Buddhist methods in relieving stress
A course given in Finland at Keuruu Ecovillage 9. - 10.1.2004
This course is aimed at people with busy working lives. Meditation is a method which gets to the root of stress rather than simply managing the symptoms. Techniques for changing attitudes will also be provided. Gelong Thubten has presented such courses for several UK companies
In this course we will look at how we respond to stress, and how meditation can help us to be more mindful. Through this we can make better choices in our daily life. The course will focus on techniques for building compassion, awareness and a positive attitude.
Hello everybody and welcome to this weekend course. This course is about how to relax and overcome stress. As a Buddhist monk I'm presenting the teachings of Buddhism but in a very open way, so that you don't have to become Buddhist. You can practise these in your own way, with your own religion or whatever you believe. I have not come here to convert you into Buddhism; I don't want you to become Buddhists! All I want is that you will learn some techniques which will be useful in your life and then you can choose which religion you want. I don't want to influence you. So you can practise these techniques if you are already very committed to another religion or if you have no religion at all, it doesn't matter, these techniques are for everybody.
I'd like to start anyway in a traditional way, which is: I will say some prayers in order to begin the session with the right motivation.
San-gye chö dang cho chi chok nam la
jang-chub bar-du da ni gyab-su-chi
da gi jin sok gyi pe sö-nam chi
dro la pen gyir san gye dru par sho.
In the Buddha, Dharma and noblest Sangha
I take refuge until Enlightenment is reached.
Through the virtue generated by generosity and other virtues (1
may I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of beings.
Sem-chen tam-che de-wa dang
de-we gyu dang den-par gyur-chig
dugnal dang dugnal chi gyu dang dral-var gjur-tsig.
Dugnal me-pei de-va dam-pa dan min dral-var gyur-chig
nje ring cha dan dang dral-wei tan-njom chen-po la ne par gyur-chig.
May all beings be happy and create the causes of happiness.
May they all be free from suffering and creating the causes of suffering.
May they find that noble happiness which can never be tainted by suffering.
May they attain universal, impartial compassion, free of worldly bias towards friends and enemies.
A Prayer to the Root-Guru
Pal-den tsa-we la-ma rin-po-che
da-gi chi-wor pe-de den-shu la
ka-drin chen-pö go-ne tse-zung te
ku sung tu chi ngö-drup tsal-du sol
Glorious root guru
sitting on top of my head on a lotus and moon
accept me in your great kindness
and grant me the siddhis of body, speech and mind.
So, what I'm going to do this weekend is to explain different techniques for relaxing and overcoming stress. Meditation is the main one. I myself I'm not a spiritual teacher; I'm not a lama, I'm not very experienced, but the experience that I do have is that I work a lot with different organisations for overcoming stress.
Personally I'm very new to meditation, I'm still a beginner, and so I'm very much on the path with the rest of you. I'm not at all more advanced than you. But the experience I do have is that in Britain I go to a lot of different organisations and give courses in stress, so I met a lot of people from different walks of life and I'm doing courses with them. Some of my clients are business people, some of my clients are drug addicts, some are prisoners, so there is a very big range. Stress is experienced by everybody, whether you are working in the stock exchange or whether you are a mother with children or whether you are working in a forest, whatever you are doing, stress will come up, it's the same with everybody.
The organisation I work for is called ROKPA. It's a Tibetan Buddhist organisation which is based on helping others in three main ways. Of the three main activities the first is humanitarian aid, charity. The second is medicine and therapy and the third is spirituality. These are the main activities. We have branches around the world which offer these three different things.
These three activities are all based on one basic principle which is called generosity. According to the Buddha generosity is one of the main qualities that a human being can develop. Generosity has to be developed without any conditions, without any strings attached, and for all beings. When the Buddha taught about generosity he said there are three types of generosity. The first is called material generosity. Material generosity is expressed in our organisation through the chartable work, where we offer food, clothing, and sustenance to the poor and needy across the world. In various cities in Europe for example and in South Africa, we have soup-kitchens for the homeless and also in Africa we have projects for helping those who have aids. In the east, particularly in Tibet we have projects for education, healthcare and environment.
All of this work is non-political and also non-religious; there are no religious or political boundaries.
The second type of generosity which the Buddha explained is the generosity of support or friendship. It means to give people protection, friendship and help, when they need it. This kind of activity is expressed as our therapy program. In many countries across the world we have TARA-ROKPA therapy, which is a system of psychotherapy. It blends together eastern and western philosophy. Also in this category we have medicine, particularly Tibetan herbal medicine. The therapy and the medicine are again not connected to the religion. The therapy is particularly helpful to people who want to practise meditation without the Buddhist or religious aspect. During this weekend I will be offering you techniques from this therapy program as well as from the meditation aspect.
So the third type of generosity, the Buddha said, is the gift of dharma. Dharma is the teaching of Buddha, the teaching of meditation and spiritual journey. This third activity is expressed as our monasteries and meditation centres across the world. We have one main monastery, Samye Ling in Scotland, where I live. We have plans for other monasteries and we already have many meditation centres. In this activity we are focused very strongly on the teachings of the Tibetan Buddhism. So the preservation of this ancient culture and ancient tradition and making this Buddhist philosophy available to everybody but without trying to convert them or without trying to be missionaries or advertise.
So some people come to our meditation centres and they are very interested in Tibetan Buddhism and in some cases they become monks like myself or they go into retreat. But also people come to our centres and practise Tibetan Buddhism as lay people with jobs and families. And there is no question of one thing being better than the other, it's rather that each individual has to find their own way. Then we also have many people who come to our centres and meditation courses, who are Christians or Jewish or involved in other religions or who are not interested in religion at all. All of those people are welcome and they can take meditation teachings and use them in their own way, it's very open.
I myself have been a monk since 1993 and over the last 4 - 5 years I've been spending most of my time on the road, travelling. My travels take me to many different countries and 'm always giving courses on Buddhism or giving courses on stress for non-buddhists. I prepare to enter a long retreat, which is when I will have the time to meditate properly myself. At the moment I don't do very much of meditation. That's why I explained to you in the beginning that I'm still a beginner. I think I have said enough as an introduction to explain the work of ROKPA and my job within that. Before I go on, do you have any questions, is there anything you want me to say more about?
Question: Why did you become a monk?
GT: I don't know. I'm just doing what I do because it feels right.
Question: Did he have stress about something, difficult life situation?
GT: Yes, before I became a monk I was an actor and I was much stressed. I was living in New York and living a very unhealthy lifestyle. Through stress, emotional upheaval and through drug abuse I made myself very ill. I had heart problem and if one does not live in a healthy way it can be dangerous. So, it that state of illness I become a monk, but only for a short term, I was meant to be a monk for one year. So I become a monk in that way but the reason I stayed a monk was very different. My heath improved and then there was no problem. The motivation changed after a while. The reason I took full ordination for my whole life was because to me it made sense and it felt like doing anything else would be letting myself down.
Question: Have you opened the third eye?
GT: No, I hope not! I don't know anything about the third eye.
Question: Are you enlightened?
GT: Definitely not, I'm a new monk and very new to meditation, I haven't achieved anything. If you want to meet people who have achieved that kind of thing you have to meet lamas or rinpoches.
Q: How do you meet them?
GT: There was one very high lama here only a few months ago, called Mingyur Rinpoche. ROKPA FINLAND has plans to regularly invite lamas and rinpoches, so if you stay in touch with ROKPA FINLAND, you will meet them. But this course is about stress, not about enlightenment.
Q: How big is ROKPA organisation and where does it get its funding from?
GT: ROKPA is International. There are branches in many countries. Nearly all the workers anre voluntary and the funding comes through charitable donations. For our charity work we have to raise a lot of money each year to open the schools and hospitals in Tibet. Around 19countries we have fundraising offices which put a lot of effort in raising large amounts pf money for the charity to send to Far East, to Tibet and places like that. But most people are not paid and myself for example I'm not paid any salary.
Q: What's the difference between Tibetan Buddhism and other Buddhist traditions?
GT: There are many different kinds of Buddhism and they are all following the teachings of the Buddha. So there is no conflict between them. But in different forms of Buddhism sometimes different things are emphasized more strongly. So the thing that is emphasized in Tibetan Buddhism really strongly is compassion. Each form of Buddhism has emphasis in different subjects.
Q: How does one become a monk?
GT: To become a monk you have to find a lama, a spiritual teacher who is also a monk and they have to give you the vows, you have to go through ceremony to take the vows from them. That ceremony involves a lineage which has been kept pure from the Buddha to the present day.
Before we start this course I would like to ask you some questions. Now is my turn. It would be helpful for me to know how much experience of meditation you have. Did you all meditate before and is there anybody who has never meditated before? Is there anybody who has never heard about meditation and never received any instructions before?
Okay, 4 - 5 people. So this is useful for me because I need to know where to start. Before we have a break I want to introduce the subject and what I want to talk about first is stress. Before we look how to deal with stress we have to identify with the problem. So you can get really stressed and then sort it out!
What does stress feel like? Can you describe the feeling?
Q: Frustration. Tension. Illness.
GT: Stress is a big cause of illness. In Britain it was in a newspaper recently that companies have lost billions of pounds because of stress. So many people are taking time off sick , because they are stressed. Any more ideas? I want to think about stress, how it feels like. maybe you don't feel stress because we are in beautiful place in a forest, but I'm sure you know what stress feels like.
