Thursday, September 30, 2004

Sleep ... the Final Frontier!

Captain Kirk may have been right as far as exploration of the ‘outer realms’ was concerned, but for my ‘inner exploration’ I’ve no doubt whatsoever what the hardest aspect of practice is, and which has remained stubbornly resistant to transformation … Sleep, or rather … the lack of it!

No other aspect of life has had such a dramatic and obvious effect on my ability to both see and work with my mental states. No other aspect of experience seems to dominate the mental events landscape so colourfully as sleep deprivation does.

My first beginnings with meditation and then Dharma coincided with the birth of my first child, my darling daughter. As any parent knows, with babies/toddlers comes lack of sleep, and lots of it. Those early years were frequently characterised as what might be called ‘rear guard actions’, defensive strategies for dealing with that lack of sleep. There was little I could do about getting more sleep. And when so deprived, my patience levels dropped, my inclination towards ill-will heightened, and my ability to see what was going on (and therefore do anything about it before something ‘automatic’ happened) was dramatically diminished. It was one of those spiritual Catch-22’s … the problem seemed inherently difficult to solve. The lack of sleep led to all sorts of negative mental states, and the dullness that permeated my mind made it especially difficult to attempt to transform them. Dullness is of course the epitome of this … a negative mental state with it’s own protection built-in – the diminishing of awareness.

Well, 15 years later, and 2 more kids on, sleep deprivation is still a major aspect of life. Until a few weeks back, my two year old toddler was waking around 6 times a night for bottles of milk and comfort. The effect on my sleep (and my wife’s!!!) was dramatic, and provided a challenge of continuing freshness. Fortunately for me, my years of working with whatever was, with however things were, had paid off in the ability to largely accept the ground as it was, and relatively patiently work with the bounds of the actually possible. Sleep deprivation, though it still coloured my daytime experience, was is no way a crippling handicap to mental cultivation, but had become just one more interesting arena within which my endless watching of the nature of things played out its hand. Tired or fresh, happy or sad, inspired or not it makes virtually no difference .. it’s still mind, it’s still appearances seeming to arise, it’s still impossible to grasp and ultimately empty.

Having said that, it still colours things more than most and still presents particular difficulties in workability. But no longer do I crave to not experience it, and no longer is it any sort of barrier to successful cultivation.

And, two weeks back, we started a program of ‘controlled crying’ with my toddler, teaching him to put himself back to sleep without the bottles and intervention. Following a so-called expert in a book, the technique has worked like a dream, with my son waking an average of once a night for a brief cry, but putting himself back to sleep within a minute or so. I still lay there wide awake at night, unused after all those years to being able to sleep throughout the night. But conditions change, arenas of practice alter, and the ‘work’ goes on, looking … deeply … and gently nursing my karmic inheritance in conducive directions.

Sleep …. The Final Frontier …. Hardly overcome, but at least partially transformed!

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Parenting Mindfully

Somebody sent me this wonderful list of Mindfulness reminders for Parents - unfortunately, I don't know where this list originated from ....

1. Take time to practise mindfulness around your children to help them grow up feeling noticed, heard, and understood.

2. Wake up to the abundance of special moments in the most ordinary of days.

3. Cultivate the "Beginner's Mind" which sees every moment with fresh eyes and responds to what the moment requires.

4. Look deeply to learn who your children are rather than projecting your hopes, fears and expectations onto them.

5. Use mindfulness to discover what you can learn from each situation - are you making unrealistic demands on life or are you accepting the inevitable imperfection?

6. Observe the comings and goings of your own body sensations, emotions and thoughts to cultivate the self-awareness that helps you grow.

7. Avoid creating grievances to fit your passing emotional states.

8. Be aware of any tension building up throughout the day and consciously release it.

9. Notice your surroundings.

10. Remember that mindful living provides you with energy, calmness and the potential for insights.

11. Realise that you have the power to choose your emotional responses - stressed and irritated or spacious and accepting.

