About Me

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I study, and try to practice, Vajrayana Buddhism. My main areas of interest are Chod, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions as well as Buddhisms interactions with the West, pop-culture and engaged Buddhism.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Feel with it

Every single Buddhist practice has as it's purpose to end grasping. Grasping, clinging or attachment, it's all the same in terms of the result. Suffering.

When we try to sit and simply watch our minds, all manner of discursive thinking arises in the forms of mental imagery, emotions, feels. From a Sutric perspective, these arise on the basis of a consciousness, such as visual consciousness, seeing something, generating attraction or aversion and the show is on the road again.

For those of us who are beginners, it can seem discouraging to see all this busy racing mental activity. We shouldn't be discouraged as it's actually a sign of progress. It might just be the progress of for the first time in our lives we are sitting and not trying to "do" anything. So rather than generating all this activity, we are simply being exposed to it for the first time ever. Over time as we become more stable and experienced in our practice, discursive thinking and so on naturally lessens and our minds become more flexible, relaxed and at ease both on, and more crucially, off the meditation cushion.

"At first a yogi feels his mind
Is tumbling like a waterfall;
In mid-course, like the Ganges
It flows on slow and gentle;
In the end, it is a great
Vast ocean, where the Lights
Of Son and Mother merge in one." The Song of Mahamudra Tilopa

Similarly, when people practice meditation involving visualisation of deities of varying complexity, not having clarity of the object of meditation, not getting the full picture as well as the same discursive thoughts as above, can be discouraging. Two pieces of advice I found very helpful in dealing with this are as follows:

Bokar Rinpoche describes deity meditation as a child sitting in a pile of toys. The child pics up one or two toys at a time and doesn't play with them all at the same time.

Jamgon Kongtrul talks about murkiness of visualisation in Creation and completion. He reminds us that whether clear or murky, the basis of the meditation is the same in both cases.

So if we have the confidence, something which comes with time and experience, we relax more, and the deity, mandala or whatever becomes clearer with more of the details on show. Conversely, if we become uptight and neurotic about "doing it wrong" or not getting the whole picture, we will just make things harder for ourselves.

We have to be honest in relation to our capacity whilst not becoming despondent or demotivated. Consistent, yet relaxed, effort might be one way of doing this.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Suicide of a friend, Tibet in flames, and why I didn't hate Anders Breivik.

So many people have been kind to me in this life.

My parents gave me life, love and every material support they could, even if this meant having to do without themselves. My mother always encouraged me to be forgiving to people, and my father always was an example of integrity whilst having his own demons to deal with. According to my main Lama, they were the perfect parents. Despite this, through the force of my own karmic tendencies, I failed to really appreciate what the have done for me, and apply what they taught me.

Then later many wonderful school teachers helped me despite being in a system which was, and still is far from ideal. This happened on a more profound level at university where my worldview was shaken and I encountered the sublime Dharma.

After taking refuge, the threshold of all three vehicles, much happened very quickly. In the twelve years since I have received teachings and empowerments from Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, who is Guru Rinpoche in person, Gyalwa Karmapa, Choje Akong Rinpoche, Kyabgon Situ Rinpoche, wandering Yogi Mingyur Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Drupon Rinpoche (Khenpo Lhabu), Choje Lama Phuntsok, The Dalai Lama, Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, Choje Dulmo Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Yonten, Sakya Trinzin Rinpoche, Chokling Rinpoche, Choeki Nyima Rinpoche and the peerless monk yogi Lama Karma Sangye, who is like a modern day Gampopa.

In various ways, and to different yet equally important extents, they have shown me how to practice the path to Buddhahood, and happiness. The kindest of them, who I'm closest to have called me on my own bullshit in skillful ways.

Due to karmic habitual tendencies, my own practice is an intellectual game severely mixed with mundane or worldly concerns. This is very sad, however I hope and aspire that the connections made or seeds sown will ripen in the future and I will then be able to benefit others, as this is the purpose of practicing the BuddhaDharma.

Recently a friend killed himself, due to depression. Many years ago I had similar thoughts, but the instructions of a certain Lama helped me not only overcome the wish to die, but transform these feelings into rocket fuel for practice. Ironically, around the same time, my now dead friend gave me something of value. He simply listened and laughed with me, a simple, but important act of compassion and kindness.

Generally samsaric happiness is like honey on a razor blade in that it's very short lived and contains the seeds of immense future suffering, thus laughter and the generosity of listening were at the time of great benefit to me.

Recently many young monks have burned themselves to death. Like my friend, the are doing so because they feel they have no other option. My friend felt he had no other option for dealing with his own pain, the monks feel they have no other way of being heard. Both cases are a terrible loss of lives that have so much potential.

This summer Anders Breivik, someone I shared a school with, staged the biggest massacre in Norway since WW2. Three people from a small community I lived in died and someone I once worked with lost his son.

Norway being a place of high living standards, low crime and somewhere people feel safe, had a range of reactions to this. I'm not judging anyone for how the reacted, but am simply offering my own experience of the event.