Q: Short tempered, you get frustrated easily, headache, high blood pressure, panic, lack of concentration.
GT: Where does stress come from? What is the cause of stress?
Q: Desire, not achieving the desired object. Too much to do and not knowing where to start. Not knowing what one wants. Another person like your spouse can cause stress. Parents worry about their children. Fear.
GT: Let me give you my ideas now. I agree with everything you said and I also think what stress feels like, there is a lot of pressure, and everything is crashing down onto us. We feel our mind is moving very fast and we can't slow down, we can't relax. A lot of the pain and suffering of stress comes because we want to slow down and we can't. We feel we are racing out of control. Sometimes it feels like we are sitting in a car which is out of control and we can't put the breaks on. We want to slow down, we want to stop the stress but we don't know how.
The next thing is: where does the stress actually come from? What we tend to do is we think that our stress is being caused by something outside of us. We blame our job, family, and partners. Whatever we think is the cause of stress we think this thing is giving me stress. Then we feel we have to get away from that. So we get divorced, we change job, we move city, go on a diet, change our clothes. We are always changing things to try and make ourselves feel better.
When we have this kind of mentality where we think our stress is being caused by something outside us, it's actually very harmful mentality. The reason why it's so harmful is because we turn ourselves into a victim. We become a victim of our job, victim of our family, the victim of society. Everything becomes a potential enemy and we don't know how to handle that. We feel frightened of that. And then we keep moving, we change job, wife or husband. We keep moving to different places but the same problem comes back. It's like we are running away from our own shadow but we can't get away from it. Where-ever we go the shadow is there. This makes us even more stress and then we have double stress. We have stress about the stress.
So much of our energy in life goes in running away from difficult situations. That's quite normal thing to do. That's normal human survival instinct: you have to run away from difficult situations. The problem is: it doesn't actually work, because, like I said, we go somewhere else and we find the same problem comes up. We never actually get away from it. Actually the feeling of running away causes the problem, because everything in our life is based on habits. Whatever habit is most strong, that will become so ingrained, and our whole experience is a reflection of that.
If we develop a habit of constantly needing to run away from difficulties, what will happen is that the habit becomes so strong that it is always there and there will always be difficulties. What I'm saying is that the running away itself causes things to be run away from.
The basic mistake that we are making is that we externalize our stress; we blame it on external issues. If we have that kind of mentality we can never ever be happy, we can never relax, because there will always be something out there to make us feel stressed. And actually this kind of mentality is quite false, it's based on a big mistake, big misunderstanding, it's not true. We think that our problems are being caused by things outside us like our job or family, but if you look a bit deeper, you have to admit that it is not coming from outside. We can go to work one day and everything can be like heaven. We love our job and colleagues, our boss is great, everything is nice. Then the next day we can go to work and it's like hell. Everything feels uncomfortable, we hate our colleagues, we hate our boss. Our boss is like a devil roasting us. But it's the same place, same job, same boss and same colleagues.
Why is it heaven one day and hell the next? It's because of our mind, our attitude. If we have a negative attitude everything looks negative. It's like you are standing in a very beautiful sunny day, but you put dark glasses on, everything will look dark. If you have a negative attitude in your mind, even if somebody looks you in the wrong way, you can feel like killing them. Or even if you look across the room and there are some people talking, you think: "They are talking about me, they don't like me." Or even if your husband or wife drinks tea the sound of their drinking the tea makes you run away.
We become very sensitive and everything hurts us. Even loud noises feel like big crashing sound. On the other hand, if we are in a good mood, if our mind feels positive, then everything is nice. People can be angry with us and make loud noises and we can feel patient, it doesn't bother us so much. And when things go wrong we know how to make the best of it, we can look on the bright side.
Actually all of our happiness and suffering is dependent on our state of mind, nothing else. If you put lots of people in one room, you put them in the same situation; everybody has a different situation, don't they? So, the situation doesn't even have a meaning on its own. It's the people that are in the situation that makes it pleasant or unpleasant. Everything is dependent on our mind, on our state of mind, and if we want to overcome stress, we have to look at or mind. This is the basic principle of Buddhism. If you are practising in order to overcome stress or if you are meditating for any other reason, it's all the same: you have to understand that the mind is the most important.
We all want happiness and we all want to avoid suffering, but we think that the happiness and suffering are outside us, so we are always trying to make the situation better instead of looking at our mind. So meditation is the practice of working on the mind in order to become more flexible and more peaceful inside ourselves.
So I tell you a story. There was a man, who lives on a big mountain. He owns this whole mountain and the mountain has lots of sharp stones and fizzles all over it. The man is walking around barefoot and it's very painful. Whenever he gets around his mountain his feet are bleeding because the stones are so sharp. He thinks: "I have to protect myself, I have to make something so that it's more comfortable for me." He gets an idea and decides to cover the whole mountain with leather so that it becomes smooth. He starts to sew a piece of leather 10 km wide. His friend comes around and asks what he is doing. He answers: "The mountain is difficult for me, so I'm covering with leather." The friend retorts: "I think you are doing something stupid. For one thing you won't be able to cover it with leather. And what about, when you go to visit other people's mountains? Are you going to send somebody ahead of you with a piece of leather before you go? You will be trapped on your mountain and not able to go anywhere. So why don't you just get two small pieces of leather and put those under your feet like shoes and then you can go anywhere. So the man made a pair of shoes. That's the story how shoes were invented!
I'm sure you have heard this story before. It's a famous proverb for explaining the process of meditation. The meaning of story is: instead of trying to make all the situations comfortable for us we have to make our mind flexible so we can go anywhere even when there are sharp stones.
I've been talking about how we mistakenly thing our problems are caused by things around us. And you have to realise instead that the state of our mind is the most important thing. So the next thing is to talk about how do we normally try to overcome our stress. Normally, when we want to overcome our stress we rely on a lot of things to help us to do that. We rely on things outside us like when we get home after work, we put on nice music or cook nice food or we go or a nice walk in a forest. We may put on peaceful music, light candles and have a bath, or like in your country: you like sitting in very hot rooms (sauna). They tried to drag me into this but I'm refusing.
Anyway, we always have these different props or crotches that help us to overcome our stress. Actually we are doing the same thing again, we are externalizing. First of all we thought that the cause of stress is outside us, now we think that the things that take away our stress are also outside us. This is very limiting, because using these different things to hep us to relax works only in a short term and actually makes us quite dependent. We start to depend on those things and without those things we don't know how to relax. We can't take that relaxation to other parts of our life, we can only have it when those things are there for us. So if we are in a difficult situation at work of if we are in some kind of argument or conflict at home, we can't stop everything and quickly turn the music on and light candles. We don't have support, we don't know how to do it for ourselves.
The other problem is that we think our stress is physical. So we try to get rid of it through physical method. We feel it in our body, definitely that's true, we feel our chest gets tight, our shoulders go up, we start grinding our jaw. Everything gets very tense physically, and so we immediately think that the stress is in our body. Then we try to remove the stress through physical methods. We go for massage and have a bath with lots of oils. Or the sauna. All kinds of things to relax the body. Yes, it does work, but only in a limited way. It is limited, because: yes, our body is relaxed, but our mind is still racing and we still have fear and worry etc. in the mind. It is also limited, because w can't take those physical methods into other parts of our life. Like I said before if we are in a difficult situation, we can't suddenly start having massage or doing yoga. The problem is: we think the stress is physical, so we try to get rid of it physically, but it is not physical. The stress is coming from our mind and because of that our body is reflecting that, but the cause is in our mind.
You can prove this in quite simple but disgusting way. If you look at a dead body - put the dead body in an office and create lots of deadlines and arguments. You can punch and pinch the body and burn it, does the body get tense? No. There is no tension in that body. That's because there is no mind there the dead body is just flesh, the mind has gone. It's only when there is mind there that there will be some feeling of stress. We feel the stress in our body but the cause is in our mind. If we understand it's in our mind, then obviously the solution is also in our mind. There is no point in trying to fix it physically, if it's a mental thing. We have to learn to deal with our stress through helping our mind or training our mind.
The mind is like the boss of the body, body is the servant of the mind. The mind is much more important than the body. It's the mind that makes the decisions. For example if I want to pick this cup up and drink the tea, the first thing is: the mind has to create the intention and the body is like a slave and it does what the mind says. If we want to heal our stress we have to heal our mind. It's no point to just do physical things, we have to do something mental. And meditation is a mental exercise. We have to learn how to relax. That is a very important statement in itself: learning to relax. The sentence "learning to relax" is very rich with meaning. Because actually, we never learned this before, did we? In our society, in our education system, in our culture we never learn how to relax. What we are shown is how to use external things to relax. So we have all kinds of entertainment and comfort that we use to make us to relax. But I have already explained why that kind of relaxation is not really satisfying, it is limited. The main reason is that when we are at work or in any situation where we start to get stressed, we don't have those things, the cinema, the music or sauna. All of our helpers have been taken away, so we don't know what to do. We become like a child who doesn't know anything, doesn't know what to do. Because we never learned how to relax independently, we don't know what to do.
