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Is a change as good as a break?

Image result for happiness is a cigar called hamletAh, a nice cup of tea and a chance to put my feet up – that’s better.

Is it better? For how long? Before long I’ll need to get up and stretch my legs; then I’ll keep needing to pee because of all that tea I drank. So I nip to the loo and Ah! That’s better! Really? For how long? If going to the loo really made things better, just stay on the toilet and your life would be rosy.

Buddha said that if something really was a cause of happiness, the more you had of it the happier you would feel. I often think that if I could just stay in bed I’d be happy – but when I was ten, I had an operation and had to stay in bed without moving for two weeks. Let me tell you, it was not a cause of happiness. When the doctor eventually told me I could get up, I was so excited: I leapt out of bed, and immediately vomited and passed out! So getting out of bed turned out not to be a true cause of happiness either.

In all the worldly things we do, we’re never really finding true sources of happiness; we’re actually just changing one suffering for another. For example, if we have a headache and we take a painkiller, our headache goes and we feel happy: but that happiness is in fact just a reduction of our previous suffering. If we were to conclude from that that painkillers are a real cause of happiness, we’d be in trouble (and probably having our stomach pumped). In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says:

Buddha called the pleasurable feelings that result from worldly enjoyments `changing suffering’ because they are simply the experience of a temporary reduction of manifest suffering. In other words, we experience pleasure due to the relief of our previous pain. For example, the pleasure we derive from eating is really just a temporary reduction of our hunger, the pleasure we derive from drinking is merely a temporary reduction of our thirst, and the pleasure we derive from ordinary relationships is for the most part merely a temporary reduction of our underlying loneliness.

How can we understand this? If we increase the cause of our worldly happiness, our happiness will gradually change into suffering. When we eat our favourite food it tastes wonderful, but if we were to continue plateful after plateful our enjoyment would soon change into discomfort, disgust, and eventually pain. The reverse, however, does not happen with painful experiences. For instance, hitting our finger with a hammer again and again can never become pleasurable, because it is a true cause of suffering. Just as a true cause of suffering can never give rise to happiness, so a true cause of happiness can never give rise to pain. Since the pleasurable feelings resulting from worldly enjoyments do turn into pain, it follows that they cannot be real happiness. Prolonged indulgence in eating, sport, sex, or any other ordinary enjoyment invariably leads to suffering.

I sit down until I become uncomfortable, and then I stand up. I stand until I become uncomfortable, and then I sit down again. Our whole day: stand up, sit down; stand up, sit down; get tired of it all and collapse in a heap. Rince; repeat. Is our whole life just a variation on standing up and sitting down?

We say a change is as good as a break, but maybe now it’s time for me to say: all this changing one suffering for another is getting me nowhere; what I really want is to break away from suffering altogether. We have an opportunity to do this, because at last we know what a true cause of happiness is: inner peace. Check it out: the more I have, do I become happier and happier? Is there ever a point where I say ‘that inner peace is becoming painful now, I need to stop and feel grumpy instead’? We have a true source of happiness within our grasp – so reach out and grab it.

I was watching the lambs this morning, so bouncy and joyful; but my enjoyment was tempered by thinking of all the suffering that lies in store for them. Do the few moments of happiness they achieve make up for a life of suffering? I think not. So why don’t I apply this to my own situation too: I want more than a life filled with just fleeting moments of changing suffering. I want a permanent cessation of all suffering, thank you very much.

Buddha did not encourage us to abandon daily activities that provide necessary conditions for living, or that prevent poverty, environmental problems, particular diseases, and so forth. However, no matter how successful we are in these activities, we shall never achieve permanent cessation of such problems. We shall still have to experience them in our countless future lives and, even in this life, although we work very hard to prevent these problems, the sufferings of poverty, environmental pollution, and disease are increasing throughout the world. Furthermore, because of the power of modern technology there are now many great dangers developing in the world that have never been experienced before. Therefore, we should not be satisfied with just temporary freedom from particular sufferings, but apply great effort to attain permanent freedom while we have this opportunity.

How to Transform Your Life

We can see from this that Buddha never said that we couldn’t appreciate the pleasure we do manage to find: when we’re hungry, we eat; when we’re in pain, we take a painkiller. But we can do that while at the same time remembering that we can achieve so much more than this. A change might be good, but a proper break will be even better.


Take this further: How to Solve Your Problems | Eight Steps to Happiness retreat

The light of wisdom

Image result for manjushriWisdom is our best friend, an inner voice that never leads us astray; and our best friend looks like this, the beautiful Wisdom Buddha Manjushri.

