Overcoming laziness

I Could Go Faster Funny Lazy Dog MemeToday is *. Seriously, wow. Actually, that sounds quite appealing… but not really a very good idea. Coincidently, I was just listening to a teaching on effort this morning, so I’m feeling inspired to reduce the global laziness quota a bit with this post.

Effort, the opposite of laziness, is a mind that delights in virtue. So you can be very busy, but still be being lazy in a spiritual sense. Alternatively (and I like this part!), we can be sitting with our feet up and be applying effort – if we are, for example, rejoicing in others’ good qualities. Like with any Dharma practice, it’s all about our mind, not our physical actions.

‘Effort’ sounds heavy, but by its very definition, it is a light mind. You know what it feels like to be delighted: imagine feeling the same delight at the idea of meditating as you feel about going on holiday. If we train to overcome our laziness, we could be filled with that delight all the time!

So, what makes us lazy with regards to our spiritual practice? Well, first of all, we procrastinate, thinking we’ll put it off until later. This is a bad habit that most of us have with our ordinary daily activities, and we carry it across into our spiritual practice. And we know how it makes us feel: like we are carrying a burden of unfinished business, weighed down by worry. I find it also makes me easily bored: I try to distract myself from all the things I know I should be doing, but can’t really settle to anything else because they are nagging at me. Sound familiar? The solution is to meditate on death. I know that may not have an immediate appeal, but remember that it will cut through all the anxiety caused by procrastination. Recognising that we may not have much time left in this world helps us to prioritise and clear away all the excuses; it makes us very clear and focused. (You can find more on this point here)

Image result for lazyAnother way laziness manifests is in an attraction to meaningless things. In The Bodhisattva Vow, Geshe-la says:

Most of us are very familiar with the second type of laziness. We give in to it whenever we watch television for hours on end without caring what comes on, when we indulge in prolonged conversations with no purpose, or when we become engrossed in sports or business ventures for their own sake. Activities such as these dissipate the energy we have for practising Dharma. Though they may seem pleasant, they deceive us – wasting our precious human life and destroying our opportunity to attain real and lasting happiness.

So, what, I’m not allowed to watch TV anymore? I never said that: of course, we need to rest and relax, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves… but we do need to honestly ask ourselves whether what we’re doing is actually relaxing or deeply enjoyable. I think the reason this sort of attachment is called a laziness is because what we’re really doing is avoiding our spiritual practice. You know that feeling where you’re not really enjoying watching Antiques Roadshow, but you just can’t quite be bothered to go and do something meaningful instead? If we cut through this laziness we’d actually enjoy ourselves more, because we’d be able to feel fulfilled and contented with our lives. So don’t tell yourselves off about all the time-wasting garbage (ahem, facebook…!); tell yourself how much more rewarding a meaningful life can feel.

The third type of laziness is discouragement. Interesting, isn’t it, that discouragement is a form of laziness? But it does make us feel disinclined to practice virtue, strips us of delight in our practice. Why? Because we don’t have confidence that our practice will bring us results. Bodhisattva Maitreya gave some beautiful reasons to help us overcome discouragement: we have Buddha nature, we can receive Buddha’s blessings, and we have met the Dharma. That really is everything we need to attain all our spiritual goals. It will take time, that’s all – time and effort.

Some people begin their practice with great enthusiasm and then give up when great results do not appear, like a waterfall caused by a sudden storm cascading furiously for a short time and then trickling away to nothing. Our effort should not be like this. At the very beginning of our practice, we should make a firm decision that we shall persevere until we attain Buddhahood no matter how long it takes, even if it takes many lives. Then we should practise gently and constantly, like a great river that flows day and night, year after year.

 

* Well, yesterday now, because I procrastinated about writing this for too long!

Do you have a dirty mind?

While I was busy doing someone else’s washing up (ah, the joys of communal living), I gave a bit of thought to how the state of my mind was creating my world. I constantly perceive a dirty kitchen, but where does that dirt come from?

Because our world, our self, our enjoyments and our activities are the nature of our mind, when our mind is impure they are impure, and when our mind becomes pure through purification practice they become pure. When we completely purify our mind through Tantric practice, our world, our self, our enjoyments and our activities also become completely pure – this is the state of enlightenment. Attaining enlightenment is therefore very simple; all we need to do is apply effort to purifying our mind.

