Time to Turn on the Light

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the Buddha is his delivery of the message that we’ve become so used to walking in the dark that we’ve forgotten how to turn on the light.

– Mingyur Rinpoche

 

I just came across this quote today when I was reading a little bit from one of Mingyur Rinpoche’s books – Joyful Wisdom – and it simply pierced my heart.

Here we are, walking in the dark, experiencing all our hardships and sufferings, and for what reason? It all seems so unnecessary and pointless when actually, all we have to do is to recognize the switch on the wall and turn the light on. It’s right there. Happiness is so close at hand that it makes it hard to see. Or perhaps, it is rather that it is too hard to believe that happiness really is that close and it is accessible to us in each and every moment of our lives – even in the midst of pain – all we have to do, on our part, is to recognize it.

Since we all share the wish to be happy, isn’t it about time that we remember what most of us has forgotten, that happiness is available to us right here, right now, in this very moment. And where are we to find this happiness? In our careers? our money? our partners and relationships? The answer is No. They are all ok but you will not find true happiness there. True happiness is so much closer. All the happiness, joy, and peace, you could ever wish for is present within your own Heart. Not in the future after having practiced a lot of meditation, but it is here right now, in this very moment, all you have to do is to recognize it. And that is why we meditate, for this recognition to grow stronger, become more stable, and in the end there will be no more forgetting, and it all starts with remembering and recognizing the happiness that is already present within you.

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Impermanence Vs. Hope

“Conceptual knowledge is not enough…you must have the conviction that comes from personal experience.”

– The Ninth Gyalwang Karmapa

 

What was it that made the young prince Siddharta leave the comforts of his life within the palace walls and begin a life as a wandering ascetic? The answer is that he wanted to find a solution to Dukkha, which is often translated as suffering. However, personally I find that the word suffering might give the wrong indication of the meaning of dukkha, and have found for myself that the word dissatisfaction has been a more helpful translation for my own understanding. The reason for this is when I hear the word suffering I get a picture of someone who is deeply distressed, in despair, or in deep agony, or perhaps one could give the example of the typical news image we all probably have seen of people that have experienced a cataclysm. Here we see people who have lost their husbands, wives, children, their homes etc. in other words pretty much ‘everything.’ However, the term Dukkha speaks of another kind of suffering that is not only present in immediate situations of despair, but also present within a life of wealth, luxury, and so on. It’s this feeling of no matter what we have or the situation, there’s always an underlying feeling of dissatisfaction. A dissatisfaction that might be expressed through always wanting more or something better, or if we have everything we want we’re afraid of losing it. Or, in the words of Mingyur Rinpoche“Suffering takes many forms, ranging from the nagging whisper that we would be happier ‘if only’ some small aspect of our lives were different, to the pain of illness and the terror of death.”

So according to the Buddha, even the seemingly happy moments in one’s life is also unsatisfactory or a type of suffering simply because they will not last.

This is something we all can see and experience for ourselves – just like the Buddha did – and that the problem does not really lie in the nature of things being impermanent, but it simply comes from us having a hard time accepting that the nature of things is impermanent. If we truly understood the nature of impermanence we would never again be surprised or say, ‘I don’t understand how this could happen’ when our partner leaves us, family members die, or you lose everything you own. I’m not saying that you can’t or won’t be sad if someone close to you die, of course you will, but why do we get surprised and perhaps also depressed when something like that happens? It’s simply because we can’t accept that things do change.

We don’t want to experience difficult situations or lose loved ones, we only want to experience positive circumstances, being around those we love and not think about that we all one day have to go separate ways. And with that kind of mind it’s inevitable for suffering not to follow. It’s like a story I once heard Jack Kornfield tell of a 89 year old woman being diagnosed with cancer and saying to the doctor ‘why me?’ This is the kind of neurosis we will continue to experience until we begin to be in charge of our own happiness, well-being, and lives, and live them more in accordance with the way things are.

This is what prince Siddharta set out to do – to find a way in which he would no longer be a prisoner of the outer circumstances that he experienced – and he found that the nature of things is impermanent. So looking for what Siddharta once did, if we can live our lives in accordance with the way things are, instead of always fighting it, we will begin to see that to be able to accept impermanence will free us from the fear of having to face situations that we do not want to experience. In other words, our well-being will no longer be so dependent upon outer circumstances, situations, or other people.

