|Posted by DGS on January 1, 2013 at 12:30 AM||comments (0)|
Have you heard anything like "New Year. New You" lately?
Seems slogans like this are as plentiful this time of year as scarves at a yoga studio. Why is that? (slogans I mean. not scarves)
Several reasons come to mind. Starting of course with the ever present idea that we are dissatisfied with ourselves and wish to be someone else.
The magazines and popular media prey on our predilection for self-deprecation. It's a multi-billion dollar a year business making us feel like we are not quite enough, not yet anyway. Not until we buy, or buy into their new new thing.
Isn't it odd that in a society consumed with ego, we should think so little of ourselves? Or perhaps this is a perfect example of the way karma is working. That even if we believe ourselves to be an innocent and unappreciated hidden treasure, our self centered nature forces us to tend to see in ourselves mostly our faults.
But perhaps there is a far less cynical way of looking at this odd tendency we have.
Perhaps with some effort we could shift the energy we spend on wishing to be something, or somewhere, or someone else, and think of it as recognition that we are inherently more than we see in ourselves now.
Perhaps our yearly bouts of high aspirations, no matter how short lived, are a recurring sign of our in-built desire to attain our highest form, our greatest potential.
"This year I'm REALLY going to…____________________."
What do you fill in that blank with? What is it that you hold so precious for yourself that you are prepared to swear a vow to reach it?
And don't be fooled by the seeming pettiness of your goals. Even the goal of losing weight can be seen in the light of more than just looking more sexy, but perhaps as being more capable, able to be more helpful, able to be around long enough to make a a real difference. Or at the very least, just the best possible version of "you".
This time of year is a reminder that we DEEPLY crave freedom from what burdens us. And it is also a reminder of something much more important.
That it IS possible.
The very fact that we try again and again to remake ourselves is, it seems to me, a recognition that there is NO PART OF US WHICH IS NOT POTENTIALLY CHANGEABLE. Or put another way, there is no part of us which is not just "potential".
Potential for what though? Now that's up to you. It can be something petty. Something worldly and self focused. Something which won't last anyway, like a more fit and tone physique.
Or it can be for something meaningful and useful, like the health which will allow you to be more helpful to others. Or the wisdom which will allow you to see only the best potential in others.
Either type of goal is a possibility because you are neither one from your own side.
You are completely re-makeable, and if you can recognize that you are utterly remarkable. But guess what, so is everyone else. Each of us equally has this power. As Lama Cindy Lee says, "If you think you are special, you are just like everyone else. But if you realize you are just like everyone else, then you are quite special."
And I think that is why each of us equally hears the whispers at this time of year, to make this year THE year. To make this time THE time to really make the changes we somehow KNOW are possible.
So don't frown or avoid New Year's resolutions this year. Embrace them.
And don't worry if you don't quite end up reaching your goal. Just try hard to set a good one and to keep it. Set a goal which has an intention which has ramifications which lie outside of your physical form and its comforts.
On artificial calendar days like this the whole world pauses to ponder what they COULD be, if they tried. That's got to be a great sentiment to ride, and to add your own personal flavor to.
How will YOU tip the balance of this great movement?
In what direction does your "New You" face?
Tips for a New Year practice.
This is a great time to do a perfect world meditation, where you sit down and call your holiest conceptions to you. And then in their presence you just try to envision yourself, your entire world, and everything in it as absolutely perfect. It's sometimes surprising how hard this can be actually. But try to get used to it, and send that image forward into the new year for yourself and every being you can comprehend.
Also, if you know how to do a Fire Puja, this is a great time to do one. Or you can just wing it by writing down on a piece of paper, either the things you wish to get rid of, or the goals you would like to achieve, or both. Then if you can do it safely you can make a nice fire somehow, small or large. And then offer your wishes up into the fire.
If you're not comfortable with fire, you can equally offer it out into water or land. Don't litter of course. In water you can shred it or sink it with a rock. in land, you can bury it.
The important thing is to feel that you have sent those intentions out far and wide in a grand and meaningful way.
And then the MOST important thing, is to feel really really good about it when you are doing it and after you've done it.
One good way to do that is as you are doing it to try to recall any and all good deeds or good intentions you have had this year. They can be big things like volunteering or studying sacred material, or seemingly small things like opening doors for people, or donating a dollar.
If nothing else, you can just focus on the good intentions of your New Year's act itself. Just the wish to be better for yourself and others. That is a magnificent intention and the goodness of it is immeasurable.
So rejoice in your ?New Year New You" intentions. And above all, be content!
P.S. If you're looking to start a daily practice in the new year, here's a great resource for you.
|Posted by DGS on December 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM||comments (0)|
Thanks to Dharma sister Lori for hipping me to this...
The Best Karma Yogi: By Deb & Ed Shapiro
Karma yoga is perfection in action where our activity is of benefit to others, such as doing good, giving without wanting anything in return, and benevolent service. So who could be a better karma yogi than Santa Claus? Although his appearance may fool you, mainly because he has a habit of eating a lot of cookies, he does get good exercise going up and down all those chimneys. He also has a huge heart, loves to hug children, and is always smiling, which are signs of a good yogi.
For Santa is more than just a jolly old guy in a red outfit. A true yogi is someone who displays wisdom and compassion, and Santa is an excellent example. He sees everyone as his family, is always helping others, and he cares about you whether you’re naughty or nice. Such fine qualities are ones we may all want to emulate.
· He makes us do good and feel good. Now that’s a big one, as many of us oftentimes act selfishly and badly.
· He gives, endlessly, to everyone, all over the world, all at pretty much the same time. This indicates a truly generous heart, one that takes great joy in giving, without needing to receive.
· Yet he does not give blindly. Rather he judges what is the most appropriate gift for each. This shows great discernment, as giving needs wisdom in order to be of most benefit.
· He encourages rituals and invokes magic in every child’s life: letter writing, stocking filling, decorations, parades, milk and cookies. Ritual is an essential part of honoring anything that is greater than us, and magic is the beauty of the unknown.
· He listens to our pleas and requests and reads our letters. Meaning that he takes the time to hear us and pays attention, which we could all do a lot more of.
· He has great psychic powers: he flies in the sky with reindeer, descends chimneys without getting covered in soot, goes by many names and forms, and is extraordinarily elusive. Has anyone actually ever seen him??
· He knows where we live. In other words, he is inside every one of us.
· Most importantly, he lifts our spirits at the darkest time, bringing us laughter and joy, which is undoubtedly the greatest gift of all.
Through giving to others, a la Santa, we turn selfishness into generosity and connect to basic goodness within us, a quality of kindness that is easy to lose touch with. Giving—whether a smile, our time, a listening ear—is profoundly joyful, both to the one who is receiving and the one who is giving.
I love that idea, and have often made the argument that the way in which and the fact that "Santa" functions, is proof of divinity. A pure example of an emanation body.
Santa IS coming to town. It's worth thinking about how exactly that happens, beyond the sleigh and reindeer.
Ho, ho, ho...
|Posted by DGS on October 30, 2012 at 10:10 AM||comments (0)|
If we look at Haloween through Dharma eyes, what might we see?
Of course the whole thing is a fascinating display of trust and generosity on the part of the society which participates in it. (Did anyone ever REALLY find one of those razorblades? I'm skeptical.)
But beyond that, and beyond simply acknowledging our dark side, and beyond any kind of hokey history of "Samhain" and end-of-harvest rituals, It seems to me that the mere existence of halloween and its many traditions, along with the way we pass it on to our kids, is at the very least a living example of how much we crave ritual in our lives, and the setting aside of sacred time. "Time out of Time" as Lama Marut says.
I remember running through the neighborhood in my cheap plastic mask and rayon cape, in search of unimaginable treasures, certain that there was magic around every corner, feeling so free I nearly burst with excitement. As if normal time and (most of) the normal rules of reality had been suspended, at least until I got home.
But the whole enterprise seems more to me than mere hedonism. We generally live our lives in a self gratifying way anyway. What makes this one specific time so special? What is the energy of it? What are we trying to create or destroy? What truth are we trying to ritually reinforce and remind ourselves of.
Well it's probably not a stretch to say that Death Awareness is pretty high on the list.
At halloween we are hardly able to avoid the many images of skulls and ghosts and grim reapers and such. And when we do encounter what we consider a good or true or scarily effective instance of these macabre realities, we don't cower (for long). We actually laud it with compliments. Think about that. Some grisly image which at any other time would seem ridiculously out of place or unsettling, becomes a cause celebre.
"Oh, that's awesome!" we say.
