Practicing the Path

The Thirty-Seven Practices of All Buddhas’ Sons: Verse One.

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The Thirty-Seven Practices of All Buddhas’ Sons

Revised translations of the Tibetan rGyal-sras lag-len so-bdun-ma by the Bodhisattva Thogs-med bzang-po and Thog-mthah-ma by rJe Tsong-kha-pa prepared [by the] Translation Bureau of the Library of Tibetan by Works and Archives

I pay heartfelt homage to you, Lokesvara;

You have true compassion extending to all.

To those who in every coming and going

Have seen that each thing is inherently void,

And thus can devote both their time and their efforts

With one aim in mind — “Let me benefit all!”

To such foremost Gurus and you, Lokesvara,

All-seeing protector, with utmost respect

I bow down before you in constant obeisance,

And turn to your service my thoughts, words and deeds.

The Fully Enlightened Victorious Buddhas,

From whom all true pleasure and benefits derive,

Have reached their attainment by following Dharma

And leading their lives through this noblest of paths.

To live by the Dharma depends on full knowledge

Of how we must practise and what we must do,

Thus I’ll attempt now a brief explanation

Of what is the practice of all Buddhas’ Sons.

This text, popular in all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, was composed by the Tibetan monk Gyalsay Togme Sangpo (1295-1369). It has been studied by young and old, ordained and lay practitioners for centuries. In thirty-seven concise verses, this text presents the essential practices leading to enlightenment.

My wish for this new year is to deepen my understanding of the stages of the path to enlightenment so I may be of benefit to all sentient beings. The Thirty-Seven Practices provide direction in what to avoid or refrain from as well as what to practice. My intention is to spend one week on each verse, read various commentaries and translations, contemplate its meaning, and put into practice with joyous effort each instruction. With steady effort I can develop a relationship with each practice based on my own study, contemplation, and personal experience.

For Week One, I have gathered texts and set my motivation. I pay homage and make heartfelt requests to Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) and all my precious gurus to always guide me. It is due to their kindness that I have this opportunity to learn and practice Dharma, the true medicine that brings all happiness and relieves all suffering.

Jampa Tegchok, Geshe (2005). Transforming adversity into joy and courage: An explanation of the thirty-seven practices of bodhisattvas. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.

Sangpo, Gyalsay Togme (1975). The thirty-seven practices of all Buddhas’ Sons. Dhargyey, N., Sherpa Tulku, Khamlung Tulku, Bersin, A., & Landaw, J., Trans. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.

chasing rainbows…….

San Francisco, California

September 4th, 2012

No doubt about it — I am easily distracted. Sensory stimulations and mental flights-of-fancy leave me always chasing rainbows.

Rainbows…a beautiful apparition that arises from thin air and causes me to pause, look, react. It distracts me from what’s most important in the moment, this very moment of precious human life.

Rainbow…a play of light that distract drivers resulting in highway accidents and delays…an illusion that led my grandfathers in search of buried gold — material, earthly wealth — in the hills behind their homes.

Rainbow…“an optical effect of the sky formed by sunlight falling on the spherical droplets of water associated with a rain shower.” http://www.answers.com/topic/rainbow-1#ixzz25uWyLpDq

Today I’m distracted by the desire to make apple-rhubarb jam from the garden’s bounty. I feel a bit “peckish” and crave a tasty snack and glass of refreshing chai iced tea brewed from scratch. I should be studying for an upcoming test on the Lamrim Chenmo. Ordinary cravings for food and drink distract me from contemplating dharma teachings.

I’m also distracted by Spotify (damn you!). Is it so important that today I must compile the soundtrack for the small, trendy café I will open in Paris someday. And there’s Facebook (double damn you!).  I should be uploading a resume for job applications. I should be finishing up that letter to Kemp for the Liberation Prison Project. He would like meditation and lam rim study materials to transform his days into dharma practice. Although I just emailed a request for books to be sent to him, I immediately fell prey to the attractions of music, visual pleasures, gossip, and mental engagement in ordinary samsara… again failing to practice dharma. I’ll finish a letter to Kemp later, postponing the practice of dharma yet again as if I have an unlimited lifespan.

I should be taking a walk, but am instead glued to this computer in a near-supine position, most likely consuming more calories drinking espresso than I am burning up by typing, stretching, scratching my nose, yawning, and thinking about what I would like to do the next time I stand up.

