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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

Rejoicing

we should focus exclusively on others' good qualities and pay no attention to any apparent faults

“We should focus exclusively on others’ good qualities and pay no attention to any apparent faults.”

Rejoicing means being happy to see the happiness of others; the simplest and sharpest way to slice through our jealousy, competitiveness, and pride. We just see someone who is enjoying good conditions or who possesses good qualities and we think ‘I’m glad for you.’ They’re happy; we share in their happiness.

In my experience, it’s simple as long as we don’t get caught up in thinking too much – you know, all that ‘But they don’t deserve it / I worked much harder than them / I try just as hard but no-one is praising me.’ One of the main points of rejoicing is to stop all that thinking about ourselves! Try instead just to think: ‘There’s little enough happiness in the world, I’m glad I get to see a little bit of it.’

As a matter of fact, everyone does deserve the happiness they enjoy, because anything good that people experience is a result of their previous positive actions, or good karma. In Great Treasury of Merit, Geshe-la says:

Shantideva says that there are two things we can rejoice in: virtue, which is the cause of happiness, and happiness itself. It is not enough just to rejoice when we see others engaging in virtue, we also have to feel happy when we see them experiencing the results of their virtue. A Bodhisattva is like a mother who delights in the happiness and good fortune of her children. If we want to become Bodhisattvas we must also learn to delight in the happiness, success, relationships, possessions, and even the laughter of others.

Remembering that they created the causes for their present good conditions encourages us to see the good in others, and it also encourages us to emulate their good qualities and positive actions. In the same section as quoted above, Geshe-la uses the example of two friends who are practising Buddhism together, one emphasising meditation and the other emphasising study. If they rejoice in each other, each will be encouraged to develop a more balanced practice and there will be no basis for that pride which decides ‘my way of doing things is the only right way.’

We can also rejoice in our own positive actions whenever we are feeling a bit discouraged. Think of all the good causes we have created: every time we meditate, even if it doesn’t go well, we have created the cause to experience inner peace in the future. It may not feel like we’re getting far, but we are capable of creating an extraordinary amount of good fortune: just look at this human life. In our previous life, we planted the seeds for all the incredible conditions we have today. That means that last time round, we were a really good person. If we managed then, we can certainly do it again now!

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

What’s your problem?

Image result for leaky roofWe all think we know exactly what – or who – is our problem, but we always identify that problem as being outside of our mind. And so we fix our problem by changing our job or our partner or our car or our hairstyle… and we still have problems. It can become a bit depressing after a while: all that effort, and what do we have to show for it? Nothing but a whole new set of problems. It’s not that it is impossible to solve our problems: it’s that in order to solve them, we first have to accurately identify what they are.

In Universal Compassion, Geshe-la uses the analogy of having a hole in the roof. It’s not enough just to put a bucket under it to catch the drips – you have to go and find the leak, fix it at its origin. I’ve always rather liked this example, because a friend of mine told me that a long time ago in the Brighton Centre they had this exact situation: a stain appeared on a bedroom ceiling, so they went up into the attic and put a bucket under the drip. Sorted: no more water in the bedroom. Then six months later the ceiling collapsed! This story shows that 1) we need to fix the root cause, not just deal with the symptoms, and 2) Buddhists are much better at fixing internal problems than external ones!

Image result for blame cartoonsIn Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe-la helps us identify what we really need to change:

Whenever we have a problem it is easy to think that our problem is caused by our particular circumstances, and that if we were to change our circumstances our problem would disappear. We blame other people, our friends, our food, our government, our times, the weather, society, history, and so forth. However, external circumstances such as these are not the main causes of our problems. All our problems are mainly caused by our own past actions, and once their effects are ripening there is no way we can avoid them. Therefore, instead of trying to run away from our problems by constructing new situations in life, we need to recognize these painful experiences as the consequences of our own harmful actions and develop a heartfelt wish to abandon their causes.

