Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Venus, Jupiter, or Mars?

When I lived in London in the sixties I worked in an office on the thirteenth floor of New Zealand House in the Haymarket. Just a short distance away was the Queen’s Theatre. At the time there was a musical playing there called ‘Stop the World I Want To Get Off!’ starring Anthony Newley, I seem to remember. The title was memorable for many reasons, one of which is because I really empathised with it and so often in my life I wanted the world to pause for a moment or two while I got off for a while― or maybe even permanently― depending on the circumstances at the time. Or maybe I could search for another planet which would provide me with the happy, carefree existence I was seeking, seeing as this one was failing heavily on that score. Many years later I encountered Buddhism for the first time (in 1986) and, of course, came across something called ‘meditation’. In fact, one of the first teachings I ever heard was an audio tape of Sogyal Rinpoche who was translating a teaching of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. I can still remember that one of the questions asked was “What is mind?” Up until that point in time I had never really thought about my mind at all. Like most people my main focus was outwards rather than inwards. It really stopped me in my tracks and forced me to look inwards at this mind of mine which I had taken for granted for so long and had never ever ‘looked’ at. This really was quite a turning point in my life (in more ways than one!), especially as soon after that tape I met Rinpoche for the first time and became much more familiar with meditation and other Buddhist practices. Now I was no longer looking for another planet to move to as this one seemed much more promising than before. It was as if I was seeing the world in a different light, in a way that had not been possible before. And all it took was to turn my mind inwardly and look .....

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Back to the basics

More and more I appreciate the basic teachings of the Buddha, like the four noble truths. They really are the foundation for everything else that follows. The traditional example given is that when you need to build a house the foundation is the most important thing and without it the house would collapse. If we take the first noble truth, the truth of suffering which is to be understood, there really is a lot to understand here! You don’t try to overcome suffering, you don’t try to change it, you don’t try to make it better, you don’t try to escape from it – you understand it. When times are difficult these are wonderful opportunities (!) to sit down and face suffering, to understand it fully and not take the easy option of always running away or of trying to avoid it. In the Therigatha there’s the famous story of Krisha Gotami which Sogyal Rinpoche tells in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – it’s at the beginning of Chapter Three. The Buddha’s strategy for moving Krisha Gotami away from the grief and suffering caused by the death of her son was to show her that other people die as well: that the death of her son was not a solitary event in the universe but was connected to every other death. He wanted her to understand the suffering of death. That death is a natural part of things and you can’t escape it. Whatever is born will die. When we understand, it doesn’t mean that we just accept things fatalistically, but respond by accepting the facts of life and death in a different way to how we normally respond to events and things of the outer world. Instead we disengage and turn inwards. You might say we feel a certain disenchantment for the things of the world. They’re not going to bring us the happiness that we’re all seeking. Instead we begin to see very clearly how it’s our mind that is at the root of everything we experience. And we start to see the need for training our mind. So here begins the path.....