Monday, January 30, 2017

Complexity, simplified.

There are three aspects to a simple spiritual practice:

A spiritual friend.
A mind of faith, diligence and wisdom.
Art.

Your spiritual friend doesn't need to be a guru.  They should be someone who inspires you, someone you trust.  They are compassionate and kind, with a gentle heart and an open mind.  They don't need to have a fancy title, but they should be someone you admire and hold in esteem. 

A mind of faith is one that has an admiration for, longing towards, and trust in what is authentic and true.  With this as our compass, we diligently, day after day, month after month, devote ourselves to our practice.  The result of this pursuit what what is authentic and true is wisdom.  Seeing things as they are, we make connections, see implications.  We gain certainty and eliminate doubts. 

Our practice must be shared, so art completes the practice.  Generosity as art, sharing kind words and deeds.  We extend our love and respect to others.  We listen, hear their pain, understand their problems.  Dignity is a gift worth sharing for those who long for it. 

These three aspects form the bedrock for a strong spiritual practice.  They simplify the complexity of the path.  


Friday, January 27, 2017

Diligence doesn't mean intensity.

Diligence doesn't mean intensity.

It doesn't mean you have to sprint all the time.  It doesn't mean working yourself to death.

Diligence is the constant application of your practice to the circumstances of your life.

Diligence is continued effort.  Effort today, tomorrow and the next, month after month, year after year.  Effort when times are good, effort when times are bad.  Effort, when it is convenient and when it is not. 

Your list of goals will change, your responsibilities will shift and flux, yet you continue with dedication in your practice.

That is diligence. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Feeling stuck.

Disbelief is a refusal or unwillingness to accept something as true. 

Disbelief is categorized as one of the fifty-one negative mental states in the Abhidharmakosa. It is a negative mental state because disbelief supports torpor.  It engenders laziness or lethargy.  It supports feeling stagnant or stuck, not knowing what to do.

Many of us are faced with times of uncertainty.  Part of that uncertainty is an unwillingness to accept our current situation, a refusal to look at what is actually going on.  That unwillingness to accept our reality makes us feel stuck and powerless, but it is not actually the situation that makes us powerless but our orientation to it.

Our mental state- one of unwillingness or refusal to acknowledge what is going on- prevents us from actually acting.  It prevents us from moving forward, from taking a step.  It holds us back because in order to dance we need to have a partner, and I refuse to dance with this one.

So getting unstuck is an act of faith.  Not because we need to believe the reality of our situation, but because we can still seek out what is authentic and true despite the gravity of the current circumstances.  

Our biggest challenge is determining which holds more weight in our lives, faith or disbelief. Without faith we are sure to be stuck in troubled waters indeed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I still have faith.

Faith. It's a bit of a touchy word in our culture. It has a lot of baggage. We often look down on faith as a sort of weakness or oddity.

But what is faith?

Mipham Rinpoche says that faith is an admiration for, longing towards, and trust in what is authentic and true. It is a support for determination.

What does faith mean to you?

You could have blind faith. You could believe in a blue cow that grants all of your wishes.  You could have great admiration and trust in that cow.  You could really strive to make sure that it was happy so that he would send down his bounty. (him or a her?)  

That would be a true determination of faith based on your perception of what was authentic and true. I think that this is the type of faith that many of us are wary of, simply because it doesn't make any sense. It doesn't hold up to the facts, to reality. It bears no semblance to our experience and everything else that we hold to be true.  

So if you are one that acts out of reason and logic, does faith play no role in your life?  Can you have faith and still rely on science and philosophy? 

Yes.  An emphatic yes. 

We can have great admiration for what is true and authentic based on reason and logic.  In fact, reason and logic can reaffirm our faith, deepen it. 

We can generate great longing for searching out and discovering what is authentic and true based on reason and logic. We can be scientists and skeptics, philosophers and debaters and still have faith.  The act of searching and analyzing and dissecting can be facets of our faith.

And we can trust in the reason and logic that we have used to come to our conclusions, and to look deeper still. 

The search for what is authentic and true demands faith.  It requires it, because faith supports determination and we need to be determined in our quest for what is authentic and true in order to reach our destination.

I am a man of faith.  Are you?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Your corpse will be beautiful.

You have lived well. 

You've eaten healthy foods.  Enjoyed a disciplined diet.  You have exercised and maintained a fit physique.  Your skin is vibrant, your teeth a brilliant white.  Your hair is always well groomed and trimmed.  Your style, well, it's you.

You can be sure about one thing-

Your corpse will be beautiful.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Reverence.

Buddhanature awakens a certain reverence in us. 

It is always present, but also inaccessible in our experience. We catch glimpses of it, moments when the clouds dissipate revealing our spacious, clear and peaceful natural condition.

Most of the time we are overwhelmed by everyday concerns. Our minds are busy, distracted. We may have a vague intention to bring benefit to others, but we do not know how to make this intention fully manifest.

Fighting against our own thoughts and emotions, we are unable to enjoy our natural condition.
Caught up in hope and fear, our natural fulfillment escapes us.
Collapsing into our own perspective and situation, we are unable to bring benefit to others.

The basis, our buddhanature, is always present.
The result, our buddhanature fully manifest, seems entirely remote.

With reverence in mind, we prostrate to the embodiment of the Three Jewels, the nature of our own body, speech and mind. Paying homage to our unborn natural condition, we open the doorway to actualizing our natural state.

