Articles

The Power of an Open Question

The following is an excerpt from Elisabeth Mattis Namgyel’s book The Power of an Open Question 

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“With All Our Might”
Chapter 12

Surely, if the human condition could be fixed, the Buddha would have fixed it long ago. I’m sure Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi would have cracked the code. And certainly the Dalai Lama would see to it that something was done. The staggering beauty of the efforts of history’s great luminaries, both past and present, is that despite knowing the unfixable nature of things, they did everything thing they could to serve others. In fact, they tried with all their might.

Temple Grandin is an expert in animal behavior and has deep insight into animal mind. She attributes this understanding to having been born severely autistic. She has observed that some patterns of animal behavior resemble the mental, emotional, and physical patterns she and others with autism experience. She is well known for having designed stockyard and slaughterhouse facilities that reduce fear and stress in cattle. A radio interviewer recently asked her, “Why bother creating more humane conditions for animals that are about to be slaughtered anyway?” Ms. Grandin replied, “Why else, but to reduce their suffering.”

Whatever we can do to serve others, at any moment, in any situation, is the practice of bodhi, or awakening. Service awakens in us a natural generosity, not a calculated response that weighs the pros and cons and decides whether it’s worth the effort. It is a matter of the heart. We see a need and naturally move toward it. Shantideva, in The Way of the Bodhisattva, says that if our hair were on fire we would be obsessed with putting it out. In the same way, the process of awakening through service is the obsession of a bodhisattva.

Big Aspirations

Once I drove from my home in Crestone, Colorado, to pick up my brother in Santa Fe, New Mexico—about a three-and-a-half-hour drive. On my way I stopped at a gas station and saw that the lottery was up to one hundred and seventy million dollars, so I bought a ticket. On the drive I thought, “What could I do with one hundred and seventy million dollars?” Hmmm . . . I could financially support members of my spiritual community so they could practice meditation and afford to work solely in service of the Dharma . . . I could build a healing center and a hospice in my town . . . fix up the horse stables . . . support my teacher in an extended retreat . . . sponsor my friend who paints beautiful devotional paintings . . . Three and a half hours later I found myself in Santa Fe feeling unusually fresh and resolved. Without noticing, I had not dedicated a single moment of my fantasy to what I could get for myself. And this, I realized, explained why my mind felt so at ease. Rinpoche always says that focusing on the happiness of others is the purest form of happiness. What could be truer?

On the bodhisattva path we make big aspirations: “May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings”; “May I bring all beings to enlightenment”; “May I take the suffering of others onto myself so that they can experience a life free of suffering.” Sometimes we say these things without believing them. I remember one student actually trying to prove, with a calculator, the impossibility that all beings could attain enlightenment.

“Can we, can’t we?” That’s not the point. The point is to try with all our might. And only when we try with all our might do we see how the effort to serve affects us, and how it affects others . . . and then we understand.

Simple Gestures

Serving others doesn’t have to be grand. Extending a warm gesture to someone that we don’t even know—say, on the bus—can make a tremendous difference to that person. It can bring them out of a deep place of isolation. Together, we share a moment of humanity. It’s priceless.

In his film Land of Silence and Darkness, Werner Herzog documents the work of Fini Straubinger, a deaf-blind woman dedicated to bringing others in the deaf-blind community out of their deeply withdrawn state of aloneness. She “speaks” to them through tactile translation—a system of communication that consists of tapping and stroking different areas on the palm of the hand. As we watch her work, we wonder, “What would it be like to have so little sensory input?” Without this kind of communication, deaf-blind people would be totally cut off from the world. As one person says to Fini, “When you let go of my hand you could be a thousand miles away.”

In the film, we watch Fini first tenderly make contact with, and then hand over a radio to, twenty-two-year-old Vladimir, who is not only deaf and blind but also has Down syndrome. Vladimir can’t walk, he can’t communicate, he can’t dress himself. When we’re first introduced to him, we see him alone, making sounds and hitting himself with a ball. He tries to understand the body he inhabits. He tries to understand himself in relationship to other things, in the environment he lives in. When Fini hands him the radio, although he can’t see or hear, he feels the vibration of the music, and he clenches it in his arms as if he were making it a part of him. We see him come out of his isolation for that moment and become a part of something bigger—this vibrating, pulsating, energetic thing in his arms. That single moment brings home to us the importance of human interaction and love. And, it makes us wonder: how much do we ourselves withdraw into our own painful state of self-absorption?

The Science of Awakening

When we extend generosity to others, not only do we ease their pain, we also awaken—come out of our own isolation—in the process. There’s a science to serving others.

Whenever we visit a big city we can stop and offer money to the homeless people we encounter on the street. So often we see people rushing around, trying to get where they are going. But when we take a moment to make an offering to someone in need, and have a human interaction, it changes the whole atmosphere of our mind and theirs. It takes us out of automatic pilot. Serving others is the antithesis of retreating into the self. It is an energetic shift that moves us toward the open and boundaryless state of interdependence.

Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche often says we don’t have to get rid of the self or ego when we do this. We don’t have to change the basic makeup of our mind at all. We simply need to make ourselves big enough to include others in our wish for happiness rather than just focusing entirely on ourselves. In other words, the more we decentralize the self—the more we spread our wealth of love and care—the freer and bigger we become. We discover a happiness that is not reliant on the conditions and preferences of self-care.

When we serve beings with all our might, our aspiration to benefit them shepherds us toward the bigger truth of interdependence. As our wisdom of the interdependent and the boundaryless nature of things increases, so does our compassion and inclination to serve. Do you see the relationship between these two? Without this bigger view, we would simply try to fix things in our limited, objectified world. And without the practice of service, we would have no way out of that world.

The science of awakening is not a Buddhist principle. It is a shared experience that reflects the laws of cause and effect. When I listen to the news I am often struck by the stories I hear. People who experience great loss and suffering naturally look for ways to serve others. They move from “I am suffering” to “there is suffering,” which inspires in them a longing to serve. The love that inspires this longing is the same love we all have when we stop focusing solely on ourselves and move toward the truth of interdependence.

“Best then,” as my teacher says, “to become the keepers of our brothers and sisters.” Best then, that they become the object of our understanding and love. Best then, that we care for them as our means to awaken to the great interdependence of “things” beyond self and other.’

Engagement

We often think of engagement as social activism. What we call “engaged Buddhism” is Buddhism that takes on a cause. But the Buddhist path, by its very nature, is a path of engagement. When we make ourselves big enough to include all beings in our love and care—when we accommodate everything—we fully engage the world. We are right there with everyone and everything else.

Our level of engagement doesn’t necessarily depend upon the amount of social action we undertake. We can serve others while being totally disengaged and selfinvolved, in which case our actions will be puny. Or, we can be totally engaged while sitting alone in a small retreat hut. People who have done long retreats often talk about this experience. When they set their boundary at the beginning of retreat they feel isolated. There is a sense of trying to keep the world out. Later, a deep loneliness sets in. But instead of feeling depressed by this loneliness, they feel touched by a heartfelt sense of kinship with other beings, as if the entire universe of beings were sitting right beside them in their small hut.

Some people think that retreat practice is just another way to withdraw from the world, and I suppose it could be. But if we consider how much time we spend running around, distracted, thinking only of ourselves, perhaps it will lead us to wonder . . . whether staying alone and reflecting deeply into the nature of things might actually be a brave and noble thing to do. I personally find solace in the fact that there are people in this world committed to this kind of wakefulness.

The point is that engagement happens when the artificial barriers between self and other, my retreat and the world outside, in and out, begin to fade. Engagement takes us beyond the extremes of complacency or trying to fix things, and demands the courage and presence of the Middle Way mind. The greatest kindness we have to offer others is to not withdraw into our self.

©2010 Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel. Published by Shambhala Publications.

namgyel

Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel is known for her willingness to question the spiritual path in order to reach a place of genuine practice and awakening. Using the Buddha’s teachings on emptiness as lens, she asks us to take a fresh look at all the assumptions and beliefs we have about reality and liberation.

Republished with the kind permission of Elzabeth Mattis-Namgyel
 http://www.elizabethmattisnamgyel.com/

TECHNOLITERACY

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I first felt the onslaught of the digital tsunami in my engineering days.  My job as an apprentice toolmaker was to set up capstan lathes in a small factory in Glasgow that made bespoke accouterments for submarines:  salinometers, micro-valves and custom tools for cutting gears.  Crockets was the name of the company.

After two years of working there, the management decided to invest in machines that could be monitored by one man from a centrally situated hub and my skills quickly became redundant, along with about 10% of the factory’s workforce.

It was the sixties and the journey from analogue to digital had begun.

In 1981, after many years of working on a BBC computer and inking exam papers on a Banda machine for third-world use, I was in Toronto where I was helping to build a sauna with some Polish students in the district of Pape.  The house was a late 19th century French colonial structure.  The sauna was annexed to a bedroom on the top floor, the middle and ground sections providing living space and a kitchen respectively.  In the basement was a service workshop for Apple computers, the first in the country I was told.

Tom and his wife Trudy, the owners of the house, left me in charge while they went for a two-week vacation to Tobago.  I was to sign myself in and out of the place, cook my food in the kitchen, and was allowed to’play’ on the computers in the basement.

I don’t know how you feel about packman and on-screen table tennis, but don’t get involved, ever, with shooting alien craft out of the sky as they drop to earth in ever-increasing numbers accompanied by a repetative, digital soundtrack. I spent 16 or more hours a day at the screen and walked about the house zapping everything in sight in my line of vision accompanied by an auditorially tintinnabulated internal screeching of extra-terrestrial craft landing from the ceilings of the house.

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Nowadays, while driving, I think of how my father would have wondered at the technology used in cars these days.  For as far as I can remember he drove a new car every year until he died in 1972.  These included Vauxhall, Singer, MG, Morris Oxford, Triumph, Humber, Austin, and various other models.  (I also wonder how Leonardo da Vinci would react to television, helicopters and aeroplanes, and, well, just about anything in the modern world.)

Now, microprocessors in cars regulate the windows and the engine with on-board diagnostics.  The engine control unit, for example, is one of the many seeming miracles of vehicle technological developments.  It balances the mixture of air and fuel that passes through the catalytic converter to remove pollutants from the car exhaust.  And what would my father think of me speaking to someone on my hands free iPhone then switching to a GPS navigation system which can forecast my time of arrival at a destination by the shortest and least cumbersome route in real time?

Now, I have an old and redundant SLR Pentax in my cupboard with a detachable 185 mm lens, replaced with a Nikon digital camera, a Cassio compact camera and an iPhone on which I can access What’s App, Viber, Face Time, send and receive texts and tweets, send an Instagram,  listen to music on wireless digital headphones on Deezer or Sound Cloud, enter appointments in my calendar with one click, find the arrival of a bus near my home or anywhere in the country, carry plane, train, bus and theatre tickets in my digital wallet, make use of predictive text which suggests words I might wish to insert in a text field, predictions based on the context of other words in the message and the first letter typed…and take a pretty good photo with a selfie stick that someone gave me.

As for the future. Well, here are some of my predictions.  I was told by an 86 year old mathematician who used to work in Ferrantis developing electronics for the defence industry that most of the guesses below have been or are in progress.  Excuse the layman’s vocabulary:

• Inter-dermal gossamer implants containing personal  information     such as passports, medical records and current terrestrial location
• Geo drones for the delivery of online-purchased goods.
• Holographic, omni-directional media systems for home use
• Rolls of highway applied to super-Velcro surfaces
• Predictive Assessed Profiles (PAP) of criminal behaviour – think Tom Cruise’s Minority Report
• Smart wrist bands that send real time diverse health uploads to a central astro-physical diagnostic hub enabling packets of advice on activities and diet
• Organic/biological prosthetics
• Neo-plastic neuron implants in designated inter modal pathways to facilitate the amelioration of harmful habits such as smoking and alcohol addiction
• Inter-spatial organic plateaus for the production and delivery of food to stations on earth
• Genetic applications of advantageous features in mammals applied to humans, such as amphibiotic gills, eidetic tableau memory platforms and stereoscopic vision.
• Biological, inter-gender robots with legalised human partner-paired capabilities  (This is happening now cf Martina Rothblatt)
• And, of course, international exospheric battlement stations stocking nuclear payloads

In a billion years, let’s imagine that we’re still around, the difference between human appearances now and then would be as different as the forms evolved by bacteria and a monkey.

I read that somewhere.

Technologically, well, that’s beyond all our present understanding.

 

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SWEET CORN PUDDING मकैको खीर

In Nepal, several types of pudding are prepared.  One popular kind of pudding is that made from fresh corn.

Ingredients
1 cup of fresh corn

4 cups of milk
1 cup of sugar (honey can be used as a substitute)
1/2 cup of dried fruit
1/2 teaspoon of cardamon
2 tablespoons of grated coconut

Process
Boil the milk on a low heat.  stir frequently till it boils down to only 3 cups.  Add the corn and continue heating till it thickens and the corn is tender.  More milk can be added if required.  Add the sugar or honey and the fruit.  Heat for a few minutes more.  When cook, serve in small bowls.  Top the with cardamon and coconut.

Serves 6 persons

bon appetit

Source:  Joys of Nepalese Cooking (S. Devi, Lashkar (Gwalior), India)

HARRIET TUBMAN

 A story of overcoming fear in your workplace, and in your heart. Excerpted from Jaiya John’s new book of healing, Your Caring Heart: Renewal for Helping Professionals and Systems. Online where books are sold.

Harriet Tubman was a baaad woman. She didn’t play. One story I appreciate telling about her (creatively adapted, of course) is a story of leadership. So, the story goes that Harriet and her people had been discussing for some time the idea of breaking away from their plantation and finding freedom. Now, freedom can be a very frightening idea to a slave. Sure enough, as the designated night approached in which the group would escape the plantation, the people began to voice their concerns. Their fears.

Many of these people were menfolk, and Harriet being a woman, was used to the challenges of being a female leader. Folks started in with fear talk: “Now, Harriet, this freedom thing of yours sounds great in theory, but I don’t know if it is realistic. Look at our life. We have so much to deal with. So many bad things could go wrong. I don’t know if we have time for this freedom thing. I need to get back to my work or Massa gon’ whup me good. I can’t afford to lose my job. How much work is this freedom thing going to require?”

Does this litany of fear talk sound familiar to you? If so, it is because, bless us all, the slave is alive and well in our society and work. It is a spirit of self-oppression that burrows deep into people and groups, rendering their idea of reality as one of impending doom.

 Harriet listened respectfully to her people. But Harriet knew fear. It was in the nature of being a slave. In fact, her people harvested fear more than they harvested cotton or other crops. It was fear that they brought home to their slave quarters. Fear that they ate together for dinner. Beds of fear that they slept on. Dreams of fear in the night. Fear was their sunrise, their clothing, their daily industry. So, Harriet, she knew fear. And she would not let it get in the way of freedom. On a night absent of moonlight, Harriet gathered her people down by the riverbank. The murmuring water would be their chaplain for this freedom service. The people were now terrified. They risked death, dismemberment, whippings, dogs tearing at their flesh. They risked disappointing their overseers and their masters. They risked losing their precious jobs as house slaves, for few wanted the backbreaking life of a field slave. They risked being sold. This entire river of fears was now pushing up their throats, coming out as angry resistance to freedom.

 Harriet wasn’t sweet. She was fire. A woman, slave, nurse, social worker, leader, healer in those times had to be fire. She used hers. Lifting her sawed-off shotgun, she pointed it directly at the men challenging her leadership. Harriet said these words: “I understand, my people, the ferocity of your fears. But we have been slaves far too long. We have lost the taste for freedom. But here, under cover of this black night, I’m fixin’ to make an executive decision. Those who choose to stay in this life of suffering may do so. Otherwise, whoever wants to have freedom sing in their bones and dreams tonight, follow me. Tonight, my people, we fixin’ to be free.”

 In every group of human beings who care deeply to do this healing work, in the right way and spirit, there must be those, of any title, willing to walk the group through their long night of fear into the astounding daybreak of freedom. There is no other way than directly through our fear. We should do this now, good souls, before we further lose the taste of freedom.

 

INSPIRATION

“But what is self Love?” she asked.

And Love answered:

“When your sacredness becomes your deepest song.”

Dr. Jaiya John has served organizations, agencies, schools, and initiatives globally for many years. He is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant, book author, poet, spoken word artist, and youth mentor. Jaiya is the founder of Soul Water Rising, a global human mission that has donated thousands of Jaiya’s books in support of social healing, and offers scholarships to displaced and vulnerable youth. He is a former professor of social psychology at Howard University, has authored numerous books, and has addressed over half a million professionals, parents, and youth worldwide. Jaiya is a National Science Foundation fellow, and holds a doctorate degree in social psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As an undergraduate, he attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and studied Tibetan Holistic Medicine through independent research with Tibetan doctors in Nepal.

Soul Water Rising  |  jaiya@soulwater.org  |  soulwater.org

Game Changing

 Somehow 2016 feels like a game-changer. The fatigue of decades of political non-speak and spin has taken its toll this year with Brexit and Trump. The social scientists at work were wondering what they’d missed in their analyses of the political ailments that returned us to Germany in the 1930s when the news of the Austrian election where almost half the population voted for an outright Fascist. How did that happen? we asked and yet it’s been a long time coming.

So what’s in stall for 2017?

I live a very simple and calm life which has been fantastic for my Buddhist practice. At an external level, not much changes between one day and the next, one week and the next. I make breakfast, do Pilates, meditate, go to work, come home, cook dinner, read, go to bed. It’s pretty much the same thing day in, day out. The weekends are mugs and mugs of freshly brewed loose-leaf tea while pottering about the house. The amazing thing about having a repetitive life is that I have the space to develop my practice, to reflect, to read – it feels very 1980s. Simple and comforting.

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A Buddhist acquaintance recently said that 30 years ago she made the decision to lead a full life after her father’s death in her late teens. The conversation triggered a contemplation about what it means to live a full life, especially as I lead such a quiet life. Given the opportunities and options available today, the idea of doing lots and lots of things as a definition of leading a full life feels like I’m in a huge banquet hall with tables and tables in every direction with varieties of cuisines and courses of all descriptions. There’s no way to taste everything and I’m unsure about where to go? what to choose? how much to have? I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities and feel uncertain to step in any direction. None feel particularly meaningful and the consumption feels both unethical and unsatisfactory. Why choose 1 way instead of another? It doesn’t matter which way I go, I’ll always miss out on more than I could ever taste. And besides, what will all that tasting give? A chronic insatiability of what I haven’t yet had, questioning what other options are available and regret about which decisions I made. I feel saturated and overwhelmed by it all.

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In response, I’ve pulled back from the world, restricted my options, reduced what I look at. One of the decisions has been to focus on the good news on the internet and to avoid the rest because the bad stuff is really bad, e.g. the situation in Syria is bad enough and yet Russia is in cahoots – Putin looks like a parasitic monster feeding on the underbelly of greed. In addition, I get the feeling that much of what’s news is propaganda. Is ‘the news’ a form of consumption to feel bad as much as shopping is a type of consumption to feel good? It’s as if the society is obsessed by consuming in any form without understanding the assault on the soul. My body and mind feel triggered and pulled in all directions as it seeks my attention, emotion and purchase.

And so the question remains – What does it mean to lead a full life? After much cogitation, I’ve decided that leading a fuller life is to lead a stiller life – to notice both the beauty and the pain by pausing and doing less: The sunrise is beautiful. Syria is a mess. Fascism is rising. The rose is stunning. People are lonely. People are happy. There are hurts. There is forgiveness. And then there’s the wonderfully kitch and the inspiring.

For me, it seems that to lead a full life is to lead a life with the full gamut of emotions, responses, reactions – to intimately engage with whatever arises: The funny, the bland, the hate, the love, the sorrow, the drudgery, the appalling, the wonder and the joy. As for 2017, my hope is that it will be a new job at better pay, meaningful friendships, connection to a charity, deeper understanding of Buddhism and plenty of wonder and joy.

May you also have a year that is full of wonder and joy – and full life in whatever form that takes.

About the author Wendy Nash.
Wendy is Australian and has been living in Oxford, UK, for the past 3 years. She has been following Buddhism since 2003, took refuge with the Buddha in 2008 and in 2014 realised that although she had everything she wanted (good relationships, health and job) she was still unhappy – that’s when her practice really came into its own. She has been dedicated to the White Tara group in Oxford since 2014.

She thinks that life is better with a vase of flowers nearby and mugs of teapot tea. 

Glesca

Rouken Glen Boathouse, Glasgow

I had a great childhood just outside of the city, Glasgow that is!  Not like the city I grew up in, no it’s now a fabulous bustling town and something to be proud of if you are a Glaswegian…

I lived in Orchard Park which is between Giffnock and Thornliebank.  Behind “oor hoose” was a farm.  It was owned by farmer Stirling.  He and his wifie had two sets of twins, one set boys and the other girls.  I remember the old farm kitchen.  It had a huge wooden table (at least it seemed huge then) which was worn down in the middle where there was always an uncut loaf, I think we called it a plain loaf!  A huge dish of homemade jam took up residence on one corner of the table and likewise on another corner was delicious homemade butter,  the wooden butter pat still in it.  Of course these three ingredients made great “jellie pieces.”  Up the circular staircase from the kitchen was the family`s best lounge.  Glass cabinets held their treasures….

I went on the tractor and round the fields with the farmer.  I helped to milk the cows, feed the pigs and collect eggs.  Wonderful memories of a wonderful time.

I was probably about 15 years old when the farm was knocked down and a function hall was built, not nearly as much fun but necessary they said.

I lived in a cul-de-sac at number six and my friend at number 12.  Her father had an amazing  gardens full of beautiful blooms of all the colours of the rainbow.  He fed the plants with horse dung which he collected from the droppings of horses which came through our street and into the fields.  For me as a child I found this disgusting!!!

We as children had so much freedom.  Off we went on our bikes and weren’t seen again till lunch time.  After lunch we were off again.  We went to Rouken Glen up hills and down vales.  Exploring the woods, picking bluebells by their hundreds,  jumping the burn etc…  What great memories.  So sad that our children and grandchildren are so restricted and don’t have much freedom.  One wonders if the goings on were the same in the old days but with no media to frighten people off..

I left school at 16 and took up hairdressing as my career.  My parents had to pay £300.00 for my apprenticeship.  It was such a lot of money for them to find.  However it gave me the ability to do something which I used for many years both here and abroad and best of all I loved `doing hair`.

When I became twenty one, three girlfriends and I decided to go and work in Gibraltar for a year. We all left our jobs and booked flights.  What an exciting time that was.  We were ahead of our time because if you weren’t married and by that age you certainly didn’t leave home!  The neighbour speaking to my mum over the fence said “Was she thon way” is that’s why she has gone away…

Anastasia Romei

THE PHOENIX

I am skiing down through the snow and come across a building called Innovation. I walk through the door, and come across the people at the pay kiosk. I say I have no money with me but I want to meet my other half. They let me go in and I go up the escalator to meet the other half, at the top of the stair I see myself, and follow ‘her’ through something which look like market stalls. ‘She’ collapses, and I shout out, is there a doctor here to help? Three Doctors come by me, but not in time as she dies in my arms. I am bereft as I walk to the great window and look out. There is a vast expanse of nothing.

I wake up and tape my dream, which I take down to my partner, who has a painting and writing studio down in the barn, on the land which is in the Highlands of Scotland. We study some Krishnamurti and Wittgenstein together for awhile. As one does! I am age 31.

A little later, I put on a pair of gardening trousers, to lift potatoes I have grown, I would normally wear a dress or skirt. I see smoke coming from the croft, and run towards it, and call for Neil, my partner. The croft is becoming ablaze with fire, and cannot be entered. Since we only have a small bridge over the river to this remote land, above Loch Ness , there is no way a fire engine can get access to the house. Neil says to me, I will get two deckchairs and we will sit and let it be. Unless you watch it consciously Kate, you will never let it go, he says. We sit behind the house on deckchairs, in the meadow and watch the house and all the belongings burning down. There is a strange feeling mix of shock, sadness and yet there is also elation. This moment changes my life. The Phoenix.

UNLESS YOU WATCH IT CONSCIOUSLY KATE, YOU WILL NEVER LET IT GO, HE SAYS.

That night we go to friends, support I suppose. They are having a party. We only have the steading barn left with artworks and writings of Neils, and my spinning wheel. He is a poet and playwright. Friends offer clothes and washing things, for me to take ‘home’ which I take in a rug bag. We return home, sleep in the steading, Scottish for barn, as the croft still smoulders. We have lost everything, and the local farmers come to pay respects, with whisky. I lie on the balcony bed and watch them reminisce, exhausted.

In the morning when the fire brigade men in their yellow suits are there, smashing down the remains, I go in and find a double egg cup which had belonged to my mother, and a copy of Ivanovitch Gurdjieff’s ‘All and Everything’ untouched by the fire. All else had gone to the fire.

Within days I go to the Tibetan Monastery in Dumfrieshire, and on arrival find Situ Rinpoche, Gyalsab Rimpoche and Thrangu Rinpoche there on a visit. It is an auspicious moment. I meet Akong Rinpoche and say, I have had several dreams, and experiences, I think you spiritual masters, may have burnt my house down. He says ‘maybe.’

I ask if I may stay to follow the Dharma. I ask if I may stay for a year and a day! Neil decides to travel to India to follow a spiritual master in India. We go our separate ways. Within months I am in Oxford, starting to care for the Lama House, for Thrangu Rinpoche. Yes, my life has changed. I am in the kind hands of the Buddhas. And still am.

I learnt from this experience that the material world, is very much less important than the spiritual world of which I am now making an effort to live. The Phoenix was a hidden blessing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Roddick

KATE RODDICK

Kate is unique, being one of the first ever Westerners ever to study traditional Tibetan medicine in Dharamsala. This was no mean feat, spending seven years within the monk community next to His Holiness Dalai Lama’s residence, translating Tibetan texts to enable her to study medicine with some of the greatest Tibetan physicians of our time. This was borne out of her deep dedication to of wishing to help others. At Napiers the Herbalists. She also holds workshops on The Art of Tibetan Healing and the Five Elements. She spends much time attending retreats these days and has a darn good sense of humor.

This article first appeared in LEVEKUNST art of life  free online magazine.

See also The Tibetan Art or Healing in Many Roads.

Quantum Emptiness -The Quantum Illusion-like Nature of Reality by Graham Smetham


 

In his book the Dalai Lama has sketched the beginnings of an exploration of the interconnections and parallels between modern Western science and Buddhist metaphysical philosophy.  The Dalai Lama, true to his nature, is extremely humble about Buddhism’s achievement in this area:  “Our explanations and theories are rudimentary when compared with those of modern science … and will have to be modified in the light of new scientific insights.”  However, in this brief article, based upon the ten year research project which led to my recent book Quantum Buddhism: Dancing in Emptiness–Reality Revealed at the Interface of Quantum Physics and Buddhist Philosophy, I shall endeavour to show that Buddhist philosophy, based upon direct insight and the rigorous dialectical analysis exemplified by the Madhyamaka (Middle Way conceptual analysis), achieved an extraordinary understanding of the ultimate nature of the phenomenal world, an understanding which only became apparent within the West with the advent of quantum theory at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In his interview Nottale focuses primarily upon the central Buddhist notion of ‘emptiness’ (shunyata) as indicating the relativity of all phenomena:

None has its proper existence, but only an existence in relation to another object acting as a reference point.  They are couple properties which cannot be attributed to either of the members of the couple taken separately.

In other words the actual ‘physical’ properties of any apparently independent ‘material’ object are not purely determined by the nature of the object itself but also depend upon its relationship and interconnection with other objects.  However, there is another, perhaps more fundamental, aspect to the Buddhist insight into the emptiness of phenomena which is that all phenomena are inextricably and intimately connected to, and even created by, the minds of observers.

This insight provides the fundamental perspective for the Yogachara-Vijnanavada (Consciousness-Only) and Chittamatra (Mind-Only) Buddhist metaphysical perspectives:

..all these various appearances,

Do not exist as sensory objects which are other than consciousness.

Their arising is like the experience of self knowledge.

All appearances, from indivisible particles to vast forms, are mind.[i]

Common sense, of course, would indicate that such a notion, that what appears to be an independent ‘material’ reality is actually of the nature of mind or consciousness, must be misguided, and in the ‘classical’, or pre-quantum, era of Western science such a notion would have appeared outlandish.  However, with the advent of the quantum revolution the notion that the ultimate nature of the physical world is mind-substance, or Mindnature, has become increasingly inescapable.

This was the conclusion of many of the ‘founding fathers’ of quantum mechanics. Erwin Schrödinger, the discoverer of the fundamental quantum equation, for instance, came to the conclusion that:

Mind has erected the objective outside world … out of its own stuff.[ii]

And Max Planck, the physicist who inadvertently initiated the quantum revolution, came to a similar conclusion:

All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.[iii]

More recently, in an article in the New Scientist (23rd June 2007) Michael Brooks, commenting on quantum entanglement experiments carried out by teams led by Markus Aspelmeyer of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna, tells us that the conclusion reached by the physicists involved is that:

… we now have to face the possibility that there is nothing inherently real about the properties of an object that we measure. In other words measuring those properties is what brings them into existence. [iv]

This conclusion agrees with the fundamental insight of the Madhyamaka, or the Buddhist Middle Way analysis, that all phenomena lack ‘inherent existence’ or, to use Buddhist technical terminology, all phenomenon lack svabhava (‘own-nature’ or ‘inherent existence’).  Thus Vedral, in his recent book Decoding Reality, has concluded that:

Quantum physics is indeed very much in agreement with Buddhistic emptiness.[v]

Emptiness, or shunyata, is, in one aspect, the Buddhist concept of a fundamental non-substantial ‘empty’ ground of potentiality which gives rise to the multitudinous productions within dualistic experience through the operation of an internal primordial activity of cognition. Within Dzogchen (the ‘Great Completeness’ teachings) for instance the ultimate nature of reality is characterised as being a fundamental ground comprised of ‘emptiness and cognition inseparable’, or ‘empty cognizance’.[vi] And this is the kind of vision of the process of reality which Vedral considers is necessitated by the evidence of quantum theory:

The Universe starts empty but potentially with a huge amount of information. The first key event is the first act of symmetry breaking…[vii]

The results of quantum experiments indicates quite clearly that quantum reality consists of a field of non-substantial (using the term ‘substantial’ here to indicate materiality) potentiality which is triggered into experiential manifestation through the operation of the cognitive activity of consciousness.  This perspective is indicated in the most recent quantum proposal that quantum reality is ‘epiontic’, as quantum physicist Wojciech H. Zurek has indicated:

…quantum states, by their very nature share an epistemological and ontological role – are simultaneously a description of the state, and the ‘dream stuff is made of.’  One might say that they are epiontic.  These two aspects may seem contradictory, but at least in the quantum setting, there is a union of these two functions.[viii]

This cogent insight makes clear that, at the quantum level, being and knowing, perception and reality, epistemology and ontology, are inextricably entangled.  The ‘epiontic’ nature of the fundamental quantum ground, therefore, indicates that in some manner perception creates the ontological fabric of reality. The ‘first act of symmetry breaking’, then, is an act of primordial consciousness. As the physicist Henry Stapp, who has discussed such issues with some of the early quantum physicist, has indicated:

…this evolving quantum state would represent the ‘potentialities’ and ‘probabilities for actual events.  … the ‘primal stuff’ represented by the evolving quantum state would be idealike rather than matterlike, apart from its conformity to mathematical rules.[ix]

The greatly admired physicist John Wheeler wrote that:

The universe does not ‘exist, out there,’ independent of all acts of observation.  Instead, it is in some strange sense a participatory universe.[x]

Wheeler suggests that quantum theory requires a participatory universe, which means that somehow phenomena which appear to be external and independent of the minds of sentient beings cannot be so.  The Astronomer Royal Professor Martin Rees agrees with him:

In the beginning there were only probabilities.  The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it.  … The universe exists because we are aware of it.[xi]

As does cosmologist Professor Andrei Linde:

Thus we see that without introducing an observer, we have a dead universe, which does not evolve in time.  This example demonstrates an unusually important role played by the concept of an observer in quantum cosmology.  John Wheeler underscored the complexity of the situation, replacing the word observer by the word participant, and introducing such terms as a ‘self-observing universe.[xii]

As does Steven Hawking in his most recent book (written together with Leonard Mlodinow) The Grand Design; in fact according to Hawking (following Wheeler) observations have a creative impact even backwards in time:

…the universe doesn’t have just a single history, but every possible history, each with its own probability; and our observations of its current state affect its past and determine the different histories of the universe…[xiii]

Quantum theory, then, suggests that the universe might actually be vast cosmic dream created by all of its inhabitants. This might, at first sight, seem far-fetched, but it is not, which is why Zurek refers to quantum ‘stuff’ as ‘the dream stuff is made of.’[xiv]

Quantum physics clearly shows that we are involved, or are participators, in the existence of the universe. Indeed Wheeler also wrote that:

…no phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.[xv]

And he did not mean by this that some already existing entity is not experienced as a phenomenon until observed, he meant that the observation has a creative role in the existence of the apparent entity revealed by the phenomenon.  Speaking in April 2003 to the American Physical Society, he made the following remarkable; perhaps one might say ‘mystical’, sequence of remarks:

The Question is what is the Question?

Is it all a Magic Show?

Is Reality an Illusion?

What is the framework of the Machine?

Darwin’s Puzzle: Natural Selection?

Where does Space-Time come from?

Is there any answer except that it comes from consciousness?

What is Out There?

T’is Ourselves?

Or, is IT all just a Magic Show?[xvi]

To Wheeler’s question as to the possibility that reality might be an illusory ‘Magic Show’ Buddhist philosophy answers in the affirmative:

Phenomena as they appear and resound

Are neither established or real in these ways,

Since they keep changing in all possible and various manners

Just like appearances in magical illusions.[xvii]

In fact Buddhist philosophers have known about the dream-like nature of the universe for at least two thousand years:

…when we see houses and fields in dreams, we think of them as being external objects that are not created by the mind, even though they are nothing other than projections of our mind. All that we see when we are awake is also nothing other than a creation of the mind.[xviii]

And the Buddhist metaphysical perspective of the Chittamatra, or Mind-Only, philosophy actually gives an indication of the kind of quantum-perceptual mechanism that might be operating at the quantum level in order to create the extraordinary universal dream of the material world and its inhabitants:

The entire world was created through latent karmic imprints.  When these imprints developed and increased, they formed the earth, the stones, and the seas.  Everything was created through the development or propagation of these latent karmic potentials.[xix]

According to the Buddhist worldview all actions performed by all unenlightened beings, including seemingly neutral perceptions, cause repercussions. Karma-vipaka, action and resultant effect, action and feedback, is the universal process of cause and effect which operates on all levels of reality, including the appearance of a material world. This means that there is a dimension of the operation of karma which is involved in the manifestation of what we perceive as an external ‘material’ reality:

…since beginningless time we have been perceiving sights, sounds, smells, tastes and bodily sensations and these perceptions have been creating imprints or latencies in the ground consciousness. Habituation of having experienced a certain visual form will create a latency for that very form.  Eventually, that latency will manifest from the ground consciousness as a visual form again, but it will be perceived as external to ourselves.[xx]

A view which corresponds remarkably well with Wheeler’s assertion that:

Directly opposite to the concept of universe as machine built on law is the vision of a world self-synthesized. On this view, the notes struck out on a piano by the observer participants of all times and all places, bits though they are in and by themselves, constitute the great wide  world of space and time and things.

In other words all the phenomena of the apparently ‘material’ world are produced by the perceptual activities of the sentient beings inhabiting the universe.  And this, furthermore, means that none of the phenomena of the seemingly ‘external’ world are actually independent of mind.

The physicist and philosopher Bernard d’Espagnat uses the example of a rainbow to describe the way that the ‘classical’ world of apparent materiality emerges out of the quantum realm:

…a rainbow, obviously, may not be considered an object-per-se.  For, indeed, if we move it moves.  Two differently located persons do not see it having its bases at the same places.  It is therefore manifest that it depends, in part, on us.  … But still, even though the rainbow depends on us, it does not depend exclusively on us.  For it to appear it is necessary that the sun should shine and that raindrops should be there. Now similar features also characterize quantum mechanically described objects, that is, after all … any object whatsoever.  For they also are not ‘objects-per-se.’ The attributes, or ‘dynamical properties,’ we see them to possess depend in fact on our ‘look’ at them…[xxi]

In other words all the entities and objects of the ‘classical’ world emerge from the potentiality of the quantum realm in a similar fashion to the way that rainbow appear.  They are brought into experienced reality through an interaction of a deep level of consciousness and a quantum realm of potentiality.

The rainbow analogy is also employed within Buddhist exegesis:

By virtue of its all-penetrating freedom this Awareness that has no centre or circumference, no inside or outside, is innocent of all partiality and knows no blocks or barriers. This all-penetrating intrinsic Awareness is a vast expanse of space. All experience of samsara and nirvana arises in it like rainbows in the sky. In all its diverse manifestation it is but a play of mind.[xxii]

In particular the rainbow analogy corresponds with the Mind-Only metaphysical analysis and can be used to illustrate the ‘three natures’ presentation of the way in which the ‘classical’ ‘conventional’ realm emerges from the ground of ‘emptiness’ through conceptual ‘imputation. The Mind-Only viewpoint explains the process of reality in terms of three ‘natures’:

  • imputational nature – an imaginary, and therefore mistaken, perception which imputes an independent existence to an ’object’ which is in fact illusory.  The imputational nature imputes an object as existing independently by its own force or character.
  • other-powered-nature, or dependent nature – what appears as independent  entities are actually devoid of self character, they seem to arise as self contained entities because of the intersection of other causes and conditions.  The other-powered, or dependent, nature resides in the complex field of interweaving causes and conditions which supply the potentialities for possible imputational experience.
  • thoroughly established, or perfect nature – the fact that the other-powered-nature is ‘empty’ of the imputational-nature is called the ‘thoroughly established nature’ or ‘perfect nature’.  This is quite a subtle definition to grasp – it is the relationship of the absence of the imputational nature from the other powered nature which is the ‘thoroughly established nature.

The imputational nature, or imaginary nature, consists of the imputed appearances of definite, inherent and independent entities that are conceived of as existing in an external realm separate from the perceiving consciousness. According to the Mind-Only perspective, the way that the entities of everyday life are imputed as existing independently and substantially from the mind is, from an ultimate point of view, mistaken.  The dependent nature is closer to the way reality actually is, it is a ground of potentiality which arises from the multitudinous perceptions and activities carried out by all sentient beings.  It is a vast karmic echo of potentiality for dualistic experience. The final nature, the thoroughly-established-nature highlights the fact that the imputational-nature is an ultimately illusory imputation, or superimposition, by imagination into the potentialities of the other-powered-nature, or dependent nature:

The non-existence of such an imaginary nature in a dependent nature is a thoroughly established nature.  … An object which is a different entity from a subject does not exist; a subject which is a different object from an object does not exist…[xxiii]

An example which is often used to illustrate the three natures is that of a mirage. The three natures may be likened respectively to (a) the mistaken belief that water exists in a mirage; (b) the appearance itself of the mirage, dependent on atmospheric causes and conditions and the presence of the observer, and (c) the empty nature of the mirage, inasmuch as it is completely dependent on causes and conditions, including the observer. The belief that water exists in the mirage is completely false and is similar to the imaginary, or illusory, nature.  The causes and conditions which give rise to the appearance of the mirage are similar to the dependent nature. The empty character of the mirage, inasmuch as it is dependent and conditioned and exists nowhere except in the mistaken mind of the observer, is similar to the thoroughly-established-nature. The belief in the mind of the observer that there is water in the distance corresponds to the imputational nature.

This analysis can be likened to the quantum situation. The realm of quantum potentiality which includes the observing consciousness or consciousnesses, provides the interdependent ground of potentiality which constitutes the other-powered nature and, because there is a tendency within the process of reality for the inner nature of this ground to misperceive itself, a realm of seemingly independent and inherently existent phenomenon manifests within an illusory field of duality.

It is important to comprehend the fact that the ‘three natures’ analysis describes a deep process of reality functioning at a level of mind corresponding to the quantum level. The Mind-Only analysis asserts that the play of the dualistic world of appearance emerges from a deep nondual realm because of an internal function of cognition which misperceives itself as being divided. The dualistic world is the illusory domain of the ultimately non-existent imputational or imaginary nature, which is the domain of experienced duality of apprehender-apprehended, subject-object. The relationship between the conventional arena of the experienced ‘material’ world, which seems to emerge through the apparent transition from the quantum state to the ‘classical’ state, which is called the ‘collapse of the quantum wavefunction’, can be likened to the ‘superimposition’ of the imputational nature onto the field of other-powered potentiality.

This ‘Quantum Mind-Only’ model of the functioning of reality can be compared with the ‘rainbow’ illustration of the quantum situation (fig 1) offered by d’Espagnat.  In this analogy the sun, raindrops and observer correspond to the other-powered realm of interdependent phenomena and the appearance of a seemingly external rainbow corresponds to the imputational nature.  The Mind-Only perspective uses the term ‘imputational’ to indicate not just a surface conceptual imputation but a directly experienced sensory imputation such as the rainbow example.  The rainbow does not exist at all as an independent phenomenon, it is therefore ‘imaginary,’  This corresponds exactly to the quantum situation because, although all the phenomena of the everyday world clearly are overwhelmingly convincing as being independent of mind and self-existent phenomena, quantum theory tells us this is not so at all. Furthermore quantum theory tells us that all phenomena are like this; they are ‘illusions’ generated out of the quantum realm of potentiality by the operation of mind.  As physicist Lee Smolin has pointed out:

How something is, or what its state is, is an illusion.  It may be a useful illusion for some purposes, but if we want to think fundamentally we must not lose sight of the essential fact that ‘is’ is an illusion.[xxiv]

At the end of the last programme in the television series ‘Atom’ the physicist-presenter Jim Al-Khalili says, looking very serious: ‘if you ever want to see fear on the face of a physicist ask him about the measurement problem.’  The quantum measurement problem is precisely the quantum rainbow problem, the fact that all the ‘seeming’ phenomenon of the ‘classical’ dualistic world are etched out of the deeper quantum level of potentiality by the continuous ‘measuring’ activity of consciousness.  And, indeed, this quantum discovery, the fact that the material world is not really there in the way that it seems to be, did cause, if not ‘fear,’ then absolute astonishment and bewilderment.  As physicists Bryce DeWitt and Neill Graham say:

No development of modern science has had more profound impact on human thinking than the advent of quantum theory.  Wrenched out of centuries-old thought patterns, physicists of a century ago found themselves compelled to embrace a new metaphysics. The distress which this reorientation caused continues to the present day.  Basically physicists have suffered a severe loss: their hold on reality.[xxv]

If one reads accounts of the reactions of physicists as the solid independent reality that we still all think exists ‘out there’ actually disappeared from their grasp one is reminded of the reaction of some of the Buddha’s disciples when he (supposedly) expounded the Prajna-paramita (Perfection of Wisdom) view that:

all phenomena are empty. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase. … in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no phenomena … no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no non-attainment.

It is remarkable to find this central Mahayana Buddhist teaching echoed by respected quantum physicist Henry Stapp:

…no such brain exists; no brain, body, or anything else in the real world is composed of those tiny bits of matter that Newton imagined the universe to be made of.[xxvi]

In the Vajjracchedikasutra we are told that there is a danger of becoming fearful upon hearing such an emptiness teaching. As Buddhist scholar G. Schopen points out:

The repeated emphasis on fear, terror and dread in connection with hearing the Perfection of Wisdom being taught or explained would seem to indicate that the authors of our texts were clearly aware of the fact that what they were presenting was above all potentially terrifying and awful, and that a predictable reaction to it was fear.[xxvii]

As physicist Brian Greene has pointed out:

…because experiments confirm that quantum mechanics does describe fundamental physics, it presents a frontal assault on our basic beliefs as to what constitutes reality.[xxviii]


[i] Thrangu Rinpoche, Kenchen (2001)

[ii] Schrödinger, E. (1944) p121.

[iii] Das Wesen der Materie” (The Nature of Matter), speech at Florence, Italy, 1944 (from Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)

[iv] Michael Brooks: ‘The Second Quantum Revolution,’ New Scientist 23rd June 2007

[v] Vedral, Vlatko (2010) p200

[vi] Schmidt, Marcia Binder (Editor) (2002) p29

[vii] Vedral, Vlatko (2010) p211

[viii] Barrow, John D., Davies, Paul C. W., Harper, Charles L. (eds) (2004) p136 – Wojciech H. Zurek: ‘Quantum Darwinism and envariance.’

[ix] Stapp, Henry (2004) p223

[x] Dolling, L.M.; Gianelli, A. F. & Statile, G. N. (eds) (2003) p491 – John A. Wheeler (1978): ‘The ‘Past’ and the ‘Delayed Choice’ Double-Slit Experiment.’

[xi] Rosenblum, Bruce and Kuttner, Fred (2006) p

[xii] Barrow, John D., Davies, Paul C. W., Harper, Charles L. (eds) (2004) p450 – Andrei Linde: ‘Inflation, quantum cosmology and the anthropic principle.’

[xiii] The Grand Design p83

[xiv] Kaufman, Marc: ‘Shining a Light on a Dream’ – FQ(x) (The Foundational Questions Institute) February 8th2008.

[xv] Dolling, L.M.; Gianelli, A. F. & Statile, G. N. (eds) (2003) p492 – John A. Wheeler (1978): ‘The ‘Past’ and the ‘Delayed Choice’ Double-Slit Experiment.’

[xvi] Sarfatti , Jack ‘Wheeler’s World: It From Bit?’ – Internet Science Education Project, San Francisco, CA.

[xvii] Brunnhölzl, Karl (2007) Straight from the Heart: Buddhist Pith Instructions p25

[xviii] Thrangu Rinpoche, Kenchen (2001) p16

[xix] Thrangu Rinpoche, Kenchen (2001) p28

[xx] Thrangu Rinpoche, Kenchen (2001) p34-35

[xxi] d’ Espagnat, B (2006) p348

[xxii] Dowman, Keith – Flight of the Garuda

[xxiii] MOE p389

[xxiv] Smolin, Lee (2002) p53

[xxv] Herbert, Nick (1985) p15

[xxvi] Stapp, Henry (2007) p139

[xxvii] Schopen. G. (1989) The manuscript of the Vajjracchedikasutra found at Gilgit. In Studies in the literature of the great vehicle: Three Mahayana Buddhist texts )pp 89-140). L. Gomez & J. Silk (Eds.), Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

[xxviii] Penrose, Roger (1995) p237


Author’s BiographyGraham Smetham, B.A., studied Mathematics at Essex University, England and Philosophy of Religion at Sussex University. During his time at Sussex he taught a subsidiary course for scientists on the interconnections between Western science and Eastern philosophical perspectives and it was through the investigations undertaken during the preparations for this course that he began to have the insights which later developed into wide ranging and detailed explorations contained in his book Quantum Buddhism: Dancing in Emptiness. At Sussex he was also part of the Religious Studies society and at one of its meetings he met the inspirational Western Theravadin monk Ajahn Sumedho, then the abbot of Chithurst monastry, Sussex, who electrified the audience with his joyful effervescent presence. At the time Graham was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Western academic practice of endless conceptual juggling with no transformational practice and the contact with the community of Chithurst monks and nuns convinced him of the need for both intellectual understanding and transformative meditation practice.

Although at that time Graham had a publisher eager to publish his work, personal misfortune, illness and increasing disillusionment with Western-style academic life forced him to abandon an academic career and he subsequently began to lose contact with his intellectual and spiritual roots as he pursued other aspects, ultimately less fulfilling, of life’s pathways. During this time, however, Buddhism and the philosophy of science always played a part in the background as he was always drawn to these subjects and somehow ‘knew’ that they were significant for him. It is very difficult to explain this strange feeling that somehow something which had been left behind was still lingering in the wings, so to speak. An example would be the fact that he would be drawn to various books on the philosophy of science and when he read them instantly and intuitively saw mistakes and ‘knew’ at an intuitive level that Buddhist philosophy had something to offer but did not at that time have any idea of the full scenario.

At a later point, some twenty years after leaving Sussex University, at a time of extreme personal crisis, Graham returned to a serious meditation practice, something that had fallen by the wayside. During one meditation session he was astonished to have a profound meditation vision, like having a cinema screen inside his head, during which he was surrounded by an assembly of Manjushris whilst a bowl of orange nectar at his heart radiated channels of orange nectar to the hearts of the surrounding Manjushris. At the time Graham was not aware of the spiritual identity of the buddhas with yellow hats, previously he had only studied Theravada philosophy. Graham was even more astonished to come across a book in which the vision was described as being one of a set used by Buddhist philosophers prior to writing dharma texts. Graham subsequently joined a Buddhist community and resumed the researches that he had abandoned twenty years earlier. The result is Quantum Buddhism: Dancing in Emptiness–Reality Revealed at the Interface of Quantum Physics and Buddhist Philosophy.

Graham’s website is at http://www.quantumbuddhism.com./ where you can find details of where you can buy his book.

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Happy New Year – 2017 from Ringu Tulku Rinpoche

Circumambulating the freshly renovated Boudhanath stupa I observed thousands of people from all over the world walking around it peacefully with their prayers in heart. This world heritage pilgrimage place was not built by a powerful king, a wealthy sponsor or a teacher with many followers. It was built by a poor and ordinary village woman who worked at the kings chicken farm solely with her resolution, resourcefulness and resilience.

I would like to share with you the peace and tranquility of this stupa and wish that you will face 2017 with resolution, resourcefulness and resilience.

Wish you a Very Happy New Year.

RINGU TULKU
30.12.2016
Kathmandu

གསར་དུ་ཉམས་གསོ་བྱས་པའི་མཆོད་རྟེན་ཆེན་པོ་བྱ་རུང་ཁ་ཤོར་ལ་དལ་གྱིས་སྐོར་བ་བྱེད་སྐབས་འཛམ་གླིང་གི་ཕྱོགས་ཡོངས་ནས་ཡོང་བའི་སྐྱེ་བོ་སྟོང་ཕྲག་མང་པོ་ཞི་འཇམ་གྱིས་སྐོར་བཞིན་སྨོན་ལམ་བཟང་པོ་རྒྱབ་བཞིན་པ་མཐོང་། འཛམ་གླིང་གི་ཕ་ནོར་བྱིན་རླབས་ཅན་གྱི་གནས་ཆེན་འདི་ཉིད་ཐོག་མར་དབང་ཆེན་གྱི་རྒྱལ་པོ། རྒྱུ་ཆེན་གྱི་ཡོན་བདག འཁོར་མང་གི་བླ་མ་སོགས་ཀྱིས་བཞེངས་པ་མ་ཡིན་པར། བུད་མེད་དཀྱུས་མ་དབུལ་པོ་བྱ་རྫི་མ་ཞིག་གིས་རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་སྙིང་སྟོབས་དང་ཐབས་ཤེས་བརྩོན་འགྲུས་ཁོ་ནས་བཞེངས་གྲུབ་པ་ཞིག་རེད།
2017 ལོ་སར་གྱི་ཉིན་མོ་འདིར་ཁྱེད་རྣམས་ལ་རང་བྱུང་མཆོད་རྟེན་ཆེན་པོ་འདིའི་བྱིན་རླབས་ཀྱི་གཟི་འོད་འཕྲོ་བས་ལུས་ལ་བདེ་ཐང་དང་སེམས་ལ་ཞི་བདེ་འབད་མེད་དུ་འབྱུང་བ་མ་ཟད། མ་བྱ་རྫི་མའི་སྙིང་སྟོབས་དང་བརྩོན་འགྲུས་ཐབས་ཤེས་ཀྱིས་ལོ་འདི་ལེགས་ཕྱོགས་སུ་བསྒྱུར་ཐུབ་པའི་སྨོན་འདུན་དྲག་པོ་དང་བཅས། 2017 གནམ་ལོ་གསར་དུ་བཞད་པ་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ་བཞིན། རི་མགུལ་སྤྲུལ་མིང་ཀརྨ་ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་འགྱུར་མེད་ཕྲིན་ལས་ནས་གུས་ཕུལ། །

Source bodhicharya.org

NEPALESE CULTURAL BELIEFS

MAINLY ABOUT FLORA

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  • The first harvest of paddy is received into the house with due ceremony, with rice, curd and a lighted wick.

  • Fruits and flowers may be stolen but whoever steals a pumpkin will grow a goiter.

  • Don’t point at the fruit in a tree with your finger; the fruit will go bad.

  • The bachelor’s button is essential for ceremonies during the Tihar festival.  Because the flower keeps fresh for a long time, it is a symbol of longevity.

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Bachelor’s button

  • The red rhododendron is Nepal’s national flower.  It is found in the hills at an altitude of about 6,000 feet from the sea level.  The colour of the flower changes to a light pink in higher altitudes.

  • The peepul tree is sacred as it is believed to be the god Narayana; only a Brahman may pull it out.  On all the main trails in many parts of the hills, platforms known as chautara are built and peepul and banyan trees provide shelter and shade for travellers. The construction of the platform is more than a public service.  It is the joining of the two trees in sacred wedlock.  The peepul is also the haunt of the goddess Kumari.

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    Children playing on a banyan tree

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Leaves of the peepul tree

  • Neither the banana nor the bamboo should be grown near a house.  The man who plants these must not let his shadow fall on the plant;  for if he does, the plant will not grow.  On the other hand, if the man steps into the shadow cast by the plant, he will die.  If a bamboo bears flowers, the man who owns it will die.  The bamboo must not be cut down on Sunday.

  • The tamarind tree must not be grown near a house either.

    Image result for photo of tamarind treeTamarind fruit

  • The palm tree is sacred in Patan.  It was brought to the town centuries back along with Machhendranath, the patron saint of the town.  The tree must not be cut down but it may be killed by driving a nail into it.  It must be allowed to grow wherever it takes root.  If it grows inside a house, a hole is made through the roof so that it can grow unchecked.

  • When a tree has to be cut down in a forest, it is customary to worship Ban Devi, the goddess of the forest.

  • The tulsi (balsam) plant is sacred and is grown in a pot or in a specially raised platform in the courtyard in many homes.

  • The kush is a sacred grass needed for certain religious ceremonies.  The dubo used as an offering to the gods is evergreen because the crow is said to have wiped its beak upon the grass after taking amrit, the elixir of life.

    Dubo Grass Garland – (हरियो दुबो घास को माला)

  • The seeds of the rudraksha tree (eleocarpus ganitrus) are used to make rosaries.  A seed without crinkles is very rare.  There is believed to be only one seed in Kathmandu – in the temple of Pashupati.  To test if the seed without crinkles is genuine, pour some water upon it and it should rise up with the steam of water.

    Image result for rudraksha tree imagesRudraksha seed specimens

  • The lotus is the seat of some gods.

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  • The Kalpabrisksha is a mythical tree that bears anything one can wish for.

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Visiting Borobudor

At the top of the Stupa, just before sun rise

I had been in Indonesia for over a week, starting in the crazed metropolis of Jakarta then moving on to the University town of Yogyakarta. From Yogya I took a Taxi which got me to my hotel in Borobdor in just over an hour. After checking in, I booked a sun-rise entrance ticket to the Stupa.

No one knows who built the monument, the largest Buddhist structure in the world, or indeed why it was built although it is thought to have been completed in the 8th century. It lay abandoned, hidden under volcanic ash and jungle growth until it was discovered by the British while Java was briefly under U.K administration in 1814.

There had been a plan by the Dutch to dismantle the monument and scatter the pieces across the world in many different museums, but thankfully this didn’t happen and after many years work, UNESSCO named it a world heritage site in 1991.

Buddha statue, looking out into the Jungle

I was picked up by motorbike at 4:30 AM and taken to a luxury hotel which sits in the grounds of the Temple Complex where myself and about 30 other people queued up at the back of the hotel and where a staff member gave us a flashlight and pointed to a path. I was at the start of the line and turned on my flashlight and headed into the darkness with the rest of the group following behind. It was pitch dark and there was a low lying mist swirling over the path.

After a few minutes’ walk we arrived at the monument, although it was still really dark you could really get a sense you were somewhere really special. You walk round each level in a clockwise direction, climbing the stairs and passing smaller stupas and Buddha statues until you reach the top (which is Nirvana, the other levels being the lower stages of life)

Wall carving

I got to the top and found a space and sat down, staring into the darkness. After a while all the Mosques in the area started doing the call to the first prayers of the day, it was still dark and misty which made it even more atmospheric.

Gradually the sun rose, lighting up the monument and the surrounding jungle. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I spent the next three hours or so exploring the site, there are so many carvings which explain the laws of Karma, the birth of the Buddha, the Jakarta tales to name just a few. It is such a mind blowing place, it was hard to leave but after quite a few times round I decided to head back to my hotel for breakfast.

 

The top of the Stupa

All the guidebooks suggest you go twice during your stay in Borobudor but I decided not to go back, the visit had been so magical I wanted to keep the feeling in my heart and mind for the rest of my life. One of the most amazing places on Earth, I urge everyone to visit if the chance to comes up.

Looking up at the Stupa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HERMIT

Buddhism has been part of my life since I was a teenager. Now I have just passed my seventieth birthday. In the intervening years, I have been fortunate to study with some of the leading teachers of the age – Chogyam Trungpa, Kennett Roshi, and Thich Nhat Hanh among them. along with some lesser known but equally great figures who have had a profound effect upon me – Minh Choa, Saiko Gisho, Nai Boonman, Viradhammo, and others.

 At one time or another I have explored most of the modes of Buddhist life – the householder, monasticism, the wandering teacher, community living, socially engaged ministry – and now I live as something of a hermit in a remote area of France – la France profond. 

 Berry is geographically situated in the upper Loire valley. The lower Loire is famous for its chateau, but we are off the regular tourist track here in a region of big rivers and forests and gently rolling countryside. It is a tranquil area where nothing much happens other than the procession of the seasons, which are, here, strongly marked. Winter is cold and crisp. In spring you can virtually see things grow and there are carpets of bluebells in the woods. Summer is hot and dry, with occasional dramatic thunder storms. Autumn is veritably the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. 

 I live in a somewhat primitive house. there is no central heating. For cooking i use bottle gas. There are wood burning stoves and I cut the wood from the forest myself. In the warmer months I get visitors, but those who dare the cold times are rare. I find it easy to identify with the hermit hijiri of old Japan who wrote poems about beauty and desolation. 

 There are paths through the surrounding woods. It is not a difficult matter to stay in tune with nature here, in fact, difficult to avoid doing so. It is a meditation simply to step outside the house and gaze at the walnut tree in the field. I see the phases of the moon advance and note the turning of the starry heaven. The sunrise is orange and the sunset pink, or sometimes even a fiery red.  

 These natural elements take on a divine appearance and one senses deities in every direction. In addition to Buddhism I have a sensitivity for the ancient Greek religion and one it seems a great deal more than myth when one lives in such a place as this.

 By way of formal practice, I call the name of Amitabha a hundred thousand times a month and it seems that the elements say it back to me each in their own way. The locals probably think I am an odd eccentric, but then, I suppose, that is what I have always wanted to be. Buddhism has a place for such things. 

 Though remote, I am not entirely isolated. There is a very small settlement of friendly Dharma companions about 15 kilometres away and we meet once a week to practice together and enjoy the company. 

 There are times when one walks out on a frosty morning or sees the glow worms shining in the evening or stands beneath a centuries old oak when the impression that there is nothing better overwhelms one. The Buddha often praised solitude and, although he lived in a country with a different climate, I feel he must have experienced similar joy in order to recommend it to us.

 

David Brazier is a British author and psychotherapist known for his writings on Zen Buddhism and psychotherapy. He is the leader of the Amida Order. Wikipedia
David Brazier can be contacted via http://eleusis.ning.com/

The Trek to Mount Kailash in Tibet

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The trek to Mount Kailash Tibet May 2002

Mount Kailash is the holiest mountain in Tibet and probably all Asia.  It is situated in the Ngari region of western Tibet, which is one of the highest, loneliest and most desolate places on the planet.  It rises perpetually snow capped 7,500 metres from the high desert plains which surrounds it.  The shape of the mountain is a near perfect pyramid. The Buddhists believe is was the location where the Tibetan Buddhist saint Milarepa overcame the obstacles created by followers of the ancient Bon religion.  Tibetans also called the mountain Kang Rinpoche which means precious snow mountain. Hindus consider Mount Kailash to be the mythical mount Meru; the world’s spiritual centre.  Mount Kailash is also the source of three of Asia’s most important rivers; the Ganges, the Bramaputra and the Indus.

This trek circumambulates Mount Kailash and crosses the Drolma La pass which is 5,800 metres.  Mount Kailash is not an easy place to get to.  Since it is located 1,250 kilometres west of Lhasa.  For the last 500 kilometres there is no road as such just a rock-strewn track with several rivers to cross and with no bridges.  Our trek was organized by the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Scotland UK together with an international adventure trekking company.  This trek is a fund-raiser to help them construct a large Stupa at their monastery.  (A Stupa is a symbolic representation of Buddha’s spiritual mind or Dharmakya.)  The physical shape of the stupa is based on the shape of Kailash itself.  Each part of a stupa illustrates and represents different stages of Buddha’s path to enlightenment.

Building a stupa is of great significance in Tibetan Buddhism because it is a very powerful way to purify negative karma and also a way of accumulating great merit.  Stupas can be of almost any size ranging from a few centimetres to the stupa on the Indonesian Island of Java called Borododur which is 200 metres in height.

This trek took place in the Tibetan year of the wind horse [2002].  It is the year which Tibetans believe is the most beneficial year in which to do the Kailash trek.  The reason for this is that to do this pilgrimage in any year will wash away the sins of a lifetime.  But to do this trek in the year of the wind horse will wash away the sins of several lifetimes. The end of our trek around mount Kailash is also planned to coincide with Sawa Daga at Tarboche.  This is the date [the varies because of the lunar calendar but it happens around the 15th May each year] which commemorates the Buddha’s birth and attainment of enlightenment.

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There were 15 of us on the trek excluding guides, drivers, porters and cooks.  In addition to cost of our trek, we each donated at least 1,000 $US towards the construction of the Stupa at Samye Ling Scotland.  Our guide was Bradley Rowe a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a very experienced Tibet expert with an international reputation.  Our group comprised of myself [from Thailand], 1 German, 2 from the US, 2 from Canada, 9 from the UK.  Our ages ranged from 19 to 69 years old.  We all flew from different parts of the world and met up in Kathmandhu Nepal for the departure to Tibet.  The complete trek lasted 6 weeks in all, firstly flying to Lhasa, Tibet to acclimatize and sight-see for a few days.  Then on to the oldest Buddhist monastery in Tibet; the Samye monastery.  From the Samye monastery we went by jeep 1,000 kilometres to the foot of Mount Kailash.  Then we returned overland from Kailash to Kathmandhu by jeep.

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Wild White Horses

 

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In the Tibetan map of the world, the world is a circle and at the centre there is an enormous mountain guarded by four gates.  And when they draw a map of the world, they draw the map in sand, and it takes months and then when the map is finished, they erase it and throw the sand in to the nearest river.

Last fall the Dalai Lama came to New York city to do a two-week ceremony called the Kalachakra which is a prayer to heal the earth.  And woven into these prayers were a series of vows that he asked us to take and before I knew it I had taken a vow to be kind for the rest of my life.  And I walked out of there and thought:  “For the rest of my life??  What have I done?  This is a disaster!”

And I was really worried.  Had I promised too much?  Not enough?  I was really in a panic.  They had come from Tibet for the ceremony and they were walking around midtown in their new brown shoes and I went up to one of the monks and said, “Can you come with me to have a cappuccino right now and talk?”  And so we went to this little Italian place.  He had never had coffee before so he kept talking faster and faster and I kept saying, “Look, I don’t know whether I promised too much or too little.  Can you help me please?”

And he was really being practical.  He said, “Look, don’t limit yourself.  Don’t be so strict!  Open it up!”  He said, “The mind is a wild white horse and when you make a corral for it make sure it’s not too small.  And another thing:  When your house burns down, just walk away.  And another thing:  Keep your eyes open.”

“And one more thing:  Keep moving.  ‘Cause it’s a long way home.”

Sourced from What Book, Buddha Poems from Beat to Hip Hop.

 

 

Faith and Doubt: Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel

elizabeth 1The path begins with an investigation of the unreliability of things. Sometimes when we contemplate impermanence and the unreliability of things we feel afraid or insecure.

 

Question: In my mind my primary deity, Guru Rinpoche, is the only reliable refuge. Is there any difference between Guru Rinpoche and the outer refuge you describe in your talks? Thank you so much for your talks I found them empowering in many ways.

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Response: Thank you for your question Danny. I’m trying to recall how I spoke about outer refuge…and I can’t remember. But maybe I can take this opportunity to talk about refuge and we can look at different ways we do take refuge and how it does or does not support us. I will try to address your question. It seems to me that we all take refuge in our attempt to find a resting place…a place of ease…something we can trust. In an ordinary way we often take refuge in relationships, in our work, in our beliefs about how we think things are, in material wealth and so on. But because the nature of things is that they change, we often experience a lot of heartbreak.

This is why the path begins with an investigation of the unreliability of things. Sometimes when we contemplate impermanence and the unreliability of things we feel afraid or insecure. But there is nothing more scary than relying on something that is not dependable. So to begin understanding refuge we need to look at our ordinary ways of taking refuge and how it doesn’t serve us. When we free ourselves from the fantasy that we can find ease in worldly things, we naturally begin looking deeper. The Buddha suggested we look into the causes and conditions for happiness and suffering. It is noble and reasonable to want happiness…but if we just follow our impulses rather than deeply investigating these causes and conditions, our actions won’t meet our intention for happiness. It is all quite practical…if it were not practical, what would be the purpose of following a path?

So when we start to question cause and effect we ask: what happens when we practice patience vs. aggression, generosity vs. selfishness, compassion vs. fear? When we practice compassion or patience we observe freedom in the mind. Freedom from discord and fear is a sense of wellbeing and clarity…a place of ease. This is what we want. So finding this kind of freedom, wellbeing and refuge is really the purpose of the dharma. So we can use the Buddha (as an example) the dharma (as a path) and the sangha (as our companions on the path) as a support of refuge.

I am in the middle of reading a very touching and profound book by Fleet Maull called “Dharma in Hell.” He talks about practicing the dharma in prison. He says that in prison he decided to take some Buddhist precepts, not because they were morally ‘right’ but because he had to find a way to support his mind not to fall into the darkness and confusion of the prison environment. One of those vows was to engage in what is called, “right livelihood.” In other words, he decided not participate in the smuggling and black marketing that goes on in prison. He got involved in hospice work and was there for the passing of many prisoners…In such a place where the odds are so against anything positive taking place, this man found creative ways to support his wakefulness. These positive supports are refuges.

There are infinite ways to support wakefulness. Extending loving-kindness to others supports our wakefulness. Structuring our lives in a wholesome way, supports wakefulness. Not acting out aggressively or blaming others, supports wakefulness…even recognizing the goodness in others supports wakefulness.

Relying on these kinds of supports is taking ‘outer’ refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha. This has nothing to do with deification. Deification is looking toward something outward to save you and perpetuate your fantasies. Taking refuge in the Buddha, dharma and sangha is seeing how there is something we can rely upon to support an inner wellbeing. It is the alternative to relying upon our fantasy that the outer world can save us.

In the 3rd series of teachings the Buddha gave (the third turning) we find an interesting explanation of the outer refuge that begins to move us to an even deeper way of seeing things. In a very famous text called “Uttaratantra Shastra”, rather than speaking about the Buddha as an external being or historical person, it describes the Buddha as: that which is inseparable from our own true nature – the mind that is completely blossomed and clear of defilements.” Then it describes the dharma as the mind of natural intelligence. This is an intelligence we all posses…but it is obscured by ignorance. According to the text, the dharma of realization (not the dharma of letters) is the ultimate refuge. There is no higher refuge than the realization of the nature of things. The sangha refers to the unbroken line of realization.

So we see in the later teachings of the Buddha how the refuge changes. This text is said to bridge the notion of ‘outer’ refuge with the Vajrayana refuge. It is seeing the ‘inner’ aspect of refuge. The objects of refuge are not personified but rather seen as qualities innate in all beings.

Now in the tradition of the Vajrayana we practice deity yoga. So for instance, we take on a support like, Guru Rinpoche, and develop a relationship. When I think of GR, I think of him as completely awake and fearless…just based on the qualities I read about him and what I understand from practicing his sadhana. But this fearlessness and wakefulness is not separate from our own nature. We can recognize it more and more in ourselves as we practice. So the relationship with the teacher or deity is meant to connect us to a way of being that goes far beyond ourselves or the teacher as a person.

It seems like people approach this relationship in different ways. In a place like Tibet it is just natural to love Guru Rinpoche. In modern cultures people often question whether the Guru is real or unreal…or worry about blind faith. But in Tibet to simply say his name or mantra, to simply honor his qualities is the support or skillful means for awakening. I have spent a lot of time in Tibetan culture and I can see elderly people who just recite his name…and they have this incredible sparkle in their eyes…and you see they are not afraid to die. You see they are so open and beautiful…and that everything is simple for them.

I know a lot of modern people have trouble with this approach. To adapt this foreign image and then just chant the mantra can feel quite artificial for them. I really understand this too. I am also a Western practitioner. So, it is important to look deeper into the nature of this relationship. It challenges a lot of our cultural concepts. But if we are willing to try it, it can be really powerful and amazing to open up into such a world.

So in short, I suppose the difference between the outer refuge (which is seeing the Buddha as the historical Buddha), the dharma (which often refers to the dharma of letters\texts) and the sangha (our community) and the practice of guru yoga (for example taking refuge in GR) is that in the Vajrayana there is more emphasis on seeing the qualities of the guru as inseparable from the nature of our own mind. I suppose if we see Guru Rinpoche as a person, that is also an outer refuge. If we see him as the embodiment of our own nature, then he is the ‘inner’ guru. It seems like both can be powerful.

For example, when we are studying a text (the dharma of letters), it can really give us a great deal of confidence and clarity. In this way we can take refuge in\trust the information the text imparts…but ultimately, the greatest dharma (as it says in the Uttaratantra) is the dharma of realization.

This article published with the kind permission of Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel

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