It is so great how many positive Buddhist blogs there are around at the moment, I have received some really nice supporting and encouraging comments from these bloggers and other people which I do appreciate. Its nice to read about other peoples’ experiences within the New Kadampa Tradition and other traditions, and I kind of like the fact that the majority of people are anonymous (well at least to me anyway). It means that I can read about the people and their Buddhist life and practice without getting entangled in anything too personal or specific.

I am of course delighted too that it seems the days of only negative stuff being written about the NKT are finally coming to an end. I mean I suppose it is good to have different experiences highlighted, as I have said before, in that it does make changes happen. There are people that are just dragging up the same old stuff time and time again, that… yes we know was bad, but things have changed now, so please move on. 

Anyway to all you lovely bloggers ( New Kadampa Buddhist, Making my Life Meaningful, Wisdom and Bliss, New Kadampa Truths) and all the others that are writing about your Dharma practices, experiences and other information, and through this definitely providing me with support and encouragement, I just want to say Thanks!

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Death and Impermanence

September 23, 2008

Inspired by a few comments I have had from people on this blog and the wish to develop a daily practice, I wanted to write a post about death and impermanence. I am a fan of death meditation, I would say that it is probably the meditation I have engaged in the most in recent times. I like this meditation because I find it easy to relate to when compared with other meditations and I know the benefits of this meditation are immense. It’s weird that people think it is morbid and strange to mediate on death or often to even think about it. It is something that unfortunately we are all going to experience at some time and I for one want to be fully prepared because it scares me to think about the fear I will feel when I am dying (if I am aware I am dying). 

When very first beginning in Buddhism I don’t think I was that keen on the death meditations. If I remember rightly I think it was due to getting upset when thinking about death and dying. As a child and teenager many family members and friends of mine died through accidents or illnesses. I previously often thought about how these people were there one day and gone the next and often thought that is what will one day happen to me. At that time as well, a couple of people I was very close to had died and I really missed them. I have to add that now, personally, I know I cannot progress on my own spiritual path without meditating on death. When I meditate on death now, I definitely develop the wish to immediately practise Dharma purely. At present this wish does not stay with me for very long as I do not yet have a deep experience of this meditation.  Some benefits of this meditation that I have noticed personally are: 

My wishes and aspirations change from wanting to focus and be involved in worldly activities that I know will not give me what I desire, to wanting to engage in study and practice of Dharma and genuinely wanting to train my mind. 

I remember Dharma more throughout the day. If I am thinking that I may die today, I make an effort to develop a mind of compassion, so that if I were to die I would die with a mind of compassion. I often think about people maybe doing a Powa or making others prayers for me when I die, or me myself hopefully remembering that all important thread of clouds from Je Tsongkhapa at my heart to Maitreya in Tushita. I have to say though, it is a bit of a risk to just hope that I would remember something I am not familiar with at the time of death. Instead I want my mind to become so familiar with something so that when I am dying it will be easy and natural to turn my mind to whatever that is, such as the mind of compassion or the thread of clouds.

My attachment to people and objects and this life becomes less and I start to feel like I need to prepare for future lives. I don’t mean that I in anyway love or care less for people, it’s just that my funny attachment mind that becomes slightly less. 

Stupid petty things such as annoyances or ridiculous grievances I have with people or very often inanimate objects, for example when my computer does not work properly, don’t seem to be so important. I also have more restraint towards not even beginning to entertain any angry minds that might be trying to develop.

I am shortly coming towards the end of a period in my life, in which I have been involved with a small group of people. Several of us have become incredibly close and formed solid friendships. We have been through a lot over the past few years together and I believe that each of us feel that we have shared each others ups and downs throughout. I started to think about the situation I have been in with these friends and contemplate how different things will be over the next few weeks and beyond. 

I have to say I was quite shocked at my acceptance of the group situation coming to an end and the fact that my friends and I will not be spending the same time together and will be going our separate ways and pursuing very different things. It really is a revelation for me to feel like this and be accepting of the change. I remember having close friendships in the past and those feelings which arose when circumstances changed or friends and I drifted apart. It often felt like to lose a friend was the end of the world. 

I have to point out that I don’t believe I will love or care for my friends any less (although I might be wrong) just because I am suggesting that I have an acceptance of the change approaching. One of my friends in the group is so sad and upset about the forthcoming changes, she really seems to be suffering and just wants things to remain as they are. I am not criticising my friend in the slightest but this highlights to me how the mind of attachment can cause real pain. I know that for myself without having spent quite a lot of time thinking about impermanence and the benefits of the resultant non – attachment that it brings, I would almost certainly be feeling the same. I really believe that having met with Kadampa Buddhism, given its emphasis upon meditation on death and impermanence, I can love and care for my friends without expecting anything in return (maybe), which is definitely much nicer than the previous friendships I have had.

Surely this is part of my equanimity training too?