What is that kind of reaction saying about us during this special time? The time when tradition holds that the "veil between this world and the next is the thinnest". Are we recognizing that we live in a space between various realms of existence. A "bardo" between the ghosts of the past and the mysteries of the future.
Isn't it interesting that we crave at least once per year to ritually look at the truth and fact of death, and to not only find beauty and humor in it, but to make offerings to it, in the form of sugary treats.
Of course many other cultures have similar kinds of rituals. The "Dia de los Muertos" in some Latin communities for instance. Or the fantastically celebratory Jazz Funerals in New Orleans.
It seems to me that besides the otherwise morbid imagery, these precious ritualized times are an effort by us to recall at least two very important truths about our lives.
First, as we've been saying, these special times certainly allow us a safe way to haul the honesty of death out of the closet.
Not so long ago (and still in some communities) death was not hidden from us so much as it is today. It was a much more expected and commonly experienced part of life. In fact a recently passed on relative would often be taken care of by the family themselves, and even dressed and respectfully displayed in the living room, before being buried in the back forty.
Perhaps our modern antiseptic view of death is part of the reason why today there exist extreme death defying sports and extreme slasher type movies. Because for all their craziness, there is at least something true in them which they are reminding us of. There wasn't any need for X-Games or "Saw" movies during the dark ages I'd guess.
Some part of us longs to remember the truth of our limited time here. Why?
I suggest that the purpose of us compulsively making this highly ritualized observance of death is not to be depressed or morbid, but rather to rejoice in the impermanence of life, and thereby to remember to DEEPLY appreciate its preciousness.
This is something we far too often overlook, and I think we all crave not to do so.
I think the other vital part of this holiday which we seem to want very badly to remember is that if this time is rare and precious, and our form is temporary and changing, then... what do we WANT to be in this moment. What MIGHT we be capable of being?
I think the recognition of this special "in-between time" is a not too subtle understanding that each moment is a time of infinite possibility.
Have you ever seen an otherwise mild mannered co-worker dressed in an extravagant or hilarious Halloween costume? Does even your genteel mom or your quiet uncle go bananas at this time of year with a fake knife through the head or a full sized gorilla suit?
Looking past the sometimes inappropriate costumes, who as a child didn't enthusiastically don some kind of superhero or princess outfit, or something very much like it?
Why is that? Where did that character come from? Did we REALLY need permission to do that? Do we still?
Perhaps some deep part of us actually does recognize that there is no part of us which is NOT potentially a superhero or royalty.
Perhaps that is what we crave to recognize most of all at special times like this.
That we hold within ourselves INFINITE possibility. That the common temporary form we identify ourselves with most every other day of the year is not our TRUE self.
That there is a special ineffable part in all of us which deserves to be recognized, and that THIS self, is something which is not afraid of death. In fact it laughs in its face.
Perhaps it is in these moments when we bravely face our deepest horrors and voluntarily scare ourselves silly, that we finally recall not only what truly matters, but even, what might be possible.
That seems like something worth offering a snickers bar to. Doesn't it? Or maybe Reese's or Jolly Ranchers are more your thing.
So look around yourself this Halloween and imagine yourself in a rare and sacred world surrounded by magical beings.
And then look within yourself and find that most precious part of you which is longing to be set free. Ask yourself "What are you gonna BE for halloween."
And then BE that, and open the door for it, fill its bag full of candy, and send it running through the streets in wild ecstatic joy.
|Posted by DGS on September 27, 2012 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
So Yes, we changed our name.
Long story. Here's the gist.
We admire the classics. They are awesome! They got us where we are today. They are classy. They are stylish. They work great, and they cannot and do not need to be forgotten or replaced.
Sometimes it is also time to make adjustments. NOT to change the core of what worked. Not to abandon the principles which moved us forward. But to be true to them BY adapting them for where and how we travel today.
We don't abandon what works. The core engine of our practice, we embrace. We rev up. We kick into gear, and we floor that sucker!!!
|Posted by DGS on August 17, 2012 at 12:25 AM||comments (1)|
As our amazing Dharma family grows and strengthens, we've had ample opportunity to see what a family we've become, and how powerful we can be together, either in service opportunities, or putting on Lamapalooza, or just making a group pilgrimage to a fantastic retreat, and representing our Sangha with flying colors.
So thinking about this and what has made us work and how we can perpetuate it as we grow, the time seemed right for setting out a sort of "Charter" of who we are and whom we strive to be.
But we wanted it to be a different kind of document. One that fully understood impermanence, and change, and falability, and imperfection, but allowed for greatness, and encouraged agreement and openness, and a TRUE sense of a selfless shared purpose.
Here's what we came up with:
Feel free to download and use this for your own organization if it suits you.
|Posted by DGS on May 7, 2012 at 7:00 AM||comments (1)|
There are many stories about the rise and fall of King Arthur and the many royal adventures that surrounded him. Many legends with many lessons. From Sir Thomas Malory's collected stories to Clive Owen's action packed movie, there have been many stamps put on this iconic figure. But in my estimation one of the MOST important treasures of this family of stories has largely fallen out of common knowledge.
Like all great legends, the tale you know today as the story of King Arthur was built upon a tale told before it, which was in turn built upon a previous tale, and so on. Like many of the great modern European cities today which are built layer by layer on top of their ancient predecessors' hovels, the subsequent layers tend to play up the epic but perhaps end up obscuring some of their own greatest treasures.
See, I'm not really trying to talk about King Arthur here. Not exactly. I want to talk about a fool in his court.
One of the earliest foundational tales on which the modern day Arthurian stories are built is called Parsifal, (or Perceval, or Parzifal, or several other spellings) Let's just call him Perceval or Percy for short. Probably the most famous of these stories was written around the turn of the 13th century by a guy with the awesome handle Wolfram Von Eschenbach. How'd you like to be able to swing that one around town? "Reservation for Mr. Wolfram Von Eschenbach? Your table is ready sir, no need to wait." But its earlier source is by a guy named Chrétien de Troyes, and his is closer to the one I like.
I'm going to avoid too much academic mumbo jumbo because much of it is in dispute or contradiction anyway and I'd almost certainly get something wrong. Suffice it to say that this story had some VERY deep and esoteric meanings. Earlier in my life I was quite interested in the western mystery schools and this story and the figure of "Percy" figured quite prominently in many of their relatively modern incarnations.
But why? What is the story?
Hold on a beat, I'm getting to it. First let me make a connection or two.
My Teacher, Lama Marut, is an outstanding scholar of another famous epic. The Bhagavad Gita. The Song of the Lord. This is another great legendary story about a royal being called to great service. Arjuna, the great warrior finds himself on the field of battle leading a righteous army in defense of his homeland, against what he discovers is an army made up of his relatives and loved ones. Naturally he's kind of in an existential pickle. In his paralysis he turns to his humble charioteer, a blue dude named Krishna who unbeknownst to Arujuna just happens to be an incarnation of the divine.
"What should I do?" he pouts and whines, and though Krishna doesn't literally do this I always kind of picture that great moment in the movie "Moonstruck" where Cher slaps the bejesus out of Nicholas Cage and says "Snap out of it."
Krishna tells Arjuna that he can't just stand around twiddling his thumbs, (or doing anything else with them). He tells Arjuna that he MUST act. That in fact it would be better to do the thing which is before him to do, and to do it with his best wisdom, than to try to do anything else. This battle before him is in fact exactly what he was put on this metaphorical field to do.
To which Arjuna basically replies "Huh?" And then Krishna proceeds to patiently teach his hard headed student for a dozen or so chapters till he gets the point.
Cut to another "Gita" This one is called the Ashtavakra Gita. The Song of the Dude with Eight Crooked Limbs (loose translation). As it turns out my teacher is also an incredible scholar of this remarkable text, and I recently had the remarkable good fortune to get a tiny introduction to its wonders. Perhaps not so coincidentally this is also the story of a royal dude who asks his teacher what he should do. In this case though, the guy asking, King Janaka, is kind of an honors student. His parents probably would have had one of those "My kid is an honor student" bumper stickers on their chariot, if they had bumper stickers back then. Upon asking his teacher Ashtavakra how he should live, Ashtavakra gives him a short soliloquy and BOOM, Janaka completely groks it. (I love to use that groovy 70's word grok, which just means he totally and completely grasps the message and all it's ramifications.)
The details of the ensuing chapters of this Gita are not the subject of this article either. And I'm not sure I'm fully qualified to relay them yet anyway. But what I will say is that after his BOOM moment, Janaka is an awakened being. And then he and his teacher start chatting about what things look like from their perspective. It's truly remarkable and sometimes a bit controversial. But one of the most valuable things I took away from it is that an awakened being is not burdened by all sorts of dogma or rules, and certainly not by the feeling of needing to BE somebody or DO something. An awakened being just does what there is to do, wisely and contentedly.
