An explanation of the practice as a way of life
by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

The pith instructions briefly summarised:
Put the five strengths into practice.

If we possess these five strengths, Bodhichitta will arise in us. They are as follows: The power of resolution, the power of familiarisation, the power of the positive seed, the power of revulsion and the power of aspiration.

The power of resolution. This is, for example, the taking of a firm decision that, for this month, this year, until we die or until we attain enlightenment, we will not abandon Bodhichitta; even though hurt or injured by others, we will not give way to anger. And this strong resolution should be reinforced again and again.

The power of familiarisation. In the beginning, meditation is difficult but it becomes easier if we persevere in it. For as the saying goes, ‘There is nothing that one cannot get used to.’

Once upon a time, there was a very miserly person unable to give anything away. He went to see the Buddha.

‘It is impossible for me to be generous,’ he said, ‘what shall I do?’

‘Imagine,’ the Buddha replied, ‘that your right hand is yourself and your left hand a poor unhappy person. Give from your right hand to your left some old food, which you don’t like or need. Try hard to get used to this. Do it until you are no longer miserly.’

The man began the practice, but he was so tight-fisted that at first, he could give away only a few left-overs or food he did not like. Gradually, however, he acquired the habit so that the day arrived when he did not feel so niggardly. Thereupon, he went to see the Buddha and reported, ‘Now when I give food from my right hand to my left, I don’t feel so miserly.’ Buddha replied, ‘Now, with your right hand, which you take to be yourself, give some gold, silk or fine clothes to your left hand, which you imagine to be a beggar. Try to see if you can give open-handedly, without avarice.’ The man tried and when he got used to it he went again to see the Buddha. ‘Now, you can be a benefactor,’ the Buddha said, ‘you are free from attachment; you can give away food and clothing to those who lack them.’

Freed from his miserliness, the man thus came to help many beggars and poor people. He gradually practised and in the end, his generosity was steady, without any wavering. He understood that there is no point in being parsimonious or attached to riches. He became a monk and attained the level of an arhat. Through persistent practise one may likewise become accomplished in the two Bodhichittas.

The power of positive seeds. This is, in fact, the accumulation of merit. Going to temples and monasteries, performing prostrations and devotions before sacred objects, we should pray, ‘May I be able to cultivate the two types of Bodhichitta. May I be peaceful and without anger towards those who do me harm. May I be free from one-sided attachment for friends and relatives.’ By repeatedly praying in this way, and through the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we will be able to accomplish these qualities.

The power of revulsion. Through careful thought, it is possible to see that all the suffering and afflictive emotional states experienced in life are the results of the devastating flood of ego-clinging. Ego-clinging is the cause of every ill. Therefore when it arises, even if only for an instant, we should apply the antidote, like the doctor who gives us healing medicine when we are sick. As the saying goes, ‘Hit the pig on the nose; clean the lamp while it is still warm.’ When an angry pig rears up at us, if we hit it on the nose with a stick, it will immediately turn round and run away, unable to bear the pain. If we clean the butter-lamp while it is still warm, the job is very easily done. In the same way, if we apply the antidote before our ego-clinging has gathered strength, we shall not fall under its influence.

The power of aspiration. Whenever we have completed some positive action we should pray, ‘From now on until I attain enlightenment, may I never abandon the two Bodhichittas. Whatever conflicts I may encounter, may I be able to use them as steps along the path.’ Praying in this way, we should make offerings to the Teacher, the Three Jewels and the Dharma Protectors, asking for their assistance.

It is said of these five powers that they are the whole of the teachings condensed into a single syllable HUNG. The meaning of this is that all the profound and elaborate instructions of the Mind Training are contained within the five powers. Therefore we should practise them fervently, as did the Buddha himself when once, in a previous life, he was the royal hermit Kshantivadin, the Forbearing.

