It’s no secret that humanity has been living through some difficult times and a lot of people have been struggling to stay afloat.
Friends all over the world have told me they’ve been having a challenging two years. Some who were relatively carefree have been experiencing levels of anxiety they didn’t expect, for example, and I know what they mean. I read that therapists cannot keep up with demand because stress and other mental health issues are, not surprisingly, at an all time high. Samsara (the cycle of impure life explained by Buddha) was not exactly working out even before this pandemic; but the pandemic has functioned like a magnifying glass for vulnerabilities.
Nine out of 10 therapists say the number of clients seeking care is on the rise, and most are experiencing a significant surge in calls for appointments, longer waiting lists, and difficulty meeting patient demand. Nearly one in three clinicians have 3-month waiting lists, and report hating having to turn so many people away.
This has got me thinking even more than usual about the value of Buddhism, or Dharma. Buddha specialized in overcoming adversity and suffering. His teachings address all aspects of the human experience, including trauma, grief, loneliness, depression, anxiety, anger, and overwhelmingness. Buddhist meditation is both therapeutic and transcendent, and anyone can learn how to do it, Buddhist or not.
We can go to classes now all over the world. There is no waiting list, no one has to be turned away, and weekly classes are kept accessible and inexpensive — not much more than this over-priced coffee I am nursing. And once we learn how to meditate we can do it whenever we like, for free. It doesn’t require special clothing or equipment. We can do it wherever we like too — on our bed or on our commute or on a park bench.
Hole or door?
I have been wanting to share a bit of advice for any of you who might be feeling fear and worry in these difficult times — advice I am just going to go ahead and repeat verbatim from a fellow ancient Kadampa:
This moment that humanity is living through can be considered a door or a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the door is yours.
If you consume information 24 hours a day, with negative energy, constantly nervous, with pessimism, you will fall into this hole.
But if you take the opportunity to look at yourself, to rethink life and death, to take care of yourself and others, you will go through the door.
Take care of your body and mind. When you take care of yourself, you take care of others at the same time. Be kind to yourself and others.
You are prepared to go through this crisis. Grab your toolbox and use all the tools at your disposal.
Don’t feel guilty for feeling fortunate in these difficult times. Being sad and without energy doesn’t help at all — enjoy life! You have the right to be strong and positive. You have to maintain a beautiful, cheerful, and bright demeanor. This has nothing to do with ignoring the world’s problems, it is a strategy of resistance.
When we walk through the door, we have a new view of the world because we have faced our fears and difficulties. This is what you can do now:
Practice serenity in the storm
Keep calm, meditate daily
Make a habit of encountering the sacred every day
Demonstrate resilience through faith, patience, and love.
I hope this year that lots of people will add tools to that resilience toolbox by taking advantage of the meditation centers existing all over this big wide world.
While we remain with delusions such as aversion, uncontrolled desire, confusion, and fear, we are all of us mentally unhealthy to a greater or lesser degree. If we don’t understand ourselves, we cannot heal ourselves, let alone anyone else. Therefore, we need to learn to apply the medicine of Dharma to our own actual problems; and with a skillful meditation teacher this is exactly what we can do. Moreover, Buddhist meditation is not only immediately curative but also an entire path to the everlasting bliss of enlightenment – meaning that we can practice it at whatever level we wish.
For any Kadampas amongst you, this pressing need for Dharma to stay widely available has got me thinking about a related topic that seems quite relevant …
Find your Sangha
Listening recently to one of Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s teachings from a Festival he taught years ago, I heard the laughter of thousands of people in attendance. It struck me how important these Festivals are for the flourishing of Kadampa Buddhist teachings in this world, providing the glue to keep this tradition alive and whole.
I really appreciate the opportunities that livestreaming meditation classes have created for people everywhere – it has been a genuinely silver lining to this pandemic, and I hope it stays put. However, from what I can tell, there has also been a lot of inevitable fracturing over these past two years of involuntary separation, and the sooner we can all try and get back in person to our Centers and Festivals, the better. (Maybe not this minute, with Omicron raging, but as soon as the coast is clear.)
We talk about the Three Jewels of refuge in Buddhism – not just Buddha and Dharma (his teachings), but also Sangha (the community of practitioners). Our Sangha provide the antidote to the isolation so many of us have been feeling, as well as the advice and help we need to make sustained and happy progress. I recall Venerable Geshe-la saying years ago:
People come for the teachings, but they stay for the Sangha.
What is our Center for?
What is your Buddhist Center for you?
I think this might be quite an important question to ask ourselves as we deliberate on whether or not to head on back there.
Kadampas are all about living a more heartfelt, enlightened way of life. That’s the theory, anyway. We really are supposed to mean it when we say, “Everybody welcome”; and this is because we are trying to be Bodhisattva communities. We share in the vision of bringing about lasting peace and freedom in the hearts of each and every single living being! Every Center is dedicated to this very aim. As Geshe Kelsang says:
If we always maintain the recognition “I am a member of a Bodhisattva family; our community is a Bodhisattva family,” we will develop respect for our community, which in reality is Mahayana Sangha and an object of refuge.
If we go to our Center in person, we can help build up a warm, inclusive, and kind-hearted Sangha community, and it really will become a place where anyone feels they can come for company, joy, and mutual support. It can also act as a reliable base from which we can take everything we learn back out into our family and wider communities.
But, to paraphrase Gen-la Dekyong from last Summer’s International Festival, how can we say “Everybody welcome” if we’re not at the Center to let them in?!
We need to show up, somehow, to do our bit if we possibly can. I think so, anyway. As Venerable Geshe-la says in a talk he gave called “What should our main practice be?”
We cannot cherish all living beings immediately because our self-cherishing is too strong. Therefore, to train in the intention to offer happiness to others we need to choose one object to begin with. Eventually we can apply this practice to all mother sentient beings. I can say that for us this object is our own Dharma Centre. If we help Dharma Centers, in reality we are giving happiness to all living beings.
He goes on to explain exactly what he means by that, summing it up like this:
By helping Dharma Centers to flourish we are helping pure Dharma to flourish, and if Dharma flourishes people will have the opportunity to listen to, contemplate, meditate on, and realize Dharma. In this way they can solve their problems and gain permanent freedom from suffering.
Without our Dharma Center flourishing, what would be left in our area? Would we even have the rather convenient livestreaming we have all come to know and (sort of) love … ?!
Finally, in the current climate I think it’s worth mentioning also that Kadampa Centers are political-free zones. There is so much more we humans have in common than not, and Buddha’s teachings help us to appreciate this such that we can genuinely understand and respect one another. Something the world could use more of, wouldn’t you agree?
Comments on this subject (pros and cons of livestreaming) are appearing on this article, and your experience is very welcome if you can take a moment to write about it in the box below.
(One thing I want to just add is that, in my observation, livestream has worked well as a way to stay connected for those who had already attended Centers and somewhat knew their Sangha. Less so for complete newcomers — livestream is not quite as supportive — which may be why some Centers are now noticing that there are more “new” people than old-timers showing up for in-person classes. Your thoughts are welcome on this too.)
(Scroll down for a simple 10-15 minute meditation you can do at home.)
As I don’t need to tell you, a lot of people around the world have been doing their best for several weeks now to practice social distancing — staying home, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, etc. Some projections have us doing some kind of social distancing for the next 12 months, possibly longer. Although living like this can be lonely, inconvenient, and even frightening, insofar as people are managing it is because they know it’s for the collective good.
This global pandemic has altered the very fabric of our existence, in one fell swoop shutting down everything we hold dear, from sports to movies to cafes to the very notion of human interaction. It’s uncomfortable to wake up each morning still under lockdown if we’re not used to it, and especially if we prefer being around people all day doing lots of stuff …
… BUT it doesn’t have to be all bad, especially if we can use the time to explore different ways to be happy and productive. Therefore, I’m going to share seven ways in which meditation can support our mental and emotional well-being during this time and indeed any time. I have basically stolen this whole list from a brilliant friend of mind who teaches meditation all over Ireland (with his permission, and his points are in blue). As Kadam Adam says:
By integrating some meditation practice into our daily routine, we will discover some of the benefits that meditators have experienced for thousands of years.