We know that when our mind is impure because we are feeling angry with our friend, we see him as bad; but when our mind is pure because we are feeling affectionate love for the same friend, we see him as good. Therefore, it is because of changing our own mind from pure to impure or from impure to pure that for us our friend changes from good to bad or from bad to good. This indicates that everything that is good, bad or neutral for us is a projection of our mind and has no existence outside our mind.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom – Volume 2 Tantra 

Interesting… my dirty kitchen is a manifestation of my dirty mind. This is actually wonderful news because it means that at some point this pile of washing up will end. I mean end permanently and not magically reappear overnight. It is incredible to think that just through the power of purifying our mind, our whole experience can change. If you don’t know the story of Lam Chung, look it up in Joyful Path of Good Fortune – it’s so inspiring. At the end, after years of cleaning the temple, Lam Chung realises that all the dirt is just coming from his mind, and attains a direct realisation of emptiness without needing to do any study or meditation!

Image result for kadampa vajrasattvaOn one level, all the spiritual practice we do is a purification: as the quote above tells us, every time we change our view from anger to love, for example, our mind becomes purer. But we can also engage in specific purification practices to speed up the process and make it easier to change our minds. The practices of Vajrasattva or the 35 Confession Buddhas are designed especially to help us purify negative karma – even if we just give ten minutes a day to one of these practices, it will have a very powerful impact.

When I have cleaned the kitchen, for some strange reason I expect it to stay clean. I’ve done that job once, and now it’s sorted forever. As if! And it’s the same with our minds: we can’t just purify once and thank ‘job done.’ We need to keep scrubbing until all the ingrained dirt has been removed. We will know we have finished purifying when we no longer experience any mental or physical suffering. And the kitchen will look clean too because we will be living in a pure land.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon doing any washing-up until then – you can make cleaning into a purification practice too. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, it says:

While we are cleaning we should regard all the dust and dirt as the filth of our own non-virtuous actions and delusions, thinking `This is the dirt of my ignorance – I am removing it. These are the stains of my destructive deeds – I am eliminating them.’ If we have an especially strong emotional problem, such as strong desirous attachment, we can concentrate on it and clean vigorously, thinking `This is the grime of my attachment. I am extracting it from my mind.’ 

So, what about other kitchen-users who are always leaving me a mess to clear up – how do things appear to them? I tend to assume (with my grumpy mind) that they are being inconsiderate… but what if the dirt doesn’t appear to their minds? Some people really do seem oblivious: are they being lazy, or do they just have purer minds than I do? Maybe, from their point of view, there is nothing that needs cleaning at all. I’d better do a bit more cleaning to catch up.


Take this further: Purification Retreat

Sunny side up

Image result for optimismMy New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to be more optimistic. I’ve always been a bit wary of optimism before: isn’t it just burying your head in the sand or putting on a pair of rose-tinted glasses? Now I’m beginning to understand – real optimism isn’t pretending things are perfect, it’s having the confidence that you can make things better.

This means believing in your potential, knowing that you can change. One day you will be a Buddha, for goodness sake, what is there to be pessimistic about?

Every living being has the potential to become a Buddha, someone who has completely purified his or her mind of all faults and limitations and has brought all good qualities to perfection. Our mind is like a cloudy sky, in essence clear and pure but overcast by the clouds of delusions. Just as the thickest clouds eventually disperse, so too even the heaviest delusions can be removed from our mind. Delusions such as hatred, greed, and ignorance are not an intrinsic part of the mind. If we apply the appropriate methods they can be completely eliminated, and we shall experience the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.

~ Eight Steps to Happiness

That’s from the introduction to Eight Steps; right from the very beginning, Geshe-la has been telling us this incredible truth. If we just had faith in these words, there would be no basis to ever be discouraged. As Shantideva says:

Having mounted the steed of bodhichitta
That dispels mental discouragement and physical weariness,
The Bodhisattva travels the path from joy to joy.
Knowing this, who could ever be discouraged?

We need to make a habit of relating to our potential rather than our present limitations. We are not confined by the self we normally see; this is just an illusion. Stop listening when that self insists on being ordinary: tell ourselves ‘I can be something better instead.’

