Lotus Blooms In the Blog

June 30, 2006

Why Worry – Watch your Waste….

Filed under: Shantideva — by palaniappan @ 5:13 am

Wheel of Life - Hub & Second CircleI am sure many of you are aware of his famous “Why worry if you can do something about it; and why worry if you cannot do anything about it” phrase. I use this phrase often in my management coaching or career planning sessions with senior executives. They are often quick to come to the conclusion that I am advocating a defeatist attitude – which is a no-no in the business world! The simplicity of master Shantideva’s phrase often escapes those looking for complicated solutions in our ever more confusing world. Winston Churchill was reputed to have said “From the most of complexities come the simplest of simplicities” or something to that effect. Now that is exactly what this phrase is – so simple yet so good and effective for the most complex things in life. What else can I say that will not complicate it further and make it lose its meaning?

My other all time favourite phrase of Master Shantideva’s (which I use sparingly and only with close friends, like all of you) is “Whatever shit (manure) is thrown on the ground, turns into food; Whatever food we consume, turns into shit (waste)”. Now that is really something to think about. Why? Often we take for granted what we have or get, and in the process of living our day out, we produce lots of shit or waste – biological, emotional, physical, mental – the human beings can claim the prize for creating waste of any and all kinds! The nature of samsara means that we work this way, and so there is nothing much we can do about the biological waste. But the rest – all the emotional waste such mental anguish, pain, hurt, verbal lashings etc caused onto others – can be managed much better. Watching our minds, leads to watching our words, leads to watching our actions, leads to watching our habits, leads to watching our character and so on. This watching is a lot more strenuous than watching other things, like the World Cup for instance.
So we don’t watch, so we waste, so we worry and so the great wheel of samsara turns perpetually…..


June 27, 2006

HHDL’s teachings at Dharamshala

Filed under: Shantideva — by Sugatagarbha @ 3:51 am

Teachings Webcast 

His Holiness is conducting a week long (24 – 30 June 2006) teaching on Shantideva’s Bodhisattva Way of Life. The web casts for the teachings are available here.

May all sentient beings benefit from these wonderful teachings.

PS: You will need the Real Player to watch these teachings. Download it here.

June 26, 2006

Your Feelings in My Mind

Filed under: Shantideva — by tenzinchodron @ 12:33 am

brain wavesAn article by Eliot Fintushel focusing on the fascinating world of Dr. Manfred Clynes, in the most recent issue of the Buddhist magazine, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review (Summer 2006), captivated and inspired me. “The Merry Greis” pieces together a profile of the life of the esteemed neuroscientist, who discovered a biological law that explains why we can’t distinguish the fading of an odor, invented the first brain wave measuring device (the Computer of Average Transients, or CAT-not to be confused with the current CAT Scan), studied music with Pablo Casals, performs piano recitals all over the world, coined the term “cyborg”, and is a published poet and author of five books-among other things.

One section particularly haunted me, because of its seeming scientific, objective support of Master Shantideva’s rationale challenging the subjectivity of “my” feelings and “my” body.

Mr. Fintushel writes:

“Dr. Clynes has also hewn away at a question that occupied much of my time as a graduate student in philosophy: the ‘problem of other minds,’ or as my philosophy professor used to put it, ‘How do you know that there’s a subjectivity like yours on the other side of the other guy’s eyes?’ Dr. Clynes discovered a deep symmetry in the neural processes that generate ‘sentic forms’-patterns of neural activity that correspond to our feelings-and those that interpret them. To discover such patterns within the flood of cerebral electricity was impossible project until 1960 when Dr. Clynes invented the Computer of Average Transients, or CAT, a statistically based brain probe that would become the workhorse of brain research lab worldwide for years to come. By averaging the intensity of recurring waveforms, the CAT improved the signal-to-noise ratio, like a winnow catching seed while letting the chaff fly. It was this tool that Dr. Clynes found that the wave made in us by another’s feelings is the same as the wave of our own. This deep symmetry accounts for the Aboriginals’ ready understanding of sound-shapes in the minds of white urbanite button-pushers in a distant laboratory.”

