Lam Shenphen Zangpo, 3 April, 2009, kuenselonline.com
It is impossible to explain each verse in a short article like this, but at least I’ll try to offer some examples of how to approach the practices.
Let’s explore a couple of verses at random: “Regardless of how long spent living together, good friends and relations must some day depart. Our wealth and possessions collected with effort are left fare behind at the end of our life. Our mind, but a guest in our body`s great guest house, must vacate one day and travel beyond. Cast away thoughts that concern only this lifetime - the Sons of the Buddhas all practice this way.”
37 Practices of the Bodhisattva (c) CortoMaltese_1999 http://www.flickr.com/photos/drepung
Superficially, the verse appears to implore us to abandon worldly life. This is not the case. If enlightenment depended on leaving friends and kin, then all we have to do is spend some time on a desert island to achieve it. It is not that simple. Whenever we consider the teachings of the Buddha, it is important to bear in mind that the focus in on transforming the mind and alleviating suffering. Physical action only supports this role.
Of course, undergoing intense mind training in a retreat environment can offer enormous benefits, but the best time and place to practice is right here and now - not at some future location that may never materialize.
Happiness is the motivation for our lives. From having a biscuit to getting married, everything we do is done with this intention. Most of the time, however, we don’t consider whether our action actually leads to this goal. We just follow habits and impulses. Even a gangster kills with the intention of being happy. Yet, I have never met a happy gangster.
Often, we are like a person in Wangdue who wants to go to Jakar, but drives South. Even after he does not reach his destination after a day of driving, he does not check his direction. Instead he drives faster.
In this respect, Gyalsé Ngulchu Tokmé is inviting us to examine our direction. It is not that friends and relatives are bad, but that our connection with them is often one of dependency. We feel lonely, and immediately reach for the phone. In this way, friends and relatives actually hinder our goal - to achieve freedom from suffering.
I’ll explain further. Emotions such as loneliness arise in the mind through a combination of many factors, such as past fears, mood and educational and social influences. In this way, they are a compounded phenomena, no different from a rainbow or mirage. They appear, but lack true existence. If this is difficult to accept, then try to locate the feeling of loneliness. Is it in the brain, in the heart or perhaps somewhere else? Like a mirage or rainbow we will not find it. In this way, we should understand that the emotion cannot harm us. It is only a sensation, and the way to realize this is to just watch it in a non-judgmental way.
When we do this, fears dissolve like storm clouds in the clear Autumn sky. On the other hand, constantly calling a friend at the merest twitch of loneliness perpetuates the illusion. It is like taking an aspirin to cure a chronic disease. The symptoms may temporarily disappear, but the overall condition deteriorates.
Therefore, the verse is not recommending that we abandon friends and family, but instead abandon the misconception that they are a solution to our emotional problems. If we can do this, then we can develop a healthy relationship with our associates that truly benefits all.
Here is another verse: “If in the midst of a large crowd of people someone should single us out for abuse, exposing our faults and flaws, we should not get angry or become defensive but instead just listen in silence and, heeding his words, bow in respect to this man as our teacher. The sons of the Buddhas all practice this way.”
Outwardly, this passage may appear to advocate passive acceptance, but this is not the case. Like the previous verse, it offers an effective way to work with the mind. For example, most people would feel embarrassed if their faults were exposed in front of a thousand people. Resentment and perhaps revenge would follow. However, we do not have to respond in this way. Instead of following our habitual responses, we could instead use the experience to examine our mind. We question what causes us to feel embarrassed. And, if we are honest, we will acknowledge that we have developed a pretty solid and overrated impression of ourselves. This is why the words hurt.
The verse invites us to free ourselves from these habitual responses. Rather than protecting ourselves from the outer world, we use the light of wisdom to examine the target. We ask what is it that hurts. Under this kind of scrutiny, the target dissolves like ice under the midday sun. We regain our flexible and spacious mind. When this occurs, there is nothing for the words to hit. This is no small liberation.
The thirty-seven practices are an invitation to explore our mind. They are not indictments to abandon our responsibilities, but instead offer advise on how to deal with our world in a healthy and beneficial way.
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed
or Twitter feed!