May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings have happiness free of suffering.
May all beings be free of holding some close and others distant, attached to some and adverse to others, may they be impartial to all.
Because bias, bigotry and scapegoating are increasing, not decreasing. Because differences between have and have not are increasing, not decreasing. Because this leads to suffering. Divisive attitude only increases the suffering on the long run.
We cannot change the world, but we can strengthen our values, and we have to do it when the world does not revolve in an ethical direction. If we want to swim against the stream, we have to be strong. It’s easy to divide, saw discontent and blame, it’s easy to thoughtlessly behave like everybody else does, it’s easy to be a follower or to live from a day to day without a goal, but it is much harder to define one’s own ethical goal, to take responsibility on one's own shoulders and to pursue it regardless the circumstances. Yet, on the long run, the easy path is the hardest and the hard one is much more meaningful and joyful.
People are not always right (see any war time). Authorities are not always right (see any abuse of power, including religious). At the end, we alone are responsible for our lives, so we have to strengthen our values and our understanding to lead our lives towards our goals, otherwise we might end where we do not want to end. In Buddhism, this implies study. Knowing dharma well is the antidote against fooling ourselves, against doubts, fears and other causes of suffering, as well as a tool of strengthening and sharpening our mind, determination, compassion, patience, and other virtues that support our path. We have possibility to do so now. The conditions for it will not last forever.
- Ani Wangmo
May 4th, 2020
Sickness, old age and death are known to be a source of suffering, but now something else worries me besides this - rapid increase of disinformation and distrust into all institutions that used to present the pillars of unity, stability and peace, such as science, government (legal state), education and media. Distrust is a sibling of fear, uncertainty and seeking for a scapegoat, justified with overly simplified theories that incite hatred and divide the society. It is a dangerous mindset that can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.
The opposite of such distrust is not blind faith, which is equally harmful mentality, equally enabling harm, but critical thinking and awareness that wisdom starts with sharpening one's own mind, not by judging others, searching for scapegoats or trying to explain the contradictions of the world by conspiracy theories.
Yes, the world can be a weird place and yes, we do not know many things that take place behind the curtains. Nevertheless, whom does it benefit if we take part in spreading division and distrust, or even in personal lives, does it help our path to live in constant distrust towards everything and everyone? This is suffering on its own, isn't it, and a fertile ground for the seeds of disinformation, which blame whichever other for one's misery.
So what is the alternative? Reason. Having a firm, stable goal based on one's own ethical values. Resilience in proceeding towards one's goal regardless the circumstances. Persistence in ethical goal gives us a firm spine, while reason helps us to pursue what benefits and abandon what is harmful. We cannot change the world, not all at once, but we can strengthen our own virtues, one drop at a time, knowing that each drop can have a ripple effect to the world around us.
Last time I was ruminating about how having a goal in one’s life, especially in relation to what one wants to be as a person, makes a huge difference in one’s sense of purpose, including during the time when our usual social roles and interaction are absent, like at the time of social isolation, voluntary or not.
People are beings of growth, I believe, happiest when they observe the growth of themselves or anything else important to their lives. Nevertheless, merely daydreaming of a goal does is not enough, one needs to actually walk the path to get this deeply satisfying sense of constant improvement. It does not matter how big the steps are, if our environment sees them, or how long it takes to see tangible results. The path can be a source of joy by itself, even in mundane activities where it takes time to see the result, e.g. in mastery of an instrument, in professional sports etc., what even in the most invisible field of all – our own mental maturation and spiritual ripening.*
I’ve been thinking what experiences from the solitary retreats I can take to this time of social isolation. During the past two decades I had over 40 solitary retreats, most of them short, but the principle is the same – total isolation from any interaction from external world, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. Has it been useful for the present time? Yes, definitely, but not in the way that might seem on the first glance.
Here are my personal experiences. Each retreat was different, but they all shared the goal and the outcome. For me, the surprise was in the outcome.
Our lives usually consist of a whirlpool of samsaric distractions that leave little time for focusing within and developing our capacities. It can be very hard to change this, not so much because of the objective external conditions, but primarily because of our internal decisions. Consequently, we are not used to being alone. When forced to it, our minds can experience confusion, disorientation, changing moods, frustration, anxiety and other forms of discomfort or suffering. How can one maintain stability?
