Reflections on applying dharma in retreats and daily life.
You heard it all before, I wrote this mainly to remind myself, but by sharing I hope it will be of benefit to you as well. You may find numerous repetitions here, but as it’s said: “repetition is for your unconscious mind … “
What is written here on dharmaflex.space, is intended for your eyes only, and not for other people. If it make sense to you, please put it into practice, and if not – I apologize, you’re welcome to ask questions.
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Part 1 – View
You are not bound by appearances –
But by grasping at them.
This is one of the most profound quotes on the nature of mind, and points out the root cause of all our frustrations and sufferings: grasping and holding on to our own thoughts and emotions. Grasping at appearances consists of repeatedly thinking about inner and outer experiences, again and again in endless circles.
What’s the problem?
When we are obsessed or angry about something or somebody, are we then not just stuck with our own thinking about it? Isn’s it just being angry or obsessed with own thoughts? Are there then, any good reasons to hold on to these? We may be home alone, on our meditation cushion, or in retreat. There are no one there to bother us, except our own thinking. But still we keep on blaming it on others. This is a sign of lacking right view – a limited understanding of the nature of thoughts.
So, who is then the most annoying person in the world?
“Has happened” means that it is already in the past, even if it happened just a few seconds ago. So what we are experiencing right now, in the aftermath of any sensory input, is just an afterglow, “echoes” – our own thoughts and emotional waves. What happened is already out of sight, but not always out of mind. We linger on, thinking about it again and again – driving ourselves crazy at times.
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened”
Future means “has not happened yet” and is even more elusive. But even so, our minds are spinning, creating a lot of useless hopes and fears, and “preemptive mental strikes” …
Why so stuck?
It’s a very old habit, it seems so natural to think in this confused way, even though it’s really counterproductive. We hold on to the past, project the future, and we meddle with the present. Even though it only brings us trouble – we hold on like superglue.
Letting be and letting go, is all we need to do, but that’s not easy. We are more likely to either suppress or acting out on our emotions. But both these ways are counterproductive. When meeting with a situation we don’t like, is getting angry or annoyed really helpful? Doesn’t that just make it worse? And when your’e trying to forget something bad, doesn’t that just make it even starker in your mind?
If you try NOT to think about something,
you will be more likely to think about it.
Remember this: ”yesterday is no more real than last night dream“
There are many quotes like this, pointing at our habit of solidify thoughts, making things a big deal, when in fact it’s only our own thinking. We are only grasping at appearances – the sights and sounds of the past. Now, in the present, no more real than dreams. So why then, do our own thinking make us so sad, so angry and even crazy? How come we make something so insubstantial as thoughts, into something heavy, big, and solid?
Is not my thinking just some fleeting thoughts?
Of what substance are they really?
”Big deal…“, ”Shit happens“, ”So what?“, “Water under the bridge”
Why not just ask myself like that?
Do I really have to make myself and others sad?
Most often people think that they have only two options: either acting out, or suppressing their emotions. But neither do us any good. Instead we practice meditation, where we learn: let be, let come, let go …
This takes a lot of training and reflection to get used to, and even more so in daily life.
Habits of time
The holding on to thinking happens because that’s our habit. We are constantly thinking: “I like it, and I want it”, and “don’t like it, so I’ll get rid of it”. Then we go for it or fight it – whatever that object might be. We are so used to this process, it seems so real, but it hasn’t really been questioned – it’s all just taken for granted. We are allways jumping to conclusions, just assuming that our phantasy world is so real and solid.
Even if we have some intellectual understanding of all of this, it still doesn’t seem to stick, our emotions and habits are so much more powerful, and our intelligence get overruled. It also happens so fast that we don’t always see that we actually have a choice. Instead we blame it on others and on the world, not seeing that it’s all our own deluded thinking.
But, this is also good news – since our frustrations, expectations, disappointments, hope and fears are all happening in our own mind, we can actually do something about it.
To cover all the earth with sheets of leather—
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But with the leather soles of just my shoes
It is as though I cover all the earth!
And thus the outer course of things
I myself cannot restrain.