So, meditation is about learning how to relax from within independently, without needing any physical objects or anything outside of ourselves. This is one of the most important skills a human being can learn. It's nothing to do with religion or spirituality, it's a very important life skill that everybody should learn, no matter what they are interested in. And if you are in a spiritual path it is even more important because the biggest enemy to spiritual development is tension. In fact tension is the biggest enemy to everything in life.
So I want to explain first of all how we can slowly learn how to relax. I'm going to present two different techniques: one is informal and one is formal. When I say informal it means something we can practise while we are doing anything else, walking, moving around, in any situation. When I say formal, it's a technique where we have to take some time, be still and train, an exercise. And actually to get really good training in your life the two things have to go together, you have to practise informal and formal. If you practise only one of them, it will be very limited
So first I want to talk about the informal method, because that's easier to understand and that is something you can start straight away, you can practise it in the break after this session. What this means is that you have to develop a habit of relaxation. That’s the key, we have to make a habit of it, we have to make it something that we do regularly, so that it becomes part of our system.
The way you practise this is regularly, throughout the day, several times, you consciously relax for a few moments. So, when you are walking around or doing anything you just remember to relax from time to time without stopping, you don't have to stop what you are doing, you just relax within what you are doing. So what you do, for example you might be walking somewhere and then you can suddenly feel that your whole body is quite tense and that your mind is tense ad you just relax that for a few seconds. The way you relax your body is that you feel that all your muscles are like water or patches of oil separated from each other. Can you do that? What I mean is that you feel that everything in your body becomes very fluid and relaxed.
Three places are especially strong areas of tension. As a beginner you might want something more direct to work with, to focus on, so you can use these three. The first is the neck and jaw. We often hold a lot of tension there. Relax it. Second one is the shoulders, relax them, and the third one is stomach, relax it. It is possible to do it shortly but to hold it for a long time is very difficult. The secret of this technique is: you don't do it for very long, you do it quickly.
To relax the body you feel that everything physically relaxes. And to relax the mind is the next thing. You have to do the two things together but I'm talking about one after the other. To relax the mind you bring the mind into the present moment. Normally our mind is either remembering the past or worrying about future. Normally our mind isn't really present where our body is. For example we might be washing the dishes but our mind is in Paris or somewhere else. Or our mind is worrying about something that might happen. So all you have to do is bring your mind into present moment. Bring your mind to where your body is in a very simple way. Very direct, no complication, no discussion, no analysis. You just bring it there very directly, very simply. But not for too long, just shortly.
These two things, mentally and physically together, you relax for few moments, but not for too long. If you try to hold it for too long, you will get tense. If you hold this relaxation for too long, it is like putting yourself in prison. And relaxation comes like being in prison, it stops being something enjoyable and becomes a nightmare. And if you put yourself in prison like that, your mind will naturally get tense, rebel and try to run away. Then you create a habit. Whenever you start to relax, your mind will start to panic, because it feels it's going to be trapped. So then, every time you try to relax your mind runs away and your body gets tense. The solution is that you do short periods repeated often. That is much more useful than trying to do one long period.
If you do this many times you create a habit. Whatever is our strongest habit, that will take over in our life and become everything. And what we are doing is learning how to relax within without needing anything outside. You can do this if you are sitting around doing nothing or if you are running or in a really dangerous situation. It doesn't matter, it's just about being present. There is no obstacle to it. Obviously if you are in a big danger, like running away from somebody who is trying to kill you, don't relax too much physically! What I'm trying to say that you can apply this technique all the time, it doesn't depend on being in a nice peaceful room.
So, that's the training, you do that regularly throughout the day. But then there is something else, which is little bit more creative. What you can do is learn how to do this in difficult situations. Actually use difficult situations as a reminder to help you to relax. But there is no point trying to do this in very difficult situations because you'll be too stressed. Do it in easy difficult situations. You have to find something that is happening to you regularly, that is a little bit difficult but you can still manage it an use that as your training space. The easiest one is waiting. Whenever you are waiting for something, waiting for a train or bus, waiting for an important phone call, waiting for a friend to arrive or if you are stuck in a heavy traffic. Any situation where you are waiting for something; like you are waiting in a queue in bank or shop or waiting in a queue for lunch. This is something that happens to you every day.
All what happens in that situation is that we automatically get tense without even thinking. It's a really fast automatic reaction. It's not like we sit there and think: I'm waiting for a bus, shall I get tense? Maybe. Okay, I'm getting tense. It's not like that, is it? We don't plan it, it just happens. But if you think about it, that reaction of tension is absolutely useless. It doesn't make any difference. If I sit here getting tense it doesn't make the traffic get quicker, it doesn't make the queue move faster.
When you are in that situation, remember: it's useless getting tense. So just give up. There is nothing you can do. The queue will take as long as it takes. So you might as well enjoy yourself. Just relax! There is nothing else to do, so you might as well relax. What you do in this situation, when you are waiting and you can feel yourself getting tense, as you feel the tension, just release and relax. Then it will come back. When you are ready, relax again, just for a short moment. Short bursts. I don't mean really quick like a flashing light but just in your own speed.
What you are doing is you are making a commitment that when you are in this kind of situation you use it as a part of your training. And you are achieving quite a few important things all of the same time if you manage to do that. One thing you are achieving is you are learning how to relax against the current, against the odds. It's easy to relax when things are going well, but to relax at the time like this when we are feeling tense, waiting situation is more difficult. If we can learn to relax in that kind of difficulty, it's much stronger training, we can then carry that ability into really difficult situations, slowly.
That is because we are developing a habit and that habit is becoming a part of our personality. Another thing that you are achieving through doing this is that you are learning to see difficult situations as an opportunity. Normally when we are stuck in traffic, we don't see it as an opportunity, we see it as a problem. But if you use that situation to help you to relax, then you are changing your whole view, you are actually quite grateful for it because it gave you a chance to train. It is a very useful thing to develop: the ability to welcome difficult situation and see it as a good chance for something. So, we are developing that kind of mentality or character in ourselves and then is a really difficult situations we might have more of a positive view.
But the reason why it's possible is because we are doing it in a manageable way: we are doing it when we are waiting a bus. It's not a big problem, it's a manageable situation and we are training in that, so it's easy. We are learning to associate a difficult situation with a relaxed response. We are bypassing our intellect and changing ourselves on a level of instincts. Normally, when we are in difficult situation, without even thinking we automatically respond negatively. Through this technique we are learning to respond positively in a difficult situation. So we are making a mental association of difficulty with relaxation. And this will help us in all aspects of our life. Any questions?
Question: What is a short time to relax?
GT: Everybody is different, there is no set time. What you have to look for in yourself is you relax and when it starts to become uncomfortable, or there is pressure, relax, let go of it.
This ability to relax is really going to help us, because all of our problems are like afire and tension is like putting more logs in the fire that make it burn higher. Emotions and problems feed our tension. If you are afraid or feel angry or depressed, what happens is: we get tense about it and then it becomes a hundred times worse. It's like double tension. We get tense and then we get tense about the tension. On the other hand, if we have more natural relaxation ability, then when these problems arise, we can learn to naturally relax and then the problem can arise and dissolve more quickly. But it's not going to happen overnight. We have to train very slowly and gradually, slowly achieve these results It's even the same with physical pain. Physical pain is not experienced physically. It is experienced mentally. For example if you have got a very bad pain in your leg or back you might think you are feeling it in your body, but it's not true, you are feeling in your mind.
I give you two examples that prove this. One example is: supposing you have a very bad pain in your leg and suddenly the fire alarm rings and you just get up and run out of the building, you don't feel it anymore. In fact there are examples of soldiers with a wounded leg who manage to keep running from their enemy. So if the mind is focusing on the pain we feel it but if we are distracted from it, we can even not feel it sometimes. The other example is our friend the corpse again. If you have a corpse and you start stabbing it with a knife it doesn’t feel pain. The pain is not in the body, it's in the mind.
So, when we experience pain, we don't actually experience it directly. We experience our version towards the pain. What happens is: we experience pain and get tense about it and then the pain is hundred times worse. If we can relax into the pain the pain will get less. Do you agree?
Q: I agree.
GT: The basic point I want to make is even we experience physical pain, what we are normally experiencing is our dislike of the pain. If we experience the pain directly, maybe it will be a lot less. But instead what we experience is repeated feeling: "I don't like this, I don't like this. Go away, go away." Some people like pain, so to them it's a nice experience. Depends how you look at it. But the basic point is if you learn to relax and let go of our feeling of "I don't like this" and just accept it, it will be a lot easier.
What I'm talking about in this session is the benefits of relaxation. And I've talked so far about the informal style of relaxing which is to relax regularly throughout the day no matter what one is doing. Now I want to talk about meditation which is more formal. Meditation is where on sits down for about 15 or 20 minutes a day and one trains the mind in a much deeper form of relaxation. If we only do the first kind of relaxation that I've talked about so far, if we only do that, it will be very limited, because we are not changing ourselves on a deep level. This meditation, which is much stronger training, is going to change us more deeply, but then combined together with the first kind it will be a very full training.