Ordinary, ordinary, ordinary. Now if I actually do take a walk, at least I can do it with thoughts of the health benefits to my precious human vehicle so difficult to obtain. But I’m getting sleepy. Should I let my body rest or should I pep it up and burn calories? Either way, it’s all engagement with illusion.

My mental chatter sounds like Charlie Kaufman’s in Being John Malkovich.

My solution to get out of this mental trap …

Meditate. Follow the breath; concentrate on the sensation at the tip of my nose. It’s a remedy that calms distracting, discursive thought. It’s a first step towards meditative absorption. Follow the breath. When I notice it straying, I gently guide it back to the object of meditation and let go.

Instead of chasing rainbows all afternoon, it’s time to cultivate the luminous, calm clarity that refreshes and redirects my body, speech, and mind towards what really matters in life.

It’s time to work a fourth step. Rooted in 12-Step fellowships, the fourth step is probably the second-most-feared step out of 12 – second only to the step about making amends. After all, who would want to voluntarily take a” fearless and searching moral inventory” of himself or herself? Nevertheless, the coming spring inspires me to clear land for a new garden within.

The process or working a fourth step begins with making a list of resentments towards people, institutions, and principles. I spent a week trying to come up with any resentments I harbored and came up completely at a loss. I know any ill will I have towards people, institutions, or principles resides only in my own self-cherishing mind. That’s at the core of all my Buddhist teachings and personal beliefs. Why should I be angry at someone who wants to be happy (just as I do), who acts out of self-interest (just as I do), and who most likely perpetuates causes for continued suffering (just as I do). I should be able to feel great (Maha) compassion for all beings including myself based upon this understanding.

Unfortunately, my “understanding” is quite different from my behavior.

In hopes of weeding out some resentments and make my sponsor feel of benefit to me, I set out to track my thoughts and behaviors for a week and see just where this self-cherishing mind popped up. Armed with a spiral notebook, I set up a page for each day, drawing a line down the middle and labeling one side “negatives” and the other “positives.” The first day I wrote more than one page. The next day I added a separate line across the top for “judging-converting” and “judging-holding onto”. That helped me shorten the writing considerably.

A few patterns immediately jumped out. If I were able to stay home alone, away from people, places, and things, I could have an easier time keeping my mind quiet, kind, and compassionate. I see the wisdom in “doing retreat.” Without the distractions of daily, outer life, it might be easier to focus in on the monkey mind, still its thoughts, and actually attain insight and spiritual connection.

However, if I did that without working on quieting my mind in my real outer world, I could easily do a “spiritual bypass” — use my spiritual beliefs, practices and experiences to avoid working through some of my real-life psychological “unfinished business.”

The two ways my self-cherishing mind showed itself without even a moment’s hesitation were when I was driving and when I observed others while standing in line in the express lane at our local Trader Joe’s.

When I drive, it seems like everyone is out to get me. Each and every person on the road is in such a hurry to get ahead that, regardless of safety or common courtesy, they race along, cut me off, swerve in and out of already-speeding traffic…you get the idea. Maybe I’m not alone in this observation. Maybe it’s just that, given my personal attitude, I’m like a hammer – everything I see looks like a nail.

Do I actually go out looking for this kind of mistreatment from others?

And, unfortunately, I’m a “counter.” I rarely buy more than 15 items at the grocery store at one time, so I always hit the express lane. Why is it that I count every item in every cart ahead of me (and also in the second express lane), passing judgment. Who’s following the rules? Scofflaws are judged harshly, particularly when it’s obvious that they shop there regularly and would surely know they have more than 15 items. It’s not like ET is there for the first time and doesn’t understand our social conventions.

The first day my writing project was all about them, those people out to get me or slow me down or cause me some inconvenience. My mind was really disturbed; I held onto these resentments. Great! Now I’ve got some fourth step material to work with.

As I said, on day two of the experiment I took what I’d learned the day before and tried to be more kind and compassionate towards others. I began noticing when I “judged” and tried to turn those thoughts around quickly and extend loving kindness and compassion to those who were the targets of my inner spiteful thoughts. I had my slips; but I was honest about writing everything down.

I experienced more peace of mind and happiness.

It’s been almost a week now since I began this project. My mind is more flexible. I can most often notice and change my inner dialog to something more kind and beneficial to myself and everyone around me.

In one week’s time I have not only found some juicy “character defects” to use for my fourth step, I’ve developed gratitude for all the people, institutions, and principles that provide me the opportunity to see my self-cherishing and convert it to compassion, love, and the wish for all to be happy—including myself.

