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

Find the Missing Peace

The Buddhist Master Shantideva says:

Although living beings wish to be free from suffering,
They run straight towards the causes of suffering;
And although they wish for happiness,
Out of ignorance they destroy it like a foe.

We think inner peace is something difficult to attain: but if we really wanted it, it would be easy. The only reason for it to be so elusive is that, as Shantideva tells us, we are so often running in the opposite direction. We are so busy trying to squeeze some happiness out of our day that we don’t take the time to just be happy with where we are right now.

Peace of mind is just waiting to be discovered; it is the nature of our mind, if we would just take the time to look.  Instead of letting your mind run from one idea to the next, just allow your thoughts to subside like waves returning to the ocean and focus on the clarity of your mind. This vast inner space that we discover when our mind is free from conceptual thoughts is always clear and still; this clarity and peace is always there, no matter how crazy the surface of our mind might be. I find it very helpful to remember that during the day – right now I may be feeling frazzled, but the real nature of my mind is stillness.

The more experience you can get of settling into that stillness during meditation, the less you will feel the need to chase after happiness during the day. Why? Because you know the happiness you wish for it already there, waiting within your heart.

Take this further: Developing Inner Peace day course  |  Meditations for a Clear Mind CD

Dealing with distractions

We all like the idea of meditation, but the reality can be quite a different thing because all those pesky thoughts keep getting in the way of our nice calm mind. So what do we do about all the distractions?

As with most things, it depends mainly on our determination. If we’re honest with ourselves, we indulge our distractions rather than making a strong determination to overcome them. After a while (usually about 2 minutes…) meditation starts feeling like hard work, and a nice easy thought comes waltzing along and we’re off thinking about a TV show because it takes less effort.

In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe Kelsang says ‘distraction is the worst obstacle to our spiritual development.’ Seriously, the worst? It doesn’t feel a little bit of mental wandering is that big a deal. But that’s the problem: it’s not a little bit of distraction, is it? It’s a whole whopping great lot of distraction! It’s very easy to let our meditation – and, indeed, our whole life – become nothing but following one distracting thought after another. That is why distraction is so dangerous.

So how do we fight this tendency? Well, we don’t. Fighting distractions doesn’t work: when we try to push them away, we are still focusing on them, and end up making the problem worse. It’s like saying ‘don’t think about a pink elephant.’ Rather than fighting against distractions, we have to simply loose interest in them. Instead of saying to ourselves ‘I must stop thinking this (really important and interesting) thought’ we say ‘it doesn’t matter.’ Just that: this distracting thought doesn’t matter, so we can let it go.

I know many of our distractions seem important, and saying they don’t matter sounds dismissive; but just try it. If we can stop being interested by and invested in those thoughts just for the brief period of our meditation, we can experience some real space and clarity in our mind: then we are in the right space to judge what is actually important. A lot of our distractions will turn out to be needless worries; others we will have to give some energy to, but now we can do it in a relaxed way without the same pressure we felt before.

All in the same boat

Paper Boat by EredelSo, in my last post, I was telling you all to stay focused on a mind of love; pretty good general advice, I think. “Yes,” I hear you cry, “it may be a good idea, but how do I do it? People just wind me up!”

That’s why I like Buddhism so much: Buddha doesn’t tell you what to do, he tells you how to do it. If we want to learn to love people, we can; we just have to decide firmly that it’s a good idea, and then familiarize ourselves with speicial views that generate the feeling of love in our hearts. For example, we think about the kindness of others, and how we all wish for happiness – these contemplations make us feel connected to others.

It’s that feeling of connection that is key. We naturally wish for our own happiness, because we see things from our own point of view; if we realize that everyone else thinks the same, everyone feels “my happiness matters because it is mine”, then what basis is there for thinking my happiness is more important? It’s all the same: my feelings and others’ are exactly the same, we both just wish to be happy and avoid suffering.

As we say, we’re all in the same boat. That’s a very good metaphor, because if lots of people are in a boat together, they all have to work together to move n the direction of land; if everyone rows in different directions, no-one will get anywhere. In the same way, since everyone wishes for happiness, it makes no sense to think just of my own individual happiness – this will not really get me anywhere. It makes more sense to work towards the happiness of everyone together: change “what do I want” into “what do we want.” Then we’re paddling our little boat towards enlightenment.

What should I focus on?

Mindfulness is basically deciding what to focus on. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it really is the key to our happiness, because what we focus on dictates how we feel. When we dwell on something negative, eg the faults of a person, it causes a negative mind; if insted we make the effort to focus on their kindness, we stay peaceful and positive.

It is our choice: one object can be either negative or positive depending on where we focus our attention. Focusing on the negative is called inappropriate attention because it causes unpleasent feelings to arise in our mind; that bad feeling does not come from the object, it comes from our own unhelpful view. It is so liberating to realize that we have the freedom to choose how we feel: no-one and nothing has the power to make us feel bad, it all depends upon our mind. Simply, it depends on what we focus on.