12. As you observe the details of the present moment, avoid rating them "good" or "bad", "pleasant" or "unpleasant".

13. Remember you can practise mindfulness no matter what you are doing.

14. Whenever you find the time, even if it's 1 minute, meditate.

15. Realise that the only moment you can work with is the present, so use it to create good karma for the future.

16. Expect and accept your failures to be mindful. Be patient with yourself.

What Would a Buddha Do?

In response to 'What would Buddha actually do in case, He was in my shoes? In case Buddha was in my shoes, He would look like a common person,totally "normal".One couldn't realize Him from the outside as being an Awakened One'.

One thing that springs to mind here is dependent origination. Beings or indeed things are not 'just like this', a particular way, fixed and objective, as it were. How beings appear to you would be dependent on many, many factors, and thus a Buddha (just like anyone else) would appear to each person in a unique way, dependent on all the operating conditions.

In a sense, the way that they would appear to you would be dependent on your own realisation. Thus you would see the Buddha in either his Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya or Dharmakaya aspects.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Devotion Ripens the Heart

I was just reflecting on how devotion really opens ones heart up to the blessings of the Buddhas and Gurus. I added some materials to my teachers website last night, and the words of Rinpoche's reflections and prayers really touched my heart deeply. Though I wasn't present at the celebration when he spoke the words, and only have some strange shapes on a computer monitor ... the words themselves ... the effect of those squiggles and shapes was quite profound. How moved I was, and how uplifted my heart!

It's amazing how deep your Guru's words go, when devotion prepares the ground. I wonder if those words had been spoken by another teacher whether they would have hit the mark in quite the same way? I'm reminded by how a thanka or rupa which you've meditated before takes on such a different character to one which I've only seen once or twice. As devotion flows in practice before the image or statue, so that representation seems to become the locus or focus of blessings, which flow into your heart and allow the flowering of such good qualities in ones mindstream.

Devotion has such profound effects. No wonder that Guru Devotion is the heart of the Kagyu path!

My Guru's profound words:

May the lights of wisdom always shine forth in the hearts and the minds of each and every one of you, fearless in the darkness of ignorance and courageously against the bitter cold winds of negative karma, obstacles, obscuration and the defilements of Samsara. May it always fill each and every one of your hearts with the warmth of boundless compassion and the bliss of infinite wisdom of The Completely Enlightened Ones!

May all be auspicious!

Shangpa Rinpoche

Friday, September 24, 2004

Reflections on Tilopa - Mahamudra Pith Instructions

Mahamudra meditation instruction is often presented in terms of two-fold advice - the common, and the uncommon. These could be said to be the general and the detailed or specific instructions.

The common or general instructions seem intended to be the base or background upon which all the uncommon or detailed instructions build. For me personally, it seems that I rarely need anything beyond the common .... whose teachings are:

Do not seek to prolong the past.
Do not seek to grasp the future.
Rest evenly in cognitive lucidity, free from conceptualisation.

TilopaThat seems to be all I need. Any time I recollect this, in or out of formal practice, it brings the view and method into focus, and provides the means into which to relax, and let go.

'Do not seek to prolong the past' ..... don't get caught up in thoughts of the past. Once it's gone, let it go.

'Do not seek to grasp the future' ... similarly, don't get caught up in thinking about the future. It may or may not come to pass. If it does, fine, then deal with it when it does. If it doesn't, then also fine.

In both cases, thinking of the past or the future, these thoughts can be let go of - not pushed away or rejected, or even judged or analysed, but just let go of, naturally to return to from whence they came.

'Rest evenly in cognitive lucidity ....' .... resting ... relaxing the mind, with appropriate effort, neither too slack and loose, nor too tight and taut ... resting, relaxing in awareness, cognitive lucidity, the awareness which knows directly that which appears to arise ..... The natural state is one of relaxation, and meditation is the allowing of that state to unfold and enfold.

'..... free from conceptualisation' .... resting evenly in awareness of the present moment, without thinking of the present moment, of what appears to arise, of what you are doing, meditating, or not, without any conceptual elaboration .... without unnecessary thought ...

just resting the mind in its own nature .. letting go into awareness ... awareness of the present moment, without conceptual elaboration .....