This appeared on my Facebook feed today. What a lovely and profound statement! Thank you again, Lama Yeshe, for your wisdom and kindness.

There are three main areas of practice in Mahayana Buddhism: love, compassion and enlightenment mind. All teachings are grounded in these.

Love is cultivated by developing a sincere, heartfelt wish that all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.

Compassion is developed with the heartfelt wish that all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

The mind of enlightenment is developed with the heartfelt wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings in order to lead all beings to enlightenment.

Love and compassion are necessary to attain the mind of enlightenment. Without the mind of enlightenment one cannot attain enlightenment. All three are interrelated, interdependent.

Chandrakirti wrote in the Madhyamikavatara, “The Buddha arises from the Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattva is born out of love and compassion, but especially out of compassion.” The main cause of the Great Vehicle is compassion” (Sakya Trizin).

 A very simple and yet profound prayer follows:

 Prayer of the Four Immeasurables

“How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were to abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger. May they abide in this way. I shall cause them to abide in this way.

How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings had happiness and its causes. May they have these. I shall cause them to have these.

How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were free from suffering and its causes. May they be free. I shall cause them to be free.

How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were never parted from upper rebirth and liberation’s excellent bliss. May they never be parted. I shall cause them never to be parted” (Chodron).
 

Thought for the week

Whatever joy there is in this world, All comes from desiring others to be happy, And whatever suffering there is in this world, All comes from desiring myself to be happy.                     – Shantideva                           

 

Chodron, T. Retrieved February 18, 2012 at http://www.thubtenchodron.org/PrayersAndPractices

Sakya Trizin. Retrieved February 18, 2012 at http://www.hhthesakyatrizin.org/teach_interview3.html

My “Big-I” as a Teacher

 

The root of the problem, the true cause of our suffering, is not the external being or event that brings us harm, but rather it is our strongly selfish mind

—-Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Yesterday was a royal pain. Because they have a modified school schedule this month and need to be a million places during the day, I drove kids one place or another until 5:30 p.m. Somewhere in there I managed to serve hot lunch at the high school and rack up 100 miles on the car in bits and drabs. By dinnertime I was completely back-and-shoulder crippled from the car experiences. This morning I reek of Tiger Balm.

The term “road rage” sums it all up. For half the day I drove in a bubble of fear. Cars cut me off, swerved into my lane, and generally scared me to death. I began to feel like a little old lady afraid to drive on the freeway.

At 10:30 a.m., I took my son to his Krav Maga class. It takes 25 minutes door-to-door., but yesterday it took 50. He was late for class; I was, therefore, late for hot lunch duty. There was a car stalled in a lane. Then there was a crash on the overpass everyone seemed to check out. Then there was another stalled car.

The piece de resistance was probably my own fault, right? It’s always all about me. As we slowly inched our way down the 101, I said, “Aaron, how do you think they clean the sides of the road?” We agreed that it would probably be done around 2 a.m. when there isn’t any traffic. WRONG!

Police cruisers fore and aft, a scooper truck, and four sweeper trucks were slowly making their way along the shoulder of the road. It’s done in the day during high traffic time.

I was almost in five accidents, most of them with cars changing lanes on top of me. By the end of the day, I was so tired, sore, and frustrated that I was mad, honking at the car in front of me for not turning at the 4-way flashing stop. “We take turns here, lady! Go on!” We sat through two different trains to pass before even queuing up for the rail crossing. My daughter was mortified as I kept tooting the horn, trying to get the lady ahead to GO.

Within an hour of getting home I was nearly in tears with back and shoulder pain, most likely due to all the driving but also the result of a pained mind. Today, still sore of body and mind, I looked back on the fear->frustration->anger hill my mind and emotions scaled.

The “Problem.” The root of the problem is my selfish mind; that’s the true cause of my suffering, anger, attachment, envy. By seeing everything that doesn’t suit me and my self-cherishing wishes, I exaggerate small things into huge problems.  Because I have developed the habit of seeing difficulties related to driving behavior into “problems”, I get upset. This increases with repeated incidents; I move into anger. I have a “heavy, unhappy mind.” If I don’t realize that this is my own doing, I keep training my mind in this negative way of thinking. I keep looking outside myself for problems. The more this happens, the more I get angry (Zopa Rinpoche, p. 8).

