These long and lazy days in Mysore, I have been delving more deeply into the book, "Words Of My Perfect Teacher", by Patrul Rimpoche. As I mentioned in my last post, this book was written in the 19th century and is considered to be a classical book on the principles and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama himself recommends it to all those who seek to learn more about spiritual practice.
The part of the book that I have been focusing on of late is the area in which the principle of karma is discussed.
No doubt most of you are familiar with the concept of karma, but for those of you who are not, I will give a brief explanation.
The idea of karma is the idea that no action that we undertake is without consequences. Every action, whether it is positive or negative, mental or physical, produces some results. The idea of Karma also includes the idea that nothing that ever happens to us, again whether it is positive or negative, is an accident or a random occurrence in any way. Whatever happens to us in our lives is, inevitably, a result of our past actions in some form or another.
The Buddhists believe that the purpose of our lives is simply to fulfill our karma or to bear the fruit of our past actions. Samasara, or the cycle of birth and death, is comprised entirely of the effects of our actions.
The most important aspect in determining the nature of one's karma is the precise motivation or intention of each particular action that we carry out.
If our motivation for any particular action is selfish or self-centered (that is, any action that is motivated by greed, vanity or purely selfish reasons), then that action will almost certainly produce negative karma for us in this life and in future incarnations.
The Buddhists also believe that karma is also what causes us to be reborn in either higher or lower realms of existence based on the nature of that karma. Negative karma causes us to be born as lower levels of life forms such as animals or even insects and may even cause us to be reborn in hell type realms or as some kind of tortured ghosts. Positive karma causes us to be reborn as spiritually oriented human beings or even as demi-gods in celestial type realms.
Positive karma is produced by those actions, which are motivated by a spirit of genuine generosity towards the welfare of other beings and by those actions, which are not driven by ego, centered desires.
Another salient point about karma is that one action does not just produce an equal and opposite reaction, but creates multitudes of seeds of future consequences. That means that one small action produces consequences on a much larger scale. That means if you killed one other being in this life, it could mean that you yourself could be killed again and again in hundreds of future lifetimes. What a scary thought!
Now, whether you actually believe in the idea of reincarnation or in the idea of being reborn in higher or lower realms of existence does not, in my mind, really matter. I think we can all tentatively embrace the idea that what action we take now has potential future consequences. We have all, at one point or another experienced a kind of "instant karma". That is, a time when we did something in one moment and then, not too shortly thereafter, we experienced a kind of backlash from that particular action.
At the very least, the whole idea of karma is worthy of contemplation. The reflection on the idea of karma is, by itself, a valuable meditation, as it causes us to look at ourselves in more introspective ways. This kind of deep introspection is a valuable and necessary part of spiritual practice and life.
I have noticed very clearly about myself that there are many moments where I am unconsciously assuming that the actions that I take and the thoughts that I think have little or no actual consequence or power. Whether they do or not is really not the point. The curious thing is, is that I assume that they don't. Why is that? How did I come to this particular belief nature of action and about myself? Did I learn this from a credible source or is this belief about the nature of action simply an expression of some mass unconsciousness or ignorance?
I asked myself, "What would happen to me and to my life if I were to actually were to consciously take every single action in my life as if that action were to have significant consequences, both seen and unseen?” Whether or not each action had strong consequences or not, the very notion that each action did have consequences would significantly alter the way that I lived my life and the very way that I viewed my own self in this life.
One of the biggest changes in myself and my life is that I would take much more care with each action that I took and I would be much more conscious with my particular motivation for each action that I took. That means that I would be eminently more mindful of my conduct in the world and of my own self. That in and of itself would add great power and awareness to my life.
Since reading this particular part of this great book, I noticed that I have naturally been much more empowered to take care and to exact a natural kind of discipline in my life with regard to my conduct and to the way that I think. That assumption that I previously held that allowed me to assume that my actions and thoughts were of little consequence contributed to a lot of selfish, unconscious and downright sloppy behavior and thinking.
Now that I am even just reflecting on the fact that my actions and thoughts may have more significance than I had previously assumed automatically and naturally altered the quality and nature of my behavior and thinking. I am stunned in many ways by how dramatically this particular reflection has changed the quality of my life. I am feeling stronger, more confident, and more full of faith and more centered than before I began this particular course of exploration into the nature of action and their consequences.
Again, I remark on the vast availability of profound wisdom from the different major spiritual traditions. Not only that this wisdom is available, but also of the potential power that this wisdom has to directly affects each one of our lives.
I encourage you all to seek out, in your own way, the jewels that are everywhere around us.
Recently, I went on an outing with some students from Fukuoka into an area just outside the city known as Itoshima. It is a beautiful area with both coastal areas (beautiful beaches!) and incredible low-lying mountains.