Right from the first time we hear a Dharma teaching, we are being encouraged to develop our wisdom realising that happiness depends upon the mind. Gradually, this simple understanding develops into the wisdom realising emptiness, seeing directly that everything arises from mind. To help us make this journey, we can rely on Manjushri. A lot of people get a bit discouraged about Buddha’s wisdom teachings – maybe you’ve read a chapter on ultimate truth in one of the books and thought ‘that’s way too intellectual and complicated for me.’ If it seems complicated, we can ask for Manjushri’s blessings to help us understand; and if it seems intellectual, we can ask for Manjushri’s blessings to help us realise that we’ve missed the point and need to focus on the practical value!

Buddha Manjushri carries a wisdom sword that can cut through our ignorance and unknowing. In the prayer Homage to Manjushri, it says:

‘Your sword held aloft dispels the darkness of ignorance,
And cuts through all roots of suffering.’

The closer we get to Manjushri, the more our wisdom will grow; but to get close to someone, you first have to meet them! An empowerment is where we are introduced to a Buddha. The teacher granting the empowerment will have spent some time in retreat, developing a deep connection with Manjushri; a connection that they then share with us. On the basis of this introduction, we can then form a close relationship with Manjushri, until he becomes like a friend we can rely on and trust with anything.

No automatic alt text available.There’s a wonderful story about Manjushri in How to Understand the Mind, where a famous teacher called Dharmakirti is trying to write a Dharma book. He keeps trying to explain the topic to a neighbour, but the man doesn’t understand and keeps getting angry and erasing everything Dharmakirti has written. Finally, Dharmakirti gets totally discouraged and decides there’s no point writing about wisdom because no-one ever gets it. He throws his manuscript up in the air, saying ‘When this book hits the ground, I’m giving up.’

But the manuscript never comes down. Dharmakirti looks up and sees that Buddha Manjushri has appeared in the middle of space and caught the book before it could fall. So he realises that he has to carry on with his task.

I love this story because it shows how important it is to keep on trying to understand and to teach Buddha’s wisdom, and it also shows that Manjushri is always there to help encourage us.

More: Manjushri Empowerment

Artificial Intelligence

shutterstock_119131858.jpgDo you think it could be possible to be reborn as a computer? Probably, most of you immediately answered ‘no,’ but I’m not so sure…

Let’s think for a minute about the nature of rebirth, and what constitutes a person. Before we take rebirth, we spend some time hanging around in the intermediate state, or bardo, waiting for the right karmic conditions to come together for our rebirth. If we have the karma to be a human, for example, then we are waiting for our future parents to do the dirty and for conception to take place; our subtle consciousness then enters into that union of sperm and egg and we start grasping onto it as ‘my body.’ In short, we are waiting for a suitable basis upon which we can impute body.

What is a suitable basis? Well, simply, something that can perform the function of a body. That is quite a broad definition. We can see how it is possible to impute ‘I’ upon a human body or an animal one. An animal body is more limited, it does not provide the scope for the mind to function on such a high level, but it is certainly a body: it provides an interface between the mind and the rest of the world. It is also possible to impute I on other bodies that we do not presently have the karma to see, such as gods, spirits, and nagas. Geshe-la has explained that some beings even use fire or water as the basis for imputing their I (Berlin, 2005).

So, imagine that a computer was built that was complex and adaptable enough to mimic the function of the human brain. Why, then, could some poor bardo being with the appropriate karma not see that lovely silicon circuitry being turned on and think ‘That’s my body.’ Their mind would then enter into that machine – the moment of conception has occurred! – and it would cease to be an inanimate machine and become a living being.

Our body, our brain in particular, is really just a machine with enough complexity and processing power to allow our mind to function at a (relatively) high level.

Image result for Artificial Intelligence

Does that make it seem like a possibility? Of course, I’m not saying this could happen yet – computers are still pretty basic, really. But I don’t see why they couldn’t develop to a level where they became a suitable basis for imputing I. And of course, I’m not saying this is right – I have no idea if this is actually correct, I’m just throwing out an idea. All I can say is that no-one has yet managed to convince me with logic that I’m definitely wrong… so if you have any arguments to put forward, I would love to hear them!

