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.
To vanquish my emotionality / I need insight based in tranquility.
To understand this and to cultivate / a stable, focused meditative state,
Not getting stuck in the four formless realms: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
verse 29 audio above
This just in: Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s commentary on verse 29 consists mainly of a guided calm abiding meditation using visualization of the Buddha as its focus, which then segues right into insight meditation, thus perfectly illustrating the point of this verse. We will do this meditation in class instead of our usual “Two Wings of Awakening” meditation based on points 1 and 2 of the seven points of mind training.
Meanwhile, thanks to an email from Marilyn this morning, I now know there is a fabulous appendix in The Heart of Compassion that I had failed to notice, even though we relied on Appendix 1 in our discussion of verse 6 — quite a while ago. In Appendix 3, Dilgo Khyentse shares important instructions on meditation from Dzatrul Ngawang Tendzin Norbu‘s Vase of Amrita and from Dilgo Khyentse’s root teacher, Shechen Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal. Neither of these texts appears to be available in English translation, other than the excerpts presented here.
I am particularly happy to see Tendzin Norbu’s explanation of “the nine ways of settling the mind.” These are often presented in English as nine levels or stages of calm abiding, which may also be valid, but it sometimes leads to confusion about how the stages relate to each other and how to figure out which stage we’re “on.” The presentation here is easily understood and applied, and for that alone, this appendix is a treasure. But it also includes several other essential and very clear explanations that it is wonderful to have in one place so concisely presented.
The sole focus of calm abiding recommended here by Tendzin Norbu is visualization of the Buddha — and that explains why Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary is devoted to guiding us through that visualization and using the resulting state of calm abiding as a basis for the next stage of meditation: insight, aka vipashyana (Skt) or lhaktong (Tib). Et voila! Having distanced ourselves from the homeland of our habitual reactions way back in verse 2, now we have the method for putting them to rest once and for all. Will we do it?
Sorry, these class notes have not been completed yet, but they are in the queue. It’s been a busy couple of months!
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?
As you may know, we had a visit last week at PTC from Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction and teacher of contemplative computing. He talked to us about some ways to tame the hold digital technology exerts on our attention, which can be an issue for us at the monastery just as it might be for anyone who relies on technology in their work and daily life. Among the many topics he touched upon, one of the most immediately useful was “email apnea.” It seems that we users of digital devices have a tendency to hold our breath as we wait for our email to update. Though it may take just a few seconds each time, if we check frequently or have poor reception these intervals can add up to 15 minutes or more during the course of a day, or four 24-hour days over the span of a year.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, for the last couple of years to help care for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the last year of my three-year retreat, and I had to move her to assisted living a few months after retreat graduation in 2011. Since then, I’ve been back and forth periodically, and right now I’m in Richmond again, helping her adjust to a recent move to an all-dementia facility, and overseeing major repairs to her house.
Spending time with my mom and other people in her facility, I feel I’ve gained some insight into how to prepare for my own old age and the possibility of dementia. In a nutshell: practice as much as possible, learn to rest my mind wherever I am, and cultivate contentment with whatever is happening. (Corollary: Eat everything. Including parsnips if needed.)
I keep meaning to add new posts but golly it is a busy life, even when it’s a life that is to all intents and purposes dedicated to Dharma practice. It’s hard to bring major projects, Dharma or otherwise, to fruition because they are constantly interrupted by more immediate concerns, and the to-do list is mainly a historical record of things I meant at one time to get done.
Why is it so hard to set aside meaningful periods of time to focus on things that are really important?
Losar Tashi Delek! Happy Tibetan New Year! (as of February 14)
I don’t know if our local groundhog saw his/her shadow on February 2. (As you know, every day is Groundhog Day here in retreat.) My bet is s/he didn’t, as it was overcast most of the day and it’s been wicked cold for weeks. But, groundhog or no, one thing this February is guaranteed to bring is: