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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sun and Moon

This evening is a bit unusual; we are in the middle of an inocular eclipse, a rare type of eclipse. If we were in the optimal viewing place, which I understand is San Diego; we would be seeing a ring around the sun. The moon moves between the earth and the sun creating a ring around the sun.
Earlier today I went to the lumber store. There was an elderly gentleman and his wife there outside explaining about the inocular eclipse. He set up his telescope and turned it backwards to display the eclipse on a piece of paper. I stopped, looked at the paper on the sidewalk and at the eclipse in the sky. As I looked back at the paper, it felt like the image projected was not on paper but the original sun, moon event occurring very far away. My perception had bridged a gap between the appearance and the actual event that felt interesting.
The newspapers encouraged my perceptions regarding the importance of this event. Earlier, at the height of it at about 6:30PM, I went outside. There was definitely a drop in light and a very interesting drop in the feeling of light. I was prepared for something unusual to happen and I experienced it.
The thought occurred that it all depends upon a point of view. Depending upon where I am on earth is the perceived alignment of these two objects according to my point of view. If the sun had sentient self –perceptions or held a point of view, it might think, “I am participating in a cosmic event.” If there was a similar self-perception of the moon, it might think, “I am now moving in conjunction with the sun. The sun and I are performing something cosmically important. Now I am moving in front of the sun.” However, this sentient thought never arose to the moon or to the sun. Actually, the moon and the sun just continued to move in normal orbits.
It caused me to think about the collection of perceptions and position of view that each one holds in their own mind. According to how things are lining up, from the position of the individual mind – almost anything could appear to be a cosmic event. For example, in the 1960’s, the Beatles were a cosmic event to many people. Perceptions lined up in a very specific way to create a sense of vast importance. More recently, we saw the new Star Wars movie. The people who sat outside on the sidewalk all night were anticipating, waiting to be the first to see the new Star Wars movie. So perceptions lined up to create cosmic importance from their point of view.
Like the analogy of the sun, the dharmakaya nature of awakened Buddha mind is actually without regard for point of view. It does not have the idea, now I am shining wisdom. Its nature is to shine without barriers. The marvel of the Buddhist Path is to create a valuable point of view and direct our attention to the cosmic importance. The Buddhist Path helps define that importance by presenting perceptions for us to wear while the point of view is being cultivated. Instead of newspapers we have scriptures and authentic beings such as Lord Buddha Shakyamuni.
When the perceptions are ripe, transitional views will arise. Accepting and passing through many stages of transitional development, eventually a correct point of view is achieved. Better than moving to San Diego for the perfect view of the eclipse, the sun of dharmakaya vision shines unobstructed in the mind.
So, the inocular eclipse is now finished, and you can even see now that the light is increasing, even here in the room with the light coming in, even though we’re indoors.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cosmic Luck Machine

What is the ideal human life that supports a spiritual awakening? We need time or leisure to practice and ability or endowments to prepare for enlightenment. Leisure and endowment come from luck or fate you made by karma previously.

In the airport one day, I was attracted by some bright sparkling lights and found a machine where you get these little cards for a dollar or two dollars, sometimes five dollars. You put your money in, whatever you are willing to spend, and out pops a card that you scratch. Are you a winner? You do not know if you have the good luck you are depending on, and that is part of your karma. Even you put a lot of money in, thinking it will bring a better chance of getting a good card, you still don’t know.

However, you do possess some luck and perhaps not realize that you can manipulate it by making effort. That is the purpose of this discussion. You are capable of manipulating luck by understanding that it is possible, also being serious and realistic about what your efforts are directed toward and why you are doing it. The very stuff of your own life becomes honed by practice, like putting a proper edge on a knife, so that ordinary life becomes spiritual practice in the best way. This is real leisure and endowment.

