Climate change and Buddhism

22 mins read!!! Sorry about that. Big subject.

I shared this October 2018 IPCC global warming report on Facebook because it was a bit of “an ear-splitting wake-up call to the world”.

Since then, FB friends have been asking me to do an article on Buddhism and climate change. That is except for those who are telling me it’s a conspiracy and that they’ll boycott this blog if I do. Their version of events may be more comforting, and there is a sense in which everything we see is merely a hoax of our ignorance; but just in case the  masks in san franciscomajority of scientists also have a point about global warming I decided to have a go. Especially as I have just spent several days wearing one of these masks. And in response to some other criticism that has come my way for talking about this subject, I would like to say that for me this is not about politics — ie, I am not trying to scare anyone into voting in any way. As you’ll see, this article is all about Dharma responses to the rapidly deteriorating environments of our world, which anyone can apply, regardless of their political views.

Having said that, I don’t feel qualified to speak for all Buddhists on climate change, given that Buddha didn’t address the subject directly and I am by no means an expert. But I can start a discussion that you’re invited to join in and/or to argue with below. Rather than break this article up, I have put it all here to make that discussion/argument easier.

We can also, as some have requested, brainstorm concrete pointers on how to behave responsibly and lead by example all in the comments below. Hopefully this process will contribute to the consciousness-raising needed on our planet if we are to survive.

Okay, here goes.

First off, a life in the day …

Last week I flew into San Francisco just as people were doing their best to fly out. I had thought that flying into DC during the emotional midterms was close enough to the action, but I was greeted at the airport in SF with a mask and dense toxic air thanks to the biggest fire in California history burning 120 miles away, already the size of SF and Oakland combined.

Buddha in fireAnd I realized just how much I take good air for granted. How I automatically assume I can throw open windows and doors to let in the fresh air without starting to cough and experience a headache. How the choice boils down to fresh air or CO2 build up. How odd it is to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth where you are advised to stay indoors. How much I take outside in general for granted.

The fire has affected so many thousands of innocent beings — due to the strong winds, it spread at the rate of 3 football fields a minute, so how could humans or animals have outrun that wall of flames? (If they hadn’t succumbed to the heat and fumes first.) 83 humans so far declared dead, still over 500 missing, and how many animals dying in pain and fear? Saw footage of grown men crying — grown men with tattoos crying — because they have lost everything or everyone. Saw images of the makeshift shelters in a Walmart parking lot – not exactly Paradise any more. Down the coast in Malibu, likewise, deadly fire licking a place once synonymous with Paradise. Sure, it is possible to improve forest management – but don’t tell me these rapidly escalating fires or hurricanes are nothing to do with climate change.

cat rescued in the fire
Anyone own this cat?

I got to thinking about the homeless, who have nowhere to escape the air. On Monday, Choma and I went to Oakland to visit a friend John, who is a research coordinator on senior homelessness (and appears in this thoughtful article I found). It’s frightening to find yourself on the streets when you are over 55 and NEVER expected to end up there. So many people are just a pay check away. I wouldn’t want it for even one day, yet getting off the streets once you’re old and prematurely ill is hardest of all.

Meantime, air quality around the world means that 9 out of 10 humans don’t have clean air, EVER. And they don’t have masks either, plus you can’t wear those things for long, they’re awkward and make it hard to breathe – you can’t wait to take them off at the first opportunity. 7 million people a year die from bad air, according to WHO. And don’t even get me started on the water I take totally for granted as well.

Which also reminds me of all those incarcerated with little to no access to fresh air, spending up to 23 hours a day in often windowless cells. Those prisons must be as stuffy and smelly as hell, and I hadn’t even thought about that element of being locked up until now.

Which leads me to think about what life must be like for the pigs and chickens and cows locked up in all the stinking factory farms, hidden from us in plain sight. Or for that matter what life is like for the animals and fish in the Dallas Aquarium I visited two

big blue fish
I’m not a cartoon.

weeks ago – how on earth is this fish ever going to get out of there, not just out of the Aquarium but out of the lower realms? What is that going to take? Human problems are a cake walk in comparison; and this despite the fact that human mental health problems around the world are reaching epidemic proportions.

I could keep musing like this forever on the problems in our world. One item leads to another and then to another. It seems never-ending.

It is time to break free from samsara

But that is the thing about samsara — it never is just about one thing. Or one calamity, I should say. It is about calamities on all fronts – climate change, for sure, and fossil fuel profiteering, but also homelessness, mass migration, poverty, intolerance, racism, consumerism, cancer, greed, fascism, starvation, cruelty, hurricanes, factory farming, war, terrorism, shootings, etc, etc, etc. (And that’s just the humans). When this karma starts to ripen on us, we cannot outrun it any more than people could outrun the fire.

Bizarrely enough, this may be the place to start talking about climate change. It is part of a far bigger and more interconnected problem than most people even realize – it is the problem of samsara itself, the vicious cycle of impure life. If we have delusions, we are all caught up in it, like fish in a net.

