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."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Prayers for Storm Victims

Please pray that everyone remains calm in the aftermath of the horrendous that hit the East Coast of the U.S. and is proceeding inland. So much damage has been done to the infrastructure, it will not be quickly fixed. May everyone get the essentials they need while keeping peaceful, loving minds.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Donation Request to Help Sangha

Below is an email from Kadam Olivier, who as many of you know directs the Festival plays and is now working on the Kadampa movie of the life of Buddha Shakyamuni. I personally know Kelsang Chokyi to be a beautiful example of a Kadampa and would like her to be able to continue focusing on spreading Dharma around San Diego.
Because tomorrow is Je Tsongkhapa Day, a very special holiday in the NKT calendar, it would be especially auspicious to donate then; even a small amount would be multiplied in terms of the merit you receive. As Kelsang Tubchen said in regard to this request, "the analogy of many drops of water filling the bowl comes to mind" and I would like to add a drop. Please help fill the bowl if you wish.

Hi everyone which are very dear to me.
I would like to ask you for some help.
I would like to be able to help some Sangha friends, whom helped me very much and got suddenly in a very tough financial situation.
Last summer, in England, we were preparing some tests for the movie of the Life of Buddha, a little filming crew of twenty people, all Kadampas, volunteering without budget.
Members of our team went to another town to get some equipment that was kindly lent to us. They borrowed the rented car from a friend of the Summer Festival. In many countries, anyone driving a rented car is also covered by the insurances, which covered the car, not only the people on the contract. In England, it is not like this: it only for the names on the contract!
My friends got suddenly hit by a truck! Through an incredible good fortune, they got out safely from… the completely wrecked car. Instantaneously they were in debt of £8,752 or $US 14,000 towards the renting company! A nun and resident teacher in San Diego, Kelsang Chokyi, and the Admin Director of KMC Spain, David Tudela. Both do not work outside their centres, but have devoted their life to spreading Kadam Dharma, only for a small sponsorship. So they don’t have the resources to pay back this debt themselves, unless they would have to leave their responsibilities.
Amongst many in the film crew, we gave ourselves the goal of each to find 20 people who could give £20 ($30) and like this we could easily pay back this debt. How amazing is the power of the Sangha!
Some of you might only be able to £3, €4 or $5, and some other more. Any amount is so beneficial.
I’ll give as much as I could. I would like to invite you to help me to find £437 or $700 or even more! I know that for some of us, it might be more difficult to gather £437 amongst their friends!
The simplest is to own a PayPal account, so that you can transfer the amount in Pounds that you wish… £20 is $US 32. You can click here to access the Funds for Car Accident
I am addressing also to you to help me find more benefactors through your circles of Sangha friends, please! Please do forward this message! This is not a NKT fundraising as it is to help individuals, Kadampa friends, but we did, of course,  check with the NKT. If we would raise beyond the debt, the extra money would be given to the International Temple Fund.
I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and wish you all the best results from a sincere practice of giving!
With gratitude,
Kadam Olivier

Monday, October 22, 2012

Quizzes, Tests and the Final Exam

Some students are hesitant to join FP when they hear that there's a test. We used to lose a student or two right before the test, although of course you don't even have to pass.

But we get tested all the time ...

We get regular Dharma quizzes, for example, from the people who bother us at work, and we get pop quizzes when something goes wrong that we weren't expecting. How'd you do? Peaceful mind?

Whenever I get cut off on the highway, I practice immediately going for refuge, because a few inches the other way and it could have been the end of me. I want the Three Jewels to be at the front of  my mind, always, but especially then.

When I'm focusing on the advantages of cherishing others, I try to give myself repeated quizzes, asking myself throughout the day, "Who were you thinking about?" Sad to say, it's usually me.

Of course, the final exam is death.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Know Nothing

After posting in "The Myth of Fingerprints,"  about how we know others - because we are essentially all the same, in that everyone shares the wish to be happy and to avoid suffering - I am now going to contradict myself and say that we know nothing about others. (As the writer Walt Whitman famously said, the poem "Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large - I contain multitudes.”) A lot of Buddhist ideas can seem contradictory on the most superficial level but actually aren't if you have a deeper understanding of them. Think of karma and emptiness, for instance, and how they mutually support each other.

