REBLOGGING: Great video talk by Lodro Rinzler, the author of “The Buddha Walks into a Bar,” regarding his newest book, “The Buddha Walks into the Office”

REBLOGGING:
Great video talk by Lodro Rinzler, the author of The Buddha Walks into a Bar, regarding his newest book, The Buddha Walks into the Office. Here is his website for more information about him, his books, etc.: https://www.lodrorinzler.com/

First video on the reblogged page (link is below) is an intro. Go to the second one.

Has a simple guided #meditation near the beginning, which is a basic intro to #Buddhist meditation.

Then, starting at around 29.00: “Our lives are a mandala. There is something at the center of it, of all of our lives, and we are either consciously aware of it or unconsciously living it.”

He leads the audience through a wonderful exercise of helping one become more aware of the #mandala of one’s own life, as a values-clarification and awareness-building activity, by putting a quality we want to cultivate at the center and others components where they fit regarding how closely we see each one to that central aspect, and how each aspect connects to others.

Worth doing for life, not just for work.

I wish he had used the word “ethical” as often as “meaningful” for types of work one can engage in for money, because plenty of people would think earning the most money, even while harming others, is “meaningful.”

But, working on behalf of oneself and one’s own interests alone is not what the Buddha meant, IMHO, by “Right Livelihood.”

Definitely listen to the Q & A at the end. Very good exchanges and more info, there. An hour well-spent.

LINK:
https://tgrb.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/the-buddha-walks-into-the-office

Chagdud Khadro’s 2016 Summer Teaching Tour #Buddhism #Teachings

Chagdud Khadro

chagdud-khadro-2015-copy
is the American-born widow and former student of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche who was ordained as a lama as well.

I have been with her many times for teachings with her as Rinpoche’s translator and with her as the teacher. For those who don’t know, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche passed in 2002, but he was my first empowering lama and my root lama’s, Padma Drimed Norbu (Lama Drimed)’s root teacher.

I first learned P’howa (the practice that includes transferring consciousness intentionally at and after the body dies or helping others do that, including those who are brain dead, already dead, or dying/dead animals) from Chagdud Khadro at a three-day event I organized for Chagdud Lhundrup Ling (A dharma center I helped start) in Maine in 1997: she was fabulous. I had the good fortune to attend several other teachings she gave or translated for Rinpoche or rituals she attended as a lama in New York, New Mexico and northern California between 1997 – 2007. I keenly appreciated her humor, knowledge, insight and compassion.

If you live near or can get to any of these events, these teachings and rituals are rare and precious. They are in the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition but made accessible to Westerners who speak English. Well worth your time if you’re already a practicing #Buddhist, a meditator or interested in #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Buddhism.

Spread the word! Donations requested; no one turned away for lack of funds.

Chagdud Khadro’s 2016 Summer Teaching Tour
#Buddhism #Teachings

P’howa Retreat
Reno, NV
July 9 – 10
More Information: http://goodnesssake.org/special_events/special_events.shtml#phowa

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
La Jolla, CA
July 11
robertrosson2000 @ yahoo DOT com

Rigdzin Dupa Drubchod
in attendance at Ati Ling/PPI – Cazadero, CA
with Tulku Jigme Rinpoche (Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche’s son)
July 13 – 19
More Information : http://atiling.org/events/102-rigdzin-dupa-drubchod-2016

White Dakini Drubchen
in attendance at Tara Mandala – Pagosa Springs, CO
with Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche and Lama Tsultrim Allione
August 7 – 16
More Information: http://taramandala.org/program/white-dakini-drubchen-2/

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
at Rangjung Yeshe Gomde – Cooperstown, NY
August 20 – 21
More Information: http://gomdecooperstown.org/august-20-21-chagdud-khadro/

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
Syracuse, NY
August 22, 7 – 9 PM
More Information: http://chagdudgonpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Syracuse-Flier-Khadro-2016.pdf

Looking into the Mirror of Death to Find Purpose in Life and Peace in Dying
&
Emotions as Obstacles; Emotions as Wisdom
Chapel Hill, NC
August 27 – 28(times vary: check flyer)
More Information: http://chagdudgonpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Khadro-NC-FINAL.jpg
cindy.palay@ gmail DOT com


Chagdud Gonpa Foundation
341 Red Hill Rd
Junction City, CA 96048 USA
530.623.2714 ext 126

#Buddhist #meditation Mini-#Retreat at Home: Report from the Homefront

#Buddhist #meditation Mini-#Retreat at Home: Report from the Homefront

May 27 – May 30, 2016, all-day, four-day mini-retreat at home: YIPPEE! Did it! First one since my TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)/concussion/broken nose/hurt eyes in April, 2014; first one in St. Louis. [I called it a “mini” retreat because I usually did at least three weeks’ and up to 11 weeks’ retreat, prior to this.]

I offer this post as a description and explanation for newbies and the curious, but I do not discuss the details of my practice with anyone but my teacher and fellow practitioners.

SCHEDULE:
A typical meditation schedule consists of Tüns (meditation/practice sessions) segmented by meals, breaks, exercise, sleep and personal hygiene time. When we do individual retreats, often we set our own schedules. I modeled this summer’s mini-retreat schedule mostly on the same schedules I followed while on individual retreats at the main meditation center (Rigdzin Ling in northern California), and at my residences in Silver City, New Mexico, and Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Hayward, California, 1999 – 2014.

Home Mini-Retreat Schedule 2016

3:30 – 4:15 AM— Wake up, ablutions, etc.
4:15 – 5:30 AM— First Tün (meditation/practice session)
5:30 – 6 AM— Breakfast
6 – 10:30 AM— Second Tün (with two ten-minute breaks)
10:30 – 11 AM— Lunch
11 AM – 12 PM— Third Tün
12 – 1 PM— Nap (during first third, usually; see below). Otherwise, Fourth Tün
1 – 3 PM— Exercise (swimming/driving to and from) with moving meditation for 35 minutes while swimming
3 – 5 PM— Fourth/Fifth Tün
5 – 5:30 PM— Dinner
5:30 – 8 PM– Fifth/Sixth Tün (with one ten-minute break)

Total meditation time: about 11-12 hours/day, so about 40 hours (I ended before dinner on May 30).

LOCATION:
When I was fortunate enough to be at RZL, I often sat on a cliff overlooking a pond, river and mountains in the distance, above the main buildings of the center. For other types of practices, meditators prefer or must be indoors or even in a cave or place of complete isolation and darkness for most of the time.

Many people doing the dzogchen Tibetan Vajrayana practice of awareness (rigpa) meditation, trek chöd, as I do, prefer to sit where we have an unbroken view of the sky.

man sunrise meditatiion
NOT what my home retreat looked like at all, this year

There aren’t many cliffs and sky views near where I now live, in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time driving to a spot at which there would be no food, no bathroom, no easy place for this mostly injured body to sit, and no place to swim. Hence, a home retreat. I could almost see the sky, sometimes. I could see trees, bushes, a street and parking lot. Didn’t matter at all. I wasn’t involved with any of it. We keep our eyes open for this type of meditation, but with a “soft focus,” not paying particular attention to anything while noticing everything.

living room retreat spot 2016
Where I did most of my sitting practice: on the living room couch, learning against these cushions on the left, looking out the glass doors of the patio/deck to the right.

WHAT WE DO and DO NOT DO:
We also hear, smell, feel everything. We are not “checked out,” if we are practicing successfully. We are fully awake while doing our practice, sitting in oneness—in awareness (rigpa, Tibetan)—as often as we are able. We return to this awareness every time our attention wanders. That is the practice of trek chöd (Tibetan), in the simplest terms.

For this type of meditation practice, in retreat, practitioners usually don’t recite mantras, pray (except at the beginning and end of each retreat or even each Tün, if we want), use our malas (Tibetan prayer beads on a string, predecessor of the Catholic’s rosary), chant, visualize, play ritual instruments, enact stories, light incense, fill/offer water bowls, open our shrines or speak. Our practice is stripped-down to sitting and breathing.

The entire retreat is usually conducted in strict silence, which means that we make no eye contact when we do encounter people and we do no talking, writing, reading, or any other communicating (when necessary, we use “functional speech” only). We put away and turn off all cell phones, computers, communication or writing/reading/viewing devices of all kinds. We don’t write letters or answer the phone unless we are in a longer retreat during which we must communicate with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors occasionally to reassure them we are all right or respond to something urgent.

When we are fortunate (and/or wealthy), we have someone to “serve” our retreat: they shop for, prepare and serve our meals, sometimes even cleaning up for us, leaving us free to meditate for more time each day. That is part of the wonderful service that active meditation centers often provide retreatants. Sometimes, though, during non-busy times, when I was at the center, I still had to cook and clean up after my own meals, but I didn’t have to shop.

For home retreats, I have to do it all myself. I manage that by cooking a great big pot of soup and another big amount of something I can dole out each day for my two main meals and then have something small (a bowl of cereal, e.g.) for dinner.

Eating lightly at night is important for me, anyway. During a sitting and silent retreat like this, unlike the more active ones, our appetites get smaller and smaller as the retreat progresses, so we need less food.

THE RETREAT COMMITMENT:
It is important to make a firm commitment to one’s retreat by scheduling the entire period in advance and sticking to it. It is also important to make a daily schedule and adhere to it. Many also maintain/take a vow of celibacy to maintain during retreat (no sex or sex acts); some do not.

We all abstain from intoxicants (recreational drugs, alcohol) during retreat. If we have taken Layperson’s Buddhist Vows (or Five Main Precepts), as I have, we also never get intoxicated/inebriated. I don’t drink or use drugs, anyway, but for many meditators, retreat boundaries include that they refrain from engaging in the use of these substances during retreat.

Even if we get sick, someone dies, and/or there are other seemingly significant events that occur, we strive not to break our retreat commitments. Unless it is to save our own or someone else’s life or involves getting medical care to restore our health so that we can practice better afterwards.

It is important to let our friends, family and neighbors know, especially if we are doing a home retreat, that we won’t be answering phones or responding to texts or emails, for example, during these times/these days so they don’t worry. That way, we prevent someone from getting “wrong view” about meditation/meditators (e.g., not understanding our commitment, they think we are rude, unkind, insensitive, unless we communicate to explain).

We do not waver from this commitment or break our silence for any reason. These commitments and guidelines are called “retreat boundaries.” At the risk of generating “static” and negativity for our next potential retreat, we do not leave the grounds of a closed retreat (the “cloister”) or end our retreat prematurely. Some teachers give dire warnings about practitioners’ breaking boundaries that will result in creating negative future retreat karma, but I don’t like responding to threats. I maintain commitments because I want to do it.

Making and keeping these commitments strengthen the practitioner’s practice foundation and create/maintain a strong “container” for successful meditation practice. I feel good when I keep my chosen boundaries.

This time (or for any other home retreats), I did not have a completely strict, cloistered retreat: just isn’t possible. I drive to and from the pool, shop on the the first day for food and cook when necessary (more often on longer retreats). I also responded to a few communications from people who didn’t know I was in retreat and/or to reschedule things I had forgotten to reschedule. But, mostly, I did keep the strict retreat boundaries and commitments.

THE RETREAT EXPERIENCE:
Buddhist teachers talk about the entire retreat’s span of time as being divided roughly into three parts: “getting in,” “being in” and “rising out.”

“Getting in” is the first third. During this, we acclimate to being on retreat, letting go (sometimes slowly, sometimes more readily) of our daily concerns, activities, personae, thoughts, obligations and settling in to the schedule.

We always “open” our retreat with setting our intention and reaffirming our motivation and with gratitude, with prayers and thanks to our teachers. Usually, other directions are given to us in advance by our teachers.

Sometimes, we make offerings and/or have a ritual feast and prayers (tsog). Sometimes we continue our daily practices for the first day or so. Sometimes we do some preparatory readings (from teachings, notes, books) to remind us of the practice we are about to engage in and how to approach it.

Frequently, a lot of tiredness manifests early in this first third. If so, it is recommended that we nap a lot, recovering from the stress and strife of our usual lives’ demands. The peace, quiet and low-key nature of retreat bring us to a recognition of how exhausted and depleted we have gotten. Extra sleep is then necessary to restore ourselves and to be able to practice better for the rest of the retreat.

The middle third is “being in.” By then, accustomed to the schedule, needing fewer or no naps, we are ready and eager to practice for each Tün. We know what we are doing, we are glad to be doing it, it’s working as well as it will. Depending upon how long this period is and how quickly we are able to dive in, we can get very deeply immersed or only partially, but this is the main part of our retreat’s practice time. Whatever signs of accomplishment we may get usually begin to show up in this portion.

The last third is “rising out.” Sometimes gradually, sometimes more quickly, our minds and bodies begin to leave the depths and rise to the surface, preparing us for returning to our daily lives. For longer retreats, we spend part of this time still in retreat and the last part of it again in practices of formal gratitude. We “close” on the last day with offerings and/or a ritual feast and prayers (tsog), and dedicate the merit (the blessings and benefits of our practice) to all beings.

For the last day/hours or so, we are actually not still in retreat, exactly, but beginning to engage again in the more “ordinary living” aspects (whatever we haven’t been doing and must return to, such as driving, doing laundry, talking/communicating again).

We often don’t realize how deeply we are “in” until we begin to “rise out.” When we have been in a strict retreat for more than a few days, this gradual “return to duties” is very important for safety and acclimating to ordinary life. Otherwise, we can get into serious trouble or even accidents if we go back too suddenly to our busy, complicated home lives and schedules.

WHAT’S NEXT?
We usually meet with our teachers during or after our retreats (when we are so lucky as to be able to do that), to “offer our retreat experience” to the Lama by telling him/her about our experiences, insights, possible signs of accomplishment and/or knowledge acquired/applied successfully. We also bring questions, problems, concerns and “stuckness” that occurred during our retreat to this same meeting (or whenever we next meet) so that we may request guidance and answers from our teachers.

Usually during these meetings or subsequent ones, we get instructions, guidance for the next period of our practice, assignments/options for reading and/or attending live or video teachings. We might even schedule our next retreat(s).

I didn’t get to meet with my teacher at the end of this retreat, but I did see him for a private interview just last month, so I feel very blessed.

HAVING A MEDITATION TEACHER:
Tibetan Buddhists stress the importance of meditating under the guidance of and with instruction from a qualified meditation teacher. I completely agree with this. It is not sufficient to talk with other meditators, read books, listen to teachings on video or audiotapes or in person and then put ourselves into retreat and get ourselves out and go back to our lives.

Without a teacher who is more experienced and qualified to teach and guide us to listen to our experiences and direct our practice, we are certainly running the risk of there being a lot we will miss, misunderstand, misinterpret or just plain get wrong.

There are many qualified teachers in many parts of the world, now. I have put live links to some of them, above, when listing my teachers or main center. There are listings of some centers in Buddhist magazines, websites and other places online.

If you are not lucky enough to have found a teacher with whom you work well or you don’t live close enough to any teachers or centers who host visiting teachers, keep looking/trying. It is well worth the effort.

Where are the Buddhists Around Here?
There are several centers who host qualified teachers in the St. Louis area and throughout the Midwest, of all Buddhist traditions. Very close to where I now live is a Tibetan Buddhist practice group that includes some people who have met some of my own teachers and who use some of the same practice texts that I do. There are two others groups that are “cousins” to my lineages/practices and some of those people have also met some of my teachers and share some practices with mine. Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche‘s main center, Katag Chöling, is about a six-hour drive from here, in Arkansas. These are listed, below:

Blue Lotus Dharma Center somewhat eclectic, mixed Tibetan Vajrayana and Chan (Chinese Zen) practices Blue Lotus Dharma Center
Do Ngak Chöling Tibetan Nyingma Vajrayana Buddhism http://dongakcholing.org/
Katag Chöling Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche‘s main center, https://katogcholing.com
Kagyu Droden Kunchab—Saint Louis, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, http://www.kdkstl.org

MY TEACHERS:
I am beyond-words grateful to my teachers.

Lama Drimed
My beloved Buddhist teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu (Lama Drimed), about 2012

Whatever I was able to accomplish from this mini-retreat or any other part of my practice was entirely due to the blessings, teachings, support and care from my dear teachers, particularly Lama Drimed and the late H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (photos above and below), as well as my mom (in whose home I now live), other Lamas, especially Lama Shenphen Drolma and Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche, and sangha (spiritual community of fellow practitioners scattered now around the world) of meditating sisters and brothers: THANKS to you all!

Chagdud Rinpoche
the late His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, my first empowering lama and my teacher’s teacher, about 2001, and his Yangshi (designated and recognized reincarnation), about 2013

I dedicate the merit (benefits) of my retreat to all beings.

Why I #write utopian, #Buddhist-infused, #multiverse #scifi/rom #novels & why you should #read & share them.

Reposted from 10/30/13 and 2/5/15

Writers are often exhorted to write the books we want to read that seem not to exist, yet. I am following that advice with The Spanners Series, especially Volume I, This Changes Everything, which is now PERMAFREE, and also with subsequent volumes (Volume II, This Changes My Family and My Life Forever, released 6/9/14; look for Volumes III and IV in 2015).

I am an avid reader and have probably read hundreds of thousands of books in my 56 years of reading independently and quickly, sometimes devouring ten books a week. If I say books like mine—a series like The Spanners—don’t yet exist, I’m probably correct.

logoAuthorsDen
All buy links, reviews, interviews, readings and more: http://www.sallyember.com/Spanners Look right; scroll down.

Why am I writing #science-fiction/#romance, #Buddhist-infused, #multiverse/#multiple timelines #utopian #novels besides the reason already given? And, why should you read them? Because we live in a deteriorating, or degenerating Age, according to #Tibetan Buddhists (and probably many others I’m not bothering to research right now).

When I first hear this claim, I disbelieve it. Aren’t most things “improving” for humanity? Modern medicine, technology, transportation, knowledge of all types: in the 20th and 21st centuries, we are experiencing incontrovertible advances, mind-blowing progress, right? Plus, that POV is just such a downer!

Why would the Buddha’s followers propose and then Buddhist teachers and scholars maintain such a doom-and-gloom perspective on life? It’s not enough that Buddha focused his teachings on suffering and impermanence? Most Buddhists must be depressed: that’s what I thought.

I could understand why Tibetans, having been living under horrible oppression, genocide and cultural destruction under Chinese rule for decades, would be so pessimistic. But, we’re in the good ole’ USA: things are great here, right?

Not so much. I won’t go into the facts we all know now (even more than ever, thanks to Snodwen and Manning) about how screwed up the USA has been and still is, nor how terrible the economy is here and everywhere. I won’t provide the list. We all know too well the horrors of our modern life. Modern tragedies, however, are actually not even relevant to this discussion.

The “degenerating” part of our Age has little to do with actual external conditions. Our deterioration involves humans’ not being able to learn #dharma, not being able to find qualified and worthy Buddhist teachers, not being able to practice meditation well or at all. The Buddha’s teachings and Buddhists practitioners are what are degenerating, in what is called “The Third Age” or “The Latter Day of the Law.”

You can look this up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Ages_of_Buddhism

My point is, dystopian futures abound. Most sci-fi writers, even those that include romance in their stories, write of increasingly worsening conditions on and around this planet and across the Universe. They pile on the violence, showing increasing discord, more political and social unrest, deaths and destructions even worse than we have now. We already have too much awfulness for me to want to read about even worse futures.

Enough, already: I believe we need some hope, ideas of how else things could go, whether or not I always believe they will take these turns. Since I can’t find this optimism in the daily news or libraries’ and bookstores’ fiction, I decide to create it. I need this in my personal life, for the USA, for the continent, the water, air and land: I am imagining routes for improvement for the planet and the entire universe.

When I #meditate, especially during a #retreat phase in which I was #contemplating lives of beings in the “God Realm,” it occured to me repeatedly that we live in opulence amid squalor, all over the planet. Beauty smack dab in the middle of ugliness, every day. #Yin and #yang. We do have to “take the good with the bad,” but do we have to emphasize the “bad”?

I do not.