MalibuEven the uber wealthy are not immune – just ask those celebrities who lost their homes in Malibu last week — and even the most powerful humans on this planet are just as bound up in the vicious cycle of birth, ageing, sickness, and death. As it says in the powerful prayer called Request to the Lord of all Lineages, which Geshe Kelsang is encouraging people to contemplate deeply every day: 

In this cycle of impure life, samsara,
There is no real protection from suffering.
Wherever I am born, either as a lower or higher being,
I will have to experience only suffering.

We need very deep solutions, or this is all any of us will ever be able to expect. However, according to Buddha solutions do exist, if we are prepared to look for them not just outside but within.

In samsara we can assume the worst and we won’t be far off, sooner or later. It is no pleasure garden, as Buddha said. We can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The only way all this is going to change is if we change. Who wants to be the same in 5 years who wants changeanyway? 10 years? The only way to improve is to improve.

Understanding this, I will make continuous effort to cease samsaric rebirth
By striving to permanently abandon its root, self-grasping ignorance. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages

The entire special presentation of Buddha’s teachings called the “stages of the path to enlightenment” (Lamrim) gives us insightful, proactive, and tried-and-tested ways to deal with suffering – I tried explaining that once here: Can we make sense of the senseless? And if we had time e could apply all 21 contemplations just as easily to climate change. 

Here I will highlight just some of Buddha’s wisdom. One place to start is karma

The environmental effects of karma

Our mental actions or karma have four effects, one of which is called “the environmental effect”, whereby:

… our environment and the things that surround us are hostile, dangerous, or uncomfortable. The environmental effect of killing is that the place in which we live is poor and it is hard to find food and other necessities; the environmental effect of stealing is that the place in which we live is barren and plants and crops will not flourish there; and the environmental effect of sexual misconduct is that the place in which we live is unclean and breeds disease. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune

 karma quoteWe can ask ourselves whether or not we have created any negative actions of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and so on. If we haven’t, cool, but the chances are we have and thereby created an incalculable number of causes for these kinds of experiences. These are like seeds waiting to ripen as suffering — and once they do we cannot outrun these karmic appearances. We need another approach. As it says in Request to the Lord of all Lineages:

The cause of suffering is non-virtuous actions
And the cause of happiness is virtuous actions.
Since this is completely true
I will definitely abandon the first and practice the second.

We never think calamity will strike until it does. But on what basis can I go around being so complacent, I wonder.

As someone on Facebook put it:

Perhaps I am experiencing a world being destroyed because in previous lives I destroyed the environments of others? It is possible, when I think of things I did as a child to ant’s nests, for example — even in this life I destroyed the environments of others 😮.

You can read all about how karma works in Joyful Path of Good Fortune. It’s life-saving information.

So what are we supposed to do?

I think the answer is that we have to work on different levels. I’ve spoken before about how Bodhisattvas and trainee Bodhisattvas operate on the level of going to the practical aid of those in need, helping others overcome their negativities, avoiding destroying places such as towns, and so on, while at the same time using everything as fuel for the journey to enlightenment so that they can end up helping everyone. As someone said on Facebook:

There must be some combination of inner and outer efforts. Inner efforts to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible for everyone’s sakes! And outer efforts to protect humans’ and animals’ homes, as well as our waters and trees and air.

One thing is for sure: without empathy coming from an understanding of our inescapable interconnection, we are doomed. If we insist on holding onto our self-cherishing like some kind of perverse security blanket, we are doomed. From The New Eight Steps to Happiness:

boat with hole in itAll the problems of human society, such as war, crime, pollution, drug addiction, poverty, injustice, and disharmony within families, are the result of self-cherishing. Thinking that human beings alone matter, and that the natural world exists to serve human desires, we have wiped out thousands of animal species and polluted the planet to such an extent that there is great danger it could soon be unfit even for human habitation. If everyone were to practice cherishing others, many of the major problems of the world would be solved in a few years.

The power of love and compassion

We should never underestimate the purifying power of a mind suffused with love. Because  it is in alignment with reality, it is more powerful than a deluded mind.

It is said that there exists a magic crystal that has the power to purify any liquid in which it is placed. Those who cherish all living beings are like this crystal –by their very presence they remove negativity from the world and give back love and kindness.

A friend today was saying how we could imagine that we are like the trees in a forest — sucking out the carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen.

To find out how to increase love and compassion, and do the magical practice of taking and giving, check out the clear and inspiring instructions in The New Eight Steps to Happiness. 

Whenever we are engaged in any outward actions to protest climate change and do something about it, it is worth remembering that these actions will be infinitely more powerful if we do them with a mind focused on love and compassion, and especially if we do them with bodhichitta.

We are all in this together

The Bodhisattva perfections (see below) are all motivated by the compassion wishing to free not just our family and neighbors but everyone from suffering and its causes by fulfilling our own potential for enlightenment. We are all in this together. As someone said on Facebook:

The suffering that we are causing as a species is getting out of hand. We are creating hell-like realms for both other species and the less fortunate of our own species plus the (not so far) future inhabitants of this planet. As Bodhisattvas, our compassion should be such that we are driven to take action.