So in twenty minutes we are going to have a break and after that we meditate, but until that I'm just going to give you a few words, introductory meditation. There are two things that are big myths about meditation, which a lot of people believe and you have to make sure you are not trapped by those myths. The first myth is: people think, meditation means emptying your mind and stopping thinking. A lot of people think meditation means having no thoughts. In fact I was brought up in a Buddhist family and even as a child I had lots of contact with Buddhism. So as a child my father used to talk me abut meditation, but that was just as far it went, because I wasn't interested in doing it, so he could say what he wanted. But I remember that he said to me: "You've got to stop thinking when you meditate. Meditation means having no thoughts." And that is absolutely wrong.
So I had this misconception when I first came to monastery, I thought that's what you are supposed to do, stop thinking. If you try and meditate with that meditate with that attitude you will get very, very tense. And a lot of people have this problem. Even if you know it's the wrong attitude you will find it comes up again and again and it causes big problems. If you sit there and try to stop thinking, you will just think more, because you put pressure on your mind and your mind will respond to the pressure. It's like a spring. The mind is like a spring. If you just leave the spring it's rather sloppy and relaxed. But if you put pressure on a spring it puts pressure back, doesn't it? And if you push it too far it's going to burst onto your face. It's like that with your mind. If you sit there and try to stop thinking you will think more and in a more aggressive way. The thoughts will become more troublesome for you, you will feel more pressed by your thoughts. A lot of people say, they can't meditate and if I ask them what they are doing in their meditation, it turns out that they are trying to stop themselves from thinking and every time a thought comes out they think they have gone wrong.
Meditation is not about clearing your mind. Meditation is about leaving your mind at peace and being aware whether there is lot of thoughts or no thoughts. Suppression and repression are very harmful and if you meditate in that way, it's going to make you more tense.
So that's the first wrong conception, people think meditation means not thinking. The second wrong conception is to think meditation makes you feel special, blissful or high. If you meditate with that kind of expectation you will get very disappointed. I was in London a few years ago, on the metro and I saw an advertising poster. It was an advertising campaign for a vitamin supplement. They had an image of a woman meditating and then underneath it said something about healthy body and healthy mind. And this woman was sitting cross-legged and her head was tilted back and her face had an expression of ecstasy on it. Her eyes were closed and she looked like she was having some kind of mystical high experience. So I saw this picture and I found it very disturbing. I thought, if people in the public think that's what meditation is, they are going to have very bad time. Because when you meditate you are not going to get high, you are trying just to be yourself. Meditation is not like taking drugs and I promise I know what I'm talking about because I've done both. If you meditate with that kind of drug taker's mentality, when you want to feel something special or high, you end up feeling depressed. Because what happens, you sit down to meditate and unconsciously you might be thinking: "I've got to feel something, something is got to happen." You are waiting for something and nothing happens and then you feel really disappointed. So you end up feeling frustrated you feel the meditation isn't working. But we are not meditating in order to feel different, we are meditating in order to connect properly with life in a very simple and direct way. If you want to feel something strange just get your friend to knock you on the head with a bottle! I'm joking.
These are the two main problems, people meditate and try to stop their thoughts and they meditate and try to get high. So you have to give up these expectations and learn to meditate in a very honest way. This is important because otherwise our meditation our meditation will not be helpful in our life. It will just be a problem in our life. Any questions?
Q: What about the inner dialogue in meditation, should one let it flow or should on e stop it?
GT: Don't do anything about it, don't stop it, don't chase it. Leave your mind alone.
After the break I will give you proper instruction. Right now I'm just talking about what meditation is. Before we end I would like to give you a little example about meditation. Imagine that your mind is like a road and all the thoughts and feelings are like traffic on the road. Maybe it's like a big highway with really fast traffic. Meditation means that you just stand at the side of the road, watch the traffic and let it go by without worrying about it. If the traffic is moving and you try to stop it, there will be a huge accident. Everything will pile up. It's like that with meditation. We have thoughts in our mind and if we try to stop them, they will get bigger, there will be a big crash in our mind.
The other extreme is when we indulge the thoughts. This is like when we are standing at the side f the road, imagine the cars are all taxis. So with these taxis, if you put your hand out the taxi will stop for you and you get in the taxi. But if you don't put your hand out it will just ignore you and go by. What we normally d is we get into the taxi and go for a long ride, just like with our thoughts: a thought comes and we get into it and make a big story and we loose ourselves in that story. So we have to learn not to flag down the taxis, just let them go. We have to learn not to stop them from going because that will cause a crash. That should give you a little idea what meditation is. Does it make sense? Okay, let's have a break.
Mindfulness of Breathing
Now I will teach you a traditional meditation technique common to all Buddhist lineages. It is called mindfulness of breathing. When we meditate we should learn to let the mind be. When thoughts and feelings are coming we shouldn't push them down and we shouldn't follow them, we should just let them be. But that's quite difficult for us as a beginner because we have such a strong habit of automatically getting distracted by the thoughts and feelings. It's very difficult to take just a neutral, observing standpoint in the mind. So, it's very useful, if you are a beginner, to have a technique where you can focus on one thing and that helps to keep you in the present. And whenever we get distracted by our thoughts and feelings we can come back to this one point of focus in the present. That helps us to learn to be less attached to our thoughts and feelings. So as we loosen up this attachment, as we make it weaker, then we are going to be more able to remain neutral.
What you focus on is your own breathing. You sit quietly and you put your awareness on your breathing. This is a very effective way to calm down and centre yourself. But also in itself it is a very powerful meditation because, as we get distracted, we can keep coming back to the breath. Our breathing happens right now in the present, so though being aware of the breathing we are learning to rest the mind in the present moment. The normal problem is that our mind is always racing around in the past or in the future and this causes lot f stress and distraction. In act there is no point because the past has gone, so there is no point always thinking about it. And the future hasn't happened yet, so why worry about it? It means we are not really alive in the present, we are not really here, we are always somewhere else. So it's very important to learn to bring the mind in the present. That is the most relaxing and genuine place for the mind to be.
When you do this technique you sit quietly and you focus on your breathing. But you should not change breathing; you shouldn't breathe slowly or deeply. You just carry on and breathe how you normally breathe and become aware of that. When people first try this technique a lot of people start breathing very slowly and loudly and this is not right. It's almost if they thought that they are supposed to start breathing! But they have been breathing all the way long, so why to change it?
If you start holding your breath or breathing more deeply, in the long run it will make you more tense. And if you do some kind of strange breathing exercises that some people like to do, it tends to make you in the long run more emotionally unstable. In many traditions, such an in the yoga fro India and also in Buddhism there are breathing practises but they are very advanced and most people learn them on courses where they shouldn't be taught. People learn these techniques too early and they make them emotionally more unstable in the long run. So they shouldn't be practised until one is on much higher stage in the spiritual development. At our stage we should practise just by leaving the breath as it is and being aware of it without changing it.
So, you sit there being aware of your breath and what happens is that your mind starts to get distracted. Your mind will float away to some other place. Then you bring your mind back to the breath. Then your mind goes again and you bring it back. When your mind goes into distraction, it may go there for a very long time before you even know you have got distracted. That's fine, nothing wrong with that, because when you remember that you are meant to be meditating, then you bring the mind back. So it's really easy.
The reason why we find it difficult is because we get impatient and we want to be more focused and we don't like it when we get distracted. In our culture there is so much ambition and competition. So when we do meditation we become very strict and competitive. When our mind gets distracted in meditation we feel cross and angry with ourselves. That's not necessary. Sometimes when the mind gets distracted we bring it back in a very vicious way. We get very frustrated, w don't like the distraction and we bring our mind back. Don't do that. You have to see the mind as a very shy rabbit. The shy rabbit keeps wandering away but you must not grab the rabbit and pull it back, you'll hurt it. You have to very gently push the rabbit back. It's a weird example but I hope you get the point.
So when you meditate, you don't need to look for anything like any kind of special experience or being in any special state. You don't have to sit there and think: "Am I meditating? Is this it? Is it working? Am I there yet?" Do you think that other people can tell? Do I look different? Do I feel different? It's not like that. You are not supposed to look for being in a special state. You just have to do the technique. You just follow that method and bring your mind back whenever it gets distracted. That is the meditation. Bringing the mind back, the process of coming back to the breath, that is the development of mindfulness. It's like going to the gym and lifting weights. You are making your muscles stronger. It's the same: when you bring your mind back to the breath you are strengthening the mental muscle of mindfulness.
That is how you do the practise but before we try it there are a few more important ingredients that you need. The first thing is posture. How you sit when you meditate is very very important. You can meditate on the chair and but also you can sit on the floor, it's up to you. But you do need to sit with your body balanced and symmetrical. It is like there is an imaginary line in the centre of your body and everything on either side and in the front and back is mirroring, symmetrical. Normally in our culture when we sit and we want to be sitting in a relaxed way, we tend to sit in a very out of balance way. I don't know about you but I relax slouching back. It doesn't actually relax the mind, it just relaxes the body. For the mind to relax in meditation the body has to be very balanced, then the mind can relax.
You might think why the posture is so important. I thought we are just training the mind. Why is he talking about body now? Well, as long as we have a body it is connected to our mind, so we have to work with the two together. There is a constant link between the body and mind: how the mind is feeling will affect the body, how the body is feeling will affect the mind. In the teachings of the Buddha he explained all the inner energy pathways of the body. The main one is called the central channel, which is in the centre of the body. It is like a central column or like a central spine in the middle of the body right inside us. This is a pathway of energy in the body. And if it is twisted or bent in meditation the mind will not settle properly. That's why we have to have a straight back when we meditate.
