Thursday, March 28, 2013

Checklist: Do You have a 'Precious' Human Life

Although I have won these freedoms, I am poor in Dharma, 
which is their essence.
Although I have entered the Dharma, 
I waste time doing other things.
Bless me and foolish beings like me
That we may attain the very essence 
of the freedoms and advantages. 
~Patrul Rinpoche

This life of ours presents us with great opportunity, but it is how we use that opportunity that determines whether it is meaningful.  The Buddha called a human life 'precious' only when it was endowed with all aspects of the freedoms and advantages.  As long as those freedoms and advantages are incomplete no amount of knoweldge or talent will make it meaningful.

Eight Freedoms
___   Freedom from birth in a hell realm where beings have no opportunity to 
         practice the Dharma because they are constantly tormented by intense suffering.
___   Freedom from birth in the hungry ghost realm where beings have no opportunity
         to practice the Dharma because they experience overwhelming hunger and thirst.  
___   Freedom from birth in the animal realm where beings have no opportunity to 
         practice the Dharma because they suffer slavery and continuous attacks and abuse.
___   Freedom from birth in the god realms where beings have no opportunity to 
         practice the Dharma because they spend their time in blank mental states.
___   Freedom from being born in foreign countries where the teachings of the Buddha are unknown.
___   Freedom from wrong views where there is no opportunity to practice the Dharma 
         because their minds are so influenced by mistaken beliefs.
___   Freedom from birth in a dark kalpa where beings never hear of the Dharma and cannot 
         distinguish good actions from bad.  
___   Free from being born with incomplete faculties that prevents beings from properly 
         learning, comprehending and practicing the teachings.  

Five Individual Advantages
___   The advantage of support.  You were born with a human body.
___   The advantage of place.  You were born in a region where the Dharma can be heard.  
___   The advantage of sense faculties.  You are free from disabilities that serve as a hindrance
         to hearing and practicing the Dharma.  
___   The advantage of intention.  You wish to do positive actions and are free from a conflicting 
         lifestyle immersed in negativity.
___   The advantage of faith.  You have the ability to turn your mind to the Dharma.  

Five Circumstantial Advantages
___   The advantage of a teacher.  A Buddha has appeared in this world.
___   The advantage of the teaching.   The Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma. 
___   The advantage of time.  The teaching has remained until the present period. 
___   The advantage of your own good fortune.  You can take up the Dharma.
___   The advantage of extraordinary compassion.  You have met a Spiritual Friend you can 
         teach you what the Dharma is really about.  

Eight Intrusive Circumstances that leave no freedom to practice
___   Strong negative emotions.  If anger, desire, jealousy and other negative emotions are 
         too strong they dominate the mind and leave no opportunity for practice.
___   Very ignorant being.  Those who lack the slightest glimmer of intelligence are unable 
         to understand a single word of the teachings or its meaning.  
___   Dominated by negative influences.  Those who take imposters as their spiritual friends 
         suffer from wrong views and practice in a perverted manner.
___   Excessive laziness.  Those who lack even a trace of diligence will never accomplish 
         anything because they are so ensnared in their own indolence and procrastination.
___   A backlog of negative actions.  Those who practice the Dharma but do not develop any 
         positive qualities because of a long history of negative actions and end up losing
         confidence in the teachings without realizing that it is all due to their past actions. 
___   Slaves who have lost their autonomy and have no time to practice.
___   Fear for this present life's dangers and resources.  Those who practice the Dharma but
         without conviction give themselves up to old habits and non-Dharma activities.
___   A hypocritical practitioner who tries to win possessions, services and prestige.  In the
         midst of others they assume the guise of a practitioner but in their own minds they are
         only interested in this life and the eight worldly concerns.  