Ok, now back to Percy. I promised you a story. So here it is. I'm going to kind of summarize it because there are so many versions of it and some of them are even in robust Germanic Opera form, and I can't hit those notes without dogs everywhere howling. So with apologies to scholars of Arthurian legend, let's just get on with it.
A King is injured. In some tales it's King Arthur himself. In others it's a guy often called "The Fisher King". (also the title of a decent movie by Terry Gilliam) Whom this king actually represents and where and how he got injured are a deep rabbit hole. Suffice it to say the king is obviously representative of at least a part of us, and as the King is dying so is his Kingdom.
Naturally his homies are a little bit upset. And by homies I mean the brave and gallant Knights of the Table Round. You may know some of their names, because after all they're famous right? Galahad, Lancelot, Gawain, Lionell, Kay, Bedivere, Palomedes, Dagonet, you get the idea. A regular posse of big bad dudes. And I mean REALLY tough. You know, "Legendary". These guys are in it for the glory. They've spent their life smiting foes and fighting battle after battle to establish their names and to win larger and richer domains. Honor is a BIG deal for these guys. Though Freud was still some time away, the EGO was certainly alive and well inside their shiny metal suits.
And now this great and noble King lay dying, and the prognosis is not good. In fact it is SO bad that the only suggested remedy is for the King to drink from the "Holy Grail". Not something you can find at Walgreens. You may have heard of it before, at least from the Indiana Jones movie. Now I know that the symbolism of the Holy Grail could fill up a hundred books, and I've probably got 25 of them. In at least one interpretation it is purported to be the cup that Jesus was supposed to have used at the Last Supper. Let's just say for simplicity's sake that they are really looking for the cup of Christ. An actual cup, that must be found to heal their King. Ok?
You can imagine the scene right? The challenge is put forth and then one knight after the other steps boldly forward to announce in the most valorous and chivalric way possible "I shall retrieve the Grail to heal the fallen King." And then on his horse he hops and sallies forth toward a great and noble quest, squires trailing and hobbling after him.
Just like this, they all proclaim their great intentions and then head out to the far ends of the earth, on fantastic legendary quests.
And guess who else wants to save this King? You guessed it. Our boy Percy.
Trouble is he's never been that great at the whole "deeds of arms" stuff. Oh some stories have him winning some battles and a joust or two. But some portray him as a bumbling dimwit, just sort of along for the ride because his daddy had a noble name. Let's put OUR Percy somewhere in between. Not a complete dolt, but a simple man. Someone IN the fray of things, but not really a part of it. An observer, often overlooked. Quiet. A nice guy without grand designs on fortune and fame. This will be our Perceval.
So our Perceval, he tries to quest for a while. But he fails. That's another long story. He was SO close, all he needed to do was ask the right question, but he didn't know it. So he returns home humbled, to care for the wounded King.
Out in the wide wide world things are not going so well. For years the Knights of the Round Table have been "questing", and to be honest they are dropping like flies. Many meet grizzly un-glamorous and ignominious ends. Others quit the quest entirely and hide, too ashamed to return to the King empty handed. ALL of them, all of these macho world conquering superhero types have begun to believe that either there IS NO GRAIL to be found, or despite what they previously thought of themselves at the outset, none of them is apparently worthy enough to find it. They have failed.
They've made GREAT efforts to be sure, but in this case victory was not to be had by great effort.
Meanwhile back home, the King approaches his death. Frail, wan, a husk of skin and bones with sunken eyes. He struggles even to breathe. Beside him, ever loyal, sits Perceval. In the face of the futility of the quests of the various knights, the King and indeed his entire Kingdom have lost all hope. Death is but a few breaths away. The feeble King glances at his loyal friend Perceval, with a loving and grateful twinkle in his eye. He wants to speak but is too weak to do so. He can barely even drag his dried tongue across his thin parched lips.
Sensing the King's thirst, Perceval kneels beside him, gently raises his pale head, and then taking a cup from the King's bedside, he raises it to his royal friend's lips
and slowly lets a few drops slip over the edge into his mouth.
The King's eyes open wide with a startling look of long forgotten awareness. Emboldened he reaches his shaking hands up to steady Perceval in helping him drink more and more deeply until he has drunk every last drop. As he lowers the cup, the once frail King now looks strong, healthy, robust, full of color and energy. He looks down at his hands and sees that the cup he and Perceval are holding IS the Holy Grail.
He looks up into Perceval's eyes, in wonder and amazement, and asks his loyal friend, "Where did you find it?"
Equally curious Perceval simply answers this. "I did not seek to find the Grail dear King. I knew only that you were thirsty, and so I gave you drink."
And THAT is the heart of the story which I have been thinking so much about lately. Cue music. Pull out the Kleenex.
Do you see why this story has been handed down from lip to ear for so long? See how this message keeps repeating itself in other traditions like the two "Gitas" above?
This story holds a great and powerful truth. See, the REAL "hero" stories are not so much about paragons of ACTION, as they are about paragons of the ability to act wisely when it counts.
We so often spend our lives on grand quests, in pursuit of one great goal or another whether worldly or spiritual. We get all tied up in our identities. We enshroud ourselves in dogmatic armor and carry one particular color of battle standard. And then we sally forth, bound and determined to fulfill our quest or die trying, and often willing to take a few casualties with us along the way.
The problem is that the fortunes at the end of those grand quests are generally things which we cannot take with us. But the damage we do to ourselves and others along the way, THAT has lasting ramifications. The one thing which will last, the one thing which will ruin or save the Kingdom is our simple acts in our everyday regular old lives.
No grand quests necessary.
You simply look out and see the nobility of the beings around you. You don't necessarily need to try to BE any great hero or DO any great works. You simply see that there are worthy beings in front of you and that they are thirsty. And then you give them drink.
You do what is there before you to do, out of love. And that IS wisdom, in perhaps the deepest way possible to understand it.
If this makes sense to you, then give thanks to all the great teachers and storytellers for sharing this wonderful secret with us. And don't forget to pass it down from your lips, to the precious ears of the ones you love.
It is a true treasure worth remembering. Worth living.
|Posted by DGS on April 12, 2012 at 10:00 PM||comments (0)|
Lama Cindy Lee has this great way of occasionally using her magical internet powers to connect some of her students from around the world and have them answer each other's questions and discuss a subject. She first gives gentle wise guidance, and then the conversation is started. What a great way to teach!
Recently the teaching was to discuss answers for and viewpoints about a question she had been asked, namely; "How does one balance Family life and Dharma Life." I was fortunate that she included me in this discussion.
So here's my short answer on how you balance Family and Dharma.
The way I have been looking at things recently, I feel that if you are "balancing" Family and Dharma then they are separate things. I have come to believe that if I am seeing them as separate, then I am actually OUT of balance.
The way I am personally TRYING to look at this is that I have a lot of different FORMS of Dharma practice. Among them I have a formal study Dharma practice. I have a group study Dharma practice. I have a community service Dharma practice. I have a professional occupation Dharma practice. I have an artistic Dharma practice. I have a personal minute to minute Dharma practice. And I have an overriding FAMILY Dharma practice which both subsumes and supports all the others. Of course there is really only one Dharma practice, but the Western reductionist mind tends to be able to see it more clearly when it takes separate particular shapes.
Mind you, I'll be the first to say that I don't always succeed at executing all of these as true Dharma practices, at least not in the moment. Many times even the grand gestures we find ourselves performing in a family context are actually done to support our ego or to inflate an identity we are addicted to trying to maintain.
I was struck recently in reading part of Khen Rimpoche's book on Key to the Treasury of Shunyata, where he said that ESPECIALLY in family, it is difficult to tell when we are being truly compassionate, or just trying to provide advantage for "me and mine". That's a real test of equanimity there. Do we want the best for OUR family, or do we want the best for ALL families, of which ours is the most convenient to serve? You can spend a lot of time perfecting those kinds of intentions.
Where my practice is now, I am imperfectly trying to do as Lama Marut instructed me, (as his Lama had also instructed him), which is to take my family as my teachers.
Cliché to say. Remarkably HARD to do consistently and sincerely.
So how does that play out in real life? Well, I'm not falling at my kid's feet and bringing them gifts all the time. That would not be a good service to those beings as I currently see them. Mostly I'm just striving to do the same things I've been doing but with a new more "Galactically compassionate intention". And in situations where I find I'm not yet capable of acting with such a high intent, I am trying to be open to the possibility that I might have stumbled upon a habit that simply needs pruning.