The story goes that he had withdrawn into the forest as an ascetic whereupon his younger brother had succeeded to the throne. One day the king, the younger brother, went on an expedition and at some point, he took his rest and fell asleep. Meanwhile his queens, the ministers and attendants went off to see hermit Kshantivadin, whom they knew from before and requested him to teach them. When the king awoke, he found that he was alone and, thinking that the queens, ministers and attendants had abandoned him, became very angry. He arose and searched and found them grouped around the hermit. Not realising that the holy man was teaching the Dharma, the king thought that he was leading his queens and ministers astray and corrupting them.

‘Who are you?’ cried the king. For he had been very young when his brother had renounced the world and did not recognise him.

‘I am hermit Kshantivadin,’ replied his elder brother.

‘Well,’ said the king, ‘let us see if you are worthy of such a name. Let me see how much you can bear.’ So saying, he cut off the sage’s right hand. ‘Well, can you bear that?’ he said.

‘Yes, I can,’ came the reply.

Cutting off the hermit’s left hand, the king said, ‘Are you still Kshantivadin, can you still bear that?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

Then the king struck off the hermit’s head, saying, ‘Can you still bear that?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

And so it was that he cut off the hermit’s hands and head. But from his wounds, instead of blood, there flowed a white milky substance. The king calmed down, and thinking that this could not be an ordinary being, he asked his retinue who it was. ‘It is your brother, Kshantivadin,’ they told him, ‘who in the past renounced the kingdom to go to the forest.’

Thereupon, the king felt great remorse and began to weep. Now Kshantivadin was a Bodhisattva, and so, although his head had been cut off, he could still talk. He said: ‘My hands and head you cut off as you asked your questions, therefore in the future, when I become a Buddha, may I be able to cut off your defilements as you question me.’ In fact, Kshantivadin was later to become the Buddha Shakyamuni. After the Buddha’s enlightenment, the first five disciples (one of whom had been Kshantivadin’s brother in a previous life) asked him: ‘What is samsara?’

The Buddha said: ‘Samsara is by nature suffering.’

Then they asked: ‘Whence does suffering arise?’

Buddha said: ‘Suffering arises from defiled emotions.’

Then they asked: ‘How can we eradicate the cause of suffering?’

Buddha said: ‘You must follow the path.’

Then they asked: ‘What is the good of following the path?’

Buddha said: ‘All karma and emotions come thereby to cessation.’ And it was through this teaching that the five disciples attained arhatship. So, although the head of Kshantivadin was chopped off in anger, yet, through the power of his aspirations for enlightenment, he was able to transform that evil karmic connection into the positive cause of the king’s becoming his disciple later on. We can see from this why the Dharma teaches the necessity of making prayers of aspiration.

We will now speak about the instructions for dying according to this Dharma tradition. For the practice of the transference of consciousness according to the teachings of the Mind Training, it is as the root verses say:

On how to die, the Mahayana teaches
These five strengths. It matters how you act.

These five strengths are the same as those just mentioned: positive seeds, aspiration, revulsion, resolution and familiarisation.

The power of positive seeds. When we practitioners realise that we are about to die, that we are in the grip of a fatal disease, and that there is no way that we can prolong our lives, we should make an offering to our Teacher and the Three Jewels of all our possessions, giving them away wherever it is most beneficial and meritorious. We should deal with all our unfinished business and have no attachment or aversion for anyone or anything.

The power of aspiration. Making the seven branch offering to our Teacher and the Three Jewels, we should pray as follows: ‘May I be free from fear in the bardo, and in all my future lives may I be blessed with the practice of the twofold Bodhichitta. May the Victorious Ones bless me, especially the master who has taught me the Bodhichitta practice, the Mind Training instructions.’ We should pray like this again and again, confident that our Teacher will take care of us.