I think it’s also important to say that we don’t necessarily have to think about this in the terms of right and wrong, but rather try to see it in the light of which approach that is more helpful. Is it more helpful to put your well-being and happiness in outer things, like your partner, children, money, or job etc., or is it more helpful to simply find that well-being within your own heart? As long as we put our well-being in external things, whether it is our money, partner, or children, our well-being will always be unstable simply because we can’t control what will happen to them.

So, if we can simply begin to see and experience the truth of impermanence in our own lives – even to some limited extent – we have begun to plant the seeds for taking charge of our own well-being and happiness and put a halt to the delusion that happiness comes with a paycheck, a lover, or even children. I’m not saying that you should get rid of your paychecks, your lover, or your children, I simply suggest that we all should try to free ourselves from the delusion that these things will bring us lasting happiness. I guess another, more direct way of saying it is in the words of Phakchok Rinpoche: “Hope is going to kill you.” Why? Because for as long as we maintain hope that external things will bring us happiness, there will always be fear of losing them – hope always comes with fear. So a better solution might be to throw away our hopes and thereby also throwing away our fears, and simply rest within the experience of the way things are.

 

I invite you to share your experience…

 

 

The Joy of Living

– A Meeting of Minds –

“We have to go through the process of sitting down and examining the mind and examining our experience to see what is really going on.”

– Kalu Rinpoche

I want to focus this post on a few sentences of Mingyur Rinpoche’s regarding one of his teachers, and simply share my own thoughts around those words. This is what Mingyur Rinpoche says about his teacher Saljay Rinpoche:

“A gentle man with a low voice, he had an amazing ability to do or say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. I’m sure some of you have spent time around people who had a similar kind of impact, people able to teach incredibly profound lessons without appearing to be teaching at all. Just the way they are is a lesson that lasts for the rest of your life.”

Having spent many years living in India and Nepal I must say that the meetings and encounters I have made there has been truly life-changing. I’m sure that for a lot of people that are out traveling or living in other countries, there is some degree of a life-changing experience taking place, coming from encountering a new culture, different values etc., which I have experienced in my own life as well. Simply spending some time in India will change you to some degree whether you like it or not. But the experiences that have come from meeting with my spiritual teachers is quite different. Sometimes, simply being in their presence for a few moments has touched me deeper than anything else I have ever experienced.

The first time I remember this happening was when I came to India for the first time in 2006. Having spent a few months up in Dharamsala – which is the residence of the Dalai Lama -, Dalai Lama was going to give some teachings for two weeks on a text called The way of the bodhisattva. I was completely new to Buddhism, and had just started growing an interest in the teachings from reading books. However, this was the first teaching on Buddhism that I was going to attend, that was taught directly by another person – in this case the Dalai Lama.

I still remember that feeling when the Dalai Lama entered the teaching area, walking down the path towards his seat, from which he was going to give the teachings. When he walked by a few meters from me there was a feeling or sensation that was simply different from anything I have ever experienced before. Here was a person that radiated so much Love & Compassion, that simply being in his presence made one feel completely at ease, and maybe for the first time I felt that ‘here is a person that is truly benefitting humanity simply by the way he is.’

This meeting with the Dalai Lama, being one of the great inspirational moments in my own life, has grown in inspiration and it continues to do so. This is because when one learns (through the teachings and your own experience) that these qualities that the Dalai Lama and other Masters possess is not exclusively for a chosen few, but open and available to all of us in our own hearts. Meeting with these Masters simply shows you that, through looking into the nature of your mind, persist in your meditation practice, and dedicate yourself to the welfare of others, will lead you towards the same results. We don’t have to search for these qualities outside of ourselves, or hoping that someone else will give them to us, but simply through taking charge of our own lives will we find all the good qualities we can ever hope for within our own hearts. The Buddha said to his disciples: “Be a light unto yourself.” He didn’t say, ‘pray to me and I’ll bestow upon you all the good qualities’ or anything along those lines, he simply said “Be a light unto yourself.” All these positive qualities is to be found within ourselves and not outside from a divine Saviour, God, or Creator. As a very wise woman named Tenzin Palmo once said: “As long as you don’t realize that Jesus is within your own heart you can continue to pray to him (as an external being) and nothing will happen.” So when we begin to see that we also possess all these good qualities and can increase them and make them more stable, people like the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, and Mingyur Rinpoche will become even more inspiring since we can see in them what is actually possible to accomplish within this very life.

I haven’t found any more inspiring people than those like the Dalai Lama and my own Teachers that have taken the time to work with themselves through meditation etc. in order to benefit the world. So perhaps, if we also aspire to be of benefit to the world, whether that means thousands of people or simply to those whom are close to us, the place to look is always within ourselves.

