Purelands Meditation Retreat Day 8 - October 2013
This is our last session, and I think that when you go home you should try and establish a regular practice that has both shinay and tonglen. In a sense all meditation has shinay. When we say shinay most people think of breathing but actually the shinay aspect of meditation is part of any practice that you do, you focus one pointedly, let thoughts come and go and focus on the technique. But I think you would do well to do something similar to what we have been doing here, half shinay, and half tonglen, meditating on shinay and tonglen regularly at home. If you have the compassion aspect as part of your training along with the shinay that is a very good practice, rather than only watching the breath, only doing shinay. You should try and incorporate training in compassion.
Try and find the best time of day for you, morning or evening, when you are undisturbed. Or both morning and evening is even better! You should try and motivate yourselves to continue practising when you go away from here. Here you have a whole week of full-on meditation and then you go home and do nothing. That’s not really so helpful, maybe it is helpful but it is two steps forward and one big step back. So ask yourselves how you can best continue what you have learned, the discipline that you have had during this week because you have all been doing really well. You have all done the sessions, you have practised, you have made an effort, you may not have had perfect presence of mind all the time, I haven’t had myself, that I can say for sure, but still all that you are doing helps. Normally they say early morning is a good time for meditation, and the end of the day is a good time for meditation, dawn and dusk in the texts. It doesn’t have to be exactly dawn or exactly dusk but it means that at the beginning of the day before you start all your activities, start with that foundation of a meditation session.
For example I would recommend that you all do the 9 blowings in the morning, then sit for a moment and make a strong commitment for the day, do some practice, half an hour or you can do longer. If you can do half an hour regularly every morning, that is a very good start. Then during the day you should keep remembering to be present. Every few hours remind yourself of compassion, patience and all the qualities that you need in your daily activities. If you can sit for another half hour at the end of the day, that would be ideal. Then at least you will have done an hour a day. If you think about it,that is not really very long: 23 hours of busyness and one hour dedicated to meditation. You are not taking a huge chunk out of your day, so we should not think of it as impossible.
If you think of how much time you spend on other things, like watching TV, reading, drinking a cup of tea, all these things really add up. Maybe you should do a little exercise and count how much time you spend just relaxing and having tea? Do that for a few days: look at your watch and really measure the time and you will be surprised to see how much time we spend on neutral time. Now all that time could become positive time, time used for beneficial things. It doesn’t mean that only meditation is beneficial, but you could consciously make a change in the way that you spend your time by dedicating more time to positive activity, and more time to meditation. At the end of the day, not right at the end when you are so tired that when you sit down you just fall asleep but when you still have some energy and clarity of mind, you sit and look back on the day. At the beginning of the day you made a commitment, a motivation and a determination to do well in terms of mindfulness, focus, kindness and all the rest, and now at the end of the day you look back and check to see how you did. Ask yourself, how did I manage? Did I do ok? Did I remember to remember? Did I remember to be mindful, did I remember every 2 hours to remind myself? Now, if your boss told you every 2 hours you need to check the clock and sit for one minute and do nothing, you would probably do it. But do you remember when you tell yourself? So that is the kind of thing that is really important because it will make a big difference. Look back at the end of the day and say how did I do? Did I manage? Did I remember? Did I forget? Did I lose my temper? What happened? And if something did not go quite right then think, I’m going to try even better tomorrow.
By looking back you are reminding yourself, not just going on automatic pilot, thinking that you will just naturally go into a groove of meditation, mindfulness and loving kindness. It just doesn’t happen somehow. Our old habits are strong so we need to put it at the top of the agenda. We need to have it very clearly in our line of focus. If we have it on the sideline we are going to forget. And of course the problem is that things happen very quickly these days, many people are demanding your time and your attention, but I am sure that if you make that a priority it is possible. Like I say, if you were told to do that or else you would lose your job, you can never come to Purelands again, you will be banned from Samye Ling if you don’t remember, then you would remember! I am trying to tell you that we can remember if we really put our mind to it, if there is a sense of urgency we will remember. The problem is that we don’t have that sense of urgency. That is why kind parents threaten their children because then they do their homework or whatever. There is that little bit of pushing, that little bit of toughness that means that then we get things done. If that is what we have to do with ourselves, then any way that you feel that you can make yourself remember, use that. You have to be skilful and creative, start flogging yourselves! Whatever works, but maybe there are some limits!