Good grief, there is a lot of NKT blogs and websites arising, many pro NKT and many anti NKT. I have been reading some information on these sites and ended up with a headache! Anyway there was one site with some information on that I just felt was really incorrect and misleading, so I have decided to give some of my opinions on what was posted. I am not going to post the sections of information that was written I will simply paraphrase the points the site raised which are fairly common anyway, and then give my view.

Firstly the site suggests that once one begins studying with the NKT only Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books will be studied, personally I see no problem with this. The books are commentaries to the essential practices within the Kadampa Tradition, which Geshe Kelsang references on almost every page, citing them as the works of Great Beings such as Je Tsongkhapa, Shantideva and Buddha Shakyamuni. The site goes on to suggest that the original texts that Geshe Kelsang’s books are based on, are available in many other traditions. I was considering this and thought that to know if this statement is true or not, one first needs to check the books of Geshe Kelsang and record what texts they are based upon. I recently attempted to do this by working through Geshe Kelsang’s books and noting down each of Buddha’s sutras and tantras and their commentaries which were quoted from and writing down the extracted point or example. I very soon had a large collection and had hardly covered a quarter of one of Geshe Kelsang’s books. The idea of me trying to hunt down all the various sutras of Buddha and the commentaries would indeed be quite an endeavour. Many of the texts remain un-translated into English. Others have translation done by English scholars, (some Buddhist and some non Buddhist) and to be able to discern the unskilful translation from the qualified one is again no easy task. 

The second point raised on the site was that of there being no pictures of the Dalai Lama within NKT centers. My view on this is there are no pictures of the Dalai Lama in NKT Gompas or bookshops. It is not known what pictures individual practitioners keep. With respect to Tibetan Lamas there are only pictures of those teachers within the lineage of the Kadampa tradition. Therefore there are many other Tibetan Lamas whose pictures are absent and there are many other Tibetan political leaders whose pictures are absent – because they bear no relevance. The site went on to state that pictures of the Dalai Lama were forbidden within NKT centers. To say this, is not correct. They are not forbidden for individual practitioners. A further pertinent point is it would serve no purpose having pictures (for veneration) of the Dalai Lama (in Gompas or bookshops) since we are trying to follow the Kadampa lineage passed down through Je Tsongkhapa and recent teachers such as Phabongkhapa and Trijang Rinpoche. The Dalai lama is mainly trying to establish the Rime lineage, a different method/ lineage all together and one NKT practitioners do not follow. 

The site goes on to state that the Dalai lama has requested, in order to maintain peace and harmony in the communities of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, that practitioners of Dorje Shugden should not attend his teachings or view him as their spiritual guide. I have to say I thought there was relative peace and harmony between Buddhist Tibetan practitioners before the Dalai Lama “requested” people to abandon their practice of Dorje Shugden. To call it a request and not a ban would be a severe understatement. It would appear that monks have been thrown out of their monasteries, practitioners denied essential papers (ID documentation) and not allowed in many shops and restaurants and not allowed to work within the government . The Dalai Lama has had a segregation wall built at Ganden monastery to divide practitioners, I have to ask, how does marginalising and ostracising encourage peace and harmony? After all this is a practice the Dalai Lama engaged in previously and his senior and junior tutors did also. In addition this practise was also done by nearly all of the largest Tibetan tradition. 

Another point was in relation to the NKT supporting the WSS. My response to this is, the NKT and the WSS are different organisations, last time I checked it was ok for a person to belong to two organisations. Clearly many members of the NKT are openly active in WSS and engage in demonstrations, however it is not within the NKT’s mandate as established within the internal rules to become political as an organisation. There is nothing hidden here – and this is really very straightforward to understand. Many prominent and well known teachers in the NKT have attended WSS demonstrations, so clearly there is no attempt to conceal. What is so difficult to understand here – everything is open – two different organisations with different purposes, having many common members.

The next section was in relation to the two high profile members of the NKT who had to leave due to sexual misconduct. I don’t really have much to say here as I think this has been covered in my other posts. Many ordained teachers have left – some because of issues of sexual misconduct. Everybody knows that celibacy vows are hard to maintain and that these type of mistakes often happen. 

Finally the site questioned why the WSS was protesting against the Dalai Lama’s advice and also made the crazy suggestion that it may be to deflect public awareness of internal difficulties in the NKT. My opinion is as follows, the WSS is protesting because they can protest against such a powerful figure. Many Tibetan practitioners of Dorje Shugden within their environments do not have the same freedom, because all their friends and neighbours are being taught to hate them. The activity of so many NKT teachers and members  joining the WSS and demonstrating against the Dalai Lama increases the attention given to the NKT of course and damages its reputation. As it clearly would. More criticism and investigation is directed at the NKT as a result of the demonstrations. Often this is by people and press who would otherwise never have taken any notice of the NKT. This was precisely the same during the demonstrations in the 1990’s. The NKT  and its reputation suffered then and they suffer now. It would have been so much easier for members of the NKT to sit back quietly and ignore the ban being enforced on Tibetan Dorje Shugden practitioners, this would have meant far less problems and difficulties for the NKT. So you have to ask yourself why do they demonstrate within the WSS, – with nothing to gain for themselves and attracting only criticism. They get no benefit and only receive harm.

