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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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Meditation is like taking a shit.

In general laziness is something that is seen as negative. Both religious and secular, political and economic, ideologies have condemned it as bad. Sloth was one of the seven deadly sins and both Capitalism and Communism have used violence to discourage it.

Laziness just means not doing something or at least procrastinating about it.

Everything we do in this life is generally utterly pointless. We can accumulate all manner of material things, build a great reputation and surround ourselves with people we love and who love us back, but ultimately and in a short period of time this will all be nothing.

Generally in Dharma practice we use impermanence as encouragement to practice and as a gateway to understanding.

I could list all manner of reasons why I left closed retreat, however the main issue was really that I set goals, lists of things to achieve and the good old dual trap of hope and fear.

There is a story about one of the Buddhas disciples having problems with meditation. The Buddha helped him by asking him about his pre-monastic career as a musician and how he would tune his guitar or whatever. When he answered "not too tight, not too loose", the Buddha said this was also how he should meditate.

So in terms of our overall practice it's essential to thing of impermanence and the other thoughts that turn our minds to renunciation and the longing for freedom.

So how does this all related to laziness?

If we practice with a sense of wanting or needing to achieve something, we will fall into a trap. Yet at the same time we have to practice.

We have to eat, sleep and shit. These happen with minimal planning and effort. Similarly, if we are just persistent with meditation and make it part of our everyday life, it will come naturally over time and we will benefit greatly without too much drama and bullshit.

I'm not a meditator or practitioner, but on the occasions when I have played at doing retreat, it all seems to have gone better when I've taken a very relaxed approach. Sure having structure and doing sessions is helpful, but sometimes doing nothing is also good.

I could elaborate, but it seems contradictory and the way we elaborate all the time is already a major cause of suffering.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dalai Lama Skateboard drama

I'm an ex-skater and an ex-monk. I was way better at the former than the latter.

This post on a generally awesome blog has generated a fair bit of online drama.

I think one of the main issues around this is the classic Western "stick up ass" syndrome. It's something I've seen in the West, India and Nepal. Both amongst lay people and monastics. I've yet to see it in the yogic or ngakpa communities though. Rather than go too much into the "debate" about the actual deck I've reposted some thoughts on anal-stick removal.

Regarding the deck, let's not bring Buddhism down to a level where authoritarian bullshit ruins the spread of the Dharma. Anyone with a basic grasp of Medieval Indian and Tibetan history will know how that tends to work out.

Or in the words of the bellend who posts at http://www.thereformedbuddhist.com/

"RELIGION - Your key to feeling superior to other people...because BUDDHISM is clear on this."

One of the most common issues with Western Buddhists, both those who 'convert' and those born into it is a strong tendency to take the Dharma, and more worryingly themselves, way too fucking seriously. See previous entries for examples of me doing exactly this.

Taking shit too seriously is a guaranteed way to become tense. When various authentic teachers talk about "practicing like your hair is on fire", or as my teacher told me in retreat "practice like you are fighting for your very life", they mean this in the sense of practicing consistently and genuinely, NOT becoming uptight, humourless and puritanical. The Tibetan word "brtson-’grus" (Sanskrit Virya) is variously translated as "effort," "vigor," "diligence," "zeal," or "energy.", however the best explanations of it I've heard have also imply a sense of joy, or joyous effort.

A few years ago Gyalwa Karmapa gave a teaching to a group of Westerners and people from Taiwan, in other words classic "stick up ass" people. He was teaching how to do Vajrasattva practice, and he explicity stated that Vajrasattva was smiling because people are practicing the Dharma. Similar sentiments are expressed in numerous commentaries.

Even myself as someone who barely knows the real meaning of taking refuge, can attest to the importance of relaxing and not posturing in relation to practice. We start where we are, and if that means laughing at jokes about the Holocaust then we do that. Pretending to be "nice" is self-deceit and hypocrisy and won't benefit ourselves, let alone the limitless beings we are pretending to want to lead to liberation.

In A Brilliant Sun, Patrul Rinpoches commentary on the Bodhicaryavatara, he explicitly talks about "the courage of resting when tired". Laughter and a general sense of lightheartedness go a very long way to making practicing our mind relax which is essential for meditation.

Point Two: Nobody gives a shit about your Scout badges, so don't show them off.

Having done three year retreat, having your picture taken with the Dalai Lama, wearing Ngakpa shawls, being fluent in Tibetan/Pali/Sanskrit/Clingon or having a letter saying you are a Tulku, Lama or whatever does not make you special. To quote one particularly pretentious asshole:

You're not your lineage. You're not how many empowerments you've received.
You're not the Lama you claim to have. You're not the contents of your book collection.
You're not your fucking mala. You're the all-singing, all-dancing, intellectually speculating, orientalist asshole of the world.

If you have encountered authentic teachers and Dharma, this is fucking awesome and you are extremely lucky. If you have done this and are actually putting this to use and practicing, I prostrate to you and aspire to be like you one day. When master Kagyu troll Trungpa spoke of "spiritual materialism" he was referring to how it's very easy to fuck up and let practice build and maintain ego, rather than destroy it, but in this case it's much more coarse than that.