We first went to a small shrine with an artesian spring to harvest some sacred spring water. I was surprised how close the area and the spring was to my home, which is in the center of a city of 1.5 million people. I was also taken aback at how beautiful the area just outside the city is. There are so many places that have this kind of natural power and beauty around many urban centers. All we need is the imagination and initiative to visit them.
The water from the spring is amazing. Not only does it taste incredible, but it has high mineral content and medicinal qualities as well. All that and it was free for the taking! Once you get used to drinking this kind of water, it makes it harder and harder to drink poor quality water that comes from who knows where and is stored in cheap, plastic bottles. The fact that the spring was so easy to get to made the experience all the more amazing.
Also, just spending time out in nature with joyful, truth seeking people was unforgettable. These are the kinds of experiences that create a natural kind of joy and sense of community that can bring deep power to one's life. So much of our suffering in this world comes from not being connected to the natural world and to each other. When we spend time together in these ways, we can give to each other and care for one another that usually are not so easy in the midst of a busy, urban life.
After we went to small local shrine with the spring, we headed up further into the mountains to visit a very famous temple known as Sennyo-Ji Temple http://sennyoji.or.jp/. The drive up to the temple was beautiful. There were terraced rice fields surrounded by old growth forests. I had the sense that I was traveling back in time. There was an energy to the area that was both noble and deeply spirited.
The temple and the grounds encompassing the temple were truly magnificent. Every shrub and plant was manicured to perfection. The traditional temple architecture was some of the most beautiful I have seen in all the temples and shrines I have visited all over the world. A light snow covered the surrounding mountaintops. I really felt like I was walking through a kind of a dream. Additionally, these old temples (the original temple is said to have been opened in the year 178 A.D.) are designed according to principles of sacred geometry and are aligned with the natural lay lines in the earth, which creates amazing energy and power. Needless to say, visiting this temple is like entering into an entirely different kind of world. And, again, so close to a major city!
Between the harvest of the sacred spring water, the company of loving and joyful people and the immense power of the ancient temple, I was filled with deep gratitude and joy.
This particular outing caused me to reflect on the importance of the balance of the elements in each of our lives. Commonly, there are 5 basic elements that are referred to. They are Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Ether.
In many sacred and spiritual traditions these elements are referred to as a reference for balance, healing and wholeness.
It is important to have good, strong contact with all the elements in our lives both literally and symbolically, both internally and externally.
Let us breath the best quality air as much as we can. Few people would dispute the difference that it makes to breath fresh, clean air, especially from powerfully natural places like the mountains and seashores. Air is also symbolic of wisdom and intelligence. Let us continually strive to build greater wisdom and spiritual discrimination in our lives through study and actual experience. Daily habits and practices make a huge difference in this regard.
Let us drink the best quality water available. Those that have followed my writings of late know how I feel about this topic. Highly structured and pure water has the power to change the very essence of how our bodies and minds work. Water is also symbolic of devotion and emotion. Let us surrender to what is true and what is right in our lives. Let us develop emotional lives that are both balanced and pure. Our intimate relationships with our selves and with others are tremendously important in this regard.
Let us keep the fire alive in us in as many ways as possible. Fire in our hearts is symbolic of love and passion. It is important to keep our deepest and most heartfelt passions alive and continually manifesting. It is important to keep the fire of our love alive in our hearts for the people and issues that matter most to us. Fire in the nervous system is all about ensuring maximum flow of prana and vitality. When we practice asana each morning it keeps the prana, or life force flowing in a balanced way through both our upper bodies and lower bodies. Fire in the belly is related both to an active and vital capacity of digesting both food and the truths that can be faced each day, each moment. Fire is the motivating power that keeps us participating in noble, skillful, non-attached action that is so vital to the process of liberation.
Earth is the symbol of that which keeps us grounded. It is the element that ensures that we have a loving and care filled relationship with all aspects of the material and manifest plane. Earth is the part of us that connects the spiritual realms with the material realms. It is the part of us that maintains order and practicality. Some of the most spiritual people on the planet, like the Dalai Lama, are also the most practical people are earth, working tirelessly to relieve the suffering of all. Earth is the element that makes sure that we don’t get lost in our fantasies and take each moment of our lives with perspective and sensitivity.
Ether is the element that represents all that is transcendent and beyond the reach of the physical senses, of even the mind and the emotions. Even though we cannot see, feel, smell or touch ether, we must take care to continually build our awareness of it. We must learn to become intrinsically aware of its presence and learn to be come more and more intimate with this aspect of our selves and of reality. Ether is that which is the fundamental source of everything. It pervades everything and animates everything. If we do not remember to care for that part of life that is ether, we lose all touch with meaning, the ability to dream and to have visions. Ether is the source of our imagination and creativity. It is the source of our deepest intuitions and instincts.