Most importantly, optimism is a choice. We can actively decide to have faith in a better outcome; we don’t have to wait for the world to provide us with something to be optimistic about. We already have ample cause to be encouraged: this precious human life, a supreme Spiritual Guide, our Buddha nature just waiting to be discovered.

Lamrim playlist

Related imageIf you’re someone who listens to music, this is a post about how you can transform that activity into a spiritual practice by listening out for Dharma teachings in the songs. Everything can teach us something – it’s all a matter of how we interpret it. If we want to, we can develop our own personal playlist of music that helps us to generate virtuous minds.

The first time I remember doing this was on the way to a branch class many years ago; I had taken precepts that morning – a strict moral discipline practice that we keep for a day, which includes not listening to music. But one of my students was giving me a lift to class, and she put the radio on really loud – I didn’t want to upset her or freak her out by asking her to turn it off (she was really new to Buddhism), so I thought ‘I absolutely have to transform this music into something meaningful!’ I still remember the song that was playing: I’m a believer by the Monkees. I’d always found it rather annoying, but I made a real effort and decided: ‘this song is about Green Tara, my favourite Buddha.’ And I developed loads of faith listening to the song; to this day, whenever I hear it I instinctively think of Tara.

I’m building up a playlist for the whole of Lamrim, the 21 meditations on the stages of the path to enlightenment. Of course, the way music affects us is very personal, so everyone needs to make their own selection, but I thought I’d share the teachings in some of my more obvious favourites.

My top tune for reminding me of death and impermanence is Pink Floyd’s Time:

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

Do you feel like you bounded off the starting line, or are you still standing in line at the coffee shop beside the track, not even aware that the race has begun without you? The race towards death started at the moment of our birth, and we do not get to pause for a breather even for a moment. I used to find this song a bit depressing (as though I was, indeed, just hanging on in quiet desperation); but now I find it motivates me to make the most of my life.

For another example, Bridge Over Troubled Water reminds me of bodhichitta. The lyric, ‘Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind,’ makes me remember that the way we are trying to help others through our spiritual practice goes beyond the mundane: we don’t just want to make their samsaric lives easier, we want to lead them to real peace of mind. Did Simon and Garfunkel intend this meaning when they wrote the song? Probably not; but it’s my freedom to choose to interpret it in that way, and that brings far greater results than listening with an ordinary mind.

What songs are on your lamrim playlist? Please share them in the comments and you might inspire someone else to start transforming music into positive minds!

Are we nearly there yet?

The sounds of childhood: ‘I’m booooored! Are we nearly there yet?’

The spiritual path is really all about repetition. We do the same meditations every day; in our culture that constantly chases new thrills, this is quite revolutionary. So how do we do this without getting bored?

In my experience, we only get bored with spiritual training when we don’t really get something: when it is intellectual, rather than experiential. I have been to many introductory talks about meditation, where I hear the same things I’ve heard hundreds of times before; but I don’t get bored with being told that happiness is a state of mind, I sit up and go ‘Yes, that’s so true!’ The words mean something to me because they’re backed up by my experience. So if we find ourselves becoming bored with a practice, it’s a sign that we don’t have a deep experience of it yet – in which case, we need to do it more, not follow our boredom away to something else!

Remember that boredom is a delusion, it’s tricking us: there isn’t really something else out there that is going to remove our dissatisfaction. Boredom is a subtle type of anger that will not be content with things as they are. If we recognize this then we can actually use it to help motivate us: our spiritual practice is not a cause of boredom, it’s the only way to stop being bored, because for as long as we have an ordinary deluded mind we will inevitably be dissatisfied by everything. So just sit with it, see how deceptive our dissatisfaction is, and keep on repeating our meditations for as long as it takes.

Take this further: Weekly meditation classes | A calm mind

Thanks to ArtificeBlade for the image.

Give & Take

I’ve often heard people say that love is about give and take, but I think that’s missing the point. Love is all about giving: it’s attachment that wants to take. If we want to get things right in our relationships with others, we first have to apply this to our relationship with ourself.

If we love ourselves, we want to give ourselves happiness; renunciation is a form of love, because we are wanting ourselves to possess the supreme happiness of liberation and working to give ourselves the opportunity to attain it. This is completely different from self-cherishing, which in my experience more closely resembles attachment: we want to take happiness for ourselves, even to the detriment of others.