I’m telling you it is really important. I keep saying to people that our biggest problem is forgetting. It’s not for lack of wanting. In a sense there is a lack of wanting but in the back of our mind we all want to progress, to tame our mind. We all want inner peace, to be patient, to be free from anger, to be kind and good people. Why do we forget? Why is that urgency not there? You need to think about the four ordinary foundations, the four thoughts that turn the mind to the dharma. And that goes for beginners and people who have been around for a long time, the same. We should all remember these 4 thoughts every day. If we really absorbed the immediacy of our life then we would remember, we would. That is actually the stick over our head. Impermanence is there. Impermanence can be a good thing as well but we have to remember impermanence so that we don’t waste our time, because we are aware that we may not have much time left. It comes down to that. And it doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, whether you are middle aged or any age whatsoever, no young person has a guarantee to live till they are old. When we really think of impermanence, what makes us so sure that we have all this time in the world and can put things off? That we can just forget and be blasé about the practise? I think that is why we forget, why we don’t remember, why we don’t have this urgency.
Here at Samye Ling we have seen people who know that they actually do have a very short time left to live, and I think you must yourselves have had friends or family who have been in that situation or as a health care practitioner you would have seen many times people who know they are going to die. I don’t know what happens to people who are not dharma practitioners, I don’t have so much experience of that, but if that happens to a practitioner, it pulls you right together as a practitioner. You live life to the full which is what we should be doing every day. We should really be making the most of it because we just don’t know if we will be here long. I keep thinking eventually I am going to get run over by the traffic in London because every time I cross the street it is just madness! We just don’t know how and when it is going to happen so we need to think about these four ordinary foundations. You should all consider them. It doesn’t matter whether you are Buddhist, whether you are old or young. Think about how fortunate you are, how amazingly lucky we are. Think about how we don’t know how long we are going to have all the things that are precious to us, we have no idea when we are going to lose them. We have no idea about our health, our friends, our wealth, our opportunities, dharma opportunities, our intelligence, our mind. We could have a stroke, we could still be alive but unable to practice anything.
Impermanence. Cause and Effect. Think about how much we can do. I would recommend that you do this summing up of your day, make a time schedule of your day and fill it in to see what you are really doing, how you spend your day. Make a schedule and see what you do. Was it positive activity, negative activity, neutral activity? Don’t only count your cups of tea and your newspaper and TV, include everything. We are looking at cause and effect. Was it something beneficial? Was it something worthwhile? Was it neutral, was it negative? A lot will depend on your motivation, because you can make somebody a cup of tea and that becomes a positive act, whereas just sitting around with a cup of tea and a newspaper is neutral. Or it could even be negative if you get really angry at the paper.
It is about our motivation. When it says cause and effect it means that we recognise we can do a lot. We actually can make a difference in other people’s world. Making them a cup of tea we are making a difference. Maybe they were in a bad mood that day, maybe you changed their day completely. Maybe if you hadn’t given them that cup of tea they would have gone out and had an argument with some one else, that person would have got so upset they would have walked in front of a car. So you could have saved somebody’s life with that cup of tea! Who knows? There is this reverberation effect, like you throw a stone in the water and the ripples go out in all directions so whatever we do has an effect.
There is a Zen story, I can’t remember the exact story, about a young man who was on his way to see his Zen master and he rushed out and he was unmindful. I think he was on a scooter and he overtook unmindfully and there was an accident, a car had to swerve, went on the pavement, knocked over a person and so on and somebody got harmed. And he was totally unaware, just arrived at his Zen master’s feet and sat down for his teaching. The Zen master was aware of the whole thing and was saying, you are very unmindful, due to your unmindfulness all these things happened. We are unaware of the effect we have on others to a huge degree. Some teachings say that we should go into the world with a smile on our face and a friendly expression because that will have an effect on others. In Plum Village in France one of the practises is to smile. They ring the gong every so often and it says breathe three times and smile. Whether you feel like smiling or not you should smile. Train in smiling, it makes you feel better!
The point is that we make a difference. Every single one of us makes a difference, whether we think we are nobody or somebody, we make a difference. We want to make sure that we make a positive difference. And we should really believe that we can make a difference. Because we can see how everybody around us affects us. We are all affected by our environment. We are not beyond that, not yet. There will be a time when we can go beyond that, a time when we are not affected by anybody. Rinpoche was not affected by anybody. Whether people would shout at him or say nice words, he was like a mountain. We are not a mountain yet so we can recognise and understand that other people are very likely to be like us. They will be affected by how we act so we should try and actively do positive things. That is this whole idea of cause and effect. That is about recognising that we can make a difference and we should try even in the smallest things to make a difference. In a way there isn’t much more than all the smallest things. All our days are made up of small things, so if we continuously try to have this aim in mind of doing positive and giving up negative then we are really practising. Don’t think that your practise is just your half hour in the morning and half hour in the evening and that if you can’t sit for those times then you can’t practise. This practise is just as important. How can we think that it’s not important? How can we possibly think that soaking ourselves in peace and quiet for half an hour will make the whole difference for the rest of the day? That we can just lose all our habits, our tendencies, our thoughts, our reactions because we meditated in the morning and we will meditate when we get home? That’s not good enough. We need to apply it in all of our daily activities. It’s essential. If you don’t, maybe that’s why you can’t practice because you haven’t brought a sense of mindfulness into everyday life. So, cause and effect.
