Dukkhaboy

Have felt worse


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Last days

Many Buddhists at some time will meditate on death. Tell that to a Westerner and their reaction is normally to screw up their face and say something like “gross” or “ewwww”. But there are many benefits to looking at it in this way. One of these is that it makes you think more about what you have right here, right now; a reminder of the preciousness of it all. Like a wake up call “Look around, ain’t this just great”.

Pretending that things won’t end when they obviously all do is just an unhelpful and, let’s face it, ignorant avoidance of reality. What is happening now is valuable simply because this is the only time it will ever happen like this. If you don’t reflect on the temporary nature of all that you have you will overlook its worth and beauty and be less likely to make the most of each opportunity.

Like all teachers across the country, I woke up this morning knowing that this week I go back to school. I am not asking for any sympathy after I’ve just had 5 and a half weeks holiday, but it is easy to slip into a low feeling as the end approaches. I didn’t do all those wonderful things I’d planned: I still haven’t tidied up that corner of the garden or read that long Russian novel or skipped through the sand dunes by the beach or whatever. But I cannot change that. It is done. The holiday is ending. The best and only ‘faithful-to -reality’ action to take is celebrate what I’ve got, make the most of what is left and enjoy it.


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Stuck in traffic

And here is a second nice turn of phrase I heard from Ajahn Amaro at Amaravati to go with the one I posted earlier today. (Pre- occupied)

He spoke of people saying they were “stuck in traffic”. He asked “why don’t they say they are stuck in the middle of people, in the middle of good people?”

I thought what a good way of looking at driving that is. It takes away the impersonal we can all succumb to behind the wheel. Instead ‘stuck in the middle of good people’ might mean we could think about what the other person is thinking behind their wheel.


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Pre occupied

I heard a lovely take on this phrase recently from Ajahn Amaro abbot of Amaravati monastery (bio here) He was talking about generosity and how can be easier to give someone a physical gift rather than give them our attention and our time.

He described our inability to do the latter as being pre-occupied or ‘already full up’. In other words we are replete with ourselves and thoughts about ourselves so we cannot fit in time or thought for anyone else. We are unable to give or be generous because we are caught up in self cherishing thoughts

To jump Buddhist Traditions, Lama Zopa Rimpoche says “following self chasing thoughts brings only pain failure and disharmony” (from chapter 6 in Turning Problems into Happiness). Because our selfish mind wants us to be the best, smartest, most successful etc, when this does not happen we suffer from disturbing thoughts (called Kleshas in Buddhism) which affect our mind, ourselves and those around us negatively.

So being pre-occupied with ourselves is not a good way to be. Let’s see if I can  get of my own bubble and have a look at someone else’s. Should do me some good 🙂

(p.s. here is a second nice turn of phrase he spoke of later the same day)


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So much stuff and so little space

Just 3 days at Amaravati monastery. Not a long time. People there have been in robes for decades. So hardly a bout of elongated austerity.

But after just the 72 hours, stopping at a motorway services and queuing for a coffee was almost a whole new experience. The all-areas assault of the senses. The jam packed fullness of everything and every place. The colours, the noise, the choice, the rush. There was no time and no space for anything else to squeeze in. So many colours of drinks and drink bottles. Not a worktop without a pile of cups or lids or snacks on it. No wall without a picture or four hung on it. The radio nudging in for when there was a part drop in noise. So so much to sense, to want and desire. No escape from it anywhere you look or listen.

Earlier in the week this was all unremarkable to me and yes, I know, by next week it will be again. But, by gum, if the Buddha is right and craving after stuff and contact with stuff is what causes suffering and discontent (dukkha), then this is a hard place and era in which to become Enlightened. 

Now give me my coffee fix. I’ve missed it in the last 3 days.


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Mid Life Questions

Personally, I have married, mortgaged and helped raise 3 children Professionally, I have studied, qualified,  applied, been appointed and worked. And now I have a family, a career, savings and a house. All is good. Well done me.

Around about the time William the conqueror was searching out King Harold at Hastings, a  Tibetan saint Milarepa was coming out of a long time of retreat and realisation. He wrote:

“All worldly pursuits have one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow

Acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births in death.

Knowing this one should, from the very first, renounce acquisition and heaping up, and building and meeting,

And faithful to the demands of an eminent guru, set about realising the truth, which has no birth or death.

That alone is the best science.”

I read this quote in Vicki Mackenzie’s excellent book on Tenzin Palmo called “Cave in the Snow”. Tenzin Palmo is an East ender who became a Tibetan nun in the early 60s and has spent at least 12 years of her life meditating in a cave 12,000 feet up in the Himalayas, which certainly fits in with this definition of good science.

So if you think the spiritual is worth pursuing, to what extent is it worth pursuing? If you believe there is something other, something else, then what value should you place on the material? How do you get the right balance?

I am sorry this is all questions and no answers. You need to read someone a lot more enlightened than me to get some of those. Though Milarepa may be an extreme place to start.

Wikipedia on Milarepa here

Biography of Milarepa here

cave in the snow

 

 

 

 

 


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That isn’t me

Sitting down is rarely some marvellously peaceful happening for me. More often than not, I am replaying past perceived injustices (“she should never have said that to me”) or imagining how I could do better in the future (“…. and then they will all like and respect me again”)

There is one thing I am beginning to understand even tough it is only conceptually. It has come though hearing 3 similar teachings. Firstly, for a while now I have been attempting to follow Pema Chodron’s suggested meditation technique. I try to notice I am distracted away from my out breath, say to myself ‘thinking’ and without judgement return to the object of concentration. As this stands this is as much mindfulness as it is Buddhist meditation.

Secondly, earlier this year I heard Venerable Amy Miller talk. I remember her telling us to see thoughts as ‘mental events’ and not as who we are. So it’s not that “I am angry”or “I am jealous”. Rather you can view it as “there is an angry thought” or “there is a jealous mental event”. Immediately  there rises the possibility of a different and truer perspective on it all.

Finally, I have been studying Buddhist psychology through Geshe Tashi Tsering’s book of the same name In this he explains Buddhists say people have (i) a main mind that is all clear and all knowing and (ii) mental events that colour this. He compares it to a blank screen and the images beamed upon it. “We never really see the screen, because we are so caught up in the images projected on to it.”

Putting this together gives a fuller picture of how mindfulness works in Buddhism. It is more than just a technique for obtaining calm and letting go. Instead it can become a step to better understanding our mind and our misplaced sense of self. The mental events of our mind are less permanent and solid than we believe. So that when we are able to see this they immediately have less hold over us. Powerful stuff indeed.