I shall go through the posture step by step. If you are sitting on a chair, sit very flat and straight on it with the knees and feet parallel. This is fine, you can sit on a chair but a more traditional posture is to sit cross-legged on the floor. We will talk about later. A lot of people find it easier on the chair because their knees are stiff. So don't worry, you can meditate on the chair. You should have your arms and shoulders nicely balanced. Sit with a straight back. On a chair that's quite difficult unless you have the right kind of shape of chair. Usually you shouldn't lean against the back of the chair because then you will be leaning back and you get sleepy during meditation. You may place your bottom against the chair to give you some support and the top part of your back is upright. If you lean back, you will get drowsy. If you lean forward or to the sides you will get very emotional. If you are balanced your mind will be balanced more quickly.
If the chair is too deep, you should sit up on the chair without supporting your back. When the back is totally unsupported, the problem is that you feel your back sinking into itself and you get lot of compression in the lower spine. In that you can get a blanket or a towel and roll it up in the shape of a snake and you place this underneath you at the back of your bottom. Then your pelvis is tilted slightly forward at the edge of this and your back will feel totally free. It's a very nice feeling. Your spine will feel like a blade of grass growing upwards to the sun. When you go home experiment for yourself different types of chairs and towels and find your own particular way of balanced sitting. You can also have one of these little hard meditation cushions, they work as well.
Anyway, the back is straight and the shoulders are back, not like soldier but balanced. You have to place your head slightly back on top of the spine. Just like if you want to make many chins. Or like a bird going to sleep it retracts its head right on top of itself. You must not sit your face pointing down, it has to be on top of the spine. Very open facing forwards.
The next thing you should do is to notice if you are holding a lot of tension in your stomach. These days many people hold a lot of tension in their stomach. Part of it is because of fashion, because we all want to be thinner than we really are, so we hold our stomach in and in fact some people do it all the time. They don't want to look fat. When you meditate just be really fat. Just relax your stomach, release it, don't hold it. Relax your shoulders. If you do lot of typing or writing, your shoulders always have this kind of pressure. So relax that. Relax your jaw. Many people have much pressure in their jaw. And relax your facial muscles. Many people hold tension in the eyes and cheeks. Relax it all. Have your lips and teeth slightly open. Not wide open and not clenched shut, just slightly open. Place the tip of your tongue upwards behind the top row of your teeth. This will help your meditation and it will help you to producing a lot of saliva. Otherwise you can end up sitting there with dripples coming out of your mouth.
The next thing is the eyes. Don't meditate with your eyes closed. Many people like to meditate with their eyes closed but it's a bad habit and counterproductive. The reason it doesn't work is that when you close your eyes in meditation, we do that because we feel that the things around us are distracting, so we have to close down. So we are developing a subtle kind of fear in relation to the outer world. Also we will find it much harder to integrate our meditation into daily life, because we have got used to only calming down when we are blocked off from daily life. Then if you are in a busy situation and you feel you need peace you have to close your eyes, because that's the only way you learned. That's not good. It's much better to meditate with your eyes open so you are not feeling you have to run away from daily life.
But you don't have to look at anything. Your eyes are open but switched off. They are staring into space but they are not looking at anything. They are very relaxed, they are not staring widely, they are relaxed and you can blink and just leave them alone. So you are not looking at the visual images in front of you. In fact they are slightly out of focus. It's a bit like when you start daydreaming you go into yourself, your eyes are open but you are not even looking, somebody may be waving to you and you don't see them, because you are just focused to your mind. It's a bit like that: our eyes are open but not looking at anything. Are there any questions about the posture?
Q: Shall we keep our hands on top of the knees?
GT: Yes, that is good.
Q: What is the distance between the legs?
GT: Technically speaking under where your shoulders and fists will be. Everything is balanced balance with your shoulders.
Q: Can we have our palms upwards on knees?
GT: No, it can cause disturbance in your mind. It can make you unsteady. Have the hands either in the lap palms upwards or on knees palms downwards.
Let us try.
(- meditation -)
That was a very short session of meditation. It should give you an idea what you are supposed to do. As we go through his weekend I will teach you some more techniques which you can add to that but that is a basic one for now.
Q: I can have my teeth apart but my lips are closed. How important is it to have the lips apart?
GT: They are not supposed to be really open, they are just resting normally but not tightly shut, they are loosely together so that if you were breathing through your mouth the air could move through them.
Q: I tried it and it felt uncomfortable Is it so important that I should learn?
GT: It is uncomfortable if the lips are wide open. They are together but just slightly open so that the air can vibrate through them. Does that make sense?
GT: If they are too open it does feel tense.
Q: What if you feel itching or other uncomfortable physical feelings?
GT: Sometimes when you have an itch you have to do it, and sometimes you can just relax and let it go. Find a balance, don't be too extreme. One extreme is when you are just moving all the time and itching all the time. The other extreme is if you are sitting there like a rock and you won't move even if you were on fire. When you are meditating you can move id you feel discomfort, but just very subtly, don't make a big deal out of it.
Q: Why you have to have your hands like this?
GT: Have you got the book Living Dharma by Lama Yeshe? It's explained in that. All different aspects of the posture pacify different emotions.
Q: My neck feels stiff.
GT: If it is stiff it means you are holding in a wrong way, it has to be in the middle, not too much in front or at the back.
When you first learn to meditate, it's good if you can sit in front of a mirror once or twice, so you can see if you are balanced or you can get a friend to walk around you and tell you where you are unbalanced. Because if we have got into a habit of being out of balance in our body, then when we try to balance it we can't do it, because it feels out of balance from the straight.
Q: I have read a book about Tibetan way of life and death.
GT: Don't read books, you get funny ideas from books. Just do very simple meditation according to what you have been taught. If you go to too many courses and read too many books, you become spiritually materialistic. Then you have too much, you become too full and you feel without direction. What will happen is somebody will teach you how to meditate one way and instead of trusting it you will think: "Oh, but I read somewhere else to do like this and somewhere else like this," and then you can't start, because you have too much information. It is very important to lead very simple and direct spiritual life, not a complicated spiritual life.
Frequency of Sessions
I would like to say a little bit more about this meditation. When you meditate you should really do it every day. A lot of people meditate like people do crash diets. Like when you starve for four days and you get very hungry in the end and you eat chocolates for four days. Meditation should be every day, so that you are really creating the right habit in your life. So you keep progressing gradually rather than lots and then nothing and then lots and then nothing. It's very good to do 15 minutes every day, then after few months you can extend it to twenty minutes, then thirty minutes, forty minutes, fifty, then one hour, so you can gradually extend it.
But everybody is different. I know some people who do many hours a day. Some people do 11- 12 hours a day. I also know people who do 15 minutes a day. And in some cases the people who do 15 minutes progress more quickly. In some cases more slowly. Everybody is different, it actually depends on karma. Some people have the karma in their mind to progress more quickly and some people more slowly. So it doesn't matter, we just have to keep going as our own rate. If you are a beginner it's not good to do long sessions. You should do short sessions so that it is comfortable and you get used to it slowly.
It's also sometimes useful to do very short session within one bigger session. For example you might go in a group meditation where you do one hour, but it doesn't mean you have to meditate one hour. You can do lots of mall sessions with breaks inside that longer session. Even if you are doing 15 minutes, within that you can do lots of small sessions. So what I mean is you just sit there and don't move, you just sit there but sometimes you can just relax and give up the meditation, have a little holiday, then go back and do more. So you can do many short sessions repeatedly, but don't move, you just stay sitting there while you keep relaxing.
This is a very skilful way of meditating because you are learning how to make friends with meditation. If you try to force yourself to meditate for a very long stretch, then you can start to feel that meditation is your enemy because you feel restricted by it. Then you make a habit: every time you try to meditate your mind starts to have a revolution, it runs away, gets more distracted. So in some people's case it's more skilful to do these short sessions repeated again and again so that you are not giving yourself too much pressure and then your mind can relax.
So you should do your meditation every day and if you have a choice it's better to do it in the morning. In the morning time the mind is the most receptive for spiritual development. If you can get up a little bit earlier than you normally get up, it's very good. Some people say they don't have time to meditate, but I would challenge that person to prove it. Because actually they are probably wasting time doing other things that don't work. Meditation is the most important thing in our life. The most important wish is to be happy. Where does happiness come from? It comes from the mind. It comes from having a relaxed and peaceful mind. We develop that through meditation. Meditation is the top priority. Everything else is just like taking aspirins. So, it's very good to make time and do it every day.
The other thing is it's good to have a place in your house where you can go to meditate, either a room, especially for your practise, or a corner of a room. So where you are, it's good if you can have a chair where you sit and it's good if the chair has a wall or even a corner behind it. It is maybe not such a good idea to have a lot of space behind you, even worse would be an open door or window. Because you get very nervous, there is something happening behind you and you have to keep checking. But that's just a minor point, if you can't manage it, don't worry.
The Cure of Stress
It's also very important to have relaxed attitude about the results of meditation. Many people get frustrated because they are meditating and then they are waiting for it to work. So they start to feel frustrated, because they don't see the results coming. It's a bit like doing exercises. If you go to gym and lift weights, or if you go swimming, it's not good to keep looking whether your body changes or not. Like if you lift the weight once and look for changes in the body you'll be crazy doing that. It's the same with meditation, don't keep looking: is it working, just keep doing it in a relaxed way. If you keep grasping after the result, the grasping itself becomes tension. So you actually ruin it for yourself.
