Monthly Archives: December 2009

Purification Through Patience – part 2

This is my adaptation of a teaching I received in 2006.

We need to be fully accepting of everything, welcoming it wholeheartedly without wanting it to be otherwise. For example, with respect to others, think how we can practice not just an acceptance but an allowance. We need to allow people to think, say and do things a little bit more than we presently allow them to. We should to allow people to have their own way. It’s difficult because we always want to have our way, to do things our own way, so it’s quite a step just once in a day to allow someone else to do what they want, because what we feel is “it’s still not right, there will be some harm here, because I know what’s best. The best results always come if we follow my way.”

So, in the same way I asked the question what does “it’s wrong” mean, now I’ll ask what does “it’s best” mean? Best for what, best for whom, best for when, best for where? We do what we want to do and another person becomes really unhappy. So is it best for them? No. Of course not, because they are unhappy. How can you say it’s best for them, they’re unhappy! “Well the long term result . . . in the long term they’ll be happy.” Ridiculous! What does it matter anyway if it is ‘best’? If we’re going to say something is ‘best’, ‘best’ allow someone to have their own way, to do things that they think are best, unless there is genuinely some harmful result.

If we’re really intent on purifying our mind so that we experience all good results, then just allow someone to do what they want. Allow someone to speak. We don’t even do that, not properly. We can’t because we want to speak. After a short while we’ve had enough of listening. We don’t fully listen anyway, because all these thoughts are coming up about what we want to say, aren’t they? Then there comes a time when we don’t allow that person to speak, we speak ourselves. Sometimes we speak over people: they’re speaking but, because we’re not allowing that, we just speak more loudly, at the same time. Actually in today’s society that’s quite normal, often you hear three or four people all speaking together. Who’s listening? No one, they’re all just talking, they’re not allowing anyone to speak and then listen to what they’re saying.

I would say even if someone’s being horrible to us, they’re saying horrible things, allow them to. Think carefully about the results you would really like to see, even the results for that other person. Just allow them to speak in that way. Perhaps they are criticising you for something, perhaps even for something you haven’t done. Allow them to, and then afterwards, if you are able, then apologise. It hurts, but you are trying. You are allowing that person to say what they want to say — so purifying. It depends what you want. I would say that in that case it is immensely purifying, because if you wanted to, you could do something about it: you could just tell them to shut up. But what good results? You keep telling someone to shut up, such intolerance, not accepting, not allowing that person to say what they want to say, not allowing any bad feelings to remain in our mind, what will happen? There’s no purification taking place whatsoever, because of our habitual negative, deluded response. What do you want? “I want to purify my mind.” OK, this is how you do it.

When we share similar wishes and another person wants just what we want, we should allow them to be “the first to get the best” as Geshe Chekhawa calls it. It’s so far-reaching this advice, allowing others to be the first to get the best. If together we’ve accomplished some great result, what we should want is for other people to receive praise. If someone else comes along and praises us we should say “no, it’s this person, they worked so so hard.” Or perhaps they didn’t, and that person’s praised, and we’re thinking “but . . !” Just allow it to happen, don’t do anything, because we could.

Think about all the things that happen in a day and what actually you just allow to take place without some kind of contribution, changing causes and conditions so that you can get what you want and avoid what you don’t want. If you can start patiently allowing, then you will find that your perception and experience of everything begins to change, through the purification that begins to take place. If you are genuinely taking these steps, the purification is strong, it’s deep and it can take place quickly. Please do not underestimate this practice as a purification practice. You will find that your perception and experience of suffering, of what you would normally consider to be going wrong, it changes. Really. Your perception and experience of people, situations you find yourself in, definitely they begin to change. Why are they changing? Because of the purification that is taking place. Over weeks, months, years. So many changes will take place in your mind, especially with respect to adversity. Our usual fear of adversity, of sufferings, of difficulties will diminish until finally it will cease. We won’t be afraid of what may happen, and when something does happen that most people would think would be terrible we don’t suffer, we don’t suffer anywhere near as much, we don’t feel ourselves to be in as much danger. Many of our fears and sufferings begin to disappear, oddly, because rather than working with the usual causes and conditions, we’ve stopped. Rather than being so concerned, looking outside for causes of things going wrong, for example, causes of our suffering and so forth, we stop. And then whatever happens we accept, we allow to happen, and the fears, sufferings, dangers begin to go.