Amazing. Let me repeat the amazing part again: “the wave made in us by another’s feelings is the same as the wave of our own.”

Doesn’t it mean that this experiment proves Master Shantideva’s claim:

“Mine and other’s pain-how are they different?
Simply, then, since pain is pain, I will dispel it.
What grounds have you for all your strong distinctions?”

(Verse 102, Chapter 8 – Meditation, from The Way of the Bodhisattva, (c)1997 by the Padmakara Translation Group, Shambala Dragon Editions – Shambala Publication Publications.)

Does it mean that we can say-with scientific assurance-that Master Shantideva was right when he said:

“Since I and other beings both,
In wanting happiness, are equal and alike,
What difference is there to distinguish us,
That I should save myself and not the other?”

(Verse 95)

I think so.

June 25, 2006

A Proud Day to Be Canadian

Filed under: General — by Warren Moriarity @ 6:04 pm

On Friday, June 23, 2006, David Sweet, the Member of Parliament for Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, (the town where I grew up) introduced a motion to declare His Holiness the Dalai Lama an Honorary Citizen of Canada. The motion was passed unanimously by the House of Commons. Only two other people have been honoured in this way, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews in the Second World War and Nelson Mandela who led the struggle against the racist apartheid system of South Africa.

June 21, 2006

Thoughts on Thinking

Filed under: Mind — by myronhartley @ 9:26 pm

When I think that I’m doing right
I’m really doing wrong
Because the Lama teaches there is no “I”
And no right or wrong.

Sky ThinkerWhen I get a strong idea about my opinion on something, particularly when someone or many some ones have an equally strong opinion that conflicts with mine, it’s good to remember the teachings and remember that “Thinking is self-liberated” – and allow that thought to undo itself, to liberate itself.

Let Go and Relax /or/

Relax and Let Go.

The Lama teaches that if you look directly at the thought, at what ever thought vividly appears in your mind, you won’t see anything at all. Strong thoughts, small thoughts, good thoughts, bad thoughts, not at the content of the though or the justification or rational of the thought but directly at the thought itself—if you look directly at a thought, its not there.

Thoughts dissolve the very instant that they arise—there is not time in between. It is like writing on water, nobody has to come along and erase it and nobody can make it last.

Like waves in the Ocean dissolve in their own place; Like waves in the Ocean dissolve in their own place.

The only reason why we think thoughts last is because we keep regenerating a new thought to copy the old thought that has already disappeared. Why don’t we want to let go of our suffering?

Where did it come from? Where does it go?

Sure we think that it came because of something “out there” or something we thought “in here” but that prior thought already dissolved, disappeared, self-liberated immediately upon its arising and was completely gone before the next thought arose.

Each and every thought in this vivid stream of consciousness is an individual thought that is self-arisen and self-liberated in every moment. When we stop and look for that moment we can’t find that either.

We think and act like it is really there but when we look for it, with the eye of highest wisdom, or even with our mind’s eye, its not there.
[We have two eyes that look out, and a third eye that looks in, that is the eye that is looking for the thought]

The only reason why we think that the thought is there is because we never stop to look and check it out for sure.

When we stop and look that is meditation, when we don’t see it—and we relax and let go, that is meditation.

What we take for our mind are thoughts we can’t really find, which we can’t find where they come from or where they go, that are self-arisen and self-liberated in each and every moment, which, when we look for, we also can’t find even one moment of time and all these unfindable thoughts in unfindable moments are strung together into a stream that we can’t find either. We know what we are thinking but we can’t find any thinker. This not finding, this not seeing is the “highest seeing”, meditation is getting used to that.

Honestly, I was going to write about something completely different but then I remembered Thinking is self-liberated.

I was going to write that the Buddha taught that there was no “I”; and if there was no “I” then we couldn’t label all this stuff as “mine”. Why is this important? Cutting through this is important because the idea of “I” and “mine” is the basis of all our suffering and conflicts.

If someone we don’t know gets ill, dies, suffers a loss, we probably won’t care as much compared to someone we know, or someone we call “friend” or someone we hold very close, very dear. If a watch falls down and breaks we may not care as much compared to if our watch or my watch falls down and breaks.