Real leisure comes from having time. That is hard for Western people, making time. Endowment, or the basis of your nature, is the other aspect that needs more explanation than today’s discussion. However, whatever leisure and endowment you do have, whatever the luck of your draw, you must grab a hold of it like this, arrahnnnghh!! Not like, “Whatever,” This is unskillful, “Whatever. Now I’m a spiritual person, so whatever come that is ok.” No, you grab a hold of it. “Now I’ve got this perfect opportunity and if I let go, how do I know that I can create another?”

The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva 5. Just as a flash of lightning on a dark cloudy night for an instant brightly illuminates all… This analogy is about power and immediacy. If we could harness the electrical power from a single flash of lightning, there would be enough electricity to light a city. But so far there is no way to channel the power, so it goes into the ground and does whatever electricity does, feeding the nutrients of the plants, like that.

Like a flash of lightning, the awakening blessings are not just a gentle entry of illumination and power into the ordinary mind of ordinary needs using ordinary leisure and endowment. That is not enough leisure and endowment. We are requesting a tremendous burst of illuminated power and energy that will open the door to enlightened nature. “For an instant brightly illuminates all…” The power of the prepared wish to be enlightened is like a flash of lightning coming partly from your own mind. You should facilitate the wish correctly, as the blessing power illuminates the mind. (1) As you are coming awake, do not think, “Oh, this is like everyday. Who cares? It will come again and again”.

Shantideva continues, “Likewise in this world, through the might of Buddha, a wholesome thought rarely and briefly appears.” There is a steady and careless march toward decay. What do they say? Entropy. The law of entropy has microcosmic and macrocosmic valuation. It is said this is the time of decay, 2,500 years since the time of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni’s original teachings. Decay or natural entropy describes everything, like water flowing down, that tends to continue to go down and down.

One must make effort so natural cosmic laziness or entropy does not permeate you. Truly, in some ways, samsaric existence is like a bath of entropy. Shantideva, and I in my commentary, say, “Watch out, watch out.” It is natural for samsara to grab you away from transformation. You must accomplish everything in spite of natural laws trying to prevent you from gaining enlightenment. Enlightenment does not happen by itself, but through tremendous personal effort.

Footnote (1) This is a more advanced topic so please do not try to make it happen right now. You need the personal attention of someone who is already trained to help others. I introduce this so perhaps someone out there who already experienced some kind of awakening can understand better what happened to him or her if they not have a mentor.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why Do a Purification Retreat?

The reason why purification practices such as rainbow purification or Vajrasattva are done in sequestered retreat environment is because purification is not pretty. I do not recall which purification is the least pretty. So, we enter retreat with determination and some important purpose to do strong purification practice. Or perhaps your lama is giving instructions and initiation into a deity such as Vajrasattva, Buddha of purification that includes commentary and group or private meditation away from your own home.

There may be a special obstacle you are experiencing such as a personal health problem or a meditation obstacle that not amenable to daily meditation. Some meditators will do a retreat for the health of a family member, success for their monastery, or even worldly goals such as personal success.

The state of mind to hold while on purification must be more careful than you might think. It is not a good idea to charge at the obstacle like a bull toward a red cape. By directly confronting the obstacle that is hiding in the mind and uncovering it might stir up energies at a time when you are already disturbed by the obstacle. That is why reliance and refuge in the Buddha, dharma and sangha, the three jewels, is extremely important so the meditator does not arouse fear and anger when the obstacle start to break up. We focus on the three jewels as valid inner objects instead of looking at our self.

If we misuse the energy that is freed from purification practice, we could become rigid in the mind. An unskillful meditator might even become confused and lose refuge, entering into blaming others or feeling disrespected. We need to preserve a skillful portion of our mind that remains objective. Purification roils the unaligned confused energies like dirty, murky water that become useless to drink. That is why we have to be careful with the mind during this time and not have any extra pressure or stress. Purification is not easy!

Be very careful with yourself on retreat. Keep steady balanced mind, and do not think that someone is trying to disrespect you or start blaming somebody or blaming the food. Maybe we should leave food issues in place so that at least we would have something to blame rather than people. Most importantly, do not cause sorrow to yourself by listening to your own ideas and feelings that you are no good or you that someone is saying something about you, which is not true.

