Teachings on Preliminaries
Open Heart Spring Retreat 2019
For the past year, I have worked on the Preliminary Practices of Open Heart. Preliminaries are largely what Buddhism teaches. The word preliminary itself comes from Tibetan word ngondro or nundro. In total, there are about 30 preliminaries on the list that will soon be published. In the following, I discuss a few of them as practice material for this Spring Retreat of 2019 held near Dublin, in Ireland.
Dzogchen Preliminary: Going to Nature
Read these passages every day on retreat.
Nature of mind is the same indoors and outdoors so basically there is no need to change anything. Outdoors it is easy to be supported by the natural state of the surrounding nature, while indoors because alive physical nature is not there, it is not that obvious. For this reason yogins and yoginis have always prioritised practicing in nature. Anyhow, if the weather doesn't allow sitting outside, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't (ha!), simply feel nature beyond the building walls. Having a window open so that natural sounds come in is very helpful.
When you sit outside, don't sit too close to other people. You should have the sense that you're sitting alone, in your own peace, just you and the surrounding nature. Also, if it is possible to go to woods with trees and bushes, that is much better than a man made garden.
I have written in the preliminary instruction: Go to a forest or any natural place, like a hill, cliff, riverside or a desert. Pick a place that is pleasant and safe to be. Sit down. Don't meditate. Feel connected with the surrounding nature, sights and sounds. Just be together with the surrounding nature without anything else. Prayers, mantras or other aspirations are not needed, although can be used.
Nature is in the natural state of mind already. Anyone who has spent time in nature hiking, camping, fishing or hunting already knows that. Physical nature, the power of it, is so compelling that even the most stubborn ego will yield when in nature. What is needed to achieve this? Nothing, except you need to go there in the midst of nature. That's it. No need to make effort of any kind. Just go out there and sit, letting the surroundings in... without thought or intention, be together with nature: trees, bushes, animals, sky, ground, wind, light and the aliveness of it all. Just go out there and it will happen by itself. If for some reason you are hopelessly restless, shout Phets. This is the practice. It's nothing special.
(To be read on afternoons)
I had intended to talk and guide workshops about other preliminaries: Transcience of Life, Acknowledgement of Confusion and Value of Dharma. I'll write about this in a nutshell.
Dharma is not about happiness.
Dharma is not about happiness... Say that to yourself a few times. Are you practicing dharma to make your life more happy or to make it better somehow? Well, that is OK but not the real purpose of dharma. None of the yogins and yoginis who realised their nature in full and became enlightened practiced to become happy. Why did they practice? They practiced to see the reality of themselves. Seeing and experiencing the reality of ourselves is the core of dharma. In Buddhism, there are many exercises that are practiced extensively so that we can perceive the reality of ourselves, know ourselves as perfectly and completely awake awareness which is embodied by the contents of our mind and our physical body. Read this last sentence three times.
We become attached to life. We become attached to comforts, that in our Western society are many. We also want to avoid discomfort. Yes? No? Think about it. Be honest, don't bullshit yourself. Countless causes for dissatisfaction are created because we convince ourselves that we could become happy by momentary pleasures, like delicious food, wild sex, physical exercise, intoxicating drink, intoxicating drugs, luxury massage, new car, new house, new partner, new pet and so on. It can also be something subtler, like being attached to a certain kind of breakfast. None of these examples are causes of suffering, if there is no attachment, that is, self, me-ness involved. If you see that none of these things can give you lasting happiness, you won't rely on them. In that case you get your fix from knowing yourself as a buddha. This fix is no-fix and everyone, everyone, is seeking that. All sentient, samsaric, beings have buddhanature and this very fact is the reason why we cannot get satisfaction from fleeting stuff.
I am sure everyone in the room will have heard this before. "Yeah, yeah, I know all that already", you might think. I am sorry to break the news for you but you don't really know until there is not the slightest shadow in your mind. Admit and acknowledge that you are confused because you are attached to your human condition and the pleasures that are available to you. This point needs to penetrate one's whole being, otherwise you are not doing the practice. If you go to a pub in a samsaric rapture of wanting a good crunk, some fatty food, good laughs and maybe even get laid before passing out into obvilion, if even a trace of that selfish excitement is there, you are still attached. If you are not ready or willing to admit this, fine, no need to force it. Samsara will do it's thing so eventually you will get it.
Transcience of Life
We are all human beings with human bodies, names, personas and we do stuff that humans typically do. Also human beings have buddhanature and therefore can get released from samsara, cyclical existence. Buddhanature itself is the cause for liberation.
I'd like to ask you to contemplate the following: The inevitability of death through accident, illness or old age. Have you heard of anyone who avoided death? Of course not. You, I and everyone else, including our loved ones, will die. I am sorry to put it so bluntly but it is a fact that you, I and everyone else cannot prevent the wheel of time from turning. We can only leap out of it by knowing ourselves as buddhas. So when talking about these three preliminaries as dharma practice, we are to sit down, contemplate and imagine our bodies dying in sudden accidents of various kinds (be creative), or being ill with horrible diseases or being so old that your body simply cannot perform anymore, so that you cannot walk and move anymore, cannot eat because the stomach doesn't digest, you soil yourself, your mouth is dry, your eyes are blurry and your ears don't hear well. If you contemplate the transcience of life in this manner your attachments and self-based confusions will transform and you will become more clear minded, that is, a little bit closer to being free.
We do not know when the moment of death comes but it is certain that at one moment your body will fall down on the ground and the breath stops. Heat will escape the body of a samsaric human in hours and the body begins to decay, rot and smell. Have you seen a dead body with your own eyes?