And the fourth thought (the viciousness of samsara) is about the general pain, frustration and dissatisfaction that is part of life. We continuously look and hope and believe that if we just can put all the puzzles right, that if we can just get that piece in right then perfection is there. There is the hope in the back of our minds that there is a possibility of perfection. But we are building a house of cards, thinking that if only I can get the top on then I’ve made it. The house of cards is built upon impermanence and it’s going to start shaking and it’s all going to collapse. When you study Buddhism you recognise that there is no possibility of true happiness in samsara. Perfection does not exist in samsara. We are looking for perfection out there, but the only way we can find it is by changing our mind. There are moments that are perfect, but just like a flower that is perfect, it blooms and it is just so beautiful and then it is gone. Nothing lasts. We have moments where things are going well, but there isn’t that lasting happiness there. So we need to work on our mind.
We need to really try and absorb these four thoughts. It’s not like we are trying to brain wash ourselves. These are facts of life that we need to observe. It’s not even Buddhist, it’s not religion, it’s facts of life. Look at that in your own life in a very personal way and observe it and then you will really get your priorities right. It will help you to set a good goal. It will help you to work towards that good goal and put effort into a positive goal rather than thinking that year went and that year went and you look back and you think what actually did I achieve? How did I spend my life? We don’t want to end up at the end of our life, looking back and wishing we had done things very differently. That’s quite sad, because then we don’t have any more time. We have no more choice. We don’t want to look back and say, if only I had different priorities, if only I had done things differently. Of course we make mistakes and we may have some regrets but then we can always make up for that. We don’t want to have total regret, especially not if you know you could have done things differently. If we are aware that we could be doing things differently then we need to wake ourselves up. Think very strongly about these four thoughts. Mull it over. You don’t have to be on a meditation cushion to think about it. You can be on the tube on the way to work. You can be on the bus. You can be walking. You can be sitting, lying down, standing still, thinking wherever you are. Don’t think meditation is just sitting cross legged on the cushion. That is formal meditation but your training is your mind, and your mind is with you 24 hours of the day. You don’t leave your mind on the cushion when you go, you take it with you. So that is what you are training, that mind that says me, I’m happy; me, I’m suffering; me, I’m disappointed; me, I feel sad; I feel this, I feel that. That is what we are training, this part of ourselves that is there with us all the time.
In terms of practice and in terms of training, doing things for others and doing positive things, is based on loving kindness and compassion. This is what a lot of the teachings are about, focusing on this loving kindness and compassion, wanting others to be happy, being mindful of repaying others’ kindness. We have being doing tonglen where the traditional focus for loving kindness is our mother. The mother is used as an example due to all the hardship of carrying the child and giving birth, there is a very physical connection. Although the mother is used traditionally as a focus for loving kindness meditation and compassion but it doesn’t have to be, it can be anybody that you have great gratitude towards, anybody who has been very kind to you. There is this basis of repaying kindness and when you develop loving kindness you automatically respond with kindness to kindness. Most people do that. When somebody is kind to us we want to be kind back. If somebody has been kind in the past we want to repay that kindness. Tibetans say that this is a very important part of their way of thinking. All of the Tibetans say well I hope I’m not going to die until I have repaid the kindness of so and so who was so kind to me when I was a child. I must first repay their kindness, I must really try my best. So we think of someone who has been very kind to us, traditionally using our mother. Often in the west people have difficult relations with their parents. Some teachers say it’s because we are not used to thinking of reincarnation and we tend to think that everything is based on us, and our childhood, time we spent in the womb, when we grew up, how we were treated as a child. We don’t think past that. We don’t think that it might be a result of our own past actions, karma, cause and effect. We don’t think that due to our actions in the past, in another life, our own actions, this is what is happening to me now. We don’t really take responsibility because many people don’t believe in rebirth and so we think it can only be the fault of our mother or father, or the environment or the school or all these people, whatever happened. And we take kindness from our parents as if it is something they owe to us. We take it for granted, we think parents should be kind and if they are not kind we have a lot of blame. It is very easy for us to blame.