Just so you know, if you are coming upon this blog for the first time — you don’t need to be a Buddhist to learn Buddhist meditation and find peace, positivity, and joy in your life, whatever circumstances you find yourself in. Meditation basically means familiarizing and identifying ourselves with positive and happy ways of thinking, and breaking negative habits of mind that cause stress and unhappiness. It helps us a lot, and it helps us to become strong for others.
1. When we can’t go out, it gives us an opportunity to go in.
In meditation, we take a little time out each day to be alone, recover our strength, collect our thoughts, and see things in perspective.
Many of us usually have a habit of keeping ourselves mentally and physically busy, and almost exclusively oriented toward the never-ending externals of life. So now that we are stuck at home, I mean safe at home, with loads of time – as opposed to on the frontlines or suddenly having to homeschool the kids – is this not a perfect time to pick up those neglected meditation books and/or tune into a livestream channel (aka Buddhist TV) near us?!
Anyone can learn to meditate providing they have a mind to. I would argue that it is considerably more constructive and fun than being a media junkie using up all our new-found spare time to stay up to date with what dreadful stuff has happened in the past ten minutes. We can do nothing about the vast majority of headline news, after all; so all that happens after a bit of titillation is that we end up feeling more enervated or anxious.
This interruption in the routines of daily life can give us a chance to form a new habit—to turn inwards a little more often instead of habitually outwards. As Gen Rigpa, the Kadampa Buddhist teacher in Los Angeles, put it to his students:
“Free time can either lead to more movies, more eating, more drinking, more sleeping, more mindless diversions, more nervous energy, more boredom … or more enjoyment of your own mind through the magic of contemplation and meditation. See if you can learn to relax your mind more often and a little more deeply, and get more familiar with the richness and power of simple meditation practices. And remember, small changes and seemingly small decisions add up to massive differences in the long run. From one point of view you are the summation of your habits, and now is a great time to form some new ones, or strengthen the good ones you already have!”
2. Stay calm and cope
In meditation, we learn how to develop and maintain a calm, clear, and peaceful state of mind that helps us cope with the difficulties we face at this time, without feeling overwhelmed by them.
As Gen Rigpa said:
“During lockdown, it is easy for restlessness, anxiety, or boredom to creep in and take charge, but we can improve our response to this new combination of adversity and free time. Meditation practice is the one thing that can really protect us from the painful appearances we are always trying to escape.”
Buddha divided problems into two – outer problems (circumstances we find ourselves in such as weird pandemics) and inner problems (our unpeaceful uncontrolled feelings or mental reactions). These two types of problem have two types of solution, epitomized in this COVID-19 sign: staying calm is dealing with our inner problems and washing our hands is dealing with our outer problems.
For example, if you try the breathing meditation helpfully offered by KA below, you might find that you relax and feel more peaceful and happy in your heart. Feeling peaceful is the opposite of feeling unpeaceful. Therefore, with this new experience we are directly antidoting the unhappiness, depression, worry, and so on that (1) cause our mental pain and (2) get in the way of our doing anything constructive with our outer problems.
Rather than “Freak out and wash your hands!”, solving these inner problems also helps us to solve our outer problems because when we are feeling peace and love at our heart we’re more likely and energized to do the right thing and be productive. As the saying goes, we can’t wring our hands and roll up our sleeves at the same time.
3. Feel happy inside, feel happy everywhere
We discover that the more we meditate the more peaceful our mind becomes, and the naturally happier we feel. In this way, we find we are at peace with, and simply happy to be where we are, even if that’s in self-isolation.
All meditations from simple breathing meditations to the most profound meditations on wisdom or Tantra have a common purpose, to make our mind calm and peaceful. As it happens, our mind is already naturally peaceful. As we experience and develop that peace by mastering our own thoughts through the application of Buddha’s practical teachings, or Dharma, it becomes richer and deeper, until one day we discover we can stay happy day and night.
One practical suggestion from me is to avoid binge-watching every single TV show and movie you can lay your eyes on, and instead get to bed and up again at a reasonable hour. First opportunity we get in the morning, we can grab ourselves a tea/coffee and a meditation book, and start the day anchored in happiness. As we prepare to get up from meditation, we can set our mental compass to caring for others and therewith more happiness throughout the day.
Back to Gen Rigpa:
“This way, rather than our mind getting hijacked by the relentless assault of the news and ordinary distractions, we can use these as fuel for our already primed and activated Dharma mindset. Make creating a Dharma experience within your mind the first priority of the day, then embrace the day from that space.”
4. Identify and let go of unhealthy feelings
We learn how to mindfully identify unhealthy feelings such as anxiety, fear, stress, and loneliness as they arise, without feeling overly identified with them. In this way, we can use meditation to let them go and deal with the difficulties we meet with a calm, peaceful and flexible mind.
When we learn about meditation, we come to understand that, far from being fixed and solid and real, our thoughts are as fleeting and insubstantial as clouds in the sky. By stepping back and identifying with our spacious sky-like mind rather than each passing cloud, we can see the bigger picture. Indeed we can step back and create the bigger picture.
This is because we get to choose our thoughts. We can learn to temporarily let go of all those mistaken distorted ways of thinking and seeing things, which make us unhappy, depressed, angry, worried, and so on; and then dig deeper with wisdom to eliminate them entirely. There is a lot about this essential spiritual practice of overcoming delusions in Kadampa Life, for example here.
5. Grow our innate good qualities
We learn how to cultivate the innate potential we all have for qualities such as loving- kindness, compassion, and wisdom. This helps us to feel increasingly at peace with ourselves, others, and our troubled world, as we develop healthier and wiser ways of relating to our current situation.
We have the choice to cultivate new ways of viewing ourselves, the world, and each other that make us feel more and more loving, connected, compassionate, and patient.
There is no limit to this process. Everyone with a mind has the potential to become an enlightened being – someone who has removed ALL their delusions, obstructions, and limitations and cultivated their love, compassion, and wisdom to perfection. Here is my favorite quote from William Blake:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
In times of uncertainty, we can always trust our peaceful Buddha nature, our potential for enlightenment. This is who we really are. We have goodness and sanity at our core, we ARE goodness and sanity at our core — we simply need to learn how to go inside and access that. That is the practice of meditation.
6. A guaranteed way to help others
A little daily meditation can be the kindest thing we can do for everyone, at this time. The more at peace we are with ourselves, the more at peace we can be with others. This can be especially helpful if we are spending more time with our loved ones, than we are normally used to.
As I mentioned in this article, even the media is encouraging people to take up meditation:
So, you’re stuck at home. You’re stressed. Now is as good a time as ever to pick up a meditation practice. Scientific findings from an 18-year analysis on a Buddhist monk found that daily intensive meditation may significantly slow brain aging. There is a slew of other health benefits to the mindfulness and quiet peace that often accompanies meditation. And if you feel weird about getting Zen with so much happening in the world, remember that even the World Health Organization warned people this week to take care of their mental health as well as their physical health.
In the comments to that CNN article, someone wrote, “I feel guilty about doing this meditation practice when there is so much going on.” I have experienced this survivor’s guilt myself in the past, but now I understand that feeling bad about feeling good, as it were, is like one drowning person who wants to help another drowning person feeling guilty about making for dry land. We can’t help others if we are in no position to do so. Or another example is like one cell of the body of life feeling guilty because it is healthy when in fact its own health helps the health of those around it.
We can remember too that meditation doesn’t just mean sitting on a cushion (or couch), closing our eyes, and absorbing within. That is meditation, but meditation is also whenever we familiarize ourselves with wisdom, kindness, and other virtuous states of mind as antidotes to our delusions. Which means we can be practicing meditation all day long, it is a way of life.
For example, when you’re practicing the patience of happily accepting suffering with something difficult coming up in your day, not yelling at someone, you know how this is very different from getting upset and annoyed? This is every bit as much meditation as when we are sitting with our eyes closed in single-pointed concentration.
For those of you wondering what meditation practices to do during this time, I would like to share this advice, courtesy once again of Gen Rigpa:
“Newer practitioners may like to start with basic breathing meditations (like the one below).