In my novels, even when things are “bad,” there is more good than bad. Buddha teaches often that we have to discern between “good” and “bad” even as we know these are illusory. Many teachings expound on how there is NO “good” or “bad,” no “birth” and no “death,” no “coming” and no “going.”

While you puzzle over that, I’m going to continue my utopian illusions in The Spanners Series. In my current and future multiverses, beings, including humans, will have love, better conditions and dharma: they/we have it all!

Furthermore, I’m going to HOPE—even though we are instructed to meditate partly in order to relinquish all hope and all fear—that YOU read my books and enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Please let me know! Write your comments here on this and other posts, on excerpts from my novel, and whatever else occurs to you. Let’s converse!

Video of #Tibetan #Buddhist Center in Brazil that is part of my #Sangha

If there is a companion video to this excellent one of our sister sangha and main center in Brazil, Chagdud Khadro Ling, for Chagdud Gonpa’s Rigdzin Ling in California, our main center, I don’t know of it. If you do, please share! If you’ve already seen this, sorry for the repetition.

Chagdud Khadro Ling temple
Khadro Ling‘s main temple in Tres Coroas, Brazil.

In Portuguese with English subtitles, beautiful photography and informative narration and scenes of #Tibetan #Buddhist practice, shrines, temples, items, meditation and practitioners, this video captures the quality and feeling of the land, buildings, intention, activities–the ambiance–very well.

The center (Rigdzin Ling) I spent so much time in from 1999 – 2008 (first visited in 1989; did up to 11-week-long retreats there, two more that were 6 -7 weeks and several that were 2 – 4 weeks, silent retreats, and several 11-day-long ceremonies/meditation practices, Drubchods) is in northern California between Eureka and Redding, but it looks a lot like these photos and our practices are the same.

RZL Tara House
Rigdzin Ling‘s main temple, Tara House, in Junction City, CA USA

For those who do not know, some background: This is my sangha (spiritual community of practitioners and teachers), started by my original teacher, His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, the teacher discussed in this video. Rinpoche passed in 2002. His newest (15th) incarnation/yangshi/tulku is about 10 years old, now.

Chagdud Rinpoche
H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche in 2001 and his yangshi in about 2009

To give perspective, Rinpoche was a contemporary of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: they studied with many of the same teachers before the Chinese invaded Tibet and both escaped to India in 1959 as young men. Rinpoche came to the USA (California) in the mid-1980s with his American wife (second), Jane, who became known as Chagdud Khadro (in the video as well). They started building centers along the USA’s West Coast. In 1991, as the video states, they visited South America/Brazil and moved there in 1995.

Tulku Jigme, CTR, Chagdud Khadro, 2001
Tulku Jigme Rinpoche (Rinpoche’s son), Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, and Chagdud Khadro, Brazil, 2001

The person Rinpoche designated to be his spiritual heir and director is my root/main teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, known as Lama Drimed.

Lama D in forest tsog 2013
Lama Drimed, forest ceremony (tsog), 2013

May all beings benefit, all Lamas live long and continue to teach, and all practitioners continue to meditate and serve all beings.

Watch the video here:

https://youtu.be/S0d5KoF8288

or

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0d5KoF8288

or

For more information: http://www.chagdud.org

Enjoy! Write back with comments, questions! Share!

http://www.sallyember.com is my main site and blog and has info about my Buddhist-themed science-fiction/ romance/ utopian/ multiverse novels, with discount codes and links, reviews, book trailers, more, about the first 3 ebooks and paperbacks in The Spanners Series, as well as posts about my #meditation practice and retreats.

Part II of “A Reluctant Buddhist” by Sally Ember, Ed.D., Appears 11/13/15 on The Buddhist Door

Part II of “A Reluctant Buddhist” by Sally Ember, Ed.D., Appears 11/13/15 on The Buddhist Door

Find out how…:
“…did I end up becoming a devoted, long-term student of Nyingma-lineage Tibetan Buddhism, studying, practicing, and completing my Ngöndro (foundation practices) in two-and-a-half years (“as if my hair were on fire”) while in full-time graduate school, working full time, and raising my son?

“…did I go from being unwilling even to enter the teaching venue or shrine room to being eager and willing to help start and/or expand and also, sometimes, live in and be a cook, coordinator, board member, bookkeeper, umze (chant leader), stupa mantra roller/packer, and more for not one, but three Dharma centers (in Maine, New Mexico, and California)?

“… did I transition from not even talking to Wyn for ten years to having him as Lama Drimed (Padma Drimed Norbu) become my root lama and main, then sole, Dzogchen meditation teacher and practice and retreat guide?

“…did I come to learn Tibetan well enough to be able to read, write, speak, and translate?”

http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/a-reluctant-buddhist-how-it-took-me-eight-years-to-start-practicing-in-this-life-part-ii


Missed Part I? Find it from September 4, 2015, at Buddhist Door
http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/a-reluctant-buddhist-how-it-took-me-eight-years-to-start-practicing-in-this-life

Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship – Book Review by Sally Ember, Ed.D., featured on The Buddhist Door website

Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship – Book Review by Sally Ember, Ed.D., featured on The Buddhist Door website

Thanks to Frances McDonald and others at The Buddhist Door for this opportunity to be a reviewer for your site! As a long-time student of #meditation (since 1972) and a #Buddhism student since 1996 in the #Tibetan #Vajrayana tradition, I was pleased to review this book.

Anyone interested in knowing more about how to choose a spiritual teacher or mentor and all the varying types of these there can be, how to be in a better relationship with one or more than one teacher, how and why to end that relationship, and what its pitfalls might be, and so much more, would benefit greatly from reading this book and keeping it around to refer to frequently.

Please read this review and support The Buddhist Door!

Berzin book cover

http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/wise-teacher-wise-student-tibetan-approaches-healthy-relationship-book-review

#Buddhism and Intimate #Relationships: What’s the Deal?

#Buddhism and Intimate #Relationships: What’s the Deal?

staying in love
image from http://indulgy.com

I went on an online hunt for the latest in advice, opinions, experiences and perspectives on this topic, intimate relationships and/or #love, from a #Buddhist perspective, restricting myself to postings from the last twelve months.

NOTE: Buddhists use this definition of “love”: the wish for the one you love to be happy. So, if you love someone, you will do everything you are capable of to help that person achieve temporary and long-lasting happiness—regardless of what loving that person requires of you—unselfishly, unstintingly, the way a parent would strive for a child.

Dalai Lama Love is wanting others to be happy
image from http://peacelovepotager.blogspot.com

Here are what I found and some of my comments and questions about how to be a Buddhist in close relationships.

Next? Your comments!


From the Buddhism Stack Exchange (“a question and answer site for people practicing or interested in Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice. It’s built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we’re working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice”), which has a page on Buddhism, marked Beta, with the subtitle from September 2, 2015: “Do buddhists fall in love?”
http://buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/11266/do-buddhists-fall-in-love

This site provides a lot of info on the various subdivisions of Buddhism, including Theravada, Mahayana and Zen, and Vajrayana. Since I practice Tibetan Vajrayana Nyingma Buddhism, I focused on the responses that seem to be from the Vajrayana point of view.

Several responses were posted, but my favorites are these two, excerpted below.

One writer, Andrei Volkov (“Non-sectarian practitioner in the tradition of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, heavily influenced by Korean Zazen and studies of Pali Canon. Dedicated to serious practice since 1995, and independent of others with regard to the Buddha’s message since 2012”), posted his response to the question posed (with a lot of explanatory material from the questioner that accompanied this question), “Do buddhists fall in love?”

In Vajrayana schools…emotions, including romantic love, are considered a form of energy that can be put to use… Vajrayana would still appreciate the inherent fakeness of love, the mechanical nature of which comes from a match of partners’ stereotypes and preconceptions.

[E]ven if a Vajrayana practitioner could play with the fire both in context of its ego-melting properties as well as for pleasure, they would not take it one-sidedly as an untrained run-of-the-mill person would do….Vajrayana view includes both sacred and illusory aspects of love. In Vajrayana we are trained to see things from all the sides at the same time. Love is both sacred and a giant trick, as far as Vajrayana is concerned.

The predominant Buddhist sentiment here is that being disappointed/disenchanted (= “sober”) is a …healthier state than the state of intoxication by an object of mind. While Vajrayana is 100% aligned with this most fundamental of Buddhist principles, we do allow ourselves to get drunk, both metaphorically with love, and occasionally even literally—–while staying fully accountable for the consequences—–a trait of the universal adult.

I also appreciated this perspective, posted by “Buddho” (gave no bio info):

Modern neuroscience is catching up with Buddhism in this department it appears. Scientists have found romantic love activates the same addictive parts of the brain as cocaine….

…Buddhism likens romantic love to an addiction, an attachment, and a danger.

…However, love…can also be about selflessness, … sacrifice and … self improvement…. This is the raison d’être for the Vajrayana school of romance as a valid path to enlightenment….


Another point of view comes from Bkikshuni Thupten Chödron, teacher, author and Abbess. Ani [Buddhist honorific for a nun] Chödron is a Western white woman who was one of the first to take Buddhist nun’s vows. http://thubtenchodron.org/biography/

Ani Chödron posted a marriage ceremony prayer that she asks the partners say to each other and to their friends and family, which I excerpt, below:
http://thubtenchodron.org/1995/06/wedding-readings-dharma/

…We aspire to make our spiritual path the core of our life together. We will help each other on the path to enlightenment, watering the seeds of love, compassion, generosity, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom in each other. As we age and undergo the various ups and downs of cyclic existence, we aspire to transform them into the path of love, compassion, joy and equanimity.

…We recognize that external conditions in life will not always be smooth, and that internally, our own minds and emotions sometimes get stuck in negative ways of thinking. When this happens, we aspire to see all these circumstances as a challenge to help us grow, to open our hearts, to accept ourselves, others and life itself; and to generate compassion for all others who are also unhappy or suffering at that moment. We aspire to avoid becoming narrow, closed or opinionated, and will help each other see all the various sides of a situation and to bring acceptance, flexibility and equanimity to it.

…We aspire to remember the disadvantages of ignorance, anger and clinging attachment and to apply Dharma antidotes when these arise in our minds and to help each other do so, also.

…Day to day, as we progress along the path, we aspire to be patient with ourselves and others, knowing that change comes slowly and gradually…

I have attended a few Buddhist wedding ceremonies and heard about others. They usually include a portion of the vows that ends with “until impermanence intervenes” instead of the more traditional and secular “until death do we part.”


I’ve also heard and read Buddhist teachings that indicate one great reason to be in intimate relationships, whether platonic or sexual: when we are in relationship, we see our own minds better and face our challenges daily with ourselves.

I can attest to the experiences I have had with this exact situation from times I have been on individual, silent retreats: as long as I do not interact with anyone (no eye contact, no conversations, no communication of any kind) and, better yet, don’t even encounter anyone else in a significant way, I believe that I am doing “great” with my practice. I am so patient, so generous, so kind, so loving, so compassionate, so able to rejoice in others’ successes and happiness, so calm and so earnest about wanting to alleviate suffering for all beings. Oh, yes. Ahhhh.

On retreat, I am practically a saint….until I am thwarted or confronted with someone’s saying or doing something I don’t want or preventing me from getting what I do want.

Could be that someone puts their shoes where I usually put mine. Sometimes, I have to wait longer than usual for a meal. Perhaps someone stands where I want to stand, preventing me from seeing something I want to see. Maybe someone “takes” “my” parking space.

parkingspot
image from http://www.smilesforall.com

Provoked by the smallest of infractions or distractions, my ordinary mind and all its selfishness, attachment, pride, jealousy, anger and ignorance rear all their heads at once. There go my delusions of equanimity and of Bodhisattva grandeur: shattered!

The only “realization” I can honestly claim to have is this: I am so far from liberated, I can’t even read the sign for “enlightenment, this way —>.”

It seems to be true that the main spiritual advantage to being in an intimate relationship is that we get our spiritual comeuppance every day, many times a day, and can harbor no such illusions about our proximity to “enlightenment.” When we are engaged in intense, personal relationships with others and paying attention to our own minds, whether that occurs with colleagues, a lover/partner or with friends, our tasks are to be grateful for the challenges, to be glad of the opportunities to grow and improve.

Buddhist teachings exhort us to continue focusing our criticisms on ourselves and our generosity on our partners. We learn to see every interpersonal encounter as a chance to “look in the mirror” and see ourselves better rather than “look out the window” and point at or blame others for our confusions, hurts and complaints. We consider our sangha, the other members of our spiritual community, to be our “guide,” which means they show us the nature of our minds merely by being in our lives.

Lao Tsu knowing others knowing ourselves

This does not mean we shouldn’t remove ourselves from an abusive relationship or ignore people who harm us or others. That is a misconstruction of these instructions. Buddhism also doesn’t encourage “co-dependency” while inspiring unselfishness: fine lines, always.

We simply try to maintain our focus on our own minds when we are feeling angry, resentful, proud, jealous, or afraid. We are attempting to see clearly the nature of our emotions as empty—having no substance—and to discover the source of our own suffering as ignorance, on the path to becoming more patient and spontaneously compassionate toward others.

CONCLUSIONS

If we aren’t interacting in any serious way with others, if we have no “skin in the game,” if all our relationships are superficial, short-term, and insignificant, we won’t be inspired to improve ourselves because, as I believe about myself when I’m alone on retreat, we’ll mistakenly conclude that we are “just fine the way we are.”

Are you in any relationships in which you are “all in,” allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable, exposed, authentic? Or, do you hold yourself back, keep some in reserve, never fully commit or reveal yourself? Only by immersing ourselves in an intense human relationship of some kind can we fully learn to understand our own minds and emotions honestly.

Why hold back? None of us lives all that long….

I am not in a close relationship with a lover right now, but I wish I were. I am in close contact with family members and a few friends, but none of those relationships brings the challenges right to my heart/mind that a lover does. Maybe some day, again…

Trouble is, I am very picky and I have a lot of experience, so I am not inclined to be in a relationship just to be in one. Not now.

My personal ads (when I ran them) did not get many relevant “hits.” Could be because these are my criteria and descriptions: “Serious meditators, only. People my age (61) or thereabouts, only. Kind, intelligent, humorous, interesting people only. No drinkers or smokers. One or no pets. No kids at home.”

I’m willing to be with either a woman or man, which opens up the field considerably, but my chosen categories otherwise make my acceptable potentials (and those who might find me appealing) very small. Also, I’m a Buddhist who was raised Jewish, a feminist and a radical, politically. Unless the other person is, also, or has experience with people similar to me, they probably won’t understand or respect me properly, nor I, them.

Then, add in these facts and you’ll see the pool shrinks into one that holds almost zero candidates: I don’t like to shop except for food that we’ll eat, and I prefer organic and food farmers’ markets, when possible. I don’t wear make-up or perfume or dress up readily. I don’t shave. I don’t wear bras. I’m honest. I’m somewhat psychic. I’m short, but people tell me I’m intimidating even when I don’t say a word. I’m a writer, a blogger, and a talk show host who likes to spend a lot of time alone to accomplish these things. I swim a lot, but I can’t hike (bad leg and back). I don’t have much money (yet). I eschew most sports, don’t like gambling, am not pleased with or want to go to most movies.

I get up at 3 AM and go to bed at about 8 PM, although, with naps, I can push the bedtime back a bit. I’m extremely intelligent and highly educated (doctorate), and I’m not as patient as I ought to be with potential partners who are not well-educated, don’t read much, and/or don’t know how to express themselves and/or don’t talk much. I’m very funny and I appreciate humor, but not if it’s disrespectful or implies derogatory opinions of groups or individuals.

I don’t like most movies or TV programs and won’t watch them. I fall asleep at classical concerts (although I like some of that music) and detest opera. I don’t want to attend most plays or public performances, but there are some I really would like to see.

I’m also not a “Barbie doll.” Therefore, I don’t want to be with someone whose main criteria for a lover start with or center on appearance and “fitness.” I appreciate certain physical qualities, but those aren’t my “screen” and I am not interested in people who screen that way.

I want friendship and interest first, love to have a chance and time to evolve, and for sex to occur as we get to know each other, not as the way to get to know each other. I haven’t had sex for over five years. I can wait.

You see the problems, yes?

subset almost nil
image from http://www.cs.uni.edu

If there is anyone at all left in my subset, what are the odds that this person is alive and living within 15 – 20 miles of me in St. Louis, Missouri USA, right now, AND that I would meet up with him/her by chance and s/he would recognize me and I, him/her?

Let me know when you find such a person(s).

The truth is, because I have had dozens of relationships in my life, from those lasting one-night to twenty+ years, and I have an adult child I am close to and love dearly, as I do his partner, and I have many friends around the country and connections around the world, and relational experiences from dozens of years of living collectively, working closely with and living with people, I have the grounds for being choosy. I’d rather be “alone” than be in a relationship that isn’t healthy or spiritually nourishing.


Love isn’t easy. Love doesn’t always offer fun and sex. Love doesn’t usually include roses or violins.

Is love worthwhile? How should a practicing Buddhist (or anyone conscious) best engage in close relationships?

You tell me. http://www.sallyember.com/blog

Featured today on Buddhist Door, Part I of my stories of being a “Reluctant Buddhist.”

Featured today on Buddhist Door, Part I of my stories of being a “Reluctant Buddhist.”

http://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/a-reluctant-buddhist-how-it-took-me-eight-years-to-start-practicing-in-this-life

Thanks, Frances McDonald and Buddhist Door, for this opportunity.

Look for Part II to go LIVE on 11/13/15, my dear Lama Drimed’s birthday!

May all beings benefit.

Bisexual, Female, Western and Buddhist: There are a lot more of us than you might think!

Bisexual, Female, Western and Buddhist: There are a lot more of us than you might think!, by Sally Ember, Ed.D.: written in response to Black, Bisexual, and Buddhist: Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is not afraid to embrace who she is. by Kimberly Winston, August 05, 2015
http://www.tricycle.com/blog/black-bisexual-and-buddhist

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel relates that she “often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.” She believes this is due to the fact that “she doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.”

ZenjuPic4
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, photo from TRICYCLE article in online Buddhist magazine, http://www.tricycle.com/blog/black-bisexual-and-buddhist

She recently published: The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender, known here as “her second book of dharma, or Buddhist teachings, published in February by Wisdom Publications. In it, Manuel, who follows the Zen tradition, calls on Buddhists not to ignore those ways they may be different, whether it’s because of their color, gender, or sexual orientation.”

She and others call this idea a “‘multiplicity of oneness’—–[which] is somewhat controversial within Buddhism, where the teachings have tended to focus on moving beyond the physical to find the spiritual. But Manuel and a handful of other Western Buddhists—–including a number of African-American teachers–—are embracing the idea as crucial to enlightenment, a state free from anxiety that is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.”

Manuel and I have a lot in common, so I felt moved to respond to this article about her and her teaching, her writing and her spiritual life. I resonate with some aspects; others are quite different for me.

Manuel is 62; I am about to be 61. That means we are contemporaries who are natives of the same country.

She reports that she “has had a multiplicity of lives, all of which inform her work.” My C.V.—my academic and total resume—is over seven pages long. I have also moved over thirty times, having lived in states on both coasts, the midwest and the southwest of the USA. These varied aspects of my professional and personal lives must constitute a “multiplicity,” don’t you think?

Her personal history includes “violence, poverty and prejudice,” which my life contains, also. Heavier on the violence and prejudice than the poverty, for me, but all were there.

Manuel states that she has “been an activist since the tumultuous 1970s”; I started being a vocal, active feminist activist while still in grade school, moved into anti-war and anti-nuclear power activism, continued with feminism and got into reproductive rights activism and other issues as well. I started earlier by about 10 years, but then we both kept on keeping on.

Manuel says that she “has also known fear and rejection because she is bisexual,” but I mostly do not have that experience, perhaps because I didn’t “come out” publicly as bisexual until the 1990s, when it seemed almost no one cared anymore and I was a confident adult with a supportive community and family. I did lose a female friend in college in the early 1970s when I clumsily invited her to be my lover, but usually I did not experience either rejection or fear due to my sexual orientation. Not everyone I approached agreed to be my lover, but their rejections had nothing to do with my being attracted to both genders. So, our lives diverged there significantly.