Take time to reflect on the different aspects of the elements in your life. Ask yourself which elements do you naturally take good care of and which elements do you have a tendency to neglect. Balance of care of the different elements in your life is a great lens to view your own capacity for integration and for the cultivation of true health and personal power.
It is great to get out into the natural world to reflect on the elements in your life. Where nature is the most intense and untamed is where the elements tend to maintain a natural order and balance. That is why, for me, to visit the mountains and forests, especially with those that I love is the one of the ultimate forms of education and meditation there is.
The Power and Beauty of an Awareness of Impermanence
On this current trip to Mysore, I have been doing a lot of reading of spiritual books.
I find that I can read and digest books here in a way that I cannot do so in other places. Partly it is because of the energy here and partly it is because there is so much free time here with little of no obligations that exist in our normal day-to-day lives.
The book that I am reading now is called "Words of My Perfect Teacher".
It was written by a revered Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition by the name of Patrul Rimpoche. He wrote the book during his life in the 19th century. It is considered to be such a central and valuable text in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that the Dalai Lama is often cited as recommending it. The book covers all the basic tenets of Tibetan Buddhism in a way that most anyone can understand it. It actually was written in a fashion such that the common people of Tibet could read and understand it well.
The first section that I read was on the importance of building a distinct awareness of death and the impermanence of life. This particular kind of daily awareness is actually one of the most important aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. In general, without this awareness of death and impermanence, it is easy to fall into unconscious and destructive habits of mind and body.
The source of all our suffering in this life is rooted firmly in the mind. The beliefs that we create in our minds often prevent us from seeing the world (us included) as we really are. We believe that we know many things about our lives without ever stopping to closely examine if those particular beliefs are actually true or not.
One of the most significant beliefs that most of us hold is that we don't think that we are actually subject to the unpredictability of death. Even though there is ample evidence that people die suddenly and unpredictably all the time, most of us do not believe that the same can happen to us. Most of us live as we have lots of time to do whatever we want with no regard to the fact that our lives could end suddenly. The biggest cost of this way of thinking is that we often lose sight of just how precious this life truly is. We spend our time doing things and acting in ways that we would never do if we truly appreciated how precious and how special this life is.
Many people when actually confronted by the reality of and the possibility of their own death suddenly realize how much time they have wasted on activities and thoughts that have little significance. They realize how they have wasted moments on things that would have been much more positively utilized on matters of real depth such as spending time with loved ones or doing things that stirred strong passion in them.
Many of us run around in our lives expending tremendous amounts of energy accumulating wealth, possessions and status, never fully realizing that these worldly activities amount to little actual meaning in the face of one's own imminent death. The only aspects of this life, which hold any real meaning or depth are those parts of ourselves that are spiritual in nature. They are matters of the heart and soul; they are matters that cannot be seen with the eyes.
By meditating on the very real possibility of our death in any moment, we can create a genuine clarity of what is important and what is not.
Of course, this does not mean that we should abandon our worldly responsibilities. It just means that we should make sure that we have the proper perspective as much as possible about what truly matters in this life and what is only relatively important.
Along with an intense awareness of the possibility of our own death, we should also develop an constant awareness of the vast impermanence of the things of this world. Those parts of life that are worldly, that can be seen or felt with the physical senses, that can be perceived with the mind are all parts of the world that have no real constancy. These parts of life are in a state of constant flux and change. You can never depend on these parts of life except in a very transitory way.
Our suffering in this life comes from the confusion and ignorance that stems from not seeing that these parts of our lives are never constant, never permanent. When you project solidness onto what essentially is not solid, you will automatically become confused and your general state of ignorance about subtle matters will increase. You will automatically become more fearful and less open to hearing any kind of real wisdom.
That is why this teaching on death and impermanence from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is so central to their overall teachings. Naturally, it has power and application not just for Buddhists. It is such a deep truth that it can be utilized by anyone from any tradition or background that is open to it.
By meditating on death and impermanence in a deep and consistent way, you can produce great states of mental and emotional clarity in yourself. It will be much more difficult to fall into states of confusion and depression.
One quote from the book by Geshe Potowa says this:
"Thing about death and impermanence for a long time. Once you are certain that you are going to die, you will no longer find it hard to put aside harmful actions, nor difficult to do what is right.
After that, meditate for a long time on love and compassion. Once love fills your heart, you will no longer find it hard to act for the benefit of others.
Then meditate for a long time on emptiness, the natural state of all phenomena. Once you full understand emptiness, you will no longer find it hard to dispel all your delusions."
