Lotus Blooms In the Blog

July 21, 2006

Rustic Cars

Filed under: Impermanence — by Kent Sandvik @ 8:34 pm

rustic_car.jpgOne 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

A Teaching from Lama Zopa

Filed under: Impermanence — by Warren Moriarity @ 7:22 pm

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

What does it mean to be “Enlightened”?

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

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?”

Sky Laughing Buddha

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.

left sky buddha right sky buddha

Impermanent is defined as: Existing or enduring for a limited time only

Synonyms for impermanent include:
Temporary
Transient
Stopgap

Permanent is defined as: Continuing or enduring without marked change in status, condition or place

Synonyms for permanent include:
Enduring
Lasting
Everlasting
Eternal
Stable
Undying
Stable
Undeviating
Unending

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?

June 17, 2006

What is the Best Way to Die?

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

reclining_buddha.jpg

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 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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