Twin Cities KTC AND Hay river KTC Buddhist Meditation Centers

A teaching by Lama Tsultrim Yeshe on November 13, 2022

This teaching was not recorded.

The material for this teaching comes from How to Do Life by Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche and Heart of the Buddha by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

If we are going to have a fulfilling life it should include two overarching goals–an immediate goal and a distant goal. The immediate goal is to do the best you can to lead a life with meaning and not squander your opportunities. The distant goal is to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Sometimes these two are seen as separate goals. However, in the life of a practitioner, the mundane (everyday) life becomes more important than it was before taking refuge. You realize that you need to have some meaning in your daily life, which is why you became a Buddhist.

We want to keep dharma in our daily life

but all too often we erect walls that keep us trapped.

By bringing mindfulness and awareness into daily life it becomes an extension of your practice. The more you do this the closer you are to achieving your goal of enlightenment. While mindfulness requires awareness, awareness is a specific practice that develops insight by shifting our attention to the mind itself. 

We want to keep dharma in our daily life but all too often we erect walls that keep us trapped. We feel secure in this little nest we made for ourselves and it’s scary to go outside. We’re trapped there because we want to be safe. However, we can get out if we apply ourselves and follow the instructions given in the Buddha’s teachings.

Attaining enlightenment is impossible if you don’t try, thinking it will never happen. Life is one overwhelming incident after another. You might think, “I’m all tied up with the chaos in my life right now. How could I possibly think of even beginning a daily practice much less becoming enlightened?”

This is a huge mistake. You are not looking clearly at the situation you are in. In teaching a class for KTD, I went over the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind from Samsara:

  1. Precious human (re)birth;
  2. Death and impermanence;
  3. Karma as cause and effect;
  4. The defects of Samsara’s six realms

When got to the last one, the six realms in samsara, I did not go into this because, in my experience, the overwhelming majority of students never talk about their future life and only focus on problems in their current one.

You have come in contact with Buddhism, taken refuge, and done a lot of practice. Instead of watching more TV, playing another game, or something similar, don’t squander the time left in your life. We may be just out of high school or college or enjoying retirement, but we don’t have a clue how long our lives will last.

Death comes without warning; this body will be a corpse.

Keep in mind there is no safe place in samsara. We all look for one, but it is an illusion. For example, when I was recently in Jacksonville, FL I visited a monk who lives on the sixth floor. There was a shooting in the street below while I was there. One of the bullets ricocheted from the gunfight outside and came flying through the window. In another time and place when I had the upholstery shop, I went to a nearby home to reupholster their sofa. It was an old couch but it had modern legs. I asked why they had to replace the legs. The woman said that she was sitting on it during deer hunting season when a bullet came through the wall and broke the leg out from under her. Clearly, the message here is that there is no safe place.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s translation of the second thought is: “The whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent. In particular, the life of beings is like a bubble. Death comes without warning; this body will be a corpse. At that time the Dharma will be my only hope. I must practice it with exertion.”

What makes life precious is using it to practice the dharma. Never think it is impossible to become enlightened. We all have buddha nature–even non-Buddhists–so we have what we need to travel the path. We just need to follow the teachings. This isn’t always going to be easy, however.

Traleg Rinpoche says the obstacles to enlightenment are the ego-centric preoccupations and obsessions we harbor. “Negative doubts, fears, and anxiety in terms of capacity and what we are aiming for”.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, who was the KTD three-year retreat master for many years, was asked once where his students are on the path. He replied, only half joking, that they were lying on the path and wiggling.

We need to trust in our buddha nature

and stop trusting our ego so much

When our ego feels threatened, we need to trust in our buddha nature and stop trusting our ego. Buddha nature could be described as the ground of our own being. It’s from where everything arises. Before taking refuge, our buddha nature was like a seed waiting for water and fertile soil. Following the path is like watering that seed, cultivating it by removing obstacles, and fertilizing it with serious practice and study. This is a tried and true method that has, for the past 2,500 years, yielded the fruit of enlightenment.

