The Five Forces pt II: familiarity does not breed contempt

No automatic alt text available.When you boil it right down, Dharma practice is basically about cultivating the same thoughts again and again until they become a habit. Simple, really. ‘Boring, really,’ might be your first thought – but if you find those thoughts inspiring (see the previous post for how to cultivate this) then it’s not boring at all. I think that phrase, ‘familiarity breeds contempt,’ comes from not realizing the value in what we have (or from focusing on things that are not really valuable). If you truly love something, it never becomes boring.

And it’s easy to fall in love with virtuous states of mind, because they make us feel so good! Then we want to re-visit them again and again… at first that takes a lot of work, like we have to hike up a mountain every time we want to reach a mind like compassion; but gradually, our fitness improves, and the trek becomes less arduous, until we can jog up that mountain without breaking a sweat. Eventually, we stay on the peak all the time, gazing out over the world with eyes of unfailing compassion. That’s what a realization is: simply a mind that has become so familiar with its object that it is never separate from it.

Image result for carrying a cowAuthentic realisations are big achievements, but we build up to them gradually.

In the Lamrim teachings there is a story of an old woman whose cow died giving birth to a calf. Every morning the woman would carry the calf out into the garden for some grass and sunshine, and every evening she would carry it back indoors. She continued doing this for so long, and became so familiar with it, that even when the calf had become a fully grown cow she was still able to carry it in and out of the house. With familiarity anything is possible!

~ Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully

That is one of my favourite stories. We can carry a lot, without it feeling like a burden.

Familiarity is the main body of Dharma practice; the other forces are the limbs that support that body. The force of white seed is gathering the necessary conditions for the seeds of virtue to grow in our mind by accumulating merit; the force of destruction is overcoming obstacles, principally by purifying negative karma; and the force of aspirational prayer means requesting blessings and making dedications for the realisations we wish for. If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that all three of these are included in the preparatory prayers that we use to prepare for meditation. Newsflash: that is the point of all that singing! If we make the effort to prepare well by accumulating merit, purifying negativity and receiving blessings then the force of familiarity will develop smoothly, and soon we’ll be carrying a cow.

More on developing familiarity: Mindfulness half-day course

The Five Forces: a motivational speech

Image result for kadampa quotesThe Five Forces give power to our spiritual practice and help us to integrate everything we learn into our daily life. This makes them especially important for us as modern Buddhists, because the real beauty of Kadampa practice is in unifying meditation and daily activities. We don’t need to set ourselves apart from the world in order to attain realizations: we are encouraged to use every aspect of our modern lives as a foundation for our spiritual training. The Five Forces help us to do this. They are:

  • the force of motivation
  • the force of familiarity
  • the force of white seed
  • the force of destruction
  • the force of aspirational prayer

Motivation really is everything. Our main practice is lamrim, meditations on the stages of the path to enlightenment; of these 21 meditations, 19 of them involve cultivating the correct motivation for our practice. In Universal Compassion, Geshe Kelsang says:

Anything can be accomplished with effort, even things that previously seemed beyond our imagination. Since effort depends upon motivation, the force of motivation is of utmost importance… Whatever we do depends upon making a decision. For example, if before falling asleep we make a strong decision to wake early, we will do so.

Image result for holiday planeThat example may seem flawed at first – I might make a decision to wake up for work on Monday morning, but I still have to be dragged out of sleep by my alarm clock. But that’s because I don’t really want to wake up, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ve had the experience, when you’re going on holiday, of needing to wake up at 4am to go and catch a plane – and you spontaneously wake up before your alarm even goes off. When you really want to, it’s effortless.

We need to want to practice Dharma as much as we want to catch that plane, and then it will be easy.

So, how do we learn to want it that much? Well, why do you want to get on that plane? Because it’s taking you somewhere you want to go. You have sold that holiday destination to yourself as a source of happiness; you have had a constant advert for it running in the back of your mind ever since you booked the flight. We can advertise Dharma to ourselves in the same way – after all, it has many more benefits than wherever you’re going on holiday. We’ll be motivated if we remind ourselves again and again of the benefits.

One of the main benefits of training in Dharma is that day by day our wisdom grows sharper and our ignorance becomes weaker. The more wisdom we have, the more peaceful our mind will be. Through training in Dharma we gradually attain all the spiritual realizations that directly protect us from suffering. All our problems are caused by desirous attachment, anger, jealousy, and other negative minds. By gaining experience of virtuous minds such as love, compassion, patience, and wisdom we shall overcome these negative minds. These virtuous minds are our real refuge. Thus, by training in Dharma we build a refuge within our own mind. Eventually we shall become a refuge for all beings, a Buddha Jewel. By contemplating these benefits of training in Dharma we develop the aspiration to practise Dharma and this makes our effort more powerful.

~ How to Understand the Mind, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Image result for advertising quotesWe’re surrounded by advertising all the time, on billboards and TV; the internet even offers us targeted ads especially for us. None of those adverts are actually offering us happiness. Try this: every time you feel your attention being captured by one of those ads, use that as a goad: this is reminding me that I’m searching for happiness; I don’t need to click this link in order to find it, I need to look within my mind. Don’t let the external world dictate your desires to you: create your own Dharma adverts and be motivated by something truly special.

OK, that’s enough for now – I’ll look at the rest of the five forces soon. In the next post, we can learn about carrying cows 🙂