When we cut through the idea of “I”, “me” and “mine”, we cut free of our suffering. Cutting through these ideas is not an easy job. Cutting through these thoughts of “I” and “mine” may take many years but then I remember Thinking is self-liberated.

I was also going to write about that good and bad depend upon you point of view. If I win and you loose, I think that is good and you think that is bad. If you win and I loose, you think that is good and I think that is bad. Furthermore, any idea or definition of what is good depends upon what is bad, what is bad depends upon what is good, so they are merely dependently arisen mere concepts. Relative to good there is a bad and relative to bad there is a good but these very useful thoughts are relatively true, dualistic concepts. You can’t find any independent self-existing good that is not dependent upon an idea of bad or less good or an independent self-existing bad that is not dependent upon an idea of good. All these thoughts that drive us moment to moment, all these powerful thoughts, I remember…Thinking is self-liberated.

If my winning were Ultimately Good, it would be good for everyone all the time; but it is not. Some may think that my winning may be good for me but bad for them.
Winning might appear relatively good for me at first but later this same winning may turn out very bad. Some people win a lot of money in a Lottery but later after loosing friends and then all that money, it turns out very bad. They may be actually worse off from winning a lot of free money.

So there is not I and there is no right or wrong, good or bad.

When I think that I’m doing right
I’m really doing wrong
Because the Lama teaches there is no “I”
And no right or wrong.

[The first two lines are relative and the last two lines are ultimate.]

For More Information Please Read the Heart Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom

8 day lam-rim retreat

Filed under: Practices — by Sugatagarbha @ 4:55 am

Statue and Pagoda Some great posts here by everybody so far, and this one may not match up to them. But this is some news from Bangalore. Here the local dharma group had a 8 day Lam-rim retreat that ended on Saka Dawa. And as though it was an effect of the ripening of the karma, Kent was kind enough to start this blog for all of us the day the retreat ended.

The retreat was led by Geshe Ngawang Jangchup with the support of the Swiss monk Tenzin Michael and members of our local dharma group. Since most of the members of the dharma group have day time jobs to attend to, Geshe la was kind enough to structure the retreat so that it was possible for us to attend to some of our daily chores in between and get back to the retreat.

The day started around 6 am with the six preliminary practices, followed by refuge meditation. Then there were afternoon sessions on bodhichitta, and prostrations to the 35 Buddhas. The day ended with a dedication based on Shantideva’s chapter 10 from the Bodhisattva way of life. The meditations were interspersed with teaching from ‘Liberation in the palm of my hands’, ‘Words of my perfect teacher’, ‘Bodhisattva way of life’ and many more Tibetan texts that geshe la was kind enough to translate for us. On the first day and the last day (Saka Dawa) we took Mahayana vows as well.

This was the first such retreat attended by me, and really an experience I would cherish for a long time to come. Hopefull there will be more to come…

June 17, 2006

What is the Best Way to Die?

Filed under: Impermanence — by myronhartley @ 7:39 am


What a topic, truly a very modern concern that dates back to ancient times!

Each religion has its message on death and dying as does the atheists and scientists.

Generally, the realists and atheists including the scientists believe in only this life, in only one lifetime after which it just simply “lights out”, nothing or nothingness. They attribute the commonly reported in after-death or near-death experience, the white light at the end of the tunnel, to the brain dying or shutting down, a mere by product of the nerves dying.

They base their ideas on the belief that the brain/body gives rise to the mind/experience. The idea that inorganic matter can give rise to consciousness, intelligence and wisdom is almost like believing in story of Pinocchio, that a piece of inanimate wood, dead wood could miraculously come to life.

Life is a miracle. But like fire life begets life, consciousness begets consciousness. The miracle of our body is that it is able to take external matter, food, air and water and even energy and life energy and transform it, rearrange it into our body.

When you think about it the brain couldn’t give rise to mind, intelligence or wisdom because in the very beginning of an embryos development there is no brain. How would the brain know how to develop if there wasn’t some basic wisdom already present in the being? We call this wisdom, this intelligence, this awareness “mind”. Some may call it “spirit” or “soul”.

