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

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.

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.

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.

#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.

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.