What Have I Been Waiting For?

September 13, 2008

Lately I have been trying to develop some realistic daily schedule of practice which incorporates my commitments and the things I want to emphasise. This seems to have lead me to reflect on the last decade and consider what I have achieved. 

Materially I have achieved a considerable amount, in terms of my career, living conditions and social circles. When thinking about what I have achieved spiritually, my mind gets slightly more murky and unwilling to accept that I really have not achieved that much. 

I have been so fortunate to have had teachings pretty much handed to me on a plate so to speak, my conditions have always allowed me to access teaching, centers and festivals. I have to wonder what has prevented me from attaining any spiritual progress in this time. I can actually think of many things, laziness, procrastination, distracting worldly activities. I mean a decade of being a Buddhist, surely I should have some deep experience of some aspect of Dharma. In all honesty though, being completely honest with myself, my focus has been in relation to worldly achievements. That said I think I may have had enough of those now! I definitely do not want to use the next decade (if I make it through it) to increase and develop these external conditions. No, I want the next decade to be all about the internals. 

As I have said I am really fortunate with my conditions and I do have access to all I need  in terms of teachings, centers and support. I think as well that I am a fairly balanced person with a good basic understanding of the fundamental aspects of Buddhism. In fact, I don’t think I could get better conditions to practice Dharma. Wow, Im actually managing to convince myself I do have a precious human life. I want to put it to good use now. I mean it’s rare to have a human rebirth, but to have a human rebirth, meet Dharma, be interested in practising Dharma and have the mental faculties to be able to understand and practice Dharma……SUPER SUPER RARE! I don’t feel negative or depressed about my lack of achievement, I actually feel quite positive now, I know I have achieved things outside of Dharma that I never thought I would, this has given me confidence, so if I can apply this same type of confidence to Dharma practice then I know whatever I set my mind to, I will be able to achieve.

My Practice of Equanimity

September 12, 2008

I feel I have been so neglectful towards my blog over the last couple of weeks. this has been due to a change of work situation and generally getting caught up in worldly pursuits. I have missed writing, partly as this seems to help me evaluate certain aspects of my practice and sometimes for me writing about things helps me to understand more. I thought it time that I evaluated my determination to practice equanimity which I wrote about in a previous post. This will also show me if I am all talk and no action!

There has been some improvement in my practice of equanimity, I have managed to develop warm and friendly attitudes towards all living beings – that is until actually coming into contact with any. Not really, I’m not quite that bad. I have definitely thought more about equanimity throughout the days and have managed to maintain a certain degree of the motivation to want to develop this mind. It is this intention that has prevented me from: wanting to push people away that I don’t especially feel drawn to; and getting extra close to those people who I initially feel more favourable towards. For me this a good step in the right direction. I have realised how quickly I make judgements about people, in relation to friend, enemy or stranger. In certain situations when  remembering equanimity I have been able to stop unbalanced feelings from developing before they get out of control simply by remembering the benefits of the balanced mind of equanimity and the protection it offers. 

I have had a few challenging experiences of working with people in prisons who have committed awful crimes and state quite clearly that they have no remorse. To begin with I found it difficult to have a balanced mind, in terms of having aversion, however later by thinking about them and their present situation and possible future situations, I became able to undermine this aversion and feel compassion, and in turn found myself genuinely wanting to help them. I know this is no major development but is definitely a start. This has given me confidence in my practice, and any slight improvement beats a deterioration. Generally when faced with challenges, I don’t particularly like it, however any such challenge that makes one look at one’s mind and genuinely try to use the Dharma to challenge what is found there, surely must be worth it.

NKT Festivals

September 10, 2008

Well its been little over a month since the end of the summer festival, or there about and I can start to feel the enhanced motivation I had during and after the festival beginning to dwindle slightly. There are many things I love about NKT festivals, one of which is that I get to receive teachings from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, always a pleasure! another is the motivation and inspiration I get for my spiritual training. I have always tried to keep the time during festivals free from other things such as having to work or study at the same time. For me this has been beneficial because I do get very easily distracted by those other things and as I haven’t completely perfected the training of making everything part of my spiritual path, I am able to focus more on the teachings and retreat sessions. I feel fortunate that I am able to go to the three festivals each year that Geshe-la teaches at.

Another thing I love about festivals is simply the amount of people that frequent them and their motivation for doing so. People travel from so far away to listen to Geshe-la and I would imagine, to try practice what he teaches. Last festival I sat at the very back of the Temple and extended section and just looked at the rows of people, there were thousands of them. I think I actually genuinely rejoiced! I was thinking the other day about how my motivation does seem to slip, or at least not be as strong as it is during times of lots of teachings and practice. I think my plan to counteract this is to make myself a realistic daily schedule of practice. I don’t have this at the moment and any formal practice I do is quite sporadic. I think if I am able to implement this change  and stick to a routine hopefully my motivation to practice will remain more even overtime. So that’s my plan for now, a realistic daily schedule.