If you can see the ego more clearly you will see that it comes from a negative point of view and is always insecure. It sees and understands things from a very narrow perspective. There is really no foundation for our ego despite the fact we think it’s solid. It’s more like a freeze frame from a video. We focus on one moment and think it is unchanging. We try to deny this and sometimes succeed. But because of impermanence, things are constantly changing whether we want them to or not. This is why the ego is so fragile. There is nothing permanent or solid backing it up.

When we come in contact with uncertainty we go back into the box where we feel more protected. Mindfulness is the way to work with this—off and on the cushion. From a clearer understanding of what we are experiencing, we can gain appreciation and wisdom from difficult situations. For example, a wasp in a closet or a phone booth can be a big problem. But that same wasp outside is no threat.

I once worked as a chaplain for a medium-security prison. We had a chapel library staffed by inmates that had religious books and materials. If the book wasn’t returned on time the inmate got a notice. They got a second notice if the book still wasn’t returned. If this didn’t work, their name would come to me. I would call their housing unit and the officer there would announce on the public address system the man’s name and instructions to go to the chaplain.

One time a man who was called to my office arrived visibly upset and shaking. I asked him to sit and take a calming breath, saying there was no need to get so upset about an overdue book. At that point, he broke down. He said he was walking through the prison when another inmate said the chaplain wants to see you and added that it is certain to be bad news. This man kept thinking it was a death in his immediate family. The point is that our minds can easily go to places that are total fantasy.

Buddhism has many ways to work with this inner troublemaker (ego). Sitting meditation trains us to let go of thoughts. They arise, we let them dwell and let them disappear of their own accord without hanging on to them or following them with more thoughts. We learn to come back to the breath and follow it in and out to stabilize our meditation. Ideally, you will condition your mind to come back to the breath following any thought—without thinking about it.

An excellent way to bring mindfulness and awareness into daily life is through walking meditation. This forms a bridge between sitting on the cushion and daily activities. You focus on the feet, their movement, and the sensations in your feet. You keep your eyes open and are aware of the room and any people in it. You can carry this idea even further by focusing on how your body moves as you perform different activities, such as how your hands move and feel while doing dishes. I suggest doing this from time to time, as opposed to just letting your mind wander.

Another method of bringing practice into daily life is known as the Seven Points of Mind Training. The seven points include short, pithy slogans that can be used when on and off the cushion. Some slogans that immediately come to mind are: In post-meditation be a child of illusion. This means realizing that what you are experiencing is like an illusion, like a dream, like a magician’s trick. (This is coming from the view of absolute bodhicitta.) Another slogan is: Be grateful to everyone. Recalling this slogan reminds us that our survival is dependent on the actions of many, many people—our food, cars, fuel for driving and heating, the house or apartment we live in, and so on. All of this is touched by many people before it becomes part of our daily lives.

If you think about it, you can tie 21st Century technology

back to the first person who discovered fire.

Many of us go through life being totally oblivious to our bodies whether that is some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught that while we have some kind of relationship with our body it is usually uncertain and sporadic; we flicker back and forth between our bodies and our fantasies and ideas. That really is how it is when going through our lives. We think of all sorts of things that have nothing to do with what we are doing instead of seeing ourselves as a child of illusion.

Trungpa Rinpoche taught there are four types of Mindfulness of the Body. By being aware of them, we can start reducing our fantasies and the hold they have on our emotions.

Mindfulness of body: After sitting long enough for your mind to become calm, focus on how the body is affected by emotions. This can be hard initially, especially when we are overtaken by a strong emotion like anger or sadness. You may want to start with a positive emotion such as happiness or generosity for that reason. We’ve all had these experiences but may find it hard to put them into words. Don’t worry about that as much as really feeling how your body reacts to different emotional states.

Mindfulness of life This is acknowledging you are here and don’t need other people to validate your existence by others recognizing us. “I exist because of others out there.” We solidify our ego and present ourselves to others wanting a response that validates the idea we have of ourselves—whether that is good or bad.

