Welcome to our twenty ninth online suggested practise for the week. We are now broadcasting a live teaching each Monday evening. If you would like to participate please contact us using the contact form on the homepage.
1.0) If you feel so inclined, begin by reciting the usual prayers (please follow below links for text). Alternatively, try to think or articulate a wish for all beings to achieve liberation from suffering, etc .
Four Thoughts: contemplating each in turn – http://northantsbuddhists.com/the-four-thoughts/
Refuge Prayer: twice in Tibetan, once in English – http://northantsbuddhists.com/the-refuge-prayer/
2.0) How to Contemplate the Four Thoughts – Parts 2 and 3 – Presented by Bob Pollak
(Precious human birth, impermanence, karma, and suffering)
By H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (fromGates to Buddhist Practice: Essential Teachings of a Tibetan Master)
To attain enlightenment, we need both shamatha and vipashyana; neither by itself is sufficient. A bird needs both wings to fly—we need both method and wisdom, contemplation and relaxation. If we’re tempted to believe that we can attain enlightenment or even happiness by simply thinking, we need only remind ourselves that we’ve been thinking from beginningless time, so much so that our ideas could fill volumes. Yet no matter how methodical or intelligent, our thinking hasn’t made us any happier; it certainly hasn’t led us to enlightenment. If thinking alone produced enlightenment, we would already be buddhas.
On the other hand, a blank mind doesn’t produce enlightenment either. Bears and prairie dogs hibernate for months at a time, yet their state of blankness doesn’t produce enlightenment. Attachment to meditative stability can lead to a blissful existence for eons in a formless realm in which there is neither thought nor a physical body. Once the karma sustaining that existence is exhausted, however, the mindstream falls into a lower realm to suffer once again.
Allowing the mind to rest is effortless and reveals an indwelling, non-dual awareness that does not involve a subject being aware of an object. Usually, when people meditate, they try to do something. But instead of trying, simply let the mind relax and rest in the free and spontaneously open space in which thoughts arise and subside. Thoughts of past, present, and future will naturally occur, but don’t grasp at, follow, suppress, or push them away. When thoughts arise, they almost invariably stem from ignorance, attachment, or aversion. Their recurrence in the mindstream forms the basis for the continuity of samsara, so instead of being upset when they come up, respond to them with compassion, realizing that this is how you and all other beings become caught in suffering. Thinking, “There’s a thought—I have to get rid of it” is like the pot calling the kettle black, for both are thoughts. The goal is neither to think nor not to think, but rather to reveal the essence of mind.
In the beginning, the mind won’t stay relaxed for very long, because the habit of conceptualizing is so strong. Instead of getting caught up in ordinary thoughts, contemplate the persistence of the thought process itself and use it to turn the mind back to dharma. Redirect your ordinary thinking with the following step-by-step process.
Begin by contemplating one of the four thoughts, and then allow the mind to relax. Then pray to the lama, or another object of your faith, for the blessing to accomplish something of benefit for yourself and others before impermanence intervenes and you no longer have this body. Arouse compassion for the predicament of beings and make the wish that all will be liberated from the cycles of suffering. Then establish the commitment to apply your understanding and the methods of dharma diligently in order to accomplish this. Then contemplate the next thought, again allow the mind to rest, then pray, arouse compassion, and confirm your commitment to free all beings from suffering, and so forth. In following this process, you will come closer to a direct experience of mind’s nature, the absolute truth that cannot be grasped through words or concepts.
Meditating like this will prevent our practice from stagnating, the way milk forms a film when left in an open dish. We keep it fresh at each step. The key to meditation lies in cutting: after contemplating, we cut our attachment to concepts by relaxing. Then we cut our attachment to relaxation in order to pray. We pray, then we cut; we develop compassion and cut; we re-establish our commitment and cut to the next thought. This way, the mind won’t fall into ordinary thinking, and we’ll stay alert and focused in the quick of the experience. Meditation becomes fresher as it moves, like a stream as it tumbles against one rock and then another so that by the time it reaches the bottom of the cascade, it is very pure.
Awareness of mind’s true nature and the thinking process are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are inseparable—a good practitioner never loses awareness while eating, driving to work, or playing with children. The real skill in meditation lies in not losing awareness in the moment of transition from one thought or activity to another. By being fully present with each experience and each transition, you remain close to their essence. It’s like riding a wave. You become one with the movement of the wave as it rises and falls. If you get ahead of, behind, or separated from it, you fall— you lose it. In this way, you can learn how to ride the wave of the thinking process while not losing awareness.
The Sutra of the Bodhisattva Essence of Space contains a dialogue between a bodhisattva, Namkhai Nyingpo, and the Buddha Shakyamuni. The bodhisattva asks, “What is the spiritual meaning of leisure and opportunity?” The Buddha replies, “When the mind is distracted by discursive thought, there is busyness and activity. When the mind experiences peace due to the calming of discursive thought and the subsiding of that thought into the basic space of mind, there is leisure.”
In addition to the outer sense of leisure—having the opportunity to practice—there exists this inner sense, the unique human potential to experience the natural relaxation of the mind, the falling away of discursive thought. Until we know leisure in the inner sense, our dharma practice won’t be very effective, because we will be perpetually distracted by thoughts and concepts.
Another method for deepening our understanding of the four thoughts involves visualization. Begin by establishing pure motivation, your aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to help beings go beyond suffering and find permanent bliss and happiness. Then, in as much detail as you can, think about how things change. When your mind becomes weary, relax. Don’t force it; true relaxation doesn’t last very long at first.
When thoughts begin surfacing again, visualize yourself in very high, rugged terrain where sheer black rock cliffs rise precipitously. You have nothing to cling to. Only one precarious path snakes along the steep sides of the cliff, becoming progressively narrower until it completely disappears. Snarling, ravenous beasts are chasing you, but you’ve got nowhere to run. They close in; there is no safety anywhere. You’re helpless, without friends or family, without hope.
In desperation, you call upon your teacher, God, or Buddha—someone or something greater than you, and infallible. That embodiment of perfection appears, saying, “Don’t be afraid. These treacherous black cliffs have arisen as the result of your clinging from beginningless time to a belief in the truth of ordinary reality. This belief has become so strong that great danger surrounds you. Ignorance makes the landscape dark. These beasts that mean to kill you represent ripening karma you’ve created with your own poisonous mind. This narrow path that disappears into nothingness is the way of samsara. Whatever has come together will separate; whatever is happening now will at some point cease. Day by day, each step you take will pass without any possibility of reclamation or control. The shortness of the path indicates the insufficiency of the karma sustaining your life.”
Then the infallible being you have invoked asks, “What is death? What is samsara? It seems good, bad, happy, sad, but it’s like a dream. There is not a trace in it of anything true or solid. Delusion and ignorance perpetuate phantom experiences of danger and terror. To awaken from this dream is to realize the birthless and deathless absolute nature.”
After you have finished the visualization, let your mind rest. Finally, dedicate the merit of your practice to all beings, that they may awaken from the dream of suffering.
Through this meditation, you will see that delusion, ignorance, mental poisons, karma, and belief in the truth of an insubstantial reality all create the precarious conditions of cyclic existence. By recognizing impermanence and contemplating the empty, dreamlike nature of your experience, you will undermine your belief in its solidity.
Meditation on the four thoughts brings maturity to our spiritual path. Without it, we merely have “fair weather practice.” There is a Tibetan saying: as long as our food tastes delicious, our clothing is warm, the sun shines, and everything seems to be going fine, our practice will be reliable. But as soon as something goes wrong, a friend turns on us, we lose something or someone dear, it goes out the window. It doesn’t support us in times of need or provide refuge from pain and fear.
Our practice needs to be stronger—and to work more swiftly—than our obscurations. To control an old-fashioned bicycle we’re riding downhill, we have to pedal very quickly. In the same way, we have to work fast to avert the rapidly spinning negativities that are quickly taking us downhill. Otherwise, our anger, desire, and ignorance will only become more deeply ingrained.
Body, speech, and mind and the precious opportunity they offer are no more lasting or real than a bubble, no more permanent or substantial than a dream. We have to seize the moment, before it’s lost and impermanence takes its toll.”
2.1) Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? By Ajahn Brahn – Presented by Joyce Stirling
Unpleasant things happen in life. The only difference between a happy person and one who gets depressed is how they respond to disasters.
Imagine you have just had a wonderful afternoon at the beach with a friend. When you return home, you find a huge truckload of dung has been dumped right in front of your door. There are three things to know about this truckload of dung.
1 It is not your fault.
2 You are stuck with it. No one saw who dumped it, so you cannot call anyone to take it away.
3 It is filthy and offensive, and the stench fills your whole house. It is almost impossible to endure.
In this metaphor, the truck load of dung in front of your house stands for the traumatic experiences that are dumped on us in life. As with a truckload of dung, there are three things to know about tragedy in our life.
1. We did not order it. It’s not our fault. We say “why me?”
2. We are stuck with it. No one, not even the ones who love us most dearly, can take it away (though they may try).
3. It is so awful, such a destroyer of our happiness, and it’s pain fills our whole life. It is almost impossible to endure.
There are two ways of responding to being stuck with a truckload of dung. The first on is to carry the dung around with us. We put some in our pockets, some in our backpacks and briefcases, and some up our shirts. We even put some down our pants. We find when we carry dung around, we lose a lot of friends! Even best friends don’t want to be around so often.
“Carrying around the dung” is a metaphor for sinking into depression, negativity, or anger. It is a natural and understandable response to adversity. But we lose a lot of friends, because it is also natural and understandable that our friends don’t like being around us when we are depressed. Moreover, the pile of dung doesn’t get smaller and what’s more the smell gets worse as it ripens.
