#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

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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.

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.

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.