The power of revulsion. We should remember that ego-clinging has brought us sorrow in the past. Even now, the hope that we might continue to live, attachment to our bodies as something precious, worries as to the way in which our wealth will be used: all this might still occasion a lot of suffering. If even now we are unable to rid ourselves of such clinging, we will never have peace. We should let our bodies go like earth and stones, thinking that they are not worth holding on to. We are suffering just because of our attachment to them. Just look!-on the outside they are skin, inside they are filled with flesh, blood, bones and all sorts of disgusting substances. They are actually nothing but bags of dirt and there is no need to identify them as ourselves. Let them be burned; let the birds or dogs devour them! Reflecting in this way, we rid ourselves of self-cherishing.

The power of resolution. We should remind ourselves that when we have to pass through the bardo, by meditating on the precious Bodhichitta, we will in fact be meditating on the heart essence of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It will be impossible for us to fall into the lower realms. By resolving to practise Bodhichitta constantly with strong determination, we guard ourselves from the terror of the bardo.

The power of familiarisation. We should constantly be mulling over the techniques just described: how to practise the twofold Bodhichitta, how to exchange happiness for suffering, how to develop compassion towards those who are hostile. We must live in such a way that, through remembering the Mind Training constantly, we will be able to apply it when the time comes for us to die and we are in a lot of pain.

Now when the moment of death arrives, this is what you should do. Just as the Buddha did when he passed away, lie on your right side, rest your head on your right hand. Breathe in through your left nostril, blocking your right nostril with the little finger of your right hand. Meditate on love, wishing happiness for all beings, numerous as the sky is vast, and generate compassion with the desire to free them from every suffering. Using the support of your ingoing and outgoing breaths, imagine that you exhale all your happiness, comfort and wealth, sending them to all who suffer. And inhale all the diseases, evil, negative emotions and obscurations of other beings, taking them upon yourselves.

Afterwards, you should reflect that samsara and nirvana are themselves illusory, just like a dream or a wizard’s magical display. Everything is devoid of self-existence. Everything is but the perception of the mind and where nothing exists, there is no cause for fear, here or in the bardo. Try to remain in that conviction, without any mental grasping.

An old lady and her daughter were once swept away by a river. The lady thought to herself, ‘If only my daughter could be saved, I do not care if I drown!’ The daughter thought, ‘What does it matter if I die? Only let my mother be safe!’ They were both killed, but, because their final intentions were those of such a powerful love, they were reborn in the realms of the gods. And so we should have loving thoughts like this all the time, and when we come to die, we should meditate alternately upon the two Bodhichittas.

There are many well-known and celebrated instructions on how to transfer the consciousness at the moment of death, but none are so sublime, amazing or wonderful as this.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (顶果钦哲仁波切) 98.

The others know not that in this quarrel we perish; those of them who realise it, have their quarrels calmed thereby.

— The Buddha

Buddha 589.













Ven Sheng Yen 80.

According to Buddhism, the cycles of cause and effect of our negative deeds (karma) yield only pain. When we die and our mind escapes from the web of our material body, we begin our journey through the transitional state (bardo) to our next rebirth. Whether our subsequent rebirths are pleasant or not depends on the habits that we have generated in our minds. Whatever negative experience we have today is the product of some unwholesome mental and emotional tendency, or karma, from our past.

Karma can also work in our favour, however. Thanks to karma, if we could sow a seed of positive perceptions and feelings, we could turn our mental and emotional tendencies to positive ones and start to enjoy a peaceful and joyful life.

— Tulku Thondup Rinpoche

Tulku Thondup Rinpoche 43.

Expansion in Consciousness
by Ayya Khema

Just as we’re capable of changing the body at will, the same applies to the mind. Changing the body can occur when we eat less and get thin, eat more and get fat, drink too much alcohol and spoil our liver, smoke too much and sicken our lungs. We can exercise to get muscles, or train to run fast or jump high, or to become very efficient at tennis or cricket. The body is able to do many things which ordinary people usually cannot do, because they haven’t trained for that. We know, for example, of people who can jump two or three times further than is common, or run ten times faster than anyone else. We may have seen people doing stunts with their bodies, which look miraculous. There are also people who can use their minds in seemingly miraculous ways, which are really just due to training.