Let's saunter through some examples to see what kinds of wonderful or wayward mindsets we might find in this forest.
For instance, if I'm verbally correcting one of my children, as parents must occasionally do, I'm trying to do so with the sincere intent to make them a better person for themselves and others, and better prepared for their own spiritual journey. I'm trying NOT to do so just because their perceived infraction somehow aggravated me, or fell outside of some "acceptable" list of behaviors. That means that sometimes I need to intervene or even verbally correct them out of love, and yet sometimes I need to sit and hold my tongue because the most loving thing I can do is not foist my own old egoic battles into their brave new adventures in life, as if I were some Japanese soldier stranded on a pacific island, still fighting a world war which has been over for years.
The Zen tradition has this great saying about when you see a tree, try to see THAT tree. This is a deceptively simple way to express a very deep concept. In part this means that we must try to avoid the tendency to project our previous experiences of "Tree" too quickly. Sometimes, or let's make that all the time, a little bit of reflection can go a LONG way towards a more Dharma driven view of things and a wiser and more effective parenting style.
Through his Diamond Cutter Institute, Geshe Michael Roach was recently engaged to train the employees of Brittish Airways in the methods of bringing good Dharma practice to the business world. He commented that in training these employees in these high techniques for happiness, you are not just affecting them, you are potentiall affecting everyone they come in contact with. The ripple effect is phenomenal. Think about that in the context of your kids. How many people will they meet and interact with in their lives? Your gentle wise words of guidance and understanding could potentially be affecting millions of people over decades of time. It's a huge responsibility, and a great privillege. Use it well.
Speaking of business, If you have a family, then you already know that your professional life IS part of your family life, and thus should be part of your Dharma practice, if possible. I know this is the case for me because if I weren't trying to provide for and raise my small portion of the human lineage, I would likely not be doing the same things professionally that I do now. In that context, one's profession can be seen as service to the family, which can be done with the good intention to serve all families.
But of course, it doesn't always play out like this in real life. Usually our identities are heavily invested in career, or heavily invested in being the person who "sacrifices" the life they think they really want in order to provide for the family. In both cases, craving and self cherishing are the actual root motivators. At best, you're creating mixed karma.
So for instance, here's a back and forth tennis volley examining some of the intentions one might find in bringing Dharma to a professional life.
If I'm helping to sell some silly widget, I'm trying NOT to do it with the intention to crush the competition and make lots of money, or to become famous, or respected, or to feel good about myself, or to hear someone praising my efforts. I'm trying to help sell the widget with the intention that all parties involved are receiving just what they need from the transaction. Compensation. Vindication. Professional challenge. You name it. Also, my family is included in that equation as the tiny but precious portion of the human race I am demonstrably responsible for. Taking care of business isn't just good for the cared for ones, it's good for the care giversl. Just that simple. This may be significantly mitigated if your business is weapons production or something like that, but good intention is still possible, and powerful.
I'm often reminded of my Teacher, Lama Marut, teaching us from the Bhagavad Gita, about the hidden god Krishna chastising the reluctant warrior Arjuna that he MUST do the action which is in front of him. He MUST act. But he must do it with the purest possible intention and an understanding of his place in a much larger story. In this context and with the right intention, even a cubicle job can become a grand battle.
Then again, Lamaji also likes to refer to the beginning of the Christian Bible to remind us that, "work is a curse". This life is not meant to be spent in mindless pursuit of temporarry gain. Indeed, most commerce in this realm probably involves some kind of gaining advantage over another, or likely even some kind of harm to others. I'm trying (perhaps not quickly enough) to move my professional life to one where I feel there is a more pure Dharma practice possible through it.
Pitfall alert. The grass is always greener elsewhere only because the ignorance we view it with FORCES us to see our own grass as substandard. That means Wisdom is the miracle grow for the grass you find your feet in. Your grass is already the best... potentially.
Also, it might not be a compassionate act to simply abandon a job and put your family in financial jeopardy, simply because you believe THAT was the only barrier to your perfect Dharma practice. Or because you had to "Follow your bliss". Lamaji also recently updated this classic concept made popular by the great Joseph Campbell. He said that in a professional context you should be guided by TWO factors. One is hopefully finding something you enjoy, but the other is to find something you are actually good at. Which is determined by whether OTHER people indicate you are good at it by, for instance, paying you to do it. He made it clear that sometimes, those two are not the same thing. You may love something, but not be very good at it. And you may be quite good at something you don't particularly care for. A great Dharma profession would be something which combined these two and simultaneously served others. But a decent Dharma profession is going to at least watk the middle way between these aspects.
And let's just face it, some jobs stink and simply take up too much of your precious time. But chances are, the true barrier to your perfect Dharma practice is not your gainful employment which puts food on your table and a roof over your head. Yes, we should be willing to leave something which PREVENTS us from practicing Dharma. But first, we might want to look to see if our true barriers are actually internal.
I'm reminded of a story I heard about Atisha, the great teacher who largely brought Buddhism to Tibet. Upon leaving India he decided to bring with him the aggravating tea boy who's rude demeanor he valued like a precious jewel for keeping him humble and patient. Upon arriving in Tibet he supposedly said that he realized "He need not have brought that tea boy." There were plenty of aggravating people waiting for him when he got there.
As with most every obstacle we encounter, the outer method only reflects the inner struggle.
So what does one DO? Perhaps that's a more useful repurposing of the word "balance". Maybe we could think of finding balance not in terms of time allocation or prioritization, but rather how do we KNOW what to do and where and how to spend your precious moments of life? How do we "BALANCE" our current ignorance with the wisdom we are striving to assimilate and embody? Our balance point is the place where our decision happens.
Here's where I think Family might fit into that equation. At it's best, having a Family FORCES you to think about more than just yourself. This is actually EXACTLY why I think having a Family is a boon to a serious Dharma practice. It tilts the scale more towards others than yourself. You can't just selfishly do whatever you want. Service is REQUIRED of you. You MUST consider others in your decisions. That's a PRECIOUS burden.
So this kind of wise compassion for our family can give us a solid bearing. The Family may be seen as an instantiation of both the beings we are fortunate enough to serve and the beings we are blessed to be able to learn from. To quote Tony the Tiger "That's Grrrreat!"
But remember, the middle way can be tricky. As the Buddha said, if the lute string is too loose, it will not play. Too tight, and it will break. Here's a perfect illustration of that lesson which my family Gurus recently taught me.
My kids love to look at nature, my son particularly loves to find mushrooms. But as you may know that can be a rather dangerous exercise. So like good civilized westerners we used our magical Amazon powers and shortly materialized a book to identify mushrooms with. Guess what we found?
For nearly every perfectly safe mushroom, there is a deadly poisonous mushroom which looks almost exactly identical to it. I mean it's truly uncanny how similar they sometimes appear and how different the results of eating them would be for us. From a tasty and nutritious even miraculously healing treat, to a bad trip followed by wrenching abdominal distress followed potentially by a quick or an excruciating death. Isn't it peculiar that our experience of nature would offer this lesson to us in this way?
I find this to also be true in many of the forms my Dharma practice takes. Sometimes what looks like a high path, can be a dangerously treacherous turn. It all depends on my intention.
Lama Marut also says we are pretty good at admitting our second worst fault. But the one that's really going to kill us often looks to us like a virtue. The real trick is to identify this shapeshifter early, and then through careful cultivation and with the right selfless intentions, we make sure we are not planting our own future poisons.
The identities of "Self Sacrificing Care Giver", or "Unappreciated Provider", or "Uncompromising Peace Enforcer", or even in some cases "Happiness Deliverer", are very very likely to be those kinds of mushrooms that LOOK tasty and good for you. However it is much more likely that these were grown on a steady diet of self cherishing and willingness to hurt others to ensure the supremacy of "Me and Mine".
A Family Dharma life will give you TONS of field experience in which you will will inhabit roles like this, and more. Don't get intoxicated by them. NOTHING good can come from such a harvest. Don't pick these. Leave them alone. Learn to recognize them and then starve them out. This is the part of your Dharma practice where you can hone your discrimination and make better decisions. Mindfully cultivate your future!
In this, as in most everything, I refer to my Lama's words, when he says that your compassion IS your protection. The better your compassion for others, the better you will be able to determine whether your chosen role is actually serving them or serving some part of you and yours. This kind of discrimination will show you how to "balance" what to do.
At the same time your ability to see the most compassionate act depends on an increasing understanding of Buddhist wisdom. Wisdom is simply the fact that ALL of these phenomena, the family, the job, the roles and identities, the emotions, ALL of them are coming FROM us as a result of how we've thought, spoke, and acted towards others in the past.
