We have so many concepts about others, and sometimes even before we know that person, we’ve already given them this label: “Difficult.” It’s like a big tag they’re wearing whenever we see them. So I think what’s obstructing us from dealing with them is our prejudgments and preconceptions about who they are. We have so many thoughts about them even before we get to know them. In a sense, this may make you less able to deal with a “difficult” person. And actually, if you take a closer look, it may turn out that the difficult person is you.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave an interesting talk on how to raise chidlren with a bodhichitta motviation. An excerpt from the transcript:
On the other hand, if you allow yourself to come under the influence of the eight worldly concerns, when your children do something to please you, something that you like, you will happily take care of them. However, when they do something that is contrary to your wishes, something that upsets you or makes you angry, it is possible that you may even be tempted to give them up entirely. This change in your attitude happens because of your attachment to your own happiness.
With bodhicitta, you will feel that your children are the most precious and the kindest beings in your life. Of course, in general, all sentient beings are precious and kind, but parents need to specifically remember that their children are included among those sentient beings. If you have this attitude, you will take care of them with a healthy, positive mind, rather than with a negative emotional mind and the pain of attachment. Always keep in mind that your children are the most precious and kindest beings in your life and that you are responsible for taking care of them.
In this interesting article, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche talks about how to deal with abusive relationships. He mentions:
Once I was translating for His Holiness the 17th Karmapa in India, and His Holiness said that if you tolerate such abusive action from anyone, that’s not compassion, and that’s not patience. He gave the example that some people say if someone hits you on the left cheek, you should show them the right cheek. He said that’s not really compassionate action, or a practice of patience. That’s actually very self-centered, ego-centered because you are only caring about yourself. You’re trying to practice tolerance, patience, love, kindness, or whatever you think. But you don’t care about that person’s karma. You don’t care about that person’s path, or helping to transform that person’s negative habits. You’re kind of encouraging that person to engage in more aggression. So in the end, that person’s path is going further and further downward, while yours may be going up and up––because you’re being more tolerant, more patient, and what-have-you. So His Holiness said that’s really ego-centered.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gives some interesting advice to a student that feels that nobody loves him or her. Rinpoche responds by explaining how to apply an antidote to self pity moments. He mentions:
Actually the buddhas and bodhisattvas cherish you one hundred thousand times more than you love yourself. If they did not love you and cherish you, then you would not be a human being this time, not even that. All these virtues could not be done and so much benefit to sentient beings would not happen, you would not have all this Dharma education and so forth. So much, so much, so much.
It is important to understand that those who are living in renunciation—the meditators, monks, nuns and also lay people—have inner peace and happiness. Renunciation means to renounce attachment to this life, to future lives, to samsara. They don’t feel that “Nobody loves me.” They are satisfied because they have inner peace and happiness. The stronger the renunciation, the more peace and happiness inside. Many people do not know this and they think that bringing presents, flowers and cakes makes them sooooo happy.
In this interesting article, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche explains how one should objectively study one’s behavior, day in and day out. One studies onself objectively in order to really understand and resolve one’s deeply ingrained issues. He mentions that one of these issues is the constant need to feel special.
From the article:
Even our desire seems much greater, and well beyond necessity. There are times when we feel, “Well, over here I’m going to feel special. Here I’ll actually be able to be somebody, and that will make me feel very special.” This burning sepa (Tib. desire, attachment) is couched in that way, as something that is always there, which has been strengthened over many lifetimes, but particularly in this life.
“To be a doctor will make me special.” “As a lawyer, I’ll feel special.” “Becoming a model, I’ll feel special.” “To be a Guru, I’ll feel special.” “To be a rich man, I’ll feel special.” “To be the wife of a rich man, I’ll feel special.” “To become famous, I’ll feel special.” “To be powerful, I’ll feel special.” And then for a moment it really does seem as though it works! But then it stops working, it evaporates right in front of you. It’s like the food and drink that just evaporates right before the preta. This new status quo that you’ve worked so hard to establish no longer makes you feel special enough. So the discontentment returns. A sense of disillusionment arises again. And it’s not really the fault of anything on the outside.