She “was raised a Christian but discovered Buddhism in 1988,” whereas I was raised Jewish and discovered Buddhist in the early 1980s. However, I had already been meditating in the Transcendental Meditation (T.M.) tradition since 1972. Similar, but not the same, here.

Mostly, though, we share significant components of our cultural, personal and historical location and background. The major difference is that she is Black and I am White/Anglo. Our other intersecting social identities create affinities that few other commonalities could, especially since our experiences led us both to become immersed seriously and deeply in Buddhist practice.

Appallingly, however, she had the misfortune to have had a couple of Zen teachers who “suggested if she ‘dropped the labels’ of ‘African-American,’ of ‘bisexual,’ of ‘woman,’ she would ‘be liberated.’ That is ridiculous and has nothing to do with authentic Buddhism. I’m sorry she had those teachers or allowed them to affect her. Obviously, by trying to accomplish this (the impossible), she was not “liberated.” Furthermore, these attempts did not ease her suffering; in fact, she reported that she became more unhappy.

Eventually, she discovered on her own what Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism (my tradition) has always taught: embrace everything, cling to nothing. While bushwhacking her own path through Zen traditions that were not friendly to her, she arrived at, in her words: “’complete tenderness’—–the experience of walking through her pain, knowing it, living with it, but not being controlled by it—–by confronting her suffering caused by her upbringing and identity as an African-American bisexual woman.”

I challenge this idea, though, that her suffering was “caused” by her identities at that point. I would conclude instead that her suffering was exacerbated early in her Zen journey by the ignorance and arrogance of those Zen teachers who misdirected her, then aggravated by her willingness to follow their misdirections for too long. It isn’t who she was that was the problem; it’s he ways a few teachers positioned who she was with respect to her spiritual path that caused her pain.

Despite being misled by some teachers, Manuel continued within Zen all the way to becoming ordained as a Zen Priest, when she was “given the name ‘Zenju,’ which means ‘complete tenderness.’” She now leads a small, all-female sangha that meets where she lives, in Oakland, California (near San Francisco), many of whom are also identifying as women of color.

I’m glad she found a way through all that, but it was so unnecessary. There are many USA-based Zen sanghas, some right near her that I am personally aware of, in which she would not have had those experiences. We could say it was her karma to have had those encounters, and we’d be correct, since everything we experience is always due to our karma.

But, it is not inherent to the nature of Zen or Buddhism to treat students in those ways. I need to emphasize this truth, since it appears from this Tricycle article and perhaps her book (I haven’t read it, so I’m not sure) that it is inevitable that students of backgrounds similar to hers will encounter prejudice and extreme difficulties due to their social identities everywhere they go in Buddhist communities. Simply not true.

I have observed, though, that too many Buddhist communities in the USA and Canada are populated by a disproportionate number of middle- and upper-class Whites/Anglos in comparison to the number of participants from other ethnicities and class backgrounds. I’m glad to say that these imbalances have been recognized by most leaders and other members: many sanghas are doing extensive outreach to rectify them.

I don’t know if Manuel’s Oakland Zen sitting group is deliberately all women or intentionally mostly women of color; perhaps it is open to everyone, but her being who she is, as the teacher, attracted more practitioners similar to her. That does happen, that spiritual teachers attract students who see themselves as similar to their teachers.

The only similarity that actually matters, though, is that we are all human and we all need to train our minds, develop more compassionate hearts, and liberate ourselves from delusions that cause suffering. Therefore, I believe deliberately segregating ourselves by gender, class, background or any other social identity is a mistake when it comes to creating and maintaining spiritual community. I know there are specific occasions when such segregation can be useful or necessary, but mostly, let’s not.

Clearly, the Buddhist path works well for Manuel and she believes it can work well for other women of color, bisexual or not. In that, we agree.

The Buddha supposedly taught over 84,000 types of meditation so that each individual who wants to practice will be able to find a path that works. In a large enough community with sufficient numbers of paths and teachers, I’m sure that is possible: everyone who wants to learn to meditate in the Buddhist tradition could do so.

Northern California, USA, is such a locale, with dozens or even hundreds of Buddhist teachers and sangha options scattered throughout the rural, suburban and urban areas, each slightly or very different from the other. I used to live there and I miss it a lot.

St. Louis, Missouri, USA, is not such a locale. It is not bereft entirely of Buddhists or Buddhist communities, but there is none in my exact tradition. I find that I am not so interested in attending the groups that are dissimilar. I enjoy meditating on my own just fine. I do miss my sangha and those important, guiding interactions, but not enough to join some other group, yet.

Meanwhile, this female, bisexual Buddhist who was raised Jewish and is White/Anglo is meditating and attempting to liberate in this lifetime alongside or including, but not despite, my social identities. I am lucky to have occasional conversations with my spiritual teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, by telephone, and regular contact with geographically distant sangha members via SKYPE, social media and email.

May all beings benefit. I wish you all the best in your practices.

Buddha thinking creates happiness

Please pray and send positive thoughts to save all beings from wild fires

from Chagdud Gonpa Rigdzin Ling
(my dharma center)

August 2, 2015

“Dear Sangha,

“As you may have heard, there are over 60 fires in Trinity County [northern California, USA, between Redding and Eureka] that began just a few days ago. We are safe here at Rigdzin Ling, but there are fires in very close proximity to us and we are engulfed in heavy smoke. We are preparing for changes that may occur over the next several days if the fires have not been contained. We are asking the sangha to make prayers at this time. Many sentient beings will die from these fires and many people’s lives are at risk.

“Please pray to Guru Rinpoche and Tara. You may do so by reciting “Barchad Lamsel” from Galaxy of Heartdrops, “Jetzun” prayers from the concise daily Red Tara practice, and the “Prayer to Guru Rinpoche to Dispel Elemental Disturbances. [Find prayer here and below: http://goo.gl/yYTRBF or http://chagdudgonpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/prayer-to-guru-rinpoche-dispelling-elemental-disturbances.pdf]

“We will update our Facebook page regularly for any changes to the conditions at Rigdzin Ling.

“Thank you for your prayers.
In the Dharma,
The Rigdzin Ling Sangha”

A Prayer to Guru Rinpoche to Dispel Fire and Other Elemental Disturbances

SA CHHU ME LUNG JUNG WAI BAR CHHED KYIY GYU LU NYEN CHING JIG PAI DU JUNG TSE
When our illusory bodies are threatened with destruction because of obstacles and disturbances of the earth, water, fire, and wind elements,

YID NYIY T’HE TSOM MED PAR SOL WA DEB OR GYAN JUNG WA ZHI YI LHA MOR CHAY
I supplicate you without any doubt or uncertainty. When Orgyen comes, together with the goddesses of the four elements,

JUNG WA RANG SAR ZHI WAR T’HE TSOM MED OR GYAN PAD MA JUNG NAY LA SOL WA DEB
without a doubt the elements will be pacified in and of themselves. Orgyen Padma Jungnay, to you I pray.

SAM PA LHUN GYIY DRUB PAR JIN GYIY LOB
Grant your blessings that our wishes be spontaneously accomplished.

Extracted from the Sampa Lhundrupma within the Seven Chapter Supplication

ChagdudRinpoche near end
the late His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, 2001

#Buddhism and #Science: the Facts, the Yogis, the Practices

A repost from 1/30/14 from my own blog.

quantum-buddha-side

The above image is entitled “Quantum Buddha,” and it captures the essence of this post: the intersection of Buddhism and modern science. Meditation as medicine, mindfulness for many purposes, research data to support their usefulness seem to be in the headlines almost daily. Some links are below to articles like that.

http://ideas.time.com/2014/01/17/we-need-to-take-meditation-more-seriously-as-medicine/

Being called The Third Metric, and The Way of the Future for politics, leadership, business and family life, mindfulness is now almost mainstream.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/21/third-metric_n_4612396.html

Will meditation cure your depression? Your cancer? Your diabetes? Your stress?

http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/article/2014/01/heat-the-body-heal-the-mind

What are the facts? What is true? What is correct? How do you know?

Einstein and Buddhism

There was recently a forum on meditation led by the actor, Goldie Hawn, at a World Economics conference!

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-20/at-davos-rising-stress-spurs-goldie-hawn-meditation-talk.html

You decide, after learning to meditate, researching via personal experience as well as reading and watching videos, attending conferences and talking with others, what YOU believe. The Buddha would want you to do that. Really.

reject buddha Dalai Lama

When you have time and want to learn a lot more, watch this amazing documentary. Yogis of Tibet.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DctQTDm-HdU

CONTROVERSY: #Buddhists and #Organ Donation at #Death

As some of you know, I have been a practicing #Buddhist in the #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Nyingma tradition since 1989, informally, and since 1996, formally (in this life, anyway…). These traditions, as taught to me originally by the late His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and by many of the Western Lamas he ordained, including my current teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu (Lama Drimed, as he is known), include very specific preparations for death which we do as a part of our daily practices as well as recommendations as to how we want others to handle our dying and death processes and manage our dead bodies.

CTR

H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

In fact, packets and instructions have been sent to students detailing what to give loved ones, friends, medical professionals and hospice workers–anyone attending our dying process and death event—so that, if we are unable to verbally convey our last wishes, everyone will know what we want to happen (and not happen). These written instructions, which each person can modify to their choosing, have been very comforting and useful for the friends and sangha (Buddhist community) members who have faced this while dying or being around meditators who are dying or who have just died.

Because Buddhists in our tradition (and many others) believe that a recently deceased person’s consciousness stays in or around the body for many days after death (up to 49, but certainly the first 3 – 7, for meditators), most directions talk about not moving or even touching the body (or touching it only in specific places, avoiding touching the bottoms of the feet, for example) in order to help the deceased meditators maintain the meditation and move our consciousness intentionally onward while we are are “in” this bardo period (between place/time, rough translation).

Buddhists have special rituals, such as Sur and P’howa, taught and practiced daily or weekly, which involve visualizations and prayers. We also usually include “offerings” of incense or other burnt substances (as in Sur) and music, such as the clanging of the tingshas (small, heavy ritual cymbals) or ringing of bells, and chanting specific mantras to honor, assist and “feed” the recently deceaseds’ wandering spirits during this time.

To commemorate someone’s death, we also light butterlamps (oil lamps or candles suffice), release animals from captivity who were marked for death (bait fish, worms and prey animals in pet stores, for example), dedicating the merit of these actions to their passing more positively while in the bardo and when entering into their next lifetime.

fish release saving lives

“Taiwanese Buddhists release catfish into a river during a ‘mercy release’ ceremony in Taipei.” image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk

With all of this attention to maintaining the dignity and meditation of the dying and dead person, how/when could one donate organs? Sangha members posed these questions to Rinpoche before he passed and to living teachers, with mixed responses. Some indicate that if you want to be an organ donor, you have to choose to give up your chance to do these practices during and after dying/death. Personally, I think this view is an opinion that could be challenged. However, it is widely circulated.

So far, I don’t know of any sangha members who died who also donated their organs, and several have died in the last ten years whom I knew personally and well. I decided to be an organ donor before practicing Buddhism in this life and I have signed up in every state I’ve lived in since, including my most recent move to Missouri, whenever I get a new driver’s license.

I believe in organ donation because it’s the right thing to do, in my mind. Also, six people I know and love received life-saving organ and/or bone marrow donations. I was tested (but not selected) to be one of those donors about twelve years ago.

Jaye Laughing

My dear, recently departed friend, Jaye Alper, enjoying her extra years because of a donated kidney.

How do I reconcile being an organ donor with being a serious meditator who does these time-of-death practices? Like this: None of these pre-modern-science meditators ever faced these decisions and dilemmas, so how could they have prepared for, much less taught about how to make organ donation choices?

Points to consider:

  • Our consciousness does not reside in this body; we use it for a while and then our consciousness moves on. We Buddhists all agree on that, yes?
  • This existence is all illusory, including being in this body.
  • The highest act of generosity anyone can make is to give one’s body. We visualize this in Chöd practice and other meditations daily; why not DO it? Actually GIVE our body parts!
  • At my time of death (and right before, if I’m brain-dead but not physically dead, yet), the most useful thing I can do is to donate my organs so that others may live, see, breathe, etc., by using them.
  • I certainly won’t be needing my organs any longer at that point.
  • If my commitment to meditation practice is strong and steady, it won’t matter where my consciousness “is” when this body is dying and dies. How could it? How much can it really matter where and how this body is moved or touched, then?

Also, and I don’t mean to sound condescending, I believe that a large portion of Buddhist tradition and thought, particularly that which comes from Tibet, is steeped in the superstitions, fears and other unsupportable beliefs that pre-dated Buddhism, such as those from Bön. Furthermore, indigenous Shamanic traditions rooted in many Buddhist cultures share these older views.

However, our commitments to practice generosity, be less selfish, try to make others happy, and our motivation to save lives and alleviate suffering are supposed to triumph over fears for all of these faiths. I hope we can agree on donating organs in these modern times.

Most Motor Vehicle Bureaus have a organ donor registration as part of the license-getting or -renewal process. if you don’t drive, find a way to become listed as an organ donor. Get tested to be a live donor by participating in the Bone Marrow registry as well.

organ_donor_card_

We are all going to die. We meditate on impermanence, on death, every day. We get used to it, as meditators. Let’s do more than become accustomed to death: let’s use it for benefiting others.

Death-meditation

image from: http://www.orderofthegooddeath.com

How great it is to live in a time that allows us to gift others with our body parts and help them live better, healthier, longer lives? As we get closer to the USA celebration of Halloween and the Mexican commemoration, El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), 10/31, how fitting is it to consider death in productive ways?

Click below to sign up and become a registered donor. Pass this on, please.

http://www.transplants.org/become-organ-donor

#Injuries to the #Mind, #Brain and #Psyche that Cause Difficulties with #Meditation

I have been noticing, since the fall that injured my brain via a #concussion in early April, that I have had unusual and unique (to me) difficulties with meditation (and life) ever since. Add to this several other “injuries” to my mind and psyche due to: disastrous #heartbreak; a difficult #move cross-country (i.e., getting rid of almost everything, going far away from my spiritual/ meditation teacher and spiritual community/ sangha to relocate to my childhood hometown); long-term, chronic #unemployment; disappointing #ebook sales (due to my having been incapacitated during key #marketing time after my accident); unexpected and painful changes to my #health; turning 60, which have led to my noticing many other problems with my #meditation practice in the last several months that I’ve never had before this (I’ve been meditating since 1972 and doing this practice since 1999).

I think, under these circumstances, which would put me over the top on any stressors test, I am doing quite well. However, I want to meditate, not just do well. Why does my mind keep skittering away from my focus when I try to meditate? What is happening in this brain/mind of mine? I have done many retreats, some as long as eleven weeks, and never had anything like these problems before. My talks with other meditators without brain injuries confirmed that only we injured seem to have these types of difficulties.

But, why? And, what to do about them?

I kept hearing this quote as I continued my attempts:

meditation better than nothing

I pray that this is true….

Since I am a life-long researcher and the internet provides endless opportunities for me to look for “answers,” I looked around for others’ stories, cautionary tales or suggestions. I wanted to find more injured meditators I could commiserate with or teachers who could offer me advice.

What did I find? See below.

Not surprisingly, when I looked for links between “stress” and “meditation,” I found millions of links (17,700,000) referring to the help that meditation provides us when we’re stressed. Meditation for stress reduction, managing stress, alleviating stress, etc., abound on the internet and elsewhere.

NOT ONE article or study to be found that discusses how stress impacts meditation. Really? Really.

Here was my “path”:
“Searches related to meditation problems life stressors” which then provided these other key word strings:

  • meditation for stress

  • meditation for stress relief

  • guided meditation for stress

  • meditation for stress and anxiety

  • meditation for stress management

  • meditation depression

  • meditation for stress or sudden shock

  • meditation for stress and anger

Frontal lobe meditation before and after

image from: http://www.paramyogaindia.wordpress.com

I also tried: “Searches related to impact of stress on meditation,” which yielded about 6 million results, but always in the reverse: how meditation helps with stress.

Okay. I must be going about this all wrong. I tried the verbal “OKAY GOOGLE” command and asked: “OKAY GOOGLE: Why am I having trouble meditating?”

I got 1,020,000 results, but these all revolved around problems “beginners” have with “monkey-mind,” or problems many have with setting aside time, being consistent, staying with meditation once they start, etc. I couldn’t look at all one million results, but the associated key word strings confirmed my suspicions: OKAY GOOGLE still did not understand my problem.

Google did offer other choices (some quite hilarious, under the circumstances):

“Searches related to why am I having trouble meditating”:

  • i am having trouble pooping

  • i am having trouble getting pregnant

  • i am having trouble sleeping at night

  • i am having trouble breathing

  • i am having trouble breathing and my chest hurts

  • i am having trouble swallowing

  • i am having trouble breathing deeply

  • i am having trouble logging into my facebook account

I even tried getting more specific with OKAY GOOGLE, asking: “Why does my concussion make it hard for me to meditate?” This query led me to even stranger associations than before, including recommendations for those with concussions to meditate to help heal from their concussions.

Huh?

I don’t know whether to be flattered or to cry when this also had my own article from my blog post in May as the number 3 listing among 11,000,000 results:

concussion | Sally Ember, Ed.D.

sallyember.com/tag/concussion/

May 2, 2014

If I’m one of the “experts,” here, we’re all in trouble.

Don't follow me I'm already lost

image from http:///funny-pictures.picphotos.net

So, I was going to give up on finding “help” but then I tried this search string: “research meditation frontal lobe injuries” and hit the jackpot.

First, this quote (unattributed) kept appearing: “Meditation is a frontal lobe activity,” which affected me deeply. My accident, for those who don’t know, involved my hitting a wall face-first, breaking my nose and impacting my forehead, behind which is the frontal lobe.

Here are some selected quotes from the best article I found, from the UK, that clarifies a lot about the functions of the frontal lobe, its effects on and participation in the activity of meditation, and many other aspects of my experience: very illuminating and helpful.

Case study on function of the frontal lobe

“The frontal lobes play a major role in the regulation of our emotions and behaviour as well as planning, decision making, social conduct, and executive functions. They are vulnerable to damage… [and] are thought to be our emotional control centre [sic; UK spelling] and home to our personality.”

“The frontal lobes are vulnerable to injury and damage due to their location at the front of the skull and their ample size. Magnetic Resonance Imaging studies have revealed that the frontal area is the most frequent region of damage following brain injury (Levin et al., 1987). Statistics show that there is no other component of the brain in which impairment can cause such a wide array of symptoms (Kolb and Wishaw, 1990).”

This began to intrigue me, especially the part about the “wide array of symptoms,” which I can attest to experiencing. Some of my “symptoms” have seemed to be unclearly connected to the concussion until I read more of this article.

“The frontal lobes are involved in problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgement [sic; UK spelling], impulse control, social cognition (Benson, 1996) and sexual behaviour. Motor function is also seen to be controlled by the frontal lobes (Leonard et al., 1988).”

I have noticed my balance is off, my proprioceptors are off, my sense of security on my feet is reduced, but until I read this, I wasn’t sure if I was suffering from a bit of PTSD and wariness about falling again or actually having trouble. The latter, I believe now, is the case.

“Broca’s Aphasia has also been linked with frontal lobe damage (Brown, 1972). It is supported that frontal lobe damage has an effect on memory and attention (Stuss et al., 1985).”

Ding ding ding: points for all. Unfortunately.

“Mesulam (1986) pointed out from his studies, that some people who have suffered frontal lobe damage show impairments in their everyday life; however they show little or no impairment on clinical neurological assessment tests….[One injured patient was] unable to make decisions and plan…often unable to make simple everyday decisions, such as which toothpaste to buy, what restaurant to go to, or what to wear even after endless comparisons and contrasts Damasio (1985)….This may be characterised as a failure of future memory, the ability to encode delayed intentions, and act on those intentions when the appropriate time arrives.”