We should see that meditation is part of us; it's not like a friend who has to help us. Otherwise we have a kind of dualistic relationship with our meditation. Like we put the meditation in front of us and the meditation becomes a kind of partner. Then we say: "I give you 30 minutes, give me something now. You have to look happy and say thank you." You don't have to have that kind of relationship to your meditation. Just give any expectation and do it in a very natural way like brushing your teeth. When you brush your teeth, you are not looking for result. You don't brush your teeth in order for them to disappear to change into something else. You brush them to maintain them. And you meditate to maintain your mind. So don't look for anything. And it's very harmful to try and get a special feeling or experience from your meditation. What will happen in the long run is that you will get depressed. The depression comes because we are secretly craving for a nice experience and it never comes, so we feel let down. In fact what there is to find is depression and because we are craving for something else, we feel let down.
If this happens we may start blaming meditation. We might say: "I tried meditating for six months and it made me depressed. So now I have give up this meditation, it's bad for me." But meditation didn't make you depressed, you made yourself depressed. How can meditation make you into anything, because when you are meditating you are not doing anything, you are just sitting there. You are not adding something into your life. You are just being yourself. So you can't worry it's going to make you sick or crazy or anything, it's just you.
When you meditate it's important to learn to be less judgemental. So if you sit there meditating and the thoughts start coming, don't judge the thoughts. Just come back to the breath. You don't have to worry about the thoughts. For example you might start having the most unbelievable thoughts, like violent thoughts or crazy thoughts that you are very shocked by, but don't get shocked, just see it as energy in the mind. Don't get caught up in the thoughts, don't start analyzing them or judging them.
What we learning then is to relax and not be affected by what is happening in the mind. This is the cure of stress. This is how to cure your stress, there is no other way, really. And of course it goes much deeper than just curing stress, we can start slowly purifying our negative emotions and attitudes about life.
So, meditate every day, and in between the sessions, during the rest of the day, try to, from time to time be aware of the present and relax. It is very important to do mindfulness of the daily life, otherwise the meditation won't work. And it's very important to do the meditation, otherwise the mindfulness won't work, the two things support each other.
When you do your meditation session, when you finish the session, don't just jump up and go to daily activity very quickly. That's too much of a shock to the system. As you finish the meditation just sit there, give yourself a little rest, look around the room, don't just suddenly jump up. Slowly get up and go to daily activity. In the teachings of meditation the daily activity is another kind of meditation. It actually has a name: it's called the post-meditation face. As you end your meditation session you are entering the post-meditation activity which also has a practise associated with it. That practise is to be mindful regularly. Any questions?
We will have one more session today. I will teach you about motivation and one more interesting breathing technique. And tomorrow I will teach you methods for developing better attitudes towards oneself and others; loving oneself better and loving others better.
So far I've given you instructions how to sit correctly and how to be aware of the breathing. But also it's very important to learn how to establish the correct motivation when you meditate. Actually, when you do a session of meditation, right at the beginning of the session you should sit for a few moments and establish a positive motivation. And at the end of the session you should do the same thing.
The motivation means the intention behind, the reason why you are meditating. You have to keep remembering that and re-establishing it in your mind. Of course we are meditating because we want to overcome our stress, overcome our problems, find happiness, become more healthy in our mind. But if it is only for ourselves, if it is just a self-centred motivation, it is not really going to work. Meditation will work if we have a limitless attitude to it. If we have a limited attitude it means we are putting conditions, we are saying: only for me, I need this, I need that. So, with conditions comes suffering.
So actually the really deep cause for suffering is selfishness. It is really our selfishness that creates all our problems, because when we are selfish, we can never be satisfied. When we are selfish it means that we are constantly expecting things to go our way, we have lot of impatience in relation to that. Actually we are insatiable. We get things and then we find we are still not happy, we still need something else, we never reach the end of our selfishness. And the more we feel that we have to protect ourselves and the more we feel we have to get things for ourselves, the more mentally poor we become. Because when we are thinking that we need more things we are also telling ourselves that we don't have enough, and that can go on forever.
Working with ourselves in this way means that really we are imprisoned by some kind of master who is never satisfied, like forking for a boss who is never happy with anything we do. And if we are just striving for our own happiness, meditating just for that, we can't really achieve happiness. Because how can one really achieve true happiness when others are suffering? How can that be genuine happiness if we are just looking for our own satisfaction but in the world around us others are unhappy? It means our happiness is actually false, it is more like hiding or shutting ourselves away. So, the most genuine and useful motivation is to wish for not only our own happiness, but the happiness of all others as well.
How can we bring about the happiness of others? What we have to do is we have to train our mind so that we become more compassionate, less selfish, more courageous and then with this attitude we can benefit others. Because if we develop a more compassionate and courageous mind and less selfish mind, then our actions will arise from that motivation, and our actions will be more useful to others. But it has to start with our mind; just as I said earlier on, when we want to drink a cup of tea and lift the cup, it is our mind that initiates the movement, the mind has the intention and then the action comes.
A lot of people try to do compassionate actins without having first developed a limitless motivation, so it's being done in the wrong way round and those kind of people end up exhausted and often quite angry. It is important to develop a relaxed, compassionate and open mind and then from that will come compassionate activity.
When we meditate we are trying to develop that kind of mind and when we sit down to meditate we should remember that we are developing that for the benefit of all beings. Actually each session, every time we sit down to do our meditation, we should for a few moments re-establish that idea, we mentally wish that this practise will be for the benefit of all beings. And at the end of the session we dedicate our session for the benefit of all beings. So it's very similar to what we did at the beginning of the session.
This is very important to do at each session and I always say to people, it is like being a good investment banker. Because what we are doing we are investing our practise each time we do it into this goal that we should benefit all beings.
When we do a short session or practise it could feel rather pointless because we just do 10 - 15 minutes and we don't notice any change, so we might think: what's the point? Is it really worth it? We could end up getting quite disappointed about our practise and think it's going nowhere. But if we do this motivation and dedication during each session, then it means that even that small session has been invested properly and the result will eventually come, because each session is invested and then accumulates let's say within that account.
I'm giving an example of money going into an account as a modern example but I will tell you the traditional example the Buddha gave, which is the same thing, really. In the teachings it says that the pure motivation or pure dedication is like taking a drop of water and putting it I the ocean. Our practise sometimes might feel like if it was just a drop in the ocean and really not worth much, but if we are dedicating it, it is like putting it in the ocean and it becomes mixed with something greater.
Through motivation and dedication we are taking all our practice sessions and collecting them together onto one track, which will lead to a result, which will be our ability to benefit ourselves and others. This goal, even if it is very distant and limitless, the ability to benefit others in the best way possible, we can still achieve something closer on the way. On the way to that, we can start being less judgemental to others, more forgiving, less irritable. As our mind gets more relaxed, the positive quality will emerge and we will be less angry, less jealous etc. And the of course we will be helping others because we will be kinder and more gentle person to be around. So we need to meditate with that intention.
Practically what you do is each time you sit down to do a session, at the beginning of the session you spend a few moments thinking about this pure motivation. You don't need to analyse yourself too much or worry about it, it's more that you just have to make a conviction or a commitment in your mind that you are meditating for the welfare of all beings. As one is meditating in a Buddhist context, usually people use a prayer at this point. That's the meaning of the chanting we do at the beginning of each session, to establish the pure motivation. But you don't have to do it like that, if you are not into praying, there is another way of doing it. All you have to do is to sit and make an inner conviction within yourself, a very strong decision. Then you do your session. At the end of the session we have what we call the dedication of the session.
This is similar to the beginning. What we do is really feeling that we are dedicating our practice to the enlightenment and happiness of all beings. And again you can just use prayer or you can use your own inner voice. Are there any questions about that?
Further Instruction About Breathing
That's how you begin and then you do a session. Before we meditate I want to give you a little further instruction about the breathing. In the last session I explained that you can follow the air as it comes in and out of your body but without changing it or making it different. Now there is something else you can do, which some people find useful if they feel they are getting lost in the process of following the air. Some people feel it's too vague and it is easy to get lost in that. If that is happening to you and you want to focus on a more specific point, then there is another kind of practise you can do.
After establishing yourself in the session and watching the breathing generally for a moments, you can do this next stage. Focus on the point at the tip of your nose. At the very edge of your nostrils you can feel the movement of air going in and out. If you calm down and look closely, you will see that at that point there is the entry and exit point for the air and you can feel the air against your skin there. That point is where you can specifically identify the breathing. Some people find it useful to rest the mind at that point. Some people find that doing that makes them a little bit too rigid and intense. Maybe they start forcibly focusing on that in a very aggressive way. Maybe for that kind of person it's more useful to generally focus on breathing, not so specifically. You have to find out for yourself what is useful. But also if you are meditating seriously and in a long term, it's very important to have somebody you can talk to, somebody like a teacher, who can give you advice. Because there are so many techniques and variations on each technique, and the teacher may be able to tell what is useful for you. What I show you now is enough to get along with and later on if you need more advice you can contact Ani Sherab and she can teach you different techniques.