This is just what I need, at any moment ..... the long and the short of meditation .... the common Mahamudra instructions entirely suffice .....

the pith instructions of the Realised Ones .....

How can we ever repay their kindness and blessings ...... ?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Difficult To Differentiate ...

How difficult indeed it seems to be to differentiate between fearlessly expressing one's point of view, and indulging in pride, ill-will and ignorance. How easy it seems to be in retrospect (often a retrospect of many years) to see how thoroughly imbued with 'concerns of the self', (actions designed to support my illusory sense of self), were my past actions. And how very much harder that is to see in the present moment.

May I (and all beings) develop the wisdom to see through ego's little games, and allow the full flowering of compassion to shine forth, for the benefit of all beings!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Image - Shangpa Rinpoche, Releasing Lives

A wonderful image of my teacher, Shangpa Rinpoche, taken on his 45th Birthday. A week of Dharma events centering around the practice of Manjushri has just been held at the Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre, Singapore, to co-incide with Rinpoche's birthday. This photo was taken on the morning of his birthday, where Rinpoche, lamas and devotees were releasing many animals to the wild, and dedicating the merit to the Enlightenment of all sentient beings.

May I obtain the supreme realisation of Mahamudra, and support all beings in attaining the same realisation!

More details can be found at:
Shangpa Rinpoche Online website

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dakinis of Co-Incidence

The more you practice, the more it happens.

Things in the 'outside' world start reflecting your inner world. Auspicious Co-Incidence. Dependent Origination.

Sitting meditating yesterday, eyes half open, facing out the window. In my meditation, Dakinis swirling like a snow storm, a whirlwind of Enlightened energy. Right then, at that point, outside the window, a sudden whirl of wind, whipping the autumn leaves and rubbish round in circles, picking them up in swirls of energy.

Blessings flood my mind, of connections, support, refuge, pure beings who watch and guide, who lend their delicate helpfulness wherever beings are open and receptive to their compassion and insight.

How often the 'inner' and 'outer' mirror each other. Things pop up outside, right after remembering them. The weather suddenly matches the mind. People, things, places, all seemingly arranged to match your inner thoughts, your inner occurances.

The how and why, I've no idea. It just keeps on happening, in happy symmetry. Synchronicity. Buddha Heart.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Machig Labdron - That is Buddhahood

Machig Labdron
"Ah, fortunate sons and disciples gathered here,
This body of ours is impermanent like a feather on a high mountain pass,
This mind of ours is empty and clear like the depth of space.
Relax in that natural state, free of fabrication.
When mind is without any support, that is Mahamudra.
Becoming familiar with this, blend your mind with it --
That is Buddhahood."

~ Machig Labdron

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Butterfly's Dreaming

I was reflecting that the sense of inseperability in my deity practice has recently taken on a new dimension. The quality of not being sure whether I was generating the deity and identifying with her (Machig Labdron), or she was generating me and identifying with me has been so strong.

It seems so much more expansive and powerful to have this sense of the deity meditating with me, or even through me, rather than poor little me, with all my adventitious defilements, aspiring to be this vast flowering of wisdom and compassion incarnate.

Of course, I exagerate for effect ... I don't really sit there feeling so 'spiritually impoverished', but just wished to convey the sense of how transformative the sense of identification can be. Once you take it on, it seems to melt away at rigid ideas of who is what and what is who. The deity, and yourself ... well, they are not seperate, they are not at all distinct, and even at a basic level, at times it feels like something much larger than you is flowing through you .. as I say, I am being meditated, rather than me meditating.

So meditating on/with/by Machig Labdron, I'm reminded of one of the Taoist Chuang Tze's famous poems, about the man who dreams he is a Butterfly .... though talking directly of dreaming, this teaching so beautifully reflects the dissolution of any sense of seperation in deity practice, resonates with the dreamlike nature of all experience, and speaks of the centre-less, groundless nature of things :

One day about sunset, Zhuangzi dozed off and dreamed that he turned into a butterfly.

He flapped his wings and sure enough he was a butterfly...

What a joyful feeling as he fluttered about, he completely forgot that he was Zhuangzi.