I think it’s interesting to look at this from a Dharma perspective. Usually, when scientists talk about artificial intelligence, they look at it from (I believe) completely the wrong angle, thinking that they are trying to create consciousness. Most scientists conclude this is impossible – and of course it is. Every stream of consciousness has existed since beginningless time, no computer programmer will ever be able to code a mind into existence. But that’s completely missing the point – because we understand that the mind is separate from the body, all you would actually need to do is create a suitable body, and a mind would come and inhabit it.

I can’t decide if this would constitute a good rebirth or a bad one…

Keep karma and carry on

Image result for british wwii postersDon’t panic! Everything is not under control, but keep calm and defend your mind from delusions and your courage will bring victory!

Hmmm, that was meant to be encouraging; not sure if it worked. It can sometimes be hard to see how the law of karma provides encouragement: it can seem pretty heavy, to accept that we have the responsibility for creating all our suffering. So in this post I want to look at how believing in karma does give us the ability to ‘keep calm and carry on’, because accepting responsibility gives us hope that we can take control.

If you’re anything like me, you try to keep things under control as much as you can; but it doesn’t work. Maybe you can arrange a picnic, maintain control of all the people and pets and pickles; but then it rains on you. The reason we cannot maintain control of our external conditions is because we cannot control our own mind; it is as changeable as the weather. But it is most empowering to realize that if we just learned to control our mind, everything else would look after itself. In Transform Your Life, Geshe-la says:

Once we have purified our mind of self-grasping and all other delusions, all our actions will naturally be pure. As a result of our pure actions or pure karma, everything we experience will be pure. We shall abide in a pure world, with a pure body, enjoying pure enjoyments and surrounded by pure beings. There will no longer be the slightest trace of suffering, impurity, or problems. This is how to find true happiness from within our mind.

Like all spiritual practices, this will take some time to work: we can’t just start being good today and expect to live in a pure world by tomorrow. But if we keep being good – holding only pure minds – then gradually all our negative karma will be exhausted and that perfect world will appear.

Find more inspiration: Keep Karma and Carry On day course  |  How to Transform Your Life

I believe in Buddhas because they’re not real

“We should understand that ultimately nothing is true except emptiness.” ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

Human beings have a deep craving for absolute truth; the idea that we cannot find any such thing may be frightening, but is also liberating, because our tendency to ascribe things too much validity is a very limiting factor. Take for example our relationship to science: we relate to the things we’re taught in school as scientific fact.

“In science, there are no universal truths, just views of the world that have yet to be shown to be false.”
― Brian Cox, Why Does E=mc²?

Actual scientists understand that the model of the universe we work with is not an absolute truth: it is simply correct in so far as it works (most of the time, except when quarks mess up the measurements). It functions, and we can use it, that’s all. The problem is when we grasp onto it. For most of us, gravity is a fact: real and fixed and obvious through our own experience. Apparently not – gravity is seriously outdated, it’s all something to do with the curvature of space-time these days. Of course, our feet stay on the ground either way; but if we grasp onto one unassailable fact, there is no longer any room for progress.

I use scientific progress as an example here because it’s quite easy to see, but the same is true of our more metaphysical explorations. There are no facts to hold on to. But again, we want to make things more real than they are, holding onto the one and only correct way of filling an offering bowl and a host of other things. To quote my teacher, Kadam Bridget Heyes, ‘there are many shades of right,’ because there are many different ways of doing things that can have the same function: it all depends upon our mind. I believe in Buddha’s teachings because they function to produce a beneficial result – which they can do only because nothing exists inherently.

“Conventional objects such as people, trees, atoms, and planets have a relative degree of reality that distinguishes them from non-existents such as square circles and unicorns; but only the ultimate nature, or emptiness, of phenomena is true, because it is only emptiness that exists in the way that it appears. Objects exist only in relation to the minds that cognize them. Since an object’s nature and characteristics depend upon the mind that beholds it, we can change the objects we see by changing the way we see them. We can choose to view ourself, other people, and our world in whatever way is most beneficial. By steadfastly maintaining a positive view we gradually come to inhabit a positive world, and eventually a Pure Land.”

Everything is dependent-related: if we see our Spiritual Guide as a Buddha, he functions as a Buddha for us. Does that mean that if you don’t believe in Buddhas they don’t exist for you? No; emptiness doesn’t mean that you can just believe in anything, because a conventional truth must be able to perform its function. Things appear out of emptiness in dependence upon our karma – the state of our mind – and we all have the karma for Buddha to have appeared in this world and function to bestow blessings. Of course, we can’t see that function directly, but establishing emptiness through valid logical reasoning shows us how the existence of Buddhas is possible.

