Tag Archives: impermanence

April monastery discussion: tips for keeping practice fresh

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.

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Bringing fear of coronavirus (and all other fears) onto the path Part 6: Pinch me, I must be dreaming

With our routines upended by this week’s public health efforts to contain the coronavirus-covid-19 pandemic, this may be a good time to revisit the profound Buddhist teaching that all our experience is ultimately no more real, solid, lasting or reliable than a dream. Last week we were complaining about going to work, our kids were complaining about going to school, restaurants were packed, Disneyland was open, March Madness was about to begin, and you could buy toilet paper in any supermarket. This week — it’s all gone. Just like last year’s winter and last night’s dream.

We have a song for this, and so does the Buddhist tradition. First, ours:

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily: life is but a dream.

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Bringing fear of coronavirus (and all other fears) onto the path Part 5: Timely advice from contemporary masters

A vintage dharma quote popped up in my Facebook feed this morning with what turns out to be an excellent suggestion for constructive use of our social distancing time now that covid-19 has been declared a global pandemic and we are all urged to stay home to help contain it (though if you are a healthcare or other essential worker, overwhelmed with WFH, or have kids home from school, you may have to find your moments). As dharma practitioners, this may be the very best thing we can do with whatever extra time we have:

I feel that it is absolutely important to make the practice of meditation your source of strength, your source of basic intelligence. Please think about that. You could sit down and do nothing, just sit and do nothing. Stop acting, stop speeding. Sit and do nothing. You should take pride in the fact that you have learned a very valuable message: you actually can survive beautifully by doing nothing.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Journey without Goal

A message also came in from Mingyur Rinpoche via his Tergar Learning Community (which offers fabulous online courses, in case you do have some extra time).

Mingyur Rinpoche’s video is below, but here are the highlights for easy reference:

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Bringing fear of coronavirus (and all other fears) onto the path Part 4: “If it is better for me to be ill…”

It turns out that our old friend from the 14th century, Togme Zangpo, the author of The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, had something to say about how to deal with fear of coronavirus (and all other illnesses) in the 21st century:

If it is better for me to be sick,

May I be blessed with sickness.

If it is better for me to recover,

May I be blessed with health.

If it is better for me to die,

May I be blessed with death.

Ken McLeod begins his commentary on the 37 practices, Reflections on Silver River, with these words. Ken says that when he first encountered this prayer in the 1970s, “It was the strangest prayer I had ever seen and it made no sense to me. Why would you pray to be ill? Why would you pray to die?”

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Bringing fear of coronavirus (and all other fears) onto the path Part 3: How to live and how to die

In addition to “others first,” another important resource the mind training tradition offers us is a set of specific practices for empowering both our life and our death (point 5 of the 7 points of mind training, Great Path of Awakening page 25).

In both cases we are applying the same five practices, literally called the five strengths or powers, but in a different order and with somewhat different content depending on whether we have entered the bardo of dying or not. According to the Vajrayana teachings, the bardo — or transitional state — of dying begins as soon as we know what’s going to kill us, e.g, when we get a terminal diagnosis, even if we potentially have years yet to live. However, since we don’t always get a lot of notice, it’s good to be familiar with the five ways to empower our dying process even when we are fit and healthy, and especially if we find ourselves facing a fearsome cause of serious illness and death.

I recommend reading this section in The Great Path of Awakening or another book on mind training, but here’s the gist:

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Bringing fear of coronavirus (and all other fears) onto the path: Part 1: The four ends

It’s March 2020 and coronavirus, along with its associated illness, covid-19 (corona virus disease of 2019, has appeared on the scene in the last few weeks, overtaking headlines in the midst of a volatile presidential primary season; and inspiring widespread alarm, toilet paper hoarding, and precautionary measures — as other illnesses have done in the past (bird flu, SARS, Ebola, etc.). It might turn out to be a devastating pandemic like the Spanish flu of the early 20th century. Or it might not.

