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There is always room for Practice

January 25, 2013

Dogs PackingI found out in the second week of December that I would be moving my home, family and work from one country to another by the end of January 2013. A friend of mine told me that she had read somewhere that moving house is one of the most stressful things that happen to a person in their lifetime, on a par with losing your job and even the death of close friend or family member. I must say I  feel rather sceptical about the last part, but in general I think it is fair to say that it isn’t an easy experience! So, with such short notice and so much to do, my time has been and will continue to be for a couple more weeks, in very short supply and that’s one reason that I haven’t posted any updates on the blog.

Don’t turn a god into a demon

Another reason I haven’t posted any updates is that my formal / regular dharma practice of pujas and meditation has all but evaporated, which made me think that I probably had little of “dharmic” insight to write about. However, a conversation I’ve just had reminded me of something which has been really important and precious to me ever since I first became interested in Buddhism. It’s a practice of not making Dharma another item on my worry list.

I’ve seen it happen, that in times of stress, “Dharma” practitioners can turn in on themselves, feeling that their stress is a sign that they aren’t good enough practitioners, and therefore the stress is their own fault and that the fact that they don’t do formal practice just proves the point, which in turn points to their own failure, only compounding stress with un-happiness about themselves. If this pattern goes unchecked they eventually conclude that Buddhism makes them unhappy, and abandon it.

Where is your Dharma?

It can be a vicious cycle where thinking “only dharma can solve our problems” means “only formal dharma practice can solve our problems, only reading books labelled “dharma” can solve our problems”.

But Milarepa said,

“Everything I see teaches me Dharma”

And Geshe Kelsang says:

“The real spiritual guide is in your heart”

And Buddha said:

“You should not seek enlightenment anywhere outside your own mind”

So my view is that no matter what you can or can’t do on any given day, if we have some wisdom, if we have some understanding of the principal points of Buddha’s teachings, then our job is to learn to hear that wisdom and understanding from our heart, so that it becomes the “real spiritual guide”. Then you can see as Milarepa saw and find enlightenment exactly where you are, because your mind is always with you. What more do you need??

Dharma Means Freedom from Suffering, else its Not Dharma!

One thing I learned early on, was that the practice of dharma can only be joyful. I mean this in the sense that the meaning of Dharma is to release ourselves from the causes of suffering which exist and persist within our mind. I understand this to mean that if what I call “ practising Dharma” is making me un-happy, then I’m doing it wrong or, put explicitly, I am not practising dharma. I believe that this perspective has enabled me to have a long and positive relationship with Buddhism, a relationship which has always been of tremendous benefit to me. But  I have also known people who seem to have had more suffering because they met Dharma. I believe this is because they had no opportunity to avoid the problem Geshe Chekawa identified when he advised:

“Don’t turn a god into a demon”

Thinking I had nothing to post because I had no formal dharma practice going on, was actually a symptom of me doing exactly that. Because when I stop to think about it, I am practising dharma every day. So, I thought its good to share that there are many ways to practice, both formal and informal (like Geshe Ben Gungyal). I know from experience at other times in my life that a regular meditation practice during really busy and stressful times can make a very big positive difference. But for one reason or another, since mid December, I haven’t found much time or opportunity to include that.

Me And Dharma When I am not actually Sitting Down to Practice

OurTara Tangka

Our Tara Tangka

So what do I do when I can’t engage in formal practice? Well, lots of small regular things. For example we have a painting or thangka of Green Tara hanging by our bedroom door. It was a gift from  friends who brought it all the way from Ganden monastery in Tibet, they even took it with them when they visited Je Tsongkhapa’s retreat cave. So each morning as I stumble out of the room and begin my morning routine or rush! I pass Tara at the door and in my heart I acknowledge her and let myself feel her joyful wise and loving energy in my heart. I also remember my friend and his wife’s great kindness in bringing this gift for my wife and I. I let that kindness connect me to my friends. So right from that moment I have made a connection with what are called, the two fields of merit, the (1) Buddha’s and (2) ordinary beings. Both of whom are equally important if you want to practice dharma.

“Takes the 9 to 5”

When I catch the train, I take the chance to look past my present moment and see the experiences of everyone around me, sharing the bus stop (where my journey begins). I let myself see in each person the same “I” in them, which I normally think is unique to me. Geshe-la often says that all that separates self and other is a mistaken thought. By doing this I see myself in many different lives and moments, it takes me beyond my immediate concerns, literally broadens my mind. On the train, are all my kind mothers.  If I see them unhappy it reminds me that there is no protection other than wisdom and love. There was  a quote from Geshe-la on face book this week:

“Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys our enemies”

If the people I see  are happy it reminds me that we each wish for happiness and its normally so fleeting. So my journey to work naturally makes me wish for everyone I see to be free from suffering and find lasting happiness, and its clear, especially from examining my own experience that this wish is impossible to fulfil without relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. So I feel refuge, and I wish to become a Buddha. And then I read the newspaper too, because daily life goes on. But I try never to forget the context of it, and those precious moments on the train.

Throughout the day I let my problems encourage me to become wise, and then I am grateful to have met a path of wisdom, and naturally feel love and joy towards that path and those who show me it and help me follow it. By always maintaining a special view of dharma practice it remains precious and special, I never lose my wish and my love to practice it; and I feel it always there for me, like the most true and perfect friend.