“Youcan also create your own meditation practice by reading a paragraph or two from How to Transform Your Life, How to Solve Our Human Problems, Modern Buddhism, or any other favorite Buddhist book; and then close your eyes and think about what you have read until it “touches your heart”. Then just hold that special feeling gently in your mind for a few minutes so that you take it out of meditation and into your daily activities. In that way you transform your day into an expression of Dharma and everything becomes part of your spiritual path. [Ed: two of those books are free, see links on the right column of this blog.]
“In addition for more experienced practitioners, one practice you may like to emphasize at this time is the incredible meditation called “Taking and Giving”. Many of Venerable Geshe-la’s books teach this ancient healing practice (The New Eight Steps to Happiness, How to Transform Your Life, Universal Compassion, Modern Buddhism etc.), and it is the perfect way to transform adversity into spiritual realizations, meditating and dedicating for the sick, those who have died, the medical workers—for everyone around the world affected by this pandemic.”
7. Transform difficulties into personal growth
Finally we discover, if we can learn to respond to difficult situations — such as the one we are in — with a peaceful, positive state of mind, they don’t need to feel such a problem for us. Indeed, we may even come to regard them as challenges or opportunities for personal growth and development.
By training our mind in meditation we come to experience purer and purer forms of happiness — happiness that, because it comes from within, is unaffected by externals or conditional upon life going our way. Eventually we can be happy all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.
My teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang is for me a shining example of this ability to transform difficulties into the spiritual journey toward lasting freedom; and Kadampa Buddhism in particular specializes in this practice. In the 1950s, China invaded Tibet and he escaped in a hurry with just his robes and two texts. He had to leave the only country he had ever known, along with his language, monastery, family, and everything else, to go on an incredibly dangerous and difficult journey to India over the Himalayas. That, to put it mildly, would be a disruption to one’s routine.
Many years later at Madhyamaka Centre, where I first found Buddhism, I met some of the people who knew Geshe-la at the time. They told me that throughout this whole ordeal he stayed as beautifully calm, peaceful, and happy as he always was. Then he entered a long 16-year retreat and also practiced healing. Not once in this exile did he become unhappy or anxious – such is the power of a fully trained mind. Later, in his forties, he was able with compassion to bring all that wisdom he’d internalized through his challenging life to the West, and I and hundreds of thousands of his other students are testament to that power.
So when he says, as he does in The New Eight Steps To Happiness …
By training our mind to recognize the spiritual lessons in all our experiences, we can come to view everyone and everything as our Spiritual Teachers, and we can turn any and every situation to our advantage.
… we can believe him. If he can do it, and I now have all the same methods he had, I can transform anything; and so too can you if you want.
Right now, the narratives of our lives are unsettled. In modern society, we’ve gotten used to a cliched set of plotlines; but these carefully constructed stories no longer apply in the same way. The future looks totally strange and uncertain for many people — obviously for those who have tragically died or lost loved ones or find themselves out of work, but also for those missing major milestones in their own lives such as graduation or marriage. All the things that normally interest us are not holding our attention as much, replaced by endless COVID-19 headlines that people can’t seem to get enough of. Even the usual “he-said, she-said” of political debate doesn’t seem to be fascinating people to the same extent.
When exposed to harsh reality — such as sickness, ageing, and death – the well-trod narratives tend to collapse under the weight of their own contradictions. This is Buddha’s point about the fleeting, deceptive, and dream-like nature of samsara, the cycle of impure life. But in losing the plot we can now chart a new course.
Hopefully this article has helped you see how, if we can learn to stay peaceful and calm and increase our wisdom and compassion, we will become a strong reliable person, a source of refuge for others. This may not happen overnight, but is nonetheless entirely possible.
A simple 7-step breathing meditation practice to support mental and emotional well-being (10 to 15 minutes)
Find a quiet place to sit (a chair is fine) that is free of distractions. Partially close your eyes. Back straight but relaxed. Hands resting in your lap. Breathe gently and naturally through the nostrils. Let go of focusing externally and gather your awareness inwards.
Begin by generating a wish to use the meditation to improve your inner peace, happiness and good qualities, so that it will be of benefit to both yourself and others.
Next, be aware — without judgement — where your mind is at, in this moment. Is it calm, clear and peaceful? Or, busy and distracted? To let go of agitation and distraction and center in a calm, clear and peaceful state of mind, focus – without distraction – on the sensation of breath as it enters and leaves through your nostrils.
When you notice you are following thoughts and distractions, simply acknowledge and accept their presence, and let go of the urge to follow them. Then, relax and return to the breath, allowing your attention to draw closer and closer to the breath each time.
Eventually your attention will rest on the breath and you will notice the distractions naturally dissolve, like waves returning to an ocean. You will feel a deepening sense of inner calm, clarity, and peace of mind.
Just relax into this inner peace and identify with it as your potential to change, to find a deeper and longer lasting peace of mind and happiness. Thinking, if I can become a little more peaceful, a little happier through a little meditation, it follows I can become a lot more peaceful, a lot happier, through regular meditation.
Conclude the meditation with a determination to maintain this inner calm and peace throughout your day, so that it naturally, and positively, influences everything you think, say and do.
Over to you. Please share with the rest of us what practices or resources you are finding most helpful during these unusual times.
(Images courtesy of scenes from my neighborhood and lame jokes found online.)
Guest article by Susan de la Vergne, native Angelino
5.5 mins read
One of our weekly Kadampa branch classes in the Los Angeles area is held in the foothill community of La Cañada at a YMCA — specifically in their chapel, which can hold 25 people who don’t mind sitting close together. There are two doors to the chapel, heavy wooden doors that swing open into the Y courtyard. The odd thing is that the doors don’t latch — it’s as if they’re unlocked and ready to swing wide whenever a chapel visit is needed.
Since weather is rarely an issue in this part of the world, it’s not really a problem that the doors don’t latch. It’s not like a blizzard is going to rip the doors open and fill the place with snow. But a couple of years ago we did have a blustery day — windy, rainy, cold (by LA standards) — and as we started the meditation, the wind blew at the chapel entrance, and the heavy unlatched doors trembled.
Nonetheless, we headed into the opening meditation with the wind howling and the doors shaking, and as we started to pay attention to the sensation of our breathing, I hoped the weather would let up, not really thinking that it would. And it didn’t. The wind continued, and about five minutes into the meditation the doors opened a few inches. Leaves blew in from the courtyard. Then the wind blew the doors shut with an audible thud. But they didn’t stay closed. Again, the wind pried open the heavy doors. More leaves. I was having a difficult time meditating through Mother Nature’s noise and interruptions.
When we rose from meditation, we all shifted in our seats and shared a laugh about the challenge of meditating in the midst of all that weather.
But one woman remarked, “That was great!” Many of us looked surprised. “No, really, that was amazing because it was so great for meditation! I really had to concentrate with all that going on. It made me focus so much better. I loved it!”
Which was, of course, a teaching in itself. To me, the banging doors and the blowing leaves were obstacles; to her, they were inspiration! Once again, things don’t exist independently of the mind perceiving them. It’s as true for banging doors and blowing leaves as it is for everything else.
The News of the World
I read the news of the world every morning. Things around the world appear to be heating up on many fronts. It’s easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed by accounts of rage and separatism, apparent lies that are becoming a new normal, predictions of imminent new wars, and leaders who used to speak to each other but won’t anymore. It’s hard not to feel swamped by the monumental problems of the world, especially as they appear to be intensifying.
But maybe they’re also an inspiration. Maybe the lies and the escalating hostilities are turning up the heat on our commitment to go inward so we can more skillfully go outward — to develop our capacity for love and compassion in the midst of what seems to be intensifying turmoil. Maybe they’re cranking up the urgency to practice, to make swifter than ever progress towards inner peace.
Just as the wind and the banging doors inspired the woman to hone her focus, so the news of the world can power our practice. When would virtuous minds be more needed than now?