Different levels of compassion

There are also different levels of compassion that we can work on, explained in Ocean of Nectar:

Living beings are seen to be transient and empty of inherent existence,
Like a moon in rippling water.

We develop compassion wanting to free all living beings from suffering and its causes, but we can also deepen this to take in how much suffering arises from grasping at permanence and grasping at inherent existence, even though we are nowhere near as permanent nor as solid as we believe. Compassion is explained in a very beautiful chapter called A Praise of Compassion, if you get a chance to read that.

Toward planetary health

Here’s a whistle stop tour of the six perfections that a Bodhisattva practices every day, to hopefully whet your appetite – you can discover everything you need to know about these in Geshe Kelsang’s books.

To permanently liberate all mother living beings
From suffering and mistaken appearance,
I will attain the Union of the state of enlightenment
Through the practice of the six perfections. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages

IMG_4875
Lonnell + friend
1. Generosity

There are so many practical ways to get over our insecure miserliness and help others in our world with our time, money, attention, advice, skills, fearlessness, and so on. John, as mentioned, works to help the senior homeless population every day. Many other friends are social workers, doctors, teachers, film makers, climate activists, etc, etc – all making this world just that bit kinder. We can offset our carbon footprint with some dollars. We can plant trees. We can do many things.

As in most crises, stories of Buddha nature emerge, like that of the garbage collector and the old lady. Though he’d been ordered home, he risked his life to check on some elderly neighbors – discovering the 93-year-old trying to escape the Camp Fire on her Zimmergarbage truck rescue frame. She had no chance till he showed up and put her in his truck. Then, rather than making her endure a shelter, he took her to his house. His kids love her, so she’ll be there for 2 months until it’s safe to go home.

2. Moral discipline

Moral discipline or ethics involves refraining from harming others by, for example, consciously using fewer plastic bags or eating fewer or no animal products. I don’t know if you know this, but 51% of global warming is caused by animal agriculture. As someone on FB put it:

I believe with all my heart that the planet will begin to heal when we treat all of its inhabitants with respect. There is a very deep interconnection between meat/dairy consumption/production and climate breakdown. 

(On this point, we could also work on our realization of emptiness, become like the great Buddhist master Chandrakirti:

Chandrakirti refused to take milk from the cows because he felt it should be saved for their young, and he left them to wander freely on the neighboring hills. Nevertheless, he still managed to provide the monks with an abundant supply of daily produce!

If you want to know how, you can read the rest of the story in Ocean of Nectar.)

We can offset our carbon footprint. (I have started offsetting my flights, using this website.) We can press our world and industrial leaders into investing in sustainable energy, including these 100 companies. We can make Ecobricks out of our plastics. We can rake the forests (kidding 😉)

That is just for starters – I know some of you’ll come up with more ideas below. And there are more pointers here from people who have been thinking about this for 50 years. (In brief: Stop using pesticides. Stop with the single use plastic. Plant a tree. Reduce your footprint. Eat less meat.)

In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva says:

If for no reason I begin to perform actions
That cause damage to the environment,
I should recall Buddha’s advice,
And out of respect stop straightaway.

Buddha and globeMoral discipline also involves helping others whenever and however we can, all the while overcoming our obsessive self-concern. It is an essential protection for us against creating negative karma, and helps us to purify the tons of negative karma we’ve already created.

3. Patient acceptance

Patience is what we need to get through the day without blaming everyone else for what goes wrong, disliking others or ourselves, feeling upset when we read the latest news, or becoming helpless, fearful, and angry. We need to get from anger to compassion, which is actually a far more passionate though realistic response. As it says in How to Understand the Mind:

Some people are angered by the existence of nuclear weapons or pollution, while others become upset if their food is not to their liking. Whenever we encounter inanimate objects that cause us suffering we should remember the futility of getting angry with such things. ~ page 69

 It is degenerate times alright!

With patient acceptance of what is going on — because that is what is going on — we are now in a position to transform adverse conditions into the path to enlightenment. When things get tough, the tough get going, as the saying goes. Buddha predicted that times would degenerate – particularly in five ways:

In this spiritually degenerate time there are five impurities that are increasing throughout the world: (1) our environment is becoming increasingly impure because of pollution; (2) our water, air and food are becoming increasingly impure, also because of pollution; (3) our body is becoming increasingly impure because sickness and disease are no more prevalent; (4) our mind is becoming increasingly impure because our delusions are getting stronger and stronger; and (5) our actions are becoming increasingly impure because we have not control over our delusions. ~ Modern Buddhism (available free

Our current enormous challenges are more grist to the mill for a mind-training practitioner:

When the container and the contents are filled with evil
Transform adverse conditions into the path to enlightenment. ~ Universal Compassion 

The container and the contents refers to our world and everything and everyone in it, filled with the effects of negative actions. And as it explains in Modern Buddhism:

Because of these five impurities, suffering, problems’ and dangers are increasing everywhere. However, through Lamrim price we can transform our experience of all these impurities into the spiritual path that leads us to the pure an everlasting happiness of liberation and enlightenment.