Watch your mind to try to see this difference. I think you’ll find that when you are wishing to give yourself happiness, you are naturally more inclined to virtue because you want to create opportunities for inner peace. Contrast this to the feeling of wanting to take happiness: it’s like the world owes us this and we’re just waiting to receive it.

I often get asked ‘Isn’t it selfish to cherish others if we’re doing it because we know it will make us happy?’ No, it’s not selfish. When we cherish others, we are sharing in their happiness. All living beings deserve to be happy, and we are a living being. It is only selfish to grasp after our happiness whilst neglecting that of others. That’s why self-cherishing is a part of the ignorance of self-grasping: with both minds, we are grasping at a self divorced from others. We stop being part of ‘all living beings’ and become our own little island… and then when we think ‘may all living beings be happy’ we do not include ourselves and think that makes us more virtuous. Leaving ourselves out is self-cherishing. Geshe-la says in Eight Steps ‘when we abandon self-cherishing we do not loose our wish to be happy.’ It’s very important not to confuse the two, or it will undermine our ability to love others – we will remain unable to separate the give and the take.

 

Learn more: In-depth Study  |  The Art of Kindness day course

Quiet in there, I’m trying to concentrate!

Is this what you think retreat is about?

January is traditionally the time for retreat, so I thought we could take a look at what retreat is. In Heart Jewel, it says:

On retreat we stop all forms of business and extraneous activities so as to emphasize a particular spiritual practice. There are three kinds of retreat: physical, verbal, and mental. We engage in physical retreat when, with a spiritual motivation, we isolate ourself from other people, activities, and noise, and dis-engage from extraneous and meaningless actions. We engage in verbal retreat when, with a spiritual motivation, we refrain from meaningless talk and periodically keep silence. We engage in mental retreat by preventing distractions and strong delusions such as attachment, anger, jealousy, and strong self-grasping from arising, and by maintaining mindfulness and conscientiousness.

I think most people think of retreat as being about getting away from external things, taking a break from distracting activities; but it’s easy to forget about mental retreat, which is the most important. We can cut ourselves off from all contact with work, for example, but if we keep worrying about the things we have left undone then work will still interfere with our retreat. In my experience, retreat is mainly a state of mind. To quote from Heart Jewel again:

If we remain in physical and verbal retreat but fail to observe mental retreat, our retreat will have little power. Such a retreat may be relaxing, but, if we do not prevent strong delusions from arising, our mind will not be at peace, even on retreat. However, keeping physical and verbal retreat will help us to keep mental retreat.

Of course it’s useful to have some physical space, some time off from our usual commitments and responsibilities so that we have the time we need to engage in focused spiritual practice. And silence is very useful: it really helps us turn inwards and pay more attention to our mental chatter. But we should remember that these are just tools to help us keep control over our mind.

On retreat we talk about ‘boundaries.’ Setting boundaries means establishing restrictions for ourselves that will help our meditation be more successful. For example, we may set a verbal boundary of silence for part of the day, or a physical boundary of not using our phone or the internet. We also need to establish our own mental boundaries. We need to make a firm decision not to let our retreat be de-railed by delusions. For example, we can set ourselves the goal ‘I will not think about work’ or ‘during this meditation I will not allow myself to speculate about what’s for lunch!’ Having these boundaries are what lets our concentration develop. We may moan about noises that interfere with our meditation (those blooming sheep!), but let’s face it, most of the noise is in our own head. Even in a perfectly quiet environment, we will still have to deal with that mental noise. Our boundaries are like building walls around that still, quiet place inside our hearts.

This understanding of retreat is also quite encouraging if you can’t find the time to go away someplace and do lots of meditation: retreat is mainly about your mental attitude. Even if there is no opportunity for you to establish physical or verbal retreat boundaries right now, you can still have mental boundaries – walls in our mind to keep out distractions – and these will make your daily life a kind of retreat.

Retreats at Nagarjuna Centre: January Retreats | Relaxation Weekends | Heart Jewel Retreat

Who is Dorje Shugden?

We have an empowerment here in a couple of weeks, which is an opportunity to be introduced to the Buddha called Dorje Shugden.