Of course we need a lot of courage to engage in such a practice. It’s not easy, but if we rely wholeheartedly upon our Spiritual Guide [Al-Hadi], He will give us that courage. We need to rely upon our Spiritual Guide if we are going to engage in this practice, let alone achieve success in it. He will give us everything we need, He will help us to accomplish such great results with this practice, but we need to rely upon Him wholeheartedly. Our Spiritual Guide provides what is best for us. We don’t really know what’s best for us, our Spiritual Guide knows what’s best for us, so He provides just what we need. Our Spiritual Guide provides us with conditions that will bring out the best in us, conditions that will function to draw out the good potentialities that we have in our mind, conditions whereby we are able to purify our mind. In dependence upon our Spiritual Guide’s blessings our mind is transformed. We do not fully understand how our mind is purified and transformed through receiving blessings, but sometimes we feel that purification, that transformation taking place, such is the power of the blessings.

We ask our Spiritual Guide to help us in many ways to do many things. In this context we are asking our Spiritual Guide to help us to purify our mind. And then let Him help, allow Him to help, to do what He knows is best. So previously I was saying “our Spiritual Guide knows what’s best”; of course, with His omniscient wisdom He knows what’s best and will do what’s best out of His compassion and supreme skill. We need to give Him that opportunity: “You know what’s best, please help me to purify my mind.” We want opportunities don’t we? The more opportunities the better. If we really do wish to purify our mind and there is an opportunity to do so, surely we’re going to take it, aren’t we? Further, we’re going to look for opportunities aren’t we? “Please give me as many opportunities as possible.” Our Spiritual Guide will always provide us with opportunities. If we want, He will give us one opportunity after another. Recognise them, ask for those opportunities, look for them. He’s providing us with opportunities, so where’s the next one? “Ah ha – here’s another one. My Spiritual Guide has given me another opportunity. It’s just what I want. An opportunity to purify my mind. How wonderful. Thank you.” And we take that opportunity. We wouldn’t want to miss it. We take it. Believing also that He will help us to take that opportunity. He will help us during that time to purify our mind, as long as we are turning to Him, we must keep turning to Him for help. “Please help me, I want to purify my mind. Help me. Keep helping me. There’s this great opportunity. It’s a hard one this one. Help me.” And He always will, of course.

He knows what potentialities we have, He knows the obstructions in our mind, He knows those potentialities that are obstructing the ripening of our soul, He knows what’s getting in the way. If we ask, He will help us to remove those obstructions so that there is no longer anything obstructing our progress towards complete purity. If we believe that He knows what’s best, then we can appreciate whatever comes our way as an opportunity to purify our mind of such obstructions, especially when things are difficult, especially when we experience some discomfort or pain, physical or mental. Actually there are so many opportunities, if we check carefully. There are so many opportunities in just one day to purify our mind. Imagine taking every one of those opportunities! If we really take every opportunity, believing that we are being given those opportunities, how long would it take to purify our mind? Not long.

Many saints in the past have purified their mind swiftly especially in dependence upon a profound reliance on their Spiritual Guide. At the end of their life? No way. The end of their impure life took place within just a few years through purifying their mind completely. There are many, many examples, hundreds, thousands of examples of saints who purified their mind so quickly. They purified their mind completely by taking one opportunity after another that they felt in their heart was given to them by their Spiritual Guide, in one day, again and again and again. We can do that. We can be purifying our mind so much right now every day. Getting closer, and closer, and closer. The saints have done it in the past. Different circumstances, different times, different conditions and so forth, but essentially that purification can take place and in dependence upon that deep reliance on the Spiritual Guide, we can transform into pure beings.