A story Mary told me illustrates this humble mind very well.
She told me about how careful she was driving her nauseated son back from from treatments, travelling from one side of the city to another. Slowing down during turns seemed to really bother some of the drivers behind her, who would get frustrated and impatient. Now Mary tells herself that she has no idea what's happening with others and gives them a lot of slack.

It's a practice of humility, because my pride likes to believe it knows what's going on. It's a good reminder for us all not to judge others. We usually have no idea what's happening in their life or what's motivating them. Think of the way we make up stories about, for example, the strangers we see in airports, based solely on a quick scan of their outer appearance. With a humble mind, it's easier to love everyone, because we're not rushing to judgment about them.

Add to that the fact that I am completely mistaken about everything I see, thinking things exist the way they appear. Realizing how completely wrong I am about every single thing is a very effective way to dispel my pride.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall Festival in Spain

Here's another cause of rejoicing: The Fall Festival in Spain. The diaries - videos, photos and text - are updated daily. They are the next best thing to attending.
Click the rectangular photo for each day for a virtual experience of the Festival, including excerpts from the teachings and meditations.
One video I particularly enjoyed is titled "Shrine Setup Time-lapse - New Kadampa Tradition Fall Festival 2012" where Kadampas zip around setting up the throne, Vajrapani shrine, and meditation hall.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rejoicing in New KMC NYC

I am so happy that the Buddhist Center in Manhattan has a large new space and is now designated as a special center called a "Kadampa Meditation Center" or "KMC" for short. "KMC NYC" has a certain ring to it, don't you think?
Their previous location was full to capacity and then some; I heard that at times, they even had to turn people away. I visited once, and was amazed that new people were able to find them at all, because the center wasn't allowed to have a sign at street level.

They will have their official opening Oct 26-28.
More info and photos on their website and Facebook page, fb/kmc nyc.

Good, Bad; Good? Bad?

On a trip to the car wash, I got a good look at my mind in action. Whatever happens, without really thinking, I automatically label it good or bad.
I'm so simple-minded. There's no subtlety in those black-and-white labels. So little thought at all.

Here's what happened . . .
  The city sent out a newsletter that had a coupon for a free car wash. I think, "good."
  Not only that, but I had the coupon in hand when I had time, the car, and was near the car wash. Also good.
  I was midway through the wash when one of the scrubbers tore off my side mirror! Bad! I was stunned. I'd been to this particular car wash several times before without incident, and I'd never heard of this happening.
   There was nothing I could do but sit there watching while the rest of the scrubbers played tetherball with my mirror, which was dangling from the side of my car by its cord. Bad!
  After exiting the wash, I talked to the manager, who immediately said they'd cover the cost of repairs. Good!
  But I was dreading telling R that the car we've been sharing now had a broken mirror. Bad!
  When I told him, however, he said "Good!" because now you can get a better mirror (it was one of the features of my car he wasn't fond of).

It's funny. (Note how I expanded my vocabulary from two words.) So was the experience good or bad? After all that up and down, I'm tempted to say I have no idea.

My comic car carma continued when I went to the dealer to get a new mirror installed. The attendant who took in my car locked my keys in the car! Bad. But also funny.
  He said not to worry because they could make another key. Good. And a spare would come in handy.
  The key didn't work; he said I must have had the locks rekeyed, which I'm sure wasn't the care. Bad.
  Don't worry - we can "break in." Sounds bad.
  On the phone R reminded me I still had the clicker to open the door. Good.
  The clicker didn't work. (Apparently they don't when the key is in the ignition. Who knew?) Bad.
  The car guy said, "We'll just use a slim jim.'' Good.
  Your car is the easiest one in the world to break into. Bad.

Reflecting on the whole experience, it seems like samsara in microcosm - wave after wave coming at me. Sometimes I'm joyfully surfing the wave, sometimes I'm barely managing to stay on the board, then a wave knocks me off and I'm getting pummeled by the waves, my mouth full of saltwater. Continually. Day after day. Life after life.
(How does that song go? "Sometimes you're the windowshield; sometimes you're the bug.")

At one point it occurred to me that thinking something is bad seems like a subtle form of anger. It's not acceptance and implies it shouldn't be happening.

"It is what it is" has become a common phrase - my Stepmom even has it as a sign hanging in their house. There's acceptance if you really believe that.

