Some thoughts on impermanence
The next class (Feb. 21) in Buddhist View 100 will explore impermanence. When we consider our own death, our priorities for life come into focus. Here is a brief outline of the Buddhist death and dying.
A few words about some upcoming teachings with Tulku Damcho on Sept. 25-27:
Whether abruptly or gradually, Buddhists aim to transform their minds. We wish to leave behind the unproductive thoughts and emotions that tie us to the mundane concerns. Instead, we train our minds in the practices of Bodhisattvas and spiritual friends. Our success depends entirely on receiving authentic teachings from a highly qualified teacher, and putting them into practice, unleashing our incredible potential.
Tulku Damcho and the new generation of Kagyu lamas are highly trained Dharma teachers who passionately work to help people overcome their difficult emotions, (kleshas) using the classical Buddhist teachings as well as contemporary adaptations.
Harmful ways of thinking can become so habitual that reversing them can seem very difficult. The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind are tools to remove the obstacles to other practices that free our minds, leaving the mind’s own radiance and joy fully manifest. The Four Thoughts energize one’s Buddhist practice with a transcendent courage, motivation and confidence.
The Four Thoughts Are
1). Precious Human Rebirth –
2). Impermanence –
3). Suffering –
4) Karma –
Taken individually, or together, these core Buddhist teachings reveal the true essence of our existence – transformable, capable and inclined toward meaningful satisfaction and happiness.
One need not be a Buddhist in order to attend these teachings. While these practices can be utilized by people of any faith, those wishing to deepen their intimate connection to the Buddha will find devotion comes easy in the presence of Tulku Damcho Rinpoche and the teachings on Four Thoughts.
– Dan Black
Buddhist View 125 (Emptiness)
Here are Notes for Class – Jun e14 from Buddhist 125 (Emptiness), for June 14.
And a Link to the Heart Sutra (Emptiness class).
Here are Buddhist View 125 from the first class, June 7.
Fresh notes on the Buddhist View 100 class:
Buddhist Ethics of non-harming and neuroplasticity
If we practice, we develop qualities of the mind. Due to neuroplasticity, we can address negative habits and sup-par ethical values.
Why do I maintain ethics? (Consider these trainings in motivation)
- Body – Safety of self. Safety of community of beings as a whole. Compassion.
- Speech – Harmony of discourse in the community. Empathy.
- Mind – The benevolent attitude, respecting others. Serenity.
- Practice – Mindfulness, Recollection, Purification. Joy
- Result – At ease, someone folks can count on. Ego –clinging is purified, no trace of shame or guilt, an honest appraisal of one’s own place in the world allows you to relax…
Motivation exercise –
Which “self” expects satisfaction with a motivation to help the various roles we play in our lives? We have different motivations flying all over the place. What are the better, more universal values that direct an ethical life.
- The professional self wants order, control, thoroughness, etc.
- The sense of body’s well-being wants comfort, predictability
- Intellectual self wants answers to universal riddles
- Sexual social self wants intimacy and satisfaction
- Others deserve protection and happiness, too
- There are more “others” than there are of “me”
If we practice, we develop qualities of the mind commensurate to our motivation.
Steps to stop unwholesome actions stop their karmic accumulation, but do not purify the subtle habit energy. To eliminate that one needs to develop a motivation to positively conduct wholesome actions.
Notes from Buddhist View 100: Foundations –
The teachings on the First Noble Truth can sometimes be misunderstood as a pessimistic view of life – as if it is a philosophical view of the world that is tainted with desperation. But in reality, the Buddha was simply describing the worldly experiences as they are, stained with the three types of sufferings.
His message is that of a supreme pragmatist – looking at reality the way it really is, discarding childish notions of an exaggerated existence, of permanence and an eg0-centric orientation. The Buddha’s teachings actually provide great relief because while we know how to work with what’s real, there is no way to remedy a situation if the truth of it remains obscured or exaggerated.
Knowing that suffering exists opens the door to understanding our own existence in this life. Were we to ignore this reality, we would wander endlessly through the six realms of existence, helpless, clueless unable to see things in any other way, victims of our own ignorance.
The Second Noble Truth asks us to identify the causes of suffering. Rather than recite a rote answer from Dharma studies, we look at our own mind to see how suffering starts with assumptions about what we want, what we don’t want; what we like and dislike; our desires, and fears; our sense of permanently existing “I” which does all this liking and disliking. Perhaps we can see how ignorance of this “I” and those numerous strong opinions blurs our perception to twist our notions into anger or grasping. For instance, when things don’t go our way, we take it personally. But that perception is nearly always wrong. There are usually numerous other good reasons things don’t go our way that have nothing to do with us at all.
The Second Noble Truth is where we see karma play a role. More on that in class. – Dan
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Thanks to all of you who came out for the holiday potluck and open house on Dec. 21. It was great to meet some new people and to see some old friends. I was struck by the conversation – such goodwill and kindness! I look forward to the next one. – Dan Black
Four Thoughts Class Notes
Thanks to Beginners Mind Sangha!
And especially to Michelle Tae and Scott Woodbury, who presented the practices of BMS for a half-day of meditation today, Dec. 6. The group assembled got to enjoy practicing meditation while sitting, walking, and we learned about the sounding of the bell and even sang some songs! It was truly enjoyable, and presented the attendees with a vivid picture of how the Buddha’s teachings are expressed by one of the world’s most important Buddhist masters, Thich Nhat Hanh. – Dan
The next half-day sitting, or “Reflecting Gems” program is “Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind,” by Dan Black and Chuck Durick, presented in the Tibetan Buddhist style. We will practice guided meditations on those Four Thoughts, and do a Medicine Buddha practice, which uses visualization to express the altruistic wish to free beings from their suffering. 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 3.
Dan talks about finding a qualified teacher
As an enthusiastic Dharma student I always developed a special appreciation for my teachers. They have shown me things I would never have known. But there can be pitfalls. Especially for those new to the Dharma I want to offer some thoughts about how to relate a teacher.
Then, after my Top 5 Tips list, there is a lengthy quote from the great scholar Alex Berzin, who wrote a book about the student -teacher relationship. Here are my tips:
1. The teacher should know a wide breadth of Dharma and had teachings from numerous teachers. How else can the teachings be tested, and passed down in context? The more study and realizations of the teacher, the better.
2. After studying with a teacher a long time we can get a “Dharma crush” or infatuation for the teacher, wishing for attention. These misguided emotions are attachments, or exaggerations about the teacher, and should be examined because they can lead to fruitful contemplations about our own insecurities. Devotion to the teacher should be based on the understanding of emptiness and the special roles of the relationship as the relative expression.
3. I really appreciate teachers who have a deep commitment to the benefit of all sentient beings equally. Their lives are a teaching, too. Their equanimity and contentment resonates with the teachings.
3. A good teacher challenges their students, intellectually and emotionally. Like a good sports coach, the teacher has faith that the student can understand and put even difficult teachings into practice. They don’t hold back the difficult or complex teachings. They trust us to get it right.
4. I personally like it when the teacher cites the source of a Buddhist teaching being given, either by naming the sutra, the genre, school of thinking, or the teacher who commented on it. To me, this is the gold standard – an ultimate kindness. Not only is the teacher giving a tidbit of wisdom, but is giving me the tools to build a stable and cohesive picture of the teachings as a whole, with all the subordinate parts resting in their place. Knowing the source helps build faith and devotion in the lineage. My devotion grows because of the efficacy of the teachings, not the charisma of the teacher, which of course will wax and wane.
5. The teacher should have good teachers. I prefer teachers who have an understanding and respect for different schools of thought. That way I know the material I am being taught comes from a position that respects different thoughts and hasn’t been adopted just out of convenience or unquestioning deference to the lineage. The great masters always had multiple teachers from multiple schools.
Finally, I was never told, “Now you are a teacher. Go forth and teach.” A couple of my teachers encouraged me to teach, but there was no ceremony or vows. I would get an occasional request to teach something, and I did, fulfilling my role as a local meditation leader.
I can teach to the level that suits my skills, the teachings I have received and the practices that are familiar. As Ven. Thubten Chodron says, there are different kinds of teachers. With some teachers we can trust that their realizations are competently acquired, and we can pray to receive those blessings by practicing their instructions.
H.H. The Dalai Lama says it is good to check out a teacher sometimes for 10 years before you take them as a central guru and invest total devotion.
A student should look for a teacher, or guru, that has eight qualities, according to Mahayana scriptures:
From: Path to Buddhahood, Teachings on Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Ringu Tulku:
According to a sutra called The Bodhisattva’s Levels, Mahayana teachers or spiritual guides should have eight particular qualities:
1. They must first of all follow the precepts and vows of a bodhisattva.
2. They must have studied in depth the teachings of the path of the bodhisattva.
3. Their understanding must be deep and not purely intellectual; they must have truly experienced the teachings.
4. They must feel sincere compassion toward all sentient beings.
5. They must be fearless and show a lot of courage, not only in their own actions but also when they teach others.
6. They must be tolerant and patient with their students and practice.
7. They must be tenacious and not allow themselves to be carried away by discouragement or disappointment.
8. Finally, they must be capable of communicating effectively with students.
A great discussion on finding a guru takes place on this site by Polish teacher Rudy Harderwijk. And Alex Berzin makes plain certain aspects of the process in his encyclopedic web site. I have excerpted these essential points:
“It also says in many of the texts from the great masters that, realistically speaking, we are not going to find very easily a spiritual master that has all the qualifications. And so ones that we are going to meet are going to have both positive qualities and negative qualities or shortcomings. But it is important to find someone who has more positive qualities than negative ones. And among those positive qualities, what are the most important? And these are sincerely wishing to help the student; not having intentions to exploit the student for money, or power, or sex, or whatever; and to be an ethical person. There’s compassion, ethics, and certainly to know more than the student knows – in order to teach them something. Not be somebody strongly under the influence of disturbing emotions and attitudes. These type of things are the most important. They sincerely want to help.
We have to be very careful because there are many charlatans who pose as spiritual teachers, both Asian as well as Western. And many of them can be very, very charismatic and entertaining and have a large following. They could be even recommended by other masters who really haven’t examined very well their suitability, who don’t really have the time to look deeply into how they are actually behaving in the West. We have to be very, very careful to discriminate and not follow a charismatic charlatan just because a lot of other people are following. After all, Hitler was charismatic as well. It doesn’t mean that we follow such a person.
Same thing – just because the teacher has a great deal of learning, it doesn’t mean that their personality is well developed. So we have to be careful with the relationship with such a teacher as well. But at least that person has learning; the charlatan often doesn’t have learning, although sometimes the charlatan also has some learning. From the person who at least has learning, we can gain correct information. It might not be very inspiring in terms of the type of person they are, but we can appreciate the fact that they are a source of correct information. And that we need. So there are many levels of spiritual teacher, and this we need to be very clear about. They are not all at the same level of development.
Another one of the really absolutely necessary qualifications of any level of spiritual teacher is that the person is honest and not pretentious. Doesn’t pretend to have good qualities that he or she doesn’t have, and doesn’t try to hide and lie about the shortcomings that he or she might have. They don’t have to reveal to everybody their private sexual life, that’s not the point. I am talking about if they haven’t studied something, if they haven’t actually done a certain type of meditation. It shouldn’t be someone that wants to hide that, not be willing to admit such failings in their education, in their own personal development. That is very important. They’re not putting on an act, but are sincere.
Similarly, we ourselves have to be honest with our own level, not pretend to have qualities we don’t have with the teacher, not to hide our own shortcomings – again in the area of what we have practiced, what we have understood and so on – so that the relation can be honest and based on reality, not on fantasy. Even if we don’t have terribly much personal interaction with the teacher – the teacher in the Tibetan context isn’t somebody that we go to all the time and tell him all our problems and everything about us. That is more a therapist teacher. A spiritual teacher is not a therapist. A spiritual teacher gives us the methods and then it is up to us to work on them. We can ask questions. But with the therapist, the client does most of the talking – talks about themselves. The spiritual teacher does the vast majority of the talking and talks about the teachings. Very different. Many Westerners do confuse the two roles of a spiritual teacher and a therapist. It is very important not to confuse the two. If we need a therapist, go to a therapist and not a spiritual teacher. And also the spiritual master teaches by their own example, the therapist doesn’t.
If I speak from my own experience, as I was explaining last night, I had a very, very close relation with Serkong Rinpoche for nine years, and very close contact with my other spiritual teachers. All of them were Tibetan. And I must say that they never asked me about my personal experience with the teachings, and I never really discussed it with them in terms of, well, this was happening or that was happening. I was always encouraged to try to apply the teachings and figure it out myself. They would be open if I had questions about the teachings, but my relation with them was not at all a Western type of relationship. And for me, that suited me very well, I must say.
Now for Western teachers relating to Western students, many of them do mix in a little bit of this aspect of being the therapist. I mean there are some who are very distant from their students, but if they have regular students they usually like to get to know the students personally and help them with the different types of problems that they might be having. But I think that Western students find it much easier to speak about their own experiences and their own things to a Western teacher. Very often Tibetan teachers can’t really relate to what the Westerners are saying. Not all, but many of them who can’t. Our experience is just too foreign; our backgrounds are just too foreign in terms of what we have studied earlier in our lives, in our cultures. So it is changing a little bit in the West as we develop this Western teacher to Western disciple relationship. But there are problems there.
Most traditional Asians don’t talk about their emotions or their feelings. That is not what people talk about in their relationships and so on. The way that they’re raised is very different. Nobody ever asks a small child, “What do you feel like eating?” and “What do you feel like wearing today?” It is not a question, whereas in the West, we are always encouraged to express our feelings and our personal preferences of things. So to talk about emotions and feelings from Westerner to Westerner, that works much, much better.
With Serkong Rinpoche, particularly, he would correct me and point out things not in terms of my feelings that I would express to him, but in my actual behavior. As I mentioned last night, he never failed to point out to me when I was acting like an idiot. So it is in that way that a traditional Asian teacher would help us with our application of the teachings, whereas with a Westerner we might more easily speak about how working with the teachings is affecting our feelings, our emotions. This is how I see it from my experience of having been and continuing to be a student of great masters, and also being a teacher myself and relating to my own students. Traditional Asian teachers – there can be of course Asian teachers who have grown up in the West. That is different. I’m talking about traditional ones.”
– Alex Berzin
A wonderful Wesak Celebration at the Library on April 28. Boise’s Buddhist community came out to share this important holy day.