Purification Through Patience – part 1

The following is my adaptation of a teaching I received in 2006

Because we are so concerned with avoiding or overcoming any physical or mental discomfort or pain and achieving physical and mental comfort and pleasure, we spend a lot of our time trying to identify the causes and conditions of things happening in our life. We want to know what will give rise to pain and pleasure, and what we can do either to stop such causes and conditions assembling, or to help them assemble. We do this all day long: trying to manage things, adjusting, moving around, pushing, pulling, trying to keep control. It’s so important for us. We need to know what are the causes and conditions leading to certain effects that are taking place in our life, we need to know so that we can maintain some control over our life, so that we don’t have to experience so much suffering, so that things don’t go wrong.

Sometimes it doesn’t work: we’re eating really really healthily, we have a good diet, we exercise, and yet we get sick. Maybe there is something in our diet, we change that and still we get sick. Or I take medicine because the doctor says this medicine works, other people have taken it and say that it works, so I take the medicine . . . and it doesn’t work for me. I want to accomplish a particular result and everything is perfectly in place but the result doesn’t occur, something goes wrong – that doesn’t make sense! There’s some frustration in our mind: “that’s not supposed to happen”. We’ve checked, and it’s still not happening. Why? We don’t know what to do. It’s like when you’ve lit a firework and you leave it and nothing is happening and it doesn’t make sense . . . it’s got the guarantee on the box . . . and you’re afraid to go there . . . is it going to work or is it not? It’s not making sense. What am I going to do?

When we experience suffering or misfortune we look outside for the cause. We may suffer from bad headaches, and we conclude they are caused by eating sugar. We’ve done that haven’t we? “I must cut down on the sugar, I must cut down on the chocolate, I must cut down on the coffee” But if eating sugar was the main cause of headaches, everyone who eats sugar would suffer from headaches, but they don’t. Why is it that some people suffer from headaches if they eat a little bit of sugar when other people don’t even though they have three teaspoons of sugar in their tea every day? Headache arises from the potential for headache. Where is this potential? Is it in the sugar?

When we are experiencing suffering, either physical or mental, when we are experiencing difficulties, when things are going wrong, the first thing we must do is ask ourselves “why?”. Normally when we experience suffering, when things are going wrong we respond or react so quickly, in order to make some changes so that the suffering ceases, so that what is going wrong changes into what is right. Instead, rather than go straight in and sort it all out like we normally do, we wait a minute . . . wait . . . wait. Why is this happening? Where is this suffering coming from, where is this situation coming from? “Now is the time to purify my mind, to purify my soul, now. I accept this suffering, I accept what is happening right now with a grateful mind.” This patient acceptance itself is so purifying, and we can take this practice a little bit further by not just patiently accepting suffering, not just happily accepting things going wrong, but by even allowing these things to take place.

We need to think about the difference and the relationship between acceptance and allowance. It’s easy to fool ourselves into believing that we are practicing patient acceptance when in fact we are not. Imagine something happens that we don’t particularly like so we are quite patient, we experience some suffering, but still we make some changes. There may be some patience in our attitude, but not much. We make changes because we know we can make them. This is typically what we do. We are managing, and we are managing very well; we’re controlling, and we are controlling very well. This indicates that we haven’t given up on the idea that things should be different than they are. In our heart we not only feel they should be different, we believe we should make them different. All I have to do is say something or do something, and things will be different. I’m still working with causes and conditions: removing some, adding some and, hey presto, I’ve got what I wanted, sometimes without having to practice any patience at all. It looks like we have some patience . . . maybe. We know in our own heart if there is patience or not. If there is some difficulty we can change it straight away, so there’s no problem! Patient?

If a fly lands on my head I can just ‘patiently’ flick it away. So you tell me, if I was to do that, would you think that I was patient? I look like I am patient, I can just carry on talking, patiently, as the fly lands on my head, and I just flick it away ‘patiently’. “That fly shouldn’t be on my head”. I’m not accepting it. I know that if I act then the change takes place: where once there was a fly on my head, now there is none. How much do we really allow to take place in our life? Not very much. One way of dividing patience is into accepting that which we can do nothing about and accepting that which we can do something about. We would not say “I’m allowing it to rain”, but you can allow that fly to remain on your head. I would say that patient acceptance in general is very purifying, but allowing things to happen when we could actually do something about them if we wanted to is immensely purifying. We feel so often there is something we can do about what’s happening. What I’m suggesting here is that we don’t do anything, rather we allow whatever is taking place to take place, having given up the idea that things should be different from how they are. I’m allowing something to happen when I could, if I wanted, prevent it from happening or stop it from happening. It’s an acceptance, but I think it’s a very powerful kind of acceptance, allowing something to happen. It is both purifying and difficult.

For example, in respect to mental discomfort, mental suffering, don’t be in such a rush to free yourself from it. If someone is criticising us and there is a bad feeling in our mind, it actually feels quite painful. What we would we normally do is stop that person from criticising us, as if the person criticising us is the main cause of our mental suffering. (Where is that suffering really coming from?) Instead, with a deep breath we just accept that suffering. We allow that painful feeling to remain, and eventually it will go. Normally, because we cannot bear that feeling, we have to do something, we have to say something to that person, we don’t allow them to continue. In fact we should accept that suffering, allowing it to remain in our mind and allowing that person to continue. It’s so purifying. Normally our need to escape from unpleasant feelings is so urgent that we do not give ourselves the time to discover where these feelings actually come from. When painful feelings arise in our mind there is no need to panic. We can patiently accept them, experience them – and we can only do that if we allow them to remain in our mind – we experience them and investigate their nature and where they come from.

So when things go wrong I’m going to allow them to go wrong. Why don’t we want things to go wrong? What does ‘wrong’ mean anyway? Things are going wrong, and I’m just not allowing that. What does that mean, “something is wrong”? Why is it wrong, what makes it wrong, and why are we in such a rush to put things ‘right’? If you think about it, we’re doing this all the time because mostly things are not right, and things are never perfect, and we want things to be perfect. So we will keep doing something to make things better in the hope that actually they’ll be perfect. We don’t stop. “It’s wrong that the fly lands on my head.” What’s wrong with that? Let’s ask the fly: “Do you think what you’re doing is wrong?” “No I think what I’m doing is right”! Why is it wrong for me, why do I have to do something?

It’s not very often that we just accept or allow things as they are, because we think that we can make them better. We’re given a meal, great! We taste it, “where’s the salt?” We put a bit of salt on. “That’s better.” Because it’s not quite right, it’s not perfect. “That’s better, but still not perfect, a bit of pepper.” And so it goes on and on and on. All day long we’re doing it: an itch. “that’s unacceptable, I’m not allowing that”. It’s gone. The itch has gone now. “That’s better”. We don’t stop do we?

So now you’re thinking: “You’d end up doing nothing”. It’s impossible. You’re always doing something, you can’t stop, but it is what we’re doing and why we are doing it. So please think about just allowing things to happen. We’ve got to be sensible, we don’t need to go to any extreme, of course. If allowing something to happen is going to be harmful in any way then of course we don’t allow it to happen. Our foremost concern should be that neither ourselves or others are harmed either directly or indirectly if we allow something to happen. We have to think carefully about this: if it’s clear that either ourselves or others will be harmed in some way then of course we shouldn’t just allow that thing to happen, instead we should make some changes with a good motivation and a patient mind.

part 2 will follow soon

Indicting The Self

The story of the Indian Buddhist master Atisha and his insulting cook sheds light on the practice of indicting the self. When Venerable Atisha took Buddhism from India to Tibet he also took a rude cook with him who was in the habit of insulting Atisha. The Tibetans, who held Atisha in high esteem, were astonished at the cook’s behaviour and offered to find a replacement but Atisha told them that he needed this man. Everyone else was so polite and respectful to Atisha that this rude, contemptuous cook was a precious resource.