Just with this experience, even when I can’t practice dharma in a formal sense, I receive a lot of inspiration and I feel close to my spiritual practice; and I hope I have the good fortune to live long enough and become strong enough mentally and emotionally to fulfil its purpose. But I also have faith that whatever happens, the skilful Buddha’s will find a way, either in this life or in the future to let me do this.

These really are a few off the cuff thoughts, which address what I think is  a serious issue of “not turning a god into a demon”, and hopefully is useful for other people to read about. And of course comment on! So please do feel free to share your reaction and thoughts in the comments section – although I can’t guarantee I will have time to reply for at  least another two weeks!!

From → Fundamental

18 Comments
  1. Liza Lyon permalink

    This is what I needed to read. I follow a few Kadampa blogs and my practice has stalled recently. This was very helpful and encouraging. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  2. Aw – thats really good to hear. I have a feeling it might be quite a common experience. Dharma is a life(s)long long journey, so it seems natural that we should expect and be prepared to adapt along the way, depending on where we find ourselves; which means we need to make our own judgement call and be prepared to learn from whatever happens . But still, its easy to think there is only one right way of doing things and end up just banging our head against a brick wall, getting a headache and going nowhere. As they say, if you can’t go through it, go around it :). I wish you the very best, and thanks for reading the blog 🙂

  3. You are always so inspiring and such a good example. It is so typical of you to use the name Lam Chung! Good luck with the move, both of you. I’ve been following all you adventures on fB and feel as close to you as when we used to see each other. 🙂

    • Kev, you’re my hero 🙂 Good to have you close one way or the other. And thanks for the good luck wish, we will need some, i’m sure! Keep doing your thing in Argentina, i’m enjoying your work. We might even see you out there in the next 20 or so months.. who knows!

  4. Mary ruhe permalink

    Great post. Helps to encourage me. Thank you.

  5. Reblogged this on {in.tegridad}inglés and commented:
    Excellent advice to Have a good life.

    • Thanks Kev 🙂 I like the look of your blog. I will check in regularly now I know its there. Espero que todo vaya bien, amigo.

  6. Geshe-la’s Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/geshekelsang) posted this quote from Joyful Path on Friday, I thought it was very appropriate to share:

    ” Since there is no way we can succeed in our spiritual practice while our mind is tense and unhappy, we should always practice in moderation, allowing our mind to remain joyful and relaxed.”
    Joyful Path of Good Fortune

  7. Excellent! Since the goal of dharma is our own happiness and ultimately that of our fellow beings, it stands to reason that we should ENJOY the journey. If we’re not or feel guilty or bad for whatever reason we are clearly doing something wrong. I would say my life is fairly busy and so I’ve learned to snatch moments here and there to meditate on a moment. Or just remember what I know, dig deep inside and apply it whenever I can. Thanks for such a brilliant ( and timely) reminder. Best wishes for the move. “Keep Calm and Practice Dharma!” kxxxxx

    • Very interesting points there Kim, thank you. I think we need to learn to watch our emotions and understand how they are affecting us.and if we can use them positively or not. But first is to see and know our feelings without rushing to judge them. There was a great quote on Geshe-la’s FB page this week on that subject:

      “Normally our need to escape from unpleasant feelings is so urgent that we do not give ourself the time to discover where these feelings are actually coming from. Suppose that someone we have helped responds with ingratitude, or that our partner fails to return our affection, or that a colleague or boss continually tries to belittle us and undermine our confidence. These things hurt, and our instinctive reaction is to try to immediately escape the painful feelings in our mind by becoming defensive, blaming the other person, retaliating, or simply hardening our heart. Unfortunately, by reacting so quickly we do not give ourself the time to see what is actually going on in our mind.”
      How to Solve our Human Problems

      Thanks for the best wishes on the move – i’ll (virtually) see you on the other side 😉

  8. It is so easy to forget these points in the humdrum of everyday life. You give good advise; not to forget the words of Buddha, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and Milarepa and show how we can do this, practically in our everyday lives. Thank You.

    • Hi Jon – finally back up and running with internet, thanks for your comment. I guess its fair to say that enlightenment and the paths towards it are not something that we should put off for when the “humdrum” has finished. Because it never will be! One of my favourite book titles is “After the ecstasy, the laundry”. I think that captures something worth remembering.

      • Hello Lam Chung, Thank you so much. I’ve just looked up that book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” on amazon; it looks very interesting so I will get it soon. I need good Dharma input! Thanks again. Jon Hickery, a Buddha wannabe!

      • Hope you enjoy it 🙂

      • Hi Lam Chung, Here is a good little quote or three adapted from writings by Tolstoy:-

        *A king, who wished to be a good and wise ruler, asked a wise hermit three questions; When is the best time to do any given task? Who are the most important people to deal with? and, What is the most important thing I should do in my life? *

        *The hermit answered:-*

        *The best time to do any given task is NOW, it is the only time over which we have dominion.*

        *The most important people to deal with are THE ONES IN FRONT OF YOU NOW FOR, WHO CAN SAY IF YOU WILL MEET ANOTHER LIVING BEING IN THIS LIFE?*

        *And finally, the most important thing to do is, TO BRING THOSE AROUND YOU TO TRUE HAPPINESS IN ANYWAY THAT YOU CAN.*

        *Adapted from a story by Leon Tolstoy*

      • Great story. Thanks for sharing that! I didn’t know Tolstoy addressed such things. Perhaps I’ll read him too; thanks for your book suggestion 🙂

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