Certainly the brain is related to the mind. If you poke, prod or electrically stimulate the brain, you will provoke mental experiences. So too if you poke, prod or electrically stimulate the hand or foot, anywhere on the body, you will also provoke mental experiences. Is the body in the mind or the mind in the body? Different schools of Buddhism may answer this question differently, some may even pick neither stating that there is no truly existent body nor any truly existent mind; it is just like a dream body and a dream mind, appearing but not truly existent.

Buddhism believes that it takes more than just the father and mother’s contributions to beget life, that the mind of the child must enter into the new body as the mother’s and father’s contributions join together.

However, most religions believe in some kind of “after-life”, some kind of experience after this life. Would being reborn in Heaven, going through the Pearly Gates, also be considered a rebirth in Christianity? Or being reborn in the hot fiery hells, would that be considered a rebirth in Christianity? It would in Buddhism. Buddhism enumerates a variety of different places where one can take rebirth. Buddhism teaches of 3 realms, the Desire Realm, the Form Realm and the Formless Realm. Within the Desire Realm Buddhism teaches of 6 levels of cyclic existence, Hell beings, craving or hungry ghosts, animals, Humans, jealous demi-gods, and/or samsaric gods. Each rebirth is temporary and replete with various unique and terrible sufferings dependent upon our karma and mental habits, mental traces and patterns of perception, attitudes and emotions.

Perhaps death is one of the most terrifying experiences. If you believe in many lives, reincarnation, rebirth, then we all have died perhaps an infinite number of times. But we still haven’t gotten it right yet, have we? If we really got it right perhaps we might not be here unless we were one of those “Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas” that chooses to be reborn again and again into this “trip”. Who would choose to be reborn into this Samsara, this burning heap of fire, this swamp like cesspool of filth, this pit of snakes, this cycling realm of confusion, unless they were a Bodhisattva Mahasattva taking birth to help benefit beings by leading them to the end of suffering, to Nirvana.

Buddha taught the Four Nobel Truths, that there was Suffering and that there were Causes of this Suffering; and that there is Freedom or End of Suffering, and that there are Causes for this Freedom or End of Suffering. The cyclical repetitive sufferings is called Samsara; and the freedom from this the end of suffering is called Nirvana.

But one of the simple advantages of the Human existence is that through the Buddhist practices, we have the opportunity to experience death and rebirth differently.

Lotus flower budWe might actually even attain enlightenment during the death process or in the Bardo after-death interval.

Christianity also believes that we can influence or take control of our future rebirth in Heaven, Hell, or Limbo or perhaps become chosen for the “great rapture”by our good and bad, by our spiritual or worldly, selfless or self-centered actions; “we reap what we sow”. As in Christianity, Buddhism also teaches that what we do during this life affects our death experience and our future (rebirth) experience and also our future experiences in this lifetime.

Buddha and Buddhist Masters teach and describe in detail the death experiences and after-death Bardo experiences.

Buddhism teaches that our current attitudes and actions are causes for our future resultant experiences. It is often said, “If you want to know about your past life, look at your current situation. If you want to know about your future life, look at your current attitudes, actions and deeds.”

Buddhism also recognizes that this current moment of mind resulted or came about based upon the immediately preceding moment of mind. Therefore, Buddhist also places a significant emphasis on the state of mind immediately preceding the death process. If one hold a virtuous or positive image and attitude in mind while one is dying it is taught that this will influence in a positive way the subsequent moments of mind during the death and dying process. Our meditation practices will affect and help us gain control of our mind not just in this life but also in the Bardo after-death experiences.

Buddhism has many contemplations and meditations concerning the inevitability of death and dying, so that one will make better use of the precious time that we have left in this very life. It is very common that after one has a near death experience or goes through a tragic illness or accident, or if a close friend or loved one dies, that one develops more meaning in life, holds life more dear and engages in more spiritual practices. Often this wears off, so Buddhists often look at the inevitability of death regularly so as to make this life more meaningful.