We need to get to know our own triggers – what conditions encourage our mind to become negative – so that we can overcome these tendencies.

 

Appropriate attention means choosing to focus on things in a way that generates positive feelings. Shantideva compares our mind to a wild elephant; we need to use the rope of mindfulness to tie this elephant to the stake of our virtuous object. This way of training our mind is huge; our mind is very complex and there are many positive and negative impulses arising moment by moment. But if you want one thing to stick your attention to, you can’t go wrong with cherishing others. If we maintain a strong intention to cherish others, this will counteract all our negative tendencies and be the cause of only pleasent feelings.

There are so many things we can choose to focus on; in fact, I sometimes find it difficult to decide between all the wonderful possibilities… and so I end up not having much of a focus at all! Cherishing others pretty much covers all the bases. Geshe-la once said that the best way to keep all of our vows is to cherish others, because this naturally makes us want to behave in a pure way. So if at any time you don’t have a clear positive focus for your mind, then put in this intention, ‘I will help others in everything I say and do today.’ Keep repeating it to yourself until your attention is firmly stuck on, and you will be able to enjoy the beautiful peaceful feeling of love in your heart all day.

Contentment

My favorite story of the many in Geshe-la’s books is the one about a poor man named Telwa who finds a jewel and gives it to the King. He is not being a subservient subject: when he hands over the jewel, he tells the King ‘I am content with what I have; but altough you have much wealth, you have a strong desire for more. You are the most needy person can can think of, so I am giving this jewel to you.’ Telwa shows not just kindness, but wisdom: he teaches us that the real wealth is the inner wealth of contentment.

Contentment is something we can find without even looking: we just need to stop chasing all of our desires. Contentment is a feeling of being satisfied with what we have, thinking ‘right here and now, there is nothing else I want or need.’ If we let go of our many attachments, we naturally find that contentment. Shantideva says:

“A person who has no attachment to attractive objects
Will find contentment – the best of all possessions.”

Our uncontrolled desire makes us like a hampster on a wheel – we keep running and running, but never get closer to our goal. For example, we want to get our house fixed up just right, but whatever colour we paint the front room, by next year something new will have caught our eye and we will start to feel dissatisfied again. Protector Nagarjuna said that desire is like an itch – you scratch it and get some brief relief… but it just moves somewhere else. The only real way to get rid of an itch is not to have it in the first place. What? He means that the way to find satisfaction is not by fulfilling all our desires, but by not having those desires in the first place. In the absence of desire, we simply are content.

If we get rid of our attachment, if we stop chasing after that something or someone who can give us satisfaction, then we can allow ourselves to just enjoy things as they are. Non-attachment doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate things; we can enjoy any good condition without grasping onto it. And because we have let go of attachment, we do not need those good conditions in order to be happy; we are content, because that contentment comes from within.

Mindfulness again… and again… and again

I’ve written a post about mindfulness before, but that’s the whole point of mindfulness: it needs to be repeated. It’s all about familiarity. We place our attention onto a particular thought or intention, and maintain it. The more we do it, the easier it becomes. We need to keep doing the same thing again and again… without getting bored.

I was thinking the other day about the phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ – actually, I was eating dinner with the community, and no-one was saying very much until a visitor sat down with us and I was all ‘ohh, exciting, new person’… and it made me realize how I was forgetting to appreciate the wonderful people I live with.

We get bored easily. You have now read about 100 words of this post: is part of your mind already off thinking about doing something else? I’m thinking about what picture will go with this post… and now I’m thinking I’m a bit peckish… The reason our mind wanders away from our object of mindfulness is because we get captivated by something new and exciting to fill our thoughts with. For the same reason, we find it hard to sit down and do some meditation every day – ‘I’ve done that loads of times before.’

So how do we prevent ourselves getting bored with the repetitive nature of our meditation practice? We need to be convinced that what we are holding in our heart is a real source of happiness. Whatever the object of our mindfulness is, check with ourselves ‘what good results will come from maintaining my mindfulness of this?’

We never forget our birthday, because when we were a child it became etched into our heart as it was associated with good things like presents and cake. If we consider our object of meditation to be special and precious, then we will never want to be separated from it, and will will not become bored with holding on and revisiting it again and again. It will be like our birthday every day of the year!

Queuing up for happiness

Once, when I was looking for the right place to buy a ticket for something, I asked a woman standing in a line ‘what is this queue for?’ and she replied ‘I don’t know.’ It’s amazing, isn’t it – us Brits actually like queuing so much that we will stand in queues even if there is nothing to be queuing for! With all this constant queuing, one might think that we’re very patient people. The thing is, it’s not that we actually enjoy it: we just like having something to complain about. That’s not patience: standing around displaying our stiff upper lip is more like having a passive-aggressive argument with the universe, whereas real patience is a happy mind. That’s right: not just putting up with it, but actually being perfectly content with things going wrong.