Negative results of staying in “The Problem”. I am removed from others and from life in general. I continue to cement blocks of false perception into place, building a structure based entirely of noninherently existent phenomena, and guaranteeing I won’t be enlightened, at least in this lifetime. The more I cultivate my self-cherishing, the less space I have to cherish others. This means that, in addition to violating my bodhisattva vows, I can’t develop and experience the true nectar of bodhicitta.

How can I use “problems” in support of Dharma Practice? Lama Zopa Rinpoche advises that the mind is trained in two ways. First, stop thoughts of aversion to suffering, then generate the though of welcoming practice. I can still have difficult experiences, but I don’t have to be disturbed by them (Zopa Rinpoche, pp. 6-7).

Driving presents opportunities to practice Mahayana mind training. It is easy to watch my mind judge and blame others. It is easy to see my self-cherishing “Big I” moment-to-moment. Things outside me are probably not going to change for me. I’ve been so conditioned, habituated, in seeing problems that it’s difficult (but essential) for me to use everything for my growth and development. As long as I continue to see things as “problems”, I will be given more until I change lenses and use these experiences as spiritual practice.

The result of using “Problems” as fuel for attaining happiness. This one is simple: I can develop compassion. Through true, deep compassion for all beings, I can experience pure loving-kindness and happiness.

A Bodhisattva should constantly look at others with the wish to help the, with the wish for their happiness, with feelings of affection and with the attitude that they are his or her teachers (Rinchen, p. 43).

The more we have to work on our Egos. Observing ourselves helps to define who we are and how we treat others. It is good to be aware of our actions at all times, specially when it starts emotionally inside which triggers a mental state of mind which will progress depending the situation. So being Observant is always goodI love this slant on dealing with life. Everyone is my teacher. Every difficult situation, every difficult person is my precious teacher. Without these difficulties, I can’t catch a glimpse of my self-cherishing “Big I” and be able cultivate inner peace and happiness. Everyone and everything gives me an opportunity to disassemble my own mental afflictions and move closer to happiness and freedom from suffering, for myself and also for all sentient beings.

References:

Rinchen, S. (2001). Eight verses for training the mind.Ithaca,NY: Snow Lion Publications.

Zopa Rinpoche. (2001). Transforming problems into happiness.Boston: Wisdom Publications Inc.

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Zombie –   “often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli.  (Wikipedia.org)

The other day my daughter was talking about something a friend had done. She said, “I bet you’d be proud of me if I did that.” For a moment I didn’t know how to respond. I think she noticed my hesitation.

Finally I said, “I would be very happy for you if that happened.”  “But you wouldn’t be proud?”

 “Pride” is generally defined as thinking highly of one’s own importance. It’s a great example of self-cherishing. From a “negative” view, pride can refer to an inflated sense of one’s personal status (i.e. “self”). Again it’s all about my sense of “I-ness.”

 From either perspective, “pride” is a “feeling” that we all agree to via normal conventions. In all ways, the connotation “pride” holds one apart from / above others. Language is important. I began to explain to my baby girl how I didn’t like the word or concept of “pride” as it seemed (at least to me) that someone holds themselves above another. There’s usually an “I’m better than” attitude involved. I would much rather be happy for someone and rejoice in their good results.

From a feeling of pride I could imagine that it would be difficult to experience compassion for others. To be able to hold others as precious is the foundation for great (MAHA…again) happiness. To be “one of” rather than “different from” opens doors to a vast experience of life that enriches the moments we are here together.

 I remember Lama Yeshe saying he was a lazy practitioner. He said he was very lazy; he rejoiced in others’ happiness, good fortune, and good results. To rejoice in others’ good fortunes removes obstacles for enlightenment. It’s a simple practice, a very lazy approach according to Lama, but in fact a very difficult practice to both remember and do without attachment.

Back to the “Pride and Prejudice” reference. I love the book and the movies. It describes a situation where two loves from different backgrounds have to overcome their own personal “prides” and the outer (and inner) prejudices in order to find happiness.

 And what about prejudice? For me it stands side by side with pride. If I am full of pride, my “specialness,” then I feel better than others. I have automatically judged others without any objective knowledge. I have preconceived ideas; I have judged a book by its cover.

What happens more often…at least to me… is that I live life as an animated corpse, wandering through life hypnotized. On the down side this could be viewed as a waste of my precious human rebirth. On the plus side, just like a zombie, I am always hungry for brains. That very spark, the brains I hunger for, is my inherent Buddha nature eager to guide my zombie-like existence to enlightenment.

Maybe being a zombie isn’t so bad after all.