But let me just restrain my mind,
And what is left to be restrained
Why hold on to anger, disappointment and everything else when this only makes matters worse? Why complain and whine when you have received the highest dharma? Why not rather reflect and meditate and thereby develop a more open mind? Why criticize others when the problem actually lies in your own mind?
Do you get angry at the coach when she points out errors? Do you get angry with the doctor when she gives the diagnosis? Do you get angry with nurses when they stick you with a needle? Would you be concerned with hospital management and buildings if you came with bleeding wounds?
This is a sign of an untrained mind …
There is always room for improvement.
All we need is more knowledge, reflection, and training – samsara does not clear up by it self.
It is not that difficult to understand that past and future is illusory and unreal. We know that whatever happened in the past, has passed and are no more. We are only left with the memory and the results of the past. But the results and effects of the past is only in the present, which is not the past. And the future even more elusive – it is obvious that the future is my imagination, of what maybe happens next. It’s called the future because it hasn’t happened yet.
You cannot see, hear, touch, taste or smell things in the past or future, they’re only there as mental objects.
The present on the other hand, is there present to all our senses, so it is much more difficult to see it as illusions, it all seems very real.
But in the next moment, what was just perceived as present, has become the past.
So how real is present really, when you cannot pin it down?
We did agree that past and future are illusory, and only in our minds.
But how real is present then, and how long does present last?
One second? Nano-second? Are there any smallest time constant?
The time of present can be divided indefinitely, until left with only past and future, and both does not exist.
The past and future also, are only happening at present.
And what difference is it really, between thoughts of past, present and the future –
It’s just by grammar, isn’t it?
They are only thoughts without a substance, fleeting like a dream, but we solidify and make them real.
Believing in illusion, isn’t that just all delusion?
No point of leaving this in realm of theory,
We need to practice this, to gain some certainty.
Just imagine a date “gone wrong”. First you meet someone you like, you wonder if that person also like you. Then some flirting maybe, and a coffee to get to know each other. Or just imagine a blind date, skipping straight to the dinner for two. Then exchange of phone numbers, followed up of texting and late night calls. Then movies, disco, or straight to bed.
Now, let’s say you really like this person, you’ve fallen madly in love. But after a couple of weeks of courting, maybe even some breakfasts together, you get dumped. You feel terrible, you may feel used, or whatever you chose to think about it. Bottom line, your world has collapsed, only left with shattered dreams… For a practitioner, these kinds of experiences should be viewed as great opportunities for practice.
Holding on to dreams and beleving in illusions – isn’t that delusion?
“What’s the big deal? Two weeks ago I didn’t even know that this person existed, I’m back to square one. I had a really nice time, best time of my life, but now it’s over. So what’s the problem? There is no one there, so what’s there to upset me? I’m even left with nicest memories. Why am I so upset and so sad? I know it’s emptiness, but guess I didn’t practice much …”
It’s called addiction – you’re missing what you had, and now want more.
If this make sense to you,
Don’t tell it all to others,
But apply it on the memory of “exes”,
And then let go of any grudges …
This is just one example, and you can utilize this way of reflecting on anything that makes you sad, annoyed, angry, stressed, disappointed, and so forth. Use self-reflection to release whatever you are stuck with or fixated upon.
By abiding in sharp intrinsic awareness,
Even if the three realms are destroyed,
there is neither fear nor panic,
And there is no attachment to the five sense pleasures.
From the Aspiration of Samanthabhadra.
Dreams and illusion
We are like a magician who conjures up the apparition of a most beautiful woman, and then falls madly in love with her. Then he suffers for years, because he is unable to meet her.
In this way, examples of dreams, echoes, and illusions are often used to illustrate how we get deluded by our own thinking. You may wake up from a bad dream of your partner being with an other person, feeling lousy, jealous, or uneasy for the rest of the day. You know it was a dream, but still it’s hard to let go. Your dream might even feel more real than other past “real” experiences.
When seeing that, the statement: “Yesterday is no more real than last nights dream”, might start making more sense. Both experiences are nothing more than memories and thoughts, and all this is happening in your own mind only. And although we call it past, we are only just repeating those memories, right now – in the present.
It’s also quite helpful to watch our minds, to see how easily we get fascinated and addicted to TV serials, novels and the like.
The stories are just fiction,
Actors only acting roles,
It’s all on flat computer screens.
The sounds and pictures are all digital,
An endless stream of ones and zeroes –
Quite fantastic, magical illusions.
Still, even knowing all this, we get upset with the villains, cheer for the hero, and cry with the victims. It’s great, it’s quite magical, and we can also appreciate all this as similes of illusion. Specially if you have missed an episode of Downtown Abbey, Games of Thrones, Orphan Black, or whatever TV series you are addicted to at the moment. See how you react when missing out. It’s all fiction and illusion anyway, why not make up your own ending, or just leave it open-ended? A classic Korean movie ended on this note from the narrator: “But this is not the end – who knows what happened next.” It’s also way too easy to waste a lot of time here, in front of the screen, that could be better spent in study and practice …
These are all great examples to see how we are fooling ourself, by solidifying our own thoughts and fantasies. When you are fascinated with something or somebody, are you really fascinated with that thing or person? Or are you just fascinated with your own thinking? When you are angry with something, or somebody, are you not just angry with your own thoughts? At least this should be easy to understand when you’re alone, thinking about it – what else is there to blame?
This way of questioning oneself again and again, is very helpful. Seeing how our habit of solidifying thoughts, gets us into countless, useless troubles. But ask these questions only to yourself, and never be “smart” and rude to others – that’s arrogance and “dharma in reverse”. This is a very important point.
In order to feel the teachings deep down, the Dharma needs to take root in the alaya, your unconscious mind. Only then can the Dharma grow from the inside out and be true nourishment for how you live. I think this takes a lot of repetition. That’s why you need to hear the teachings 100,000 times or more, even a million, a billion times. Then the preciousness of a teaching will stay with you. It’s the same as conceptually understanding the View and then meditating on it. It takes many, many, many years until it becomes part of you. First you contemplate and then you rest in the View. The same thing is true of The Four Thoughts That Change the Mind. So please listen … again.
I don’t want what I need, I want what I want!
Not getting what I want is an other cause of anger. But what is the real cause of the problem here? Not getting it, or wanting it? According to the Buddha, the problem is wanting it in the first place, and the belief that getting what we want, will somehow make us happy. This is our great delusion – and will there ever come a time, when we get satisfied by more?
I can’t get no, satisfaction …
’Cause I try and I try and I try and I try …
Addictions to sense pleasures are like quenching your thirst with sea water. It’s like licking honey of a razor. It’s like peeing in your pants to keep warm on a cold winter day. It’s all very short-lived comforts …
The root of the problem, is not really not getting what you want, or even wanting it. It’s much deeper, it’s the belief that people, things, and sense pleasure will make you happy. According to Buddha – not really. On the contrary: this belief, in a solid self that think it needs this and that, is the cause of all our problems, frustrations, and sufferings, without exception.
Practicing buddhism without proper understanding of The Cause of Suffering, is like shooting arrows blindfolded – You will most likely miss the target, or even shoot yourself in the foot.
“All the Buddha’s dharma converges on a single point.”
The first instruction is that all dharma, all the teachings of the Hinayana and Mahayana, have one common purpose: to reduce or eliminate the clinging to a self. Whatever dharma we practice, whatever mind training we meditate on, the purpose is to diminish that clinging. If our clinging doesn’t diminish, then our practice isn’t working properly. If we notice that the continual thought of ourselves as important is decreasing, it is one sign that mind training is working.
I’m solidifying me, what I like and dislike, what I want and don’t want, then I go for it or fight it. Then we repeat, on and on in endless circles. This is the only real cause of suffering – this is what’s called samsara.
There are no other samsara out there. Samsara is within – it’s our own attachment to thinking, and fixed opinions, our own mental spinning, in endless circles.
We think: “if I get this thing or this person that I like, I will be happy”. But what that get us into trouble, is actually thinking like that and in the line of: “I like it, so I want it” or “I don’t like it, so don’t want it”. But getting what we want and getting rid of what we don’t want, will only bring us a very temporary relief.
It’s like a small child sitting in mother’s lap.