Sometimes people can be a bit put off by his rather ferocious appearance, but he’s a big teddy bear really. When he looks at us, he’s always smiling; but when he looks at our delusions, he pulls a fearsome face and chops them up with his wisdom sword. He’s the sort of guy you really want on your side; and he is always on our side, he’s a freedom fighter fighting to free all living beings from the inner enemy of delusions.

Because Dorje Shugden helps us to battle our delusions and keep hold of our positive minds, we call him our Dharma Protector: he protects the Dharma experience in our hearts. If we ask for his help in difficult situations, he will bless our minds so that wisdom thoughts arise instead of delusions. In Heart Jewel, Geshe-la says:

Dorje Shugdän will bless our minds to help us transform difficult situations into the spiritual path, and he will open the wisdom eyes of his faithful followers, enabling them always to make the right decisions. Although physically they may find themselves alone, inwardly those who put their trust in him will never be apart from a powerful ally and a wise and compassionate guide.

Whenever I am having problems, I like to visualize Dorje Shugden bounding up to me on his snow lion (which symbolizes fearlessness – I’ll have some of that, thanks!). I remember when I was having driving lessons I was initially really nervous, so I started imagining Dorje Shugden sitting in the back seat, giving me a wink every time I glanced in the rear-view mirror, and he definitely helped me to keep a peaceful mind.

So, this is an introduction to my best friend. I hope you’ll come and meet him; I think you’ll get along famously.

More: Dorje Shugden Empowerment 12 – 13 December 2015

Six impossible things

Inspired by our Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, I decided to believe six ‘impossible’ things. There are many things I believe in now that would have seemed impossible to me before I discovered Buddha’s teachings, and still more things that it would be helpful to stretch my imagination around. For example, do you really believe it’s possible to be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions? Many people would say that’s an impossibility, and because of mistakenly holding onto that view they limit their own potential for happiness.

When Alice says ‘One can’t believe impossible things’, the Red Queen replies ‘I dare say you haven’t had enough practice.’ This is true for us as well: with familiarity, we can expand our mind to fit in new ideas, realizing that they only seemed impossible because of our limited view.

In particular, we expand our mind by increasing our wisdom realizing emptiness. Our faith in all Buddha’s teachings, and in our own potential to realize them, will be supported by this wisdom. For example, I believe in Pure Lands – the pure world created by an Enlightened mind – because I understand that this world is no more than a dream-like appearance that will become gradually purer as I  purify my mind.

Nagarjuna said ‘for whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.’ My favorite ever story is from Ocean of Nectar:

“One day, his Abbot decided that it would be beneficial if Chandrakirti were to demonstrate his meditative powers and mental freedom to the other monks. To this end, he appointed Chandrakirti as storekeeper to the monastery, a post that involved the great responsibility of looking after the cows and buffaloes kept by the monastery to supply its dairy produce. Chandrakirti, however, refused to take milk from the animals because he felt it should be saved for their young, and he left them to wander freely on the neighboring hills. Nevertheless, he still managed to provide the monks with an abundant supply of dairy produce!

One day Chandrakirti and his assistant Suryakirti were summoned before the Abbot and the assembled monks and asked to explain how they managed to provide such an abundant supply of food while the animals were roaming unattended on the hills. To the great delight of the entire assembly Suryakirti explained that Chandrakirti had painted a picture of a cow on a wall and was drawing from this picture all the milk that was required:

Glorious Chandrakirti perfectly sustains and nourishes the monks
By drawing milk from pictures of cows!”

When I fully understand Buddha’s teachings on the union of the two truths, I will see how it is possible to milk a picture of a cow; until then, how can I say what is impossible? A more useful question is what is it more beneficial to believe? Why don’t you think of your own list of six impossible things, six beneficial beliefs that are made possible by your understanding of Dharma. Here’s mine:

  1. That big hairy biker is really my mother
  2. One day, I will have a dragon (Pema Shugden has one; I want one too)
  3. Time is merely imputed, so Monday morning is actually longer than Friday afternoon
  4. My invisible friend is with me always, like the shadow of my body
  5. The Pure Land in my head is real
  6. I will become a Buddha

Please share your six impossible things!


P.S. If this all sounds impossible, try reading: Holding on to rainbows | We are such stuff as dreams are made on