Meditation is the only training there is for the mind. Physical training is usually connected with physical discipline. The mind needs mental discipline, practice in meditation.

First, we can change our mind from unwholesome to wholesome thinking. Just like a person who wants to be an athlete has to start at the beginning of body training, the same needs to be done for mind training. First, we cope with the ordinary, later with the extraordinary. The recollection of our own death brings us the realisation that all that is happening will be finished very soon because all of us are going to die. Even though we may not know the exact date, it is guaranteed to happen. With the death contemplation in mind, it doesn’t matter so much anymore what goes on around us, since all is only important for a very limited time.

We may be able to see that only our kamma-making matters, doing the best we can every single day, every single moment. Helping others takes pride of place. There is no substitute for that. Someone else can benefit from our skills and possessions since we cannot keep them and cannot take them with us. We might as well give it all away as quickly as possible.

One of the laws of the universe is the more one gives away, the more one gets. Nobody believes it, that’s why everyone is trying to make more money and own more things, yet it is a law of cause and effect. If we would believe it and act accordingly we would soon find out. However, it will only be effective if the giving is done in purity. We can give our time, our caring, our concern for others’ well-being. We have the immediate benefit of happiness in our own hearts when we see the joy we have given to someone else. This is about the only satisfaction we can expect in this life which is of a nature that does not disappear quickly, because we can recollect the deed and our own happiness.

If we really believe in our impending death, not just use the words, our attitude towards people and situations changes completely. We are no longer the same person then. The one we have been until now hasn’t brought us complete satisfaction, contentment and peacefulness. We might as well become a different person, with a new outlook. We no longer try to make anything last, because we know the temporary nature of our involvement. Consequently, nothing has the same significance anymore.

It could be compared to inviting people to our home for a meal. We are worried and anxious whether the food will taste just right, whether all the comforts are there and nothing missing. The house should be immaculate for the guests. While they’re visiting we are extremely concerned that they’re getting everything they could possibly want. Afterwards, we are concerned whether they like it at our house, were happy there, are going to tell other friends that it was a pleasant visit. These are our attitudes because we own the place. If we are a guest we don’t care what food is being served, because that’s up to the hostess. We don’t worry whether everything is in apple-pie order because it’s not our house.

This body is not our house, no matter how long we live. It’s a temporary arrangement of no significance. Nothing belongs to us, we’re guests here. Maybe we’ll be present for another week or year, or ten or twenty years. But being a guest, what can it matter how everything works? The only thing we can do when we are guests in someone’s house is trying to be pleasant and helpful to the people we’re with. All else is totally insignificant, otherwise, our consciousness will remain in the marketplace.

Doesn’t it only matter to elevate our consciousness and awareness to where we can see beyond our immediate concerns? There is always the same thing going on: getting up, eating breakfast, washing, dressing, thinking and planning, cooking, buying things, talking to people, going to work, going to bed, getting up… over and over again. Is that enough for a lifetime? All of us are trying to find something within that daily grind which will give us joy. But nothing lasts and moreover, all are connected with reaching out to get something. If we were to remember each morning that death is certain, but now have another day to live, gratitude and determination can arise to do something useful with that day.

Our second recollection may concern how to change our minds from enmity, hurtfulness and unhappiness, to their opposites. Repeated remembering makes it possible to change the mind gradually. The body doesn’t change overnight, to become athletic, and neither does the mind change instantly. But if we don’t continually train it, it’s just going to stay the same it has always been, which is not conducive to a harmonious and peaceful life. Most people find a lot of unpleasantness, anxiety and fear in their lives. Fear is a human condition, based on our ego delusion. We are afraid that our ego will be destroyed and annihilated.

