Just a quick note that we would be starting another lamrim retreat here in Bangalore today. This would be second after the first we had in June last year, and the text we would be following for this is the Lamrim De Lam (Easy path or Path of Bliss) by Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen. I’ll be posting more on this in the coming weeks…
March 22, 2007
October 18, 2006
I just came across a nice site on the Seven Points of Mind Training. It’s at:
The page displays each line of the root text and each line has a link to a commentary on that line by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Thrangu Rinpoche not only holds a Kagyu Khenchen degree but also the highest Gelug degree of Geshe Lharampa. He is a humanitarian, a great scholar and a terrific teacher.
September 10, 2006
I took this picture this summer at the Land of Medicine Buddha festival in Soquel, where the big Medicine Buddha thanka is taken out and carried up to the Maitreya temple, and put outside.
Geshe Dakpa from Tse Chen Ling in San Francisco is here blessing the thanka, it’s just a small part of the very huge Medicina Buddha thanka.
Anyway, many might wonder why Tibetan lamas bless images, statues, thankas, and so on.
According to Buddhist teachings, enlightened beings have full control of their body and mind. In the Mahayana teachings, this goal has been reached with the main motivating force to benefit all sentient beings. Thanks to this focus the enlightened beings could take any form to benefit sentient beings. In other words, enlightened beings could emanate any form needed to help others with specific goals in mind.
One way to benefit beings is to take form of enlightened goals, such as curing all beings from suffering — Medicine Buddha. So it’s not a big leap of faith to be taken that one of the most beneficial things an enlightened being could do is to manifest in forms of statues, pictures, thankas, stupas, and so on, and this way inspire others to follow the same goals as the enlightened being long time ago aspired to do.
So for a lama to bless an image, it’s a way to have an intuition what’s really going on.
Anyway, it makes me think twice next time I see a Buddhist statue, image, or stupa…
August 19, 2006
The past few weeks have reminded us that the value of life is relative and depends on who sees it. 2 Israeli soldiers kidnapped = thousands of civilians dead and 1 million homeless. I am not supporting either side. I am looking at this and wondering how is it possible to start the incident off by kidnapping the soldiers, knowing full well the retaliation it is likely to bring. I am also wondering how so many dying can justify the fight for the release of the 2 soldiers.
Leaving the politics aside, I am looking at the role of the soldier. Coming from a country where we have to do national Service of 2.5 years in the armed forces, I know what it means to leave no soldier behind. So what is the Dharma role of a soldier in a war?
- Can he shoot to kill? Or holding a rifle would be meaningless.
- Worse, if he doesn’t then what happens to his citizens back home who are depending on him to defend them and their homes?
- Can a soldier choose not to be a soldier in a country where it is compulsory to be one? Then how does he fulfill his social responsibilities to the society and nation that protected him when he was too young or defenceless to protect himself?
- Can Buddhists claim to follow the path of non-violence and not be soldiers?
- Is being a soldier not a Rightful Living? In today’s world, then who can have a Rightful Living if there was no soldier to defend them?
There are many more questions. But I stop here for your comments, before I soldier on 😉
August 6, 2006
“Suppose a man threw into the sea a yoke with one hole in it, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there were a blind turtle that came up once at the end of each century. What do you think, bhikkhus? Would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?
“He might, venerable sir, sometime or other at the end of a long period.
“Bhikkhus, the blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition, would take to regain the human state, I say. Why is that? Because there is no practising of the Dhamma there, no practising of what is righteous, no doing of what is wholesome, no performance of merit. There mutual devouring prevails, and the slaughter of the weak.”
Majjhima Nikaya 129.24 ( Balapandita Sutta)
This preciousness and difficulty in attaining a human rebirth that the Buddha talks about in this sutra is the second lamrim meditation. It reminds us that we should engage ourselves in meaningful dharma pursuits rather than waste this life chasing pointless worldly pleasures.
While we may have a attained a human rebirth many a times, attaining a precious human rebirth with all its freedoms and endowments is very rare, and this is what the Buddha stresses upon when using the metaphor of the blind turtle.
What does it mean to have all the freedoms and endowments of a precious human rebirth?
Lets begin with the freedoms. There are basically eight states that we are free of. These are mentioned in Nagarjuna’s letter to friend.