The tree you are seeing is NOT the tree that is out there. Think about it. Look outside today and see a tree. Are you actually seeing it's every single leaf? The pattern of it's bark? The scars and birds nests and each knotty branch? Of course not. You see it, you say "Tree" to yourself, and you think you have seen a tree. But in reality, the tree is in your head (ouch). It is coming FROM you. It's not really out there. Not in the way you think it is. Not the tree YOU are seeing.
And everything is exactly like this.
Getting a better handle on this deep gem of truth will help us to better determine what will be the most compassionate act possible in a given moment.
They are actually kind of the same thing. The wise thing IS the compassionate thing.
I'm trying to learn NOT to just be what I WANT to be, but to be more and more of what my Family NEEDS me to be. And I'm trying to get wiser about determining what that truly is. The better I get at it, the better I know myself, and the better I am able to help all others. As a nice side benefit, the better I get at this, the better "trees" I'm able to see.
In this way, I find Family and professional life a fantastic crucible in which to perfect my practice. So many opportunities to fail. So many chances to learn. So many ways to practice Dharma.
So that's my answer. All I have to do now is go try to live what I just said.
A work in progress.
|Posted by DGS on December 9, 2011 at 9:40 AM||comments (0)|
Again I was able to cajole my lovely wife to share some of her insightful experiences. It's getting easier so hopefully we'll get more. Thought this was a good one for this time of year.
"Adventures of a Buddhist Mom": Episode 2
The kids and I stopped for an after school bagel snack recently. As we were leaving the bagel place, we passed a man who appeared to need a little help.
I paused and he began talking to me. I reached in my bag for a few bucks as the kids watched. I handed him the money and he was so appreciative but more than that, I felt he needed someone to hear his story...not just drop a buck and keep walking.
I engaged with him and he quickly told me how he had gone to a church service earlier that day and met a man that said he would hire him if he could get a current form of id. He thanked me profusely for helping him get closer to the $8 dollars he needed to make that happen. He was beaming at the thought of a job.
Mind you....the kids are speechless and listening to every word. At that point, I pulled out the remainder of the money he needed to get him to the $8. He was so happy! We wished him well as we headed to our car.
When we were a few steps away, Sophia looked up at me and said with excitement in her voice "I don't think many people know about that". We kept walking as I pondered what she meant. When we finally got in the car, I asked her to tell me more.
She said " Mom, I think if more people knew how good it felt to give, they would give all the time. We just helped that man get a job! " She was absolutely beaming with joy just thinking about it.
I have thought about that experience a lot since then. What if Sophia was right. What everyone knew about "that" joyful rush in giving. What if every time you saw a needy person on the street, there was a mad rush to be the one that was lucky enough to get to help him.
Since then, we have changed the way we distribute the "giving money" that the kids get in addition to their allowance each week. Instead of saving up their "giving money" to allocate to their favorite charity once a year, my insightful husband thought it would be a powerful and fun practice for them to have the opportunity to give all the time...and boy do they love it!
They love to buy a paper from a Contributor vendor on the street corner (Tristan keeps up with when the new issue is out). And Sophia had been known to buy dog treats that we drop off at the shelter (and I cross my fingers that we can get out of there without a new dog in tow).
I am so grateful that a good seed ripened when we met a Buddha on the street one day.
|Posted by DGS on September 14, 2011 at 4:25 PM||comments (2)|
Here's the setup...
The kids are in bed and I'm washing the dishes nice and mindfully like my wife taught me to do. It's the least I can do because she does it most of the time and It's her yoga night. I'm expecting her home any minute and I want to impress her. (can you say brownie points?)
Then I get a call. It's my wife, she's fine, but just a little bit frustrated because she can't get the key to turn in the ignition of her car.
Now I'm pretty sure I know exactly what the issue is. Probably you do too. On most cars the steering wheel locks when the ignition is off, presumably this makes it harder for someone to abscond with your vehicle. But sometimes the locking mechanism works in reverse, and makes it pretty darned hard for you to abscond with your own vehicle.
"Turn the wheel" I say calmly
"I thought I remembered you saying something about that when this happened before. I've tried that already." She says.
"Try it again" I offer, and I can hear her kind of straining, then keys jangling, but no 'Vroom".
"It's not working", she says. Now I know that both of us are going through all the calculations. Our young kids are in bed and my wife is stranded across town. I'm sure our 10 year old could baby sit young son, but she's asleep and was very tired today. And though I know kids survived on the prarie all by themselves, my all too careful modern sensabilities tell me I can't just leave them to go across town to get my wife. And we don't want to trouble anyone else to have to go come over and watch the kids, or to schlep over and pick up my wife. She needs her car in the morning anyway. And so on...
Bottom line. I think I know the answer to the key lock situation, but I'm not there. I can't DO it for her. She's got to do it herself.
"Try turning it again, really hard this time" I say
"Ok" she says tensely. And I hear my virtual self being set down on the seat beside her so she can use both of her strong yoga arms to really CRANK the steering wheel around. Keys jingle again. No "Vroom".
"It didn't work. What do I do?" she says, realizing that we're in kind of a suburban pickle.
All the possibilities are going through my mind now. I'm trying to think of all the alternative logistics, but mostly I'm questioning myself. My own knowledge.
I used to have this great old clunker of a truck. My first vehicle. A wise choice on my father's part as not a big financial risk and a great teaching in humility for a teenager. It used to lock up like this all the time. It was also a great teacher of patience. Actually I've been in EXACTLY this situation more than once, even in non-clunkers, and the solution was ALWAYS to turn the wheel hard and the key would turn freely. I couldn't think of anything else that would be the problem and all the other workaround solutions were simply untennable.
I was confident that I knew the solution. So why wouldn't it work for my wife?
Then something came to me. in my mind's eye I saw myself resolving this same problem over and over. But I realized that even though I was imagining my wife doing the same thing, I could not actually SEE what she was doing. I was making assumptions that she was doing what I saw in my head. That is a self-centered way of teaching something. It finally occurred to me to break the action down into its essential parts, and to calmly check to see if she was doing them.
"Are you turning the key at the SAME TIME as you are turning the wheel?"
"....Same time? No."
"Try that. And turn the wheel REALLY hard, in both directions if you have to."
"Wrench, Wrench, Jingle, VROOOOOOOMMM!!"
REJOICE REJOICE! (Play this audio clip now)
All was right with the world and my wife was on her way home. I went back to finishing the dishes when suddenly I was struck that I had just received a VERY deep teaching.
I was thinking, what if my daughter is ever in that situation, perhaps in a seedy part of town? Should I go and wake up my ten year old daughter and say...
"Look if you are ever in a seedy part of town surrounded by nefarious baddies and you can't get your key to turn in the ignition, all you have to do is turn the wheel REALLY hard. But you've got to turn the key at the SAME TIME see, oh, and you may have to turn the wheel BOTH ways. Got it. GOT IT?!?"
I can just imagine the look on her face. It wouldn't work would it? It proably wouldn't help her now. Will I ever think to tell her about how to do that later? Would it matter? Because my wife had already received that instruction before. But it didn't help. So what were the key components of what made a difference tonight?
In Buddhism we talk a lot about something called "Refuge". But refuge is not specifically Buddhist. My teachers point out that we all go for refuge ALL the time, in our jobs, our money, our style, our escapism, our fun times, our social groups, our identities, etc. And those are fine so far as they go. But the trouble is they don't go quite far enough. Those things can't give us the ultimate refuge we like to talk about in Buddhism.
My favorite image of Refuge is when you see a young kid by mom's side and you smile at them. What do they do? They clutch mom's leg and zip behind it, only perhaps peaking out at you after they know they are safe.
This demonstrates two important components of any kind of refuge. Fear and Faith. Fear of what might happen if the situation you are in continues, and Faith that something outside of yourself can help you.
Until we generate this kind of special feeling of the NEED for refuge, all the great advice and hot tips in the world just slip by us like the people we don't want to catch eyes with on a busy street or an office hallway. We don't engage with them. We can do each other no good.
The reason my wife could hear helpful advice was because she went for refuge in what I had to say. Now it was up to me, and at first I wasn't doing so well.
It wasn't that I didn't know the answer. I did. All of a sudden I had a real visceral understanding of what a "Lineage" means. How did I know about the steering wheel trick? My father showed me, that's how. And how did he know? His father showed him, and so on back to the first person who ever found themselves stuck in a vehicle which could take him to freedom, but unable to unlock it and make it move. That person struggled and tested things and finally figured out the secret to unlocking the key. And that had been passed down to me.