Usually I am extremely decisive. Even when there are complex factors, even when I feel ambivalence: before this accident and its injuries to my brain, I was considered a person others could rely on to make the choices they could or would not make. Since then, I have had hesitation, confusion, bewilderment, inability to weigh costs and benefits and many other unusual reactions to being asked to choose even the simplest things. Now I know the reasons for this befuddlement. Good.

“Interestingly, some patients who suffer from frontal lobe damage often do not show any defects on neuropsychological tests. However, when observed in unstructured real world settings, patients frequently demonstrate cognitive difficulties, neurobehavioral symptoms, and deficits in their executive functions.”

I would say, without a doubt, that the most severe deficit to my executive functions has been first my complete inability and then my reduced ability to meditate, since meditation has become the foundation for all the thinking, choosing and behaving in my life via values, personality and habit changes.

TBI as a puzzle

image from: http://www.brainline.org

I can see ways I’ve regressed since the accident and these are disturbing in deep and superficial ways. I’m more impatient, more quick to anger, easily provoked to sadness or hurt. I hide it from those close to me but take it out on customer service representatives of mega-corporations which happen to provide terrible service. Not proud of this at all.

“Studies have found high frontal lobe activation during meditation (Herzog et al, 1990; Lazer et al, 2000).”

IF I COULD MEDITATE, I would, also. I miss meditating so much. But, now I know a bit more about the reasons for my difficulties.

I hope this post and the rest of this article (link, below) help others in similar predicaments.

http://www.ukessays.com/essays/psychology/case-study-on-function-of-the-frontal-lobe-psychology-essay.php#ixzz3ClAyyWOc

Keep trying, keep going: got to believe it will improve.

I’m also going to see if I can talk (or video chat) with my meditation teacher some time soon. I need something.

A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh is what I plan to contemplate until my meditation practice gets back on track.

Thich Nhat Hanh quote

I can #Meditate, Again! Ahhhh!

Good news! First time, since the fall that caused a broken nose and concussion on April 1, that I spontaneously dropped into meditative awareness/rigpa!

Dzogchen_A

image of DzoghchenAh” seed syllable for Rigpa from en.wikipedia.org

As some of you know, since the concussive injury to my brain, meditation was, at first, painful/impossible, then elusive/difficult and NOT recommended by the neurosurgeon (who commanded I REST my brain) (see earlier post on concussions’ effects on the brain regarding meditation and other effects from April).

This week I began returning to intentional meditation, slowly, in small sessions, coming up to the day (TODAY, 6/23/14) the doctor will (hopefully) clear me for all mental activities.

Reading a blog post in which the word “wisdom” appeared is what triggered the “ahh” moment! Thanks to fellow bloggers!

It’s like returning home. Tearfully happy today.

Rigpa3-225x300

image from http://www.artsyshark.com (Terri Lloyd): “Rigpa 3″

As I kept reading others’ posts and perusing online sites, every slightly related word or image seems to trigger the same spontaneous meditation response!

I feel a bit like Helen Keller in Patty Duke’s depiction of her in The Miracle Worker: after Helen first realizes that the finger spelling Annie Sullivan has been doing for so many weeks has meanings, Helen runs around touching things and people and returning to Annie, asking for the spelling/word that goes with each.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUV65sV8nu0

I’m in that dashing-around phase, testing my new meditative “chops.”

It’s a kind of ecstasy!

Heartfelt and many lifetimes of gratitude to my wonderful teachers, especially my root teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu.

Lama D laughing on throne

Lama Padma Drimed Norbu at Rigdzin Ling, 2008

May all beings benefit, may all of our precious our teachers’ lives be long, healthy and happy, benefiting all beings in all lifetimes.

The Swan Song of my #Buddhist Mini Home #Retreat Sung a Bit Early

Some of you have been reading/following the posts about my #Buddhist mini home #retreat which began in mid-October, 2013, and was supposed to end March 1, to coincide with #Tibetan New Year (Losar) on March 2, 2014. However due to the schedules of Alameda County’s jury duty roster (which tapped me starting March 6, perhaps) and my teacher, Padma Drimed Norbu, or Lama Drimed, my close-of-retreat meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, February 26.

So, the Swan Song of my Retreat is being sung today. I plan to finish with a tsog (see first posting, in October, for detailed explanation of this ritual), since that is the way I began and I appreciate the function and symbolic bookends of that choice.

Here, to finish my posts about this experience, I give an honest report, comparing my plans with the actuals, now that it is closing.

clock
image from http://www.jadcotime.com.au

TIME: I had planned to spend 4 – 6 hours/day on meditation, contemplation, study and practices for this retreat. I was unable to do this for most of the days for many reasons.

Self-publishing my first ebook, which uploaded for pre-orders Nov. 9 and for sales Dec. 19-20 while writing and then finishing Volume II while job-hunting and going to (unsuccessful, so far) interviews while doing extensive marketing and learning about all that MAY have something to do with the change in time allotments. I was a tad optimistic.

I did spend at least one and sometimes three hours or more, but never 4 – 6 hours on any day except the first two and this last day (the tsog takes at least 4 hours, from prep to clean up).

Except for a family visit for one week in December, I did not take any days off. Even during that week, I practiced every day, just not for more than one hour.

ACTIVITIES: For some parts of the contemplations of the Realms., I was supposed to enact them. I was also supposed to sit and chant a mantra. However, I could not enact most of these beings’ experiences in the Realms nor sit and chant the mantras.

When I tried to sit and chant the mantra (which was just one word), I would get immediately foggy, sleepy and unable to continue.

Furthermore, my lower back, injured and unhappy about sitting even on chairs, refused to allow me to sit in an upright position on the floor or a cushion, even on my bed, for more than 10 minutes without agony.

back-pain-

I utilized an alternative method that kept me awake: a walking meditation. I could complete the accumulations and meditations in that way. This did not quite evoke an enactment, but I was outside and observing with ongoing attempts to internalize each Realm’s beings’ experiences in my mind and body. Limited, but some success.

However, I can only walk for one hour or so on any given day due to a chronic injury to one leg, so my progress in these accumulations (to get to 100,000 for each of the Six Realms) took many days per Realm.

walking meditation
image from http://www.peerfit.com

I had plenty of time, so 9 – 11 days per Realm seemed all right, but somewhat disappointing. Although, from today’s perspective, I wonder why I was in any kind of rush?

I was tasked next with reading and contemplating the readings/teachings of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche’s original teachings, transcribed in 1989. That was an amazing experience because I knew him then and I knew many of the people who attended that retreat when it occurred, so I could picture his giving the teachings and the others gathered there, the translator’s comments and facial expressions very clearly. Many blessings and gratitude for them during this next phase of my retreat.

Chagdud Rinpoche
Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and his tulku

At one point near the end of the booklet, though, I wondered if I had the wrong set of teachings, but I contacted Lama Drimed and he assured me it was correct; I had written the title down incorrectly in my original notes. Why did I fixate on that, I wonder?

Next, in tandem, I was to do some physical as well as meditative activities I can’t describe here. I can say, however, that I failed miserably (and not surprisingly) at doing the physical ones, and almost as miserably (and quite surprisingly) and the meditative ones. Need to discuss these with Lama D tomorrow, for sure.

I was also supposed to do some of the recommended sadhana (written/chanted) practices almost daily (my choice which of them to do, Lama D said) and tsogs on each full moon.

Epic Fails, both.

For reasons I still can’t explain, even to myself, I did not do the tsogs except for the first one and the one today, even though I purchased supplies for doing them.
After about day 4, I did not do the sadhana practices. Not at all. Not once. I do not like them, Sam I Am. I do not like Green Eggs and Ham.

Well, you get the picture. I just didn’t feel it.

Should I have done them, anyway? If I had been part of a group that was doing them daily, I would have done them. I would have been there and attended and participated. Left to myself, I did not feel moved to do them. So, I did not.

discipline lacking
Discipline Quote by Marie Chapian

Can’t understand my reluctance, but it was insurmountable, or I just gave in to it. Can’t say for sure how things would have been different if I had been more diligent, reliable, responsible.

I do have all these proud and arrogant parts that tell me and others stories about how disciplined and reliable I am, so it’s ironic and kind of sad that it turned out that I’m not so much of either, even though I also say that my practice is the most important part of my life.

OUTCOMES:
Mixed.

Glad I blogged. In-reading my posts, which are a kind of journal, I can see I did get quite a lot out of many parts and was more devoted and disciplined than I give myself credit for, today. Not great, but good (in some parts).

Obsessing today about whether my lack of accomplishments in those or any of the activities may disqualify me from continuing or receiving the next teachings. Should have done something about that before, when I was overly indulgent, lazy or just unable, eh?

Well, if that happens, all right. Can’t go forward until I’m ready.

Lama Drimed will know.

One thing I am is honest.

metta-prayer

May all beings benefit from my retreat, however it may be assessed. That I do wish, fervently.

How Having a #Buddhist #Spiritual #Teacher Changes Me

Some of you may remember I began an at-home, mini-#retreat to study and practice in the #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Nyingma tradition of preliminary practices for #T’hödgal—the #Rushan exercises—with meditation, contemplation and study, in October, 2013. I planned to end this sequence by Tibetan New Year, Losar, March 2, 2014. I have written a few posts about some of these experiences and my reactions to them (the ones I’m allowed to publicize).

My spiritual teacher’s schedule is very full and it is often difficult to arrange to see him. Luckily, I found out yesterday that I was able to receive an appointment to see him February 26, which means my retreat ends in a week.

Immediately upon having the date and time for our next meeting confirmed (called an “interview” in this tradition), I could feel the familiar internal reactions that signal other responses that will occur over the next week, in anticipation and preparation for our meeting and my receiving the next teachings. Physically, I feel internal tremors, “butterflies,” flutters of fear and excitement in my mid-section and heart. My heart rate speeds up, my breathing gets shallow and I have to remind myself to take deeper breaths.

Mentally, my mind starts racing around to gather up what I might want to ask, tell, find out in our meeting, which is always too short no matter how long it is. I keep a notebook and start writing down my questions and reactions to the practices during my retreat and always moreso in the days right before we meet. The time with my teacher is precious and I want to use every moment well.

Last night, I again have lucid dreams and more dreams that I remember. Lucid dreams are the kind that occur when I, as the dreamer, know I am dreaming during the dream, waking up to some extent while having the dream experiences and notice that I am awake. Remembered dreams are the ones that wake me up completely or that are with me when I first get up in the morning.

LucidDreaming
image from givnology.com

Sometimes I remember dreams from the night before at random moments during the day as well. In each of these dreams, lucid or remembered, I’m having some conversation or encounter with my teacher.

In my dreams, we are talking about my experiences in this retreat. Or, I am asking questions and he is teaching on some related subject. Or, we are walking, preparing food, washing vegetables or dishes, cleaning a room together.

I had a dream that we were swimming in the pond at our retreat center together at night. Somehow, we could both go underwater and still breathe, talk, and relate to each other for many minutes without difficulty, all the while the moon shone through the water, lighting us.

I dreamed we were in a hot tub together, naked but unembarrassed, talking about accomplishments and experiences in one type of meditation (often termed experiencing “naked awareness” in English translations).

Many times in the “ramp up” to a scheduled interview, I hear him talking to me in my sleep.His speaking voice wakes me up. He is instructing, explaining, teaching on a relevant topic but not one I have actually heard him talk about before in our actual encounters. Although it wakes me up, I try to go back into the dream to hear the rest of what he’s saying, but that never works. I lie there, recalling what he said and what I understand of it. When I have a pen and paper handy, I write down what I can remember.

Also in the days or weeks preceding a scheduled interview with my teacher, I am more keenly aware of my faults and flaws. I try to remember to bring compassion to my self-critique. I also notice any small progress signs I might have and note them down.

Chagdud Rinpoche
H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and his reincarnation

Our teacher (his teacher and, for a while, mine), His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, often told us that there are several sure signs of progress to watch for which he offered in a series of questions to ask ourselves:

“Am I more patient?”
“Am I less angry?”
“Am I more kind?”
“Does compassion arise spontaneously within me?”
“Am I more generous?”

If the answers to any or most of these questions is “Yes,” then we can be assured that our practice is having good effects. If not, we need to adjust/rectify: our practice, our motivation, our commitment, our understanding.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the spiritual teacher is said to hold the key to one’s heart. Opening the heart (or, in Tibetan terms, the heart/mind) is fundamental to becoming receptive to the spiritual practices and their impact on us, allowing us to change, inviting the methods to work within us without impediment.

A teacher may play many roles. The only limitations to the impact of a qualified teacher are in our own minds.

Teacher-Roles
image from http://www.unfetteredmind.org

The story of how I “found” my spiritual teacher is a bit unusual in that I knew him before he became a Lama. However, I hadn’t seen him in ten years, only talked with him twice on the phone, before coming to accept teachings from him in 1999 and decide with him if he could be my teacher. He had told me on the phone that people who knew him “before” had had difficulty accepting him as a teacher and was warning me that it might not work for us, either.

I told him that I had already had many dreams in which he IS my teacher and I was confident it would work. Secretly, though, I was nervous and a bit doubtful, myself. I knew what he meant because the first person I had considered as my teacher was also someone I had known before and things were very difficult for both of us.

The day the retreat started that June day in 1999, we were all gathered in the shrine room (large space for meditation practice and teachings), waiting for him to arrive. I had no idea how the retreat would be structured, what went on, even where he would sit. There were thrones in the front of the room, but I had a hard time imagining that he would actually sit on one. Because Rinpoche then lived in Brazil, Rinpoche’s picture was framed and occupied the highest throne, in the center. There was one on the right side of it that was empty.

There was a curtain, a drapery wall, separating the shrine room from the porch eating area. It rippled and a man entered. At first, I didn’t recognize him as the man I had known. His hair was down past his waist and flowed as he moved. Last time I’d seen him, his hair was barely to his ears.

Even more different was the way he moved. More startling and unexpected was that I felt my heart burst open. My eyes filled with tears. In total silence and surprise, half bowed along with everyone else, I stood there staring at him. There was a glow around him that I could not actually see with my physical eyes but which I could perceive nonetheless. He emanated peace, confidence, warmth.

My heart was pounding and the tears increased as I watched him glide smoothly across the room carrying a single, long-stemmed rose in one hand.

He walked up to the throne with Rinpoche’s framed face on it. Gently and reverently, with immense love that I could feel from across the room, Lama Drimed placed the rose in front of the picture. Then, he gracefully stepped back several paces and did three full-body prostrations in front of that throne, offering respect and devotion to his teacher. I felt his devotion as pinpricks in my heart and my tears flowed.

long stem red rose

He finished his prostrations and walked over to the empty throne. Climbing up onto it, I could feel the rightness of it: it was his seat, his rightful place.

As soon as he sat down, the room of about thirty students erupted in motion: everyone began prostrating to him as he had done to Rinpoche’s picture. I stood there, trembling. Up until then, despite having attended several teachings, one retreat and several empowerments with other teachers, including Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, when I had done prostrations, I hadn’t felt anything. I did them out of respect, but without my heart engaged.

This time, as I bent to the floor to join the others in this ritual, tears fell on the carpet and my heart felt as if it would burst. The English translation for the words to the prayer we say as we do the prostrations echoed in my mind with new meaning:

“From now until I reach the heart of enlightenment, I take refuge in the Lama, who is the Three Jewels.”
Not “the” Lama: THIS Lama. I felt gnosis resonating in me as I prostrated.

My devotion and dedication awakened that afternoon as it had on no other day in this lifetime, yet it felt as if I were coming home. I had found my teacher, my spiritual guide and friend, the key to my heart/mind. Right there, that day.

Now, almost fifteen years later, I am even more devoted, dedicated, grateful and certain of my good fortune to have Lama Padma Drimed Norbu as my teacher. He scares me, he amuses me, he teaches and guides me. We argue, we talk, we laugh, we discuss. Lama Drimed as a Lama represents the embodiment of enlightenment. As a man, puts kale into his juicer and talks to me about my being a new sci-fi author. He makes me cry in gratitude, frustration, discouragement and awe.

I stretch, I learn, I grow. So does he.

In other times and now, in Tibet, India, Burma, Nepal, many Buddhist students have (had) to endure much hardship, danger, long journeys and infrequent opportunities to be with their teachers. Sometimes only once in a lifetime are they physically in the same places; being able to have an interview is even rarer.

snow travel
image from http://www.ornotmagazine.com

I am so lucky that he is alive and teaching, willing to have me as a student. The grace, good karma, great coincidence of our living in the same geographic area after many years of living other places allow me to see him next week just by driving my car about ninety minutes on good roads.

May all beings benefit. May all find their spiritual teachers and meet with them in this and every lifetime.

Thank you for being the key to my heart/mind, Lama Drimed. May you have a long, healthy, wonderful life filled with benefit and happiness.

Lama Drimed
Lama Padma Drimed Norbu

Are We Practicing Vajrasattva With Its Original Intention?

Thanks, OkieBuddhist! This relates exactly to the portion of my miniretreat in which I am studying Dzogchen practices (t’hregchod and t’hodgal) and enhances my understanding well. May all beings benefit.

Another Friend’s Death: Mortality in Daily Life

We #Buddhists contemplate, study, meditate on and live with #impermanence more than non-Buddhists, for the most part. We do not, therefore, feel as much surprise, shock, dismay, or indignation when relationships end, jobs evaporate, housing changes, animals and people die: that is the nature of impermanence, which we all live with every day. Mortality in daily life is commonplace.

However, that doesn’t mean we do not mourn. We feel sad, we grieve, we suffer personal or professional losses, same as anyone. We’re just not surprised. We don’t ask “why me?” or “why her?”

I lost another long-time friend, Cynthia Toth, a former housemate who is a Buddhist vajra sister this week. I say “another” because she is not the first and she will not be the last. But, she is my age. Somehow, when someone dies who is a peer, it feels “closer to home” in every way. Also, we had lived together in a Buddhist community household for almost a year, which literally brings this loss closer to my own home.

Cyn had been suffering from the aftereffects of ovarian cancer for several years and it actually surprised me that she lived as long as she did. Most with that diagnosis do not survive that long nor live as well as she did for the years they do have left. I admire Cynthia’s courage, applaud her support network and health care providers, and am glad she had that “extra” time because I know she used it well, in service and kindness to others.

This post is not an obituary for her (I am not qualified nor moved to write one), nor even an homage. More, I want to recognize our commonality: everyone dies. One way or another, “early” or after a long life, we all leave our physical bodies.

I have come close to death many times, due to accidents, illness and surgeries. At some point, that closeness will veer over the line into actuality and I, too, will die. Since I am almost 60, no one can say that I would have died “young,” regardless of when I die from now on. But, the older one gets, the “younger” every decade seems or sounds.

When we’re teenagers, being in one’s twenties seems “old” and anyone over forty seems “elderly.” Once in our twenties, we revise that to include people in their forties seeming “middle-aged” and those over sixty seeming “elderly.”

Now, sometimes people in their eighties don’t seem so old to me; dying in one’s nineties can seem “too soon” in some cases. When is anyone “ready” to die if they’re not in pain, not suffering, not alone? Even those who do suffer hang on, as if death were a consequence to be avoided.

The language we use to talk about one’s journey to death is so inappropriate, from my perspective: people talk about the dead person having “lost the battle” when death comes from cancer or other illness; many say a person has been “robbed” or had a life that has been “cut short” when the person was murdered or died from an accident. Even when someone dies of “old age” many talk about how we “lost them too soon,” as if remaining alive well into one’s 90s means we’re “found.” People talk about “cheating death,” “escaping death,” and mortality rates.

My favorite is the epidemiologist who tells us that the incidence of death has increased or decreased due to lifestyle or medicinal interventions or changes, ignoring the fact that everyone dies, which makes the incidence of death 100%, for everyone.

I am not hard-hearted: I cried when I learned of Cynthia’s death….and Russell’s and Jaye’s and Joan’s and Mary’s and Bob’s and Susan’s and Martha’s and Rinpoche’s and my father’s and my grandparents’ and Marcia’s and and and and so many others. I miss them. I wish some of them hadn’t died “so soon,” but I know some of them were suffering, which made their deaths a relief.

I cry, but I am not shocked or surprised. I celebrate their lives and am glad to have known them.