Soon though, he realized that that proud butterfly was really Zhuangzi who dreamed he was a butterfly, or was it a butterfly who dreamed he was Zhuangzi!

Maybe Zhuangzi was the butterfly, and maybe the butterfly was Zhungzi?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Ocean and Waves of Mind

Response to a question on a List : "How do you access your mind. Thoughts are like waves and the mind is like the ocean. How do you access the ocean?"

Looking at your question, it seems to me to fall into three parts:

- How do you access your mind?

- Thoughts are like waves and the mind is like the ocean - which is a mahamudra teaching.

- How do you access the ocean?

So how do you access your mind? As a previous respondant mentioned, there are many practices you can take up which will help you to become aware of your mind. Anything which encourages that, whether formal like yoga or meditation, or informal like just relaxing in a bath without doing anything will have something of this effect. If our usual tendancy is to be caught up in what seems like the outside world, the various spiritual practices tend to specifically point you toward awareness of the mind.

In a sense, the answer is not difficult. Your mind is there all the time, and you only have to stop being caught up in the affairs of the world for a moment, and awareness of your mind is right there. The mind is directly accessible, at any moment. But of course for many of us the distractedness and attraction of 'out there' is very great. So any practice which encourages the turning of the attention 'within' will gradually encourage awareness of the mind, and gradually make that easier to attain and maintain.

"Thoughts are like waves and the mind is like the ocean" - this teaching have many levels, but directly relevant to your first and second questions, once you have begun to 'access' your mind, to become aware of it, rather than the 'outside world's affairs', then you will notice a number of things about the mind. One aspect which may become apparent is that there is an endless array of thoughts which arise in mind. They are about past, present, and future, about ourselves and the 'outside world' and they seem to be endless. Also, we may begin to reflect about where they come from and where they go to.

In the teaching, it is said that mind itself is like an ocean, and the thoughts are the waves on the ocean. That metaphor points to a number of things. One is that the thoughts are not different in nature to the mind itself - waves are of the same 'stuff' as the ocean. So, thoughts have the same nature as the mind. As we look deeper, we may see that thoughts are empty - they are elusive and ungraspable - as we turn awareness on them, they just melt into insubstantiality before that awareness. And yet, they appear to arise. And so all that arises in mind has this nature, of being empty, yet appearing to arise.

When we look at what mind itself is, that which the thoughts arise out of, we also find that it is empty, it is elusive, that there is nothing for us to grasp onto. But, there seems to be awareness, luminosity, a sense of being able to know, or experience. So again, it's empty, yet seems to appear.

So the metaphor points to the thoughts and mind being of the same nature, (amongst other things).

How do you access the ocean? Your final question suggests a desire to become aware of mind itself, rather than the thoughts that appear in mind. What is mind itself? That is something which needs establishing though practice, rather than something described and believed in. Yet, we can perhaps usefully say that in one way, our practice is simply to be aware of our mind in general. That is, of our thoughts, of whatever is there when thoughts have stops - however mind is, then just be aware of it. There is no need to judge thoughts as bad, and only want to have a mind without thoughts, and to just access that still mind, but just keep bringing awareness to mind, however it is. And with that awareness, see how mind is? So not thinking about it, but just seeing - is it like this, like this, how is it? And then knowledge of mind and it's thoughts, the ocean and the waves will arise.

One final point worth mentioning. This accessing or awareness is taught as a two stage process. First, one must cultivate stillness, or shamatha, as without stillness of mind, one will not see very much, or gain realisation, or liberation. Then, on the basis of that stillness, and clarity, one is able to look deeply into minds nature, and realisations can then arise, and liberation becomes possible.

So many of the practices of Dharma help develop this stillness without which no progress is possible, and many others are then useful to look deeply into the nature of mind, and lead to liberation. Both are needed, and neither is more important than the other.

