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”:
All appearances are my own mind; / mind’s nature from the start is concept free.
To know my own mind’s nature and refrain / from grasping onto subject-object signs:
This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
verse 22 audio above (Note change in line 2 translation. Audio will be updated soon.)
With verse 22, we begin the practices of cultivating ultimate bodhicitta, the nature of mind, verses 22-24. We couldn’t find ourselves in a better place during the first 49 days of our root lama’s parinirvana.
We’ve had a couple of weeks off while Chodron was traveling. Tomorrow, October 19, we’ll reconvene (live from Texas!) to complete our study of practice 11: to exchange our own happiness for others’ suffering. This is the crux of bodhisattva practice, and learning how to do this is the reason we are studying the 37 practices. All the rest of the practices follow from this. For the translation and audio of verse 11, click here.
In our first week on verse 11 (audio September 21), we reviewed Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary. Please read it at least two or three times before we move on to bodhisattva boot camp next week, and take it to heart, as it holds many keys to understanding and traveling the path of bodhisattva practice and complete awakening.
Our venerable Retreat Master at PTC Monastery, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, completed two three-year retreats before escaping from occupied Tibet at the age of 20 and has subsequently led many such retreats in India, New York, and Tibet over nearly 50 years, most of them begun under the guidance of his own Lama, the late renowned meditation master Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche. From his vast experience, he assures us that the secrets of three-year retreat are to practice diligently without allowing yourself to become distracted, to keep a joyful mind and look upon everyone with love and compassion in all circumstances, and always to remember the impermanence of your situation so you don’t waste any time. There may be more, but I don’t remember them offhand.
“The three realms of existence are as fleeting as autumn clouds.” ~From The Extensive Sport Sutra, quoted in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa.
A few years ago, when I lived in rural New Hampshire, I was taking a walk on the most gloriously perfect early fall day you can imagine, just feeling on top of the world, la la la la la, when I passed a neighbor’s pig pen. Mr. and Mrs. Pig were friends of mine, and I always stopped to say a few mani’s if they were out and about. But today Mrs. Pig was standing there all alone looking very, very upset. Where is Mr. Pig? As I passed the driveway, why, there was Mr. Pig—laid out on the asphalt, freshly slaughtered and about to be hung up for bacon. Mrs. Pig was next on the list.
Lama Norlha once asked his students, “If you don’t practice now, when will you do it? When you’re a cow grazing in a field?” He always said the best advice he got from his first root lama in Tibet was, “Always remember impermanence.”
A Western teacher I studied Tibetan with back in the 1980s used to say, “We already fell off the building. We’re hurtling toward the ground.”
OK, our time on earth is limited and could end at any moment without warning. But while we’re still here, aka today, how to find the time to practice?
Circa 1980, the first personal computers were behemoths with one font, no graphics, no color, and no mouse, and the most popular game was Pac-Man. An innovative computer game came out based on the 1960s TV show The Prisoner about a renegade British secret agent mysteriously exiled to “the Village,” a relentlessly cheerful island designed to drive a sophisticated Londoner mad. In the computer game, the player typed in words and used the cursor keys to move around in order to solve a series of more and more complex and seemingly illogical puzzles and eventually “escape”—something Number Six, the hero of The Prisoner, never managed to do.
I remember clearly the moment we finally arrived at the solution to the last puzzle: “Unplug the computer.” So simple…yet we never thought of it on our own!
OK, so maybe you need your computer, but what if you just turned it off and meditated for a half hour, or even 15 minutes? Or, don’t turn it off—just walk away and meditate for ten minutes, or five, and come right back.
Or, stay at the computer and just swivel your chair around and let thoughts go for a few minutes. Or, don’t even turn around—just lower your gaze and focus on your breath. Don’t try to change it, just notice it, while gently letting go of any thoughts that arise. You can even look like you’re working!
If you don’t have five minutes, and I’ve been in that situation many times myself, maybe you could follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice and take three slow, mindful breaths, relaxing and letting all thoughts go just for that short amount of time.
If you don’t even have time for three breaths, then Mingyur Rinpoche has a suggestion: just rest your mind for ONE SECOND! He says we can do this any time, anywhere. Once while teaching meditation in New York City he stopped and talked to himself for a moment to see if it’s possible to meditate while conversing. He reported to his highly amused audience that yes, it is! In the one-second technique, you just focus for that second on whatever you’re doing; let all thoughts and feelings go, and be present where you are, vividly—feeling tactile sensations, hearing sounds, noticing your breath, or relaxing into the vastness of space.
Many years ago during a teaching at PTC, a student asked the great meditation master Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche how often we should meditate. Without hesitating, Rinpoche replied, “Whenever you realize you’re not meditating, then you should meditate.”