Eight Incompatible Propensities that leave no freedom to practice
___   Being tightly bound to your wealth, commitments, pleasures, family and so forth 
         such that there is no time to practice.
___   Those who lack any respect or have a depraved character. 
___   Those who have no regard for lower rebirths, the sufferings experienced in samsara and
         has no determination to strive for freedom and thus no reason to practice.  
___   Those who have no confidence in the teacher or the Dharma and thus no entry point 
         to the path of liberation.
___   Those who take pleasure in negative actions and fail to control their thoughts, words and
___   Those who have no regard for spiritual values and experience no enthusiasm for Dharma.
___   Those who break their vows and commitment to developing bodhicitta.
___   Those who break their commitments with the spiritual friend and sangha destroy any
         prospect of accomplishments. 

Do you have the eight freedoms and ten advantages?  Are you really free from lower rebirths, even in this present life?  Are you free from the sixteen factors that leave no room in your life to practice Dharma?  Use this checklist to remind yourself of what you have gained in this life and if you find that aspects are missing strive diligently until they are complete. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Mahasiddhas

Throughout Buddhist history people have revered the Buddha and the community of monks and nuns who uphold his teachings.  The Buddhist sangha has served as a living lineage, preserving the teachings of the Buddha in both scriptural transmission and realization.  A lesser known but equally important role in the transmission and realization of the Buddha's teachings fell on the mahasiddhas.  

A mahasiddha is a tantric practitioner who embodies the state of perfection. Mahasiddha means 'great accomplishment', a yogin who has brought his sadhana or practice to its completion and achieved realization. The mahasiddhas played a key role in the preservation and development of the Buddha's teachings in India and Tibet, as displayed in the songs of realization of the Lives of the 84 Mahasiddhas. 

Adapted from Dowman and wikipedia:

The mahasiddhas represent remarkable diversity in their family backgrounds and social roles.  Indeed they could be found in every social setting: kings and priests, poets and musicians, craftsman and farmers, housewives and whores.  They were artists and businessman, respected doctors and neglected beggars, politicians and hermits. 

The Mahasiddhas were a diverse group of practitioners who were practical, committed, creative and engaged with their world. As a collective, their spirituality may be viewed as key and essential to their lives- simple, in concert and accord with all aspects of their lived experience. The basic elements of the lives of the Mahasiddas included their diet, physical posture, career, relationships; indeed "ordinary" life and lived experience were held as the principal foundation and fodder for realization. As siddhas, their main emphasis in spirituality and spiritual discipline was a direct experience of the sacred and spiritual pragmatism.

The mahasiddha tradition may be conceived and considered as a cohesive body due to their spiritual style, sahaja or naturally born- which was distinctively non-sectarian, non-elitist, non-dual, non-elaborate, non-sexist, non-institutional, unconventional, unorthodox and non-renunciate. The mahasiddha tradition arose in dialogue with the dominant religious practices and institutions of the time which often foregrounded practices and disciplines that were over-ritualized, politicized, exoticized, excluded women and whose lived meaning and application were largely inaccessible and opaque to non-monastic peoples.

The practice of the mahasiddha was often depicted as taking place in a charnel ground.  This charnel ground is not merely the physical cremation ground; it can also be discovered or revealed in completely terrifying mundane environments where practitioners find themselves desperate and depressed, where conventional worldly aspirations have become devastated by grim reality. This is demonstrated in the sacred biographies of the great siddhas of the Vajrayāna tradition. Tilopa attained realization as a grinder of sesame seeds and a procurer for a prominent prostitute. Sarvabhakṣa was an extremely obese glutton, Gorakṣa was a cowherd in remote climes, Taṅtepa was addicted to gambling, and Kumbharipa was a destitute potter. These circumstances were charnel grounds because they were despised in Indian society and the siddhas were viewed as failures, marginal and defiled.

* * * * * * * * *

We can find a lot of inspiration and blessings in the lives of these mahasiddhas.  They rejected the notion that liberation was only for a chosen few, that your circumstances restricted your practice.  They lived just the opposite, your life was your practice.  The entirety of your lived experience was the basis for your realization.

But mostly they showed that it was possible.  Whatever your situation, lifestyle or profession; liberation was in the palm of your hand.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wealth Distribution

These, monks, are the seven treasures- 
The treasure of confidence,
The treasure of discipline,
The treasure of integrity and decency,
The treasure of listening, generosity,
and wisdom as the seventh treasure.
Whoever, man or woman, has these treasures
is said not to be poor, has not lived in vain.
So confidence and discipline, faith and a Dharma view,
should be cultivated by the wise,
remembering the Buddhas' instruction.

