What Would It Mean If Practice Wasn’t One More Thing You Have To Do?

This week we will explore the second two of the Five Strengths.  One way to think of these strengths is to consider them the answer to the question “how do I ________ my practice?”  You can insert words like strengthen, increase, start, develop, etc.  Basically there are 5 aspects of a strong practice.  We had a good talk last week about the two of them – Determination and Familiarization.  If we are determined to see clearly and we get familiar with when we do see clearly and when we don’t, we increase the likelihood that we will see clearly.  You can think of the increase in capacity as a natural outgrowth of your determination and familiarization.  This is true for any area of practice.  Do you want to live a generous life?  Keep the intention alive and pay attention to when you are generous and when you are not generous.  There’s no need to judge it.  It is the nature of being humans to be generous some times and not generous other times.  You are simply paying attention to what arises in both situations.  It is so accessible.  Simply fill in whatever quality, understanding and/or ability you want to practice with.

The second two strengths are equally accessible – Seed of Virtue and Reproach.  Together they point to continuity of practice and restraint of the ego.  The ego is always pushing and pulling to get its way.  We live in this constant maneuvering.  As practitioners, we all know this exists but we rarely pay attention to it.  I think we are all intimidated by the power of our impulsiveness.  Often it seems bigger than my intentions of goodwill and kindness.  For many years the more I practiced the more embarrassed I got whenever I saw this impulsive energy.  To be honest, it seemed to me that I would act in ways that were completely contrary to being a Buddhist or even a simple meditator. My aggressiveness, meanness, stinginess and lack of care for anyone other than myself seemed to be entrenched and unchangeable.

I now know that concepts like “needs improvement”, “needs to change”, “bad/good habits” were the problem.  It is near impossible to change something you can’t stand to look it.  When “seeing”, however, is just a natural part of the way you live – than the emphasis is on “seeing” rather than what you see.  The more I let go of the idea that something was wrong with me the more I was able to look at all of my behaviors, habits, reaction whether they we what I would consider virtuous or not.  It feels like I am constantly saying this but it is so true and yet rarely trusted.  I know without a doubt that when I leaned to become more interested in how something had come to be rather than what I looked like or was doing in any given moment I simultaneously became happier.  I’m not saying it was any easier to see my non-virtuous conduct than if I wasn’t practicing.  Its just that I had a focal point other than praise and blame.

Can you see the possibilities of these for strengths in your own life?  We’ll talk about the pit-falls and uplifts on Thursday.  See you then…

Tuere

 

Utilization of Practice In One’s Whole Life

Well it’s time to get back to it.  Tomorrow we will begin our exploration into the four section of lojong practice – Showing The Utilization of Practice in One’s Whole Life.  This section deals primarily with bringing practice into one’s everyday experience.  From my reading of this section, one must consider that unless practice becomes an ordinary aspect of your life, you are wasting your time.  This may seem harsh to some and I may be wrong, but a lot of what this section’s slogans point to is how to overcome laziness around practice.  No matter how much we understand the Dharma, love the Dharma and/or appreciate the support of the Dharma, if we don’t practice it all day, every day, we will never experience the full impact of Dharma.  Moreover, practice should not be some arduous task.  It should be as simple as putting on your shoes in the morning and walking around all day with them on.  The slogans in this section basically point to how to utilize practice in such a way that we can hold practice with the same ease and commonality.

The first slogan in this section is Practice The Five Strengths.  They are determination, familiarization, seed of virtue, reproach and aspiration.  We will explore the first two this week, the second two next week and the last week of June.  Determination and familiarization are the joy and intimacy of practice.  I like that Trungpa Rinpoche refers to the Dharma or one’s practice as a lover.  Its like asking the question, what would you do to care for and appreciate a kind and supportive partner?  You would make some kind of effort to connect and engage with them.  This is a good way to think of practice.  We often talk about the benefits and gifts of practice but then if we look at the practice in our lives it is barely noticeable.  Trungpa Rinpoche is saying that if we think of practice as a lover, we will want to keep it close. Go to sleep with it, wake up with it, think about it all day, call on it in times of difficulties and share our joys with it.  This is so alive for me because I can honestly say that this is the way I live my life right now.

Norman Fisher has a slightly different approach.  He looks at this first slogan as the five strengths that get us started.  The way he talks about it, this section is the beginning of Mind Training.  Everything else was prep work.  This first slogan is our resolve to begin.  To do this we need a connection with our deepest motivation which resides in the heart of every human.  Habits of mind block our ability to connect with this deep and nourishing motivation.  Dharma practice is what helps us dissolve, release, untangle, or unblock our heart connection so we can live a more inspired life.  A life connected to a full throttle level of kindness.

