In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Friday, August 31, 2012

Prayers for Val

Please make strong prayers for Val, a longtime practitioner from KMC New Mexico. She is very sick.
at Brazil Festival

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mothers - Human and Others

I noticed that I'm finding it easier to see other living beings as my mother - but that it's with animals, not people. More and more, when I see a spider or a dog or an ant, I think, "mother," whereas when I see a friend or a teenager or a baby, I think friend or teenager or baby.

I've gotten over some of the hurdles that typically prevent us from seeing others as our mother, such as believing in the continuity of consciousness and rebirth. Now it makes sense, intellectually, that every being could have been my mother in a previous life, and from there it just takes a little more faith - because Buddha has no reason to lie and everything else he's taught me has proven to be true - to believe every single one of them have cared for me that way. I can also see how this view is very beneficial.
Even our language reflects the understanding that we have multiple mothers in this life: mother-in-law, stepmother, adoptive mother, mother figure.

But other hurdles remain.

Why for me does it seem easier to see as my mother beings who are a different species? In some ways, it seems backwards: Shouldn't it be easier to see beings like me as being related?

On the few occasions when I do see a person as my mother, it tends to be someone with motherly qualities, like Gen-la Kunsang, who exudes loving kindness. They also tend to be older than I am - that's partly because I'm seeing it in terms of math (how could someone younger possibly be my mother?).

Well, at least I know now what I need to work on: Seeing other people, no matter what their age or gender, as my mother.

In the classic children's book Are You My Mother?, a baby bird sets out to look for his mother, asking that question of everyone and everything he meets, including a cow and a steam-shovel.
There could be some Buddhist versions of the book. One could feature the bird encountering different kinds of animals and people, and the answer would always be, "Yes, I'm your mother." Another version, to parallel the original, could be recast with only inanimate objects, such as computers, dishwashers, vending machines and pickup trucks - all non-mothers. There could be another version titled "Are You My Guru?" and again the answer would always be "Yes," because we can see everyone, everything, every situation as our Guru, viewing it all as teachings for our benefit manifested by our Guru.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Testing My Practice

One of the great things at Festival is the gems of wisdom you hear even in conversation. This Summer Kelsang Khandro mentioned offhandedly that you can tell whether you're actually practicing by whether you can make yourself happy. Brilliant! I'd never thought of it like that. It's such a clear, easy way to find out how your practice is doing.
If you've read even the first page of Modern Buddhism or heard Gen-la Dekyong teach this year, you know the definition of Buddhism is "the practice of Buddha's teachings."
We have all kinds of ways to brighten up our minds when they start to go "dark" as Gen-la called it ... and hopefully we're paying enough attention to our state of mind that we can catch the decline early, when it's easier to turn around. (The beginning of anger is often compared to a small fire; we want to douse while it is still small. But when my mind is going bad, it feels like I'm digging a hole, and when I've found myself deep in a hole, it's much harder to get out of.)
There's a quote I like that's often attributed to Elvis Presley, but seems more likely to have come from a writer named Roger Babson: "When things go wrong, don't go with them."
Usually we think of mental practices - from vizualizing Buddhas to remembering emptiness to generating compassion, and so on - but at Summer Festival everyone was reminded that physical prostrations are a great way to turn your mind around, because they purify your energy winds (of course, to be effective this should also be a mental prostration).

Prayers for a Leaf

While teaching about emptiness this Summer Festival, Gen-la Dekyong was describing gross mistaken appearance, where we mistake one object for another common object, such as seeing a hose as a snake. She was encouraging us to notice our own examples by describing how she had taken a dead brown leaf blown by the wind for a little mouse scurrying across the yard. Laughing at herself, Gen-la said she was "daft" for nearly making prayers for an inanimate object!
I was thinking that I didn't have this kind of mistaken appearance very often, but then I soon found two examples: I saw a bowl with a curled-up banana skin as sliced lemons, and a small stick as a thin black slug like the one that I'd seen earlier that day.
Because we have so much faith in what we see, recognizing these mistakes helps undercut that confidence and helps lead us to understanding subtle mistaken appearance, believing that the things we normally perceive truly exist.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Karma and Reliance

At Summer Festival one of the questions I heard that people were contemplating was the relationship between believing in karma and relying on a Spiritual Guide. The New Heart of Wisdom, which Geshe-la is going to formally introduce at next year's International Fall Festival in Portugal, briefly addresses this question:
"... the effectiveness of our Guru yoga practice depends on the strength of our belief in karma. If it is weak we will neglect to engage in practices for accumulating merit, purifying our negativities and receiving Buddha's blessings, and then our Guru yoga practice will be just empty words."
It hadn't occurred to me that they were related, so I have more thinking to do.
We were also encouraged to think deeply about the many levels in Geshe-la's books, particularly Modern Buddhism, and that imagining we're reading his books in the company of Guru Tsongkhapa will help us discover the deeper meanings.

Carpe Diem

This common phrase (usually translated as "seize the day") might seem a bit out of place on a Buddhist blog, as it's commonly associated with hedonism, but I heard an echo in the Stages of the Path prayer:
This human life with all its freedoms,
Extremely rare, with so much meaning;
O Bless me with this understanding
All day and night to seize its essence.
Seize the day, seize the moment, seize your life - make it meaningful, by putting Dharma into practice as you go through your usual routine.

Annie Dillard, my favorite non-Buddhist writer, in her piece "Living Like Weasels" in the collection called Teaching a Stone to Talk, describes an eagle with the skull of a dead weasel still attached to its neck; the mammal probably attacked the bird and never let go. She uses this as an analogy to "stalk your calling":
I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you're going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even ...
This idea has been giving energy to my meditation on our Precious Human Life. Of course, all life is precious. Buddhists try to practice non-harmfulness by not killing animals, even small ones, like mosquitoes, and ones we tend to abhor, like rats (I'll confess I'm still working on loving them). We try to learn how to help and protect them - for example, by fishing drowning fruit flies out of drinks (you'd be surprised how often they survive!) or by reciting mantras to them.

But "precious" in the context of this meditation means the spiritual potential that is only available when you're a human being. We think that once-in-a-lifetime opportunities shouldn't be missed - but what about this once-in-a-lifetimes opportunity? It's so big, we can't see it. Buddha is always encouraging us to have a bigger mind: thinking beyond this life, beyond ourselves, etc. Usually we think of thoughts inside our mind like objects within a room, and sometimes it seems like these Buddhist objects are bigger than the little space of our room. We need a bigger room. We need to push back the walls of our mind in order to expand.