~Buddha Shakyamuni

Much can be said about the distribution of wealth in our society or rather the abundance of destitution that many of us face.  It is our habitual tendency to think that we need to do more or have more before we can feel happy, content, find a sense of inner peace and joy.  

It seems like most of us are engaging in a never ending battle with people and institutions looking to hoard wealth and rob us of our right to live as we choose.  The tendency is to feel that we are the victim, that we are powerless and and thus we only experience anger and animosity with the world around us.  We should recognize this as our own ignorance, our own delusion.  It is our own poverty mentality that makes us feel afraid and cheated.  It is our own self-grasping that produces states of loss.  

Wealth can be experienced, real universal wealth that is beyond the confines of social hierarchy, market conditions, time and place.  The Buddha taught the Seven Noble Riches because he knew the limitations of material wealth.  He knew that the feeling of wealth did not spring from material goods or massive bank accounts but rather from the fertile mind of bodhicitta from which infinite qualities and realms of enjoyment arise. 

All experiences are fleeting and impermanent like a water bubble.  We all leave this life empty handed.  Whether or not you walk in wealth or destitution depends on your own mind.  Thus you should cultivate these Seven Noble Riches:

1. Confidence
2. Discipline
3. Generosity
4. Learning
5. Integrity
6. Decency
7. Wisdom

What steps are you taking to develop your wealth?  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

For Rent: Artist's Studio

Do you need more space in your life to perform your art?

Every artist needs a space to work.  A space for bringing intentions to life, working out problems and exploring new possibilities. 

For the bodhisattva, that space is their meditation seat.  Their meditation practice is their laboratory, their seat to explore the mind and train in removing habitual tendencies, negative emotions and obscurations to omniscience.  

This royal seat creates openness and flexibility in the mind.  It engenders an unbiased and uncontrived platform upon which their creative display can manifest itself as loving kindness, compassion and generosity.  

Here are the keys to developing your own space:

1. Set aside a time of day that you want to meditate.  For most people this is going to be either first thing in the morning or before bed.  I have tried both times and for me usually the evenings work better because I often succumb to snoozing my alarm. 

2. Start small.  Meditate for 5 minutes a day.  Start with opening prayers or a motivational quote.  When you have been meditating for five minutes a day you will notice a natural momentum building that keeps you on the seat longer and longer.  No rush, just take the time to sit mindfully each day.  

3. Watch your breath.  Breathe naturally.  Just watch the inhale and exhale of the breath.  Be mindful as you inhale and exhale.  Don't expect anything, don't judge.  The meditation is simply to be aware of the breath and always come back to the breath when you realize you are distracted.  

4. Dedicate your practice.  Don't be the sole benefactor.   Dedicating your practice removes the boundaries to your meditation seat and allows the practice to ripen throughout your daily life.  This is where we plant the seeds of generosity, compassion and kindness, and with dedication those seeds ripen in unimaginable ways. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Battleground

Let's cut the crap.

Engaging in your own spiritual practice is not easy.

We are led to believe that meditation and the practice of the path engender an unceasing stream of bliss and clarity.  We are coaxed to a nice Zen-like state with beautiful photos of monks and nuns in states of serenity.  We read poetic aphorisms that lull us into a state of wishy washy fascination and self-aggrandizement.  

We hide too much.  

Your spiritual practice will be a war zone.  You will fight.  You will shed tears.  You will be afraid to move forward but step anyways.  Fear will rise in waves and storms of thoughts and emotions will bring you ceaseless torment.  

But you will stop shifting the blame.  

You will stop pretending.  Stop projecting and waging bets you cannot win.  

If you don't turn your eyes from the battlefield it will reveal truths to you.  Truths that are at first hard to see, hard to bear. 

Sit strong.  Sit in openness.  Sit in fearlessness.  Sit in honesty.  

Every storm passes to give rise to a crisp, calm, pristine sky- which you never experience if you don't weather the storm.