Thanks to that steering wheel Buddha I held the knowledge that could free my wife.
And what's more, she was ready to hear it.
But could I convey it to her? Standing there now for about five minutes holding the same drip-drying dish, I thought a lot about my teacher.. When I first started listening to his teachings I was trying to keep up with all the many things he was saying. First this then that. Sometimes one thing would seem to contradict the other, which is a common observation about teachers by the way.
Now I realize that he is basically saying the same thing over and over and over again. It's just that in his wisdom and compassion he is using skillful means to describe that same thing in as many different ways as possible.
Tibetan Buddhism. is famous for this. We have lists for everything. Even lists of our lists. Sometimes people get either hung up or turned off by all our listmaking. It makes the sparseness of Zen look quite appealing sometimes. But those lists all have a purpose. They are all describing the same thing. "The truth is ONE, but it goes by many names."
What I realized was that the special circumstances where liberation can occur generally require this two party system of a person who is prepared to hear wisdom, and a person who is prepared and capable of relaying it in just the right way.
My teacher sometimes says that if the Idea of Buddha's omniscience would mean that you know all the names of all the creatures in all the oceans of all the planets, that would not be very interesting to him. He says to him perfect omniscience would be to know EXACTLY what to say to a person and just the right time to say it, so that they could free themselves.
Standing there with a nearly dry dish in my hand, my sweet children sleeping peacefully, and my darling wife safely on her way home, I felt myself the luckiest person in the world.
I have been entrusted with a lineage. I should learn it well, and then be prepared.
You never know when you might be able to unlock a freedom vehicle, and make it go....
|Posted by DGS on August 10, 2011 at 2:55 PM||comments (0)|
As anyone trying to practice Buddhism or any spiritual path knows, challenges to your practice are guaranteed to come up. Sometimes we wonder how we are supposed to live a good spiritual life in the midst of all that is going on with us?
In answer to that question I offer the following article.
In the August issue of Rolling Stone, Melissa Mathison wrote an outstanding interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. For me it was much more than a great insight into the life of a popular political and cultural figure. It was an object lesson in how someone facing simply incredible hardships and challenges, maintains poise, class, and an irrepressable sense of humor. But most of all, how a high practitioner such as he turns every problem into an opportunity or a teaching.
He always calls himself "a simple monk". What an amazing example that is.
Check it out below, or read it on their web page
A Conversation with the Dalai Lama
His Holiness on his reincarnation and his decision to step down as head of the Tibetan government
by: Melissa Mathison
|Protector of the People: The Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C., on July 8th, 2011.|
The sun is shining on Tsuglakhang temple, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, and hundreds of Tibetans have gathered in the courtyard for a feast. As Buddhist monks ladle out white rice and stewed vegetables, horns blow and cymbals crash. Such celebrations are common here — the monks often feed local villagers as an act of service to earn karmic merit — but the festive air seems to capture the mood of the man who lives next to the temple. The Dalai Lama, despite many heartfelt petitions by his constituents, has finally been granted his wish for official retirement from government duties.
The Tibetan Parliament had twice urged His Holiness to reconsider, but he had declined even to read a message from them or meet with legislators. His mind was made up. On May 29th, the papers were signed and the Tibetan charter amended. The act marks a remarkable and voluntary separation of church and state: For the first time in more than 350 years, the Dalai Lama is no longer the secular as well as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
Although the Tibetan government-in-exile has been largely democratic for decades, the Dalai Lama still had the final say in every major political decision within the diaspora. He appointed foreign envoys, determined the scope and timing of negotiations with China, had the power to sign or veto bills and could even dismiss Parliament. Now, with his signature, his formal title has changed from "Head of Nation" to "Protector and Symbol of Tibet and Tibetan People." Many of his political responsibilities will rest on the shoulders of Lobsang Sangay, a 43-year-old Harvard legal scholar who was elected in April to the post of prime minister.
China, dismissing the transfer of power as a "trick," has refused to meet with Sangay. The Communist government believes that the struggle for Tibetan autonomy will die with the Dalai Lama; all they have to do is wait him out. But by turning the reins of government over to the governed, His Holiness is banking on democracy's ability to serve as an effective bulwark against Chinese oppression. At 76, he knows he won't be around to steer the ship of state forever. Tibetans, he believes, must learn to steer it for themselves.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, was born in 1935, the son of a farmer in a small Tibetan village. In accordance with ancient tradition, the dreams and visions of high lamas and oracles eventually led a search party to the boy. At age two, he successfully identified people and possessions from his past life and was officially recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. At four, he entered the capital of Lhasa and was named the spiritual leader of his people. At 15, he became head of state. In 1959, as tensions with the Chinese army reached a flash point, he fled to India, where he has led the Tibetan diaspora ever since.
Looking back over his 60 years of leadership, he has much to be proud of. He has established a successful and stable government in exile and stood firm against a brutal regime. As the first Dalai Lama to travel to the West, he has also extolled the virtues of nonviolence to millions, a lifelong effort that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize. As the spiritual leader of Tibet, he remains the personification of his nation's struggle.
I have known His Holiness since 1990, when I wrote Kundun, a movie about his childhood directed by Martin Scorsese. Since then, we have developed a lasting friendship. I continue to work as an activist for Tibetan autonomy and serve on the board of the International Campaign for Tibet. Every day I pray for Tenzin Gyatso's long life.
When we meet on June 2nd in his reception area behind the busy main temple in the dusty Indian hill town of McLeod Ganj, he asks if he still looks as healthy as the last time we met. Yes, I tell him — even younger, if possible. But, I add, his eyes look older. "That's right," he says. He wishes to inform me, however, that he hasn't needed to increase his eyeglass prescription — in part because he doesn't use a computer. "I never even tried," he says, breaking into his distinct, ebullient laugh. "I don't know how!"
Let's start by talking about the day, in 1950, when you became head of government in Tibet. You were only 15 and the Chinese had invaded your country.
It was a very, very difficult situation. When people asked me to take the responsibility, my reaction is, I am one who wants to follow the Dalai Lama traditions, which was to be enthroned at age 18. Age 15 is too early. Then they again asked me. Chamdo [a mountainous region in eastern Tibet] had already been taken over by the Chinese. There was a good deal of anxiety. So I took responsibility. When the Communist Liberation Army reached Lhasa, my first act was to escape from Lhasa to the Indian border. So I think, bad omen or good omen? Almost my first act after I took responsibility is to escape from Lhasa! [Laughs]
So here we are 61 years later, and you've just retired as head of government. You have, in a real way, been preparing for this retirement — a separation of church and state — since you were a child. How was the seed first planted?
As a teenager, around 13 or 14, living in Lhasa, I had very intimate sort of contact with ordinary people. Mainly, the sweepers at the Potala Palace as well as at Norbulingka [the Dalai Lama's summer residence in Lhasa]. I always played with them and sometimes dined with them. I got the information from the servants as to what was really going on in Lhasa. I often heard of the injustices the people experienced. So I began to understand that our system — the power in the hands of a few people — that's wrong.
So soon after you took power, you decided you wanted to implement reform to the old system?
In 1952, I think, I set up a reform committee. I wanted to start some kind of change. But I faced a major reform obstacle — the Chinese officials wanted reform according to their own pattern, their own way, which they had already implemented in China proper. The Chinese felt that if Tibetan reform was initiated by Tibetans themselves, it might be a hindrance to their own way of reform. So it became difficult.
You traveled to China in 1954 and saw firsthand what Communist reform looked like. Was it what you had envisioned for Tibet?
I went to China as one of the members of the Tibetan delegation at the Congress of the People's Republic of China. The parliament in Peking was very disciplined! I noticed that all the members barely dared make a suggestion. They would make a point, but only little corrections in wording [laughs]. Nobody really discussed meaning.
Then, in 1956, I had the opportunity to come to India. And here, too, I had the opportunity to visit Indian Parliament. I found big contrast. In Indian Parliament, lots of noise. No discipline. This was a clear sign of complete freedom of expression. Indian parliamentarians, they love to criticize their government. So I realized, this is the meaning of democracy — freedom of speech. I was so impressed with the democratic system.
You liked the messiness and noise of democracy?
In 1959, when we decided to raise the Tibetan issue at the U.N., I asked Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru if he would sponsor our cause. He declined. He felt there was no use to raise Tibetan issue. He told me that America will not carry out war with China over Tibet. Later, I met with Nehru again, and I was a little bit anxious [laughs]. But when I met him, he was completely normal! I learned, yes — this is a leader practicing democracy. Disagreement is something normal.