Sometimes when I’m reading or watching the news, I find myself going for refuge to politicians who agree with me — “Yeah, that’s telling them!” I think or sometimes say aloud. I’m glad they get it, glad they have clout I don’t have, and hoping they use their clout and clarity to protect me from whatever craziness or violence I need protection from.
But they regularly disappoint me. They are politicians after all.
Better to take the latest world crisis to the Buddhas and to try to think about it as they might. For example: See the suffering! It’s samsara; what can we expect? Delusions of anger and self-grasping are behind all the violence, all the craziness. Think of the damage that’s being done to the mental continuums of all the people you’re blaming for the way things are. They’re facing far worse in their future, and they have no idea.
I’m not trying to put words in a Buddha’s mouth but adopting a perspective based on how they might view the things I’m angsting over. That’s a way for me to go for refuge and to develop compassion even for the people I don’t agree with. It’s also a way to bring to mind all the far-away, remote, “out there” people who happen to be suffering more acutely than I right now because of the anger, lying, resentment, conflict and a whole long list of deluded states of mind that are behind all our negative actions and their consequences.
When the news of the world knocks us down, we can go for refuge to Buddha and find answers to the question, “What can I do?”
In the aisle at Walmart
On Black Friday in November, two Walmart shoppers got into an argument that ended up in a mid-aisle fistfight. The two men brawled to the ground, surrounded by racks of Christmas wrap, while onlookers observed from a few feet away. A security guard broke up the fight, but not before one of the brawlers suffered a broken nose.
I wondered how isolated an incident this was. How many hostile shoppers glared at each other across the aisles this past holiday season? Maybe they didn’t deck each other, but they were impatient and annoyed, the same states of mind that led to the Walmart clash.
Rage always starts small.
It is easy to judge the battling men at Walmart. “Really, guys, can you not see how pointless this is?” Or to feel helpless in the face of such an incident. “The world is simply going down the drain!”
Or we can use the difficulties we see around us to ratchet up our own refuge practice. “Buddha, what can I do? How can I view this?”
We can decide to better master our own anger and irritations. We can request blessings for instigators of conflict. We can make dedications. We can practice taking and giving. There are all kinds of practices we can engage in; and thanks to Geshe Kelsang’s practical guidance and instructions we have the tools and techniques we need.
So it’s good to remember that we’re not helpless even when things around us seem very crazy — and that when things seem at their craziest, we can use this as extra inspiration for our practice.
Questions and comments for the guest author are invited below 🙂
My visit to South Africa made me grateful to my teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang, to the resident teachers and warm-hearted community in the 3 South African Kadampa centres – ground-breaking hard-working pioneers, and to the tireless always-travelling Gen-las who have visited several times. It is inspiring to watch how things might unfurl here due to this patient networking, planting roots that in time will be popping up like grass all over and in unexpected places.
For sure, material poverty is no obstacle to gaining realizations of inner peace, compassion, and so on, to which Buddha Shakyamuni himself bore witness by wandering from place to place teaching everyone from kings to beggars. As Sangkyong put it, renunciation is also not so difficult here. Give it some time, sow some seeds, and who knows.
Go to where the people are, as Geshe Kelsang once told me; don’t wait for them to come to you. And, as he also said, we don’t need any agenda of making people into Buddhists or even using Dharma terminology — just give them “advice for a happy life”.
In the townships, a lot of the teenage girls at COSAT High School, younger kids I met, and social workers seemed to have a naturally easier engagement and focus than a lot of people I’ve met back home. Addictive technology has done a number on us. I wouldn’t wish the hardship and dearth of opportunity on anyone, and pray for a steady improvement in South African society (maybe by swapping over black and white babies at birth?! Hehe. You know I’m kidding, right?! But you have to admit, it could speed equality up considerably … ) However, I don’t think people are missing too much by not having access/addiction to a screen and headphones 24/7.
My own African tech karma was such that the moment I set out for Heathrow my iPhone 5S started to overheat, become erratic, and increasingly cut out, and then once in Cape Town I dropped it on the floor so chunks of the screen fell off. As I stuck on the sellotape some days later in Durban, I said with zero sarcasm: “Hey, look, that’s much better!” to have my new friend Kelsang Jampel compliment me that I was becoming a real African now. It was surprisingly not annoying but refreshing to be cut loose from a smartphone in a place I had assumed I really needed one. (Postscript: My first-world karma re-ripened just before I left for London, with the unexpected offer of a barely used iPhone 7 from brand new friends. Thanks, G and S!)
Talking of freedom from pervasive technology – I was impressed by how much spontaneous enjoyment thousands of people were having on the Golden Mile, where no one I saw had their head stuck into a phone. I feel like I haven’t seen that kind of unplugged party since I was young, before the technology took over our lives – people were laughing in the streets and jumping over the waves for hours without getting bored. Just saying.
I am not suggesting that life in laid-back (apparently to a fault) Durban is perfect, obviously — the hugely overcrowded underfunded government hospitals looming grimly over parts of that same Durban beach are, according to a doctor I met, a nightmarish death trap for a start. But this friendly gathering of the healthy seemed like an improvement over the isolation and ever-diminishing eye contact of so many lives in thrall to the internet. (I even got to swim in the ocean with this crowd, one of many highlights on this trip — like that party scene in the Matrix, oh, never mind …)
Maybe people were having more fun than usual because South Africa had just won the Rugby world cup; but from what I hear this is just how it is at weekends. Even on Mango Airlines between Durban and Jozi, my fellow passengers seemed far better at making the most of being on a plane, singing across the aisles. No one seems as addicted to their technology.
(By the way, to be fair, I was on Parliament Hill yesterday back in London, and for some reason found an unplugged happy pile of strangers up there as well, albeit wrapped up against the cold. One common denominator to having fun = put the phones down and pay attention to the people around us?!)
Buddhism 101 tells us that happiness depends on the mind. If we are in a good mood, it is all fun. If we are in a bad mood, it is no fun at all. As those sayings go, you can run but you can’t hide. Wherever you go, there you are … especially once the novelty has worn off.
How to get into a better mood
Meditation is about getting more peaceful inside and therefore, frankly, having more fun:
The only way to do this is by training our mind through spiritual practice—gradually reducing and eliminating our negative, disturbed states of mind and replacing them with positive, peaceful states. Eventually, through continuing to improve our inner peace we will experience permanent inner peace, or nirvana. Once we have attained nirvana we will be happy throughout our life, and in life after life. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 6-7
As I like to say, thoughts are free. We can learn to choose them. While it is clearly impossible to avoid all difficult situations and conditions, it turns out that through training the mind in Buddhist meditation we can upend those troubling situations and use them to our advantage. This practice of “transforming adverse conditions into the path” enables us to integrate everything we come across into our spiritual training. If we can learn to live more skillfully like this, our whole life becomes meaningful, creative, and, yes, fun.
The first step to thinking differently is the patience which accepts that our negative disturbed thoughts are there without panicking. Otherwise, how are we supposed to be able to let them go?
Suppressing negative thoughts and feelings is not an option — that just makes them more intrusive, like a jack popping out from the box, and we have to work even harder to keep them at bay. However, we can bear in mind that our mind is like the wide spacious sky and our unpeaceful thoughts are just weather passing through. Our thoughts are really nowhere near as scary as they try to make out.
(By the way, a few people recently have asked me the difference between thoughts (as in discriminations) and feelings because they have the impression that they can train their thoughts but not their feelings. Not quite true. Discriminations and feelings are both so-called “all-accompanying mental factors”, which means they form part of every moment of mind and always share the same object. Change one, change the other. Maybe more on that another day — it is one of hundreds of unfinished articles. Meantime, pick up How to Understand the Mind for a perfect explanation.
Inner peace and space solve problems and make us happier. This is our sanity. So this is where we need to start. We can stop fighting our own thoughts because our mind is actually on our side – stop giving energy to our delusions and our mind naturally wants to settle into peace and sanity.
As I talk about here, right now it may seem as though our problems are getting in the way of our inner peace — but the only thing getting in the way is that we’re clutching onto our problems and determined to solve them all out there. Peace is destroyed when we feel an excessive need to do this because our mind is more and more shaken up with distorted thinking or so-called “inappropriate attention” – dwelling, exaggerating, conceptualizing, elaborating. Whether it’s our relationships, our politicians, our health, our work, our travel, our accommodations, our technology, we’re like a dog with a bone, we can’t let go.