I am extremely grateful and feel greatly blessed by the wealth of spiritual literature that is available in the world today. I am amazed that there is so much in so many places at such reasonable prices.
Let us all utilize these great resources, not only for the betterment of ourselves, but for the benefit of the whole world.
I just returned from a raw food/permaculture retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii. What struck me most about the Big Island are the presence and the energy of the active volcanoes there.
It is really something to see the red hot molten lava constantly flowing from the ground literally creating new earth with each passing minute.
Seeing this red hot lava issuing constantly from the earth got me thinking about the role of passion in our lives. Passion is the fiery energy and emotion that is the prime engine of action in each of our lives.
Very little that is truly creative or significant is ever created without the presence of some kind of passion from the person or people involved in the particular creative event.
There are some people who see passion as something that has no place in spiritual life. Oftentimes, passion is actually viewed as a destructive element in one's spiritual practice. It is seen as an influence that can be, at best a distraction and, at worst the source of some kind of evil.
Yet, if examined carefully, a practice and a life without passion is a place with no depth and with no significant impact.
Real spiritual life requires great initiative, creativity and devotion. When we undertake a deeply spiritual life, we are setting out on a mission in which we are sure to encounter many obstacles (both internally and externally) on our way to our desired objectives.
In order to meet and persist through these particular challenges, we need the full capacity of our mental, emotional and physical resources. In order to maximize our reserves and resources, we require great stores of passion. There can be little doubt about this.
Without the necessary amount of passion, our response to any perceived challenge will most likely be flat, without intensity and with little endurance.
Now, let us examine what exactly passion is and how we can raise the level of passion in our own lives, especially in a way that adds to our lives positively and not in the negative ways that passion is often associated with.
Passion, for me, is the energy of life and of the natural world. When a person is connected to life and to the natural world on a deep physical and psychic level, the energy of passion flows through that person and everything that person does. We can see this clearly in children and younger people. They have not as of yet lost their deep connection to the natural world and thus, have deep reserves of passion and energy.
The reason why many older people do not have these same reserves of passion and energy is that poor health due to lifestyle and heavily conditioned beliefs tend to interfere with a person's capacity to remain deeply connected to life and the natural world. When we have strong and youthful bodies and open minds, we naturally have a deep affinity to the life force that flows through the natural world.
Now, it is important to say here that passion by itself is not enough. In fact, it is true that passion without discrimination and intelligence will most likely lead to actions that are self destructive in nature.
Many people are afraid of having any amount of passion in their lives precisely due to this reality. There are many people who will consciously find ways to decrease the possibility of passion in their lives so as to avoid the intensity and complications that arise from the presence of passion.
If you are a person that is not interested in creating anything of great worth or significance in your life than passion is something that you can easily do without. However, if you are a person who wants to live a rich and vital life filled with meaning and inspiration than passion is something that you cannot do without.
A life with passion is a life that is less easy to control. It is oftentimes a life that is more chaotic and challenging in general. It is a life that necessitates intelligence, sensitivity and responsibility.
The most destructive kinds of actions that result from passion are those that are combined with ego-centered behavior. That is, those actions that result from a person that acts only for the benefit or profit of him or herself.
It is important to have at least an intellectual understanding about the spiritual view of one's self in order not to be motivated purely by ego-centered action.
The spiritual view of one's self is that there is no actual separate entity that is known as the self. The spiritual view is that everything, even the self itself is an aspect of the Divine reality.
This means that any action that is motivated by the idea that the self is a separate and distinct entity goes against the nature of spiritual law.
When a person understands this and ultimately acts from this place than the destructive aspects of passion can easily be avoided. At the very least, this understanding of spiritual law will illustrate the folly of combining action with ego-centered motivations.
When we act from a place of benefiting the greater good, then passion becomes an engine for noble, inspired action.
All of us who believe ourselves to be serious yoga or spiritual practitioners then have a responsibility to build great passion in our selves and our lives.
Passion is the kind of spiritual "fuel" that can ensure great success in our practice, our studies and any of our inspired undertakings. If we are to accomplish great things in our practice and in our lives, the role of passion is a critical one.
Just remember that the inclusion of greater passion in our lives means that we also need to add greater amounts of discrimination, responsibility and understanding as well. One without the other usually leads to incomplete action of some kind or another.
Finding ways to greater passion means that we need to find ways to forge a greater connection to life and to the natural world.
This means taking greater care of our mental, emotional and physical health. Making sure that there is increased harmony and balance on all levels. Clean food, air and water are essential to this process.
Equally important is the care of our mental and emotional lives.
Naturally, when there is balance and harmony in this way, both internally and externally, you will find there will be a natural increase in passion and energy.
Remember, that it is this very energy that is the stuff that miracles are made of.