I find it interesting that a lot of people appear to want to be seen as bad, possibly dangerous, and so forth. There are a lot of bullies who will pick on others they think are weak. It gives the person who is bullying a feeling of superiority and makes them feel empowered. Many inmates and others in situations where bullying is frequent put on the facade of being tough to protect themselves. Needless to say, bullying is not how we want to go through life.

A healthy ego involves being comfortable with who you are without needing outside validation. Comparing yourself to other people and seeing if you better or worse is not how a practitioner should act. Our ego is always insecure and struggling for territory but it will always fail due to impermanence. Just be and don’t overlay things on your perceptions.

Ego struggles for territory. It’s as if it wants you to be bad person, a depressed person, all the kinds of negative ways we present ourselves. However, ego is fabricated and constantly changing. With mindfulness of life we try to experience what is happening in the present. The idea is you don’t have to validate through comparison with other people. We don’t need to justify ourselves. Realize we are a living, sentient being and that’s it.

Mindfulness of effort We cannot expect proper mindfulness to develop without some kind of exertion on our part. Effort is necessary. But right effort is not the same as conventional definitions of effort. As taught by the Buddha, right effort is serious but not too serious. You don’t force the mind back to some particular object, but bring it back down to reality.

It’s good to realize we aren’t trying to escape but we need to have a sense of putting things into perspective. Notice subtle changes in your body at different parts of the day. Being relaxed will help this, as will remembering that you are seeing projections from your mind instead what is actually happening.* It’s good to have a panoramic view from the mountaintop to the valley.

You look at this vajra I am holding and see it clearly. Look at it another way, and still see it clearly although each view is different. You see differences clearly from a panoramic viewpoint. Instead of one reference point you can see that people are multifaceted with many dimensions. Every moment is fresh with the opportunity to go in a different, sometimes new direction. There are always opportunities that arise in the moment where we can choose to do something new and different. Having a joyful effort, joyful exertion is one of the translations for diligence.

Mindfulness of mind This is a sense of openness, paying attention to thoughts and then letting them go. A train of thought happens frequently and takes us away from where we are and to a different place. It’s good to see what thoughts are in the mind and then let it be. What you tell yourself is not necessarily accurate. Listen to your monkey mind and get to know it well. When you understand what it is saying, you realize that it is just more ego.

Awareness is not mentioned as much but mindfulness and awareness are sides of the same coin. Pay attention to exactly what you are doing. Instead of being focused on the future, pay attention to what the body is doing and what the mind is thinking. Then bring in awareness of the environment—what is going on around you. This goes back to having a spacious aspect. 

We settle our minds with shamatha.

We investigate with analytical/insight meditation.

Insight meditation, also known as vipashyana (vee-pash-na) is not mindfulness but is helpful to know our inner critic or ego. After spending time with someone, look back and see how the other person reacted to what was said and what your expectations were. Look deeply at how you reacted to what the other person said or did. What is your shared, or new, experience as you were interacting with them?

Finally, sometimes it’s good to go on a media fast. Stop reading books, or watchingTV and movies that are full of negativity and violence. I found that when I was feeling bad I wanted things that validated that feeling. There was an album I listened to over and over, Welcome to the Boom Town by David and David. The Amazon listing says the album depicts the hopeless struggle of two close friends, musicians with delayed ambitions, who are plagued by alcohol and drugs. Self-medication was not my issue but I was definitely depressed.

Look at what you think and feel when putting information into your head. Pay attention to how you feel when relating to other people or events. A student once said they had nightmares after watching a horror movie. The solution was to stop watching horror movies.

Here’s a final thought. The first holiday spent alone after my divorce, I volunteered at the local nursing home. It ended up that I had 10 grandmothers instead of the one that I lost to death. I brought in things from my farm like grape vines and we made wreaths. Many places could use a volunteer; I guarantee you won’t be lonely.

* Recent research confirms what Buddhism has taught for thousands of years. Even our memories are’t what they seem. Cutting edge brain scans show that what we see, smell or otherwise experience activates a “memory” that is similar to a scaffolding. The initial sight or smell is filled in with what already was in our brains from previous experience.

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