Even when we know this, we are in the bad habit of trying to solve our delusion problems with more delusions. And ironically the harder we try to do this the less and less in control we feel, because our mind IS less and less in control. It’s far more effective to unplug and sort out our outer problems from the sanity of inner peace, as suggested by this Kadampa motto by Geshe Chekhawa:
Always rely upon a happy mind alone.
More on this subject coming up soon. Meantime, I’d love your comments.
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?
As 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.
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.
The 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.
The 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
The 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 them 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
And 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.
Guest article. I put out the following question on Facebook, receiving replies from all over the place, and would like to give Kadampa Life’s floor to these voices 😊
What do you think you can do best as a spiritual practitioner to help the world practically, given its current circumstances?
(I have grouped the answers in sections for convenience, despite overlap.)
Conquer delusions, including anger
Fight evil…. in our mind. Flat refuse to be stirred into hatred. See the facts for what they are and support those taking a stand against harmful actions with encouragement and resources.
Keep calm, stay loving, do a bit of meditation every day, call out evil when I see it, but be careful to manage my time well and not get sucked into too many debates and mud-slinging.
I will try to use these situations to show me where I need to work on my own feelings of pride, anger, fear, etc. There seems to be never ending opportunity. Sometimes I forget that many people are overjoyed at the things I find most disturbing. Practically, I will do all I can to support tolerance.
Be mindful of the 3 poisons in my mind, just waiting to divide everyone I meet into friends, enemies, and strangers. Remember that everyone wants to be happy, and, if engaging in debate on the state of the world, I need to always (gently and without attachment!) argue with that motivation in mind.
Unwavering determination to never give up.
Renunciation and patience – samsara has always been like this
Use it to increase renunciation, grow bodhichitta, and focus on my practice more.
There are certain people for whom I have a tough time generating love. I’m noticing how much fear arises when I attempt to release grudges/old anger/hurt from my heart. I’m trying to sit with the fear, and identify it, rather than identify with it, in an attempt to loosen the grasping to an “I” that has been hurt, and to an “I” that is still angry.
Realise that the actions of others are merely a reflection of my own mind and previous actions, and joyfully accept the training each day brings.
It also occurred to me later today that samsara was always bad, and always had the potential to get worse. All that’s changed now is what is manifesting for us. Samsara being a bit more honest about its true nature if you like.
My main job is to keep renunciation, compassion, and bodhichitta to the forefront of my mind and quickly attain liberation so that I can really help all my mothers to do the same.
For me, I am using patience, “I stop wanting things to be otherwise.” Then I contemplate what I can do to help with resistance to these dire times, imo. I donate to organizations that I think are positively involved in supporting the people. It is the best I can do.
Purify my mind — a pure mind perceives a pure world.
Compassion and love
Really, sincerely work on developing compassion for everyone. This experience is making us dig deep in our practice!
Keep supporting the idea of love and compassion for all beings (including — especially — those who disagree with us), and the effectiveness of a peaceful, focused state of mind.
Keep compassion as our main practice and be the change we want to see in the world.
Really wish for others to be happy – equalising self and others.
Promote unity/foster empathy. We need to remember we all want the same things, and stay united against divisive “isms”.
The point is exchanging self with others at all times and giving compassion to all living beings.
I have been having different things arise to practice at different times, but today’s theme has been to see how we are more the same than different. Equalizing and equanimity.
All living beings have two things in common: they want to be happy all the time and free from suffering. But out of ignorance they destroy their happiness like a foe. I wish all living beings could find permanent happiness and freedom from suffering. I don’t care who they are. We are all the same in our long-standing two wishes – in that respect there is NO difference. We need to dwell on our common goals and wishes. Not our differences as these maintain the continuum of dualistic appearances. There is no limit to our patience, our love, and our forgiveness. We could not cultivate these without the objects of our patience, love, wisdom, and forgiveness. How kind other living beings are. I must repay their kindness. I will repay their kindness. Then we can realize that there was nothing to forgive other than a simple appearance created from the ripening seeds of our karma. Let’s sow some beautiful seeds in our mental garden. Heal our mind and be like our Spiritual Guide, full of humility and wisdom.
Internally – lots of taking and giving or remembering pure view. Practically – encourage and point out people’s good qualities, relate to everyone’s potential, and give Dharma in all its guises wherever needed.
While this state of the world is dividing people, it is actually galvanizing the rest of us to try harder, reach out more, understand others, help those who need it.
Remember that Donald Trump is our kind mother and meditate on that. Of course all beings are, but sometimes I like to zone in on an individual whom I am manifesting as a challenge to my peaceful mind at present.
Our main practice is the practice of the six perfections: giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration/meditation, and the wisdom realizing emptiness. We need to become enlightened to benefit all living beings. In the process we do our best with pure intentions. Our daily practice of reliance on the Three Precious Jewels, renunciation, bodhichitta, unwavering faith, and cherishing others will take us there, with a happy peaceful mind.🙏
Can we really ignore the suffering and in-humanity, and should we remain silent? What would a Bodhisattva do? What would Buddha do? Jesus?
Showing kindness to those experiencing suffering. Showing compassion and love towards all. Practicing purification. Wishing for enlightenment with a strong faith in my Spiritual Guide. Seeking his help for myself and everyone I meet throughout these degenerate times.
One thing I am practicing is looking at people and smiling if their eyes meet mine. Most people smile back. We are all the same … frightened, alone, and wishing it were not so. I try giving my own human presence and acceptance in that moment. It is a small thing. I am really just trying to train myself to be kinder — but I think it is also helping the world practically.
Smile at others with Geshe-la at our heart. Find creative ways to make others feel good. Mentally bring people and animals into the mandala. Try not to forget the unseen suffering of animals and lower realm beings — they need our help so much.
Taking the meaning “practically” to mean “action”, I’d suggest: Listening without judgment.
Being what others need you to be. Holding boundaries without anger. Intention without self-grasping, delusion, or self-indulgence.
To most sincerely follow the advice of my Spiritual Guide with respect to authentically living, to the best of my current ability, the Bodhisattva’s way of life.
Integrate my bodhichitta motivation into all my actions in protesting racial, societal, political, and environmental injustices … Emphasize to myself that my social justice life and my spiritual life do not in fact have to be separate and that they can empower each other in the best way. Inner peace and outer peace are a dependent arising …
… I agree. I think that we can think of ourselves as Heroes and Heroines when protesting injustice, putting our bodhichitta motivation into practice by protecting others. We also pray and meditate. The meditation break and meditation session support each other.
Love the spontaneous peaceful demonstrations. Please let’s keep it peaceful and respectful, for it is for ALL OF US … as they did in Standing Rock, keep it prayerful and peaceful. Our lesson here I think is to learn how to transform adverse conditions …”always keep a smiling face and a loving mind, and speak truthfully without malice.” As we know, sometimes you have to make a stand, but you can do this creatively, and with a loving mind …
If we are a member of a dominant group (white people, males, straight people, upper income people, etc.), then humbly seek out, listen to, honor, and act in solidarity with people who are experiencing oppression (people of color, women, gay/lesbian/bi/trans folks, low income people, etc.). It’s unhelpful – harmful actually – for those of us in dominant groups to remain silent and inactive when others are suffering.
We need to protect others, using our compassion and wisdom.🙏
Be the ‘best’ me I can be. Remain as centred as I can without falling prey to the delusional dramas playing out in multitudes here on FB/internet/TV etc. Keep a strong mind of love, compassion & patience for all beings, no matter what their views or actions; & rely with strong faith on my Guru at my heart & all the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas to know what is best for me at each & every moment. Also to hold a strong wish to become just like Arya Tara so that I may help her to liberate all living beings from suffering and sorrow … And if I struggle to achieve this, I try to remember to breathe 😉
Become an enlightened being as soon as I can. Otherwise, I have no real power to help anyone.