Fortunately, there is a second way. When a truckload of dung is dumped in front of our house, we heave a sigh and then get down to work. Out comes the wheelbarrow, the folk and the spade. We folk the dung into the barrow, we wheel it around the back of the house, and dig it into the garden. This is tiring and difficult work, but we know there is no other useful option.
Sometimes, all we can manage is half a day. But even so, we are doing something about the problem, rather than complaining our way into depression. Day after day we dig in the dung. Day after day the pile gets a little smaller. Sometimes it takes several years, but the morning does come when we see that the dung in front of our house is all gone. Furthermore, a miracle has happened in another part of our house. The flowers in the garden are bursting out in a richness of colour all over the place. Their fragrance wafts down the street so that the neighbours, and even passers-by, smile in delight. Then the fruit tree in the corner is nearly falling over, it is so heavy with fruit. And the fruit is so sweet, you can’t buy anything like it. There’s so much of it that we are able to share it with our neighbours. Even passers-by get a delicious taste of the miracle fruit.
“Digging in the Dung” is a metaphor for welcoming the tragedies as fertilizer for life. It is work we have to do alone: no one can help us here. But by digging it into the garden of our heart, day by day, the pile of pain gets less.
It may take us several years, but the morning does come when we see no more pain in our life and, in our heart, a miracle has happened. Flowers of kindness are bursting out all over the place, and the fragrance of love wafts way down our street, to our neighbours, to our relations, and even to passers-by. Then our wisdom tree in the corner is bending down to us, loaded with sweet insights into the nature of life. We share those delicious fruits freely, even with passers-by, without ever planning to.
When we have known tragic pain, learned its lessons, and grown our gardens, then we can put our arms around another in deep tragedy and say softly “I know”. They realize we do understand. Compassion begins. We show them the wheelbarrow, the folk, the spade and boundless encouragement. Yet if we haven’t grown our own garden yet, this can’t be done.
I have known many monks who are skilled in meditation, who are peaceful, composed, and serene in adversity. But, only a few have become great teachers. I often wondered why.
It seems to me that those monks who had a relatively easy time of it, who had little dung to dig in, were those who didn’t become great teachers. It was the monks who had the enormous difficulties, dug them in quietly, and came through with a rich garden that became great teachers. They all had wisdom, serenity and compassion: but those with more dung had more to share with the world. My own teacher, Ajahn Chah, who for me was the pinnacle of all teachers, must have had a a whole trucking company with a fleet of trucks delivering dung at his door in his early life.
Perhaps the moral of this story is that if you want to be of service to the world, if you wish to follow the path of compassion, then the next time a tragedy occurs in your life, you may say, “Whoopee! More fertilizer for my garden!”.
The Two-Finger Smile.
Praise saves us money, enriches relationships and creates happiness. We need to spread more of it around.
The hardest person to give any praise to is our self. I was brought up to believe that someone who praises them self becomes big headed. That’s not so. They become big hearted. Praising our good qualities to our self is positively encouraging them.
When I was a student, my first meditation teacher gave me some practical advice. He began by asking me the first thing I did getting up in the morning.
“I go to the bathroom” I said.
Is there a mirror in your bathroom”, he enquired.
“Good” he said. “Now every morning, even before you brush your teeth, I want you to look into that mirror and smile at your-self.”
“Sir?” I began to protest. I am a student. I sometime get up in the morning not feeling my best. Some morning, I would be frightened to look at myself in a mirror, let alone smile.”
He chuckled, looked me in the eye, and said, “If you cannot manage a natural smile, then take your two index fingers, place one in each corner of your mouth, and push up. Like this.” And he showed me.
He looked ridiculous. I giggled. He ordered me to try it. So I did.
The very next morning, I dragged myself out of bed and staggered to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. “Urrgh!” It was not a pretty sight. A natural smile was a nonstarter. So I took my two index fingers, placed one at each corner of my mouth, and pushed up. I then saw this stupid young guy making a silly face in the mirror and I couldn’t help grinning. Once there was a natural smile, I saw the student in the mirror smiling at me. So I smiled even more. The man in the mirror smiled even more. In a few seconds, we ended up laughing together.
I continued this practice every morning for two years. Every morning, no matter how I felt when I got out of bed, I was soon laughing at myself in the mirror, usually with the help of my two index fingers. People say I smile a lot these days. Perhaps the muscles around my mouth got stuck in that position.
We can try the two fingers trick any time of the day. It is especially useful when we feel sick, fed up, or feel depressed. Laughter has been proven to release endorphins into our blood stream, which strengthens our immune system and makes us feel happy. It helps us to see the 998 good bricks in our wall, not only the two bad bricks. And laughter makes us looks beautiful.
That is why I sometimes call our Perth Buddhist Temple “Ajahn Brahm’s Beauty Salon.”