Buddhism also has many teachings and descriptions of the death and dying process and many contemplative and meditation practices to assist one in having the best of experiences and outcomes from death, during dying and in the Bardo after-life. Since this experience certainly will eventually come to each and every one of us, wouldn’t it be good to prepare?

The death experience is often described to be similar to falling asleep. Many realists and many religions also describe death as being similar to falling asleep. They just don’t believe that there is any waking up from this sleep.

I jokingly have commented that “Dying isn’t so bad, its all the stuff you have to go through to get there, which is really terrible.” We are not talking about all these various pre-death illness or accidents but the dying processes itself and what follows.

The body certainly dies, in fact the body is constantly dying, millions of our body cells die ever second and new ones are reborn or recreated to take their place. But during this ongoing dying and rebirth does the mind ever die during this life? If you believe that the mind is based upon the brain then if the brain dies then surely the mind also must die if its support is gone. But logically the Mind precedes the development of the Brain. Or how would the brain know how to develop if there wasn’t any wisdom or intelligence there to direct it. The Mind isn’t made up of matter, of atoms, it has no shape or color, no location, it isn’t born and doesn’t die.

A Swami once pointed out that that we have it all backwards…when babies are born we are happy and the baby is crying; and, when people die we are all crying and the dying person enters a very peaceful state. The Swami attributed this to the baby leaving the presence of God and the dying person returning back to the presence of God. What a nice explanation.

There are many different meditations and practices to prepare various people for the death and dying process. There are many different prayers and practices that can be done by the family and friends depending upon person’s inclinations, attitudes and capacities.

There are many different books, teachings, teachers and workshops available. The Buddhist presentation of Death and Dying has captured the attention and intrigued many different people. It is almost as if people seem to believe that these Buddhist Teachings are based upon actual experience, as if some of these Teachers have actually come back or come through the Death process and experience to teach us in detail all about it.

Thrangu Rinpoche gave extensive teachings the process of dying and on the after death Bardo experiences at Crestone Colorado in July 2004 that is available on video DVD from http://www.vajraechoes.com/ve_teacher_ktr.htm During these Teachings, Thrangu Rinpoche not only describes the various phases of the death and dying experience but also shares some meditation techniques and practices that can be done during the various stages and experiences of the death and Bardo after-death process.

May we all have a successful death and be reborn in the Pure Land of Great Bliss. After we are born there may we attain the enlightened state, sending out countless emanations for the benefit of all sentient beings, for our mothers and fathers, for our friends and families and most importantly, for our enemies; for all sentient beings. [Sounds like something an Angle would do, yea?]

June 15, 2006

The Dharma of World Cup Football

Filed under: Shantideva — by palaniappan @ 3:15 pm

If you read this long enough, Master Shantideva and the Bodhisattva Way of Life will appear……..

I am now sitting around after reading the emails from the blog and contemplating the significance of the World Cup. It has been stated in a number of articles that civil wars and battle squirmishes around the world are reduced during the World Cup period – almost a self declared peace by the combatants. I have wondered why that happens. Why is that no amount peace efforts could reduce the fallout of the conflicts, no amount cajoling, threats or incentives to the combatants can bring that about? But 22 men running for a ball for 90 minutes for about a month every 4 years, can bring just about the whole world (except the USA, of course) that has access to the TV to an almost perfect standstill.

It is not only a standstill at the war zones in various parts of the world. In Germany, or wherever the World Cup has been held, total strangers party with other total strangers. Party revelers booze and dance non-stop before the game, and one half (and sometimes the other half too!) continues after the game has been won. It is not a common sight for thousands to be in one place at the same and enjoy the triumphant moments, and despair the downswings of a team that almost all of them have never personally touched or talked to before. The emotional ups and downs these supporters go through whenever their favourite team does well or misses a goal scoring opportunity or loses, is REAL – real pain or jubilant celebration!

When I watch this I remember Master Shantideva. What has the WOB has to do with the World Cup? Verse 113, Chapter 8 Dhyana Paramita (Meditation) (from Shantideva Bodhicharyaavatara by Paramanda Sharma, edition 2001) states:-

“Just as hands etc, are cherished as being limbs of the same body, why are not then all beings regarded as limbs of the same world?”