When we meditate on emptiness we let go of everything. Although that emptiness really is a universal truth, it is merely an absence; there is nothing to hold onto. Then we start to understand conventional truth: things can function only because they lack true existence. Everything becomes less real, like a dream; but Buddhas are just as real as anything else. All the Buddhas are just an appearance to my mind, but that doesn’t make them less real than me; from their point of view, I am just an appearance to their mind, after all.

Feedback Loop

You know those conversations that go round in endless circles and refuse to die? Like here when dinner is ready: “After you”; “No, after you”; “No, please, after you” until I go “aarrgh!” and walk to the front of the queue! I think they are an excellent analogy for karma, which can cause our lives to feel like one of these giant feedback loops. For example, we constantly find ourselves confronted with people who put us down; even people who hardly know us may treat us like this for no discernable reason. And it is also karma – the tendencies similar to the cause – that make us keep responding in the same unhelpful ways again and again.

Understanding where it’s coming from can help us break the pattern. If we recognize that it’s potentialities within our own mind that maintain that cycle, we can start to respond in a different way. When we see a pattern in our lives start to repeat itself, we immediately remember ‘oh-oh, feedback loop!’ That recognition will change our view: we will stop blaming others, stop feeling like the world is victimizing us, stop feeling powerless. We can break the cycle by choosing not to respond in the way that feels hard-wired into us by our karmic tendencies.

By remembering that the whole situation – including our emotional response to it – is just karma, we can let go of our anger and resentment and just accept it the way it is. That acceptance will help to break the cycle because patience functions to purify our negative karma. The more we let go of our negative responses and stay at peace with the situation the purer our mind will become, until we have cleared away the potentials that were creating that feedback loop.

More about karma: on kadampa.org | on kadampalife.org 

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

A children’s play

This is a play, not a post. I wrote it for our Family Weekend, but I thought you might like it too. You can find the original story in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, on page 42.


 

The Story of Lam Chung

Cast:

Lam Chung
Narrator / Buddha
Teacher
Lam Chen
Farmer

Lam Chung is sitting as a desk looking bored. The rest of the cast sit at the front of the audience.

Narrator

Once upon a time there was a boy called Lam Chung who hated school. He found it difficult to remember anything. He was probably dyslexic, but nobody cared.

Teacher:

Tell me, Lam Chung, what did Shakespeare mean when he said ‘All the world’s a stage?

Lam Chung:

I couldn’t even finish Harry Potter, how am I supposed to know what Shakespeare was talking about?!

Teacher:

You stupid boy!

Rest of cast:

Stupid! You idiot! Etc

Narrator:

Lam Chung failed his exams, and when he left school he didn’t know what to do. His brother was a Buddhist monk, so Lam Chung decided to go and live with him.

Lam Chung gets up from desk and mimes knocking on a door. Lam Chen opens it.

Lam Chen:

Hey little brother! What are you doing here?

Lam Chung:

I’ve got nowhere else to go.

Lam Chen:

Well, you can’t just move into a Buddhist Centre without being involved with the community, you know. You have to be on lots of rotas and study programmes.

Lam Chung looks terrified

OK, tell you what: I’ll just give you one little thing from Buddha’s teachings, and if you learn that you can stay, alright? May everyone be happy; may everyone be free from suffering. That’s it: you got that?

Lam Chung:

Yes, that’s great, I can do that! Err…. Can you write that down for me so I can practice?

Lam Chen hands him a piece of paper and sits down. Lam Chung sits at desk.

Lam Chung:

Ok, I can do this! May… everyone.. be… happy. [closes eyes] May everyone be…? Arrgh!

Narrator:

Lam Chung studied hard, but it just wouldn’t stick.

Lam Chung bangs his head on the desk

Lam Chen:

[calling from audience] it’s been two days already. Have you got it yet?

Lam Chung:

Almost!

Narrator:

He thought maybe if he practiced outside the fresh air might help him think, so he went and sat in the farmer’s field with the sheep.

Farmer stands downstage with the rest of cast behind him as sheep

Lam Chung:

May everyone feel crappy? May everyone be free from happiness?

Farmer:

Come on, son, it’s not that hard! You’ve read it out so many times that I’ve learnt it by now.

Rest of cast:

[imitating sheep] may everyone baaaaaaaaaaaa happy!

Farmer:

See, even the sheep know it better than you!

Lam Chung sits back at desk looking miserable. Rest of cast except Lam Chen return to their places.