Brievik acted under the influence of negative emotions of hatred and ignorance, possibly also others such as jealousy and greed. From my own experience I know that having these emotions is a best unpleasant and at worst a taste of hell. On this basis I could feel no anger or hatred towards him, simply concern for his future lives. If I had compassion I would offer an aspiration like Bodhisattva Shantideva did "Whatever suffering is in store for the world, may it ripen in me".

As samsaric beings we experience the full range of the negative emoions on an ongoing daily basis. If we develop mindfulness and awareness we will come face to face with these in a very direct, and at first, frightening way. They are not stronger than before, but we are not used to seing them so clearly so the seem more vivid or real. However if we become used to seeing where the come from and go to. Like waves in a lake, they come from the water of the lake and go back there. In other words, they have the same nature as the lake.

Negative emotions are the same in that they arise and dissolve in our minds. If we look at our minds we see that we can't acually find anything solid or permanent. Mind has no colour, shape, smell or texture. Ones emotions, good or bad, and actions do not define a person. We have to distinguish between actor and action.

Whatever arises in our mind, good or bad, if we learn to let it come and go, we develop a basic stability that means we are better able to deal with whatever comes up. Forgiveness is also easier and to some extent spontaneous, and eventually all experience is spontaneously liberated on the spot and all grasping and clinging is abandoned.

The above is the ramblings of an idiot, who despite having been given the Dharma which liberates in one lifetime on a plate, insist on circling in samsara. As such don't take too much from it. If it helps you great, if it offends, I apologise.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I went outside the valley.

Whichever way you try to turn and play with words and ideas, the Buddha taught that the most important thing is to tame our own minds before we can really be of benefit to others. Nowadays, and for hundreds of years, there have been people who have pretended to have fully integrated worldly life with their practice. Sure in some cases this is possible, but the genuine cases of this are probably a percentage of a percentage of a percentage.

With this in mind, all the Lamas who have impressed and benefited me most have without exception been those who have spent, and continue to spend, a lot of time in retreat.

At this point I should clarify what I mean by 'benefiting' me, and what blessing really means. It means those who have given me Dharma practice advice and instructions that have helped me, not someone doing some exotic ritual or said things which have given me fuzzy warm, but ultimately ego-driven, happy feelings.

I've stayed in retreat a little bit recently. Following the example of Mingyur Rinpoche, and due to practical considerations, I didn't stay in one place, but went to three different holy sites. There is no point in talking about what happened as I am not really a practitioner and as such have no helpful experience or insights to share.

The main thing this retreat did was to reaffirm what previous retreats and my general experience over the last few years has led me to feel. Basically all worldly activity is at best a waste of time, and in general a guaranteed way of generating future unbearable suffering.

Dhagpo Lha-Je, Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima and Jamgon Kongtrul both pointed out with unmistakable clarity that Dharma practiced wrongly, in retreat or otherwise, is either a waste of time or further cause of samsara with all that entails.

For whatever reasons a great number of Karma Kagyu and Nyingma Lamas, as well as various lay people have been extremely supportive of my studies and practice. My main teacher has previously given me food shelter and teachings and free retreat accommodation. A Nyingma Lama of considerable standing has on two occasions hinted at sponsoring me to stay in indefinite, or life, retreat. This is pretty much the dream as far as I am concerned.

So why am I not doing this? I could say something about cultural differences, concerns about my ageing parents or any number of other varying valid excuses and reasons, but ultimately it comes down to my own motivation and mind.

Every month, week, hour and minute I've spent in retreat has been polluted by some level of involvement with the eight worldly concerns. And on the rare occasions when they have been somehow subdued, the issue of ignoring impermanence has been an issue.

At the end of August when I was heading up to a Guru Rinpoche spot to start this so-called retreat, I found myself thinking about what I wanted to do after retreat. This is nothing short of insanity and the thought patterns of a thief of Dharma. Then through the blessing of my Lama the thought arose that I would die in retreat. After this, whenever thoughts of post-retreat activity arose, I would simply recall this idea of dying in retreat so there would be nothing to plan for. I was also encouraged by remembering the King of Yogis, Jetsun Milarepa, having talked about dying in retreat as being the greatest blessing.

The first morning I was awoken by big black rats all over the shack I was staying in. The one jumping on my chest was the main alarm clock. I wanted to leave, but remembering what my Lama had said years ago when I was in closed retreat about using difficulties and whatever arises as the path, I stayed with my rodent friends for a week. Being someone who pretends to have taken Chod and Lo-jong as my main practices this sort of made sense. Also in this holy spot I met an old yogi Lama who has spent around 50 years in retreat, this is what is meant by "making life meaningful" as it says in the Ngondro text of the 8th Karmapa. This kind old yogi Lama also offered me a lot of encouragement saying my practice was going well and in the right direction. Despite his and others similar words I can't help but feel that my future births will be in some lower realm.