By our ignorance and past practice we have come to assume that this collection of limbs etc is “me”, and that other people’s limbs are not theirs. When we were in our class in school and it was participating in a game, we supported our class against others who were from the same school, but different classes. Then when our school competed with another school, we supported the school, even if the players came from the classes that we were not supporting earlier. When our state played against another, we supported our state. When our country played against another, we supported our country despite our political, religious, social differences. When your country is not in the World Cup, you support your continent

Noticing this we can see that our idea of “me” grew from the small class team to the school team to the state team to the national team to the whole continent. The “us” grew from a class of 30 or so to a country of millions, to a continent of hundreds of millions or even billions like Asia! Just like that! Why? Like Master Shantideva said, because we chose to do it that way.

So at the World Cup almost all Brazilians support Brazil, Germans, Germany; Italians, Italy; Americans, America, Koreans, South Korea. And we know for sure that all these country have deep national divisions for a number of reasons. But for 90 minutes, all are put aside. It is brotherhood, sisterhood, nationhood – no differences, no divisions, no acrimony. Seeing this I wish there was an Inter-galactic Cup, then all beings on earth will be on one, and the same, side and support each other.

I am sure Master Shantideva was not thinking about the World Cup when he composed the verse (or maybe he did!), but I am just amazed at how apt it was to describe what goes on for a month. So when I watch the games, while I definitely do enjoy a good game of football, I am contemplating the tremendous opportunity for dharma that is just there.

I think the supporters get worked up enough to support their chosen team because they identify with them, even if they don’t know them personally! But why are they willing to do this for total strangers playing in the field? We do not do this even with those we live with for with such intensity for any long periods of time. Is it because it is only for 90 minutes? I doubt so, as it is not cheap to come all the way across the world just to support them for 90 minutes. This must be something deeper and far more meaningful. (Did you hear about those who commit suicide or die of heart attacks when their team loses!) My conclusion is that because this association brings them happiness. If their team wins, they are happy and vice versa. So they go to the ends of the world in support of their team. If only we spent that kind of time and effort with those close to us, and getting acquainted with this and move onto to include others in our care, the world would be a better place. One long eternal World Cup fever – full of happiness!

I am still going to watch the games (another 3 weeks of it). I am still going to rejoice at how people can be happy with perfect strangers. I am still going to wonder how all this will disappear when their team loses. I am still going to see how the world returns to its abnormal and warring state after July 10 (when the World Cup ends). I am still going to watch the next World Cup in South Africa in 2010. I am still going to wish there was an Inter-galactic Cup that can make people all over the world friends. I am still going to hope that some day, some time in the near future some people will realize that it is all in their hands. Till then and beyond, I think that the 22 men who play are Buddhas in jerseys sweating it for us to realize how close we really are to one another, and that Master Shantideva was the perfect football coach! (maybe this justifies the time I spend watching the games!)

Podcasting and Nirvana

Filed under: Practices — by Kent Sandvik @ 5:31 am

Dhara_in_itunesLet’s do a gedanken experiment of transporting a Western Buddhist practitioner from twenty years ago to our time, and see what he or she thinks about the current situation. What would be new and strange? What about ordering any possible Buddhist book from Amazon that arrives in any address within days, and many classical texts are now translated to English? Or the possibility to download hundreds of hours of Buddhist teachings to an iPod and always have it available. Many Buddhist traditions have teachers and organizations available close-by. You could do google searches and find all kind of commentaries, translated texts, online dictionaries, mailing lists, and much more. If nothing else, flight tickets to India are cheap.

So it would seem that Buddhism has indeed taking a firm root here in the West. And as a trained engineer I’m always amazed by the possibilities, and have the inclinations to want to push the boundaries even further — let’s see what we could do with unlimited internet video streaming and automated translation tools…

In this wild excitement of all the possibilities, options, varieties and choices, it is very easy to forget the basics.