If you are following this technique I described now, where you focus on the tip of the nose, then don't do it straight away in the session, work up to it and then at the end of the session let go and just relax your body as a whole. You don't want to jump in and jump out too quickly. And also I said it is preferably if you can breathe through your nose, but maybe you have to breathe through your mouth if you have cold or some kind of sinus problem. If you are breathing through your mouth and you want to find this one specific point, there are two points you can choose. One is the rising and falling of your diaphragm, the other one is the edge of your lower lip of your mouth.
We are going to do two sessions now. We will do 15 minutes and I will stop you and you can stretch and walk around a few minutes and then we do another 15 minutes. If you prefer to sit on the floor you can get the blankets from the back, otherwise you can sit on a chair. If you are sitting on the floor, there are a couple of things I should say to you. If you sit on the floor it's best to sit cross-legged and if you can, with the right leg in front of the left. And if you can have your knees touching the ground that's very good, but if it makes you very tense or painful, just have the knees loosely crossed. One thing that is very important is, unless you have a very supple body, you will find you get pain on your lower back sitting like this. So what you can do is you have a little cushion and you raise the back of your spine on that, either a blanket or a cushion, and you find the right thickness, so that you feel supported. You place it underneath the back of your bottom.
At the beginning and end of the session I will make a little noise with this home-made meditation gong. I'm not going to talk you through this time, you are on your own, but remember the stages. First the motivation, then you sit and are aware of your body. When you are ready, you start to become aware of your breathing. And if you want you can concentrate on a specific point, otherwise do just generally. When I ring the gong, that means you should end the session by relaxing again and then dedicate for a few moments.
(- meditation -)
Couple of times, between now and tomorrow morning, while you are doing something like cleaning your teeth, or eating, drinking or walking between the houses from one to the other, try to be mindful for a few moments. Just experiment that a couple of times, being aware of the present moment while you are doing things.
This morning session is mostly meditation, but there will also be a little bit of talking. First of all we will do a session of 15 minutes of meditation. Remember that during those 15 minutes you can have little breaks, you don't have to push yourself. You start the session with the motivation and then you relax into your body as a whole. Then you slowly become aware of your breathing and at the end of the session when I make the sound, you relax again and do the dedication.
(- meditation -)
When we are doing this meditation what we are learning is how to be less controlled by our thoughts and emotions. Normally our negative impulses, our fear and distracted thoughts etc., these tend to control us. And our stress is like something that depresses our mind; we don't seem to have any control over it. All of these things are just thoughts, whether they are feeling, stress, thinking, it's all in the same category of thoughts. So when we are doing this breathing meditation we are learning: whenever the thoughts come, we detach from them and try to come back to breathing. i
It's almost like in our mind there is a lot of glue and in this meditation we are learning to make the glue a bit more thin. So whenever we come back to breath we are strengthening our ability to detach from these negative thoughts or any thoughts at all. It doesn't mean we are going to stop thinking or stop feeling, of course we will carry on thinking and feeling, but we can have more space and more choice in the future. In our life we might have many problems: anger, depression, fear for example. All of them are just thoughts but they are very strong and powerful thoughts that seem to control us. So through meditation we are learning to find freedom from those things.
If one is following a different path, for example psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, then it's a very different approach. In that kind of path one has to look at to problem and analyze it, find out where it came from or what caused it. There is nothing wrong with that, it is a very good thing to do, but it is limited. The reason it's limited is because you have to deal with each problem separately. Each one has a different reason and different qualities. A lot of people find that through analysing these problems they can get rid of one and then another one will come. In the end they feel they are digging in an endless pile of rubbish. And people also often find through that method that they end up blaming other people, especially their parents.
As I said there are many limitations with that kind of approach. Meditation is different, because meditation is using one method which fixes every problem. What we are doing is learning to leave things alone and not get caught by them. We are not suppressing a problem, we are not trying to push it down, we are just changing our focus, so that the problem looses its' intensity and its' power. We are developing space in our mind so that the problem can arise and dissolve of its own accord. One image given in the Buddhist texts is that it describes the problem being like a snake. The snake has a knot in its own body. How does a snake undo the knot of its own body? It just relaxes and the knot frees on its own accord. That's a very good image for meditation. Instead of having to find a different key for each door we find one key that opens every door.
Of course another benefit, which is more easy to understand, is that meditation will make us more peaceful and relaxed. We will get less stressed and we will find it easier to live our lives in a balanced way. Of course these results are not going to come quickly, it's going to be very slow, but if we keep going, then it's definitely worth it. The reason why it's worth it is because when you are on this kind of path, even before you feel the results you can feel confident, because you know you have the right medicine. That is how I look at it personally. I feel that having found the right medicine is enough for me and it doesn't matter how long it takes. Even before we have the results we know what to do and that can give us some confidence. We know how to practise the path.
Yesterday I was talking a lot about compassion and I want to talk more about it this morning. A very important aspect of compassion is how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others. Often the way we relate to ourselves is quite negative; we often feel quite negative and angry with ourselves and we put ourselves down. We feel impatient and frustrated with ourselves and sometimes we even hate ourselves. This manifests as a very deep level in our mind, where we feel different kinds of emotions and we don't like them and we feel aggressive towards them. Constantly inside ourselves we are judging and beating ourselves up, because we feel: "I shouldn't be thinking like this, I shouldn't be feeling like this." In meditation we are learning to learn to leave the mind alone and stop judging the mind. We are giving the mind freedom - we are saying: "Anything can arise in the mind, we are not going to be bothered by it." So instead in putting restrictions and judgements on the mind we are just relaxing and letting it be.
We are learning to be more compassionate towards our emotions. Normally we are not compassionate to our emotions but try to push them down or get rid of them. Normally we constantly hurt ourselves through either suppression or indulgence.
Meditation is a very deep way of developing compassion in our mind towards own experience. The second thing is how we relate to others. Often we relate to others with insecurity, judgement, aggression. or example if we are in a situation where somebody is behaving in a way we don't like, then we feel very angry, irritated with them. What happens is we have the irritation towards the person, we express that and the person receiving that becomes even more irritating. A war starts. It is almost like we are two people standing in a boat and the other person has fallen into the sea and what we do we are falling also with them, we are struggling together in the water. That is not useful. We have to stay on the boat and help the other person back onto the boat. So we need to learn to be patient and tolerant and we need to learn to accept the situation.
If somebody is being aggressive towards us or behaving in a strange way, we have to remain patient and calm so that we can help them. This means that we are helping ourselves as well because we are remaining peaceful and we are fixing the situation. One thing we have to remember is that whenever anybody is behaving negatively it is because they have lost control. They have become enslaved on their own negativity and they are acting on that without even thinking. In some way they are temporarily sick and if somebody is sick, we shouldn't beat them, we should help them. For example in the text it says you are like a mother with a small child. And your small child has a very bad fewer and you are trying to put your child in the bed but your child is burning with fewer and actually delirious and crazy from the fever. You are trying to make the child lay down and the child is kicking you and screaming to you and shouting and punching you. But you as a mother know, that your child is sick and cannot help it so you don't feel hurt or angry. Instead you feel compassion because you understand the reason why your child is behaving like this, you know your child is out of control. So you can transfer this philosophy to every situation in life. Whenever anybody is behaving badly towards us we should understand that they are gripped by the fewer of their own negative mind.
I give you another example. Imagine that you are a doctor working in a psychiatric clinic. And you are walking amongst the patients and the patients are all mad. So they are biting you, screaming and hallucinating and so, as the doctor, you know that they can't help it because of their illness. So you don't feel angry with them and also you don't feel that they are wrong in having hallucinations, you understand that they can't help it. So again you can transfer this philosophy into every situation. When we see somebody is behaving badly towards us it is because they are like somebody who is mentally ill, they are temporarily mentally ill, they just can't help it.
What about ourselves? This happens to us too sometimes, doesn't it? When we feel really angry, when we are completely boiling with anger, we can't even think, we shout and we hurt people, we make this kind of mistakes all the time. When we are experiencing great fear in our mind we feel really terrified, we can't control that, we can't make it go away, we are completely controlled by that fear. This happens to us - very naturally it happens to others, we should recognize that also others cannot help themselves when they are in these bad states. So if we understand that the other person is out of control, this will help us to have more positive view towards them.
I give you another example. Imagine that you are at work in an office one day and somebody, one of your colleagues comes to work that day and they are behaving very strangely, they are very irritable and angry. They are snapping at everybody, they are moving around the office in a very aggressive way. So you and your other colleagues are looking at this person and starting to gossip about them saying: "Look at them, why they are being so horrible?" The more negatively the person starts behaving, the more indignant, judgemental and angry you and your colleagues feel. And then somebody comes and taps you on the shoulder and takes you to one side. And they tell you: "Did you not know, yesterday his wife died. He is really shocked and unable to deal with it." Or maybe they say: "Yesterday his house was burgled and he is really upset." Maybe they say: "Yesterday he had a really bad argument at home and he is really upset about it." There may be all kind of reasons but as soon as you hear the reason, your whole view changes and you feel sorry for him. You immediately forgive everything, like imagine you were told: "He just found out he has a cancer." Once you know that you will let him do anything, you feel sorry for him.
