Monday, 21 November 2011

Dharma First Aid Kit - 17 minutes to get you back on track!

Meditation On Death by Tsem Tulku Rinpoche:

Virtually everything around us creates the impression in our mind that we are somehow always going to be here.  And when consumer capitalism is not distracting us from the fact that we are all going to face Death one day soon, our culture tells us that it is taboo to think and talk about Death, as if just by merely thinking about it, it comes quicker. So we never really think about that one subject matter which if we did, will certainly influence the way we live.

The truth throws some heavy punches in this video. This is the "go to" video if you need a sobering up. A dharma first aid kit. It is 17 minutes of training that fine-tunes what I fear in death, and equilibrates with the courage from knowing what to do while I am still alive.

The first time I meditated on my own death per Rinpoche's video instructions, I could not complete it. I got as far as the part when I could not see, I could not move my tongue, I could not even make a sound and I could not move. The finality of everything I take for granted was overwhelming.

But what is more frightening is the realization that in death, I am still conscious of everything that is going on around me, although I am not able to do anything in response. If I had lived carelessly, it was partly because of an unsaid assumption that when I die, everything just “ends”. Blackout. It has never occurred to me that one day I will actually experience death. In my mind death is something that will happen to me, not something I will have to endure, fully conscious.

That means although I am dead, my consciousness is still very much alive and is now forced to deal with the unpleasantness that comes with death e.g.pain, regret, sorrow, anger, fear…and all this even before I worry about what happens next now that I know death isn’t the end. I am not prepared for this.

Next, I suddenly became aware that a portentous force is heading towards me and I know it will determine what happens to me next. Karma is coming home to roost now. I try to do a quick calculation of my karmic balance sheet to get a gauge of where I might end up, and of course I can't because I never really looked at the karma ledger when I was alive. And so I don't know what to expect. Or worse, I do know what to expect but it's too late to correct all the mistakes now. I thought I was going to have time.

Whenever I came out of this meditation, I am relieved (even now I smell the soil that will bury me or I choke on the fumes of the fire that burn me) and worried at the same time. This visualization on the passage of death is not entirely a pretend thing because it will happen. We will die. And even if we do the meditation half well but honestly, we will know that we are not ready for death. It scares us. 

Experiencing that fear makes us think of karma differently. No more a mere concept but something real. It is only via meditation on death can we know what it is to have dharma. It is the difference between falling into the angry sea, (being blind, mute and not having any limbs) but with or without a life jacket. Either way, we are in the sea i.e. we are dead. With dharma, we have a chance of passing through the “great exam” of death and reassuming an acceptable life.

It is clear that even as we enjoy life, we should prepare for death. And there is only one way to prepare for death, that is, to know the right state of mind to be in when we realize we are dead. Only the dharma teaches that.

The idea of dharma is simple enough and yet it is very difficult to practice "Selflessness" while still carrying the 'Me' along in the practice. And because some of us are so ill equipped to deal with realities, sometime a spiritual practice can be, in truth, an ego trip in disguise. I, for one, struggle daily to catch myself and try and reconcile my worldly life and my spiritual life.

And then I remember. It is only when I was involved in dharma work when I experienced the seamlessness between the mundane and the spiritual. Only in dharma work is there no separation in the essence of the experience between, for instance, doing a puja and having a good time with friends over dinner. Only in dharma work is there that great connect...the thing that brings it all together. The thing that make spirituality part of every action and thought, worldly or religious...naturally. Whereas outside dharma work, the worldly self keeps pitching thoughts against the spiritual self and vice versa. 

In dharma work, you practice without being conscious of the effort you are making to practice. I guess that makes the practice real and effective which is crucial because really, we don't have that much time left.