What are the causes of our own harmful actions? Our delusions, those mistaken habits of mind that lead us to harm both ourselves and others. Being able to identify the internal causes of our problems is good news: it’s the first step to fixing things once and for all. Instead of feeling disheartened when things go wrong, we can think ‘now I have the opportunity to change my mind and stop responding to this kind of situation in a negative way.’ This is really the first step to being a spiritual practitioner: we have to be willing to take responsibility for our own mind, and not keep blaming other things for our problems. We need to be brave, to accept that we are unhappy because we have delusions in our mind and not because of our external conditions.

This might sound a bit heavy, but it makes us feel much lighter because at last we can see an actual solution to our problems. No more buckets needed, I’ve learnt how to fix the roof!

 

More on this: Keep Karma and Carry On

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.

Purification

calmEverything we experience is karma. Both our external conditions and the instinctive way we react to them arise from the potentials of our past actions. If you think that every single thought or action is creating potentialities in our minds, then how many potentialities must we be carrying around? It’s a good thing they don’t weigh anything, or we’d be flattened. And it’s a mixed bag: some good seeds, some bad. If we could ensure that there were only positive potentials in there, we would essentially have attained the Pure Land.

How do we do this? By making sure we don’t create and more negative potentialities, and by removing the ones already in there. Fortunately, we don’t have to just wait for those bad seeds to grow in order to be free of them – we can practice purification.

To purify, we transform our mind into the opposite of the negative mind that created the problem; we do this by cultivating four ‘powers’:

  • The power of regret
  • The power of reliance
  • The power of the opponent force
  • The power of promise

First, we deeply regret our negative actions because we recognize that they bring harmful results for both ourselves and others. Then, the power of reliance means that because our negative actions harmed either the Buddhas or ordinary beings, we now develop the opposite intention: refuge in the Three Jewels and compassion for everyone else. In order to purify we also need to be determined to break our bad habits and stop engaging in harmful actions – this is the power of promise.

The power of the opponent force is any positive action that we engage in with the intention to purify. There are some specific practices designed to speed our purification along – for example this weekend we’re doing a retreat with lots of prostrations – but any positive action can function to purify our mind. Patience is a particularly powerful purifier that we can practice all the time; if we remember the opponent powers, then every time we patiently accept any difficulty we are clearing away vast amounts of negative karma.

The more we purify, the easier it will be to keep a positive mind, because we will no longer be held back by the weight of our negative karma. The more positive our mind is, the easier it will be to purify’ and we will be racing towards the Pure Land.

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 

Living In the Moment

We try to escape from the present moment because we are not happy with where we are; we feel like the past or the future can offer us something better. We are often so dissatisfied with our life and the choices we feel are open to us. But from a spiritual perspective, we are in the best possible position: we have the opportunity to change our mind, and learn from every situation we find ourselves in. The Kadampa teachings allow us to make anything into part of our spiritual path; because we have these teachings in our heart, we have the perfect conditions for spiritual growth. It doesn’t matter how busy we are or how many problems we have, we can make it all a part of our inner development. Because we have such perfect conditions for spiritual growth, our choices are actually limitless. So why would I want things to be other than the way they are? If we keep a spiritual perspective, we won’t want to waste our life being trapped in the past or worrying about the future; we will be glad to be in this moment, thinking ‘I am so happy to be exactly where I am right now.’

I find the teachings on karma to be very helpful in maintaining this perspective. That seems strange at first, because karma means thinking about our past actions and the future effects of our actions – how is that keeping us in the present moment? Remembering karma helps us stay in the moment because we realize that it is our actions in this moment that create our future. In each instant, I am forming my future experiences; every moment is a potential goldmine… or a minefield. I don’t want to miss a second of it.

Using mindfulness to stay focused on our present intentions and actions keeps our mind clear of all concerns about the past or future. We can still make plans for the future, but we won’t get caught up in them because we know it is the good karma we can collect now that is the main condition we need to fulfil our wishes.

 Further reading: Modern Buddhism