I’ve started these posts when our regular meditation sessions on The Light of Meditation ended due to the coronavirus pandemic while people wanted them more than ever. I’m very reluctant about writing here, because the aim of SICGU is to focus on DHARMA, not to any personality. I hope that others will join or replace me here. Besides this, I am merely a student, I don’t want to be in focus while we have fully qualified teachers who can connect Dharma and everyday life much better than me – and they do during the classes. You are most welcome to join them.
Best wishes to all.
Ani Tenzin Wangmo
I took it from our translation class in SICGU. I found it particularly practical in these times of closer relations among each other, often combined with increased tensions. Welcome to join us, if you are interested. It is beneficial if you dedicate yourself to something virtuous.
It makes a huge difference in how we spend our time during the period of this self-isolation and at the time of crisis in general. This can be a great opportunity to direct our mind to virtue, to strengthen our mind and focus it to our spiritual goal, it is great time to accelerate our spiritual journey and accumulate a lot of merits.
It can be either the time of great growth or the time of anxiety, tensions and abuse. It can lead to a domino effect of good or bad consequences, depending what kind of seeds we are sowing. Many times people are saying: I will study Dharma when i retire or I would like to learn Tibetan but I don't have time. Now is the time, now are conditions for many of us to do what we find meaningful. The opportunity will not last forever, but we will plant seeds of habits during this time.
I would like to invite those who consider themselves the followers of the Buddha to join our classes in SICGU (www.sicgu.org) and give themselves a gift of Dharma. We have amazing teachers and various types of classes, suitable for different needs. I will write more about the classes in the following posts. Welcome to join us.
This is a great time to be satisfied with what we have instead of desiring for more and more and more. Being satisfied with what we have leads to contentment, peace and happiness, while greed for more and more is like drinking salty water - the thirst only increases. Our basic needs are small, everything more than that is a luxury, so why not being happy with what we already have and using it well.
Greed might is much deeper rooted sickness of humanity than the present virus. Some people get into huge debts, many people do not plan their spendings, the majority of people have no emergency funds. In these times when people are shopping online, buying more often than needed burdens the postal systems - we can refrain from it also by considering the postmen. There are many ways to practice dharma in these days. The trend of minimalism has been consistently growing through the past years. It has been partially linked to environmental concerns and partially to larger social context and consequences of consumerism, including fair trade and other factors, which is great. Buddhist approach can include it, but it has a larger scope and different emphasis, as I understand it. It includes more than one life, all sentient beings and well-defined interconnectivity, yet its emphasis is not as much on what others or government are doing as on what we ourselves are doing. Primarily it offers mind training.
Our mind is the root from which our words and actions are arising. Classical example: if a poisonous plant is growing on our garden, we can remove the leaves, but the plant will continue to grow, but if we remove the root, we have overcome the problem. Being satisfied with what we have and gratitude for it can be a profound practice when we take it to heart. It is even deeper when we think how to use it for the benefit of all.
I was thinking about people who are panicking these days. Many of them were used to have a strong control over their lives and now they are facing unpredictability, invisible enemy and lack of control of their future. In reality, nothing in our lives is permanent and predictable and we never know when the change comes.
Usually we become acutely aware of impermanence only when it happens and turns our lives upside down, classically at the time of old age, sickness and death. Nothing lasts forever, we are in constant flow of changes from a moment to another. Seeming predictability of our lives lasted for a while, then it was gone, replaced with unpredictability of the pandemic, but one day this will be gone, too. Often fears are stronger when we focus only on what we have in front of our nose and forget about the larger perspective, including constant chances and impermanence.
Impermanence and uncertainty about our external conditions are neither positive nor negative on their own, they are what me make of it. To a spiritually inclined person this helps us to turn inside and spend more time training our mind (Tib. བྐྱོ་སྐྱོང་), developing loving compassion and other virtuous mental states. Our mind can be trained, just like our bodies can be trained. which helps us to maintain a positive mental attitude and make our life meaningful regardless the circumstances.
Awareness of impermanence in the time of difficulties can be a beacon of hope, and awareness of impermanence in any time, happy or sad, can be a source of a profound sense of purpose beyond this life.