We also sometimes say "it's all good." It's not easy to actually mean it, though - not when it's about something that has happened to us.
I am working on developing a more flexible mind, one that can gracefully surf these waves. I would like to be able to learn from everything that happens, and then I wouldn't be so caught up with whether they seem good or bad. That measurement is usually based on the 8 worldly concerns, particularly comfort.
Now when unusual things happen, I'm more likely to see them as situations manifested by my Spiritual Guide for my training. (They seem so strange, they can't be ordinary, which also reminds me of emptiness.) If I could see everything in that way, it would truly all be good.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Trial

My clinical trial, that is.
I'm sorry I didn't post an update sooner - it seems a bit rude after asking for prayers. In my, umm,  defense I will say my life has been much more eventful than usual, not even accounting for the tire blowout, which I will try to write about that in another post.

Your prayers helped make my choice very clear: I am going to take advantage of qualifying for the clinical trial of a very promising new anti-cancer drug (technically it's not chemo, although I will also be getting 2 chemo drugs I've had before). I am so happy to have this chance, as it could be a game changer. Or not. But I am optimistic. Something tells me this could work very well for me.
There are a lot of safeguards. I can drop out any time, for any reason. In fact, even though it's an experimental drug, it's not particularly risky, and, because it's targeted at the tumor's DNA, it has fewer side effects than chemo drugs.  Those other options I was considering will still be there later if this doesn't work out.

I start next Friday, Oct 19th. I will get treatment for several days each week for 3 weeks, then there's a 1-week break, continuing for 6 months or until I go back into remission or need to stop treatment. The protocol dictated a 4-week waiting period to make sure nothing unexpected happens with the first group of 3 that's on this trial.
There had been some urgency to the decision, because I was almost in the first group and would have started immediately. I am grateful to Uma, who very quickly gave me invaluable research and advice I did not have access to. Combined with prayers and what I found out myself, from relatives in the field and the Internet, I am confident that I made the best decision I was capable of.

It's amazing to me that I qualify for this clinical trial. I first heard about this drug, which is classed as a PARP inhibitor, two years ago and have been keeping my eye on it ever since. Whenever I've brought it up with doctors or nurses, however, they've always said that even if there was an open trial, I was unlikely to qualify for it, because of my brain metastasis or the amount of chemo I've had. A clinical trial is the only way to get the drug and thankfully the drug company is paying for it because it is outrageously expensive. There are only 50 of us. So it's "suspicious" that they let me in. Not only that, but the trial is in Seattle, when people often travel long distances to be in a trial, and it is even at the same place where I have been getting my chemo the last few years. And I will still be under the care of my beloved oncologist, not the principal investigator of the trial, who is down the hall. It's very suspicious.

I am using that word after hearing a Kadampa friend use it to describe the unusual circumstances that lead to her new job. She thought the odds were very long of getting hired as a teacher when many of her more qualified and experienced colleagues were submitting many resumes and not even getting an interview. She meant it wasn't ordinary that they hired her. Prayers again. We both think Dorje Shugden arranged these conditions for us.

At class on Tuesday, Jody mentioned that Gen Khedrub used the word "suspicious" at last weekend's emptiness retreat. I wasn't there, but R told me it was based on a quote from Arya Deva that, "Even the mere suspicion that objects lack inherent existence wrecks the seeds of samsara."

This clinical trial feels like it was manifested out of emptiness by my Spiritual Guide. As further evidence, the day after everything very quickly came together, it all dissolved away, when my oncologist was, suspiciously, out of town teaching. In his absence, there were karmic, comic miscommunications and bad phone connections. No one seemed to know who I was, even though they had been given my name the previous day. I wondered if Dorje Shugden had set up obstacles to protect me, so I and others made prayers for him to continue if that was the case, but to remove them if they were in fact obstacles. When my doctor returned on Monday, everything got sorted out, and this opportunity re-appeared.

When I told CraigS this story about my treatment opportunity and my suspicious, he corrected me, saying, "Not suspicious - auspicious!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Meditation Inspiration

This photo makes me want to meditate.

Does anyone know where it was taken?

In the classic meditation analogy, I look forward to feeling like an eagle soaring, rather than a sparrow frantically flapping its wings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Try Softer

In preparing for a silent tranquil abiding weekend retreat in the Bay Area next month, I've been thinking a lot recently about holding the meditation object.

