Tag Archives: mindfulness

37 practices: verses 35 and 36

35. To use mindfulness and vigilance to crush emotional reactions

Once reactivity becomes a habit / it’s hard to turn its energy around.

To overpower it without delay, / by wielding mindfulness and vigilance,

The moment a reaction first begins — / attachment or another poison:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 35 audio above

36. To use mindfulness and vigilance to benefit others

To sum it up, whatever I am doing, / in all my conduct and my practices,

Through constant mindfulness and vigilance / to monitor the state of mind I’m in,

Directing it to others’ benefit: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 36 audio above. Note that the audio places “constant”  in a different position in line 3. The written translation is the updated version.

In these two verses, Tokme Zangpo sums up the bodhisattva path into the partnership of mindfulness and vigilance, and shows us two ways to work with these two qualities to achieve a bodhisattva’s aims. If we reflect on the preceding 34 practices, each and every one of them depends on mindfulness and vigilance, and we develop each practice by stabilizing our mindfulness and vigilance more and more so that they become more and more continuous.

What is meant by mindfulness and vigilance? Last week, Lama Jinzang shared with us the definitions given by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, in his recent teachings on the 37 practices in New York City. I haven’t listened to session 5 yet, in which he teaches these verses, so I will pass along his definition based on my notes from Lama Jinzang’s summary: mindfulness is remembering what is right and what is wrong, and vigilance (aka, alertness) is remaining conscious of what our body, speech, and mind are actually doing, i.e., being aware of whether we are practicing according to our understanding of the dharma — or not.

In his indispensable online Tibetan-English dictionary The Illuminator, Lama Tony Duff defines mindfulness as follows: “In the context of calm abiding, mindfulness holds the mind in place and alertness keeps watch over the situation to ensure that mindfulness is operative.” Off the cushion, mindfulness can be applied in any situation, and vigilance or alertness is also on the job to monitor whether we are being mindful — or distracted, e.g., under the influence of a negative emotion — in any given moment. Lama Tony describes mindfulness and alertness as “necessary co-partners.”

So, then, what are the specific applications of mindfulness and alertness on the bodhisattva path? That is what verses 35 and 36 are here to tell us.

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Weather, stoplights, and equanimity

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.

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37 practices: taking refuge as a practice, verse 7 p.s.

In verse 7 of the 37 practices of a bodhisattva, Togme Zangpo reminds himself (and now us, since his writings have survived 7 centuries) to give up worldly refuges and look instead to refuges that are authentic and reliable and can actually protect us from the perils of samsara: the Buddha, dharma, and sangha.

This is not an instruction in the sense of an order or the threat of hell if we don’t follow it, but in the sense of lovingly pointing out to us that if we put this advice into practice rather than just think of it as a nice idea, the entire path of awakening will unfold before us. That is the promise of verse 3.

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Mind the gap

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?

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Walnuts of Mindfulness

Three-year retreat, year one, month 12

Our mindfulness of impermanence at Nigu Ling is heightened at this time of year by two venerable black walnut trees overlooking our tiny fenced yard. From midsummer through early fall, there is a continual rain of walnuts onto the gravel walking path that encircles the house. Each walnut, fully encased, is about the size, weight and color of a tennis ball but without the bounce, and they pick up quite a bit of speed in their plunge from the tiptop branches of these lofty trees.

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