The next two spots were less secluded so there was more external noise and an earthquake. The latter we were warned about in advance by one of the crowning ornaments of the Karma Khamtsang, so nobody was hurt. It's the second time I've had an earthquake experience in relation to retreat so I found it a helpful reminder of impermanence and uncertainty as well as a nice opportunity to see how my own reaction to these things are. Due to the kindness of one of my Lamas I was unmoved by the event and carried on pretending to practice. The only personal negativity that came from this event for me was certain people who have very distorted views of me requesting prayers and so forth. This is another sign that we are really living at the end of the Buddhas Doctrine where anyone who pretends to practice is taken seriously.

Despite the clusterfuck of my own neurotic mind and excessive grasping, the last month or so have proved beyond doubt that if I can I should do as much retreat as possible. But really there is no difference between retreat and going for a walk in the park. If you make it practice then there is benefit.

Practicing Dharma doesn't mean wearing special clothes or taking part in cultist rituals, talking about how much you love some old Tibetan guy with a weird hat. Practicing Dharma means checking your own thoughts and emotions, and applying the Buddhas teachings in accordance with your own experience. Even a complete beginner with zero renunciation like myself has seen benefits from doing this. Things will come up and make you disproportionately elated, angry, horny, greedy or whatever, but if you have the awareness to notice this as it's arising, then you can apply the relevant antidotes or trans formative techniques.

I prostrate to Mother Machig, Perfection of Wisdom.
In this dark age, hold all beings, particularly those of strong negativity, in your compassion.
Bless us that we may cut all clinging at the very root.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

One of the greatest yogi lamas I have ever met, the one I would come closest to describing as my root Guru, once said that when we really practice we start to feel a sense of gratitude all the time. At the time I said this I sort of knew what he meant and he was saying it in response to something I'd said.

Last week when I was in retreat, I had this sense of gratitude in an almost overwhelming way. I sat down to eat my morning porridge cooked on a camping stove. As I was chanting the short offering verse and taking the first spoonful, I was reminded of how many people have been kind and generous for me to be in this position. As the first spoonful went down, I felt an immense sense of being loved, but in a non-referential way. May all beings suffering from low self-esteem or feeling unloved have this same sensation and may it grow stable until they are strong enough to care for others more effectively.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Well established communities.

In order for the Dharma to really become established, and accessible to the people who want it, in the West, a few things are hugely important. Whilst the personal and 'social' factors that need to be in place are closely linked, the personal factors, such as faith and diligence, have been covered much better than I am able to elsewhere, so I will instead just look at the social or group factors.

Whilst the Dharma is ultimately something we practice on our own, on the path it is hugely helpful to have support of other practitioners. Some interpretations of the Sangha Jewel cover this idea. There are three main types of community which I feel are essential for the Dharma to become entrenched in the West.

Firstly there is the need for a strong monastic ordained Sangha. This is important for the preservation of the lineages and teachings, and despite the protestations of pseudo-Dzogchenpas, the Buddha said it was essential too.

For these monastic communities to exist there needs to be consistent support from the lay community. It is unlikely, and unwise, to think that a few wealthy sponsors will keep the monastics fed and clothed. However there is so little support for Western monastics at the moment that this is an area where a cultural shift is definitely needed. As individuals I think the best thing we can do is get in the habit of offering Dhana to monastics, whilst encouraging others to do the same, whilst crucially doing it in a way which will be sustainable. Setting up long terms funds might be an idea.

Secondly there also needs to be sustainable support for those wishing to do long retreats, the traditional 3 years and longer. This should also be done for monastics and lay practitioners.

Thirdly Dharma centres need support in a non-sectarian and unbiased way. Whilst sectarianism is the poison which spoils practice, it's also very sadly commonplace. There are historic precedents for this in Asia, but in the West I think it's generally something that comes about mostly as a result of people being new to Dharma and thus not knowing what they are doing. It's really important that teachers stamp down hard on sectarianism early on so it doesn't have a chance to take root.

Fourthly there also needs to be support for translation projects and the training of translators. I'm in the early stages of the latter and have been fortunate to have support for the time being at least. However most people are not so lucky and there is a chance that some potentially fantastic translators are not developing their potential due to lack of support and thus opportunities. Translators on one level should be invisible, that is they should simply be a tool by which a teaching is transmitted, however it seems that in the West they are so invisible that people simply expect them to manifest at Dharma centres when needed. This isn't sustainable long term.

The above are all things which are doable on a social level, however if we all start developing the habits of supporting the above individually, and raising the topics in conversations with our Dharma brothers and sisters, then hopefully good ideas will develop into good habits and then spread.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mixing poison with nectar.

According to the peerless Dhagpo Lha-Je, Dharma practice practiced wrongly can cause us to be re-born in the lower realms. Practiced wrongly means Dharma mixed with the eight worldly, or mundane, concerns.

Generally speaking, Dharma is very very new in the West. As such, support for monastics, centres and training of translators is pretty limited. I am probably in a percent of a percent that actually has some support. As such, it's essential I really use this opportunity purely, without being dragged down by peripheral conditions and surroundings.

If we engage in Dharma practice with impure motivation, expecting praise or similar, we are not really engaging correctly. Unless of course we managed to transform the poisonous intentions into something positive.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yesterday I translated a Dharma teaching in public for the first time. I went very well and it seems everyone benefitted in some way.