Namo Manjushri. I prostrate to the glorious, youthful awakened body.
Namo Sushri. I prostrate to the excellent qualities of awakened speech.
Namo Uttamshri. I prostrate to the supreme awakened mind.
Soha. So it is.   

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wheel of tsok.

This meat-
all that appears and exists, the nature of the five Buddha families,
my own body, inseparable from all beings,
we are all impermanent, changing from one body to the next,
changing bodies like clothes,
the mouse becomes the hawk, the cow the crops, lifetime after lifetime.
I am often stricken with the desire to be beyond all this,
but ours is the inherited responsibility to live a life of great purpose,
to be compassionate, generous and kind,
to discover our natural freedom in this very body of flesh,
for the benefit of all beings.  
We should enjoy, question and respect,
but never assume, demean or disregard.
Emaho!

This wine-
this sublime nectar of the dakinis,
with its fragrant bouquet pervading the extent of space,
its bountiful mouthfeel of suchness,
I enjoy the one taste of all samsara and nirvana,
the union of bliss and emptiness.
Everything is encompassed by this single drop,
all perceptions, qualities and experiences dissolving
into the originally pure dharmadhatu, the basic space of phenomena.
Seeing through the intoxicating nature of all appearances,
the Great Mother, Prajnaparamita, is revealed
beyond all thought, description or imagination.
Ah la la.

These are my samaya substances.  This is my commitment.
My vow not to turn from this world.
My commitment to remain, working for the benefit of beings.
Freely enjoying this wheel of tsok,
with nothing to be renounced or forsaken,
I consume all conditions as fuel for my practice.
May the blessings of the Trikaya Guru and assembly of dakinis
soften our hearts and transform our minds!
May the blessings of this completely virtuous Younge practice tradition ripen and flourish!
May we all gain accomplishment as one mandala!
Emaho Ah la la ho!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Trainers, coaches and mentors.

The personal trainer helps someone who has never done the practice to get started.  Helps them to learn the techniques.  To stay motivated.  The personal trainer says, "Be here at 6pm and give me a hundred pushups."
The coach works with people who are passionate about the practice and want to get better, to overcome weaknesses.  They help them actualize their potential.  The coach says, "Great job on last weeks pushups. Your thighs are underdeveloped so let's work on those this week."   
The mentor works with people when they need them.  They build lifelong personal relationships.  They inspire, connect the dots and build a bigger picture.  The mentor says, "I have enjoyed watching you overcome challenge after challenge this past year.  How were you able to work through pain and failure along the way? What are you going to focus on this year?"
Each of these requires a different level of time and energy.  Each has its own function and purpose.  
 
Do we need more personal trainers?  Definitely, a lot of people don't know how to do the practice or how to get past their own personal obstacles.  
 
Do we need better coaches?  Definitely, a lot of people have their own practice, but either feel stuck or don't see how it all fits together.  
 
Do we need more mentors?  Of course.  We need people who are generous with their time and energy, people who are willing to be present, to listen and to nudge.    

The personal trainer isn't doing their job if they are acting like a mentor.  A mentor who gets wrapped up in the specifics and tries to control outcomes and results isn't a mentor at all.  

Which are you trying to be?  What does your student need?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Endless iterations.

You're probably not going to be doing your practice in five years.  Even less likely in ten or twenty years.  It's just not probable.  

Merit is an uncommon trait here in the West.  We don't really refer to each other as having merit or even cultivating merit.  Its not something that we place much value on, day to day.

Merit is something really important when practicing the Buddha's teachings.  Merit refers to the potential of the mind.  It can be thought of as the impetus, the reservoir, the force.  None of those really do it justice though, because really merit refers to the capacity to hold or bear, the capacity to carry, or even continue.

When you think about a person encountering the Dharma, it is highly unlikely that this person will be able to actually meet with the teachings, practice them, carry them through their life and achieve some kind of result or realization.  It is just not very likely.  We have so much of our own baggage, so many problems and worldly concerns.  And that is all within the context of what is going on right now in our lives.

Over the course of our single lifetime we go through countless iterations.  The chance that we will be able to carry your practice through that much variability and resistance is even less likely.  Our modern society and the demands on the individual are constantly changing.  For someone to have encountered the Dharma and put it into practice in their middle ages, then to go through times of struggle, changing professions, seeing loved ones come and go, making friends, losing friends, moving, falling in love, breaking up, falling sick, being healed.   We cycle through endless iterations.

The amount of merit that we need for our practice to endure amidst all of those changing circumstances, well, it is beyond measure.  It is truly amazing that we can encounter practitioners who are able to carry their practice from year to year, generation to generation.  We should rejoice in their dedication, commitment and resilience.   We should also aspire to develop such merit and determination ourselves. 

Those practitioners of virtue are said to have great merit, but if you talk to them they won't talk about their potential, or about how strong of an impetus they feel to practice.  They won't refer to themselves as being special at all.  Instead, you will see that their minds are like a vast ocean, able to accommodate and accept whatever is placed in their path.  They go through endless iterations just like us, but for them, they are just like waves or boats that come and go.  The iterations they go through in their life don't confine their practice, but rather the 'stuff' that makes their practice continue to be possible. 

Practitioners lacking merit feel trapped by circumstances,
those rich in merit take it as fuel on the path.