This willingness to change our minds should make it possible to live each day meaningfully, which is the difference between just being alive and living. We would do at least one thing each day, which either entails spiritual growth for ourselves or helpfulness and consideration for others, preferably both. If we add one meaningful day to the next, we wind up with a meaningful life. Otherwise, we have an egocentric life, which can never be satisfying. If we forget about our own desires and rejections and are just concerned with spiritual growth and eventual emancipation, and being helpful to other people, then our dukkha is greatly reduced. It reaches a point where it is only the underlying movement in all of existence and no longer personal suffering and unhappiness. As long as we suffer and are unhappy, our lives are not very useful. Having grief, pain and lamentation do not mean we are very sensitive, but rather that we haven’t been able to find a solution.

We spend hours and hours, buying food, preparing it, eating it, washing up afterwards, and thinking about the next meal. Twenty minutes of recollection on how we should live, should not be taxing our time. Naturally, we can also spend much more time on such contemplations, which are a way to give the mind a new direction. Without training, the mind is heavy and not very skilful, but when we give the mind a new direction, then we learn to protect our own happiness. This is not connected with getting what we want and getting rid of what we don’t want. It’s a skill in the mind to realise what is helpful and happiness producing.

This new direction, which arises from contemplation can be put into action. What can we actually do? We have all heard far too many words which sound right, but words alone won’t accomplish anything. There has to be an underlying realisation that these words require mental or physical action. The Buddha mentioned that if we hear a Dhamma discourse and have confidence in its truth, first we must remember the words. Then we can see whether we are able to do what is required of us.

If we contemplate to be free of enmity, we can recollect such a determination again and again. Now comes the next step: How can we actualise that? When going about our daily life we have to be very attentive whether any enmity is arising, and if so, to substitute with love and compassion. That is the training of the mind. The mind doesn’t feel so burdened then, so bogged down in its own pre-determined course because we realise change is possible. When the mind feels lighter and clearer, it can expand. Activating the teachings of the Buddha changes the awareness of the mind, so that the everyday, ordinary activities are no longer so significant. They are seen to be necessary to keep the body alive and the mind interested in the manifold proliferations that exist in the world.

The realisation arises that if we have been able to change our mind even that much, there may be more to the universe than we have ever been able to touch upon with the ordinary mind. The determination may come to make the mind extraordinary. Just as in an athlete, enormous feats of balance, discipline and strength of the body are possible, just so it is feasible for the mind. The Buddha talked about expanded awareness as a result of proper concentration, time and time again. Right concentration means a change of consciousness because we are then not connected to the usual, relative knowing.

Being able to change our mind’s direction, we are no longer so enmeshed in the ordinary affairs, but know that there must be more. Through having been disciplined, strengthened and balanced, a mind can perform feats of mental awareness which seem quite extraordinary, but are just a result of training. It means getting out of the mental rut. If we have a wet driveway and drive a truck over it time and time again, the ruts get deeper and deeper and in the end the truck may be stuck fast. Such are our habitual responses that we have in our everyday affairs. Practising meditation lifts us out of those ruts because the mind gets a new dimension. Contemplation and resulting action make a new pathway in our lives, where the old ruts are left behind… Those were a constant reaction to our sense stimuli, of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking. It’s a great pity to use a good human life just to be a reactor. It is much more useful and helpful to become an actor, which means deliberate thinking, saying and doing.

It is possible to eventually have the kind of concentration where the meditation subject is no longer needed. The meditation subject is nothing but a key, or we can also call it a hook to hang the mind on, so that it will not attend to worldly affairs. When concentration has arisen, it can be likened to the key having finally found the keyhole and the door being unlocked. When we unlock the door of true samadhi we find a house with eight rooms, which are the eight meditative absorptions (jhanas). Having been able to enter the first room, there is no reason why, with practice, determination and diligence, we cannot gradually enter into all of them. Here the mind actually lets go of the thinking process as we know it and reverts to a state of experiencing.