But from the Buddhist point of view this is a big mistake. However we look at it, whether our parents were perfect or not they have at least given us a body and helped us learn to function in the world. There is lot to be grateful for once we analyse this rather than taking things for granted, rather than thinking that we have earned their kindness when in fact we haven’t done anything other than be a pain for our parents most of the time! When we grow up, when we are teenagers and we are very difficult, we give our parents lots of worry and difficulty. So we haven’t really earned their kindness in the first place but still our parents are there for us. For many westerners their relationship with their parents can be difficult because they take things for granted. They feel that they are owed things and they don’t take responsibility for what they are experiencing because there is no belief in cause and effect.
There is a nice little story about this relationship with our parents and how important it is that we look after them. Rinpoche would always talk about how sad it is in the west that we put our parents into an old age home, what a terrible thing to do to our parents to put them in a home. They cared for us, and these old aged homes are the saddest places in the world because people are depressed, surrounded by depressed and other lonely people, waiting for somebody to visit and they hardly ever come. So it’s like we are parking them there at the end, parking them there to wait for death. He always recommended to people, don’t put your parents in an old age home, look after your parents. You should look after your parents when they get old as much as you possibly can. Now it may not have been perfect in the old days when parents would live with their families, but we need to look after them in their old age when they are frail and need help, we need to repay their kindness. And so this story talks about a family: there is a grandfather, a young grandchild who gets on very well with his grandfather, and the middle generation, the parents, and they are all living together in Tibet somewhere. As the grandfather gets older he loses his senses. He becomes blind, he can’t hear very well, he can’t eat properly, dribbling, making a mess, as probably we all will do if we get to that age. The son was starting to find him a bit of a nuisance, a bit difficult, a bit of an embarrassment to have around. He started to think that he couldn’t take this anymore, and so he wove a big basket, and he took the grandfather in the basket and carried him all the way up in the hills and put him in a cave up in the hills, and from time to time he brought him some food. So the grandson started wondering, where is granddad? I miss him. Where is he? What has happened to him? And the father says don’t worry about him, he is ok. And eventually because the child kept nagging him about where his granddad was, the father replied that it had all become very difficult and he had taken him in a basket up to a cave. He’s ok, don’t worry about him. So the grandson says, well isn’t he cold? Is he ok up there? Where is the basket then, because I will need the basket for when you grow old and I will carry you up to the cave. Then the father realised that this was not right and he decided to look after the grandfather.
But this is it, isn’t it? We need to put ourselves in that situation. Is that how we want to be treated when we get old? Do we want to end up in an old age home sitting and mourning and longing, yearning for someone to visit? Feeling there is nothing left for us to do. It is a very sad situation. So kindness, compassion to our parents is important. We repay their kindness, maybe we do better than they did. If we think they didn’t do too well to us, then we should do better than they did. We should act how we think real kindness should be, how they should really be treated.
The benefits of loving kindness and compassion are great. If we can really be embodiments of loving kindness and compassion this means we will be happy. It means happiness for ourselves and happiness for others. Through our actions we make others happy. And we will be happy ourselves because we are giving up our own self concern. We are giving up all this thinking about me, me, me, because we are more concerned for others. In fact the measure of our development of loving kindness and compassion is: are we thinking of others more than ourselves? That’s how we know if we are on the right track, if we are progressing. The measure of the practice is: is others’ happiness more important to us than our own? That is the measure of our practice, of our progress in our practice.
Loving kindness is this wish for others to be happy and compassion is the wish for them to be free from suffering. We should try and be impartial in this. That is what we are aiming for, impartial loving kindness and impartial compassion. We can’t expect that from the start, we can’t expect to have limitless impartial all-pervading kindness. That is too much. We have to take it step by step. That is why in the tonglen practice you start with those close to you, and then you extend it to those that are a little more distant, those who are neutral and then in the end you include those you have difficulties with. There are bound to be some people you have difficulties with, or resentment, or they have difficulties with us, an awkward relationship. Or maybe people that were close to us in the past and then somehow it went wrong and now we’d rather not be around them. It happens often. Look at what happens very often in partnerships. You fall in love and you think this person is just wonderful. Milarepa talks in some of his dohas about how at first a lover is like an angel and then it turns into some kind of a demon or demoness, with a wooden spoon or a hammer. So at first we fall in love, we think that our whole world is in that person, that one person. Our whole world is what they are doing, what they are saying, how they smell, how they look, how they sound, what they eat, what they wear. We are absorbed by that person, or at least that is how it is when you are really young and fall in love. Everything is perfect about that person, it’s like an obsession. And then with time something changes, they are not quite perfect any more. We start to see things differently and gradually we start to dislike all the things that we thought were so beautiful in the beginning. Maybe in the end we can’t stand the way the person looks, the way they smell, the clothes they wear, what they say, the sound of their voice, everything becomes distasteful to us. They become an enemy because by then we’ve had loads of arguments, disagreements about money, about our children, about our possessions and our house, and whatever. And they become an enemy. So it makes no sense to say close friends and enemies or at least not in the long term. We should try and have less intense attachment and aversion by recognising how people come and go in our lives. People come and go and it is important that we treat all of them with some kindness and respect, whatever we can manage, because our enemy becomes our friend and our friend becomes our enemy. Someone will be our parent in the future or was our parent in the past, our child, our husband, our wife. There is this interconnection between everybody, due to impermanence. Due to impermanence it’s constantly changing. We have certain people in our lives that are close to us at times and we should honour that. It’s not that we shouldn’t honour it, we should act accordingly but we should not have this intensity of attachment and aversion. Contemplating these things will lessen our attachment and aversion. It will mean that we will better accept this temporary aspect of life, so that things are less of a big deal, there is less intensity of suffering when things fall apart or don’t go how we expect.