To reflect that, I really like the life story of Ngawang Lekpa, a very import Sakya lineage teacher who lived between 1864 and 1941. His life story is beautifully described in the biography of Dezhung Rinpoche, A Saint In Seattle, by David Jackson.

To keep this short, Ngawang Lekpa was born into a poor family, and spent a lot of his early days in retreat, and received the important Lam Dre instructions when he was 19. He even had a hard time attending teachings by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, was even thrown out from the room. He usually stayed far back in the audience, and he finally received instructions and empowerments from Khyentse himself.

After this he went into a 15-year long retreat, and even if he knew that his practice was Avalokiteshvara, he took upon himself to master Lam Dre as he felt there were few in Tibet at that time who mastered this important lineage, and there were many who had mastered Avalokiteshvara.

To get a good start on his retreat, he initially practiced 4.1 million verses of praise to Sakya Pandita combined with the same number of prostrations. After that he did 2.4 million refuge recitations, 1.8 million Vajrasattva recitations, one million mandala offerings. He spent a whole year contemplating on impermanence alone.

During the fifteen years he offered 700 thousand water offerings, and 1.5 million offerings of butter lamps.

On top of this he mastered all the parts of Lam Dre during the fifteen years, and attained the realizations. He emerged out from his retreat at the age of 50 and started a very fruitful teaching career, and was quickly acknowledged as one of the most important Lam Dre lineage holders of recent generations.

We need knowledge to a certain point, but after a personal threshold it is practice that is more important, especially a very strong personal practice using the tools that were taught to us. When the realizations are in place, then what is left is to teach the knowledge to future practitioners.

June 14, 2006

Whose Life Is This Anyway?

Filed under: Impermanence — by tenzinchodron @ 12:11 pm

hospital_bed.jpgThis won’t come as a surprise to anyone who regularly watches medical shows on TV, but it was a satori moment for me when I heard these words while watching Trauma: Life in the ER:

“I’ll call it now–what time is it? Anyone have a problem with that? Anyone?”

An ER physician looked around the table at residents, nurses, and technicians trying to save a patient brought in by ambulance, after suffering a massive head injury in an auto accident. No one said a word. The physician went to talk to the family. Death.

It’s not that I hadn’t heard this before: on TV dramas, in fiction, and movies. I heard a bookend comment on another medical show about babies being delivered. A baby was born in the midst of a mini emergency and a lot of delivery room commotion, and it took a good three to five minutes before someone looked at the clock and “called it.” Life.

My father quietly slipped into a coma on March 2. My brothers, sister-in-law, and I “called it” via phone discussions. My father died on March 6, 2006. He was 87. My father had a directive that indicated this was his wish. It didn’t feel wrong. It didn’t feel right. It just felt like one of us should have been God, or at least some enlightened being, to be making this decision.

The day my father died, a friend–I’ll call Mary–was also in a coma. I sat with her life partner the evening of March 6, then came home to a phone call from my brother, saying my father was gone. Mary spent 12 hours in surgery on March 1, where the doctors were trying to save her from aggressive pancreatic cancer. After the surgery, Mary’s body was ravaged. She died on April 5, 2006. Better minds than my brothers and mine (a physician expert on end-of-life issues, specialists, and a priest) helped Mary’s partner and family “call it”–but, again, a very human choice was made and Mary was gone. And I imagine they felt that one of them should be God, too.

Despite what you think after reading these first words, this is not going to be a blog–like a million others since the Terry Schiavo media publicity–boring you or inciting you with my opinion about health proxies, advanced directives, and when the moment of death occurs. I don’t know enough about those things to offer an opinion. Yet there are people forced by their professions to have educated opinions about those things and make “the calls.”

So what am I writing about and why did that ER physician provide a personal moment of awakening for me? In the one second it took for the physician to say “I’ll call it” I stared into the face of my own illusionary sense of control. Why, of course, I have a problem with that!

I’m pretty sure that guy had no plans to die that day, when he poured his second cup of coffee before going to work. I’m sure his family had other ideas about how they would say goodbye to their husband, father, son, and brother–if they had thought about it all.