True skill when working with the mind by using the mind comes only with practice. Eventually, the meditator does not listen to their own mental ramblings and goes on steadily toward the state of clarity achieving a new sense of spaciousness and peace. Soon, new levels are ready to be clarified. Such is the life of a real practitioner.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mental Sinking in Meditation

Mental sinking is an obstacle in meditation and the opposite of mental excitement. The mind wants to drift in a certain way so some antidote needs to be applied. Sometimes the mind drifts and like a little butterfly you dreamily fly to a flower, then think, “Oh, there is another nice flower over there. I think I’ll float over there and look at that.” This is done in a languid way, as though you were about to enter a dream state.

Mental sinking could also be the experience of heaviness in the body that is about to enter sleep. Sometimes from the far corner of the monastery we could hear snores coming from a monk and then everyone begins to titter. One of my American students was not feeling so well one day so she lay down behind the last row of students, and in fact she did start to snore.

You not have cold weather here in California, but people who come from cold cold weather know there is real danger in being exposed to extreme cold and begin to feel sleepy. If they cannot arouse themselves and fall asleep they will die out in the cold. It’s almost a feeling of helplessly needing to fall asleep. “But I want to be…” “No, it’s OK. I’m going to fall asleep…”

Mental sinking is almost enjoyable. The heaviness itself is signaling your body that it is time to rest. The body craves rest. But, actually you’re not tired. Meditation practice overcomes the natural effect of energy going inside to more subtle minds that happens in sleep and dream states.

The mind needs to be trained to recognize the difference between sleep and meditation. The natural cascade of mental functions going into sleep must be retrained. However, for a very long time for many people (especially for people beginning mediation in middle age) fall asleep and do a sleep meditation as soon as energy begin to move interior. This sleep time can be beneficial for some time and eventually they are able to discern the difference.

During your meditation session you must try to remain alert and awake in a new way that facilitate careful practice. Mental sinking is an obstacle function of the mind but we are practicing meditation in order to overcome ordinary patterns. So, we apply antidotes and apply them at the correct time.

One good way to prevent mental sinking is to sit up straighter and not close the eyes. Another antidote to mental sinking is a holding a deep and fervent wish to gain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings and not for one self. However, the challenge is to remember the antidote at the correct time.

Even if you are tired there is a way to keep mental sinking from ending your meditation session. We need an alert part of the mind trained to respond with courage and determination to wake you up. The antidote begins spontaneously and at the correct time.

You use a form of inner adrenaline. How you get adrenaline to wake you up would be the mental stimulation of the particular antidote you practice. If you have been receiving teachings on rejoicing, perhaps your adrenaline would come from remembering rejoicing. You could also think that suffering living beings need you and are waiting for you to finish to begin benefiting others. As you start to feel sleepy this act like a splash of cold water to wake you but needs to be practiced again and again. Once it has been applied and the result has been gained you must stop applying the antidote and return to your meditation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Santa Claus Thinking

We want to emulate bodhisattvas beings. These heroes of Buddhism have achieved powerful levels of penetrating and clarifying their own nature. They break through and realign their understanding in the model of reality. Their sense of fantasy has been completely destroyed.

In a way, it’s like…when you were young, I am pretty sure you believed in Santa Claus. Nearly every American child believes in Santa Claus, even Jewish children. It comes as an important belief for children. You don’t have to be Christian to believe in Santa Claus.

When you were in grade school, I think you probably had strong faith in Santa Claus. You knew that through the efforts of Santa, all good things would flow if you just behaved yourself during November and especially December. Isn’t that so? Then some companion in the schoolyard or an older brother or sister whispered to you, “There is no Santa Claus.”

This would have arisen some kind of anger in your mind toward that person. They are blaspheming the one who brought you everything you wanted. This feeling comes very strong; perhaps you cried and not want to think about it anymore. Then you hear it again from someone else. There is NO Santa Claus.

