Palpung Thubten Choling Monastery, my home base, has been hosting a monthly sangha discussion via Zoom during the covid pandemic. The theme for March was “Refreshing Our Practice,” and by enthusiastic request we are continuing that general theme for a couple more months.
In March, we covered a variety of topics, beginning with the importance of consistent daily practice on the cushion or chair, within a time frame we can realistically maintain — 15 minutes a day was recommended as a good place to start. It can be challenging at the beginning to sit down every day to practice, and to stay sitting; but with repetition it gradually becomes a habit, like any other routine we wish to establish in our lives. And we may find that not only does our resistance diminish over time — we may even begin to look forward to this daily opportunity to deepen our understanding of our own mind.
In April, we zeroed in on how to work with our practice when it begins to lose vitality and become rote.
PTC had a wonderful visit from Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche October 20-22, 2018. Videos of his teachings are available at this link Note: this link may no longer be active.). There is a fee for most of them to help support visiting teachers and livestreaming of teachings. However, the public talk with Q and A (Note: this video may no longer be available.) on October 22 at 7:30pm (the final video) is free of charge. (If a password is requested, type in FREE. Note: On the free video, there is no audio until Kalu Rinpoche’s arrival at about 19 minutes.)
Meanwhile, for a brief summary of the main points of Kalu Rinpoche’s teachings at PTC, click “continue reading”:
The beloved Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh originated the idea of “mindfulness bells,” things that crop up naturally in our lives that we can set as reminders to bring ourselves back to the present moment, such as the ringing of a phone. In my three-year retreat, I wrote about a potentially deadly mindfulness bell that was hard to avoid within the retreat compound, and thus really got our attention.
Mindfulness is how we develop equanimity, but today we are going straight to equanimity itself, and how we can use specific situations that are not only inevitable but also tend to trigger emotional reactions that disturb our peace of mind. I’m sure you can identify others, but today we’ll just start with two: the weather, and stoplights.
I just wanted to share a brief explanation of ego from Traleg Rinpoche (author of a number of books, including the best explanation of karma I’ve ever encountered, Karma: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters). The quote below is from a footnote in his translation of the classic Kagyu meditation manual Moonbeams of Mahamudra. This is a very technical text, so I’m not recommending that you read it unless that’s what you’re looking for. Just wanted to share this, because the question of what ego is and its role in the path to awakening comes up so frequently. [Notes in brackets are mine.]
“Buddhism does not say we must get rid of ego, it says we should overcome our mistaken notions of ego. We mistakenly think something exists over and above our psychophysical constituents [aka, the five skandhas or heaps: body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness]. That idea of ego is a myth; it does not exist.
This is a brief summary for the KDC class on the Ornament of Precious Liberation, where we are studying the paramita of meditation, within the general heading of action bodhicitta. (Or for anyone else who is interested in these topics.)
I found a pretty good image of the Buddhist Wheel of Life with the 12 links of interdependent origination. Other resources: Kalu Rinpoche, Luminous Mind (with image) and Tai Situpa, Awakening the Sleeping Buddha, chapter on karma and reincarnation (no image, but a very clear and concise explanation).
The Buddha taught that disturbing emotions, such as anger, fear, jealousy, and attachment, are not to be denied or suppressed but recognized, felt, owned, and thoroughly processed. That process can take time and needs to be respected, but in the meantime, we can do significant harm to ourselves and others if we let strong emotions, especially anger in all its forms, govern our words and actions. Learning to see beyond a disturbing emotion, even in the midst of feeling it, allows us to act effectively, with clear focus and constructive compassion, and without collateral damage.
OK, the title is a trick–as we know, compassion and wisdom are complementary, and in the end of course there is no difference between them at all. Buddhahood, enlightenment, full awakening is the ultimate development of both, and they are ultimately undifferentiable, like any qualities we may ascribe to the nature of mind for the purpose of discussing it. Buddhahood is sometimes likened to a bird with two wings–both wings have to function fully for flight to take place.
I hear a lot about the importance of engaged Buddhism, putting compassion into action, not thinking it is enough to sit on our cushion or chair and meditate. Sometimes there seems even to be an implication that sitting on the cushion is indulgent compared with being up and about to help others in active ways. Why waste time in solitude when so many are suffering?
“There is no problem other than the thought.” –Lama Norlha Rinpoche
When I was running a household and raising my daughter, I eventually learned to streamline the more mundane aspects of my life, such as housework and meal preparation, with the help of an online housekeeping maven who emphasized the importance of having household routines—things you do automatically on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis without thinking about them.
I can think of two situations in life when it’s painfully obvious that ego-clinging is counterproductive. The first is in dealing with very young children. The second is in dealing with dementia. In neither case will you ever win an argument using fact or reason, and when you fail and it feels frustrating, who is it that suffers? It’s not me…it’s my ego-clinging!
The Buddha pointed to ego-clinging as the root source of all our suffering, but do we really know what it is or how to recognize it? Who is this mysterious shadow lurking behind our every thought and action, spoiling every otherwise perfect experience?
“Mind is empty. You can change your thoughts.” –Lama Norlha Rinpoche
We are taught in the Seven Points of Mind Training, “Be grateful to everyone,” and “Rely all the time on a joyful mind.” How can we put this into practice when all around us things are constantly going wrong and people continue to behave in ways that disregard or harm us?