The first thing that happens when concentration has come together is a sense of well being. Unfortunately there is a mistaken view prevalent that the meditative absorptions are neither possible nor necessary. This view is contrary to the Buddha’s teaching. Any instructions he has ever given for the pathway to liberation always included the meditative absorptions. They are the eight steps on the noble eightfold path (samma-samadhi). It is also incorrect to believe that it is no longer possible to attain true concentration; many people do so without even realising it, and need support and direction to further their efforts. Meditation needs to include the meditative absorptions because they are the expansion of consciousness providing access to a totally different universe than we have ever realised.

The mental states that arise through the meditative absorptions make it possible to live one’s daily life with a sense of what is significant and what is not. Having seen, for instance, that it is possible to grow large trees, one no longer believes that trees are always small, even though the trees in one’s own backyard may be tiny, because the soil is poor. If one has seen large trees, one knows they exist, and one may even try to find a place where they grow. The same applies to our mental states. Having seen the possibility of expanded consciousness, one no longer believes that ordinary consciousness is all there is, or that the breath is all there is to meditation.

The breathe is the hook that we hang the mind on, so that we can open the door to true meditation. Having opened the door, we experience physical well-being, manifesting in many different ways. It may be a strong or a mild sensation, but it is always connected with a pleasant feeling. Of that pleasure the Buddha said: “This is a pleasure I will allow myself.” Unless one experiences the joy of the meditative state, which is independent of the world, one will never resign from the world, but will continue to see the world as one’s home. Only when one realises that the joy in the meditative state is independent of all worldly conditions, will one finally be able to say: “The world and its manifold attractions are not interesting any more” so that dispassion will set in. Otherwise why should one resign from that which occasionally does give pleasure and joy, if one has nothing else? How can one do that? It is impossible to let go of all the joys and pleasures which the world offers, if one has nothing to replace them. This is the first reason why in the Buddha’s teaching the meditative absorptions are of the essence. We can’t let go when we are still under the impression that with this body and these senses we can get what we’re looking for, namely happiness.

The Buddha encourages us to look for happiness, but we need to look in the right place. He said we would be able to protect our own happiness. Even the very first instance of gaining physical pleasure in meditation already illuminates the fact that something inside ourselves gives joy and happiness. The physical well-being also arouses pleasurable interest which helps to keep us on the meditation pillow. Although it is a physical sensation, it is not the same sort of feeling that we are familiar with. It is different because it has arisen from a different source. Ordinary pleasant physical feelings come from touch contact. This one comes from concentration. Obviously, having different causes, they must also be different in their results. Touch is gross, concentration is subtle. Therefore the meditative feeling has a more subtle spiritual quality than the pleasant feeling one can get through touch. Knowing clearly that the only condition necessary for happiness is concentration, we will refrain from our usual pursuits of seeking pleasant people, tasty food, better weather, more wealth and not squander our mental energy on those. This is, therefore, a necessary first step towards emancipation.

We are now entering mind states that go beyond the everyday, worldly affairs… We all know the mind that is connected with ordinary matters. Such a mind worries about all sorts of things, is anxious, has plans, memories, hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes and reactions. It’s a very busy mind. For the first time, we may become acquainted with a mind which doesn’t contain all these aspects. Pleasurable well-being has no thinking attached to it, it’s an experience. Here we finally realise that the kind of thinking we’re aware of will not give us the results we had hoped for. It is just good enough to project a willingness to meditate. We learn, even from that very first step, that the world cannot do for us what concentration can do. Happiness independent of outer conditions is far more satisfying than anything to be found in the world. We are also shown that the mind has the ability to expand into a different consciousness with which we had no previous contact so that we gain first-hand experience of the fact that meditation is the means for spiritual emancipation.

Because of having had this pleasurable feeling, an inner joy arises. This gives the meditator the assurance that the pathway towards “non-self” is a pathway of joy and not of dukkha. Thereby the natural resistance to “non-self” is greatly lessened. Most people resist the idea that they are “nobody,” even after they have understood it intellectually. But being able to experience these first two aspects of meditation, gives a clear indication that this is only possible when the “self,” which is always thinking, is temporarily buried. Because when the self is active, it immediately says “Oh, isn’t that nice,” and the concentration is finished. It has to be an experience where nothing says “I am experiencing.” The explanation and understanding of what one has experienced come later.

This is a clear realisation that, without “self,” the inner joy is a much greater and more profound nature than any happiness one has known in this life. Therefore the determination to really come to grips with the Buddha’s teachings will come to fruition. Until then, most people pick out a few aspects of the Dhamma, which they’ve heard about, and think that is sufficient. It may be devotion, chanting, festivals, doing good works, moral behaviour, all of which is fine, but the reality of the teaching is a great mosaic in which all these different pieces fall together into one huge, all-encompassing whole. And the central core is “non-self” (anatta). If we use only a few of these mosaic pieces we will never get the whole picture. But being able to meditate makes a great deal of difference in one’s approach to that whole conglomerate of teaching, which encompasses body and mind and completely changes the person who practices like that.

We have to base our meditative ability on our daily practice. We cannot hope to sit down and meditate successfully, if all we can think about are worldly affairs, and if we do not try to reduce anger, envy, jealousy, pride, greed, hate, rejection in daily life. If we use mindfulness, clear comprehension and a calming of sensual desires, we have a foundation for meditation. As we practice in everyday affairs in conjunction with meditation, we see a slow and gradual change, as if an athlete has been training. The mind becomes strong and attends to the important issues in life. It doesn’t get thrown about by everything that happens.

If we can give some time for contemplation and meditation each day and not forget mindfulness, we have a very good beginning for an expansion of consciousness. Eventually, the universe and we ourselves look quite different, based on our changed viewpoint. There is a Zen saying: “First the mountain is a mountain, then the mountain is no longer a mountain and in the end, the mountain is a mountain again.” First, we see everything in its relative reality; every person is a different individual, every tree is a particular kind, everything has some significance to our own lives. Then we start practising, and suddenly we see everything in its relative reality; every person is a different individual, every tree is a particular kind, everything has some significance to our own lives. Then we start practising, and suddenly we see a different reality, which is universal and expansive. We become very involved with our own meditation and do not pay much attention to what is going on around us. We see an expansion and elevation of our consciousness, know that our everyday reactions are not important. For a while, we may pay attention to just that and to living in a different reality. In the end, we come right back to where we were, doing all the same things as before, but no longer being touched by them. A mountain is just a mountain again. Everything returns to the same ordinary aspect it used to have, except it’s no longer significant, or separate.

A description of an Arahant in the Discourse on Blessings (Maha-mangala Sutta) is: “…although touched by worldly circumstance, never the mind is wavering.” The Enlightened One is touched by worldly circumstances, he acts like everybody else, he eats, sleeps, washes and talks to people, but the mind does not waver. The mind stays cool and peaceful at all times.

Ayya Khema 19..jpg

Develop a mind that is open to everything, and attached to nothing. Disturbances are not caused by the world they are caused by clinging to it.

— Tilopa
















Ven Zhi Zong (智宗法师) 1.

Prostration is the essence and one of the most important parts of devotion. It is, for the sake of benefiting all sentient beings to prostrate and become Buddha. During the prostration, it might come up with good ideas or bad ones. Look at them with an equal mind then they would be gone without any traces. That would be the best!

— Droge Yonten Gyatso Rinpoche

Kunga Yonten Nangdrup Rinpoche (卓格仁波切) 8.

Your Mind Creates Your Experience
by Venerable Dr Chuan Xuan

The sudden chest pain threw me into a state of deep worry. I felt hopeless as I curled up in bed. My hot tears cooled quickly on my face, making the chilly south-eastern China winter even colder. Hiding beneath my blanket, I said to myself: “Am I going to die? I have yet to perfect my sutra recitation. What will happen to my students if I die? Will the college have enough time to find a replacement? Who is going to water my office plants etc…” Thoughts kept drifting in and out, and my tears continued to flow.

It was 31 January 2020, about eight days after the nationwide lockdown in China to combat a then unknown deadly pandemic, now known as COVID-19.

I was visiting one of my monastic mentors, and taking up his hospitable offer, I extended my stay so that I could catch up with him and other long-time-no-see dharma-farers as well.

As the only one who had an overseas travel history in the past fourteen days, I naturally and unquestioningly established a causal connection of my chest pain to the virus. My emotions intensified and I was very fearful. Although I was clueless about the cause of my chest pain, I came to the conclusion after hours of struggle and despair that I must be COVID-19 positive for sure.

This, however, did not bring me even a moment of peace. I could only lie and cry in bed, as I felt my strength drain away. It was four in the morning, nearly 11 hours after experiencing the suspicious pain. The monastery bell tolled, a daily signal that a new day had begun and all monastics were to assemble for their daily morning service at the Hall of Shakyamuni.

Deeply convinced that I must be ailing from COVID-19, I decided not to attend the morning practice. To be honest, even if I had wanted to attend, my body was too weak for me to do so. Thus, I sent a text message to the discipline inspector and obtained his permission for absence. The venerable was so kind; he added in his reply that he would bring me warm porridge if I could not make my way to the dining hall for breakfast.

Despite being physically weak and mentally restless, my 22-year-long monastic training reminded me that I should not lie in bed while my fellow monastics were chanting. Well, I must admit, the 108 strikes of the bell also made returning to sleep rather difficult. For a moment, a thought flashed through: “The monk who is in charge of striking the bell should be nicknamed Venerable Armstrong, for his strength in sounding the bell so loudly.”

With my last ounce of strength, I tried to sit up cross-legged and managed to remain still. As part of my training as a monastic, it had become habitual for me to attend to my breath whenever I am in a sitting position. I started to stay mindful of my in-breath and out-breath. Although that day my meditation wasn’t progressing the way I used to practise, I kept at it.

After a few rounds of counting inhalation from one to ten and then from ten to one, I could feel my breath vividly again. It was warm, rapid and short. The sheer awareness of my own breath allowed me, for the first time in the past 11 hours, an opportunity to disassociate from the feeling of being a “victim” of the virus. This momentary disassociation of I and my feeling released a tremendous inner strength that allowed me to see “me” and “virus” as separate. In other words, I take care of “me” and the physician will take care of the virus.

So instead of worrying, I went to a hospital before breakfast and did the prescribed medical examinations. The test results came out the next day.

My chest pain was merely due to cold. The pain went away the next day.

So, what have I learnt from this intense episode, and my monastic journey so far?

First and foremost, allow yourself to be human and have feelings. Be it love, fear, anxiety, anguish, and so forth, whenever a feeling arises, contemplate the feeling as just a feeling and give it due recognition. Second, try not to become overwhelmed with your feelings, neither downplaying nor exaggerating them, be they positive or negative. Always maintain your mindful awareness of your reactions. Third, whenever you are about to take an action, be it mental, verbal or physical, spare a moment or so to reflect if this action is wholesome or unwholesome.

Is it meaningful or worthless?

Is it enriching or damaging?

Finally, give people such as scientists, statesmen, physicians, volunteers etc, the room to perform what they are good at and be grateful for their contributions.

Amidst this pandemic, some are lamenting that we will never be able to go back to our good old days. I do not know about that. However, I have faith and am confident that when our hearts are united in mindful awareness, we shall emerge from this much stronger and thus enjoy a better future together.

It is okay to be intense, but it takes wisdom to be at peace. With this quote from the Dhammapada, I wish everyone peace, good health and happiness.

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To learn Buddhism is to learn wisdom and compassion. To attain Buddhahood means the manifestation of the inherent wisdom and compassion of Buddha-nature after all the obscurations have been purified. That is all it means.

— Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro Rinpoche

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