Dukkhaboy

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The humility of learning

For the first time ever, HH the 17th Karmapa has visited the UK. He spoke in Battersea, London. And fantastically I managed to buy a weekend ticket to hear him teach. If you are kind enough to read this and if you take anything positive away from doing so you can be assured it didn’t come from me but from HH Karmapa and somehow survived my foggy, unqualified retelling of it.  I only want to write about one part of what he said here. He said much more than just this on the day.

There was one verse His Holiness explained that immediately struck me. He was talking about respecting other people. Instead of just a normal moral school assembly style ‘treat others as you would like to be treated – golden rule’ type thing, he explained why if it is done properly seeing others in this way, cherishing them even, benefits for us as well. The particular verse he was teaching is

“Wherever I am, whomever I’m with,

May I regard myself as lower than all others,

And, from the depths of my heart,

May I hold them as supreme and cherish them.”

Instead of merely going with a bland idea of respecting all beings or people, we can additionally try to be humble. If we have no humility then our inflated sense of self can get stuck on how great we are and how we are better than everyone else. HH Karmapa likened it to pouring water on a ball. No matter how much water you pour the ball is going to capture none of the liquid. Similarly, if we approach people whilst full of pride and see ourselves as better than them, then we cut ourselves off from opportunities of improving and of developing ourselves. I love this logic. It makes perfect sense. If we are looking down on someone then we won’t even consider the possibility they have any positive qualities that are better than we possess ourselves. So even when interacting with them there will be this barrier and we will learn nothing from the experience or from them. In effect we will be living in a bubble where at best we could stay as we are or, more likely become more negative and embittered with the world around us.

However if we approach people openly, looking for their attributes whilst admitting we are not the best thing going ourselves then our days, our individual moments and conversations will enrich us.

So far, so secular. HH Karmapa then looked at this argument from a Buddhist perspective. Firstly, he said it is important to realise too that ‘seeing ourselves as lower’ does not mean we should live in a permanent state of self degradation, having jettisoned our own self esteem. Misinterpreting it like this is called in Tibetan Buddhism ‘the laziness of self deprecation’ where we do nothing because we think we aren’t good enough to improve.

Secondly, a Boddhistattva (a person who works for the benefit of all living beings, who puts their welfare before her own) would therefore see no end to learning. Because a Boddhisattva sees himself as lower than others there is no end to their learning; no matter where they are or who they are, they would be open to their environment and the people around them.

Sounds a great way to be alive to me.

 


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New School Year: one Breath at a time

Time for a fresh start, following 5 and a half weeks of relaxing, recharging, reflecting and more recently gearing up, its a New School Year. The last 2 Septembers have caused me much anxiety and even illness. This year I want it to be different and I have a little plan.

My meditation practice ain’t much (30 minutes of meditation will always struggle against 23 and a 1/2 hours of ego as Trungpa Rinpoche would say), but I hope to begin to use it to directly improve (i) the way I deal with my day and (ii) the way I deal with other people. When I practice mindfulness or shamatha on my cushion I try to notice when my mind has wandered and then gently and precisely bring it back to the present. A few moments later when it wanders once more I do the same thing, over and over and over. I make no claims to be a mindful meditator, letalone a mindful person, but I am practicing and I want to bring the practice of meditation more often into my daily life. Shantideva says at the start of the 5th chapter of “The Guide to a Bodhisattva’s way of life”

Those who wish to keep a rule of life

Must guard their minds in perfect self possession

Without this guard upon the mind

No discipline can ever be maintained

The ability to bring my mind back to the present will allow me to let go of my prejudices and petty disgruntlements. If I catch that thought early, or even as it rises, I can gently and precisely notice it and bring my mind back to the present. Then, seeing things as they are – without my prejudices of me and them, good and bad, acceptance and rejection – “all my fears will come to nothing” (also from “The Guide to a Bodhisattva’s way of life” chapter 5)

I am old enough to know I will frequently fail at this. I will be cursing colleagues, students parents and the world in general once the gap-free chaos of term time restarts. But I also know that underneath there is mindfulness and awareness available to me and that with it I can be more generous, disciplined, patient and enthusiastic. Hopefully too my concentration and meditation will in turn be deepened by the changes in the other 23 and 1/2 hours of the day. The last verse in the 5th Chapter says

But all this must be acted out in truth

For what is to be gained by mouthing syllables?

What invalid was ever helped

By merely reading in the doctor’s treatises?

Please note any understanding I have of Shantideva’s work is because I have read the wonderful Pema Chodron’s “No time to Lose” Which is available from Wisdom Books here