“Upholding wrong views, being an animal, Hungry ghost, or being born in hell, being without a Victor’s teachings, Being born in remote place, or as a barbarian, As an idiot or mute, as a long-lived god; Any of these rebirths in one of the eight faulty and unfavorable states. Because you have gained favorable state free of these, strive to prevent yourself from being born in these ever again.”
Apart from these eight freedoms mentioned in the letter, there are ten endowments. They are further classified into five personal endowments and five endowments in realation to others.
The five personal endowments are found in the Shravaka Levels, and are explained as:
Being a human being and born in a central land; Having all one’s organs; not being perverted by the heinous crimes; and having enduring faith.
The five endowments in relation to others are:
- A Buddha has come to this land
- The Buddha has taught the Dharma
- The teachings remain in this world
- The teachings are followed
- Other people generally have love in their hearts
If you meditate on all these eight freedoms and ten endowments and truly realize the preciousness and rarity of our existence, you will be driven to practice the Dharma.
July 27, 2006
Here’s a post I did in the jigtenmig blog about the Tibetan word lamrim — it explains the terms, how it is translated, the grammar behind it, and so on.Sometimes it is good to learn how various terms are translated — it’s a way to learn dharma by by terms and definitions.
The way the Tibetans translated complicated Sanskrit terms to their own language was a very brave attempt to explain very complex terms using a language that was basically used for herding yaks and talking to other people in the village. As such, their dharma terms in Tibetan are very much to the point, and have clean definitions.
July 21, 2006
One of my favourite example of impermanence — or that things change — is cars. You go to a car dealer, purchase a brand new, state of the art car, pay a lot of money, an drive off the lot.
Immediately when you take off, the value of the car has been deducted by a couple thousand dollars. When you get your first scratch, it drops more. Each time it’s a big surprise for you, this new car that you got, how could it ever change? It should be the exact same desire object as when you saw it the first time. After fifteen years, the best car ever made is consider to be a junk car.
Car dealers make money on the illusion of permanent objects.
July 8, 2006
In 1975, while trekking in Nepal, I struck up a friendship with a fellow traveller from California. When we got back to Kathmandu he told me that the main reason he had come to Nepal was to visit his sister who was about to become a Buddhist nun at Kopan Monastery. I agreed to visit Kopan with him. At that time I had very little interest in Buddhism and knew even less about it. When we got there, my friend decided to take the one month residential Lam Rim course/retreat offered at Kopan every year and, out of curiosity, I also attended. It was a life-changing experience. I am still thinking through the implications of what I learned then.
Early in the course Lama Zopa asked us to imagine that for one day we could have anything our heart desired. We could have all the food we liked best, the finest clothes we could imagine, the sweetest music. We could have any companions we wished. We could meet all the people we most admired. If we wanted to surround ourselves with the most attractive, friendly (and open-minded) companions of the opposite sex we were free to do so. For that one day we could do and have whatever we wished. But at the end of the day we would most certainly be killed. We meditated on this for an hour.
After the hour Lama Zopa asked us how the meditation had gone. The consensus was that it would be impossible to relax and enjoy the pleasures of the day knowing we were about to die. We would be so terrified of dying we wouldn’t be able to think about anything else. Lama Zopa smiled and said we were right, but that the situation we all faced in our day to day lives was no different. We are all going to die. We may not die at the end of today, but then again, we may. Our deaths might be twenty years away, but we might die today, we might die an hour from now. So how is it possible to go about heedlessly, pursuing pleasure, with this death sentence hanging over our heads? What were we thinking?
Lama Zopa told us that death and impermanence teach us to focus on what is important in life. Then he taught us about karma. About how positive actions guaranteed positive results and negative actions guaranteed suffering. He told us that when our bodies die our minds continue, and beyond the death of our bodies we would certainly experience the results of all our good and bad thoughts, words and deeds.
At death we lose everything. We can expect no help from everything we have put our faith in – our loved ones, our wealth, our fame, our good reputations. At death our only friend will be the good we have done while alive.
He contended that the essential good action, the only action that has meaning in this transitory life is to love and serve others and the purpose of the Mahayana teachings is to provide us with the best and most effective methods to do this.
July 4, 2006
One of our fellow students in suggesting a discussion topic asked, “What’s the definition of impermanent? Is enlightenment a changing or non-changing thing?”
Buddhists have the goal of enlightenment; do other religions share this same goal?
Can non-Buddhists attain enlightenment?
And, if they can what do they call it and how do they describe this state or accomplishment?