Lam Chen:

Do you know the verse now, little brother?

Lam Chung:

No.  I’m too thick; I’ll never learn it.

Lam Chen:

Well then, you can’t stay here. Go home to mum and dad and they can think of something else to do with you!

Lam Chung, trying not to cry, begins to walk off stage. The narrator as Buddha intercepts him.

Narrator:

Hey, what’s wrong? Why are you leaving?

Lam Chung:

Because I am so stupid I can’t memorize even one verse of scripture. Now even my own brother has given up on me.

Narrator:

Oh, don’t worry about you brother; my name’s Buddha Shakyamuni, and I’m in charge round here, not him! You don’t have to leave. Buddhism isn’t just about learning things out of books, there is something for everyone. I’ll give you a job that you’ll be good at, and you are welcome to stay. You can be in charge of cleaning the meditation room, and when you clean just imagine that you are cleaning all the bad thoughts out of your mind. OK?

Lam Chung:

That’s wonderful! Thank you, Buddha… what was your name again?

Narrator laughs and returns upstage. Lam Chung collects a hoover and begins hoovering stage right, humming happily.

Lam Chung:

Perfect! My mind feels cleaner already. Now the other side!

 [moves to stage left and hoovers, then looks to the right]

Oh! I swear it was clean a minute ago, but it needs hoovering again now. How wonderful! I love my new job.

Narrator:

For years, Lam Chung was happy to keep cleaning the meditation room, and as he did this his mind became freed from all negative thoughts. He never ran out of things to do, because whenever he finished vacuuming one side of the room, Buddha would magically empty the dirt back out onto the other side! But Lam Chung never got upset, because he knew that it was helping him to be happier and happier.

[Lam Chung continues to hoover one side, then the other.]

Lam Chung:

Phew! I’ve been doing this a long time. I wonder where all this dust keeps appearing from? Oh! I understand now! It’s all just coming from my mind! When my mind is dirty, the world appears to be dirty too.

[He sits on the throne and meditates]

Narrator:

[comes downstage as Buddha] Well done Lam Chung. I think it’s about time you gave a teaching to show everyone what you have learnt. Come on everybody, come and listen to Lam Chung!

Lam Chen:

You can’t be serious! My brother’s an idiot. He’s done nothing but clean for years, what can he possibly teach us?!

[the cast sits around the throne]

Lam Chung:

I will now give a teaching on one verse of Dharma. It’s the verse that previously I couldn’t learn, even after months of trying: may everyone be happy, may everyone be free from suffering.

Narrator:

The teaching lasted for three days, and Lam Chung never ran out of things to say, because he now understood all of Buddha’s teachings. All of the people listening were amazed and became very peaceful and happy.

[cast prostrates to Lam Chung]

Science & Religion

It seems like more and more people are viewing science as an alternative to religion, believing in the views of science because they are based on emperical evidence. Scientific knowledge is based on experiments, on seeing the same result produced again and again; but Buddhist practice is also emperical. In Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la says that these teachings are a scientific method for increasing the capacity of our mind – they are called scientific because they depend on conducting experiments. We are told ‘try developing inner peace and see if it makes you happy’; we try it and it works, consistantly, time after time.

Consistantly stable results are what science calls proof; really, it just proves a probability. The philosopher Hume pointed out that making an empirical study of swans might lead you to conclude that all swans are white; but this is only because you haven’t seen a black swan yet. In the same way, we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. Why? Because it always has. This establishes a high probability that it will do so again tomorrow; but it does not prove that it definitely will.

The Buddhist methodology offers empirical evidence, like science does; but it also provides a logical basis. The logical reasoning establishing ultimate truth underpins all of Buddha’s teachings – so we can be confident not only that having inner peace makes us feel good, but that there can be no other true cause of happiness. Empiricism and logic together can give us a faith that is beyong the mere belief we have in scientific theory. I’m not saying science is wrong: it does generally seem to explain things quite well. But I still have more faith in my religion. For example, quamtum physicists can predict the behavior of quantum particles by analysing their previous behavior; but the teachings on emptiness can explain why the behavior of sub-atomic particles is affected by our perception.

I love science, it made this computer; but I don’t have faith in it, because I don’t believe it can take me anywhere fundamentally different. Science can manipulate the world, but because it is purely empirical it can only make changes to what we already have in front of us. Only Buddha explains that the very nature of this world depends upon our mind: that logic gives us the power to form a different kind of empiricism, one that is based on internal, not external, observation.