Jeffrey Hopkins is well known for having been a translator for the Dalai Lama, a translator on numerous Buddhist texts, and a professor in Buddhist studies. He’s often known for being brutally honest about himself and his practice. He mentions his reason for this approach in an interview:
I think that’s very, very true. Energy is wasted by hiding, and what you are hiding gets worse and worse the more you hide it. It’s self-destructive. You know, sometimes when I talk about morality, I’ll just say, “I’m embarrassed about what I am saying, but in any case, I’m trying to present what the books teach as it’s written, and I’m not claiming that I can actually enact this, I want to be clear.” That makes it a lot easier to talk about it. If it’s compassion and the fact that I get angry in certain situations, then it’s easy for me to talk about what I get angry at and use that as an example. Being frank about myself undermines my own negative reactions.
Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche talks about how to work with emotions, instead of reacting to them on automatic. He mentions:
As we develop a capacity to work with the mind in a mature way, we can discover how to relinquish the need to react, as well as the need to suppress our emotions through a sense of self-judgment. We can simply learn to watch our emotional responses from a detached perspective, which will achieve a balance between these two tendencies. Then we are no longer caught up in a puritanical view of ourselves, and we can also recognize the depth and complexity of these emotions. They are not black and white; they’re not as “solid” as we may have thought.
When you get rid of the grasping, the attachments, the rejection, while still keeping the sensations of feeling insecure, then the sensation can become very energetic all of a sudden. You start to feel an incredible sense of energy inside. Even though you began by feeling horrible, it’s almost as if you begin to feel like a mountain or a warrior—someone connected to the heaven and earth without becoming lost. The earth is solidly there, heaven is above you, and you are in between, present and upright.
Zen Master Thinh Nhat Hanh believes that our ability to deal with climate change is very much linked to our ability to deal with our own inner difficulties. In an interesting article about his views, it states:
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the world’s leading spiritual teachers, is a man at great peace even as he predicts the possible collapse of civilisation within 100 years as a result of runaway climate change.
The 86-year-old Vietnamese monk, who has hundreds of thousands of followers around the world, believes the reason most people are not responding to the threat of global warming, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, is that they are unable to save themselves from their own personal suffering, never mind worry about the plight of Mother Earth.
Thay, as he is known, says it is possible to be at peace if you pierce through our false reality, which is based on the idea of life and death, to touch the ultimate dimension in Buddhist thinking, in which energy cannot be created or destroyed.
By recognising the inter-connectedness of all life, we can move beyond the idea that we are separate selves and expand our compassion and love in such a way that we take action to protect the Earth.
To read more about this compelling argument, click here.
Recently, Jim Blumenthal, Professor of Buddhist Studies at Maitripa College and Associate Professor in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion at Oregon State University, passed away after a one year battle with colon cancer.
It’s interesting to see how many people were affected by his generous work for others, as can bee seen on the memorial page for him on Matripa College.
Venerable Thubten Chodron gave a talk about Jim, and explains that despite all his wordly success (Ph.D professor, and so forth), he was always very humble about his wordly success and his Dharma knowledge. he went about his business with a steady determination. I think Jim’s life is an inspiration for other western practitioners, and is reminder that everyone will have to pass away and that we need to make use of our time now.
Lamrim teachings, or the explanation of the Buddhist path in the form of graduated steps, is a common point of study in Tibetan Buddhism. While they can be easily taken as intellectual stimulation, true benefit is gained by integrating these teachings into one’s daily life. In a teaching transcript with Khadro-la Rangjung Neljorma Khadro Namsel Drolma (Khandro-la), she mentions:
To really learn Dharma, one has no choice but to learn lam-rim and lo-jong. Thus in daily life, the transformation of delusions can only happen by applying mind-training. If one meditates without understanding Dharma, one might gain the benefit of some relaxation but otherwise, the meditation is wasted.
The actual power of Dharma is its ability to help us subdue our minds and therefore enables us to handle samsaric life better and equip us to cope with the pressures of daily life. Since delusions are not always active in our mental continuum, it means that we have the opportunity to meditate on antidotes and we should do so. In any situation, including in family situations, there will be more harmony, less fights, less problems if we understand dependent arising, by understanding that care and respect must be mutual.