Listen! The banshee is already wailing on the mountainside! There’s no other time than now.
Ha, ha, it’s not really 4:00 a.m. as I write this. I just wanted to echo the title of the first post I wrote, a year ago this month. Normally at 4:00 a.m., we are starting our first meditation session (tun) of the day. Each morning between 4:00 and 5:35, we must complete 100 each of the preliminary practices: prostrations, Dorje Sempa (Vajrasattva), the mandala offering, and Guru Yoga, now that we have finished the intensive accumulation of 111,111 of each of those practices. The other three meditation sessions of the day are devoted mostly to our current main practice.
One of the great things about being a Buddhist is that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, and no matter how bleak—or how perfect— things may look at any given moment, there’s always something you can do to improve the situation. (This is no doubt true of other spiritual paths as well—I just happen to be familiar with Buddhist methods.) Below is a concise guide to a few of the techniques we can pull out in any setting to calm our own mind or send some positive energy to someone in need. Each of them is best cultivated in regular sessions on a cushion or chair; that makes them easier and more effective on the spur of the moment. But if you aren’t able to organize yourself to practice formally, any engagement with them is helpful.
Just a few days into three-year retreat, almost seven months ago, I was helping a fellow retreatant polish some shrine bowls. It was during the lunch break, the only time talking is allowed, and we discovered that we had both come up with the same metaphor to describe our experience so far: down the rabbit hole!
At our meditation study and practice meetings in New Hampshire, we often talked about the Four Thoughts, also known as the Four Reminders. Their full title is the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind, i.e., redirect it from worldly to spiritual concerns.
Lama Norlha Rinpoche has always placed a great deal of emphasis on really getting to know these thoughts; he says it is like building the foundation of your house. If you haven’t really internalized these thoughts, your Dharma practice will never be truly stable. (Just before we entered the three-year retreat, he gave a teaching on these same four thoughts.) Whenever you find yourself wavering about whether to do your meditation or go make some popcorn and put in a dvd, you can always come back to the Four Thoughts to remind yourself why the dvd isn’t going to help you when things go wrong.
Informally expressed, the Four Thoughts are:
The Precious Human Existence: We need to appreciate what a rare opportunity we have in this life; we have everything we need in order to free ourselves from the otherwise endless cycle of confusion and suffering. We are not gravely impaired or imprisoned in a situation that leaves us no leisure; and we have access to the Buddha’s teachings and to living teachers who can help us apply them. Not everyone has this situation, and we might not have it ourselves the next time around; we need to put it to work for us.
Impermanence and Death: Darn, there’s that D-word again. Why do Buddhists have to be so morbid? Because it’s the truth: we don’t know how long this opportunity is going to last. Even if we don’t die tomorrow, something could happen that could prevent us from practicing. It could happen any minute (wait, is that the phone?)—so we have to make use of our time right now!
Karma, Cause and Result: This one is very complicated; even if I understood it, I wouldn’t try to explain it! But Jamgon Kongtrul, the great nineteenth-century Kagyu teacher, says in The Lamp of the Definitive Meaning (aka, The Torch of Certainty, translated by Judith Hanson) that anyone can understand the fundamental underlying law of karma: virtuous-positive-helpful actions lead to future happiness, and unvirtuous-negative-harmful actions lead to future suffering. Part of Dharma practice is to conduct ourselves in the world in such a way that we don’t create more negative conditions for ourselves or others. This isn’t a moralistic edict, it’s completely practical: we are looking out for our own future, which may kick in to some extent in this lifetime, but really takes hold when we die and as we move on to our next life. As Lama Norlha Rinpoche often advises: don’t set yourself up for regrets on your deathbed, because there’s nothing you can do about them then.
The Disadvantages of Samsara: Samsara is the Sanskrit word (Tibetan kor.wa) for the endless cycle of suffering that goes round and round from lifetime to lifetime. The Buddha taught that it’s all suffering, every atom of it. Even what feels like fun is suffering in disguise: if it doesn’t make you fat or aggravate your asthma, at best it has to end; and if you look at anything in life closely enough, you see that it came to you via a trail of others’ pain and destruction, especially if you believe, as Buddhists do, that even tiny animals count. (How many insects died for your bowl of brown rice or strawberries?)
For a more classical presentation and more detail about the Four Thoughts, some good books are The Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul, The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche, and two books by Kalu Rinpoche: The Writings of Kalu Rinpoche (his first book, available from PTC Monastery) and Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism.
Suppose someone gave you a treasure map, with a guarantee that if you followed it, you would find a million dollars at the end, and it would be ALL YOURS—no taxes, no fine print, no legal hassles. What would you do? Who wouldn’t drop everything that could possibly be dropped and devote every spare minute to the pursuit of such a fortune?