For ordinary activities we're usually told - and we tell ourselves - we need to try harder. But years ago I learned from a young woman who attended KMC NY to try softer. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I find it beautiful and enjoy contemplating it.
I think the idea is to put effort into our practice, but not to have a tight mind about it. We are happy with what we're attempting but don't grasp at results. They will come naturally if we let them, assuming we have a good motivation and are following the instructions.

Gen Tharchin of Tharpaland tells us that meditation is not like storming a castle. We need to hear that, because when we first start meditating, that is often our tendency. We think that we are going to master meditation the way we've mastered other skills, with brute force, via a frontal assault. In many ways, meditation is the complete opposite of other activities. It's like a shy animal that can only be coaxed out of hiding by being quiet and not moving (aggressively storming after it is going to backfire).
There's a kind of toy water balloon that's particularly slippery and elusive: If you try to squeeze it, it will jump out of your hand. The only way to hold onto it is to let it rest in the palm of your hand. Meditation seems like that. (By the way, I like the way that echoes Pabongka Rinpoche's Lamrim book, which was edited by Trijang Rinpoche, titled Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand; not surprisingly, it's a lot like Joyful Path, but not as well organized.)

I enjoy and often find illuminating the discovery of the thought behind the thought, seeing what I'm really thinking. I noticed that I was seeing meditating as like balancing, feeling like I was on a tightrope, which later turned into a balance beam, when in fact I could view it as being on firm ground. No wonder I was having trouble holding onto my object.

Gen Khedrub often talks about meditation as "spending time with the object" and "letting some time pass." Our minds tend to be so busy, you'd think they'd appreciate a break, but that restless mind is a deeply ingrained habit.
I was even wondering if it's a bit like hanging out with a friend, although there's not even talking, so that's probably a bit of a stretch, but maybe it's helpful insofar as it suggests a mellow way to relax in an enjoyable way.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rest vs. Laziness

As we're headed into a break from class for the International Fall Festival, Gen Khedrub encouraged us to think about how to use this time wisely to recharge. He reminded us that rest, known as the power of relaxation, is one of the 4 powers and suggested that we consider how it is different from laziness. (The other 3 powers are aspiration, steadfastness and joy, and all four are to increase our effort of benefiting others; they are described in more detail in Joyful Path.)

I think about this a lot because fatigue has been my main side effect of treatment, but I also have a tendency toward laziness. How do I distinguish between them?
One way of checking is to be aware of your motivation. If your wish to take a nap feels self-indulgent, it's probably laziness, but if you rest because you need your body energized for a virtuous activity later in the day, it's probably not.

It's similar to looking at why we want to eat: Are we really hungry or just bored? Over years of practice, we get used to looking at our mind honestly. I'll admit, especially when I was a newer practitioner, I wanted to deny being angry, as though the way to being a better person was just to sweep my bad qualities under the rug (what an effective cleaning method that is!). How can you work on your faults if you won't acknowledge they're there? Purification is helpful in that you can confess them  in private to the Buddhas, and they will help you get rid of them. You can't make spiritual progress if you're fooling yourself. Geshe-la even recently told teachers (and by extension all of us), "don't pretend."

Gen Khedrub is good at describing how to evaluate our own spiritual practice, finding an area that could use some improvement, developing a wish to work on it, and making a plan for taking the next step. Sangha can help with this but many seem reluctant to offer constructive criticism when it's requested.

Sometimes when you've been sitting for a while, say, working on a project at the computer, you start to feel tired, but what you need is a change of pace, not to lie down. Taking a walk is a good test, because if it's the former, you will return with more energy, but if you're still feeling tired while walking, you should probably head back home and take it easy.

I've tried to view my body objectively, from outside, as a doctor would in assessing it. If an outside expert suggested I needed rest, that would probably be the wise thing to do. Of course, without self-grasping, there would be no laziness, but in the meantime it seems to help to view your own body as not yours.
When Geshe-la taught one Fall Festival in New York, he said that the body is outside, which was certainly not the way I thought of it, because it's me. It is outside the mind. Especially when you're sick, it's helpful to contemplate how this is true. The body is the meat jacket we put on. I find it comforting to know, even though I don't completely understand, that my body is not me. It is not even mine, as it comes from the bodies of our parents.
Thankfully Buddhism has a wide range of practices, for all kinds of experience, inclination and situations. There are many virtuous exercises you can do even lying down, some of which I've written about in Dharma on the Couch or in Bed.