Thank you, Cynthia, for being in my life for a few years and all the ways you were of benefit to so many. I wish you well in your journey to your next incarnation. Maybe we’ll get together again some time.

Thanks, Candace Palmo, for posting this photo of Cynthia from your travels last year. Cynthia is on the left.

Cynthia and Candy 2012

When #Spiritual #Teachers Respond with #Countertransference

I do not have good #karma with spiritual teachers. I must start with that understanding, as a #Buddhist who does believe in karma. However, that recognition does not absolve the #spiritual #teachers who have wronged me.

I have had several teachers relate to me from their own psychological troubles (reliving their family histories) or who believed and then acted inappropriately and unfairly on the basis of unsubstantiated and inaccurate lies or rumors about their students (including, but not limited to me). These teachers are human, yes, but they are established (sometimes self-established) in significant roles of power and authority. I expected better. I needed them to be better.

India Tibet Dalai Lama

Let’s be clear: the power in these types of relationships is held by the teachers (spiritual or otherwise), not the students. Just as: parents have the power and children do not; bosses hold power, employees do not (unless they unionize…); therapists wield power, patients do not (until they’re ready to terminate therapy); clergy retain power, parishioners do not.

While it may be true that we in the underling role “give” or cede that power to those “above” us, more typically, the power differential is institutionally installed and our acquiescence required. Or, these power dynamics are emotionally unavoidable and we all succumb. In any case, the power lies with the “upper” level role inhabitants, not the “lower.”

What happens, what has already happened, when “good” teachers go “bad”? Sexual impropriety, financial greed and theft, many types of favoritism and other painful outcomes for students in the spiritual community of these wrong-headed teachers have occurred when these teachers abused their power. Most abuses have become exposed and even well-documented, eventually, but many remained hidden by students and teachers alike for far too long, to everyone’s detriment.

I’m not writing today about the boldest, most overt abuses. I want to focus on my experiences of some of the more subtle kinds of problems between teachers and students, caused chiefly by the teachers. These #counter-transference dynamics have occurred all too often. The results? Destruction of the delicate balance that generated good will, trust and faith, ruining the community cohesion and causing unhealed and unforgivable schisms, to the point of permanent alienation between me and those teachers and the rest of their students.

Contributing factors: I am the same age or older than most of my spiritual teachers. I am a parent of an adult child, now, and a very strong personality in my own right. I am outgoing, intelligent, assertive, strong-minded and opinionated. I am courageous and able to speak up to “authority” in ways most adults are not. I am an experienced teacher and leader, myself. Many see me as competition or posing some kind of threat even when I do not present any such danger, having no motivation to be that way with them.

What types of responses do my traits evoke? My relationships with spiritual teachers and fellow students start positively enough. Early on, teacher and students begin to rely heavily on me for my organizational or leadership skills, my experience, my willingness to serve. They flatter, “support,” defer to me, giving me more and more responsibility, visibility, community roles.

Then, the negativity sets in, first among the students. I become the target of others’ envy or grudging admiration in public and private sniping. Peer conflicts like these I am used to but do not much like. Unpleasant but commonplace, I weather these minor storms. These skirmishes are not the difficulties. In fact, they are to be expected. Furthermore, we are taught to honor our sangha members and continue to ask forgiveness for our own minds’ foibles. We aim to see our ego-clinging as the source of any interpersonal difficulties: “Drive all blames into one.”

When teachers raise their voices at students in the Buddhist tradition, students are supposed to believe their teachers are expressing compassionate, enlightened wrath to help us with reducing pride and attachment. When teachers ignore us, we’re supposed to see our inner pique as a sign of our tenacious ego-clinging. When a teacher criticizes or praises a student, we’re supposed to see those actions as equal, not to care which is happening, not favor one experience over the other, cultivating the attitude of all experiences, all phenomena as “all one taste.”

Wrathful diety

Sometimes, those are the ways teachers operate. That fidelity to tradition can be excellent for students’ learning and spiritual growth. Students can thrive and develop our practices under these circumstances; students have been doing so for thousands of years.

Sometimes, unfortunately, teachers are just screwed up people with personal issues that they’re working out unconsciously, complete with seductions, anger and power plays, on us students. These behaviors are not acceptable.

The problems begin each time for me when my teachers succumb to counter-transference, unconsciously confusing me with their parents or other adults from their childhood, the people with whom they had/have troubled relationships and concomitant unresolved issues. Just my presence in their lives triggers old resentments, fears, angers and hostilities. They begin to publicly lash out, threaten and accuse me, yell at or blame me unfairly, or they ignore me completely.

All of their inner insecurities, cowardice and inadequacies arise, eventually to engulf them. They blame me.

red_tibetan_mastiff_201123201611343778027

Because Buddhism focuses upon annihilation of the ego, techniques such as those listed above are often utilized for reducing one’s pride, loosening attachment to status or positions of power. We students are taught to continue to hold our teachers with “pure view,” seeing them as embodiments of enlightenment no matter what they say or do. We are supposed to strive to have unblemished and complete faith in our teachers, to trust them unflinchingly, regardless of their outward displays.

We are also, however, supposed to utilize discernment and good judgment. We are not asked to nor should we abdicate our own adult responsibility just because of the time-honored model of spirituality we subscribe to and believe in and how well it usually works. The model works; the people do not, always.

Even on the rare occasions when I’ve had the chance to discuss these interpersonal problems with the offending teachers and they understood what was happening, they chose not to attempt to work on this, not to enter therapy or try other methods to end the counter-transference. They chose, instead, to limit or even cut off contact with me.

Not your mother

These are not deployments of compassionate, enlightened wrath, but rather, the actions of confused individuals who are exhibiting mean-spirited, unkind, disrespectful mistreatment.

I know; I know: these decisions run in opposition to the very teachings they profess to offer. You don’t need to tell me that!

It is devastating to a community and each individual student suffers enormously when a teacher goes “off the rails,” as we’ve seen. Personally, I can attest to the pain, sorrow, disappointment and disgust I experience each time I witness or am the target of such failures in our teachers.

Counter-transference

Being the target of a teacher’s counter-transference robs the student of a chance to have an authentic relationship of any kind with that teacher because the student is not able to be seen clearly by that teacher. The filtering creates a haze of confusion that the teacher puts between him/her and that student which prevents the actual character, words or behaviors of that student from being given untainted attention or fair value.

The ones selected to be lovers of those teachers actually suffer just as much as those, like me, who are blamed and vilified. None of us is seen as ourselves. None of us has a “good” teacher to rely upon; that teacher has checked out.

I never had a chance with some teachers to be seen as me, to be treated fairly and respectfully. Instead, I was viewed with negativity, deemed to be “irritating” or “difficult,” cast out or forced to leave to escape this treatment.

Yes, by the time this happened for the fourth time, I conceded that this is my karma. However, I don’t have to like it. I am saddened, isolated, hurt and frustrated each time. It doesn’t get easier, just more familiar.

There is no easy or, sometimes, any solution, short of wishing/praying that the offending teacher will get some therapy and deal with their issues more thoroughly, hoping they will get their mother’s or father’s face off mine. So far, this has not been the trajectory of these ruined relationships: few apologies and no repairs have occurred. Broken has stayed broken.

Each time, I hope (but do not much believe) my/our karma will change. I am a skeptical optimist.

What are the odds that THIS teacher, THIS time, will deal with his/her stuff and become the teacher I need and want him/her to become?

Not so good. I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ll just keep practicing and put my faith in the teachings, not the teachers.

Let me know when you find a confident one. I’ll give him/her a try.

For more information: <a href="http://goo.gl/tKUCoz&quot; Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship Originally published as Berzin, Alexander. Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca, Snow Lion, 2000; Reprint: Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010title=”Relating to a Spiritual Teacher” target=”_blank”>http://goo.gl/tKUCoz

A Jew tries #contemplating the #Hell #Realms according to #Tibetan #Buddhism

As some of you know, I’m engaged in a mini-at-home #meditation #retreat in which I am attempting to #contemplate the experiences of beings who inhabit each of the six #Realms according to #Tibetan #Buddhism.

the-6-realms-of-existence-1203257933471246-2-thumbnail-4

I have spent the last two months wending my way through each of the “upper” five and am now on the final, sixth and “lowest” of the Realms, the #Hell #Realm. Problem is, I don’t believe in Hell. This is a very big obstacle to doing this practice.

The first time I ever heard about this cosmology was in a ten-day teaching entitled “The Bodhisattva Peace Training,” conceived of and taught at that time by His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, one of the last authentic meditation masters to have been trained in Tibet before the 1959 Chinese invasion. He and his immediate family successfully fled to India and he eventually made his way to the USA. I met him and attended this teaching in the late 1980s, when he had been in the USA for several years.

I was a skeptic. I was resistant. I was only there because some of the people I most loved and respected in the world were already studying with and living at this main center in northern California and others I knew and respected and cared for were also studying with him while living elsewhere, including the friend who attended this retreat with me. We both came to it from New Hampshire where we both lived at that time. However, she was not at all skeptical or resistant, having met Chagdud Tulku in 1983 and already been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for several years.

Samsaric Wheel 6 realms

I, on the other hand, came under duress. I felt coerced by my friends to “try this out.” But, what they meant was, DO IT. They were so convinced that this was “it” that they had sold everything to follow this teacher and live at this center, which they helped purchase for the community of practitioners, the sangha.

But I, like several others who came to this retreat who were refugees from the explosions that had just been occurring within Chogyam Trungpa’s Colorado sangha, felt more “no” than “yes” about the entire package. I listened, I took notes, I attended, I considered.

Some of what Rinpoche (which is what everyone called Chagdud Tulku because “Rinpoche” means “precious one” and is a Tibetan honorific reserved for well-respected teachers) taught made sense to me. Some of it even touched me deeply, resonated within my heart and echoed in my mind as if meeting old friends.

Then he got to the explanation of the Realms, specifically the Hell Realms, and I just sat there, stunned. The descriptions of the experiences of the beings relegated to living in these conditions for untold eons started with statements about how these beings had been cast into these lowest Realms due to their unfortunate actions, karma, in former lifetimes. Specifically, they must have committed murder, betrayal of high beings, or some other horrific acts to have “earned” this incarnational location.

I could live with the concept of karma just fine. Cause and effect, do this and expect that. It seemed a bit simplistic to me and somewhat castigating or threatening, but it had a kind of logic to it.

You and karma

However, the rest was harder for me to swallow. Impossible, as it turned out. Rinpoche told us that there were many types of Hells and talked in detail about their conditions: freezing, burning, cutting, piercing; being forced to do repetitive, arduous work (think: Sisyphus); having one’s skin flailed off, regrowing it, then having it flailed off again, repeatedly; walking around in as much pain as we would feel if someone were scraping a fingernail on our bare eyeballs. And, more. Any one of these experiences, we were being told, could last for what would feel to these beings like eons, with no hope of reprieve. The best protection was never to land there. Rinpoche admonished us: “Be virtuous.”

I resented this attitude, which assumed that I and other students needed to be motivated by fear in order to be motivated to become a Buddhist practitioner. As a life-long contrary, hearing this kind of talk tended to push me in the opposite direction entirely. Then, Rinpoche got even more specific about the kinds of acts that landed one in a Hell Realm and I became increasingly insulted, even outraged.

At one point, when we were invited to ask questions, I raised my hand and asked something like this: “Do you really expect us to believe that all of this is real? Aren’t these just stories you tell children to frighten them into being ‘good’?” Yes, I was that disrespectful, something I am not proud of at all.

Rinpoche’s translator stared at me as if I had just cursed at him. Rinpoche, however, was tranquil, unperturbed.

NOTE: Rinpoche understood English quite well at this point, but his spoken English was difficult for most of us to understand. Sometimes he had someone who knew both Tibetan and English so that Rinpoche could teach in Tibetan, but this translator was tasked with rephrasing his Tibetan-syntaxed and oddly-accented English into more familiar English structures for the rest of us. She would take copious notes or listen as he spoke, then rephrase what he said whenever he paused for her to do so.

After Rinpoche responded to my questions, her translation went something like this: “Rinpoche says, ‘The Hell Realms are as real as this one. It is just your karma making it so you and most of us do not usually see, hear, or experience Hell Realms’ conditions right now. Consider yourself fortunate. Your karma has provided you with a precious Human birth. Use it wisely.'”

This did not help me one bit. Not then, and not for many years. In fact, I was so turned off by this and other experiences at this retreat and with my practitioner friends that I avoided learning any more about Tibetan Buddhism for eight more years. I would go visit them, but as friends. I would even see Rinpoche, who traveled with one or more of them and came East to New York or Boston a few times during those eight years, but not to learn anything he taught. Just to visit.

When I finally became more open to it (another long story), in 1996, it still took me several more years to understand and accept, even tangentially, all this Realms information. Which brings me to now, twenty-five years after that first exposure to the Hell Realms. I’m still on the fence.

I believe and I don’t believe. I know it’s possible that many types of experiences exist in many dimensions or realms that most of us do not perceive. I just don’t completely accept the entire story of the experiences as depicted in Tibetan books and by Tibetan Buddhist teachers of what these Realms are like.

I’ve struggled with these last two months’ assignments, feeling worse and worse about my lack of confidence in depictions of the experiences of beings in the Realms. I go back and forth between acceptance and rejection of these “facts.”

I can allow that Humans can live hellish lives, or parts of our lives can be hellish. Certainly some illnesses, injuries, chemical weapons or other horrible acts of war bring many types of hell to people and animals subjected to them. Napalm, nerve gas, cancer, amputations and phantom limbs, the D.T.s all fit into these stories perfectly.

31-realms

For now, I’m sticking with that version. I’m just too Jewish or too American or too modern or too stubborn (maybe that’s redundant…) to believe in the Realms as depicted.

I do believe in the lessons they are meant to teach, especially the most important ones: Be grateful to be Human, to have been born (this time, anyway) into a life of relative ease and leisure. Be committed to continue to enact and amass more virtue in my life, both for others’ benefit and for my future karmic outcomes.

I can believe in the importance of gratitude and virtuous behaviors. I have thanked and thank again the late Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (who left that body in 2002) and my current teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, for putting up with my difficulties and teaching me, anyway. Here are photos of Rinpoche before he left that body and of his new incarnation, and Lama Drimed, below.

Chagdud Rinpoche

Lama Drimed

Meanwhile, I have about a week to contemplate the experiences of Hell, real or imagined. Here I go.

#Desire Realm Torments and Teases

#Buddhist cosmology puts humans and animals together in what is translated as the #Desire Realm. The Realm I am #contemplating for this phase of my #retreat is The Hungry Ghosts (#Pretas) Realm, which comes “below” these two. Pretas are born into this Realm because of exhibiting strong possessiveness and desire in other lives. So, in all three of these experiences, desire is the culprit.

desire21

However, we can’t function without desire. Our motivations are rooted first in desire, even for the most altruistic intentions, until we are beyond all suffering and desire. Let me know when you achieve that; I haven’t met anyone yet who has. Even His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, speaks of anger and other common emotions that still arise for him. The major difference between someone at his level or close to that and most practitioners are two factors; how long the feeling lasts and what we do in response to it.

Most people, Buddhist practitioners included, get lost for a moment or longer (or forever, if the person has no skills or practice to deter it) in the intense emotions of the present circumstances. We also get lost in emotions from events in the past or while anticipating the future. Every interaction, everything that occurs is an opportunity to remember or forget.

desire defn

The best signs I can hope for in my life due to practice are to experience these emotions less frequently, less intensely and for shorter durations and not to get lost in them. The goal is not the journey. But, part of being in the Desire Realm as a human is to have goals.

What does it mean to “get lost” in emotions? For me, this part of the journey looks like this: when I’m lost, it means I forget about the nondual, oneness truth of all existence. I can’t feel my intention to benefit all beings. I lose track of my ability to feel compassion or to be even a little bit unselfish. I cling completely to the false reality of my tiny physical and ego-ridden self as if “I” am all that matters, or matter the most.

Then, equally importantly, when I do get lost, I am tasked with not condemning myself and not giving up. Learning to accept my failings, have compassion for my forgetting, recognize my humanness and even have a sense of humor about myself. I attempt to take myself more lightly while keeping my goals in mind.

Ruthlessness without condemnation is the key: being honest enough to face my foibles without falling into self-negating, self-deprecating messages. Actually, I’m doing pretty well with this part. I accept who I am at almost 60 years old much better than many people do.

Interestingly, the fact that I do not judge myself as harshly or frequently as others judge me has caused me a few problems. Apparently, misery loves company. Judgers want to see that their judgments have a negative effect. In my experience, when I do not take their derision or evaluations personally, they take offense. They claim I’m not listening, I’m not respecting them. They feel that I’m judging them.

What a strange set of illusions we share! My response to all that self-induced misery for those people is to feel compassion for their being lost and not get lost, myself. For refusing to allow their torment to bother me, I become unpopular.

love-irresistible-desire-irresistibly-desired

Oh, well. Luckily for me I stopped desiring popularity in adolescence. Wish the rest of the adults would grow up.

Until then, torments and teases in the Desire Realm continue and we do our best to ride them out and not make things worse. Join me in gentle humor at oneself and others (but keep your amusement about others to yourself if you want friends!).

Keep on.

Being a “next-thing” Junkie

Addictions are the topic of many blogs, research studies, journal entries, news reports and conversations. At this point in the Western lexicon, someone can be “addicted” to practically anything: drugs or alcohol, of course; shopping; gambling; sex; food, particularly sugar, caffeine or wheat; fame; books; porn; the internet; and, any of a million possessions, collections, hobbies or activities.

Turns out I am genetically or personally lucky enough not to have an actual addiction, even by the above standards (unless you count obsessions as addictions, which is another discussion). However, I am about to confess what I discovered during my first six-week #Buddhist #meditation #retreat: I am a “next-thing” junkie. Whatever I am experiencing, regardless of how wonderful it is, how much I like it, I am always looking to the next phase.

When I am swimming, I fantasize about what I’ll do when I am finished. When I am writing, I consider when I will eat and what. When I am in the shower, I wonder about what I’ll write that day. During a meditation session, whatever practice or portion of the text we’re in, I want to be in the next part. When I’m silent, I want to talk. When I’m in conversation, I long for silence and solitude.

When I’m celibate, I daydream about sex. During sexual encounters, I want to have the aftermath, the closeness and intimacy of the more emotional kind, to be finished with the physical part. On and on.

This is my version of being a “Hungry Ghost,” a #Preta, one of the creatures doomed to exist for however long karma dictates who have extremely large bellies and very constricted throats: constantly starving and thirsty but never able to be satisfied. That is my dilemma: I am never satisfied, or not for very long.

Preta

I am not unique. I am not alone. In fact, I am in this way more mainstream, more ordinary than I am in almost any other component of my unusual life. When I brought this discover to my great #Tibetan #Buddhist teacher in the #Vajrayana #Nyingma #dzogchen lineage of #meditation, Lama Drimed, he talked to me about the known 51 “mental factors” that are considered part of the possible experience of sentient beings.

Want to know how many ways we can be caught up in experiences, thoughts, feelings? Fifty-one. Count ’em.

Here they are:

THE 5 OMNIPRESENT (EVER-RECURRING) MENTAL FACTORS
1. Feeling (the first aggregate)
2. Recognition / discrimination / distinguishing awareness (the second aggregate)
3. Intention / mental impulse – I will …
4. Concentration / attention / mental application – focused grasping of an object of awareness
5. Contact – the connection of an object with the mind, this may be pleasurable, painful or neutral as experienced by the aggregate of Feeling.

THE 5 DETERMINATIVE MENTAL FACTORS
6. Resolution / aspiration – directing effort to fulfil desired intention, basis for diligence and enthusiasm.
7. Interest / appreciation – holding on to a particular thing, not allowing distraction
8. Mindfulness / Recollection – repeatedly bringing objects back to mind, not forgetting
9. Concentration / Samadhi – one-pointed focus on an object, basis for increasing intelligence
10. Intelligence / Wisdom – “common-sense intelligence”, fine discrimination, examines characteristics of objects, stops doubt, maintains root of all wholesome qualities.