Update March 17, 2020: Last week the World Health Organization classified covid-19 as a global pandemic, a lot of people are sick (though it’s mild in most), and many people have died in Asia and Europe, though still fortunately not on the scale of the Spanish flu. A number of people have died the US, though we’re behind other parts of the word in covid-19 transmission. To try to contain it, as of this week many events have been canceled (Mingyur Rinpoche’s annual retreat in Minnesota, that I was registered for; major league basketball and March Madness, concerts, political rallies, etc.) and venues closed (Disneyland, the Metropolitain and other museums, colleges, restaurants, churches and dharma centers — including Richmond’s Ekoji Buddhist Sangha) and we are being urged to stay home as much as possible. San Francisco shut down yesterday. We don’t know yet how it will continue to develop, and if public health efforts to contain it succeed, we may never know if we contained it successfully or if it was over-hyped in the first place. That would be a good result. Meanwhile, there are ways to work with this in our practice and use it as an opportunity to prepare for whatever may befall us.

Bringing fear to the path: As dharma practitioners, we are encouraged to use all adverse circumstances — up to and including deadly illness and imminent death — to wake ourselves up by applying the practices we train in, rather than giving in to fear and panic. I’ll be adding more practices in the next week or so, but a good place to start is simply to contemplate the classic Buddhist teaching known as “the four ends”:

The end of accumulation is dispersion.

The end of building is ruin.

The end of meeting is parting.

The end of birth is death.

The four ends serve as a reminder of the inevitability that all things that exist relatively, through the coming together of causes and conditions, are destined to end. There is no way to escape it. In our culture, we tend to cope with this through denial, but behind denial lurks fear, and we can become paralyzed by our efforts to keep the things that scare us out of our conscious awareness.

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OPL8: chapter 4: impermanence of the composite

With chapter 4, we arrive at the heart of Gamopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation. Here, in the instructions of the dharma master, which comprise the next 16 chapters of the book, the actual path begins, and our first stop is to really contemplate the impermanence of everything we experience, including ourselves.

You may recall that, according to Gampopa, understanding impermanence is the antidote to the first obstacle to realizing our buddha nature: attachment to the activities of this life. We have so many compelling things on our to-do list — tasks and responsibilities, projects and plans, emails, appointments, news, housework, homework, workouts, meals, shopping, gardening, on and on, ad infinitum — that the forward momentum can carry us along from the moment we wake up until night comes and we fall into bed, or at least onto the couch in front of the TV (see obstacle two). Does that sound like your day?

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Lama Tenam at PTC: How to deal with emotions

You can see the video of this teaching by clicking here. In fact, if you click you will find a small and growing treasure trove of teachings in the PTC PPV video archive. The cost per video is $20 to help support teacher visits and the cost of livestreaming. The archive includes two wonderful teachings by Khenpo Donyo about the enlightened female teachers who inspired the Shangpa lineage, Niguma and Sukhasiddhi, and their Vajra songs expressing the nature of mind. (The video archives are unavailable at this time.)

Now, back to Lama Tenam:

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37 practices: verse 4

4. To let go of attachment to this lifetime

Old friends I’ve known as long as I remember, / One day we’ll have to go our separate ways.

Material possessions I’ve worked hard for / Will be enjoyed by someone else one day.

This consciousness, a guest, will leave my body, / The guest house where for all my life it’s stayed.

To let go of attachment to this lifetime: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 4 chanted 3x

verses 1-4 chanted 1x

Alternate second line, offered by Kathi Rogers:

“Material possessions I’ve worked hard for / Will end up in the dumpster anyway.” 🙂

The fourth preparation for the path of awakening is to study, contemplate, and meditate on impermanence. We are all very familiar with the idea of impermanence by now. Truly understood, it is the single most powerful motivator to seek a place of solitude and engage in practice without delay. Why it often doesn’t work that way, according to a Western teacher I studied Tibetan with in the 1980s, is that understanding impermanence intellectually isn’t enough to stop us from continuing to relate to everything in our life as solid and permanent. We still get upset over passing trivialities, and/or waste our entire precious human existence on busyness and distraction.

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