Recently, an obituary was posted on the Guardian for Jon Underwood. He originated the idea of a Death Cafe, where people gather to eat cake and talk about death. This eventually became a global phenomena. He was also helped in managing Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London, after leaving a well paid job in high tech/software development.
In this interesting interview with Mingyur Rinpoche, he explains how to continue one’s practice once retreat is over, and how one prepares for retreat. He mentions:
First, you need to sit in formal meditation every day. It doesn’t have to be for long—perhaps half an hour, depending on your time and willingness. Consider meditating more than what you already do, but don’t promise too much. It’s important to build up the habit, whether ten or thirty minutes, because even if people love meditation, when it comes to regular practice, many do not meditate.
Some people say they don’t like to look at Facebook so often and think that it’s wasting time, but when it comes down to it, they cannot control the habit. In order to end one habit, we need to develop a new one. Building up a new habit will take twenty to thirty days. So set a goal for formal meditation that is doable in your life and keep at it—whether you do or don’t like it—and after thirty days it will become easier to maintain.
In this interesting interview, Lama Tashi, who was previously an attendent to Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche, talks about his experience of being in a wandering, 3 year retreat. He mentions:
I have learned a lot about who I am, and that previously I was more fixated. Now I am more relaxed and feel more free. Before my retreat I was mostly with the same kind of people, with some degree — even if small — of wealth and education, but during my retreat I was with all different kinds of people, and I learned that satisfaction and happiness are possible in all different circumstances, because they come from within.
Geshe Lhakdor, director of the Tibetan Works and Archive, and a translator of HH the Dalai Lama, talks about how brushes with death can be used for spiritual practice.
In this interesting article, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche gives a clear explanations on what Mahamudra is and how to do mahamudra meditation. Mahamudra is one of the practices that comes from the Nalanda Buddhist tradition in India, and translates as being “the great seal.”
Mahamudra teaches us with a number of special techniques for looking at our mind to see its true nature. When we look inside with a clear, steady focus, the mind we see is transparent, spacious, and open. It feels like something’s there, but when we look for it, there’s no “thing” we can find. Our thoughts and emotions are vivid, yet we can’t put our hands on them. They melt away as soon as we notice them. Even sights and sounds, which seem to be real, distinct entities, evade our grasp when we search for their true identity. When we recognize the flowing, open, and spacious quality of all our experiences, even for a moment, that’s the emptiness side of the wisdom of emptiness.
When we look at our mind, however, we see that it’s not just spacious. There’s a luminous, clear, and creative energy that’s the source of our compassion and joy. There is also a quality of wakefulness, of all-encompassing awareness. This is the wisdom side of the wisdom of emptiness.
As the 7 Point mind Training states, all of the Buddhist teachings can be condensed into doing two things: reducing self grasping and reducing self cherishing.
The 7 point mind training is a lifetime practice for doing these two things, and is systematic its in approach to do this. While one can simply read the root text, its quite helpful to read commentaries and receive teachings on this text because while it is succinct, there is still much to unpack.
Two useful resources include:
Today, 150 billion land animals and 1.5 trillion sea animals are killed for our consumption. We treat them like rats and vermin and cockroaches to be eliminated. This would be called genocide or dehumanization if they were human beings. We even go one step further with animals: we instrumentalize them. They become objects. They become the pig industry, sausage or meat factories. Ethically you cannot imagine progressing toward a more altruistic or more compassionate society while behaving like this
The Foundation of All Good Qualities is a short text composed by Lama Tsongkhapa, which covers the entire path to enlightenment in concise verses. When recited daily, it plants many imprints of how to proceed in practice and is an aid in daily life, similar to how one would rely on a walking stick.
Khunu Lama Rinpoche, who was considered to be a bodhisattva and who composed eloquent verses on Bodhichitta called Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea, gave teachings on the Foundation of All Good Qualities, which can be read here.
In this interesting transcript of a talk given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, he explains the qualities of a qualified spiritual guide, and the downsides of finding an incorrect one. He mentions:
Some wrong guides show a path that agrees with our delusions and makes our delusions and attachment happy. I’m not saying anger is happy, but the wrong guides show a path that agrees with our delusions and develops the delusions rather than decreasing them. That guide says, “Oh you can do this, you can do that, it doesn’t matter. You can do everything, all the actions of the delusions you can do,” and many people come, without any announcements in the newspapers or on the radio or television. Many, many people easily follow that guide, because he is easy to accept. It is a confused path, but people don’t feel this, due to ignorance. It is easy to listen, but difficult to understand this confusion.
Here is an older, but still nonetheless interesting article about Ven Thubten Gyatso, an Australian monk that went into three year retreat in his 60’s. He talks about the peace he experienced, and also for those interesting in doing retreat, he gives his advice on how to prepare for such a retreat. He mentions that favorable pre-requisites for such a retreat include:
Total devotion to a guru who will tell you when or if you are to do it, purification and accumulation of merit. Find a place like De-Tong Ling which is well managed for long retreats. Kimball Cuddihy, the center director, and his helpers were absolutely wonderful.
Venerable Thubten Chodron talks about how to apply Dharma to all aspects of life.
Here’s an interesting new clip from New Zealand of Thupten Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk that stayed in death meditation for several days. His body was able to retain a fresh appearance and smell for several days. There isn’t much video footage on this type of event happening, but its often talked about happening with very attained practitioners.
Benefits of Learning Classical Tibetan
Even though classical Tibetan is considered to be a different language than modern, colloquial Tibetan, learning it has many benefits. There are many texts that still have no translation into English and having the ability to read Tibetan gives access to these texts. If one has practice texts in Tibetan, its my experience that they come more alive in the original language.
Learning Tibetan also can given deeper insight Buddhist philosophy because English can sometimes be a difficult language for getting a precise translation of technical philosophical term, while Tibetan gives a fairly precise translation of Sanskrit terms. Tibetan also preserves the beautiful poetic meter found in texts translated from Sanskrit, something that is extremely difficult to reproduce in English.
One great resource for learning classical Tibetan is through Ranjung Yeshe Institute. They provide two online courses that are supported by reference tables and exercises, unique ways to learn new concepts and words using Quizlet, and video instructions.
As a preparation, one can read here about their online course in the Tibetan Alphabet.
It aims at allowing a beginner to spell, read and pronounce Tibetan words.
Introduction to Classical Tibetan
Once someone has the basics of the Tibetan alphabet, the next step is to learn the grammar. One can click here to read more about their course in Classical Tibetan.
The course builds up a beginners vocabulary while learning to be able to read and write classical Tibetan. Its a great resource so that someone can get the basics and begin to practice translating of texts
While many people in both the United States and across the world are visibly upset about the political activity in the United States, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives advice on how to get through this period.
Using logic to create optimism, he states:
The “president, of course, (is a) very important individual, but basically I (am) always telling (people), the world belongs to humanity,” said the Dalai Lama during the Emory-Tibet symposium of Scholars and Scientists held at the Drepung Monastic University in India in December. “Each nation belongs to the people,” he said.