Click here to read the transcript and see her advice on how to integrate Buddhist studies into a daily, experiential way of living.
Dzongar Khyentse Rinpoche takes his unconventional and poignant approach to teaching in order to talk about topics that many people have questions about – relationships, their professions, and hobbies.
Interspersed in the video is a talk about death and impermanence, karmic cause and effect, and the workings of the mind. He makes Dharma accessible to those that might not otherwise be interested.
Keeping a consistent, sustainable Buddhist practice requires a lot of time and effort. During a visit by Venerable Rita Riniker to our local Dharma center, she spoke of 5 ways that were explained by the Buddha that could be done to protect one’s practice.
Protecting and Cultivating Land
To explain this, the Buddha used the analogy of land that was being used to grow things. In order to protect land, one must
- Set up a fence or hedges to protect it from wild animals
- Water the land
- Break up the hard soil
- Remove the weeds
- Keep away insects
Protecting and Cultivating One’s Practice
This analogy, is similar to how we would protect our practice. In our practice
- Setting up a protective fence corresponds to protecting ourselves by keeping good ethics.
- Watering the land is equivalent to attending and listening to teachings.
- Breaking up or loosening the land corresponds to having the support of spiritual friends
- Removing the weeds is equivalent to being mindful of our actions of body, speech, and mind
- Protecting against small insects is equivalent to not being attached to subtle states of mind, like blissful states found in meditation.
For a more detailed look into these 5 protections, you can read Sharon Salzberg‘s articles:
One of the most difficult things to do is continuing a constant, committed daily practice. Keeping the right motivation and inspiration can be difficult, and sometimes can lead to people losing their practice after a while. For those that have been practicing for a while and have paused, maybe these instructions by Lama Zopa Rinpoche could prove helpful in restarting practice.
These series of advice were given to former monks and nuns that returned their vows, dropped their practices, and were looking to restart again. I think this advice could be helpful for anyone. One part that could be of interest was advice on how to sustain practice in the long term:
It is very important to meditate every day, continuously. You need to plan to do this for eons, not just for this lifetime, not just for 100,000 lifetimes, but for eons. Make the determination and plan to do lam-rim meditation. This is the antidote. This is the medicine. This is the safest way to protect your mind from negative karma, from the lower realms, from suffering in the hell realms; this is the most important thing to do for liberation from samsara and to achieve enlightenment. If you think that you only have to do it for a few years or months, then you will collapse, get discouraged, etc. As it is mentioned in the teachings, a chilli plant is hot, and by adding just a few drops of honey, just a few times, it doesn’t make it sweet.
A couple months ago, Geshe Gyalten made an interesting point by mentioning that how limited someone becomes depends on what they identify with. If someone identifies with limited phenomena like their body, thoughts, and feelings, they themselves become limited. For example, if someone identifies with their emotions, if a happy emotion appears, they say “I’m happy”, and if a sad emotion appears, they say “I’m sad.” By identifying with limited phenomena that is constantly in change, a person’s identity becomes bound to conditions they don’t necessarily have control over.
If someone identifies with something larger and more expansive, for instance their mind and its potential, then one’s own potential expands.
Qualities of Mind
To help drive the point, he explained four qualities of mind.
- By nature, mind is primordially free of stains
- By nature, the mind has an infinite capacity to know
- By nature, the mind has an infinite capacity to give and receive love
- By nature, the mind has infinite potential to create change
Even though mind is broken down into these four basic points, mind in actuality has infinite qualities.
Running the Spiritual Track
Many people want to practice a spiritual path and to make progress on it. According to Geshe-la, unless someone knows the potential of mind and understands what it is we’re identifying with, it becomes difficult to practice a spiritual path. There will always lingering feelings of doubt, wondering if we’re practicing the right things, or sometimes even less joy in practice. By understanding the potential of mind and knowing to identify with its basic nature, we create a solid foundation of spiritual practice that is rooted in joy.
As he mentions, once this understanding has been made, someone finally is on the spiritual racing track and is ready to run.