When we practice loving kindness and compassion we try to develop impartiality and recognition that all beings share the same basic wish for happiness, and that we are not all that different. We all have this connection, not just humans but all beings, animals, all beings who have a mind. We should try to remember and train in that: in our thinking, in our meditation practice, and in our daily actions. For those of you who are familiar with the six realms, it is said that when you do tonglen you imagine someone in front of you, someone like your mother, and you imagine them in the lower realms. We talk about the three lower realms and the three higher realms. You imagine them going through those experiences of being in a hell realm, the hungry ghost realm or the animal realm. Going through the particular sufferings described in those realms of experience and imagining how would you feel if your mother was going through all of this? If you think that you don’t have a real feeling of compassion then you imagine your mother as being in the animal realm, for we are all familiar with the animal realm. Imagine if your mother became dumb, dumb like animals who have a limited ability to communicate. Imagine if your mother became dumb, she couldn’t speak, and lacked the clarity of mind to communicate. A lot of animals are used by humans as slaves, held in concentration camps to produce meat and eggs, mass farming that is completely cruel to the animals. All because of greed, human beings wanting to fulfil our own desires. In some countries animals are overloaded, they have to work so hard. So we imagine what if that happened to our mother? We can think of her in human form under those conditions because in the human realm some people live like that. Or we can think in terms of rebirth of her actually in animal form. You wouldn’t want that to happen to anyone close to you, so automatically compassion arises by thinking of that person dear to you in that great suffering. You could imagine your mother in a war, or famine, or caught up in a natural disaster. We know that these things happen all around the world. Automatically we feel compassion, and then you do taking and sending for them and all others who suffer like that. It’s not that difficult to imagine a situation that you think would be unbearable, and then to think of your friend or sister or brother, your mother, father, teacher or anyone else who you really care about in that situation. It would be unbearable. So that is how you can train, this is actually recommended as part of the training in tonglen. First you think of the situation and then you do tonglen, and you really feel that compassion.
Again, the measure of your training and practice in compassion is if you genuinely feel a strong wish to protect others from suffering, if you genuinely care, you genuinely wish to help others to be free from suffering, to help them be happy. Loving kindness and compassion are the key qualities that we should try and develop. It is said that they encompass all the other qualities that are described and arise through practise. If you can train in loving kindness and compassion this is the heart of the practice. And the benefits are very great. An immediate cause and effect is that if you are kind and compassionate, others will be kind and loving towards you. You will have many friends, people who want things to go well for you because you have been kind to them and they have directly felt your kindness. Others will wish to help and protect you if you are in difficulty or danger. If you have some obstacles you will have friends who will support and help you. It also says that one of the immediate benefits is that you will be happy and mentally at ease if there is this strong kindness and compassion because generally when we have a lot of anguish and uptightness it is because we think too much about ourselves. So our mind will be at ease, our body will be at ease. Our body and mind are interrelated so we will have more physical ease. It doesn’t mean necessarily that we won’t have sickness but we will have some sense of ease. And it also says in the texts that it will be easy for us to succeed in whatever we try to accomplish, we won’t have to put in so much effort because things will be smooth, our life will be smooth. If we have this genuine loving kindness and compassion it’s like everything is smooth. Everything we do is made much easier. So there are lots of reasons to focus on all these things. Your immediate family will benefit, your friends will benefit, those you inter-relate with regularly will benefit. By working on yourself, training like this, thinking like this, acting like this, you benefit yourself but also the world. That is what you should try to do in all your practice from now on. This is our last session and we will stop there and do a short meditation.