Which of these two approaches work best for you?  We’ll explore this question tomorrow night.  Until then…

Tuere

 

 

 

A Breather…

Before moving on to a new section of slogans – I thought we could take some time to just recap where we’ve been.

See you tonight!

Tuere

And Again, Bring Whatever You Encounter In Life Back To The Cushion

This week we will take up the last slogan in the section on transforming bad circumstances – Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.  Or Norman Fisher’s version – whatever you meet is the path.  Several of the slogans in this section point us back to the cushion.  Slogans like transform all mishaps into the path, drive all blames into and even the practicing with the four methods from the last two weeks seem to emphasis the importance or value of turning inward for answers.

I think this is because at it’s core – meditation, mindfulness, Buddhism and/or emptiness – (whatever you call your practice) is about returning again and again to the stability of the breath.  All practitioners understand, both intellectually and empirically, that whatever arises in meditation will fade away.  Our whole practice is around learning how to let go.  We try to release our resistance to the presence of some unpleasantness.  We try to observe when we are lost in thought, let go and return to the breath.  We try to sense into the felt sense of leaning into pleasure by relaxing and letting the moment pass. Our entire mediation period can become a process of grasping, resisting, thinking and letting go.

But then we get up off the cushion and go about life getting caught up in every little detail or situation that comes into existence.  This slogan is about learning to live our lives like we practice on the cushion.  What if we were to see the situations and circumstances in our lives as passing thoughts or stories?  What if we could observed everyday experiences from unentangled awareness rather than from some entangled web of control?  All it takes is a willingness to see all life as meditation.

When you think about it, that’s all that is really happening.  Sounds, sensations, thoughts, images all arise unexpectedly in meditation just as with life off the cushion.  Learning to let the sounds, sensations, thoughts and images simply rise and fall, appear and pass away is what brings peace and relaxation to our sit.  The mind can become gathered and still when it no longer has to chase after every thought, sound, sensation and image.  If we were to hold all life in this same manner, we would began to experience the same degree of stillness as we go about our daily activities.

So the invitation is to join whatever shows up in life with your meditation.  What do you think the implications of this could be?  Do you think it is possible to get as still in your daily activities as you are in meditation?  What if you are not still in meditation, do you still bring the unexpected to the cushion?  What do you think?

Tuere

 

 

 

Now We Are Ready For The Battle; The Last 2 Weapons Of A Strong Warrior

Apologies for the late post!  Tonight we will take up the last 2 aspects of the Four Practices Are The Best Methods slogan.  We will explore what it means to make offerings to the dons and dharmapalas or as Norman Fisher says – appreciate your lunacy and pray for help.  I think these two weapons support us is reconsidering how we relate to life; especially how we relate to bad circumstances.  The first two aspects from last week point us towards seeing life through a kinder lens.  We intentionally cultivate kindness in difficult times and through this cultivation we see the truer nature of what we call “bad circumstances”  This is our internal practice.  Practicing within our own minds when we are faced with bad circumstance.

The second two aspects can be thought of as our external practice.  It is practicing with the external conditions that show up in bad circumstances.  First we make offerings to the dons.  From my understanding, dons are like what my native friends call “coyotes” and what I grew up calling “gremlins”.  Its like the negative energy that disrupts, destroys and/or complicates life.  It makes us crazy.  Every time it shows up we get caught in some neurotic temper tantrum, crying fit, bitterness, depression, worry – you name it.  It is our go to neurosis.  It feels like someone out there is laughing at us.  In trauma, it is called “crazy-making behavior” and is associated with the fickle, uncontrollable nature of a perpetrator.  When we look at life, we see this similar pattern.  Life is uncontrollable, unpredictable and ever-changing.  When we try to control, predict and make it permanent, we get crazy; neurotic.  Making offerings to the dons is like bowing to the craziness of the whole thing.  It helps us see the “lunacy” of the whole thing.  It lightens the weight of life, puts humor, laughter back into it, and helps us not take everything so serious.

The final aspect is similar except it’s a little more abrupt.  I like that Chogyam Trungpa says this is when we stray from the path and life hurls us back.  Dharmapalas are actually thought of a protectors.  They are the people and things that wake us up.  We can consider that whatever gets us “back on the cushion” is basically a blessing.  We can began to see dharmapalas because they show up over and over in our lives.  I spent a life time trying not to be angry and I kept noticing how angry I got.  I was always angry about something.  After practicing with this slogan awhile it finally dawned on me that this life was all about anger.  Understanding anger is my practicing and in order to understand anger I needed to be in situations where I was angry.  I gradually became least resistant to the people and things that “made me angry” and more appreciative for the opportunity to see through the fog of anger.  I suspect we will need to explore this a little more tonight.  Until then…

Tuere

Now We Are Ready For The Battle; The First 2 Weapons Of A Strong Warrior

Tomorrow we will take up half of the next slogan – Four Practices Are The Best Methods.  The four methods are (1) accumulating merit; (2) laying down evil deeds; (3) offering to the dons; and (4) offering to the dharmapalas.  Norman Fisher’s version is a little more clearer – Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy and Pray for Help.