That’s why the practice of patience is so essential in our modern world: because things are always going wrong. We can’t change that – we can only change the way we respond. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam on your way to an important meeting, you have two choises: you can be late and stressed, or you can be late and happy. Neither option will take the traffic jam away: the only control we can take in that situation is over the state of our mind. We can choose to accept the situation we find ourselves in, not wishing it was different or saying ‘it isn’t fair’, and through that acceptance we stay at peace.

Geshe-la describes patience as ‘an open, accommodating, and peaceful heart.’ We always need patience; even if there are practical things we can do to improve our external situation, it is only patience that can solve the inner problem of stress and frustration. For example, our computer crashes; we feel irritated; we restart the computer and find it has miraculously saved all our work, so our external problem has gone away; but we still have a horrible state of mind because we allowed anger to take hold. So, we need to practice patience when there is nothing we can do to change our situation, and we need to practice patience while we are fixing those situations we can change.

Whatever our situation, we just recognize that it simply is the way it is. No amount of complaining is going to change that. If we can do something constructive to make things better, then good, go ahead: but at this moment, right now, this is what we’ve got and we must accept that for what it is. If we can do this, just accept ‘this is the way it is,’ then we relax, we stop fighting with the reality of our experience; then we can honestly say ‘it’s OK; this is the way it is and that’s OK.’

Take this further: Dealing With Anger day course

Imagine Better

This title comes from one of my favorite quotes by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling:

“We do not need magic to change the world. We have all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

The imagination is incredibly powerful: we all know how a seductive daydream can take us to a different place and leave us unaware of the world around us, or how running through a worst-case scenario can leave us sweating and anxious. We need to learn to harness the power of our imagination, because actually our imagination is creating our whole world. In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says:

“It is a remarkable quality of the mind that we first create objects with our imagination and then bring them into our everyday reality. In fact everything starts in the imagination. For example, the house we are presently living in was first created in the imagination of the architect. He or she then made a design on paper, which acted as the blueprint for the actual building. If no one had first imagined our house it would never have been built. In reality, our mind is the creator of all we experience. All external creations such as money, cars, and computers were developed in dependence upon someone’s imagination; if no one had imagined them they would never have been invented. In the same way, all inner creations and all Dharma realizations, even liberation and enlightenment, are developed in dependence upon the imagination.”

If we lack imagination, we live in a fixed world where everything feels inflexible. The first step towards creating a better world is to be able to see – and believe in – that world in our mind. Although Buddhism is supremely logical, we place a lot of importance in meditation on visualizing and creating a mental image of purer people and places. For example, we practice seeing beyond people’s present faults and limitations and focusing on their potential. That can require a lot of imagination! But by applying our imagination in this way, we are changing our reality just a little bit: the person we view in this way is encouraged to live up to the good we see in him, and so his experience and ours becomes a bit brighter.

I think the most beautiful example of using our imagination in meditation is the practice of taking and giving, where we envisage having the ability to take away the suffering of others and give them happiness. It may not ‘really’ be happening, but it does have an effect: it fills us with a joyful determination to fulfil our spiritual goals. The pure world we visualise may just be in our mind – but if we can’t hold something in our mind’s eye, how can we ever make it something real? Things don’t just happen; they must have a cause. And the root cause can always be traced back to the mind. First, we build a better world in our imagination: we revel in it’s beauty, we enjoy the belief that everyone is free and joyful, we rejoice that it is our actions that have brought this about. Then, because we have this vision of what the future could be, we strive to make it happen.

There is a real magic to be found in taking control of our imagination.

 

A pure society

I’m off on holiday to the Pure Land today! It’s time for the Spring Festival, which Geshe-la always called ‘our spiritual holiday.’ It’s not like a normal holiday in that it’s quite hard work (and involves no beaches), but it’s better than any other holiday because you bring home something really useful: the inner wealth of Dharma, which never becomes less even when you use it, and increases when you give it away to others.

For me, what’s most inspiring about our festivals is seeing the sort of pure society that is formed when everyone practices cherishing others. There are thousands of people gathered in somewhat-less-than-perfect external conditions (no 4-star hotels on this holiday), queuing for everything, it’s the lake district so it is always raining (that’s where the lakes come from, don’t you know?)… but somehow it’s just perfect. Why? Because everyone is being kind. And that’s not because these are all amazing spiritual practitioners: it’s just a bunch of normal people, but brought together in this special environment we all become more than the sum of our parts. We all become a pure society because for those few days we are all united in our sincere effort to put Buddha’s teachings on cherishing others into practice.

This really gives me hope that one day we can make the whole of our wider society into something better.

Further reading: kadampafestivals.org