In 1960, after I reached India, many Tibetans came to Bodh Gaya for my teaching. It was there we decided on a representative government — the first step for democratization. Since then, as refugees, we go step by step toward full democratization. In the past 10 years, I have continued acting like a senior adviser. I called mine a semiretired position. Since 2009, on many occasions, I expressed, "Now I'm looking forward to complete retirement." This year, on March 10th, I officially stated that now the time has come for me to retire; I'm going to hand over all my political authority to the Tibetan administration.
Most people around the world are anxious to get rid of their leaders. But the Tibetans have been very reluctant to let you retire. Why?
Emotionally, spiritually, still they look up to me. After I announced my retirement, they requested that I should carry responsibilities as I have, continuously. I declined. Then they asked if I would consider at least carrying a title, like a ceremonial sort of head.
A ceremonial role? I don't like it. To be like the British sort of queen. Of course, I personally very much admire her. Wonderful. But the system? [Laughs] If you carry some sort of ceremonial head, then you should do something! Otherwise, I would just be a figurehead. A statement is written by someone, then I just read? I know the word — a puppet.
Only since the fifth Dalai Lama, 350 years ago, has the institution taken on real political responsibility. The early incarnations were only spiritual leaders. I always believe the rule by king or official leader is outdated. Now we must catch up with the modern world.
So now I have handed over my political authority to an elected government. I feel happy. They carry full responsibility. I want to be just a pure spiritual leader. But in case my services are needed, I am still available.
Do you also have personal reasons for retirement?
I always tell people that religious institutions and political institutions should be separate. So while I'm telling people this, I myself continue with them combined. Hypocrisy! [Laughs] So what I am telling others I must implement for myself.
Also, a more selfish reason. Before the Dalai Lama became a political figure, there was almost no controversy. Since the fifth Dalai Lama, some controversy — because of the political aspect, not spiritual. Now, after my retirement, the institution of the Dalai Lama is more pure, more stable. I felt we must separate political responsibility. The Dalai Lama should not carry that burden. So that is my selfish reason — to protect the old Dalai Lama tradition. It is safer without political involvement.
I have full conviction that Tibetans can carry all their work. Therefore I voluntarily, proudly decide this four-century-old tradition should end.
That does not mean the Dalai Lama ends. The institution remains, as a spiritual role. And not only for my generation. If the Tibetan people want the institution to remain, it will remain continuously.
Does your retirement mean your long-term goals have changed?
The rest of my life, I am fully committed to these things: Promotion of religious harmony. Promotion of human values. Human happiness. Like that.
So you will keep up with your daily routines? I know that every morning you say a prayer for all sentient beings. When you pray for us, what is it that you want for us?
I often tell people that this century should be century of dialogue. Peace will not come from thought or from Buddha. Peace must be built by humans, through action. So that means, whenever we face problem — dialogue. That's the only way. For that, we need inner disarmament. So our work should make a little contribution to materialize a peaceful, compassionate world later this century. That's my wish. It will not come immediately. But we have to make the effort. This moment, it looks only like an idea. But every corner must make the effort. Then there is possibility. Then, if we fail in spite of that effort, no regret.
It might surprise people to know that you really are what you say: a simple monk.
A few days ago, in this very room, the Tibetan political leadership came together to see me. They brought all the amendments to the charter [regarding his retirement]. They explained what was written, and then they asked me please to read it. I responded, "Oh, even if I read it all, I will not understand fully. So, it doesn't matter." I just asked them, "Where I should sign?" [Laughs]
That's very dangerous!
That's a sign of a simple Buddhist monk!
Do you worry that some people think your decision to retire is wrong?
Well, some Tibetans, particularly young Tibetans, are very critical.
Is that just fear? Or is it based on a legitimate concern for Tibet?
Some people think that these decisions are taken somewhat in a hurry. They don't know, you see, that I take these ideas step by step over the last few decades.
The Dalai Lamas have long relied on the state oracles for advice. Did you ask the oracles to go into their prophetic trance and advise on your retirement?
I did. They fully support my decision. I know these oracles. I ask them as a sort of adviser. They have observed the last four or five centuries of the Dalai Lama's experiences, so logically, as human beings, I felt they might feel a little bit uncomfortable with the decision. But they said it's very timely. The right decision.
So you feel good about your decision?
Oh, yes. The 19th of March, after I offered a more detailed explanation to the public about my retirement — that night, my sleep was extraordinarily sound. So it seems some relief.
Now we are completely changed from the theocracy of the past. Also, our decision is a real answer to the Chinese Communist accusation that the whole aim of our struggle is the restoration of the old system [in feudal Tibet]. Now they can't make that accusation. I am often saying that the Chinese Communist Party should retire. Now I can tell them, "Do like me. Retire with grace."
Why do the Chinese demonize you by calling you things like a "devil" or a "wolf in monk's robes"? Is there a reason they speak about you in such archaic language?
Generally speaking, such sort of expressions are childish. Those officials who use those words, I think they want to show the Chinese government that the Dalai Lama is so bad. And I think also that they are hoping to reach the Tibetans. They want 100 percent negative. So they use these words. They actually disgrace themselves. I mean, childish! Very foolish! Nobody believes them.
Usually, with human beings, one part of the brain develops common sense. But with those Chinese leaders, particularly the hard-liners, that part of their brain is missing. When I met with President Obama last year, I told him, "You should make a little surgery. Put that part of brain into the Chinese." [Laughs]
What do you think Tibet would be like today if you had been its leader for all these years? Some change, some reforms would have happened. But it would not be easy. There would be opposition from within Tibet. Some officials are more modern in their thinking. But there are also some who have an old way of thinking. And then with the Chinese "liberators," of course, there is no freedom at all [laughs].
I really feel that the last 52 years is very sad. Refugees. And the worst thing is the destruction inside Tibet. Despite some construction, some economic progress, the whole picture is very, very sad.
But I have no regret. The last 52 years, because of India's freedom, I really feel that I found the best opportunity to make my life meaningful, to make a contribution. If I had remained in Lhasa, even without the Chinese occupation, I would probably have carried the ceremonial role in some orthodox way.
When you were still a young man, the Nechung Oracle prophesied about you that "the wish-fulfilling jewel will shine in the West." Was the oracle right?
I think it seems that there is some truth. We escaped in 1959 and reached India. To Tibetans, that itself was the West. Then from India, mainly Europe and also America is our West. I have done one thing that I think is a contribution: I helped Buddhist science and modern science combine. No other Buddhist has done that. Other lamas, I don't think they ever pay attention to modern science. Since my childhood, I have a keen interest. As far as inner sciences [science of the mind] are concerned, modern science very young. In the meantime, science in external matters is highly developed. So we Buddhists should learn from that as well.
You have said that Tibet's survival will depend on China changing from within. Are you optimistic that will happen?
When President Hu Jintao expresses that his main interest is the promotion of harmony, I fully support that. I express on many occasions that real harmony should come from the heart. For that, trust, respect and friendship are all essential. To create a more harmonious society, using force is wrong. After almost 10 years of Hu Jintao's presidency, his aim is very good. But the method — relying more and more on force — is counterproductive.
The first important thing is transparency. I am saying that 1.3 billion Chinese people have the right to know the reality. Then 1.3 billion Chinese people also have the ability to judge what is right or what is wrong.
On several occasions, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has expressed that China needs political change. On some occasions, he even mentioned democracy. And around Chinese intellectuals and artists, more and more say they want political change, more freedom. So therefore, it is bound to change. How long it will take, nobody knows. Five years, 10 years, 15 years. It's been now 52 years. In the next 50 years, I think it is almost certain things will change. Whether I live the next 50 years, or whether I don't.
If you had President Hu Jintao's ear and could suggest how to deal with Tibet, what would you ask him to do?
I don't know. I think it's not much use to discuss such things [laughs].
Has there been any moment since 1959 when you thought the Chinese would leave Tibet? Oh, yes. The 10th of March, 1959 — the very day of the Tibetan uprising. I remember very clearly, there were a lot of Lhasa people who came to Norbulingka and blocked all the doors. They were shouting, "You should not go to the Chinese military camp!"
So Tibetans were afraid that an invitation from the Chinese at this tense time was a trick to imprison or assassinate you?
Yes. That day, the sun was very bright. I expressed to Mr. Phala, the Tibetan Lord Chamberlain, "Maybe this day, maybe this is a turning point in history."
"Turning" does not mean "hopeless." In spite of some difficulties, you see a long tunnel — at the end there is light. That feeling has sustained our determination.
I understand you're going to meet with a group of Tibetan spiritual leaders in November to discuss your succession. What issues will be on the table?