It is worth knowing that impurity and suffering can be transformed – by motivating us into renunciation and compassion for example — because in that case we no longer need to fear it as we have been. We don’t need paralyzing self-cherishing fear, but motivating, refuge-inspiring, and not unpleasant fear that comes from the wisdom understanding deeper causes. Buddha nature 

You can read in detail how to transform adverse conditions in Universal Compassion and The New Eight Steps to Happiness.

4. Joyful effort

Effort or enthusiasm gives us all the energy we need every day to get over discouragement and hopelessness, even upon reading the latest Climate Report that says we have only 12 years to get our acts together. Effort gives us the power and self-confidence to do what needs to be done for as long as it needs doing, without ever giving up on ourselves or anybody else. As Kadampas recite twice a month in Offering to the Spiritual Guide:

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort
By striving for supreme enlightenment with unwavering compassion;
Even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell
For many aeons for the sake of each being.

I agree with this from someone else on FB:

Raising awareness is good and positive encouragement for collective action is good. What I read in the groups I am part of is a lot of despondency by people trying to do their best, but feeling the tide is against them. Encouragement of positive actions, therefore, has to be a good thing, supporting people in the changes they make.

At the same time, I think it’s helpful to know where most usefully to put our time and energy so that we don’t get burned out or despondent, and so as to aim for maximum benefit. As a Dharma practitioner, my main priority is mastering my mind and trying to give others that opportunity – and, when I’m doing that, then I am always doing something useful, so I don’t have to feel so discouraged or hopeless. Someone suggested:

I honestly think, as Buddha teaches, the answer is training our own mind and helping Art volunteeringothers to do the same. Awakening compassion for all would be the solution. So supporting our local Dharma Centres, volunteering, teaching Dharma, and training our own mind, while setting the example of practising moral discipline and mindfulness around these issues, is the answer for me.

5. Concentration

Concentration and mindfulness are essential for mastering our mind, overcoming the distractions of our delusions, and creating the karma for deep and lasting inner peace and happiness. Concentration makes our mind extremely powerful. As it says in How to Transform Your Life:

We can sometimes help others by providing them with money or better material conditions, but we should remember that the greatest benefit we can give is to help them overcome their delusions and find true, lasting happiness within.

And to pull that off for others, we need to start with ourselves.

6. Wisdom

Wisdom realizing the way things are is the actual and only door out of the prison of samsara, and something we can keep in mind whatever else we are up to, both in and out of meditation sessions.

In general, all those problems and sufferings mentioned above are coming directly or indirectly from our delusions of ignorance, attachment, and aversion, and the negative karma we create in dependence upon those delusions. As someone said on Facebook:

I can certainly work on my delusions and try personally to break free from my uncontrolled desire that contributes to the polluted world, and perhaps also encourage others skillfully to do so — done with the right intention I think this can be powerful purification.

quote from scientistsThese three so-called poisons poison our minds, spilling over into the world that appears to us because our world is a reflection of our minds. So we have to dig deeper to solve our problems – solving not just outer problems but our inner problems with both compassion and wisdom. Otherwise:

Through technological progress and by organizing society in fairer, more humane ways, we can certainly help improve people’s lives in some respects. But whatever we do will inevitably have some unwanted side effects. The best we can hope for is to provide people with conditions that bring some temporary relief from problems and difficulties, but we cannot give them true, lasting happiness. This is because the real cause of happiness is inner peace, which can be found only within the mind, not in external conditions. ~ How to Transform Your Life (available for free here

Our polluted world is mere appearance to mind like a dream – we need to destroy the hallucinations of climate change along with all other impure appearances through purification practice and especially through realizing that all the things we normally see do not exist.

The phenomena that I normally see or perceive
Are deceptive – created by mistaken minds.
If I search for the reality of what I see,
There is nothing there that exists – I perceive only empty like space. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages

appearances in dreams teach meThis brings us back to karma. As things don’t exist from their own side, whatever appears to us depends upon our minds and our karma, both individual and collective. If you want to check this out from Ocean of Nectar, it says:

If a god, a human, and a hungry ghost were to look at a glass containing a moist, liquid substance, the god would see nectar, the human water, and the hungry ghost pus and blood…. There are not, however, three different liquids on the same base. ~ [from VI.71ab]

How am I supposed to remember all this?!!

To keep in mind these different levels of dealing with climate change, I find it truly helpful and inspiring to remember the meaning of Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka, as explained a little bit in this article.

So, out of renunciation, symbolized by Je Tsongkhapa, we are avoiding negativity on a day to day basis, striving to get rid of our inner poisons and attain liberation. My feeling is that we need to do whatever we can on an immediate practical and visible level, setting an example of someone who actually cares — because we do care. It’s all very well talking about getting enlightened for the sake of all living beings, but if we are still part of the brigade trashing our planet we are not setting a very relatable example, and can in fact come over as a complete hypocrite.