Statistically, 151 000 people die every day. That's over a million in a week. A million human corpses... Young people, old people, children, black people, white people, Asians, tall people, short people, smart people, dumb people, handsome people, attractive people, unattractive people, leaders, followers, PhD's, millionaires, billionaires, poor people, heteros, gays, lesbians, trans's, liberals, conservatives, activists, extremists, terrorists and a few spiritual practitioners too... How many of them die in peace and have a clear mind? If you are not comfortable with the idea that you will die and leave everything you know behind, you will die confused, afraid and anxious... Such a corpse is not a pretty sight. Yogis and yoginis welcome death with an open mind and die in equipoise because they know it is an inevitable change and life continues afterwards. I am using quite graphical descriptions with the hope that you will be shaken up a bit and listen. Mortality is a good meditation and has been one of my main practices since I was teenager, for over 25 years. I am still not done and am certainly samsaric so when I die you might see my body go dry and black. That's a joke. Haha!
Life is transient and that is one of the beauties of it. Everything is in motion. It is typical for humans, when we grow up, to create a belief system and absorb fixed views about all kinds of things. Self and attachment are present pretty much from the day we are born. Of course it is.
One of the most central teachings of Buddhism is transmigration between different realms. Now we are (samsaric) humans, in 100 years we might be dogs, cats, pigs, angels, gods or demons, depending on what kind of mind we cultivate. Or we might be liberated! Actually even sooner than hundreds of years. When we realise, real-ize or actual-ize our inner buddhahood, depending on readiness or willingness (which is merit), karmic connections meaning teachings and teachers, and effort in practice. Readiness and karmic connections come from previous lives and are further strengthened in this one, if one practices. Effort in practice also comes from previous lives and greatly defines our ability to understand dharma quickly through flesh and bone, instead of brooding on mental concepts.
Some practitioners, the moment they hear of dharma, of buddhas, of emptiness or something like that, are already on the path. It just clicks. It's like the old analogy of a horse and whip. A brilliant horse runs at the shadow of the whip. At the other extreme, the horse walks lazily and takes breaks even if it is hardly beaten. I've seen many such bad horses in people who are very casual about dharma but because they don't practice, they are mere believers, convinced that they know what the teaching of the Buddha is about. When such people draw their last breath, it will be a crazy and scary rollercoaster. Maybe they won't take dharma for granted in future lives. Such people never listened to their teacher and never really did preliminaries. Then there are horses in between these two. What kind of horse are you? Clarify your motivation to yourself to make your path easy and straight. If you are after happiness or just nibble it, bite here and there, you have a long and winding road ahead of you. It is not a problem for me and I am not admonishing you either. So, mortality and transcience of life is a great preliminary.
Honesty is another preliminary. We need to be honest and willing to see our own faults. Not many people can practice that well because we want to affect things to our favour, to make it better for us, so that we can be happier. If we cultivate honesty and sincerity, by simply reminding ourselves to be honest in this moment, that already reveals ourselves as buddhas. Honesty and sincerity brings in a flood of energy that is pure, pacifying and grounded. If we remain honest about our thoughts, words and actions, we are already buddhas. It is a misconception to think that if one remained honest for 30 years, then the reward would come after such a period of cultivation. No, the reward of non-reward is instant and has an instant effect on our mind. The preliminary of honesty, reminding ourselves to be honest, like other preliminaries needs to be repeated many times. In that way we are actually transforming our self-centered and self-invested habits. Being honest purifies our actions.
Acknowledgement of Confusion and Value of Dharma
We cannot really know the value of dharma, unless we can acknowledge the depth and seriousness of our confusion. Again, think about the wheel of life (skt. bhavachakra) and transmigration in realms. If you don't practice the dharma, you cannot know yourself. If you don't know yourself, you are unaware of karmic records stored in your subconscious mind that will kick in, in full at the moment you die. When a filled but untied balloon is released in a room it flies all over the place and ends up in a random place! Look at your emotional reactions and you get a sense of where you're heading. Maybe you end up having another human life, but think of all the possible places and cisumstances you could end up... When we are still in a human body and have the opportunity to practice the dharma, that very very very few people do, you can remain honest and acknowledge the scope of your self-based confusion. As tantrics, when we realise that we truly are fucked, that is the moment when we take refuge in the mahasiddha guru, mainly Guru Rinpoche. And he is more than happy to help anyone!
Past mahasiddhas are literally hanging in the air, on all corners of the world, just waiting for people to turn to them. We only need to make the initiative and when we do it's such a joyful and fulfilling ride. Through guru yoga, this association, we come to know the reality of ourselves which is the whole point. Like this, bit by bit, we come to value the dharma. Little by little, appreciation and valuing dharma comes to us. This is nothing else but your awakened nature.
All these preliminaries (tib. nundro) give arise to bodhicitta, the heartmind of enlightenment. Bodhicitta is just another way of saying that we begin to become who we essentially already are. Samsaric beings don't give a shit about others because they are only concerned about their fix and the happiness of those they know or who belong to their group. Aren't most people acting exactly like this? It's a bloody mess, isn't it.
By caring for others, bodhisattvas break their bubble made of habits, likes and dislikes, that is, the self. We begin to care for others because we become less self-immersed and begin to see that everyone else around us suffers too.
Thank you and bows for listening. Now practice, actualise, these teachings. Make these words of countless predecessors your life line. Don't waste your time.
Again, I am sorry that I couldn't make it over due to being ill. I wish you all a great Spring Retreat!