We live our lives thinking we’re in control of these things. Or at least assuming that we’re not that close to losing total control. I suppose that’s a good thing. I imagine nothing much would get done at jobs, in schools, and households if every morning we thought that someone might “call it” later in the day and that would be that: death.

One of the first meditations we learn as Dharma practitioners is to think about our own death, to think about the impermanence of life, every day. Part of that same meditation is to think about how we can never know when death might come. It sort of reinforces a sense of having no control over the process of death, of life.

Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, we go through our days with either a sense of control or a frustration over not having control. And it’s that sense of control I’m about to identify as the prime suspect preventing us from reaching our spiritual goals. And it’s not only about the big life and death issues, either. We think we’re in control of just about everything in our lives–or, at least we pretend we are, even if somewhere in the back of our mind we know it’s not true.

We schedule, arrange, plan, and order all our external circumstances: our physical comfort and our activities. And anything that happens outside of these plans–that arises in the present moment–has the potential to create a wave of fear, anxiousness, anger, and sometimes delight. And even when we are delighted by the most perfect weather–or a wonderful, unexpected visit or phone call from a dear friend–we think, “why didn’t this happen on the weekend instead of today when I have to _______ (fill in the blank)?!” As if we will somehow crumble if things don’t go the way we plan.

Ven. Robina Courtin says it’s a symptom of the most extreme lack of self esteem to insist that things go our way, to insist that we always be comfortable.

There is a part of us that knows things can’t always go the way we plan. It won’t always be sunny, we will get sick sometimes, one of our possessions will break, and we will die. We know that, but we arrange our lives as if to prevent these things we know are inevitable. We know, but we purposely act like we don’t know.

Shantideva wrote in The Way of the Bodhisattva, or Bodhicharyavatara, that if there is something you can do something about, you shouldn’t get upset, you should just do it. And if there is nothing you can do about it, then you shouldn’t get upset.

Using this a guide to the way we live our lives, then there is absolutely NO situation that should make us upset. And there’s the rub. That’s the mirage of feeling like we’re in control. It looks like control (sometimes); it feels like control; but it isn’t control. What we think we can control, we can’t. And what we think we can’t control, we can.

All of this seems incredibly cliche to you now, I’m sure. You’ve heard it a million times: “if you can’t do anything about it, why worry?” And this, too: “There is only one thing you can control in life and that’s the way you react to your life.” That’s one of the golden nuggets of the Dharma–and if you actually tested it, practiced it, you would have unshakable confidence in the Dharma as truth. There IS only one thing you can control in life: your own mind. And it is the one thing we think we can’t control–and it is the absolute last thing we try to control when a challenging situation arises.

We have tricked ourselves into believing in the mirage. Some of us trick ourselves through perfectionism and a life within the boundaries of our perfectly ordered environment; some through a zealous belief in science and the confidence that it will provide all the answers to our human condition of dissatisfaction–if not now, then eventually; some through a faith in an “other” power, like God or supreme guiding beings. Yet by creating the causes to continue to believe in the mirage, we can never escape the dissatisfactoriness of the human condition.

You don’t have to give up perfectionism, a belief in the supreme authority of science, or faith in God to work with the nugget that provides experiential success. They are not mutually exclusive, yet most of us have brainwashed ourselves into thinking that dependence upon the “other” is the ONLY way, because like Ven. Courtin says, we absolutely could not be capable of dealing with things as they are. How could we? We’re such miserable, inept creatures. What a strange conundrum this is. We feel in charge, in control, yet at the same time feel totally incapable of handling what comes our way.

Like being shaken awake by the ER physician on TV, it was a reminder to, again, try to grab control of the one thing I could control. My father was bi-polar, a manic-depressive. He frequently delighted or despaired over realities only he could see. And I heard someone share a story about my friend, Mary, after her death. I guess she used to say on bad days, “some days are like rocks and some are like gems.”

That’s exactly it. We can’t control whether we have rock or gem days–we can’t change the fact that we’re going to die–or that we’re living–but we can begin to train the mind. That’s where we’ll find control. That’s where we’ll find life.

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