I hope this might be of help. I've developed your short question in a way which makes sense to me, but am not sure if that is the direction your required?

best wishes in the Dharma,

Monday, September 06, 2004

Famine and Terrorism

Just some thoughts in response to an email to a Buddhist list asking why it is that we discuss the latest terrorist act so energetically, yet don't seem to pay any attention to such things as starvation in Africa, for example. The mailer pointed out that one child dies of starvation there every 5 seconds.

Hi ****, thank you for your provocative post. One aspect of it was related to something I was considering over the weekend with my family. We'd decided to set up direct debit to make a regular contribution to a charity, and were discussing which one to support. And it was so apparent during that discussion that there were seemingly endless causes which were worthy of our attention, and how difficult it was to pick one. There's obviously no possible way to find the 'best' ... and everyone had their own preference, their own inclination, presumably based on karmic connection.

In response to your email .... and why starvation isn't mentioned ... one thing that struck me is that one of the great difficulties with many of the great issues of suffering in the world is that they may not generate great 'events' ... but be long, continuous processes of great suffering. Issues related to famine and starvation are so drawn out and long term in so many countries that they seldom make it into the news, unless there is a sudden dramatic shift. It's as if something has to happen in a very condensed time frame for it to be newsworthy enough to hit the headlines. And famine/starvation seem to very rarely make the grade in that sense. Terrorist acts, on the other hand, are dramatic, and sudden, and obviously hit the news and awareness in that way.

On the other hand, one might suggest that certain problems in the world would tend to belong to 'others' .... in that they are highly unlikely to affect oneself in a very direct way ... whereas other problems could happen anywhere, anytime. Terrorism, for example, can obviously happen anywhere, in any country. So perhaps there is some possible self-interest here, both in terms of what gets covered in the media, and in our own awareness/interests.

Perhaps the two factors work together, so that the 'non-event' compounds the 'it's over there' aspect, so we tend to focus on one rather than the other?

Another line of thought might be that although both problems, famine and terrorism, are clearly unnecessary ... they don't have to take place, with terrorism the feeling that this is crazy seems to come to mind much more readily. Is it because of the sense that religion of all things is a crazy justification for violence that jars us so much?

Is it a sense that famine seems so unsolvable, in the short or long term, whereas there is obviously something going on aimed at stopping terrorism (i.e. the 'war on terror'), whatever our misgivings on it might be, so at least we feel that this one is solvable or do-able?

I really have no idea, but hope that these thoughts may help myself (and perhaps others) find some way to help contribute to changing both these great issues (and all other causes of sufferings to beings).

best wishes in the Dharma,

Friday, September 03, 2004

Image - Siddhi Naropa


I'm currently studying 'Songs of Naropa', a translation and commentary on two Mahamudra songs of Naropa by Thrangu Rinpoche. The book is wonderful, full of Thrangu Rinpoche's usual systematic and insightful reflections. The Two Doha's or spiritual songs in the book are new to me, the first time I've encountered them. Both are short, and suitable for learning by heart as complete guides to the Mahamudra path. How fortunate indeed to be able to encounter such teachings, to have guides on the way, and to be able to make sense of and utilise such instruction!

"The basic nature is in itself the state of realization of all buddhas. To fully awaken to this natural state, it is not necessary to go to some other place to reach enlightenment. The state of enlightenment is not extrinsic to ourselves. Buddhahood is not something that will appear suddenly in the future, but exists inherently within ourselves right now."

Above is one of my favourite image of Naropa - so beautiful. His life story is full of his incredible trials at the hands of his guru, Tilopa. This image conveys so much of Naropa's kindness and compassion.

The Winds Keep On Blowing

The Eight Worldly Winds keep on blowing .....

One moment I am sitting at work, having just heard the news that Anwar, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia had just had his conviction overturned and had been freed from jail. (He'd been sent to jail in one of the most dubious and obviously politically motivated trails I've ever come across). How wonderful. How happy must his family be, how happy he must now be, having lost six years of his children's lives, missing them grow up.

15 minutes later, my colleague at work gets the sack, and I didn't even get the chance to say 'goodbye'. How must he feel, out of work, losing his job out of the blue?

Joy and Pain, two of the winds, blowing through .... always changing, transient, impermanent, blowing through .....

what changes, what remains?