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.

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.


Anonymous said...

I think you are keeping things real. :)

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

This was something I'm glad to have read. Kind of the right thing to read right this hour. I wasn't planning on coming off the hill again for a few weeks, but unfortunately, I kid you not, Red Bull and their race car team are doing some kind of filming for a promotion at the stupa. Tomorrow they're going to tow a F1 race car up the hill in front of the stupa and have a plane fly past while filming.

Needless to say, none of this worldly nonsense is beneficial to my retreat. I was meditating this morning and one of their crew came knocking on my door asking for a screw driver. The stupa is semi-public, so I don't think the Lama in charge could even object if he wanted to, and I suspect they're used to this nonsense. The stupa has a nice panorama view of the valley and pretty cool, so it attracts media types from Mumbai. Some half naked women were being photographed in front of the stupa a week or two ago.

Still, it doesn't cost me anything and everyone who lives at the stupa compound is quite nice to me. It is by their generosity that I live and eat for free right now.

Everyone keeps telling me things will go silent when the cold weather sets in. In the meanwhile I'm doing my meditation at night. Today though I figured I'd wander off the hill. An opportunity to feed the stray donkeys.

Anyhow, I like what you wrote here. It really helped me given how I was feeling today.