and ghouls, to the leopards, to the Hollywood royalty? I didn’t see anyone dressed up as a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. Now, that might have worked. But I have to say that me and my friend were not finding it too hard in this surreal scene to self-generate as undercover Heruka and Vajrayogini in the charnel grounds of the Tantric mandala, and as a result had a pretty blissful, meaningful evening.

Halloween 3Appearance vs reality, I was thinking (amongst other things). Where were we?! Where are we?! What is really going on? Where is New York? Totally unfindable! The New York of Friday 31st bore no resemblance to the New York of the following morning, but what actually changed? Like a dream, Halloween minds ceased and their appearances simply disappeared, coming from nowhere, going nowhere. Where are you right now? Who are you? There is nothing actually there, which means we can be anyone and we can be anywhere, as long as we don’t grasp at any of it.  When we understand how all conventional truths are created by the mind of self-grasping, as Geshe-la explains in The New Heart of Wisdom, we know not to fully trust our senses or even what our gross conceptual thoughts are telling us. Appearances are deceptive … unless they are appearing as not other than emptiness. We are constantly hallucinating to a greater or lesser degree. We have gross or subtle inappropriate attention going on pretty much 24/7.

Halloween 4For ordinary beings, our minds and their objects deceive us, are more trick than treat. In which case, what can we trust? I think we can trust: faith in the possibility of transcendent, pure worlds, beings, and minds; renunciation for the samsara created by the hallucinatory minds of self-grasping and self-cherishing; compassion for dream-like suffering; love; bodhichitta; the first 5 perfections — any of the so-called “method” practices. We can rely on these states of mind, even more so if we are gradually imbuing them with the wisdom understanding that nothing is really there, meaning that trying to fix things just “out there” is like trying to move objects around in a dream or on a movie screen.

One day our direct realization of appearance and reality as being one truth will mean we can stay single-pointedly absorbed in the ultimate nature of reality while simultaneously emanating countless appearances to help others, vis-a-vis we will have attained enlightenment. But for this to happen, I think now is a good time to understand that the only object Halloween 5which exists exactly as it appears, or in other words is 100%  trustworthy, is the emptiness of inherent existence. (This is the absence of things existing from their own side, as anything more real than dream-like mere appearance.) Moreover, although love is essential, compassion is indispensable, and so on, the only mind we can trust completely is the very subtle mind of clear light, in which all the things we normally see have disappeared and to which emptiness/reality is always appearing.

Halloween in New York reminded me of all this, and how important it is to train and purify my mind, to break through all the phantasms and disguises, until I see the truth directly.

 

Tantra: bliss boost

Carrying on with even more benefits of transforming enjoyments into the spiritual path with the help of the meditation on transforming enjoyments …

Bliss destroys grasping

graspingEven with this simple method of transforming enjoyments, we can learn to associate bliss not with grasping but with letting go. Generally grasping has been the name of the game in the past with objects of attachment – we grasp at the pizza or the body or the sex or the security, and it destroys the enjoyment. Attachment projects that the bliss is coming from the object, nothing to do with our mind, and as a result we grasp at it; and the stronger we grasp at it as pleasure existing outside our mind, the more elusive it becomes because that is not actually where the pleasure is. It is hard to grasp onto something that is not there, but we try. So we have a momentary high if and when we “get” our object, but it quickly fades, as the mechanism is all wrong, we have set it up all wrong.

I can’t get no satisfaction, and I try, and I try. ~ Mick Jagger

For example, think about the last time you had your favorite food or drink. We got some pleasure from the first bite or swig, and we tried to holdletting go 7 onto it, but we couldn’t because the pleasure was not out there. This grasping is coming from ignorance and the subsequent attachment – that thing exists out there AND it is capable of making me happy, therefore I have to have it, I have to grab it, I need it, I need you. And this grasping destroys our pleasure, so it is very short lived. And then we are onto the next thing because our grasping mind is like a monkey, wanting to grab at another piece of fruit. Or a donut after the pizza. Here in Denver people don’t mind lining up for 45 minutes of their precious human life out in the freezing cold for a Voodoo donut (especially if they have the munchies) – after a few mouthfuls of donut, however, it’s enough already, “What can I do now? I know, I’ll go find someone.” It is one thing after another, constantly seeking stimulation, we so-called “desire realm beings”.

When we realize that bliss and happiness don’t come from out there but from in here, we can relax, a lot. We start to associate bliss and happiness not with grasping and holding onto things, but with letting go. In the bliss boost meditation, for example, we developed bliss by remembering or imagining our object, and then we let it go, but the bliss carried on! Interesting. Perhaps the bliss even increased.

A friend and monk, Kelsang Pagpa, puts it this way:

One day we will realize that mixing our mind with the mere absence of the enjoyments that we normally see gives more pleasure than enjoying them with our senses.

Generating bliss

If we have strong concentration and familiarity, we can keep that bliss going for longer and longer periods of time. In fact, when we gain familiarity with generating bliss we don’t even need to remember or imagine something in the first place. We can simply generate bliss using Tantric techniques, for example mixing with our Spiritual Guide at our heart, generating as a Tantric Buddha, and/or meditating on our subtle vajra body.

(There is so much happiness in general to be had from Dharma – from faith, from compassion or love, from wisdom. And it works every time. As my favorite quote goes:

lotus 7Having rejected the supreme joy of the sacred Dharma
That is an endless source of delight,
Why am I distracted by the causes of pain,
Why do I enjoy frivolous amusements and the like?)

So it seems that bliss is already associated with wisdom – there is a natural connection between bliss and wisdom. As the bliss increases, the grasping diminishes — and the other way around, as the grasping diminishes, the bliss increases. So bliss and emptiness go together very very well indeed.

Actually, emptiness is naturally and always appearing to the very subtle mind of great bliss, like water mixed with water; and if we could only experience it, (which we will one day), we’ll discover for ourselves that this mind of bliss and emptiness pervades all phenomena.

In ultimate truth there are no impure things, no samsara, no suffering and no mistaken appearance; everything is completely pure in the nature of definitive Heruka, emptiness inseparable from the clear light of bliss. ~The New Guide to Dakini Land, p 151.

With Tantra, we can totally let go of external and internal attachments and finally enjoy ourselves. And that enjoyment is profoundly meaningful — leading us closer and closer to the bliss and emptiness of enlightenment, into which pure state we can absorb all living beings, freeing them at once from suffering.

Latest update — August 10th, 2016

Transforming enjoyments was just explained beautifully at the Summer Festival 2016. Here is the verse and explanation we can use if we wish, all taken from Ven Geshe Kelsang’s commentary to the Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

In the Temple of the body of myself as basis Heruka
Appear Heruka Father & Mother, the nature of my purified indestructible white & red drop,
Surrounded by the Heroes & Heroines of the five wheels, the nature of my purified channels & drop elements.
I offer to you, synthesis of all Buddhas of the ten directions,
All my daily enjoyments – eating, drinking, and enjoying any other object of desire.
May I quickly attain enlightenment and become like you so that I will effortlessly benefit all living beings.

While concentrating on the meaning of these words, we enjoy any objects of desire as offerings to the holy beings who reside in the temple of our body. This practice is a special method to transform our daily enjoyments into the quick path to enlightenment. This is Tantric technology.

**********

Tantric empowerments are given regularly at New Kadampa Tradition Centers throughout the world.