The main thing: seize the day NOW! by increasing my efforts to train in realizing emptiness in this life, recognizing this is the most powerful act of compassion there is. Also, give love and fearlessness to those who are suffering by peacefully voicing my support for inclusive policies and leaders.
Gen-la Khyenrab once taught us that the best thing we can do to help others is to meditate on their emptiness.
Keep repeating over and over – “For though it appears, it does not truly exist — like a mirage.” “Although it does not exist, it appears — like an illusion.” Remember emptiness like this … let the solidity dissolve a bit … then act out of compassion for all living beings. Be a protector – without anger – without grasping – protect all living beings. (Something i aspire to 😊 – work in progress.)
I’ve been having fun – and a bit of a breakthrough – offering my mandala as the absence of all the things I’m (normally) seeing and fearing in the world right now.
None of our ordinary judgments or ways of looking at and reacting to the world will ever change the world in any significant way. The acts of the Bodhisattva, however, can change everything in every way. All things are appearances of our karma — if we purify our karma by opening up the great treasury of merit within ourself by giving birth to a Bodhisattva, everything will just purify. From joy to joy, from purified appearance to purified appearance, our very presence can transform everything for everyone in a radical, magical way.
I too will try to remember emptiness and work at making progress on the path. But we also live in this world, where we act “normal” while changing our aspiration. I think it is important to speak up in your community and to donate money to organizations that try to protect our democratic institutions, and to try to talk across the divide, without rancor, whenever that possibility arises.
At the end of the day, remembering none of it is separate from my mind.
Power of prayer
Call a representative. And pray.
I think we need to try and remember the power of prayer and that we are heading towards degenerate times, as Geshe-la has previously warned us many times. Also by aiming to control our own mind and show an example.
“We can always pray” — when I move to remember this more swiftly and more flexibly, I simply feel more spiritually confident and refreshed in blessings.
Maintain love and compassion for all, and make prayers for world peace.
Not to discount the importance of helping in worldly ways, but I feel we should never underestimate the power of our concentrated prayers and sadhanas such as Tara and Kangso, Migtsema ritual actions, mantra recitation of the four actions with precise objectives, pacifying fire pujas and so on. If they weren’t practical and effective for solving daily problems, they wouldn’t be taught.
Transform it all by training in shepherd-like bodhichitta in conjunction with the four complete purities in Tantra.
The power of Heruka increases in degenerate times. Now, in these times, I feel my inner love growing. I think these are the times to grow our love, compassion, tenderness, and understanding. All is always changing, fields of illusions — have courage and faith in our loving-kindness in all moments, progressing to a pure, loving state.
Being a good example
Try to show people around me that Dharma really does work by showing patient acceptance, love, compassion, and refraining from all non-virtuous actions.
Set a great example by protecting and standing up for the less fortunate and doing it with love rather than anger or self-righteousness. Compassionate action!
Be a calm, peaceful, patient, reasonable example to others and control my mind.
I need to flourish Kadam Dharma. I need to flourish it in my heart first – really practise from the depths of my heart because it feels like we’re running out of time. If I can increase my wisdom and compassion I’ll be better able to help people. And I need to help Kadam Dharma flourish in the world through strong prayers and physical action. The world needs Kadam Dharma more now than ever before. People need a reliable source of refuge that gives them hope for a happier future.
I’m learning that being a Dharma teacher forces us to deal with our own deluded ways of responding to the current situation – being a good example is probably the best thing we can bring to this suffering world.
Speak out against injustice — participate at whatever level necessary, be it taking part in protests, writing letters to senators and representatives, giving money to organizations that help your cause (human rights, amnesty international, doctors without borders…) Be a good role model by showing kindness and respect, compassion and love. Use our spiritual practice to maintain a good heart – when we are with others, keeping our thoughts and mind mixed with our Guru. Try not to sink into negativity by guarding our mind, and remembering impermanence. And that love is the Great Protector.
I think we need to model patience, love, and compassion; and speak from wisdom, speak from wisdom, speak from wisdom only. Teach people to have compassion when someone is doing outlandish things and separate him/her from his/her delusions …. in other words, LIVE Dharma. SHOW people a way that’s very different from acting out of fear, hatred, or judgment.
Not spreading anger, and taking a calm stand when necessary. Also, showing a good example according to particular circumstances, helping others with love in practical ways. In Chile, for example, there are big fires right now, so it’s important to do our best to help all the victims. Another example, there are lots of stray dogs in our country and a couple of days ago we saw a big bucket filled with fresh water fixed to a house fence — dogs stopped by and drank happily, one after the other. We shouldn’t lose this kind of detail, whatever the circumstances are.
To be an example … to live as best we can as Buddha taught … to not be a crusader but to follow the teachings to the best of our ability.
Sounds easy, but keeping a happy mind is the best thing we can do for anyone.
“Rely upon a happy mind alone.” This means really noticing when my own mind is not peaceful and then not trusting it to be giving me suitable guidance about anything. It also means remembering to rely upon the purest of peaceful minds that I know, and taking my guidance from there instead.
Over to you! How would you answer this question? Would love to hear from you.
For the inner demons who do not come out into the open, or at least only in such shadowy ways that we cannot properly identify them, purification is immensely helpful. It is also very helpful when we are overwhelmed by appearances and need extra help in overcoming them.
Stubborn recurrent sadness is still no match for purification practice – and we can feel that we are purifying not just that karmic appearance or karmic tendency but ALL similar versions since beginningless time. For example, if you have been suffering from attachment, you can use that as an example, and purify all your attachment since beginningless time. If you have been getting irritated with the sweet people around you despite your best intentions, you can purify your needless irritation since beginningless time. If you are feeling depressed because “things just aren’t what they used to be!”, you can even purify all that despondency since beginningless time.
Magnet for misfortune
Bad karma is a magnet for misfortune. And it ripens in different ways, for example irritation or anger we have had in the past can ripen as an experience (eg, someone does something we find really annoying) or in the tendencies we have to react in a certain way (eg, we get really annoyed.) Karma also ripens in the way our environment in general appears to us (eg, not quite right, uncomfortable), and even in the type of rebirth we have taken. You can read all about these four fascinating effects of karma in that chapter in Joyful Path of Good Fortune. They explain a lot.
So if we don’t like something that is happening to us or how we feel about it or indeed how we are reacting, this is a perfect reminder to us to purify this karma. Taking responsibility for our karma can turn our lives around, as Gen-la Khyenrab said the other day.
The power of promise
The power of promise is one of the four opponent powers of good purification practice, and it purifies our heavy tendencies to negativity that we lug around with us from familiarity with these in the past. So after a good purification practice, we promise not to do that thing, whatever it is, again. But, as a friend of mine was saying yesterday, sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly to promise. For example, declaring “I will never get angry again!” and a host of other big promises is unrealistic – we are likely to forget them sooner or later and blow it. So we then get discouraged that we are not keeping our promises, wondering if we’ll ever remember them for longer than ten minutes, and whether there is even any point in making any more promises when we are so useless at keeping them.
What I like to do to make effective promises, I told her, is tie in my purification practice to whatever is coming up in my life – as part of my mind-training, transforming difficulties. For example, in her case, she has been feeling despondent because something she really wanted to happen didn’t happen, and she also blames herself because that is her tendency. Soooo, what I would do in that situation, having recognized that tendency in me, is purify that situation, and while I am at it to purify all my tendencies to feeling despondent and lacking self-worth since beginningless time. Then, once my mind felt all cleaned up from this tendency due to a good purification practice, I’d promise to not feel despondent again in similar circumstances. I am likely to remember that promise as it ties into what I am up against and I therefore have a vested interest in remembering it, in incorporating it into my mind-training. And it is powerful because I want it; it is not a vague open-ended promise, but one stemming from my everyday wishes to stay happy despite this thing or that thing not working out.
Phew! I can get rid of all of it!
Even when we are a bit vaguer about all the negative actions we need to purify and the kinds of effects these are specifically wreaking on our day-to-day lives, it still works very well to do a general spring-clean of our mind. I really enjoy doing prostrations to the 35 Confession Buddhas first thing in the morning (and before you get impressed, it takes less than 10 minutes), purifying basically everything I could possibly ever have done. There are some great words in that Mahayana Sutra (written by Buddha Shakyamuni himself), such as “I confess without concealing or hiding anything.” The Buddhas know exactly what we need to purify even if we don’t; that’s an advantage of omniscience. So we praise them: “Who have become witnesses, who have become valid, who see with their wisdom.”