We need to be grounded, balanced, and moreorless normal or we will just put people off. Our head can be in the clouds providing our feet are firmly planted on the earth.

Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka
Tharpa large canvas print reminder 😄

Out of bodhichitta, symbolized by Buddha Shakyamuni at Je Tsongkhapa’s heart, we are trying to help others in every way possible. All the while we can be inwardly dedicating all these six practices to the swift purification of our own and others’ negative karma, praying that by this virtue may everyone soon inhabit a Pure Land, the reflection of a pure and blissful mind.

And with our Tantric practice, symbolized by Heruka at Buddha’s heart, we are bringing the result into the path, speedily purifying and transforming our bodies, enjoyments, deeds, AND environments with no time to waste. With Tantra we are already abiding in the solution – and it turns out that reality is not — after all — relentless suffering, but sublime and blissful enlightenment. I would submit that mystics of all traditions can relate to this through experience.

A lot of discouragement comes from having a very limited view of ourselves and helpless view of what we can do — “What can little old me do to prevent climate catastrophe!?!” Tantra gives us the vision we need to feel deeply inspired on a daily basis.

We can find refuge in pure view. Nothing exists from its own side, as mentioned above. So at some point the mandala and Deities, who are the appearance of bliss and emptiness, will feel more authentic to us than this samsaric chicanery. As it says in The Mirror of Dharma on page 25, when …

… we directly experience the union of appearance and emptiness we will directly experience our environment, enjoyments, body and mind as the enlightened environment, enjoyments, body and mind, and we will directly experience ourself as an enlightened being – the union of Buddha, the union of Vajradhara, the union of Heruka, and so forth.

The whole reason for doing this is to lead everyone to the same blissful state.

Four complete purities

I just read this succinct paragraph from Al Gore quoted in this week’s (Sept 2019) Time Magazine:

Humanity is now spewing more than 110 million tons of global warming pollution every day into the exceedingly thin shell of atmosphere that surrounds our planet as if it were an open sewer. The extra heat energy being trapped on earth and exacerbated by man-made climate change is now equal to what would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding on earth every single day, according to James Hansen, a leading climate scientist.

And it made me think of this essential practice of Tantric Buddhism, wherein instead of spewing pollution into the atmosphere we could be emanating wisdom blessings and love. All the time, if we want. Our minds are very very powerful if we focus them, and if everyone started doing this the world would improve very quickly. Even if we alone start doing this, our world will transform, and we’ll naturally be raising global awareness because we are all interconnected.

Having generated ourself as Heruka with a completely pure body and mind, we now imagine that five-colored lights, the nature of our five omniscient wisdoms, radiate from our body and pervade all worlds throughout the ten directions, completely purifying these worlds and the beings who inhabit them. We imagine that all impurities and imperfections of samsaric environments are purified. All rocky and uneven ground is made smooth, all extremes of heat and cold are removed, deserts are transformed into beautiful parks, floods abate, darkness is dispelled — the whole environment is transformed into Heruka’s Pure Land. ~ Great Treasury of Merit

You can find out more about these Tantric practices in the Tantric books. If you don’t know anything about Tantra, you can practice taking and giving and consider the analogy of the magic crystal explained above. There is always something we can do.

Just one more point I’d like to make (and thank you for reading this far! … )

Don’t forget mandala offerings!

Geshe-la in templeOne spiritual practice that is astoundingly powerful for offsetting our negative karma and creating the causes for everyone to live in a Pure Land is the mandala offering. We even say, as we offer this completely purified universe to all the holy beings, “May all beings enjoy such Pure Lands.” I am out of time, or else I’d explain how it is that mandala offerings are in fact my favorite Dharma practice, and that is saying something. You can read about them all over the place, including in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra.

Conclusion

Phew. Thanks to Buddha, we need never be at a loss for what to do again.

Over to you! Please feel free to discuss with each other below. I already took the liberty of copying and pasting some of the comments from the Facebook thread to kick it off.

Transference of consciousness for those who have committed suicide

10 mins read

This week (Sept 9-15) is suicide prevention awareness week. I would submit a week is not enough. We need more awareness every week, as suicide is on the rise and it is destroying lives – not just those who kill themselves but those who are left behind.

BuddhaAvalokiteshvaraIn this final article on suicide, I want to say something about a powerful practice we can do for those who have died in general, and suicide victims in particular.

Back to my thoughts on Denis at the time

Denis believed in transference of consciousness (Powa in Tibetan, pronounced Poe Wa). In a letter written a few months ago to a mutual friend, he said:

“My dear friend my dog Jake died last weekend. I think I told you he had heart problems. His heart stopped early Sunday morning while he slept so he was in peace. He had sat with me through many meditations and listened to many prayers. I completed Powa for him the day after he died so I know he exists in a pure land now, but I experienced many feelings of loss and sadness.” 

In his suicide note, Denis also asked for me to guide Powa as his funeral. So of course I did. I mention some of the things I said below.