 

I invite you to share your own experience…

 

Ps. This post is part of a series based on the book “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness” by Mingyur Rinpoche

 

 

The Joy of Living

 – The Journey Begins –

If there is any religion that would

cope with modern scientific needs,

it would be Buddhism.

– Albert Einstein

Mingyur Rinpoche starts out the first chapter and the whole book with clarifying how a Buddhist relates to Buddhism by saying:

“When you’re trained as a Buddhist, you don’t

think of Buddhism as a religion. You think of it

as a type of science, a method of exploring your

own experience through techniques that enable

you to examine your actions and reactions in a

nonjudgmental way, with the view toward recognizing,

‘Oh, this is how my mind works. This is what I need to

do to experience happiness. This is what I should

avoid to avoid unhappiness.’”

I find for myself that this is really a crucial point. I hear people say that Buddhism is a religion, it’s not a religion, it’s a philosophy, it’s a way of life and so on. But as a Buddhist, whatever people like to call it doesn’t really matter, because it doesn’t change the essence of what Buddhism is, namely, a method for looking into the essence of your own mind in order to see things as they are. The true nature of reality does not change whether one calls it a religion, philosophy, or anything else.

Another important aspect of Buddhism is that it’s not based on ‘faith,’ or certain beliefs that one has to accept in order to be or become a Buddhist. The only prerequisite required in order to become a Buddhist is that one is experiencing some dukkha (dissatisfaction) in one’s life. So, if you never experience any problems, anger, impatience, jealousy, greed, and so on, Buddhism will be completely useless to you, because no matter what situation you’re faced with, you’re always fine. (Un)fortunately, for most of us, it won’t take too long to realize that we all face situations, people, feelings, and circumstances each day that troubles us in some way. And as long as we have these experiences, looking into our own minds I learn to see things for what they are, will be of tremendous benefit, not only for our own lives, but hopefully to the life of others as well.

Staying in the context of what Buddhism is all about Mingyur Rinpoche says:

“The essence of Buddhist practice is not so much an

effort at changing your thoughts or your behaviour so

that you can become a better person, but in realizing

that no matter what you might think about the

circumstances that define your life, you’re already

good, whole, and complete. It’s about recognizing the

inherent potential of your mind. In other words,

Buddhism is not so much concerned with getting well

as with recognizing that you are, right here, right now,

as whole, as good, as essentially well as you could

ever hope to be.”

When one begins to get a glimpse of this truth that Mingyur Rinpoche points out, through one’s own practice, one will start to appreciate how profound these methods of looking into the essence of one’s mind really are. It’s not some dry theory regarding how the mind works, but there’s a path of how one can apply these methods into one’s own life and thereby see for oneself the truth of it. Buddha never told us to trust in him out of respect or because it must be true because the Buddha said it, but he really encourages us to test what he said and see if it works for ourselves. Then, and only then, after examining and trying out for ourselves should we accept his teachings. However, once you have tried these methods for yourself and seen how profound they are, it’s no longer an acceptance made on blind faith, but and acceptance in line with the true nature of things based on your own experience and reasoning. As the Dalai Lama says: “The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.”

So Mingyur Rinpoche, just as the Buddha, encourages us to look into our own minds and see for ourselves that right now we are as good, whole, and complete as we could ever hope to be. Just like the Buddha told his monks: “Sons of noble family, remember who you truly are.” He didn’t say that we should meditate in order to become who we truly are, or that we should change in order to see who we truly are, but he simply said “Remember who you truly are” indicating that there is nothing new to add or gain, but it is simply a matter of recognizing and remembering that you’re already as good, whole, and complete as you ever hope to be.

 

I invite you to share your experience…

 

Ps. This post is part of a series based on the book “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness” by Mingyur Rinpoche

Want to Help Others…Remain in Solitude

“Is there any focus on helping others?”

This was a question I was asked in a radio broadcast the other day. The question was being asked in the context of me recently coming back from a 6 months meditation retreat that I spent alone without much contact with the outer world. It’s a fair question and something we all (who aspire to help others) should ask ourselves – can spending time in solitude really be of benefit to others? We should also ask ourselves what is of more benefit – to help someone in the short term, or to benefit someone in the long term?

If we begin with the second question, it seems to me that most of us would agree that we should go for the long term perspective of helping others if we’re capable of doing so. Having come to that conclusion we might then ask, what is the best way to go about this task?

