37 practices: verse 2

2. To leave my homeland

While those I love can stir up a tsunami, / And those I hate can burn me up like fire,

When I don’t care I lose my moral compass / And dark delusion permeates my mind.

To give up all my habits and reactions — This homeland where I’ve dwelt from life to life:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 2 chanted 3x.

Verses 1 and 2 chanted 1x.

Silent pop quiz: What is the first practice of a bodhisattva? (Not the whole verse, just the heading.) Just check and see if you know the answer before you click the link. Even if you don’t aspire to memorize the verses, I highly recommend being able to rattle off each practice (e.g., “practice 2 is to leave my homeland”).

Discussion: Before turning to the commentaries, the class shared thoughts and experiences regarding the observations in verse 2. Yes, we could relate to the way tsunamis can be stirred up by those we love; and anger, especially at those we don’t love, can set us ablaze. But what is this about not caring, and how does it increase our delusion? Emotional indifference, feeling we don’t care, can lead us to “check out” of an emotionally challenging situation, escaping through lack of interest, boredom, mental dullness, denial, alcohol, drugs, overeating, TV, endlessly surfing our smartphone, etc. These kinds of activities dig us deeper into the quicksand of samsara, reinforce our habitual reactivity, put us more to sleep, cloud our interest in waking up, and thus increase the degree of delusion we already live in — the very opposite of our efforts in dharma practice.

So if attachment, aversion and indifference ALL get us into trouble — what’s left? The remaining option is the bodhisattva path of using all our experience — pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral — to wake ourselves up by confronting everything that happens to us with open eyes and hearts, without indulging in emotional reactivity on the one hand or denial and escape on the other.  Easier said than done, definitely, but what Togme Zangpo is sharing with us is a set of aspirations. We may not live up to them all the time, maybe never; but engaging fully in the effort, and not being discouraged by temporary failures and setbacks, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Commentaries: The other big question in this verse is, does Togme Zangpo literally mean that we should pack up and move somewhere else? Dilgo Khyentse says, “Once you have left home, country, family, friends, and worldly work behind you, you will have nothing to cling to. You will be as free as the birds and wild animals.” In Tibet, leaving one’s home to meditate in isolated caves was the gold standard of dharma practice, and in this context, the instruction to leave one’s homeland is indeed meant literally. The key, though, was the motivation to remove oneself in order to practice dharma and free oneself from samsara. Without that motivation and the strength to follow through and really practice, there’s no point in leaving home at all. Dilgo Khyense continues, ” If, however, in your new and initially unfamiliar surroundings, you begin to forge new attachments, you will soon find once again that you are unable to practice the Dharma.”

Ken uses the analogy of going on retreat and soon finding that you have brought some unwanted items with you. “You traveled thousands of miles to be free from them, and here they are now as if you had never left home.” In our culture we already have the idea of packing up and moving to get a fresh start in life; we do it all the time. Back in the 1970s some friends in France joked that if they had an address for an American friend that was more than two years old, they threw it away. How often does moving really solve our problems? For us, it’s clearly about uprooting our habits and reactivity, and if we can do that (or at least keep working on that frontier), we can live anywhere, and in any family, relationship, or job.

Tibetan Buddhism offers many techniques for working with emotional reactivity as it arises. I won’t go into them here, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with a few (and Ken suggests three specific techniques in his commentary).

We have methods in Western culture as well. How many times as a child were you encouraged to “count to ten” before reacting to something that upset you? How often were you given a time out as a child, or had to impose one as a parent? That’s the general idea — find a way to interrupt the momentum of whatever you’re caught up in and bring it into awareness. The more we do it, the more we free ourselves from its tyranny.

Pema Chodron comments that she might call this practice “to leave your comfort zone.” Ken wraps up his commentary on this verse by saying, “When you are able to experience these poisons and not act on them, you have left your homeland. Safe travels? Not likely.”

Silent pop quiz: what techniques do you have in your toolbox for taming desire, anger, and indifference/denial when you see them arising, or find yourself caught up in them?

Study: Review verses 1 and 2 as needed to make sure you’ve got them. Start committing to memory a list of the practices. So far we have “to study, contemplate, and meditate” and “to leave my homeland.” Soon you will have all 37 at your disposal to call upon as you need them. And, if you are so moved, continue memorizing verses 1 and 2. Start familiarizing yourself with verse 3: to rely on solitude. Read and study the commentary.

Contemplation: Continue contemplating verse 2. As you go through your day, notice your first instant of reaction to each thing you encounter, as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Just notice what it feels like and let it go. (Collateral benefit: by noticing it arise, you may not need to proceed to a full-blown emotional reaction. But be careful: the point is just to notice the process, and there’s no failure if an emotional reaction develops. We’re just paying attention to how our mind works, no judgment involved. Begin to contemplate verse 3. Ken translates “solitude” as “silence.” What’s the difference? If you have his commentary, do you think the translation is justified? (The Tibetan clearly says solitude.) Which translation works better for you, or do they complement each other? How do you find solitude and/or silence in your life? How might you find it when your buttons are pushed?

Meditation: Continue meditating every day for 5 minutes or more (or begin, if you haven’t yet got a routine in place). You can incorporate the verses into your meditation session if you find that helpful: chant a verse from memory, or read it, and then let go of all thoughts and concepts and let your mind rest. You can do this once or multiple times.

The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.

Next practice: Verse 3: to rely on solitude.

From three-year retreat: “In the Presence of Silence