Twin Cities KTC AND Hay river KTC Buddhist Meditation Centers

A teaching by Lama Tsultrim Yeshe on July 31, 2022

Material is taken from the book, The Heart is Noble, by the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. All quotations are taken from this book.

No matter what is going on we have ways to make life meaningful for ourselves and others. We can expand beyond ourselves to embrace the goals of other people as our own. “When we bring our concern for ourselves into harmony with our concern for others, our life comes into balance.”

When life feels unbalanced and pointless, our relationships become unhealthy. If we want to restore balance, concerns we have for ourselves must be in harmony with others.  When we are focused on what we want from another the relationship becomes unhealthy. We can build healthy relationships based on our habits, understanding that those habits can be changed. They are not set in stone. By forming new habits we can change our relationships.

Our strongest habits go back to previous lives, early in this life, and the culture we are raised in. We gravitate to relations that feel familiar—even if those relations are not good for us. However, negative habits can be changed to positive ones through the examination of our thoughts and the patterns made by habits. Most importantly, repeatedly engaging in positive behavior will create merit that will help change our deep-seated habitual behavior.

“By thinking carefully about how we orient ourselves toward others and toward ourselves, we can build and enjoy healthy relationships.”

We need to develop new habits, realize we are the author of our story and take responsibility for them—changing those that are not helpful and creating negative karma. By repeatedly engaging in our new behavior we make new, healthy habits. 

The poem by Portia Nelson, Autobiography in Five Chapters, describes transforming your point of view instead of walking around on autopilot.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE CHAPTERS 

One

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost … I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Two

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I’m in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Three

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Four

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Five

I walk down another street.

I, me, mine

We have two senses of “I” that experience and interpret things. 

  1. The innate/instinctual self. This is so subtle we usually aren’t even aware of it. For example, you are on the edge of a cliff about to fall off and you have a strong impulse to step back or to take your hand off a hot handle on the stove. 
  2. The fabricated self. This is internalized as being independent, permanent, and solid. It includes cultural messages about us, our race, and our gender, as well as our duties, roles, and expectations that we, and others, have for ourselves. This is what our parents and teachers tell or told us. The fabricated “I” seems solid and seems to be who we are. We buy into it and identify with it. However, it is constructed and comes about due to interdependence, and not independence.

“Your own mental habits lead you  to think that this is really who you are, and this fabricated “I” then constitutes a sense of self that you carry with you everywhere you go in life, and through all your relationships.”

There are two meanings for this word, fabricated. The first is something that is put together from parts, like a refrigerator in an assembly plant with parts coming in from around the world. The second one is making something out of nothing, like fabricating evidence for a trial.

But we are greater than that fabricated self. We have the tendency to put our sense of self in a box and then not realize our true potential. It’s ironic in a way. Think about how people are classified by research scientists and are put into groups, such as early childhood, adolescent, adult, geriatric, and hospice. As our body changes who we think we are changes, too. It’s plain to see that in many ways we are not the person we were 30 years ago. Additionally, our perspective on things and events in our environment also changes as we age.

We filter everything through this sense of “I” and others are doing the same thing. They project their expectations on us and we project the same on them. This can lead to difficulties with others. Just like we do, they can incorrectly interpret our intentions. 

“In reality, there is no reason to accept someone else’s experience of anger as being connected to you. After all … Their perceptions are also fundamentally rooted in their own sense of “I.”

“Me” and “Mine” restrict our view of ourselves. When we see the world as separate from us, it prevents seeing the countless wholesome connections we have with others. Our emotions also depend on what we experience, much like how a happy part in a movie makes us happy and a sad part makes us sad. Emotions depend on our experience—how we interpret our environment. 

For example, a man who lives near me was riding home on his bicycle. He’s going along and suddenly sees what he thinks is a bag of garbage lying at the side of the road. He gets upset with how careless some people are. However, as he gets closer he sees that it’s not a bag of garbage but a bag of groceries. Suddenly, he’s happy and delighted with his good fortune. He thinks of it as his bag of groceries.

He decides to take the groceries home. He picks the bag up and gets back on the bike but realizes he cannot carry it all the way. His happiness is gone. Now he worries about someone else coming along and taking his grocery bag. So he hides it in some brush near the side of the road and quickly pedals home to get his car. He comes back with his car, finds the grocery bag is where he hid it, and is happy with his good luck. Yet the bag never changed and it didn’t cause his emotions.

Hook of Attachment

The hook of  attachment and aversion starts with the fabricated “I.” Much of our relationships with others are influenced by trying to get what we want from them and pushing away what we don’t want from them. If the “I” is present, we are not able to see the connections with other people. There is no room to think of anything else, no space when there is attachment. 

“When there is an absence of attachment, healthy feelings have ample room to blossom. This is because attachment causes you to be totally consumed by something or someone.”

However, detachment is not the same thing as non-attachment. “Detachment suggests an unfeeling indifference.” 

Say you see a person holding a sign for money when you are driving. It’s too inconvenient to give something at that time—you are not in a lane of traffic near them, for example. If you don’t acknowledge them at all, that’s detachment. Instead of detachment, you could say a mantra and dedicate prayers even if you can’t help financially.

The reason we don’t see attachment as a problem is we look for faults outside ourselves. We blame the object of our attachment for the problem. We relate to people who are the objects of our attachment primarily on the basis of self-gratification and serving our own purposes. When problems arise in this type of relationship you think the problem is in the other person, they need to change not me.

With aversion it is the same, you are totally concerned with the situation and nothing else matters. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to talk about an aerial viewpoint. They didn’t exist when he was alive but think of a drone with a camera. If we can see things from a different angle, they change dramatically—you become more accepting, see new or different possibilities, and the sense of “I” and mine weaken.