But having forgotten that the mother is right behind,
The child panics and start and endless search for substitutes.
If the child just turned around and looked back,
It would see that the mother have been there all the time –
And then would fall to peace.
In the same way, when not recognizing our innate nature – the buddha nature, we feel lost, and our whole life is spent in a never ending search for happiness in sense pleasures. If we could just “turn back” and recognize our own clear mind free from all veils, real lasting happiness would naturally be there. It’s contentment and natural joy – happiness from within.
It is important to know that
Of the seven noble riches, the foremost,
the source of them all, is being content.
From Zurchungpa’s Testament
If you got the choice between, getting everything you ever wanted, or being content and totally free from wanting – what would you choose? Would you choose expensive, hard to get, temporary happiness, or would you rather go for completely free, effortless, and lasting happiness?
Think of all the money you would save – even feeling richer that a millionaire, with a just penny in your pocket. But it’s not so easy to let go. Our habits are extremely strong, so we need a lot of help …
First step, is to realize how much we are reduced to slavery by the whims and cravings of our own egos. We are not free, the ego is in fact a completely useless mental function. There are some positive aspects, in the realm of ego, that we utilize on the path, but even these have to be given up in the end. It is said that the ego is an illusion, but right now, it seems very much real. We may wonder: how can it be possible to function without it?
Bud there are no need for a special Buddha ward at the hospital. Becoming enlightened and completely free from ego, does not reduce us to a vegetable. Buddhas and enlightened masters, who are free from ego clinging, manage very well in the world – much better than us. It is not our ego that experiences the world around us. The ego is a useless filter, distorting our experience of the world. And not just that, it’s also a great nuisance – our biggest troublemaker.
What troubles there are in the world,
How much fear and suffering there is.
If all of these arise from ego-clinging,
What will this great demon do to me?
So, examining how much we are trapped by all this, we start to long for freedom. And that longing for freedom is the first step on the path of awakening. If you didn’t long for freedom, why in the world would you go for refuge, take all kinds of vows, and spend hours and hours sitting in meditation? You would probably be more happy joining a golf club or wine tasting club.
For example, we all want to be special. We all want to feel like we’re special. Everyone likes the feeling of being special, and feeling special. So, just observe that, observe that alone, and how much trouble this causes in your life, simply from that tendency alone. Without that element, you could spare yourself so many troubles!
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
And if you are a buddhist, but not spending hours and hours of study, reflection, and meditation, or weeks and moths of strict retreats, then it is probably because of not longing for freedom. And why? Ask yourself: “Don’t I see that I’m trapped?” or “Or should I wait until tomorrow, or maybe better next year?” …
We never know what will come first – death or tomorrow …
It’s better to fear death now,
And be fearless at the moment of death,
Than the other way around …
Not that we have to go around being dead scared of death. But why not give it some serious thought and reflection? At least then, it will not come as such a shock. An old neighbor of mine, once asked me: “You buddhists believe in rebirth don’t you? I’m over 90 now, so I’m quite curious on what will happen after death … ” He was looking at it as a new journey, without fear or denial that most people have.
Of all the buddhist methods,
Reflections on impermanence,
Is the most important one.
To understand the concept “emptiness”,
Try to understand impermanence.
The starting point, the first step through the door to Dharma practice, is the understanding that life is impermanent, that our time is running out. Not taking impermanence to heart prevents our Dharma practice from being successful. Although we might think we do not have time for Dharma practice, is there anybody who has time to die?
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Knowing that all our frustrations and sufferings are both unnecessary and self-created. We will eventually get fed up causing ourself so much trouble, through our own opinionatedness and judgmental mind. It’s good news that we only have ourself to blame, because therefore we can actually do something about it …
Tigers, lions, elephants, and bears,
Snakes and every hostile foe,
Those who guard the prisoners in hell,
Ghosts and ghouls and every evil wraith,
By simple binding of this mind alone,
All these things are likewise bound.
By simple taming of this mind alone,
All these things are likewise tamed.
For all anxiety and fear,
And pain in boundless quantity,
Their source and wellspring is the mind itself,
As He who spoke the truth declared.
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