Since all language is based upon words and the perceived meaning of these words—labels and objects it may be helpful to start with a working definitions of these terms. Various online resources have provided for English the following definitions. This may provide a good starting place for discussion and the use of languages. Clearly it is customary for various groups to sharpen the meaning of the terms and words based upon their philosophy. This may result in a more accurate understanding or in some cases may result in a redefinition of the word in a way that is completely different from its common usage and understanding.
Impermanent is defined as: Existing or enduring for a limited time only
Synonyms for impermanent include:
Permanent is defined as: Continuing or enduring without marked change in status, condition or place
Synonyms for permanent include:
Enlightenment is defined in the dictionary with both a religious or spiritual definition and with a lay philosophical definition or philosophical movement. Spiritually or religiously enlightenment is defined online as:
1. (Hinduism and Buddhism) the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation; characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering and individual consciousness
2. Buddhism: a final blessed state marked by the absence of desire or suffering
and as a lay philosophical movement as:
3. Education that results in understanding and the spread of knowledge
4. A movement in the 18th century that advocated the use of reason in the reappraisal of accepted ideas and social institutions
The 18th-century Enlightenment — What has come to be known as the Enlightenment is characterized by an optimistic faith in the ability of man to develop progressively by using reason. By coming to know both himself and the natural world better he is able to develop morally and materially, increasingly dominating both his own animal instincts and the natural world that forms his environment. [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-15061?query=enlightenment&ct=]
Buddhism is commonly divided into three categories of teachings or –yanas.
Although the terms impermanent and permanent are basically defined very similarly, the view of permanence and impermanent differs significantly in the Foundational Path of Individual Liberation, the Hinayana Path, and in the Path of the Perfection of Wisdom, the Mahayana and Vajrayana Path.
Enlightenment is the final goal of Buddhism or from a Buddhist perspective the final goal of all humanity and also the final goal of all sentient beings, living beings with mind. Once again, within the various Schools, Paths and Practices, within the various –yanas, the view of Enlightenment differs significantly in the Foundational Path of Individual Liberation, the Hinayana Path, and in the Path of the Perfection of Wisdom, the Mahayana and Vajrayana Path.
The discussion of these terms and topics would require an entire book or a series of volumes; as a minimum this topic could be a University graduate level doctorial thesis.
What are your ideas, comments or perspectives? Do you have any books to suggest or links to post?
July 1, 2006
When studying Shantideva’s amazing text called Bodhisattva Way of Life there are sections that deal with the conduct of someone aspiring to follow the bodhisattva path. Actually, there are explicit instructions how to behave when dealing with other people and the environment, one might say the etiquette of a bodhisattva. Here are some extracts from chapter five, based on the translation by Alex Berzin, available here.
Chapter 5: (91) Should I spit or toss away the stick for (cleaning) my teeth,
I shall cover it over (with earth).
Further, it’s despicable to urinate and so forth
Into water or on land that’s to be used.
(92) I shall not eat with stuffing my mouth,
With noise, or with my mouth wide open.
Nor shall I sit with my legs outstretched
Or with my arms simultaneously (crossed),
pressed (against my body).
(93) I shall not go in a vehicle, on a bed, (a seat),
Or in a room alone with someone else’s woman.
Having observed or inquired, I shall give up
All that would bring disrespect from the world.
(94) I shall never point with (my left hand or) one finger,
But respectfully with my right,
And with the entire hand;
I shall also indicate the path like that.
(95) I shall not wildly wave my arms,
Nor shout out loud, when it’s scarcely urgent,
But shall signal with a snap of the fingers and the like,
Otherwise, I’ll get out of control.
Now, to remember, one of the targeted audiences for this text was the monks at Nalanda monastery, so the advices has connotations related to Vinaya vows, especially the issue of being alone in the same location as a woman.
For me, having a system when dealing with others is a way to develop connections with everyone we meet. It is very tough to develop universal compassion to all sentient beings sitting on the cushion — it’s doable, but the scope is grand and very abstract in the beginning. While helping out with instructions at work, always opening doors for others, or deliberately place oneself last in the line is a very simple and creates positive potentials in the mind. As such, having advices about etiquette, and how to behave in various situations, is a daily practice of training the mind towards the goal of always being around others helping them.
If you want to read more about Buddhist etiquette, Jeff Watts has collected a god set of the most common traditions.