If someone you love has committed suicide, please feel that you can pray for them, whenever it happened – it is never too late. And you can also ask for this Powa practice to be done for them at Kadampa Buddhist Centers. Here too is a beautiful Facebook prayer request group.

What is Powa?

In Great Treasury of Merit, Geshe Kelsang explains:

Transference of consciousness was taught by Buddha in both the Sutras and the Tantras. According to the Sutras, transference is accomplished primarily through the power of aspiration, while according to the Tantras it is accomplished primarily through the power of controlling the winds. Tantric practitioners who can dissolve their winds into the central channel through meditation can eject their consciousness and take rebirth in a Pure Land through their own power. 

A Pure Land is a place or an experience beyond suffering. We have the potential or seeds for both heaven and hell, as it were. Which comes to fruition depends on which seeds we cultivate and water.

According to Buddhism, the “Pure Land” is the experience of a purified mind, whereas “samsara” is the experience of an impure mind that is still contaminated by the inner poison of delusions. Here is a short description taken from Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully:

In a Buddha’s Pure Land everything is pure; there are no sufferings, no contaminated environments, and no impure enjoyments. Beings born there are free from sickness, ageing, poverty, war, harm from fire, water, earth, and wind, and so forth. They have the ability to control their death and rebirth, and they experience physical and mental suppleness throughout their life. Just being there naturally gives rise to a deep experience of bliss.

LMDJThe Pure Land could be considered similar to the Christian idea of heaven (or other religions’ idea of paradise), but in Buddhism a Pure Land is the experience of a pure mind — there is no external creator who rewards us with it (or who, alternatively, can send us to hell.)

The mind is the creator of all. To attain a Pure Land primarily involves purifying and mastering our own thoughts. Faith (mixing with the pure minds of holy beings) and positive karmic potentials also play a part in helping us reach the Pure Land.

As does doing Powa for people who have died, which is a very powerful spiritual practice. I share some of my first-hand experience with it in this article. You can read all the details of how to do it in Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully. Many Kadampa Centers around the world also offer it once a month.

Denis’s Powa

The room was packed with 120 people — Sangha friends, his daughter, his brothers, his ex-wife, other family, clients, and a lot of Veterans. Most people in the room had never set foot in a Buddhist Center, some had no clue that Denis was a Buddhist. His family and friends packed the sitting room before Powa started, watching videos of him and crying. After the Powa, the atmosphere was very different. Many family members thanked us and said they felt real peace, a peace they were not expecting. His daughter said she felt huge relief and could start to move forward. People said they deeply appreciated being part of the ceremony, doing something so active to send him off.

chink of light

These are some of the things I said at Denis’s Powa:

“We are all here because we love Denis. We also know his good qualities. We want to help give him what he so yearned for, which is freedom, finally, from his pain.

Buddhism and other religions explain how the person is not their body. There is a lot more to Denis than his body. His formless mind, or awareness, continues now, past death; and so now through our connection we will help him, act as a bridge between him and the holy enlightened beings, however you envisage them, and especially the Buddha of Compassion.

Denis asked for this Powa and he had faith in it. He did it for many people himself, including his dog.

Denis had a lot of faith in the Three Jewels and a lot of love for his family and friends. From a Buddhist perspective we would say that he was not in his right mind last Friday and his uncontrolled, unpeaceful thoughts, or delusions, got the upper hand over his pure and kind nature. But the actual Denis is not these inner demons who tormented him — he was their victim. We are all very sad about this, but we can channel this sadness into compassion, sending him to a Pure Land where his body no longer hurts and these inner demons can harm him no longer.

Denis led a very caring life, creating huge good karma and many connections with us and with enlightened beings, so there is no doubt we can help him. Venerable Geshe Kelsang, Denis’s spiritual teacher, wrote to say he had done Powa for Denis and was praying. We all have love and compassion for him, and so now all we need is some openness or faith, and some concentration on the words and meditations. I will guide it a bit.”

What else can we do?

 “What do we do with the information that those whose lives we admire cannot bear to live … What hope is there for the rest of us?” ~ Time magazine, reporting on the celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade 

Perhaps we can develop more compassion for each other, both the people we know personally and the ones we don’t.

be kindRather than feeling envious, competitive, or annoyed when we see the lives of people more rich, famous, or powerful, here is an insight from Time magazine:

There’s also a case to be made for having more compassion. If people’s lives aren’t as amazingly blissful as they appear, perhaps people are not as evil or stupid as they appear, either.

I need to pay more attention to the people close to me who may be silently suffering. Not assume they are okay. Not neglect people for years on end. It doesn’t take much to reach out in genuine interest.

Correspondence with a friend

I would like to conclude these articles on suicide with emails I had with a friend whose husband of nearly 40 years killed himself in 2010. At the time she told me this correspondence helped her a great deal, so I repeat some of it here in case it might help other people too.