THE 4 VARIABLE (POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE) MENTAL FACTORS
11. Sleep – makes mind unclear, sense consciousness turns inwards
12. Regret – makes mind unhappy when regarding a previously done action as bad, prevents the mind from being at ease.
13. General examination / coarse discernment – depending on intelligence or intention, searches for rough idea about the object.
14. Precise analysis / subtle discernment – depending on intelligence or intention, examines the object in detail.

THE 11 VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS
(Note that 18 and 19 are not necessary always virtuous. The first 3 are also known as roots of virtue.)
15. Faith / confidence / respectful belief – gives us positive attitude to virtue and objects that are worthy of respect. Three types are distinguished, with the last one being the preferred type:
a. uncritical faith: motivation is for no apparent reason
b. longing faith: motivation is by an emotionally unstable mind
c. conviction: motivated by sound reasons
16. Sense of Propriety / self-respect – usually the personal conscience to stop negative actions and perform positive actions
17. Considerateness / decency – avoids evil towards others, basis for unspoiled moral discipline.
18. Suppleness / thorough training / flexibility – enables the mind to engage in positive acts as wished, interrupting mental or physical rigidity.
19. Equanimity / clear-minded tranquility – peaceful mind, not being overpowered by delusions, no mental dullness or agitation
20. Conscientiousness / carefulness – causes avoiding negative acts & doing good; mind with detachment, non-hatred, non-ignorance and enthusiasm
21. Renunciation / detachment – no attachment to cyclic existence and objects
22. Non hatred / imperturbability – no animosity to others or conditions; rejoicing
23. Non-bewilderment / non ignorance / open-mindedness – usually understanding the meaning of things through clear discrimination, never unwilling to learn
24. Non violence / complete harmlessness – compassion without any hatred, pacifist
25. Enthusiasm / diligence – doing positive acts (specifically mental development and meditation) with delight

THE 6 NON-VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS

THE 6 ROOT DELUSIONS (Delusion is defined as any secondary mental factor that, when developed, brings about suffering and uneasiness to self or others.)
26. Ignorance – not knowing karma, meaning and practice of 3 Jewels, includes closed-mindedness, lack of wisdom of emptiness.
27. Attachment / desire – definition: not wanting to be separated from someone or something. Grasping at aggregates in cyclic existence causes rebirth & suffering of existence
28. Anger – definition: wanting to be separated from someone or something, can lead to relentless desire to hurt others; causes unhappiness
29. Pride – inflated superiority, supported by one’s worldly views, which include disrespect of others
30. Doubt / deluded indecisive wavering – being in two minds about reality; usually leads to negative actions
31. Wrong views / speculative delusions – based on emotional afflictions. Distinguished in 5 types: belief in the self as permanent or non-existent (as opposite to the view of emptiness); denying karma, not understanding the value of the 3 Jewels; closed-mindedness (my view -which is wrong- is best); wrong conduct (not towards liberation)

THE 20 SECONDARY NON-VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS
Derived from anger:
32. Wrath / hatred – by increased anger, malicious state wishing to cause immediate harm to others
33. Vengeance / malice / resentment – not forgetting harm done by a person, and seeking to return harm done to oneself
34. Rage / spite / outrage – intention to utter harsh speech in reply to unpleasant words, when wrath and malice become unbearable
35. Cruelty / vindictiveness / mercilessness – being devoid of compassion or kindness, seeking harm to others.

Derived from anger and attachment:
36. Envy / jealousy – internal anger caused by attachment; unbearable to bear good things others have

Derived from attachment:
37. Greed / avarice / miserliness – intense clinging to possessions and their increase
38. Vanity / self-satisfaction – seeing one’s good fortune giving one a false sense of confidence; being intoxicated with oneself
39. Excitement / wildness / mental agitation – distraction towards desire objects, not allowing the mind to rest on something wholesome; obstructs single pointed concentration.

Derived from ignorance:
40. Concealment – hiding one’s negative qualities when others with good intention refer to them this causes regret
41. Dullness / muddle-headedness – caused by fogginess which makes mind dark/heavy – like when going to sleep, coarse dullness is when the object is unclear, subtle dullness is when the object has no intense clarity
42. Faithlessness – no belief of that which is worthy of respect; it can be the idea that virtue is unnecessary, or a mistaken view of virtue; it forms the basis for laziness (43)
43. Laziness – being attached to temporary pleasure, not wanting to do virtue or only little; opposite to diligence [25])
44. Forgetfulness – causes to not clearly remember virtuous acts, inducing distraction to disturbing objects – not “just forgetting”, but negative tendency
45. Inattentiveness / lack of conscience – “distracted wisdom” after rough or no analysis, not fully aware of one’s conduct, careless indifference and moral failings; intentional seeking mental distraction like daydreaming

Derived from attachment and ignorance:
46. Hypocrisy / pretension – pretend non-existent qualities of oneself
47. Dishonesty / smugness – hiding one’s faults, giving no clear answers, no regret, snobbery & conceit, self-importance and finding faults with others

Derived from attachment, anger and ignorance
48. Shamelessness – consciously not avoiding evil, it supports all root and secondary delusions
49. Inconsiderateness – not avoiding evil, being inconsiderate of other’s practice, ingratitude
50. Unconscientiousness / carelessness- 3 delusions plus laziness; wanting to act unrestrained
51. Distraction / mental wandering – inability to focus on any virtuous object

from http://viewonbuddhism.org/mind.html

So, the next time you are trying to “control” your mind, or meditate, or refrain from a particular thought or emotion, consider this: another one is likely to arise in just a moment and you might prefer it.

#Impermanence can be our friend.

Who is YOUR inner “Hungry Ghost”?

http://www.yogachicago.com/mar08/hungryghost.shtml

Amy Weintraub (bio and links, above and below) writes very personally about her own inner “Hungry Ghost,” known as Pretas in #Tibetan #Buddhism, the 5th of the 6 Realms I am contemplating for my home retreat.

I’m just beginning this phase of my #Tibetan #Buddhist, #Nyingma #Vajrayana #retreat and wanted some inspiration. Found it!

Her last paragraph, quoted below, was IT for me. I hope it inspires you, also, in whatever #meditation, #contemplation, or other personal #growth and #recovery practices you are engaged in for your own improvement. Best to you!

Today, I write from the memory of seeing the Hungry Ghost in the mirror. There are times, even now, where I see her everywhere, when any mindless action I take follows the old call-and-response pattern of my life. I thoughtlessly judge someone I love. I reach for a cracker when I’m not hungry. I pour another glass of wine. And behind all these actions, she looms, ready to devour, with that E.T. head and too-thin neck, refusing to see the great blossom of her belly beneath, recklessly craving more. No room for my lungs to take a deep breath. No room for my heart to feel compassion for my life. Over the years that we’ve lived together, I’ve learned two things. When I feed her, I am left ravenous and longing for more. When I embrace her with compassion, the wild yearning is pacified and, together, we have learned to dance. Sometimes, my Hungry Ghost still leads the dance, but more and more, it is compassion that leads the way.

Amy Weintraub, MFA, E-RYT (500), author of Yoga for Depression (Broadway Books) and founding director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, leads professional certification trainings in LifeForce Yoga for #Depression and #Anxiety for mental health professionals and #yoga teachers internationally. She is also a senior Kripalu teacher and mentor. Amy is featured on the CD Breathe to Beat the Blues and the first DVD home yoga practice series for mood management, the award-winning LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues. Her bi-monthly newsletter includes current research, news and media reviews on yoga and mental health. To sign up, go to http://www.yogafordepression.com. For more information, visit http://www.yogamind.com or call 773.327.3650. This is from a 2008 post, so not sure if it’s active, still.

Failing Without Failing at #Buddhist practice, part 452.

Last day #contemplating the Animal Realm for my #Buddhist #meditation #retreat

I do not know how to inhabit the mind or body or life of anyone but myself. Not really. I can pretend. I am imagine. I can sympathize. But, do I (or anyone) ever actually empathize, get inside the experience of another being and feel, see, think, sense it the way s/he/it does?

Well, if anyone can do this, I’d like to hear about it. I really can’t.

This part of my #meditation #retreat—#contemplations of the beings of the Six #Realms, as some of you may be following—starts with the “Gods” Realm; moves to the “Demi-Gods” or “Jealous Gods” Realm; then to the Human (I did almost all right with that one…); and now, my last day of the Animal Realm. Tomorrow I start trying to inhabit the “Hungry Ghosts,” or “Pretas” Realm. I end this section of the four-month retreat with the “Hell” Realm(s) (oh, yes; there are more than one of those!). I wasn’t ready to admit failure until the Animal Realm was about to end, so what does that say about my human arrogance, eh?

I just can’t become a squirrel, a dog, a fox, a minnow, an eagle, a spider—anything besides a human—with any credence or authenticity. I can fabricate, because I am a writer and I can use my fantasies to concoct whatever I want. But, actually, am I BEING a cat? NO.

Nor was I able to become a being that would be a deity of any description. I can predict I won’t be able to be a hungry or thirsty ghost nor any being inhabiting one of the many Hell Realms, either.

What keeps me going? Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist practices and meditation exercises in the Vajrayana tradition work even when the practitioner doesn’t understand or know what to do, does it incorrectly or incompletely, and basically messes it up. I know this because that has already happened for me with the preliminary practices (Ngöndro), all of the visualization/deity practices, and the first level of dzogchen (trekchöd). I knew nothing, didn’t even believe it all, didn’t understand most of it and it works, anyway.

What do I mean by “works”? Our main teacher, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, quoting the Buddha, would explain the signs of effective practice something like this: “If you are less angry and more patient, less selfish and more generous, if compassion arises even some of the time within you without effort, your practice is working. Keep going, either way.” People around me and my own assessments agree: my practice is working.

Why do these practices work even when the practitioner is a dolt, like me? Because these are not religious practices. They do not rely on someone’s beliefs to be effective.

Vajrayana practices (and most of Buddhist practices in any school or lineage) are scientific, tried-and-true, proven methods for training and taming one’s mind, opening one’s heart and developing spontaneous compassion, decreasing selfishness and anger, increasing patience and generosity and generally becoming a better, more beneficial person. Whether you like it, believe it, do it absolutely right or not, these practices succeed.

Think of Buddhist practice as medicine: does your belief in the drug or understanding of how it was created or the way it operates in your system really affect whether or not a prescription works? Of course not. You can be unconscious, an infant or demented and medicine still works.

Yes, perhaps everything is more powerful when we do believe, when we are comprehending. Certainly I know that the power of prayer and positive thinking has its place. But, I also know, from personal experience, that one’s inner feelings and doubts don’t really matter when the methods are effective. They just work.

Lucky for me, the only thing I need to contribute is perseverance. That I can do. I can keep going, maintain my commitment, continue the practices and hope for the best outcomes possible to benefit all beings. I am disciplined, if nothing else. Most of the time, that is.

I keep using the methods, taking the medicine. I made vows to do so and I maintain my vows.

Faith helps, for certain. I know that when the practitioner has deep faith in the dharma, the teacher, the practices, things go more smoothly and perhaps more quickly. Without at least some faith, it’s impossible to be motivated enough to maintain discipline. I do have faith in the teachers and the practices.

Pray and hope with me, if that pleases you. Have some faith in whatever you believe in. Continue. Support others to continue.

Thanks. I appreciate it. Onward.

Mayflies, Pumpkin Pies and #Impermanence

Mayflies live their entire adult lives during only a few hours or perhaps up to three earth days. They belong to an entire order of insects, Ephemeroptera, which means lasting a day in Greek.

Adult Mayfly

Pumpkin pies also usually last only a few hours or up to perhaps a couple or three earth days (depending on how many are baked and how many are eating them).

Pumpkin Pie

With these and so many examples of #impermanence surrounding us, how is it that we can be so surprised when someone leaves us through choice, accident or death? We ask, “Why?” as if there would an answer different than this, just for us, just for this occasion: “because everything ends.”

Why are we so caught up in our illusions of continuation that we neglect to recognize the preciousness of each moment, each hour, each day we inhabit these fragile, ephemeral bodies? We meet, greet, hang out with friends, family, colleagues, groups of loved ones and leave without realizing that one or more of us may never see one another again in these bodies, in this lifetime.

I am struck at this time of year especially by how much we take for granted, how many of our days we deny the temporary nature of the license any of us has to go on living. I feel lucky that, as a #Buddhist, I intentionally spend a part of each day in an integral part of my practice reciting and recalling the truth of impermanence. We do this whether we are #Zen, #Theravadan, #Vipassana, #Mayahana, Vajrayana or non-sectarian practitioners.

Impermanence is one of the key concepts we learn as beginning students of #Buddhism and we contemplate it repeatedly: everything is impermanent and bound to die. Everything that exists ends. Everyone who is born dies. Nothing earthly lasts. No one escapes this fate. Relationships, jobs, activities, emotions, diseases, meals, sexual encounters, pleasures and pains of all descriptions eventually end.

I am in a state of melancholy. I am ebullient and filled with hope. I am curious. I am anxious. I love. I fear. I receive. I give. I end.

During my mini-#retreat I begin each day with the Ngöndro, the preliminary practices for #Vajrayana #Nyingma #Tibetan #Buddhist #meditation. These practices themselves begin with “The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind,” and one of these is the contemplation on impermanence.

The way this contemplation affects me has changed over the the 17 years I’ve done this practice daily. At first, I was resistant, looking for the loophole. Maybe everyone ELSE dies, but I will not. Maybe YOUR relationship, YOUR job, YOUR life ends, but MINE continues. On and on, denial after denial, to the point of absurdity.

At one point, some friends and I joked that one of us was the “designated dier,” meaning, the one we chose would die on all of our behalves so that the rest of us, i.e., we, would not have to die. We volunteered D. He objected, but we prevailed. We kept telling him this for many years. Luckily, he’s still alive, so I do not feel guilty about this. However, I do remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief that the group had not chosen me to be the designated dier; I do feel guilty about that relief.

Regardless of anyone’s guilt or innocence, being chosen or not, D could not take my place or anyone else’s. We all die.

More than many people I know, I have lost friends and relatives to death, starting when I was 7 years old and was with one of my great-grandmothers when she died while getting dressed. Since I didn’t know she had died at the time, I was not afraid, merely puzzled that she would choose to lie back on her bed to take a nap while putting on her stockings.

When I was given to understand that she had died, I realized that I hadn’t been scared because there had been nothing frightening or startling in her death. One minute, she was talking with me (in Yiddish), putting on her clothes. The next minute, she stopped talking, laid back, her stockings in her hands, and was silent, the stockings resting on her body. No clutching at her heart or head, no screams or moans. Just gone.

While the dozens of others who have died around or right in front of me did not go so silently or easily, I still do not find death frightening. Sad, often. Feeling sorrow and compassion for those in pain or suffering, surely. But afraid? No. I often miss the person who dies for many months or years, grieving with great sobs, laughing and reminiscing about those I yearn to see again.

But, I never think: “Oh, why did s/he die?” I know the answer.

We all die.

The best any of us can hope for is to appreciate one another while we are alive. So, this is what I try to do. I tell people I’m grateful. I say “I love you.” I give them what I can of mine: time, stories, gifts, resources, help, support, encouragement. I let them know often, not just when they’re sick or I’m in pain, how much they mean to me.

Many call me “sappy,” or “sentimental.” I prefer to view my actions as realistic. We truly never know when we are going to die, which of our loved ones will die and when, between one visit or encounter and the next. Not knowing this, I treasure each call, each visit, each email, even when I don’t tell them this.

What else can we do? You tell me. Comment here. And, go tell someone you love that you love them. Again.

#Buddhist #Meditation #Retreat part 4: Animal Realm contemplations

Some of you know I’ve been doing an at-home, part-time #Buddhist #meditation #retreat in the #Vajrayana #Nyingma #dzogchen tradition of #Tibetan #Buddhism for about two months and plan to finish on Tibetan New Year (#Losar) on March 2, 2014. This retreat consists of the preliminary practices, or #Rushan, for #T’högal. Some of what I’m learning and doing are only to be discussed with dzogchen teachers or similarly or advanced practitioners, but some I can talk about. I share what I am able and wish to in these blog posts.

This portion’s contemplation and prayers are on beings of the Animal Realm. Of all the 6 #Realms, as Tibetan Buddhists conceive of our shared illusory reality, the Animal Realm is the closest akin to ours, so close that Humans can co-exist consciously with Animals. This means we can readily see, smell, hear, feel, and taste Animals in our everyday existence. For most Humans, our senses are not so easily stimulated by beings of the other Realms.

The first time I heard teachings on the 6 Realms, as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought the teacher was being metaphoric or joking. I was so stuck in my senses’ ordinary experiences that I could not believe the other Realms actually co-exist with ours.

There are some Buddhists who do treat the 6 Realms as a metaphor. These meditators prefer to use these concepts to recognize the ways that humans experience all of the Realms’ conditions while being human rather than believing that there are actual beings living in each of the Realms. I leave it up to you as to how you conceive of the Realms and the beings’ experiences.

For me, it’s more important to contemplate those experiences and generate empathy and compassion for them, regardless of how they occur. The main characteristics that Tibetan Buddhists assign to Animals as distinct from Humans are explained in this way by Barbara O’Brien in her article on the Buddhist Wheel of Life (samsara, in Sanskrit):

“Animal Beings (Tiryakas) are solid, regular and predictable. They cling to what is familiar and are disinterested, even fearful, of anything unfamiliar. The Animal Realm is marked by ignorance and complacency. Animal Beings are stolidly un-curious and are repelled by anything unfamiliar. They go through life seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort. They have no sense of humor. Animal Beings may find contentment, but they easily become fearful when placed in a new situation. Naturally, they are bigoted and likely to remain so. At the same time, they are subject to oppression by other beings — animals do devour each other, you know.”
http://buddhism.about.com/od/tibetandeities/ig/Wheel-of-Life-Gallery/Animal-Realm.htm

I don’t happen to agree with this conceptualization of animals; I never have. I do not see all animals as “ignorant,” and some definitely have a sense of humor! They are certainly a lot less bigoted than most humans I know and know of. As for the being “subject to oppression” part, even devouring each other, we’d have to include humans in that activity, wouldn’t we?

Animals are also most certainly NOT “un-curious,” and many employ what Temple Grandin calls “seeking” behavior in their everyday lives. (Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals , Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). In fact, Grandin’s research proves that animals need more than their basic physical and psychological requirements to be met. Yes, animals need (or certainly would prefer) to be free from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress. However, Grandin proves resoundingly that animals respond positively when allowed to use “seeking behaviors” and “play.” Some animals, particularly pigs and primates, can malinger, become self- or other-injurious, kill or even die without these outlets.

I spent a few weeks listening to this amazing book on CD this past summer, not yet knowing I’d be doing this retreat or contemplations this fall. Generally, I have not had a close relationship to animals or pets (except for others’ pets I happen to live with or encounter over the years). However, forging new relationships with animals via interspecies communication devices and aliens-humans encounters and relationships are central to my sci-fi novels in The Spanners Series, so I listened to Grandin’s book and watched the biopic about her early life (“Temple Grandin,” starring Clare Danes as Grandin; great movie) as research for my series.

Now that I’m in this section of my retreat, I find myself remembering many parts of both the film and the book, considering animals from Grandin’s perspective rather than Tibetan Buddhists’ concepts. Her philosophies, attitudes and understandings are closer to my own. I go further than she does, though: I am more in harmony with Douglas Adams, the late, sorely missed and amazing author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a five-book “trilogy.” One of these volumes is entitled: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. In this, Adams posits the superiority and other-worldly origins of dolphins, which I have no trouble believing.

I also believe in the superiority or at least equality with humans regarding intelligence, compassion and creativity, of all forms of cetaceans, elephants, wolves and many primates, cephalopods and others in the Animal Realm. To me, it’s impossible to ignore or deny the ways elephants grieve and remember, wolves communicate with their packs, whales gather intentionally for fun and protection, and many other examples of animals’ social, altruistic, creative and communicative behaviors not at all inferior to humans’ activities. I also can’t ignore or deny how disappointed I am in the selfish, unintelligent and socially perverse ways of humans.