Dry rot creeps up on us without us noticing, until the fabric of our house is destroyed. We’ve forgotten the vast majority of our negative minds and actions, which is why we contemplate these when we purify – not to feel bad but because we want all the mold, visible or not, to be gone as it is affecting our minds and our lives. We purify our greatest delusion first, whatever keeps coming up; but at the same time we want to purify the whole lot, and we can. Our negativity is mere imputation and literally no match for omniscient wisdom.
Turn on the lights for goodness sake!
You know how horror movies always take place at night in the pitch black and you just wish someone would turn on all the lights? And you know the darkness of our ignorance? The Confession Buddhas and Buddha Vajrasattva throw open the shutters to broad cosmic daylight and the sunshine streams in everywhere.
The ultimate purification is mixing with the mind of bliss and emptiness so that we destroy our ordinary appearances and conceptions – that is what will tear the whole samsaric moldy structure down so we can build ourselves and others a celestial mansion of delight. So we request Vajrasattva:
Please permanently purify my non-virtues, downfalls, and ordinary appearances and conceptions.
And then let him enter through our crown, dissolving into our “inner darkness”, vanquishing it instantly and permanently.
Whether we are doing Vajrasattva purification or the 35 Confession Buddhas practice, we feel their purity flooding into us, we don’t hold back. Our negativity doesn’t exist from its own side – like everything else, it is mere aspect of mind. Purify the mind by mixing it with the extraordinary bliss and wisdom of enlightened beings and where’s that negativity going to go? Nowhere, is where — it disappears, because it is only appearance to mind.
Build some purification practice into our daily lives, therefore, and we can relax — as Gen-la Khyenrab also said the other day. And it doesn’t have to take long, especially if you are convinced it is working. How long does it take to switch the lights on?
I believe there is nothing that a well-aimed Vajrasattva mantra cannot purify.
We don’t talk about the subconscious in Buddhism but we do talk about subtle and very subtle levels of mind and, even if we can’t yet reach these directly ourselves, the Buddhas certainly can as, in fact, this is their abode, their being. It’s where they hang out. Kind of fun to hang out with them, don’t you think?!
Good purification is like having a massive spring clean of the mind, it feels amazing, uplifting. We feel that we can do anything now, for the slate is clear, today is a brand new day.
Over to you! Comments and queries on purification practice are welcome.
Do you ever feel that you have lost or are in the process of losing lots of things and people over the course of this life alone? And that, as you get older, this may just be more and more the story of your life?
From one perspective, yes, the end of collection is dispersion (including, it seems, all the working bits of our body) and the end of meeting is parting. But that is from the point of view of the dualistic mind, the mind of “in here” and “out there”, the mind of self-grasping. Inside our mind there is nothing to lose and nothing to gain, which means that outside our mind there is nothing really to lose or gain either. We may think that we have lost things and people, but we have lost nothing, other than perhaps our illusions. Whether awake, asleep, in this life, in the bardo, everything unfolds as mere karmic appearance to mind, created by our minds, not outside us. The story of our life will be very different if we rewrite it with deep wisdom and unconditional love ~ for then we will not be separated from anyone.
Even death, the biggest loss, is mere aspect of mind, mere imputation; and for people who realize this and are able to access and control their very subtle mind:
For such practitioners, death is just mere name.
They are simply moved from the prison of samsara
To the Pure Land of Heruka. ~ Root Tantra of Heruka
I stopped long ago
We have everything we need inside us. We need to believe this, for it is true. All the peace and bliss we have ever wanted, all the connection, all the most exquisitely beautiful appearances, have always been part of our nature and potential; we just need to realize this.
And, if we do, we can finally stop running round and round in circles, life after life, following our delusions that have been convincing us that we have to get happiness and get rid of suffering outside the mind, and freaking out when our attempts prove futile. “I stopped long ago”, Buddha said calmly to the mass murderer Angulimala. This “madly hostile man” was in hot pursuit of Buddha, yelling at him to STOP, but failing to catch him even though he was running and Buddha was walking. “It is you who need to stop”, Buddha said. You can watch this scene in the Life of Buddha movie here.
We stop our delusions by transforming them, and we do this by first getting good at accepting that they are there as opposed to suppressing or repressing or combating them, and then trying to transform them. What does acceptance mean? I think part of it is that whenever we feel discouraged or useless or lonely, we can accept that, yes, we feel this way, that’s the way it is, but NOT accept that it is real or that it is me. We don’t accept that these thoughts are about anything particularly real — rather that they are just floating story lines with nothing behind them.
If we allow ourselves to relax and breathe a moment, as explained here, some space might open up around these seemingly solid feelings. They are just weather in the mind – we can let them pass and know that there is peace, that our mind is on our side, that there is in fact plenty of room in our basically okay peaceful sky-like mind for all of this. We make space. We can dilute our thoughts in a container of infinite size. We’re okay. We’ll survive. We might even expand.
Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden
Then it is not so hard to gain better perspective and transform whatever is coming up. And there is also powerful help on hand for doing this; we don’t have to do it all alone if we don’t want to. I just received a Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden empowerment and teachings at the International Spring Festival at Manjushri Center in the English Lake District. Dorje Shugden is a Dharma Protector, which means he specializes in helping us keep our minds off delusions and on Dharma. One way he does this is by helping us transform all appearances into the spiritual path, opening our wisdom eyes so that we know what to do with each delight or disaster as it arises, generating Dharma minds such as renunciation, compassion, or wisdom.
Dorje Shugden overcomes obstacles and helps us gather favorable conditions for Dharma practice, and after making lots of prayers to him over the past few days I now find myself writing this in the quiet seclusion of first class on the train from Preston to London Euston, which is weird as I never travel first class and have zero recollection of buying a first-class ticket. In fact I know I didn’t buy one, so this is technically a mistake. But, as it happens, the last two trains to London were cancelled and so standard class is totally jam-packed; yet here is little old me in an empty carriage watching the sunset — with free wifi, endless supplies of free coffee and Perrier, place settings, and a box labeled “Delicious Deli Snacks”. The best favorable conditions may not, admittedly, be such luxury, and perhaps I would have more to practice patience with, for example, if I was in steerage like everyone else. But although some might argue that this means I am not quite ready to transform standing in the aisle for 3 and a half hours, and most likely they are right, I am not complaining (much less feeling guilty, even though one or two people have suggested I should be ;-)) This is because it still feels unusual, as if Dorje Shugden orchestrated it; so I am prompted to transform and offer it. And post this article while I am at it.
More later. Meanwhile, over to you – have you had some success in accepting seemingly insurmountable painful emotions and delusions (rather than suppressing them) such that you were then able to do something practical to transform them?
Postscript: Someone has just asked me how they can rely on Dorje Shugden as they haven’t come across this Buddha before. Enlightened beings appear in different forms for different purposes, including as teachers, personal Deities, and Protectors. One simple way to get the numerous benefits of having this Buddha in your life is to consider Dorje Shugden to be the same nature as Wisdom Buddha Manjushri and Je Tsongkhapa — he is the manifestation of the omniscient wisdom of all enlightened beings appearing in this form to protect you. Then just make any requests to him to avert your obstacles and give you favorable conditions for gaining temporary and lasting freedom and happiness.
You can do this, if you like, by thinking he is with you and saying his mantra in your heart:
OM VAJRA WIKI WITRANA SOHA
And/or by using this concise but says-it-all prayer:
All the attainments I desire Arise from merely remembering you. O Wishfulfilling Jewel, Protector of the Dharma, Please accomplish all my wishes.
To me the spiritual path seems largely a process of letting go – first of the expectations that this life is the be all and end all of existence, then of the expectations of samsara working out, then of the expectations that our happiness comes first, then of the expectations that everything is as really happening as it appears, then of the expectations that everything is as ordinary and impure as it appears.