Gen-la Dekyong is widely admired for her boundless energy, so when she teaches that effort comes from compassion, we take note and want to develop more compassion and to see for ourselves how it leads to more energy.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Kathi's Service

Yesterday I attended Kathi's memorial service in Seattle, at University Lutheran Church, which she had attended with her partner, Jon. It was lovely, with many fond remembrances of Kathi. The program included a beautiful photo of her with the sound in the background, reminding us that she loved the water (and used to race sailboats). The biography on the back noted that "Kathi's passion was primarily for the people she touched: students, colleagues, friends and family," many of whom were in attendance, and that "She taught respect the the differences and similarities of all people, local and global."

The pastor, Ron Moe-Lobeda, spoke a lot about love and compassion, and there were several references that included patience, meekness, and humility and other qualities we are all trying to cultivate. (I asked him about the difference between meekness and humility, because I think of them as the same thing, and he explained that meekness means non-violence.)
Other speakers included Kathi's sister Julie, who talked about how much she'd always admired her oldest sister, who taught her how to use orange-juice cans as hair rollers to get the appropriate poofiness in a hairdo, and who always had "strong leadership qualities" (which some might see as bossiness).

Because Gen Khedrub was leading an offsite meditation retreat, Jon asked me to do a brief Buddhist reading. My first reaction, when I finally picked up his message Thursday night, was fear, thinking that I am not a public speaker and have had no practice in years. But I was relating to the memory of an old self, B.D. (before Dharma). It was a bit like the analogy of the residual smell of garlic that remains in the garlic jar long after all the garlic is gone. Thankfully for everyone, I am a much different person than I used to be, and it is quite clear where any good qualities I now have come from. (Hint: It is not me - it is someone who has innumerable admirable qualities that I try to imitate.)
Relying on my Guru, the reading of Kathi's favorite passage in How to Solve Our Human Problems about patient acceptance, went fine. Afterward several people said they appreciated that teaching. I'm sure some of them were just being polite, but others expressed a deeper interest, and I wished that I'd had more copies of the book to give away. I did remind them of the title and gave them the business card for the free download of Modern Buddhism.

Please continue making prayers for Jon, sisters Lisa and Julie, brother David, and her 80-something parents, who could not make the journey to Seattle. May they find some comfort in their grief. Thankfully Jon's whole family was there and is in the area to continue to support him. His Lutheran community is also very warm and giving. After a month or so, it's common for everyone else to forget about it and get on with their lives while those who were closest to her will go on grieving.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Prayers for Paul

From Kelsang Tubchen, the Resident Teacher in Oslo and the former Education Program Coordinator at Tharpaland Retreat Center:

Dear Friends,
As some of you may already know, Paul Ashton, a dear friend and Resident Teacher at Mahabodhi Buddhist Centre in Edinburgh and former resident and cook at Tharpaland Retreat Centre has recently been diagnosed with cancer in his lung and brain.  He is undergoing tests to determine the extent of the cancer and any treatment options.  His mind is very blessed and peaceful.  
I would like to ask for your strong dedications and prayers for Paul, and for the centre and students in Edinburgh.  Please can you also ask your centres to put him on their dedication lists.
This sudden news shows how fragile things are in samsara.  
I found these remembered words from a meditation Gen Tharchin guided at FP some time ago after he had been quite sick for some days. 

"Countless living beings take rebirth as animals, hungry spirits or hell beings.  This is happening right now.  This is the reality.  Over the past few days I have become acutely aware of the need to make preparations now.  Suddenly death can come even in the next hour. 
Make preparations.
Stop idle chatter.
Stop meaningless activities.
Practice energetically.
Live every day as though it were your last.
Promise to do this.
Especially ordained Sangha.  It is included in ordained vows. 
Stop meaningless activities.  
Stop idle chatter - completely meaningless, in fact one of the 10 non-virtuous actions.
Stop procrastinating.
Indulging in distraction.
Don't waste precious time, precious energy.

The lord of death doesn't need any invitation.  He can come at any time."

Later he said:  "If we die and we don't meet Buddha in our next life - we are in big trouble."

I found these words had a big impact together with the current situation.
Samsara is cruel and unexpected.

Here is a photo of Paul: