Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Mother’s Radiance by Shang Rinpoche

Shang Rinpoche Teachings
As a Buddhist, the most important thing should be to practice all good Dharma. To be born as a human being, it is of prime importance to respect your precious life, as “you have attained a rare and precious human birth.” As such, so long as you are human, you must maintain the five precepts and the ten virtuous deeds in order to fulfil the conditions of the human realm. At the same time, in order to elevate yourself and procure rebirth in the other good realms, you must simultaneously practice the four immeasurables and bodhicitta. The four immeasurables are the most fundamental symbol of a Buddhist’s compassion and mind to benefit sentient life. Among the four immeasurables, to understand compassion even more clearly, it is just like the love and devotion of a mother for her one and only child, who is able to give whatever is most precious to her, even her own life and blood, no matter how much suffering it may cause her. She will do anything not to see her only child suffer any grievance or hardship. I once saw a news report about a math genius who once described how his mother raised him to be who he was today. He described how his caring mother struggled to support her exhausted body on the day that he was to leave for the research academy. On limp legs and with trembling hands, she daily pushed that shabby cart loaded with vegetables down the long road to the market in order to earn enough money to pay for his studies. It was this toilsome work which crippled her legs, caused them sprains and blisters, and clusters of bruises and scars.
On the eve before he left home for the academy, his mother dragged her decrepit body to prepare some noodles for him, and after he took the bowl from her hands, he couldn’t help but burst into tears. He knelt upon the ground and crawled over in front of his mother and rubbed her hobbled legs, swollen like stumps. His mother had invested her irretrievable youth in their household. When she married into his family, his grandmother was already bedridden and his grandfather partially paralyzed. The entire burden of this family’s livelihood fell squarely upon the shoulders of his caring mother. The whole family was ill, and so in order to cover the medical costs, his mother had to maintain many jobs just to provide the household with the bare necessities, and all in the face of substantial debts. He said that the cost of his studies throughout his entire life had been covered by his mother and in loans from his neighbors. His pens were all retrieved after being discarded by classmates who no longer wanted them, at which time he would attach them to small sticks, and he managed to make it through in this way. In order to give him a chance to excel in his studies and make it into the best school, she didn’t hesitate to quarrel with his father, deciding to sell their donkey, the only animal they owned which could help them earn some money. When his grandfather, paralyzed by stroke, heard what they had been arguing about, he passed away, unable to bear the shock. In the name of his monthly living expenses, his mother saved up day by day, dollar by dollar, over the course of an entire month, herself subsisting on some meager pickled vegetable soup, not even allowing herself to dribble a little oil on top. From time to time, she even had to borrow an extra NT$20-30 in order to scrape together enough to cover his living costs. The genius, with such a praiseworthy mother at the center of this story, won the gold medal at the international mathematics olympics and told this story in order to thank his mother for the way she raised him.
All of the mothers in this world are the same. Take the lions and tigers of the animal realm for example. We all know that one is the lord of the animal kingdom, while the other is a fierce and savage predator, but who would have thought that at times, they surpass all other parents in this world in the way that they behave towards their children. For the sake of their soon-to-be-born offspring, they consent to drag their swollen, pregnant bodies up over mountains and down through valleys in order to find a safe place to give birth. And especially after their offspring are born, for fear of their being harmed by other animals, they will move on to find a new safe haven nearly every single day. Many people have had the experience when young of raising chickens at home. If you observe very carefully, you can often behold moments when the hens lovingly dote on their chicks. We have all seen the loving affection that the pandas in the zoo show for their young. No matter where they go, mother panda carry their cubs in their mouths when walking around. Until the time comes that the cubs can walk on their own and follow her around, the cubs are never let out of their mother’s sight. What we see reflected in the behavior of these animals is that, no matter where in the six realms it may be, so long as a mother is there, the radiance of love will appear.

Peace of Mind, by Gabriel from the United States

Shang Rinpoche student
Gabriel Lamm, USA
When I first started going to Rinpoche's classes I was leery of what was being “sold.” I had been religious throughout high school and college and wasn’t looking for another religious replacement. I felt Buddhism was for monks and some lofty, hippy thing for foreign wanna-bes. I never thought it would have practical application in my day-to-day existence.

Over time, listening to Rinpoche speak and answer tough questions about everyday problems his students posed, I began to understand that Rinpoche wasn’t giving some holier-than-thou religious responses. He gave practical advice. He answered in ways that everyone could use to start to practice. And that’s it. Most everything has to do with our own mind, which is not easily changed. It’s a practice. Something you have to constantly do to get better at. Not a simple task.

So I started trying some of the things Rinpoche suggested on my own – simple stuff – like watching my mind. If I had a thought or emotion I would stop and try to figure out where it was coming from. If I was mad or sad or even happy – where was that coming from? I had always thought it was something outside myself: the guy that cuts me off on the road makes me angry, the weather makes me blue. However, the more and more I actually watched where the thoughts came from, and was honest with myself, I realized everything came from me. My ego or jealousy or stubbornness - something within me was the cause of all the crazy thoughts and emotions.

Realizing this was sort of big. Once I did, I could then begin to “control” them. I’m no enlightened being, I struggle every day, but now if I get moody or down I can pause and try to figure out the real reason behind it. This has helped me a great deal, not only in my everyday life but with relationships too.

Last fall I was diagnosed with stage 4 T-cell Lymphoma. I had many other health problems including a perforated ulcer, and nearly died. I’ve always believed in karma but through Rinpoche's teachings I have never questioned: Why me? From what I’ve learned from Rinpoche, karma is something we have to go through – eventually. We cannot avoid it. This has saved me from a lot of self-pity that I could have had.

Overall, I feel that my time spent learning with Rinpoche has helped give me more tools to have peace of mind. It has shown me another path that I can walk down to try to smooth out the rough patches that life gives me.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Lasting Medicine by Michelle

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog

Michelle from the US

The reality of the day to day suffering that many people face when it comes to meeting their basic needs, living through conflict and at times fighting for their safety is far removed from my peaceful Taipei life. An interesting job, safe home, great friends, fresh food and a wonderful teacher and spiritual community are my reality.

Although I have faced some difficult times, the greatest suffering and difficulty in my life probably hasn't been circumstantial but rather formless, a kind of nameless and shapeless stress that resides in my chest and varies in its power over my body and mind.

When I first started studying with Rinpoche, this stress was such a big part of my daily internal landscape that I took it for granted. Doing yoga and meditation offered temporary relief - still does - but wasn't and isn't a permanent fix or solution. Mornings felt so sad to me. I could ignore the intense feeling if I was out and about and busy but if it was just me looking at myself at home, it was crushing. The worst part about it was that I didn't know how to communicate about it or fix it.

After a year or so of studying with Rinpoche, I started doing more practice every day. This had a profound effect on me - it left me sad beyond belief almost daily and sometimes in tears. I easily became angry and impatient. It wasn't so much that the practice gave me these feelings, rather the process created space inside my mind to allow me to access what had always been there but I had effectively bottled up inside of me for so many years. I didn't get it at the time, but now I realize that through the power of this practice and the blessings that come with long-term effort, I was purifying myself of a lot of negativity and mental confusion. Over time, these feelings passed and it was like my whole life shifted irrevocably for the better.

Rinpoche himself had and continues to have this kind of effect on me - just being around him for a while helps me to see my thoughts more clearly and stuff that needs to come to the light does. He is just like the still clear water of the early morning lake that allows you to finally see your own reflection clearly. What often follows from that clarity is a lot of intensity and challenge, but in the end I always emerge a clearer, more stable and open person.

Back when I started studying, I used to see myself and my emotions as separate. I didn't want to accept myself. Therefore, I was always internally struggling with myself and needed a lot of time away from people and noisy places to digest. The gift that Rinpoche has given me over the years is the ability to observe myself with much less resistance and more acceptance, allowing all of it to be as it is. This is not always pleasant but much more natural and far less tiring. Most of the time, I can integrate my practice of watching my mind with whatever situation I am in.

Another gift that Rinpoche has given me is the ability to think beyond myself and to try to see the needs of others more clearly. I can't say that I am able to understand compassion and bodhichitta at all. However, I do know that the best way to spend my time is in expanding my mental and physical energy to include others. Turning my attention to other people and helping them or taking part in one of Rinpoche's myriad Dharma activities is truly the best medicine. It is much more rewarding and meaningful than any of the things I could think of doing to just make myself happy.

Today I found myself feeling particularly stressed and uptight. It just felt like my whole heart area had seized up and I felt so depressed about it. In the early evening I was meditating, and I realized that I was telling myself that I was stressed and tired. When I looked at this cycle, I realized that I simply needed to remind myself to direct my thoughts elsewhere. I changed my mental focus, prayed to Rinpoche and the lineage, and then consciously let my thoughts move from myself to others and the tasks that I needed to focus on. This wasn't repression but rather a process of acceptance and moving on. By doing this, from moment to painfully repetitive moment, I got myself out of my funk and became naturally able to have a very productive meeting and communicate with others in a relaxed yet focused manner.

Maybe my tendency towards depression and sadness is still here, but I now know that I can choose to access something else. Rinpoche teaches us that it's all about your thoughts and the mind, and you can change your reality according to how you think. Nothing has been rejected, in fact everything is accepted just like the sky and the earth accept whatever comes their way. I hope that I can continue to practice to the point where I can view all phenomena with true non-differentiation, equanimity and compassion. I know that Rinpoche can teach this, it's just a matter of how hard I am willing to work to get there.