After she first told me M had committed suicide, I replied:

“You are strong, but I can only imagine how hard this is. It surely is one of the largest challenges we can face in a life full of challenges — having to let go so completely and utterly of our person whom we love very deeply, knowing there is nothing we can do to control or change his own path and karma, however much we want(ed) to. All we can do is to love him unconditionally forever, wherever he is, staying connected. And it helps to love and connect more closely with those who are still here, your beloved children, your friends. We can always ask holy beings for help, and prayer works very well when we are so close to someone.

If there is anything I can do, I will do it, please let me know. Meanwhile, I am going to continue to make many prayers for M so that he is protected and pain-free and takes rebirth in a Pure Land. I am also praying for you and your children to find all the support and inner resources you need to get through this time.”

A few weeks later she sent this:

birds flying image.png

In Geshe-la’s books, where do you think I could find some words to help me with my attachment to M … wanting him back on earth …. Can you give me guidance to passages that could ease my pain?

I replied:

I think that mourning is the process of letting go of our attachment and loneliness and being left with the love and feeling of being alive again. Everyone has to move through this when they suffer a great loss, but you can help this process along and even get something valuable out of it.

Almost any teaching would help as it will give you a bigger perspective and so diminish the pain. Sometimes when I am in pain I just pick up any of Geshe Kelsang’s books to a random page and see what happens, and the medicine always seems to help.

However, the Lojong or mind-training teachings are often the most helpful of all in combating severe pain because that is what they are designed for, to enable us to transform any adverse conditions, however desperate – Eight Steps to Happiness and Universal Compassion. Suffering doesn’t have to end up being bad. Understanding that in itself can lead to a certain mental freedom. My favorite Geshe-la quote for dealing with suffering is in Universal Compassion:

Moreover, suffering has many good qualities.
Through experiencing it, we can dispel pride,
Develop compassion for those trapped in samsara,
Abandon non-virtue, and delight in virtue.

Tara prayerDon’t underestimate the power of prayer, “wish paths”. Through prayer you’ll get blessings and your mind will be lifted. There are many stories documenting how radical blessings can be in helping us. As you know, a Buddha is someone who has overcome all distorted perceptions (mistaken appearances) permanently and has the power to help each and every living being find mental peace every day by blessing their minds.

Please ask the holy beings for help, they want to help you, they are waiting to. Tara for example. From the depths of your heart ask Tara to help you by taking refuge and reciting her mantra OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA. When we are feeling sad and vulnerable, we understand our existential situation and can go for deeper refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and our spiritual friends; and as a result we experience more blessings than usual.

Personally as well I like to do the equanimity meditation (eg, taught in Joyful Path of Good Fortune and The New Meditation Handbook) when I find myself finally parted from someone I love. I find it broadens my mind and scope of interest so that, in the words of that song, “if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one(s) you’re with.” Everyone is a suitable object of our love and you have been as close to everyone as you are to M. You can use your great love for him as an example to help you increase your love for others, and that love then becomes truly transformative. Imagine if you loved and wanted to protect everyone as much as you love and want to protect M. You have a lot of love in you already.

Over to you. I have been really appreciating your comments, stories, and other feedback on previous suicide articles, so please feel invited to contribute anything that might be helpful to yourself or other readers. Thank you.

Further reading

A Buddhist perspective on suicide

Reaching out

A first-hand experience of transference of consciousness

What is a Pure Land? 

A brother’s suicide

This too shall pass

 

 

 

What do we do 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

buddhaFight 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.peace-quote-2

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.patience-quote-3

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.

Allove-quotel 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 car-hornBuddha 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.

Be kind!

Wisdom

emptiness-quote

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.remain-natural-quote

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

Pray.

Call a representative. And pray.

prayerI 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.

Tantra

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. peace-quoteCompassionate 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 patience-quotein 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.

 

 

“Welcome, Adversity”

Mimi young.jpg I recently said good bye to Mimi Waring. On this occasion she was lying half in and half out of her bed, after a brush with extreme nausea lovingly cleared up by her husband Richard, and she was out of it. But I knew she could hear me ok, so I held her hand and brushed her cheek and said, “Bye bye Mimi. I know we’ll see each other again, one way or another. Send us blessings from the other side.” To which she half-opened her eyes, smiled, and nodded her head. And I added, “You know what to do.” To which she responded by nodding her head even harder.

I had spent longer with her a few days ago. I visited her at her house for, in a stroke of good timing, I happened to be in Seattle. She had saved her energy up for this visit, not seeing anyone all week, heroically making it out of the bed she had been bound in for days and, leaning on her special rolling chair, walking out to the deck where we had lunch in the sunshine. Delicious lunch, actually, vegetarian BLT sandwiches made by the aforementioned Richard. Did I mention too that that man is a saint? (He even made me more BLT sandwiches today for my flight because he knew I loved them, as if he had nothing better to do while his wife is dying.)

mimi-and-richardWe three had a very meaningful conversation, I thought; this was not a dead flowers’ visit as Sue Hulley would have said. I asked Mimi where she thought she was going, where she wanted to go; and, in response to some of her concerns, suggested that she spend these next few weeks or so not feeling the need to say goodbye to everyone, for she has done that already and everyone knows she is off, but instead getting ready for her trip. Mimi is a very faithful disciple of Geshe Kelsang and has deep refuge in her Sangha and Dharma too. She has also been very generous to her Kadampa Meditation Center in Seattle, and helped them buy their beautiful buildings. So, she has already started packing well for this next trip, where a new assignment awaits her.