This week, as many vegans rail against humans eating turkeys as well as pigs, fish, chickens, cattle and whatever other animals humans eat, I have to remind myself and others of the inherent suffering in all existence, the nature of samsara, according to my Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Humans can’t survive without killing, even when it’s unintentional. We kill billions of beings every day in service to providing us with shelter, food (even vegan food), clothing, work, transportation, education, tools and entertainment. We can’t plow fields or harvest their bounty without killing. We can’t breathe or walk without killing. Every day and every night, all twenty-four hours of every day of our existence, we are murderers.

Contemplating this and Grandin’s book and life make me want to mitigate the suffering of animals, for sure. However, I do not pretend I or any human can eliminate it. We can’t eliminate our own suffering, either. What we can do is change the ways it occurs, lessen or alleviate it, and feel compassionate about it enough to respond appropriately and less selfishly.

So, if you are NOT a vegan, here is my advice: do not waste your animal food. Only purchase, cook/prepare what you and your loved ones will consume. Honor the spirits of the animals who gave their lives to feed you with prayers, thoughts, songs, smoke, herbs: something sacred. Be conscious as you spend your time this week and every week hereafter of the gifts animals give us and the ways we exploit these gifts. Be humble. Be grateful. Be caring.

I will try. I hope you do, also.

Recently Deceased #Buddhist May Attain Rainbow Body

This article is quite amazing in its description of what happens when an accomplished Tibetan Buddhist practitioner leaves the physical body. Those of you interested, follow this link and read about what’s happening to this particular Lama and what is possible.

This type of current occurrence is rare and rarely discussed so openly. It inspires faith and renews my commitment to practice.

“Auspicious News: My Teacher Lama Karma Attains Rainbow Body!
Composed by His Eminence Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche and his disciples on the 23rd of November, 2013, the auspicious day of Lha Bab Duchen, the Buddha’s Mother’s Day, at the auspicious place of the Dzogchen Retreat Center, USA.”

https://www.facebook.com/notes/dzogchen-khenpo-choga-rinpoche/auspicious-news-my-teacher-lama-karma-attains-rainbow-body/10151794778007773

#Contemplating my deceased father

Feeling stuck in this Human Realm section of my mini #Buddhist retreat on beings of the Six Realms is definitely part of being human. I find the uniqueness of the human experience involves many complicated emotions and conditions I don’t recognize as occurring (although they certainly might) in other Realms’ beings.

The difference between simple desire or lust and attraction mixed with yearning, for example, comes to my contemplation during this phase of my meditation. Also, complicated grief, i.e., mourning someone we also despise or fear, feel resentment for or otherwise experience relief at the passing of, doesn’t seem to happen among animals. I always think of complicated grief this time of year since both of my father’s parents died in their nineties in November and he died in February in the 1990s.

My father, Ira Fleischmann, incorporated a volatile mixture of bravado, greed, insecurity, rage, brilliance, humor, tenderness, violence and fear. He was extreme in his swings and mercurial in his moods. He could make people roar with laughter and cower in terror within minutes.

Ira 1959 Dad, around age 21, 1950.

After he had been dead for about five years (he died at almost 62 of a sudden heart attack in 1991), new research and study I was doing in graduate school led me to realize that he had suffered from depression and anxiety, unmitigated and unmedicated. Western men often exhibit rage and violence instead of the underlying melancholy, grief or depression.

He had been bulimic for a few years when I was in high school, so his brain was definitely mis-firing, as we now know bulimia indicates. From when I was about three and my brother, four, he had been violent and abusive toward both of us and spent much of our childhoods and adolescence beating on one or both of us, pulling my hair and yelling at everyone in our household except my youngest sister. I used to say I grew up in a war zone, but as I got older, I refrained from using that metaphor, knowing more about actual war zones.

Many people thought my sociopathic father was charismatic and appealing. He was brilliant but largely unrewarded and unnoticed for it, short in stature and on money. His creative application of the law and business ethics often veered over into criminal behavior. He was dishonest, easily bored, restless and dissatisfied.

Because of his unmet desires and lust for wealth and status, he changed jobs or started (and failed in) several careers (corporate attorney, insurance salesman, CLU/CPA, pension fund and investments manager). We found out after his death that he had created a second identity, maintaining an office and business cards in that name for who knows what nefarious purposes. My sisters and I went to look at it in the days after his death, shocked into giggling at the empty office with the fake name on the door just a few miles from his home.

He was also a hobbyist architect, constantly re-drafting his dream house after taking the family on Sunday drives to inspect mansions that were under construction. We’d pick our ways carefully through the unfinished homes as he’d proudly point out the master suite, the living room, the kitchen as if these were his designs and his houses, strutting through what appeared to be an undifferentiated maze of debris and open framing, to me. He was always hopeful that his ship was coming in, but ready and willing to steal the cargo, even from friends, when it didn’t arrive.

After his third wife had revealed her secret of alcoholism about two years into their marriage, they had both gotten into co-dependent/AA-style support groups and reading materials. These experiences and information-gathering had helped my father enormously even though he wasn’t addicted to any substances himself. Learning from the books and meetings, my father had developed some insight into his own violent, frightening and financially insecure childhood, coming of age during the Great Depression and World War II (he was born in 1929) as a Jew in the Midwest, USA.

He adored his grandchildren (my brother gave him four and I one before he died) and was beginning to appreciate his life and the rest of his family when he abruptly died. Because of his re-education and intense self-analysis and my own years of therapy and meditation, he and I had been having our first period of peace since my early childhood, enjoying a tentatively harmonious relationship at the time of his death.

I had loved and even admired my grandfather and did not know how much he and my grandmother had hurt and abused my father before he started talking to me about that while examining his childhood. If he had died even a few years earlier, my grief for him and later, for them, would not have been complicated.

Knowledge and insight are useful, but they did instill other feelings into my mourning. Even today, over twenty years after his death and about that long after they died as well, I continue to puzzle over their lives and my own. I see my irritability and quick judgments, tendencies to be arrogant and disparaging toward others, as coming from that side of my family. I am ashamed and humbled by my failings and theirs, unfortunately passed down through generations, even if somewhat improved in each successor.

Like my father, I am quick to anger and resentment, condescending and insecure. I am also untrusting of authority and unwilling to be obedient without question. Unlike him, I have never hit my child or disparaged him verbally, I have not lied, cheated or stolen to acquire money or possessions, and I do not suffer from depression, bulimia or anxiety.

Like my father, I am funny, brilliant, tender and creative, holding down a variety of jobs and having had several successful careers but easily bored and ready to move on frequently. We both were teachers and public performers, good at both math and languages. We both enjoyed knowing a lot of information about many topics and playing softball and tennis. He taught me to swim, play chess, and love the piano. He had a great voice, singing along with popular and operatic songs with equal ease, and I love to sing as well. He also screamed and terrorized people with just a few words; I can do that. I have done that.

What have I learned in these weeks of contemplating my deceased father and myself, indeed, all humanity? How complicated, and, as Sting sings, “how fragile we are.” I wish we could have known each other at these ages. I am close to the age he was when he died; he would have been 84 right now.

Sting sings: “Nothing ever comes from violence; nothing ever could.” But, a lot of learning comes and spontaneous compassion arises from facing our foibles and mistakes and meditating on the Human condition.

We might have talked about all of this for these past twenty years and more. Miss you, Dad. You would have liked Sting’s song. Listen, now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLdJwzSbM-E

Dilemmas while #meditating on being human

During each of the current days I am #meditating during this mini-#Buddhist, at-home #retreat, I #contemplate what it means to be human. I examine the emotional, physical, interpersonal, mental experiences I am familiar with myself and then I attempt to empathize or at least sympathize with others’ experiences as deeply as possible: the pains and pleasures, sorrows and joys, defeats and successes, fears and hopes, worries and excitements. What motivates every being is clear: each of us wants to be happy.

However, as I know for myself and observe in others, we often are extremely inept, even self-sabotaging in our attempts to achieve happiness. Furthermore, this happiness is only ever temporary. Impermanence is a fact of existence.

Spending so much time and focusing so such keen attention on humanness intensifies my recognition of these failed attempts on my own part and for others. Also, I become more acutely conscious of my failures to acquire even a bit more comfort.

At the pool, I have my “favorite” swimming lanes. These are the ones I prefer because of their proximity to the inflow jets, which act like those in a hot tub. The pressure from this inflow eases the tightness in my back when I hang in front of it. Or, these are the ones I like because they’re closer to the ropes and have more room around the “lane” (this pool, for unknown reasons, does not rope off lanes, only sections). Or, I like this or that lane because, when I do the backstroke, the line on the ceiling’s architecture exactly matches the line I am supposed to follow that represents my lane (which is faintly painted on the pool’s floor), so I have a fighting chance to stay in my own lane (appreciated by all).

Seems so silly, so trivial, so selfish and absurd when I lay it out like this. Yet, as I enter the pool building every morning, I feel a tightness in my chest and my breathing increases, signaling anxiety. Worried questions hum beneath the surface of my thinking: “Will I get a ‘good’ lane?” “Will I get a lane at all?” “Will the people in adjacent lanes bump into me?” Luckily, swimmers can pre-select our lanes as soon as we arrive, before we get into our suits. My anxiety is relieved as soon as my lane is chosen.

I am told the policy is to choose the lane I want and show my choice by placing an item on the floor above it, signaling that this lane is taken. Then, I go change and return to my “saved” lane and get in to swim.

This system works well enough, usually. When I get into the pool area, I choose a “good” lane, which is empty. I put a kickboard down and go to change. But, yesterday I approached my saved lane and saw that someone else was swimming in it. I waited until she was at the wall and I tapped her: “Excuse me,” I said, “You’re in the lane I saved.”

“Oh, no,” she replies. “There was no one here when I got here.”

I pointed to the blue kickboard on the floor in front of the lane and say, “This is my kickboard. I put it here a minute ago and went to change.”

She looks at the kickboard and up at me and says, “You’re supposed to put something else on the kickboard. How do I know that it’s really saved and not just abandoned by the previous swimmer?”

I look at her, dumbfounded, feeling my anger and irritation rising. This stupid, selfish woman is ruining my swim and my swimming time is elapsing as I stand here and discuss her mistake with her. I am also laughing at myself, inside, and pitying her. But, I am mostly fuming. “I don’t have anything else to put there. Just me.”

“You could have have put your goggles down,” she says.

“Look,” I say. “You made a mistake. Please just find another lane.”

“You could find another lane,” she points out.

“I could,” I say, “but this is the lane I saved and you didn’t. So, please move.” Now, I feel as if we’re in grade school arguing over who got here first. I feel ridiculous, but this is the lane I like, remember? I really prefer it.

“Oh, fine,” she says, irritably. She moves to an adjacent lane and swims off in a huff (I didn’t know that was possible, but she did it).

I get in the pool, hang in front of the jet which is now “mine” and feel horrible. Terrible. Anxious, embarrassed, selfish, tight, ridiculous. What kind of a Buddhist am I? A shitty one, obviously. Completely self-absorbed. Small-minded. A failure. Am I happy now, in my favorite lane? Of course not. I feel bad.

I want to apologize. I want to give it back to her. Even that seems silly. I just swim, meditating on humanness and foibles, mine especially, as I swim.

Eventually, I get into the rhythm of it and calm down. I look over and notice she’s gone already. She probably only swims 20 minutes to my 45 and I could have just waited.

Feeling even more ridiculous and small, I continue my swim. I attempt to offer myself compassion, tenderness, amusement. My attempts are mostly failures.

Few choose the Tibetan #Buddhist or other culture’s #Vajrayana path, even though it makes it possible for practitioners to attain long-lasting, many lifetimes’ happiness in one lifetime. Why? Because we practitioners become unflinching observers of our own minds and behaviors. We commit to, we must continue facing ourselves every day, all day (and all night), in every situation, not just while “formally” meditating. It’s frightening, or at least humbling, to notice day after day what I have not achieved after meditating on this path since 1996. Sheesh.

I have a long way to go in my practice. Good to know. I plan to keep going. And, keep swimming.

#Meditation: it’s not for wimps.

Jackson Peterson writes about Realization and Liberation

Jackson Peterson, teacher of Non-dual Traditions: #Dzogchen, #Advaita, #Zen and #Mahamudra at #Meditation Teacher and Life Coaching, posted on Facebook today something so inspirational I have to share it before I devote some of my day to its contemplation. Find him at: http://www.wayoflight.net/‎

The Five Principles of Realization and Liberation

The first principle is becoming aware of our thoughts and the nature of thought.
“By taking the position of just being an observer of the thoughts and images that come and go, we discover all thoughts are the same: they are temporary appearances that come and go like clouds in the sky. Give no importance to one thought over another.
“If we pay no attention to any thought but remain in the ‘observer’ role, it seems the space of awareness becomes more open and thoughts less demanding of attention. We discover all thoughts are without substance and importance. We could say our thoughts are ’empty,’ like clouds: appearances without any core or entity.

The second principle is recognizing our stories and emotional dramas are structured only from thought, our ’empty’ thoughts.
“In continuing to observe our thoughts, we should notice how they tend to link together in chains of meaning and particular significance. It is this linking together of thoughts that creates our stories, beliefs and emotional dramas in a convincing and powerful way. As a result, we may spend most of our time going from one mini-daydream to another. It is this trance-like state of mind that we need to break up again and again, as often as possible.
“We do that by shifting our attention from thought to the presence of the five senses in immediate now-ness. Just notice your physical environment and the direct sensory experience, free of analysis. Practice this shifting away from mental engagement in thought to noticing your physical environs as often as possible. Hopefully the trance-like habit of living in your thoughts constantly will be broken.
“In this way, we can free ourselves from anxiety and emotional suffering as both are caused by the mind’s stories that are rarely challenged. It is possible to discover that our stories and emotional dramas are as empty as last night’s dreams. In fact, our daydreams and stories are no more real than our dreams at night. We discover our stories are also just as empty as the clouds that group together in the sky in various formations that disperse and disappear in the next moment, leaving no trace.

The third principle is recognizing that one’s sense of self is also only an empty story made of thought. [Self is] a mental construction without an actual identity as an entity that exists independently and with self-determinism.
“Studies have determined that our coherent sense of personal identity doesn’t appear until about the ages between 18 and 24 months. That means, previous to that time, there was no personal ‘me’ story or self-image. That also means the newly appearing sense of ‘me’ is totally the result of thought-stories that the mind constructs about identity. There is no personal self present other than this make-believe ‘me’ story.
“Even science makes clear there is just one unified field of energy as the universe without separate parts. The entire field is interdependent without any breaks or splits in the unity. The sense of being an independent entity. like a ‘personal self,’ is just an illusion and has never existed in fact.
“By observing the ‘me’-thoughts that arise from moment to moment, we can notice the ‘personal me’ is nothing more than a chain of linked thoughts about identity that are supported by memories and imagination. Seeing this directly and clearly, not just intellectually, the emptiness of personal identity becomes obvious to the mind. [A]t [this] point, the illusion ceases. But that cessation will only occur according to the degree of the depth of this self-inquiry.
“If it doesn’t occur, the understanding is too shallow and not convincing enough to the deeper levels of mind grounded in conditioning and habitual ‘selfing.’ In such a case, one should revisit the first and second principles again and establish a deeper state of observation regarding the experience of the ‘me’-thoughts arising and dissolving until it becomes clear that no personal self exists outside of the mind’s belief otherwise.
“When recognition arises, it becomes clear [to the meditator] that the notion of there being a personal self is as empty as a single huge cloud that dominates the sky yet disappears in the next moment without a trace.

The fourth principle is recognizing what exactly is the nature of that which is observing and experiencing the empty nature of thoughts, stories and personal selfhood.
“What is doing the ‘recognizing’? What is this impersonal aware consciousness that perceives and knows? In these recognitions, there seems to be an ever-increasing evolution or revelation of wisdom. As a result, one’s cognitive space seems expansive, open and vividly transparent without a center.
“What exactly is this state of impersonal consciousness? It clearly has a sense of being aware, empty and knowing. Can we be aware of being aware? Is this aware consciousness present in all experience, inseparably so?
“Let’s look directly at this impersonal, aware knowingness: In a well-lighted room, close your eyes. Notice at your eyelids that the light of the room shining on your eyelids creates an inner glow upon your closed, translucent eyelids. You will see an orangey-red color at your eyelids. What is it that is observing this color?
“It will seem as though your aware consciousness occupies a place a few inches behind the eyes and its attention is directed at the eyelids in front. Notice your aware presence as being the place from where you are looking forward at the orangey color. Are you ‘aware’ of the color?
“Now be aware of your awareness just as it is. Does this awareness have any color, shape, substance or dimension of its own? Or is it simply an empty presence of aware knowing?
“Review these last two questions again and again until it becomes clear that ‘you’ are actually this empty, clear and aware knowing. When this is seen clearly, instead of recognizing the emptiness of thoughts and self as the empty nature of the clouds that appear in the sky, the empty nature of the sky itself is recognized: the empty cognitive space in which all appearances appear and disappear.

The fifth principle is recognizing the inseparable relationship between one’s empty, aware ‘seeing’ and the five senses.
“One can’t find awareness separate from one’s sensory perceptions. There isn’t first a sensory perception and then an awareness of it. The five senses are this ‘knowing awareness’ seeming to be split up into five separate sensory components.
“These sensory capacities are not limited to the physical five senses. ‘Knowing awareness’ can perceive independently of the five physical senses with no limitations regarding time and space.
“Merging our attention fully with the five senses instead of with the mental phenomena of thoughts, stories and beliefs in personal identity, reveals a state of total ‘nowness’ beyond thought and mind. A limitless vista of knowing transparency and Clear Light reveals itself to be our true nature, beyond any descriptions or assumptions of mind. In merging our attention totally with the five senses, the luminous nature of appearances reveals the empty vividness of our Aware and Knowing Space.

“If one incorporates and integrates these five principles into one’s daily practice, in my opinion, no other methods or practices should be considered necessary.”

I appreciate Jackson Peterson’s clarity and analysis enormously. I do take exception to his final paragraph, however: only someone who already had spent many years with at least one if not more other practices could attain this clarity and be able to meditate successfully with these 5 principles. Therefore, it is specious and disingenuous, in my opinion, to recommend to people who may be beginners or who are probably less experienced than he that doing these meditations is all they would ever need. Not so.

Compete, much? “Jealous Gods Realm” section of my #Buddhist #Retreat

Out of the “God Realm” into the “Jealous Gods Realm” for this next portion of my at-home #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Nyingma #Dzogchen #Buddhist #meditation/#contemplation #retreat. Week 3 of about 20 weeks.

The basic practice during these “Realms” weeks is to contemplate enough to “get inside the experience” of each of the Realm’s beings as if I am one, to recognize and inspire compassion in me for their suffering. Then, when I meditate on these experiences, I pray to alleviate their suffering, to purify their and my karma for rebirth in that realm.

I went to online teachings for inspiration so that I can share excerpts here. Check this out for a great explanation of the trials and tribulations of being a Jealous God, from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo (link below):

“[Jealous Gods are filled with]…competitiveness, egocentricity, and jealousy….[J]ealous gods do nothing all day long but … compete with one another….[T]hey are constantly waging war with one another….

“There is actually a terrible and immense suffering that comes with the jealous god realm. Even though you know you are powerful, you are powerful in an odd way… like the person who has built a fortress, an impenetrable fortress, and nothing can come in….[B]ut everybody knows you really can’t build an impenetrable fortress… [b]ecause death can come in, sickness can come in….Their kind of suffering is like that.

“…[They know] that the other gods are just as powerful and can come in…so they are jealously guarding their safety….[which] only increases the jealous god’s need to go out and attack the other guy, compete with the other guy, and get on top of the other guy. Their experience is warlike…. You win, you lose, you win, you lose….That is the experience of the jealous gods. They love to dominate others. That’s their habit.