Suddenly, you begin to get a doubt, but you can’t really admit it to yourself because if you do, the gifts will stop. So you continue to have a doubt simultaneously with having faith. Gradually or suddenly, your faith in Santa Claus is completely destroyed. In that way, no matter how much you love your mother and father who are giving you all these gifts, you can never go back to believing in Santa Claus.

Like that, spiritual practitioners begin with a doubt. We’re going to call it a holy doubt. In the fabric of their own personality, of their own theatrical event– they get a holy doubt that things are as they appear. This holy doubt begins to grow. And what does lama do but (slaps hands together) intensify your doubt. You begin to feel uncomfortable with the way things are. Your feelings of comfort begin to identify more with spiritual practice.

Eventually you will arrive at a position that allows you to make a breakthrough that will change your fundamental belief that things are the way they seem. This fundamental doubt grows as you mature in spiritual life, doing authentic practice that will produce the desired result. No benefit comes to just to shake yourself up for no reason. This is no use. It has to be done in a way that is going to lead to the correct result.

Bodhisattvas develop this holy doubt in them selves while they practice over a very long time. They persist until the time comes when they make a definitive break with fantasy. Once this process is complete, never again can you convince them that there is really a Santa Claus (permanent unchanging reality). You could participate in daily life and be successful and happy, but you don’t crave the goodies under the tree on a fundamental basis.

So exactly how do the enlightened move in the world? What does a bodhisattva do when they do not believe in the same foundational fantasy that ordinary people do? How do they comport themselves? How do ordinary people who admire bodhisattvas arrive at that point where they can make a breakthrough themselves? These are the issues that are important to discuss. We’ve really just begun to scratch the surface.

In order to know that something is worth doing, you have to understand that it has value. When the value begins to grow, that is when spiritual practice becomes more important than ordinary behavior.

Monday, March 2, 2009

24 Hours a Day Meditation

Lord Buddha Shakyamuni said, “This is how I found the light and awakened mind. If you do it in this way, you also will awaken.” His method of explaining it was compelling, honest and clear. His accomplished followers later organized this process with Lord Buddha as the central jewel. The methods we use in the Tibetan system are sophisticated and inextricably energetically tied to the Buddhist path and unbroken lineages from Buddha Shakyamuni.

These are reproducible effects that we have not only learned, but also enthusiastically disseminated to others. To do that correctly means that even today, it will have the same results. Over thousands of years, these inner lines of transmission have been carefully preserved so that when the actual breakthrough comes, the light of dharmakaya (1) wisdom fully permeates our being. Only then will we understand perfectly what the Buddha meant by awakened mind.

Because the nature of dharmakaya is comprehensive it includes final preparation for extraordinary compassion. This allows the meditator to set aside self-cherishing as a strategy that is no longer needed. By the innate view that sees the impermanent as permanent, human beings are capable of working with their own minds in ways that other forms of life cannot. Maximum benefit should be gathered from this built in sense of separateness and feelings of caring for others should be practiced and enhanced.

Beyond beginner practices of caring for others, is learning to care for others more than we do for ourselves. However, the transitional stages of compassion training caution us to do what we can and not pressure ourselves to be more compassionate than we can tolerate. If we falter in this training we might cause fear to arise instead of compassion due to rough treatment of the sensitive instrument of the mind.

We must have good relationship with the lama to understand if pushing too hard or not hard enough. After that breakthrough, when the meditator is introduced to dharmakaya nature, it will depend on the nature of the person, how effective they will be. For the one who is careful to stabilize this breakthrough, even when they are asleep or not actively meditating or even what you might call distracted, part of them is still actively meditating and within the dharmakaya.

They have become an illuminated human being. They are an enlightened being? No, they live within enlightened way of being while in human form. A portion of their mind is absorbed in the vast sphere of dharmakaya even though they are not actively meditating on the outside. The portion of their mind which is still in transitional as a further clarification of their own awakening is seeking benefit and accomplishing benefit for myriad beings through activity inspired by the vast dharmakaya.