I have met with people that find it hard to see the value in spending time meditating as a way of helping others when one could be out in the world “really helping others.” This shows however that many of us unfortunately have quite a narrow view when it comes to what it means to be of benefit to others. To tell someone that spends time in retreat with a motivation of being of benefit to others, that it would be far more beneficial if they left their retreat and went out into the world and actually started to help others in need by giving food, clothes, money etc. is similar to telling a person who’s going through the many years of in depth studies to become a medical doctor, that they are wasting their time studying about surgery etc. when to actually perform the surgery is what is going to be of real benefit to the patient. Simply studying about surgery is not going to help anyone (right now), you have to perform the surgery in order to help. That’s true, simply reading about how to perform a surgery etc. won’t be of much help to someone who’s in need of a surgery. However, without the knowledge and skills (that comes from studying) that it takes to perform a surgery, the doctor will end up harming the patient more than benefitting. This is not only true for medical doctors, but also for the rest of us. It might look like we are helping others, but if we haven’t started to work with ourselves and our own delusions first and reached at least some stability we will end up bringing more harm than benefit to others. As Ram Dass said:

“The greatest thing you can do

for another human being is to get

your own house in order and find

your true spiritual heart.”

Once we have reached some stability, then and only then can we begin to really be of benefit to others, until that happens, the best way we can help others is to “get our own house in order.”

Another more classical example of what it means to help others in a long term perspective can be seen by one of the greatest yogis of all time, Milarepa. Milarepa basically spent his whole life in solitude, meditating in the mountains alone, determined to reach realization in this life. With our ‘normal’ narrow-minded and short term perspective of what it means to be of help to others the life example of Milarepa might seem like the biggest ego trip ever. However, whether something is egotistical or not cannot be judged on the action, but can only be found within the motivation behind the action. as Lama Yeshe said:

“Buddhism is much less interested

in what you do and much more

interested in why you do it.”

So, although Milarepa’s choice of ‘leaving the world behind’ and set out for the mountains might seem egotistical to some, he was motivated by compassion and meditated with the intention of realizing the wisdom within his own heart so he could truly be of benefit to others. So even though Milarepa spent his life in solitude and far away from society and the ‘world’ he left behind his spiritual songs of realization written down for the world to read. Milarepa passed away in 1135 C.E, and since then, his life example and songs of realization have inspired millions of people in every generation and continue to do so even today.

All of us have to make up our own minds of what being of real benefit actually means. Is it ‘better’ to bring temporary benefit to ten, hundred, or even thousands of people here and now, or is Milarepa’s example of stopping to focus on this life alone in order to bring benefit to all generations to come more in line with real benefit?

So this is something to reflect upon. Personally, all I can say is that I wouldn’t abandon the methods and instructions that my own Teachers – whom have spent many years in retreat – have shared with me for all the short term benefits in the world.

Back From Retreat

I will simply use this blog for sharing my own thoughts and reflections. I have no hope that this will be of any help to anyone, but I will simply write as a way of reminding myself of the wisdom that my own teachers have shared with me, and as a motivation to put it into practice.

So, I am not a teacher trying to give advice to or teaching others, but I am simply a student and follower of the Dharma (Truth) that are looking for a way to remind myself of how to live this life in a meaningful way. A way that hopefully will not only bring peace and happiness to my own life but also to the life of others.

I am not saying that I think that my way of living my life actually brings peace, happiness, and benefit to others, I am simply saying that it’s a motivation that I try to familiarize myself with in order to hopefully one day be able to see things more clearly and actually realize that helping others is way more important than simply working for my own well-being.

If we all can check our motivation and make an aspiration each morning that “may all my actions of body, speech, and mind today be of benefit to others” we will begin to see that our small limited sense of self is nothing but an illusion. Our belief in a separate self is not only our greatest delusion but it is also our greatest obstacle for experiencing happiness in this life. As the great master Shantideva said in his work The Way of the Bodhisattva:

“All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.”

So even from a egotistic and self centered point of view it doesn’t make any sense to try to accumulate more possessions, money, respect etc. for oneself in order to experience happiness. If we truly wish to experience happiness we should really check in on our motivation behind our actions and familiarize ourselves with an intention of helping others. Only then will our hearts begin to open and we will get a glimpse of the interdependent nature of all things. On the other hand, if we continue to hold on to our limited sense of self our view will only become more clouded. If holding on to this limited sense of self one might at best experience some pleasure – a pleasure that most of us mistake for being happiness – but we will never get a glimpse of Real Happiness until we let go of our deluded perceptions and begin to see things in the light of interdependence.

We should really try to remind ourselves again and again of this motivation and hopefully one day our natural response might actually be to care more for the well-being of others rather than simply looking for “What’s in it for me.”