On the last few occasions when we get religious leaders together, I raised this issue. Chinese Communists are very much concerned about my reincarnation! [Laughs] So we need to discuss.
The concrete decisions are not yet finalized. One thing is quite sure. After all, the Dalai Lama reincarnation means my reincarnation, my rebirth. So logically, this is a matter of my decision. No one else — even spiritual leaders. My next life is entirely up to me.
But the Chinese government says they get to decide on all reincarnations, including yours. This is quite controversial. The Communists are not only nonbelievers, but they also consider Tibetan Buddhism poisonous. So they deliberately try to minimize Tibetan Buddhism. Should people who try to minimize or eliminate Tibetan Buddhism interfere about rebirth? It's quite strange, really. Quite funny. They are only thinking about political power in Lhasa. That's silly. I think it is better for them to remain completely neutral. Or it would be more logical for the Chinese to say, "There should not be any reincarnation."
Does it bother you that people speak so much about your death?
No, not at all. In Newark last month, a French journalist raised the issue. I took off my glasses and ask him, "According to your judgment of my face, the reincarnation question is rather a hurry or not?" And he said, "No hurry!" [Laughs]
Do you find yourself leaning toward a more traditional method of selecting the next Dalai Lama — your reincarnation — similar to the way you were discovered?
At this moment, I feel I can wait another 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. Then we'll see the situation. If the Tibetan people still want to keep this institution, and want to follow the traditional way, then they will use past experience: a search for a young boy who has some special significance.
As far as where the boy is born, that I have made clear. If I die as a refugee, one still carrying the Tibetan struggle, then the reincarnation logically must be found outside of Tibet. The very purpose of reincarnation is to carry on the work started in the previous life. So logically, if the previous person dies outside of Tibet as a refugee, the reincarnation must be found that way. Otherwise, it creates more trouble.
Can you foresee the challenges your successor, the 15th Dalai Lama, might face?
By my resignation, I already made the role separate from the political world. So it will be much safer for the next Dalai Lama. Now, if the 15th Dalai Lama is not fit to be head of government, no problem. Whatever he can do as a spiritual leader, he can do. Not very smart? OK! [Laughs]
Some traditions of Tibetan Buddhism suggest that a boy born before the death of a high lama could actually be his reincarnation. Do you believe that the 15th Dalai Lama could already be alive today?
It is possible. At least two modern lamas before their death said, "This boy who already is alive is my reincarnation." If it fits, after some investigation, then it is possible.
If in fact this boy is alive today, would you take part in his training?
If I'm too old, then I don't know! [Laughs]
You've been keeping a close watch on the uprisings in the Middle East. Do you think that the Arab Spring movement could have implications for Tibet?
That's difficult to say. Authoritarian systems are the same around the world. But in China, economic development really brings some benefit to large number of Chinese people. That is the difference.
Immediately after the crisis in Tunisia and Egypt, there was some sort of impact in the minds of young Chinese intellectuals. So the Chinese government has become very, very nervous. They see danger from within. But the Chinese authoritarian system is quite tight. Their domestic-security budget is more than their budget for national defense.
Many people believe that the coming generation of leadership in China — because of their young age, because of the Internet, because of large number of Chinese students studying abroad — that their knowledge about the outside world is much better. I think definitely things will change. Definitely. That is our view. And also many Chinese have that view.
Do you remember where you were the moment you heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed? What was your reaction?
Long Beach, California. I felt, of course, sad. Then, not that simple. Very complex.
Since my childhood, I feel very bad about the death sentence. In 1945 or 1946, when I was 10 years old, they hanged German leaders at the Nuremberg war-crime trials. I saw pictures in Life magazine. I felt very sad. Then some Japanese leaders also. These people were already defeated. Killing them was not as a sort of a precaution, but simply revenge.
Then when Saddam Hussein hanged, I saw the picture. Very sad. No longer a threat. Old, defeated person. Give mercy rather than kill, I really think.
So the same thinking with bin Laden, also a defeated person. Since the tragedy of September 11th, I express that if handling this problem goes wrong, then today one bin Laden, after some time, 10 bin Ladens, then 100 bin Ladens could be possible. On September 12th, I wrote a letter to President Bush, since I had developed close friendship with him. I expressed my condolences, sadness. Meantime, I also express that handling this problem, I hope nonviolent.
Of course, I know thousands of Americans were killed. Unexpected, in peaceful times. Really, very bad. I know. I can feel what they are feeling. So ordinary person, in the name of justice and also some kind of feeling of revenge, they feel very happy to some extent [about bin Laden]. Another way to look at it, a defeated person has been killed.
The best way to solve these problems is in the spirit of reconciliation. Talk. Listen. And discuss. That's the only way.
Does evil exist in the world?
The seed of evil, from my viewpoint, is hate. On that level, we can say that everyone has that seed. As far as sort of potential of murder is concerned, every person has that potential. Hatred. Anger. Suspicion. These are the potentials of negative acts.
There is also the potential for mercy. Forgiveness. Tolerance. These also, everyone has this potential.
Evil means that the negative potential has become manifest. The positive remains dormant. Those people who actually love hatred, who deliberately always practice anger, hatred — that's evil.
Have you ever felt betrayed personally?
In 1954 and 1955, for at least six months, I lived in Peking. During that period, I met on a number of occasions with Chairman Mao. At first, I was very much nervous. Then — after the second time, third time, fourth time, I can't remember how many times — I develop real admiration for him. I really found him as a great revolutionary. No question. Very straightforward. And his personal behavior — very gentle, like an old farmer's father. Like that. Very simple.
He promised many things. On one occasion, Chairman Mao pointed to two generals who were stationed in Lhasa. Mao said, "I send these generals in order to help you. So if these generals not listen to your wish, then let me know. I will withdraw them."
Then, at my last meeting, at the last moment, he mentioned, "Religion is poison."
At that time, he advised me how to listen, how to collect different views, different suggestions, and then how to lead. Really wonderful sort of advice. He asked me to send telegrams on a personal level, direct to him.
So I return to Tibet full of conviction. On the road, I meet a Chinese general coming from Lhasa. I told him, "Last year, when I traveled this road, I was full of anxiety, suspicion. Now I'm returning, full of confidence and hope." That was the summer of 1955.
Then, in 1956, there were problems in the eastern part of Tibet under Chinese jurisdiction. So I come to India. Month by month, things become more serious. More trouble. So after I return from India, I wrote at least two letters to Chairman Mao about the situation. No reply. No response. Then I felt, "Oh, his promise is just words."
There are murals in the Potala that depict important moments and people in the lives of past Dalai Lamas. Your life has been so different from the previous Dalai Lamas. Who and what do you imagine might be depicted in a mural of your life?
Ahh, I don't know. Of course, my mother at a young age. Then, my tutor. I never thought about this. That's up to other people.
The important thing is that my daily life should be something useful to others. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I shape my mind. The rest of the day, my body, speech, mind are dedicated to others. That is compulsory as a practitioner, and also that way I gain some kind of inner strength. If I am concerned about my own sort of legacy, a genuine Buddhist practitioner should not think that. If you're concerned much about your legacy, then your work will not become sincere. You are mainly thinking of your own good name. Selfish. Not good. Spoiled.
Do you believe the day will come when you will be allowed to return to Tibet?
The Tibet issue is not an issue about the Dalai Lama. It is about six million Tibetans and their culture. So unless the Chinese government addresses the real issues, talks about my return to Tibet are irrelevant. This is an issue of six million Tibetan people. I am one of them. So naturally, like every Tibetan, I also have the responsibility to serve.
When your time comes, will you be buried at the Potala?
Most probably, if change comes and it is time to return to Tibet, my body will be preserved there. But it doesn't matter. If the airplane I'm on crashes, then finished! Follow bin Laden! [Laughs]
You have said that Chenrezig — the Buddha of Compassion, of whom all Dalai Lamas are reincarnations — had a master plan for the first and fifth Dalai Lamas. Do you think that the past 50 years of Tibetan history is also part of his master plan?
That I don't know. In the early Sixties, before the Cultural Revolution, I met Chenrezig in one of my dreams at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. There is a very famous statue of Chenrezig there. In the dream, I enter that room and the statue of Chenrezig is winking and asking me to come closer. And I am very moved. I go and embrace him. Then he starts one sentence, one verse. The meaning is: Keep persevering. The continuation of effort in spite of any obstacle. You should carry all your work in spite of difficulties and obstacles.
At that time, I feel happy. But now, when I think of that, I think that was advice from Chenrezig: "Your life will not be easy. Some difficulties. Quite long period. But no reason to feel discouraged."
This is from the August 4, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.