Sitting around telling people how close you are to whichever awesome Lama, which empowerments you've received, how long you've spent in retreat and similar is just a Dharma themed pissing contest. You will probably benefit beings and your practice more by posting pictures of your cock on the internet along with your phone number. You never know, that consort you've been looking for might contact you.

On the puritanical front, meat, or rather non-meat eating springs to mind. If you don't then great, there are far more reasons to avoid meat, according to all three vehicles, than to eat it, but preaching about it and feeling superior about it probably destroys the benefits accrued from it. Also if you do eat meat, don't be a faggot and make a big thing out of sayihg mantras, or pretending to do Powa when eating it. Seriously that is embarrassing. The same goes for drinking etc.

Point three: You are still in the material, so called real world.

Western Buddhism is generally a white middle class hobby, much in the same way a lot of left-wing political activism is. In the context of Vajrayana, there has also been some historical precedent for this, both before and after it left India.

Being in a position of privilege where you can actually help people, but not doing so due to general laziness of procrastination, lacking renunciation and/or compassion or the very common situation of laziness of self-deprecation, can only really be remedied by ourselves, by watching our own minds, being mindful of whatever shit is going on and dealing with it accordingly. Claiming to be practicing compassion, in a conventional sense, not anything as profound as Bodhicitta, whilst sitting around watching the world burn and very real people suffer, seems grotesquely hypocritical. You have some capacity to help others right now, even if it's just making an unhappy stranger smile in the street.

Point four: It's ok to fail.

The word practice means just that, it's something you do and as your experience grows, hopefully something you become better at. Hopefully Western Buddhists will become better at practicing the Dharma, rather than being good at being Tibetan, Thai, Japanese or whatever nationality they relate to via their particular school of Buddhism.

We're not going to be perfect right away, for example, whilst Tibet produced some amazing practitioners, through most of Tibetan history from the first transmissions up to an including the present day, most Tibetans know fuck all about Buddhism, especially Vajrayana. All we can do is do our best and practice diligently without becoming uptight assholes or despondent because we're not having auspicious dreams/seeing deities or whatever.

The Buddha taught suffering and it's cessation. Most of us have no idea how much we are actually suffering, or how much future suffering we are setting ourselves up for, however if we have some appreciation for the notion of kindness, maybe we can also extend that to ourselves and walk our respective paths with a sense of joy and ease.

Point 4: Stop chasing Ghosts.

In a meditative sense this could mean stop clinging to the past. More broadly it means not being so involved in everything, including a conceptualised idea of our practice. Obsessing over numbers of prostrations, recitations or whatever is unlikely to help you or anyone else. This is one of the few things I can attest to from personal experience. In the words of someone with a slightly lesser beard than mine:

Thou shalt not return to the same club or bar week in, week out just 'cause you once saw a girl there that you fancied but you're never gonna fucking talk to.

The Buddhist cliche of living in the "now", being present and all that other mindful and awareness stuff is for your own good, right now. Whether you are barely interested in the Dharma or you are practicing the most profound practices of the Vajrayana, this is something that brings immediate fruits.

Point 5: Fuck your snowflake mentality.

Buddha taught 84,000 methods for overcoming the suffering or cyclic existence, however most of us don't have a clue how much we are suffering. Every time we suffer, or rather become aware of suffering, bring attention to the fact that this is the living reality of everyone. You are not special and insisting you are won't help others and with some tragic irony will only prolong and fuel your own pain.

Point 6: Your teacher doesn't give a shit about your drama.

There are thousands of people who have a sincere interest in the Dharma, but do not have a teacher. Yet morons who get access to the greatest living teachers have a tendency to insist on wasting everyones time with irrelevant questions about their relationships and minutae of their personal lives. This is a pretty natural consequence of samsaric mind, so getting angry at these people, people like me, is pointless.

Point 7: You are your own Final Boss of all this.

Whichever vehicle you are practicing, ultimately you are responsible for yourself, your actions and your practice. In the Vajrayana and some other approaches, the teacher is essential, but this doesn't mean an abdication of responsibility. People are very good at showing all manner of outward signs of Guru devotion, but how good are they at investigating the qualifications of the teacher? Being famous doesn't make someone a qualified teacher btw.

Point 8: Make sure the stick doesn't return to your ass.

So you've been practicing for a number of years, received the highest empowerments, done several long retreats and been given some titles. Why still so uptight and angry? This reminds me so much of the stories of Patrul Rinpoches students who did Ngondro 100 times or more. No matter how good people tell you you are, if you take shit too seriously you are still mired in the eight worldy Dharmas and need to maintain the foundation, if it was there to begin with.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I might as well ask here.

As there seems to be more than two people browsing here now I might ask for some help or pointers from you.

I'm looking for a PhD supervisor based in Norway who would be interested in supervising a project that is half translation and half research.

Also funding ideas.