So, the power of the merit that comes from this kind of mind would be an amount of merit equal to the sky. This is a continuous flow of merit generated by this newly enlightened being directed toward living beings like a conduit. The dedication of the newly found source of vast merits can cause living beings to be uplifted and set free. This is the powerful benefit of your own enlightenment to your world and its inhabitants.

Footnote: (1) The Dharmakaya, or Truth Body of the Buddha, is empty. It is beyond conceptual elaboration, and cannot be posited as a Thing, a Being, or anything else. It is really beyond existence and non-existence. Yet it is posited as "having qualities," and of being of the nature of "clear light."It must be understood that these two points of view are not mutually
exclusive. (from

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Deep and Gentle Longing for Altruism

In gentler earlier times, I think calling and yearning for the awakening of the mind of bodhichitta was often inspired by less suffering ridden methods than used today. I have a book of love letters written in the 1600 and 1700’s. It’s very sweet and sincere. “I saw you buying a hat my lady, and my heart could hardly remain intact”. Beautiful poetry, “I can not forsake your image from my mind”. This imagery has a deep perfume of gentle longing and yearning. We not often see yearning with purity to it in our contemporary world, like these love letters. They continuously flow expression such as, “my heart, my love for you is true. I cannot tolerate being without your presence”.

It seems that modern society quickly degenerated into exhibited sensuality and cynical roughness that rips the glow and the dusting of starlight from the esoteric longing of these beautiful love letters. These love letters remind me spiritual beautiful poetry written toward the enlightened state. I used to write poetry like this in my just before life in the Tibetan language so I still remember the strong feeling. This uplifting quality and purity of intention and purity of aspiration is alive in this kind of poetry in this line of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life.

17. Although the result of the spirit of aspiring for awakening is great………..This longing for the resultant state of the Bodhi mind must happen and it must be heart-based like a sincere love letter rather than rough. By acknowledging this, subtle minds resonate and are encouraged to come alive within the system of development instead of just rising without purpose.

The only known method is steady daily practice that emphasizes compassion. Strong and sweet feelings experienced in meditation change the way we think about meditation and motivate us to do more so we can reinforce these wonderful feelings. Because of obstacles from this life and previous lives we also should work at developing a special kind of courage that is without anger or roughness that motivates us to continue when the sweetness just not arrive!

I had a conversation with a dear young woman who attended a couple of teachings, but is not a committed meditator. She said “Rinpoche, how do you just keep continuing meditation practice? I start and I do it for awhile, and then I get a feeling like maybe I shouldn’t do it, and then I just give it up and don’t do any practice at all.” I felt surprised to hear that because she was capable. I said, “Where’s you backbone that you would be so easily influenced to give up practice and meditation so easily? What are you, an inhabitant of a boneless chicken ranch?” “Well, maybe I am”, she admitted. We laughed, and I think she got it.

This aspiration to arise the genuine altruistic mind of a higher developed being definitely brings results. How? Because, with practice the mind is becomes continuously absorbed in a healthy new way. Very simply, while you’re thinking about bodhichitta, your mind is not delving into delusions.

I was recently at an airport, the plane was late so I wandering into a magazine shop to waste time. One magazine cover had a well-known person, with a banner headline “My favorite things are porn and water-skiing”. I thought he must feel pretty shy about saying something like this on the cover of the magazine, and then I realized this was not something that he felt shy about at all! In fact, he was expressing it just like telling his favorite movie, or I like the color blue. s I could see that his mind would be absorbed in the very things that interested him most! How much more wonderful when we place our minds toward what was actually going to produce quality benefits in the future.

So, even though the aspiring mind of bodhichitta has not actually done anything such as acts of a bodhisattva or saving all living beings yet, even that mind will produce so beneficial effects such as gaining human birth in the next life. How wonderful to have such grand aspirations.