“In the realm of the jealous gods, they are so concerned with their own safety and jealously guarding their safety, as well as competing with others for that safety, that they have not one moment with which to practice #Dharma. Dharma would be to them the same as if you were to, say, talk to a warrior type that was schooled only in being a warrior.

“Okay, back to Star Trek, whaddya say? Let’s say you talk to a Klingon, like Warf, and you say to Warf, ‘Yo, Warfy-baby, here’s what we need to do. Instead of you being a warrior with all your stuff on’ (you know, he wears all this stuff and looks pretty powerful) ‘why don’t you sit down and meditate gently, like a little girl? Why don’t you sit down and meditate very quietly, and in that way you can be very strong.’ What would Warf say about that? Warf would say, ‘Pleeease!’ Warf wouldn’t have time to hear about this.

“Neither would any warrior who was trained to think of being strong and protecting one’s turf, and only thought like that. Neither could a person like that ever think that meditation or Dharma practice or anything like that is strength… so they will push that away, not having time for it…. They simply don’t have the instinct and they will not practice Dharma. They just will not practice Dharma. They’re too busy.”

Since I’ve already established that this practice inspires intense identification with the beings of the realm being contemplated, I plan to invoke silence as much as possible when interacting with others to avoid getting into fights!

Wish me luck! No, CHEER ME ON! I WANT TO WIN! LIBERATION FOR ALL!

http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/the-realm-of-the-jealous-gods/

#Tibetan #Buddhism: “God Realm” characterized/plagued by lethargic pleasure.

My teacher, the amazing Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, gave me this caution just before our interview/his teaching ended last month: “You may experience some of the same things each realm experiences as you #contemplate and #meditate intensively on each realm.” I blithely nodded, thanked him, went on my merry way.

Why is the teacher always right? Are we so predictable? Are these practices so powerful, so thoroughly reliable that they affect everyone pretty much the same way? Guess so, if I’m any example.

Started my home #retreat, as some of you know, two weeks ago. My first topic, as you may also know, for #contemplation and #meditation, is the “God Realm.” Went OK for the first few days. Then, I began to feel, oh, I don’t know, LETHARGIC. That is not my normal state.

I have been increasingly focused on the wonderfulness of my life. Food: I’ve gained 5# in these 2 weeks, despite walking over an hour and swimming 45 minutes almost every day, usually BOTH, which is the wrong direction for me to be going! Sleep: I LOVE my bed, my pillow, my blankets, snuggling into it (yawn yawn yawn). Sex: not having any, but very intensely wish I were. Weather: sunny, rainy, overcast, windy all make me so happy! Into music, movies, TV shows, internet games, so many ways to have pleasure and lose track of time.

I’m realizing these last few days that I’m veering into overly indulgent, almost successfully talking myself out of “working too hard,” “meditating so much,” “getting up so early” daily. My counts (I have to attain 100,000 repetitions of the mantra before I move on to the next Realm) have been slower and lower each day.

I am usually ferociously self-disciplined; some have termed my commitment and maintenance of my practice, my work, whatever I choose to do, scary. What is going on?

Ahhhh. Ohhhh. God Realm karma manifests as indulgence, lethargy, pleasure-seeking, “I’ll deal with everything tomorrow” attitudes.

Damn Damn Damn. CAUGHT. Hoisted on my own petard. So obvious. Why did it take me over a week to figure it out???

Lethargic mentally as well?

THIS ENDS NOW. Still have 30K to go, but I’m getting those mantras and meditations done this weekend. NO EXCUSES. Got to move into the next realm ASAP.

Wish me luck. No, wish me ENERGY and COMMITMENT. I have too much LUCK!

BTW: next realm involves being suffused with jealousy, dissatisfaction, arrogance and insufferable selfishness, overlaid with incredible power and status. Guess who’s going to be the life of every party for a week or more?

“The #Death #Illusion”

Best quote (from Conclusion) from this important, lengthy instruction and explanation of the illusory nature of self and death: “The appreciation that everything reflects everything else, is the undoing of the belief in inherent separateness and along with it, conflict and fear. Under these conditions, the heart opens. There is the recognition that even the autumn leaf is not fundamentally different from the spring leaf. The autumn leaf is life, in a borderless, impermanent flux of causal continuance. It never was itself, and so the appearance of its ultimate death is an illusion.”

Emptiness Teachings

 

INTRODUCTION

~
Humans tend to regard themselves as supreme by nature, in contrast to what is viewed as a primitive world.  We live with a sense of divinity, assumed to distinguish us from everything else.  People commonly assume that they are at least subtly God-like, marked by what is called consciousness.  A dividing wall is imagined to separate mind from matter, the animate from the inanimate.  Consciousness is our divine self, and death, a fall into lowly materiality.
~
The inseparable interrelatedness of people to everything else generally goes unacknowledged.  The world is provides us with things, but we are not of it, hence the extensive environmental disregard.  This dualism also requires that we either accept eternal selfhood or be doomed to oblivion, death, as a descent into a senseless abyss.

~
While the notion of human privilege appears to be an advantage, it is our affliction, resulting…

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“‘Who’ or ‘what’ is watching” my “inner brain movie show?”: #inspiration from #Buddhist #Psychology

Today I’m inspired by this post, from which I quote. I hope you’ll go read it all, contemplate then meditate on it, enjoy and share it.

“‘[W]ho’ or ‘what’ is watching that inner brain movie show? …[I]t turns out that the one watching the ‘outer world’ is also part of the inner show. The brain configures a self or seeming ‘person’ as the observer. The illusion of there being a self or person inside the body as the body is generated from memories, body images, conditioning and subconscious drives. This ‘person’ is constructed exactly in the same manner as who we seem to be in our dreams at night: a projection of memories, conditioning and other subconscious material.”

“There is no person or ‘me’ beside the imaginary one generated by the brain. The whole idea or concept of a person or a ‘me’ is also just a concoction of that same brain. Understanding this clearly is seeing the real meaning of “emptiness of self.'”

from Jackson Peterson, “Teacher of Non-dual Traditions: Dzogchen, Advaita, Zen and Mahamudra at Meditation Teacher and Life Coaching”
a posting on the “Buddhist Psychology” group’s page on Facebook that he entitled: “Deconstructing our World and Sense of Personal Self”

#Buddhist philosophy: Clean my face, not the mirror

I threw out my third glass of water, believing there was another bug or dirt swirling around in it, before I realized the intruder is in my right eye, not the water. I have another detestable “floater.” Almost 60, I am acquiring more of those suckers each year. I HATE FLOATERS! But, did I need to waste all that water to figure this out? Right.

I feel even worse that I was easily fooled into believing the problem was external to me. I should have known better.

About 25 years ago, still in my thirties, I noticed the phone at our house was not working right. I kept having to ask people to speak up because their voices were coming across too quietly on our phone. It was an old, corded phone (remember those?) but our only one. Easily could just be that it was defective, but we couldn’t afford to get a new one (they were quite expensive and we were poor).

Over the next few months, I would go to others’ houses and use their phones on occasion. I began to have the same issue. I wondered for many months “What is wrong with all these phones? Is it the phone company’s lines?”

Until I heard myself saying to too many people (mostly men, with low voices) I was talking to who were right in front me, “Speak up. I can’t hear you. You’re mumbling (this last to my innocent son and male partner) and heard echoes of both my father and my grandmother (his mother) in my impatient questions, I never thought the problem was with my own ears. But, it was. It is.

I had my ears tested: I found out that I will continue to be losing my hearing, slowly. Just as they did. Right.

According to Buddhist philosophy, whatever the problem seems to be rooted in, we should actually be in the habit of assuming the cause is in us, not “out there,” regardless of the “evidence.” When we are upset: angry, worried, sad, hurt (especially hurt), we should not look out the window at the world, at others, to find the source of our discomfort. We should look in the mirror.

When my face appears dirty, do I clean the mirror or clean my own face? Right.

Prior to practicing Buddhism and understanding something about my own mind by doing so, when my life would get difficult I would often go into hyper-control mode. I was not nice about it, either. Sorry, family; sorry, friends.

Buddhist teachings offer and I slowly became able to understand this metaphor: when I am walking on a very large field filled with sharp stones, is it feasible and effective to cover the entire field with a protective blanket to protect my feet or should I just put on some shoes and cover my own feet? Right.

Easy to understand, harder to apply. Especially when I feel that surge of righteous anger at being disrespected, misunderstood, mistreated in some way by another, I can still forget to apply these incontrovertible facts:
1) this situation, this relationship arises due to my karma (prior actions, thoughts, words in this and/or other lifetimes);
2) these current thoughts and feelings are in my mind and are mine to manage;
3) the only aspects I can actually successfully control (and not always, even when I try) are my reactions and responses.

Regardless of how strongly my knee-jerk reactions are, such as “How could this be my fault?” “I did nothing wrong!” “It’s her fault!” “It’s his responsibility!” “These are their mistakes: they’re WRONG!” “They’re to blame!” it’s all on me to manage my own reactions and see my part in the human drama we’re all playing out.

Better to save the water, keep the phone, put on shoes, clean my own face and look more closely in every mirror than to keep misunderstanding my life and wasting resources on wrong turns, dead-ends and misplaced attempts to change others and circumstances out of my control.

I apologize in advance to everyone I forget to apply this with; I will forget. But, I also will try to remember. Got the washcloth right here.

Why do we forget what works for us?

Why do we forget what works for us? Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, throughout a lifetime we accumulate habits and reinforce the ones we have. Even when we know what works best or better, we do not always do that. Even worse, I notice that I actually forget how good something tastes or feels when I haven’t been eating or doing it for too long.

I forget how good I feel after doing something or eating something that is healthy, short-term as well as long-term. It’s not as if I don’t know what works best for me, for this body, for this life. I know and I do the opposite. Or, I know and I seem not to care.

Most of us aren’t pathologically self-destructive, so how do we form unhelpful habits?

When I first started practicing #meditation (#Transcendental, or #TM) I had just graduated high school. I had no habits around #meditating. I didn’t even know what it was. My newly acquired interest and commitment became a habit: for eight years, I #meditated twice a day for 20 minutes per session, 99% of the days.

Really? I was that disciplined, that committed at almost 18 years old? No. I became that kind of person. I developed a liking, then a respect, then an appreciation, then almost a superstitious reliance on my twice-a-day meditation sessions.

I meditated in cars (not while driving, since this type recommended closed eyes!), on buses, trains and subways, in airports and waiting areas of every description, in empty classrooms, on my bed (sitting up), on a chair, on the floor, by a pool or lake, at the ocean, alone and amidst people. I meditated in my shared dorm room and then apartments or houses even when others were right in the same room, talking. I just didn’t let anything stop me and I could do it that easily.

For eight years I meditated twice each day; then I had a baby. At that point, being a breastfeeding mom, I reduced my usual allotment to once a day and was grateful to have that 20 minutes. I then began to learn about other types of meditation, took some other classes (Wicca, Shamanism, “Eastern” but not TM-style, “New Age”) read some books. I tried each of these and would practice them for a while, still keeping to a schedule of doing some meditation every day for at least 20 minutes. As my son got older, I put in a hour in a row most days. Sixteen more years of “dabbling” but continuing to meditate.

At first, starting in 1996 when I had then been meditating in other ways for 25 years, I did have a daily practice because I committed to completing the Preliminary Practices (Ngöndro) in a timely fashion. This requires a large amount of time because the practitioner has to accumulate over 100,000 repetitions of each of 4 different mantras while doing each one’s visualization and sometime physical movements at the same time as chanting the mantra.

It took me 29 months, which is about the usual for someone not doing Ngöndro full time. By completing that, I was eligible for and attended a #retreat the summer of 1999. During that 7 weeks, I learned more practices, some of which required no mantra or physical movements, just sitting. But, only one was like TM. The rest were brand-new to me and some were difficult to adopt as daily practices.

One of these that is easy to do daily is Dzogchen, or the “Great Perfection,” as it’s usually translated. Dzogchen is not discussed with non-practitioners much, and I will not break that tradition. There are good reasons for that secrecy. However, I will say this: I really resonate with this practice and still have it as my main meditation practice.

After #meditating most every day for 25 years, I believed that I had a habit of meditating. Not so true, I found out, as I got more into #Buddhist meditation.

The problem? Me, of course. But, in my defense: there are too many types of meditation in my #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Nyingma Longchen Nyingtik lineage, too many possible ways to practice, too many commitments, too many choices to do them all each day. No one could. How to decide?

Having to decide, I realize now, is my main downfall in maintaining a habit. It is better for me to have a structure that I adhere to “no matter what,” that requires no decision-making, no choosing between this or that.

For my home retreat, there are too many choices and I am falling into bad habits already. I am allowing distractions (yesterday’s was having the internet be “down” in our area for more than 12 hours, starting at 7 AM), chores, my #writing and #editing, and the choices themselves to confound me.

I do not yet have a good schedule, or structure, for my home retreat days. I hope to develop that in the next several days.

Wish me luck.

More about living in a “God Realm”

Yesterday my at-home #Buddhist #meditation #retreat, week one, contemplating living in a “God Realm,” took some interesting turns due to “regular life.” That’s the beauty and the challenge of having a home retreat: life keeps on happening, and not very far away or able to be ignored. Need to deal with my car, keep connecting with some people, job-hunt and apply, have a job interview (when invited), shop for essentials, tend to chores.

As a writer who is finishing Volume II, This Changes My Family and my Life Forever, and marketing (release date, December 20) Volume I, This Changes Everything of The Spanners Series, I am also writing, marketing, learning about ebook publishing, indie pub networking and methods, editing/revising, weighing in on cover art for Volume I (thanks, #Willowraven!) and learning about this whole ebook process for the first time from Mark Coker of #Smashwords (thanks, Mark). My days and some of my nights are quite full, already. Adding in 3 – 6 hours of meditation each day (sometimes more) is quite a feat. I’m not bragging; just explaining. Something’s gotta give.

So, yesterday, the meditation time “gave” to the car repair and friend times. However, I did walk and meditate/contemplate while my car was being assessed (one hour). During that hour, I walked around downtown Hayward to do errands (bank, library) and then sat in an rarely-used chess-players’ seat at a small city park.

No one else was in the park. In fact, it was officially “closed,” but the walkways were open. I and a dog-walker were the only park users when I was there. I could picture the park on busier days, ghost figures filling the space: the traditional-old-men-playing-chess images, some teens hanging out on the benches, a stroller-pusher or two, a dog-walker or two. But, since it held no other appeals, with no playground, no fountain or pond, no climbing structures, no other places to sit, I ran out of ideas. Besides the two chess stations and two park benches, there were a few patches of grass (well-trimmed), some flowering shrubs, one tree: that was the corner park.

Meditating/contemplating living in a God Realm caused me to look around more closely as I walked and then, sat. I discovered several aspects of this downtown that struck me as relevant. First, there are a lot of abandoned or empty, unmarked buildings and vacant lots among some seemingly open ones or those not due to be opened, yet (it was before 11:30, so many places weren’t open, yet). In this particular moment, one day in 2013 in Hayward, California, I could see evidence of better days.

One large, brick building had odd-shaped and oddly placed spaces high on one wall facing the busiest intersection. I puzzled out that these were vacancies left by large, individual letters which must have been adhering to the brickwork to display the owner’s or business’ name. Gone. But, before that era ended, those people must have been very wealthy to have owned such a large, prominent downtown structure. Most owners live in a God Realm, until they don’t.

They would have had servants and workers under them, surplus income to spend on themselves. They would have indulged themselves and their family members in luxuries and vacations, had most every whim fulfilled. Fancy clothes, fast and expensive cars, jewels, lavish parties, food and beverages, entertainment, sex, exotic pets, travel to beautiful locales, music and art would have filled their lives. Let’s give them good health, love and intelligence, too. A perfect human existence, probably in the latter part of the last century or earlier.

Where are those owners now, if any of them are still even in those human forms? Assisted living or nursing homes? Scattered from Hayward, younger family members out of touch or estranged? Dead already? Where are their money, those luxuries, that business? What happened to their residences, cars, clothes and other possessions, friends and colleagues? Gone to others or just completely gone. Empty. Abandoned, like this building.

Even when “everything is perfect,” it can’t last. Even if the outer pleasures continue, the enjoyers do not. These “Gods” age, get infirm, die; or, die suddenly. But, die they must, taking none of that gilded life with them.

I returned to retrieve my car (can’t be fixed until part arrives. I chose Halloween for my next foray into town, since I have a medical appointment that day, anyway). Driving the short distance home, I contemplated the ephemeral nature of all life and the futility of accumulating wealth, possessions, pleasures and such.

We may be living in a God Realm or not, but what we all share is impermanence. Whatever ways we are enjoying or suffering through our existences, our pleasure or pain is just a moment in the great span of time. Whatever we have, whatever we want: Feel it, live it, then go on to the next moment. That is the merry-go-round of samsara.

Prayers for all beings to recognize the illusory, temporary nature of samsaric existence and to buckle down (or ratchet up) to be on the path to individual liberation. Bodhicitta and gratitude for my path filled my heart as I re-entered my home, my retreat space.

#Meditation with #Contemplation on Dying without Regret

What will you do today to be able to end your life at the uncertain time of your death with as little regret as possible? Comment here! I am doing meditation practice intensively for many months as part of my life-without-regret plan.

Yesterday during my second day of walking meditation on living in the God Realm, I walked through my neighborhood, Cherryland, CA, an unincorporated part of Hayward, in a new direction, on streets I haven’t walked, before. There was a wide variety of landscaping, from untended dirt to blooming plants, especially very large, standing roses, and dwellings (ranging from assisted living, apartments, and tinier cottages than mine to what I’m sure was a mansion when it was built in the early 1900s). Such a haphazard continuum of land use and conditions of the habitations gave me ideas for all the Realms’ meditations to come.

This week, I am focusing on the God Realm, so I lingered in front of the beautiful fountains and shrubbery, adored two little front-yards’ ponds and then went to sit in the neighborhood park on this beautiful fall day. The feeling of the sun, the peacefulness, the sweet-smelling breezes, the cloudless skies, complete freedom, all at 70 degrees combined to give me a perfection moment.

A girl about 4 was playing with “Papi” (Grandfather). Papi had a large bubble wand and jar of bubble mixture. Their game involved his dipping the wand and waving it to let the bubbles flow toward her in the light breeze. His granddaughter would leap, run, stretch high, crouch and kick to get the bubbles within her reach to pop them.

She buzzed around the playground, laughing and calling out, “Papi! Papi!” with joy each time she popped a rainbow bubble. He laughed with her delight and kept sending them to her. At one point, his enthusiasm and the breeze conspired to put them ahead of her, coming too fast and out of her reach. Out of breath, she went over to him, stomped her foot, put her hands at her hips (in her best imitation of her mom?) and said, “Papi! Wait for me to come to you!”

“Oh, yes, of course, mi Princesa!” he replied, bowing, and did as she asked. Satisfied, she resumed her annihilating spree with vigor.

Life in the God Realm is just like that: everything is beautiful, within reach, delightful, fun and able to be changed at our command. As Gods/Goddesses, we live impossibly long lives, replete with splendor and abundance of all that we could possibly desire.

Yet, those lives, as any, are actually just rainbow bubbles, able to be burst at any time by another’s actions, or the breezes, or by striking an object, or just coming to the ends of our bubble existences: POP and life is over, Royal or not.

Then, unlike a bubble, which seems to be free of self-reflection, we know we just died. Gods/Goddesses have an inordinately lengthy time, to match our long lives, to contemplate our lives and deaths as we die; that’s part of our existence. Royals have long, self-recriminating death throes that go on and on, all the way until we land in our next incarnation, which happens to be in the Hell Realms. What a way to go.

All our self-castigations are for naught: no matter how many ways we imagine we could have done things differently, at death, it’s too late. Regrets are useless as we die.

Buddhist teachers often say that the best humans can hope for, especially the ones who do not have the teachings and practice of dharma in their lives, is to die without regret. How many of us could die today and die without regret, dharma practitioners or not?

Something to aim for: dying without regret. And, since we do not know the time, manner or date of our death, start NOW on that course.

What will you do today to be able to end your life at the uncertain time of your death with as little regret as possible? Comment here!