If we want to feel free, it is time to let go. Stop elaborating. Stop grasping. And when I think these thoughts, I feel tremendously relieved as I don’t have to make something unworkable work, and can instead abide in the beautiful, relaxing Dharma minds of love, compassion, wisdom, bliss and emptiness, Tantric pure view, hanging out with holy beings who are already here day and night. This is what refuge really means to me.
One of life’s little challenges
However, I wrote this first bit after a peaceful meditation, and now my plane to Heathrow has been delayed indefinitely, possibly even cancelled — so I need urgently to think it out in the field as well…
For right now I am feeling rather attached to the happiness of this life wherein planes are supposed to go on time, in which case this delay is very annoying.
I am attached to samsara working out – “All those other lucky people whose planes are not delayed, ‘Zones 1, 2, and 3 now boarding for Salt Lake City!’, they must be feeling great around about now, life is working for them, why not for me, why didn’t those airplane people figure out they needed this part earlier?!”
I am attached to my own happiness over and above the happiness of the people waiting (surprisingly patiently) around me, who didn’t even seem to raise an eyebrow when the announcement was made, whereas I was thinking, “Oh b****** hell, poor old me!”
I am attached to the idea of a real plane missing a real part that is being flown in on another real plane from a real city called San Francisco, and then real people have to replace this real part in monotonous real time, all of which real time I am really having to wait around, not able to just rest and be, really wanting to leave this crowded airport and go to real England NOW.
Plus, this place is grimy, it is not a blissful Pure Land at all – full of fast food, tired looking people, stuffy air, screaming kids, grubby carpets, and no Tantric Deities or celestial mansions in sight.
I’ll let you know if and how I turn this around in the next several hours. I know I can and will probably have to because it is no fun being stuck here otherwise. That’s the whole point. The grasping is what is causing the pain, not the situation, which has no existence from its own side. Only the grasping is the problem.
Refuge is deep, deep relaxation. We can let the Three Jewels take over. We can surrender to Dharma experiences that are guaranteed to lift the mind and make us happy; to omniscient, blissful, unchangingly supportive friends, the Buddhas; and to Sangha, many of whom have already figured these things out and would be very cheerful waiting here in the airport.
Two hours later: Thoughts so far …
As I was walking around this ever-changing, dreamlike terminal, I remembered that this is all coming from my own karmic seeds and doesn’t exist outside my mind; there is instant relief in that thought. Why would I expect anything different, I created the causes for these appearances to my mind, no one else did. Also, whatever they are, they are not inherently any more good or bad than any other appearances, it just depends what I make of them.
And I’m already getting thought aid from suspected emanations functioning as Sangha Jewels. A couple of tweens have been hogging 3 out of the 4 precious plugs for the last 3 hours playing a mindless video game so I was in danger of (a) running out of computer juice and (b) getting annoyed with them, also not conducive to the happiness of this life. But then a charming young couple offered me one of their chairs and their plug, “That’s got to give you some peace of mind, right!”, and we have all just agreed that “it is what it is”, and, as the bloke said, “There is no point grumping about it, it won’t change anything. And there’s definitely no point getting angry with those poor guys at the counter.” A kid just said, “Dad, I’m bored”, and his dad replied, “Things go wrong, you have to get used to it.” A South American Catholic nun was asking me what had been said in the announcement and she looked serenely full of patience when I told her, even though she is now going to miss her connecting flight. A lot of people are finding solace in their gadgets, some in their books, one guy chuckling opposite me at a comedy show, others chatting and joking around – the kindness of others keeping them entertained. Maybe this is the best hangout in town!?
We were given a $19 voucher for food and, samsara’s pleasures being deceptive, that free money burned a hole in my pocket as I felt I had to spend it on a rather large pizza, the only place that was still open, and I really don’t need pizza right now, I already had potato wedges while waiting earlier. But in the line I met an enthusiastic British Airways plane technician who told me that last week the same thing happened and people were put in hotels for, get this, TWO days, while they waited for their aircraft to be fixed with a landing light. Our broken part is more complicated, something to do with the nose (not) going up; so he cheerily told me that he hoped it wasn’t even longer a wait this time as people are missing connecting flights, missing cruises, missing big events … and he is quite right. I can afford to “miss” two days in England, I can spend them in a hotel if needs be. I am not exactly in Iraq right now fleeing for my life from ISIS. Looking around, I can see an old man trying hard to get his head comfortable, and the woman opposite me said, “I wish he had a pillow.” My compassion is kicking in and that is protecting my mind.
And this is a perfect opportunity to practice that experiment explained here. In Eight Steps, it says that we can focus on the gold of people’s Buddha nature, their limitless potential, rather than their faults, which in any case are the faults of their delusions, not them (including those tweens! Their real nature is limitless compassion and freedom, not adolescent self-absorption!)
Buddha compared our Buddha nature to a gold nugget in dirt, because no matter how disgusting a person’s delusions may be, the real nature of their mind remains undefiled, like pure gold… Whenever we meet other people, instead of focusing on their delusions we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. This will not only enable us to regard them as special and unique but will also help bring out their good qualities. ~Eight Steps to Happiness p. 82
Not focusing on others’ faults for me also includes the faults of people seeming just ordinary. If we know about Tantra, we can see their Buddha nature as already actualized. I am therefore surrounded by very unordinary Heroes and Heroines, Tantric Buddhas, and am a Space Goer myself.
Latest announcement (now shortly before midnight): the plane with the part has just left SF (just left?!!!) and will be here at 1am. Heigh ho. Then it has to be fixed. People actually chuckled — they must be Heroes and Heroines.
At 8am this morning, as I was peacefully absorbed in meditation, someone honked their horn very loudly. There was a pause, then they did it again. Another pause, and then a loud banging at my door.
I open it in my dressing gown, and a (watch this instant prejudice…) brash looking man in a shiny suit and slicked-back hair abruptly demands: “I’m here to pick up Yvonne.” I say I don’t know Yvonne. “She’s a laaaarge girl”, he offers, with (un)helpful hand gestures. My Simone de Beauvoir instincts kick in: “Do you mean a large girl or a large woman? In any event I don’t know any large or small women or girls by that name around here. And might I suggest that you don’t blow your horn so loudly…” (adding silently “…you’re not the only human being around here you know!”) and then “Oh, my cat has got out…” (adding silently “…because of you.”)
So as you can see from my responses, an irritation had arisen. Great fodder for meditation! Excellent timing for my morning session! Mr. Honk only appears irritating to me due to karma I’ve created in the past and is a reflection of my own faults of thoughtlessness and self-cherishing. Not everyone who bangs on my door early morning or late at night irritates me after all – most, I’m happy to say, don’t, including Jehovah’s witnesses, tenants who have lost their keys again, and, the other night, a totally drunk homeless guy whom I offered a place to stay for a few hours to get him out of the cold. (Don’t worry, dear landlords, if you are reading this, I took his social security card off him first). Back in meditation I did not have to go back far, sadly, to see how I share Mr. Honk’s apparent faults — for example I yell for my cat to come in, “ROUSSEAU!!!”, (which may be why, come to think of it, everyone around here knows his name), and I shout out a question for someone instead of bothering to go find them, etc. Not only that, but Mr. Honk may have had all sorts of extenuating circumstances that could cause me to go easy on him, as they would cause me to go easy on me if I was in his position – like, for example, Yvonne being in dire need of a blood transfusion.
Not focusing on others’ faults doesn’t mean that we never recognize they have delusions (uncontrolled, unpeaceful minds) or develop the wish to help them overcome these – our mistake is conflating the person with the delusions. As my teacher says:
It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any living being. Consequently, their love and compassion for living beings never diminish. ~ Transform Your Life, p 131
There is clearly far more to Mr. Honk than his seeming thoughtlessness – for all I know he was going out of his way to help Yvonne, large as she is, and he is probably a VERY NICE MAN. At any rate, he is not his delusions, even if he has any, and my relating to him as such for those moments by the front door didn’t help either of us. I lost an opportunity to be helpful. He helped me though, as it turns out, by serving as a mirror. Thank you Mr. Honk, I owe you 🙂
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