Still, in a few hours a new day will be before me, and it comes with another opportunity to get ready. Come to think about it, what prepares me for death also gives me a more enjoyable live. Funny how I never thought of it that way before.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Love's Fool ~ A Poem By Chogyam Trungpa

What is love?
What is love.
Love is a fading memory.
Love is piercingly present.
Love is full of charm.
Love is hideously in the way.
Explosion of love makes you feel ecstatic.
Explosion of love makes you feel suicidal.
Love brings goodliness and godliness.
Love brings celestial vision.
Love creates the unity of heaven and earth.
Love tears apart heaven and earth.
Is love sympathy.
Is love gentleness.
Is love possessiveness.
Is love sexuality.
Is love friendship.
Who knows?
Maybe the rock knows,
Sitting diligently on earth,
Not flinching from cold snowstorms or baking heat.
O rock,
How much I love you:
You are the only loveable one.
Would you let me grow a little flower of love on you?
If you don’t mind,
Maybe I could grow a pine tree on you.
If you are so generous,
Maybe I could build a house on you.
If you are fantastically generous,
Maybe I could eat you up,
Or move you to my landscape garden.
It is nice to be friends with a rock!
From Timely Rain: Selected Poetry of Chögyam TrungpaWritten July 1975

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Forgive Me Not

[Forgive Me Not] Photo by Tod Limle 

Tsem Tulku Rinpoche wrote in his blog: “What is incredible is how much we have to forgive some people sometimes. But our forgiveness rarely transforms their mind or helps them to be different. Whatever has been ingrained in them from earlier days in their childhood leaves such a strong mark as they choose to hold on to their experiences and make it 'real' and re-live it over and over under all circumstances to the detriment of themselves and those who care. That is the real samsara within the mind. All originates from the mind”. []

Sadly, for a lot of people, especially me, those statements hold true.

I cannot describe the person I used to be but I can't have been good to have around. Selfish twit, does come to mind. I had very fixed ideas of how my world should be, how my friends should treat me, and how life should just roll out the way I had expected it. I became angry, very angry when things didn’t go my way. I had my reasons, excuses and justifications lined up in defense. I did not think of myself as being horribly selfish or a bad person and that was how I have tricked my mind into thinking that I was merely a good guy who has been dealt with a rotten hand to play with. In short, the “rest of the world” was always wrong.

Trapped in the kind of mentality, I “suffered” tremendously. Things were always "not right", and I reacted badly.

Friends forgave me time and time again for my transgressions. Because of their kindness, they could not bear to see me suffer for the wrongs I did. Plus, we live in a society where "nice" people are supposed to forgive. Between friends’ forgiveness and expensive therapy (which did more harm than good because it gave another name to my selfishness and referred to it as a “condition” which provided a bad attitude with undue validation), the pain of remorse was always alleviated and so the suffering never got to a level where it becomes so intense that it triggers a change.

Forgiveness always let me off the hook.

So often, as soon as I am done with my latest gig and express some regret, I expected to be forgiven.

People who forgive mean well. However, forgiveness is often mistaken to be an absolution of our sins and wrongdoings, a full pardon for our mistakes, and a release from karma's effect. The moment we are forgiven for a wrongdoing we erase it out of our minds. But now that I have more time to reflect, I don't think karma works like that. Karma cannot release us even if friends verbally forgive us. In thinking that, as long as we have been forgiven we are alright, we deny ourselves the full works of the pain of penitence which may be necessary for the taking of appropriate remedies.

I am probably a hard-core case and perhaps some people like me have to suffer the full consequences of my selfish ways to an extreme level before I am jolted to wake up to myself.

But suffer how? This is an interesting one and it is only when we closely dissect the "Suffering" do we then know who we truly are. Suffering a guilt can be due to the loss "I" experience as the result of my misdeed. You see how the "I" sneaks its way into prominence even when we feel remorse? As I discovered, we have to get past this venal sorrow before we can start to repair. We need to identify this sorrow as yet another expression of our mercenary-minded self, to be able to deal with it. As long as we refuse to own this guilt, we cannot deal with it. We can only fix what is wrong with ourselves, not something external to ourselves.

After that, we may suffer the pain of true remorse when we realize what we have done in harm. How we have hurt the people who have loved us in spite of ourselves. We feel their disappointment and their pain. The suffering part comes when you so badly want to take away their pain...and you can't. The pain is most intense when you realize what these people mean to you, how dear they are to you and how they defined the best you have been...and how you have repaid them with wickedness instead. I wonder of this is how people feel when they die with deep regrets?