So the antidote to attachment and aversion is to rise above the situation and have an aerial view. To see the bigger picture. “If you are able to come out from the middle of it all, you can view your situation from a different angle.”

“When you truly love someone, they are extremely precious to you—as valuable to you as your own life. You cherish them more than yourself. But when you are attached to people, you see them as existing in your life to fill your needs or to make you happy.” 

Non-attachment lets healthy feelings blossom. We want to nurture these feelings so they can grow and blossom but if we are attached to them there is no room or space to think of anything else. The same process happens with aversion. With this aerial view, you continue to fully engage in relationships and you are more open.

When you let go of needing to be at the center of a relationship, you stop engaging on the basis of what they can do for us. We stop pulling some people towards us and push others away. A very simple way to connect is with a smile. This says we recognize the other person’s presence and they often will smile back at us.

Love as a Practice

When we let go of being the center, of me and mine, relationships look completely different. “We stop engaging with others on the basis of what they can do for us. We are relieved of the constant desire to pull some people toward us and keep others away. We can instead see multiple ways to connect positively with everyone. From this wide and open perspective, it becomes possible to deepen our love.” 

When you are in a relationship, love for each other changes over time as circumstances change. The intense love at the beginning of a relationship can’t last. Many of us fall in love with superficial things like physical appearance, what they do as a profession or as a hobby, and how we feel when we are around them. People can come up with many superficial reasons to love someone but these don’t last. “I think that the reason to love is so vast that it can’t be limited to any particular reason.” 

“Love is a living thing. Like a tree, it needs to grow continually, yielding fresh cycles of leaves and flowers, and fruit. If this stops, the tree stagnates and eventually dies.”

HH The 17th Karmapa

Relationships change over time. Parent-child relationships change even to the point of one killing the other. But the basic relation is always there. In any relationship, the way to make it last is to place love as the essence of it. Let it spread to permeate to the core. 

Expectations make the relationship and love conditional. How can it last when you act as if you own the other person?

Love is a conscious spiritual process

Like a plant that goes through cycles of flowering, forming seeds, dropping leaves, going through winter, and sprouting anew in the spring, we also have cycles in our lives. We must put effort into relationships. If we leave them on cruise control, the connection with another will stagnate and die.

The Karmapa says his love is not limited by his body or time. “I want to place my love on the moon. Let the moon be the keeper of my love, offering it to everyone just as the moon sends its light to embrace the whole earth.”

Some people see the love of another as enjoyment or pleasure, and their job as totally necessary.  They think your work is more important than your love and that relationships are disposable. Actually, jobs are an optional luxury. 

Love and emotional well-being are within, not outside ourselves. We need to look deeply within our own minds to develop real love and healthy relationships. It’s important to know your faults and the good qualities that lie within. “The capacity for lasting love rests within our heart, but so do the obstacles to loving well: our self-centered habits, our attachment, our aversion, our expectations.”

We are not the total of our faults and qualities—we transcend both. The capacity for boundless love is in our hearts. So are the obstacles to love, attachment, and aversion.

Being at ease with change

There can be the expectation or assumption that the relationship is everlasting. We hold on to unrealistic expectations that can’t be met,  such as people don’t die or relationships don’t end. Either case is painful when it happens and we think it can’t be accepted. 

The antidote is to contemplate birth and death. This can be difficult but denial is more painful and leaves us emotionally vulnerable. Death and separation are always a possibility, and the active relationship can end, but our love doesn’t have to. However, we need to be prepared to accept that the relationship is over. 

We have little control in some relationships, such as with a parent. The basic relationship will always be there and if it isn’t already, we can make it healthier. This takes effort and involves examining ourselves, letting go of expectations, understanding others at a deeper level, listening before we hear, and looking before we see.

Relationships often die because expectations are conditional and transactional. Here’s a list of five unreasonable expectations.

  1. I’m the most important person in the room and I take this room with me everywhere.
  2. I need to be respected because of who I am. Others need to earn my respect.
  3. Other people must live up to my expectations. My partner and everyone else knows my expectations without my saying them.
  4. I should not be harmed in any way.
  5. Life should be fair and I decide what is fair.

If we take these expectations into our lives, it’s no wonder we have problems!

Working with death

The first thing is to remember the focus of your grief is the person you loved and their death. The continuity of love can direct your response in a positive direction. You had affection/love for them. They had affection/love for you. They wished for your happiness and tried to bring it about. Love does not end when a person dies. Focus your grief on the person you love and who is now gone instead of what you lost when they died.

Even as they were dying, that person surely kept within them the hope that you would be happy. They certainly did not want you to suffer. Even after they have gone, the aspirations that you don’t suffer and find happiness continue, and you can still work to fulfill those aspirations. Their hopes will now live on as a part of you.

This keeps you connected and honors their aspiration for you. When floundering in grief, remind yourself this negates their hope for you. Remind yourself they wanted you to be happy. Ending your pain brings their pain to an end too.

Reflect on impermanence when people part ways. Contemplate that change is not necessarily always bad. Good can result from something called post-traumatic growth. This is captured in the saying that when one door closes, another door opens. “These changes are part of the rhythm of life. Each phase brings fresh forms of beauty.” 

When people separate there can be freshness and space for new growth. Impermanence brings new possibilities with it. Your love doesn’t need to end. Consider the other person’s contentment and well-being. Maintain your affection and love for the person(s). Let go of the expectation that the other has to reciprocate your love or even know you still love them. We can just love. (Love without attachment vs with attachment.)

Contemplate impermanence and focus on the welfare of the other. This helps maintain our equilibrium.

Transcribed and annotated by Ellie Strand. All mistakes are mine.