Atisha was a practitioner of training the mind, a special branch of Buddhist practice that subsequently became known in Tibet as lojong. Practitioners of training the mind are very skillful at transforming adverse conditions into the spiritual path – at making positives out of negatives. The heart of this practice is indicting the self. This is what Geshe Chekhawa means when he says “gather all blame into one” in Seven Verses of Mind Training. Atisha and his followers, known as the Kadampa Geshes, recognised that all of our problems, suffering and unhappiness are caused by our false sense of self-importance. Therefore it is appropriate to indict or blame this false sense of self.

Atisha’s cook was a valuable resource because he reminded Atisha of the negative aspect of himself while everybody else was busy venerating and respecting him. Because Atisha was a humble spiritual practitioner he would not have lightly dismissed the cook’s insults, thinking “I will accept these insults patiently but really I know that they are false.” Instead, Atisha would have considered the insults carefully, examining his own self for faults. If the cook accused Atisha of arrogance, heartlessness, or fakery then Atisha would have scrutinised himself, suspecting that the cook may be right. This is why the cook was such a precious resource. Atisha advised us not to think about our own good qualities but instead to think about the good qualities of others, and not to think of the faults of others but instead consider our own faults and purge them as if they are bad blood.

If we do not indict our false sense of self-importance it will inflict misery on ourselves and others. The Koran calls the self (Arabic: nafs) in its raw state “the self that commands to evil” (Sura 12:53). The next state is the “self-accusing self” (Sura 75:2). This corresponds to the Kadampa practice of gathering all blame into one. The self-accusing self is our conscience, which is able to objectively see our own faults. Objectivity is key, because it is important not to turn the practice of indicting our self into a process of beating ourselves up, causing low self-esteem. We should identify and analyse our own faults, skillfully turning negative situations into opportunities for personal growth, but we shouldn’t invent faults that aren’t there. Atisha would have taken his cook’s insults seriously, and checked to see whether he really had the faults he was being accused of. However, if he concluded that the fault wasn’t present then he wouldn’t have engaged in caustic over-analysis or self-berating.

By gathering all blame into one through indicting the false sense of self, we reach the stage the Koran calls the self “at peace” (Sura 89:27). We achieve a happy and peaceful mind and are no longer subject to misery and fear, because we have eliminated its root cause, our false sense of self-importance.

The Political Instinct

In her book “The Mystery of Numbers” Annemarie Schimmel discusses the innate human mathematical instinct at the root of all systems of numbers and geometry. There is also an innate political instinct at the root of all our political systems and forms. The mathematical instinct governs human relationships to questions of oneness and manyness, controlling how we divide the world into quantities. The political instinct governs our relationship to questions of order, purpose and cooperation.

Humans instinctively feel that we are in this world for a purpose — it takes an extraordinary confluence of cynicism and apathy to knock this feeling out of us — and we also feel that we must cooperate with others to achieve this purpose. All of our patterns of cooperation, modes of persuasion, and our efforts to collectively agree upon goals spring from these initial political instincts.

To call our political instincts innate is to say that they are part of our nature, our soul, which means that they are basically good. Our mathematical instincts too are fundamentally good and useful, are one of the sacred endowments at the root of great human achievements. Yet unfortunately both mathematical and political instincts can be twisted and corrupted by the delusions of greed, hatred, pride etc. The opening scene of 2001 — A Space Odyssey graphically depicts the unfortunate human tendency to turn conceptual knowledge into weapons and slaughter.

One of the great challenges of our time is to rediscover our innate political instinct, before it got corrupted and became just another servant of business. This primordial political energy in our souls can bind us together through love and shared endeavour, and marry us to both ideals and reality.