Running closely alongside this remorse is a grave and stark realization that you, who have always thought of yourself as being a fairly good guy, is in fact filth on legs. This is a tough one and every fibre of your selfish mind rejects this very notion and tells you to get angry instead. Just get anything and anyone. As usual you mind attacks when it is threatened. 

But you got to accept and get past this too. For me this was the toughest and it brought my unfailing self-confidence to its knees and since the said self-confidence has always been the engine for thoughts, opinions and activity...this lead to a total melt-down.

And in that state I stayed for some time. A mute witness to my own disgusting putrefaction.

The torment intensifies each day until you are bare. Nothing to turn to and nothing to hang on to...except for the Guru's teachings. You eventually find that they provide a way.

And that way is to go deep into my mind as I have been taught before. And after burrowing though all the superficialities and after my mind was done bombarding thoughts with more thoughts, I accepted suffering for it is. I accepted my mind’s suffering as the result of my greed. I accepted that my mind continues to suffer because it is still hoping and expecting to be forgiven, because it cannot handle not being released from the harm it has caused loved ones. 

I accepted that even if I manage to master harmless-ness, there will be people who will do me harm. And here it is good to remember a teaching of the Guru who instructs that anything that happens to us, is not done by others to us. It is always between our karma and us, and so let's not get at the person doing the harm. 

Without the means to escape I find some vindication for the pain. I tell myself that if I cannot escape this pain and suffering, then I will happily take it on and hope that in my suffering, some other people in similar positions need not suffer as much. This doesn’t make the pain go away but there is now some purpose to the pain I feel.

The point is, I wonder if I could have come this far in my self-examination if I had continued to receive forgiveness and grace from all around me. Actually I know that I won’t. It would have just been another hurdle that I managed to hop over, rather than a wall that I ran into that won't let me pass until I am pushed to a critical point, that point being a decision to change. That decision was also a decision to abandon my self-cherishing ways.

For me, it had to hurt so badly and I had to be pushed to the brink. I don't know yet where the brink but I know that I have had to rewire all my emotional instincts to survive thus far.

At this stage, I do not know how the story ends. I know the sufferings of all sentient beings end when they no longer end up in Samsara. As to how one ends suffering while being alive on this earth is beyond me still.

I can only share, that even as sufferings occur, they need not over-power our extremely considerable mind. I am sure there is some level of pain e.g. the likes of which we may feel in Hell that could do that, but it is not the suffering we feel now. If it feels like pain, it is the pain of not getting what we want.

Just like a drug addicts feels the pain of weaning off his habit, we are feeling the pain of weaning off our own poisons – our drug is that which we demand the world to perform, supply, create and maintain, so we can we happy…for a little while.

Forgiveness of friends may take us off that weaning process too early.

Am I suffering still? Yes, there are days when I am totally suffocated by the toxic air of remorse when I experience the painful remembrance of all that was good which I have lost, the recollection of all I have done to hurt so many, the loneliness and the shame. It can even hurt physically. But I do not dwell in that sorrow for too long anymore and very quickly I tell myself, "Let's start again and remember why you are feeling this sorrow..."

The other difference is, now I use this suffering as fuel to try and be better.  I use the sorrow, pain and disgrace as a body builder would use weights, lifting it beyond what he would normally do, feeling its tear and burn and hoping to build some good muscles as it repairs.

And all the time, my mind is vigilantly trained on the following words: “"Never abandon your spiritual teacher no matter how many inner obstacles you need to overcome." ~ Tsem Tulku Rinpoche

An old friend from another faith asks me how I can be sure that what my Guru taught me is correct and true? After all, it says clearly in the Bible, that Jesus is the only way.

I know without a doubt because my Guru's teachings and words came alive in me and for the first time ever, I see myself in the proper light and without delusions. I see the harm I caused others and to myself. I know he is true because I see the good that the words compel me to do and the good the words teach me to be. I know because I feel the changes in me, and I feel the loosening grip the world has on me every time I live those words. I know because the words show me the good in me, and the potential to be more. I know because all of his teachings teach me not only to be harmless to others, but also indeed to be of benefit to all.  I know because it is his teachings that have allowed me to bear the pain and suffering and loss, and not give up. I know because despite all that is wrong with me and around me, I have never really been so at peace. Nothing else did that for me in all my years. So I know.