First, we will explore what it means to accumulate merit or do good as an act of humility.  This practice is actually the opposite of making us feel good by building up the ego around all our good works.  Instead, it is aimed at destroying the ego.  We do this by acting out of the energy of Metta.  We are friendly for the sake of being friendly, kind for the sake of being kind and generous for the sake of being generous.  We expect nothing in return.  No acknowledgement or return favor.   It means we disregard or suspend any hope of gain because of our actions.  We don’t act out of desire or fear.  We act out of Metta and for no other reason.

The mind generally has a field day with this kind of concept.  It jumps to fears about being mistreated or taken advantage of.  But you can see how this thinking is connected to our “selfing”.  The self is always protecting itself from some suspected harm.  It needs to be acknowledged and will never act or give unconditionally.   Thus, the point of this practice.  By accumulating merit or do good out of Metta – we strengthen our heart.  We learn to live freely without being foolish or naïve.  I believe that when we operate out of Metta there is no way we can be harmed but we may need to talk about this a bit.

The second method, laying down evil deeds or avoiding evil is connected to our accumulating merit/doing good.  In fact, it presupposes that as you accumulate merit/do good you will see more and more of your harmful patterns and began to drop them.  Cultivating Metta can be quite an eye-opener; even if we see how little we actually act out of pure kindness or friendliness.  This is more about seeing our harmful ways so much so that we become sick of them.  NOT SICK OF OURSELVES!  Sick of the acts of harmfulness.  It’s like recovering from an addiction.  We you get sick and tired of being sick and tired, you are ready to let go of the addiction.  The thing is, to get sick and tired you have to see yourself sick and tired often.  So much so that you can no longer stand it.

Often, practitioners use the practice to avoid seeing their acts of harmfulness.  This is what I would consider to be spiritual by-passing.  All we want to see is the goodness and sweetness of me.  Even though awareness keeps showing us where we are harming ourselves and others, we keep pushing that under the rug or behind the curtain by focusing on our wholesome desire or intention to do no harm.  This practice method (and more so with the last two) is aimed at getting us to get sick and tire of our harmful behavior so we can just lay it down and not pick it up again.  I know, I know – easier said than done:)

See you tomorrow night – Tuere

 

 

Be Kind To Yourself During Times Of Confusion And You Just Might Wake Up!

The traditional wording of this week’s slogan is a bit obscure – Seeing confusion as the four kayas / Is unsurpassable shunyata protection.  I’m not sure if Norman Fisher’s version is any better – See confusion as Buddha and practice emptiness.  Although the wording of the slogan may seem abstract, what it is pointing to is quite accessible intellectually.  Actual experience of it may be a bit more complicated and/or evasive.  But first, some definitions: The four kayas refer to the four stages of perception or how we perceive the world.  It seems closely related to what we call the five aggregates (we can talk about how the two compare at the sit).  Shunyata refers to a sense of openness.  It is non-judgmental awareness and is closely related to what we call non-self.

This slogan points to the need to understand the mechanics of the mind.  It is about learning, observing and practicing experiencing how the mind operates – mechanically.  The mind is a pretty well-oiled machine.  It operates out of its own mapping without paying us – or the present moment – any attention.  It moves automatically and habitually.  This means that the mind follows whatever sequencing we have around emotions such fear, anger, sadness, happiness, peacefulness, etc.; people, such as family, friends, co-workers, enemies, neighborhood business workers, etc.; places, such as work, school, home, dentist office, grocery store, department store, etc.; and things, our cars, phones, favorite objects, food, etc. regardless of whether we are aware of the sequencing or not.  The problem is that this sequencing is controlling our lives.  Unless we pay attention, we cannot interrupt, change, delay or prevent our reactivity or actions within the sequencing.

It is hard to see this sequencing when our intellect seems clear and knowing.  We rarely find the space to question to truth of experiences, opinions, views or perceptions that seem fundamentally correct.  The easiest way to see the fallibility of perception is when we are confused.  There is a gap in confusion that allows the liberating qualities of emptiness to protect the mind and thus “this being” from the mindless habits of mind.  This possibility shows up in confusion because the mind has not connected all the dots (that is why there is confusion).  In my opinion, this slogan is saying – use that confusion to see the mechanical nature of mind.  Be like Buddha – sit and observe the mind.  Allow the confusion to protect you from the absoluteness of mind.  We spend the bulk of our lives in absolutes – let the moments of confusion be an opportunity to awaken.   And how do we do this…….?

Be Kind To Yourself During Times Of Confusion!

See you tomorrow night – Tuere