Time for your next adventure

I think of Mimi’s departure as a bit like when Geshe Kelsang calls one of his disciples and asks them to go teach or administrate in some far-flung part of the world where they have never been before and where they don’t even speak the language. “Oh, and can you go next week?!”

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All leaves must leave.

If you get that phone call, you don’t spend the whole last week saying goodbye to everyone. Pretty immediately you start trying to figure out what you are going to need, you start to get ready and pack, you start to imagine where you will be and what you will be doing and who you will be relying upon. I think death is a bit like that. And if you are a Dharma practitioner, as Mimi said herself, you want to end up in a place where you can meet the same Spiritual Guide and the same teachings and help lots of people; that is what she wants most. It’s a good thing there are so many of her fellow Sangha building centers and temples all over this world — we are ready for her. Watch out for a baby coming somewhere soon in the Kadampa mandala, a baby with a glint in her eyes.

We’ve done death countless times before, of course. Amazing, as Richard said to me today as I was leaving, how we forget that, how it is so normal and yet still so challenging. As I shuffle through the Fall leaves, I am reminded that none of us stays in one place for long — wherever we are and whoever is next to us, it is only a matter of months or days before we are blown by the winds of karma to somewhere completely different.

Before I left our lunch date, Mimi wanted to show me the sign that is prominent on the shrine in her room, currently next to the commode: “Welcome, adversity!” Adversity, she told me, has been invaluable to her.

It’s the heart that counts
mimi-goodbye-picture
Some of Mimi’s friends at Manjushri KMC in early August.

I wrote the above in late August. Today it is October 31, and Mimi passed away this morning at 3am. I heard last night that she was dying, so she has been in my thoughts and prayers constantly ~ and I feel good about where she is now, that her Spiritual Guide really does have her safe. Tributes and prayers are flowing in.

Mimi had brain cancer and, despite her formidable intelligence, was not always able to use her gross mind very well toward the end, as might be expected — though she did incredibly well with that.

And someone asked me the other day about what happens when we lose our ability to “think,” is that disastrous for a mindful death? A lot of people ask this question, is it possible to die peacefully if you have “lost your mind”, as it were? So I thought I might address that question here, Mimi won’t mind. In fact, Mimi asked me umpteen curious questions 😍  — it was one of the things I loved about her. Feel free too, please, to jump in the comments if you have any input on this.

mimis-seattle
Sunset Hill, Seattle

The point is, I think, that you haven’t really lost your mind, just some conceptual thoughts. The mind which counts is the mind at our heart. One case in point is an elderly Buddhist monk called Trinlay who died a few years ago in Southampton. Trinlay lost his memory and was bedbound with lots of physical complications. But in the last year of his life, even when he had pus oozing from his painful legs, he managed to stay positive. He would say, “I get happier and happier every day. I am a monk living in a Buddhist Center.” He also would say “I am a millionaire; I have said millions of mantras.” The day before he died, he removed the mask over his mouth in response to the question “How are you feeling” and smiled, “I am tired but inspired.” He was a love bomb, complimenting anyone who came near him, even if he didn’t remember who they were, making everyone around him feel happy. He died very peacefully.

So, is it possible to have a good death and lead-up to death if you have lost your brain functions? I think so, yes. If you are in your heart. If you have given up malice. If you have faith and/or love. If you have peace. All these things are in the heart, not the head. The important thing for all of us is to practice now, to learn how to enter the refuge zone. And Mimi, who died peacefully surrounded by her husband and close Sangha friends, is a beautiful demonstration of that.

Suffering has good qualitiesmimi

Mimi has been a force of nature these last 7 years, defying all doctors’ expectations, showing that suffering can indeed have good qualities, insisting on flying to festivals and celebrations and retreats even in the midst of treatments for brain cancer, never regretting any of her foolhardy but totally virtuous exertions. Always wanting to learn, and devoid of self-pity.

I will let her tell you about this journey herself, posthumously, in her wonderful blog This Mountain, That Mountain. If you want to know how to cope well with your own adversity, illness, and death, her blog will give you many inspiring ideas.

Please pray that Mimi comes back safely and soon to our world, in a brand new healthy comfortable human body, so that she can keep on inspiring us all with her faith, quirkiness, and sheer joyful (yep, bloody-minded) perseverance.

Comments are most welcome.

Ain’t no thing

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

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

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

The tale of a sore finger

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

finger
Yuk.

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

kitten
Jampa the Kitten

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

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

Lesson #1 ~ renunciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson # 2 ~ no self, no problem

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

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

Or, put this way:

No self, no problem.

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

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

Also, Geshe Kelsang says:

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

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

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

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

Lesson # 3 ~ compassion

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

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

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

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

Lesson # 4 ~ Tantra

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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