Once we know the reason for somebody's behaviour we can understand it and forgive it. What we have to remember in every situation is that there is always a reason. Why do we need to be told the reason, we should just assume it is there. People don't behave badly for no reason. Why would they do it? It doesn't make them comfortable they too are suffering. There must be a reason for their behaviour.
It's very important to remember these things so that we can understand others better, be less judgemental. Another thing which we can think about is, when somebody is behaving like they were an enemy, actually they are being our friend. The reason of their being our friend is through this person we are given an opportunity to develop strength. We are being given a chance to develop compassion, forgiveness, understanding. This is a very important skill, which we want to develop, because it will help us to become stronger. But how can we develop that skill without these people who make us unhappy? Actually our enemy is helping us if we know, how to learn from the situation. Enemies in this way are quite useful. That doesn't mean that you should now go and try to make some enemies. If you do that then you are abusing people, you should just wait for that to happen naturally.
If we can see the bad situation as an opportunity for our training and development, then we are looking at the whole thing differently, more positively. In fact, even if there is another kind of problem, which is not coming from somebody else, you can do the same thing. Any problem in life we can learn to look at as an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to develop more strength, more patience, more understanding. And if we look at situations in this way, then actually nothing needs to be a problem for us, everything can be an opportunity. Then we won't need to be frightened of anything, there is absolutely nothing that we can say as a problem.
Obviously this is quite a difficult thing, it is quite high level, but we can definitely aim for that and achieve slowly more and more percentage of that as the years go on. This kind of attitude is very important to develop but we need meditation in order to put it into action. If we don't meditate, we can't actually apply this kind of attitude because in difficult situations we don't have time to think. In difficult situation we just react automatically, we don't plan our action. And that automatic reaction is based on our habits, which are deeply ingrained.
So maybe we have heard a lot of lectures about Buddhism and read a lot of books and we know, that the teachings say: "It's important to be accepting and forgiving." But when we are in the middle of a difficult situation, all of that knowledge just goes away, it doesn't work for us, because we don't react from our head or our brain, we react from our heart. But meditation can help here because in meditation we learn mindfulness. Mindfulness is the quality in our mind that we are developing through meditation. One aspect of mindfulness is the ability to remember what it is we need to remember at the right time. If we had more mindfulness, then in a difficult situation we would have more space and ability to stop and make right decision, respond according to what we have learned.
This is a very important point and I don't know if I have explained it properly, do you understand the point? Do you have any questions?
Q: I understand the idea of meditation and thoughts arising and ceasing while not clinging onto them, but even before I learned about Buddhism, if I had negative thoughts, I used an analytical method correcting myself and came up with an opposing right way of thinking. Gradually that became a habit and when a negative thought appeared a positive thought would appear as well automatically. It felt like being in a judge in a boxing match watching the thoughts fighting. I'm wondering if this is a good method to supplement meditation.
Question: In meditation when one's visual field goes blur and sometimes it darkens totally, is it better to restore the blur visual field or is it ok to keep it dark?
GT: You have to be careful that you are not creating too much tension with your eyes. If you find this happening all you need to do is just close your eyes for a few seconds and relax and then open them again. Don't try to force anything or change anything, just relax and start again.
Transforming Our Attitude (The Four Thoughts)
My subject now is about transforming our attitude. If you are on a path of training your mind, it's very important to meditate. But also you can do another kind of practice, which is working on your attitude through positive thinking. If you can combine these two types of practices it can be very good training. So, the type of practise I'm talking about is traditionally called the four thoughts. Sometimes it's called the Four Ordinary Foundations and sometimes it's called the Four Ways of Changing the Mind.
It is four subjects that we can think about regularly in order to achieve two main things. The two things which we want to achieve: the first thing is to change our attitude and develop a more positive outlook to life. Also a more healthy and more truthful outlook, and more honest outlook.
The second thing which we want to achieve through this practice is to develop more diligence. The problem which comes out a lot is that we learn how to meditate, we believe in it, but we don't do it enough. So even though we believe it's good for us, even though we really have a lot of faith in it, we find that we don't do it sometimes as much as we want to do it. That is because our faith is intellectual, not in our heart. Of course it's a little bit in our heart, but it needs to be much more than that. What I mean, we have heard the teachings, we have intellectually understood them, but really deep down our instinct is still untrained and our instinct is to constantly look for entertainment from other things.
So intellectually we know, that really the most genuine way to find relaxation is through meditation. And we know that the most genuine way to overcome problems is through meditation. But what usually happens is, we get home from work I the evening and switch on the TV. And then we think: "Okay, now I must do some meditation, switch off the TV." Then we spend a very long time preparing a nice seat and sitting down ready for the meditation. And then we are just about to really get into the meditation, and suddenly we find ourselves phoning up our friend and saying: "What are you doing tonight? Shall we go to the movies? Shall we go to a party? Can you please save me from my boredom!"
Anyway I think you know what I mean, what I mean is that we don't do as much as we want to do; we seem to have an obstacle lot of the time. So the four practises I'm going to explain to you are a very good method for developing inner confidence so that we naturally want to do it more. In Buddhism we talk about diligence a lot. The real meaning of diligence is to enjoy doing what is right. It doesn't mean we have to do it out of duty or out of fear. It's not dragging a huge burden around on our back. For most of the time meditation feels like we are carrying a huge burden; we sit down and think: "I have to do my meditation now." Is it some kind of enemy?
In the texts one of the images for true diligence is related to an elephant. The elephant is in the middle of very hot sand in India. The elephant plunges into a pool of icy water for relief. I think you know what I'm talking about because in your country you do this a lot..! So the image is that we are hot and uncomfortable and then we go into the cold water with great joy and relief. That is the image for meditation; that we enter the meditation for relief from the suffering.
To develop a wish to practise we need to change our attitude and develop a more positive mind. That's why we have these four practices. They are four subjects, which you think about, so it's thinking practice. It's not like meditation, in meditation you are supposed to just let go of your thoughts. In this kind of practise you have to think very actively.
The four subjects have traditional titles, which I will tell you, and then I will give you a more modern version. Traditionally they are called: Precious Human Life, Death and Impermanence, Karma and Samsara. When I give courses to people on the managing of stress, I teach these four practises with more simple titles.
So I call them Confidence, Change, Ethics and Freedom. You can try to remember these four words.
Translator: Do you mean self-confidence?
Let's talk about them one by one. The first subject is confidence. When you do this practice you sit in meditation posture and you think about this subject. And also in your daily life, while you are walking and moving around, you can casually think about this subject. So you can do it formally and informally, together, both styles.
Confidence means to develop a feeling that our life is meaningful. Everybody in this world wants to be confident. And there are some people who are very confident. But in many cases their confidence is based on fear. In many cases their confidence is based on the approval of others. The very good example of this is famous people. Famous people are idolised in our society as being like gods. And they seem to be very confident: they are rich, happy and beautiful, and they seem to be confident. But actually their entire confidence is based on the approval of others. They are the slaves to their audience. Without the approval of the audience, they are nothing. And so, actually they are in a state which is very unstable and very fearful.
In our life, even if we are not a famous person, we always seem to aim for that. I mean we aim for that kind of confidence. We think of confidence as being where our life is going well, so our confidence is materially based. We are confident, because everybody likes us, because we have enough money in the bank, because we look good. All of this is false confidence, because it's based on external conditions, which can change any time. If you take that person out of their normal environment and put them in a jungle, they fall apart.
So, true confidence means to feel within ourselves that our life is meaningful, no matter what happens. To feel that our life is precious, that it's valuable and useful. Every life form has this feeling of preciousness, every life form feel that their life is precious. Because every living being has a survival instinct. For example animals will make sure they are warm and they have enough to eat. They will look after themselves. And as a human being we do that also, we make sure we don't starve and look after our body, don't we? But it's a very limited view of preciousness, just to keep this flesh alive. We have to realise that we are worth more than just our flesh. We have the ability to transform our mind and benefit others. That is the most precious thing. And if we are practising on the path of meditation, it means that we are going to that direction. We should feel very fortunate and very wealthy, because we have these instructions of meditation. That is the greatest wealth, the most valuable thing. Without that we are lost, because without these instructions we don't know how to find happiness, we are always looking in a wrong place.
Maybe we feel we have a lot of things wrong with us, maybe we are very angry, impatient, jealous etc., but we should feel confident that we found the cure. Now that we know how to meditate we are on the path, so we should feel that we are so lucky to have that opportunity in our life.
Having this opportunity means that our life is so precious and valuable and meaningful. We have been given the best medicine that can cure everything, because everything is dependent on the mind. Even if we have terrible physical illnesses, I'm not saying that through meditation we are going to cure the illness, but we can change our attitude to the illness. If we develop a positive attitude there is no limit how we can view things. And also through the path of meditation we can become more and more useful to others. So we can feel that our life has value and use for others, not just for ourselves.
When we are in touch with this feeling of value and preciousness about our life, it can help us to be more confident. The other thing is that it will help us to actually make use of it, because we will appreciate the opportunity more. If we know, how fortunate we are, we will stop taking it for granted. Lot of people waste their life, and then reach the end of their life and think: "why didn't I do that, why didn't I do that," and they feel it's too late.
So its important to recognise how lucky we are, and then based on that recognition we will really take the opportunity seriously and do our best with it. Otherwise it is like somebody who lives in their little house and they are hungry all the time. And they are starving and they have no money. But they don't know that under their floorboards there is a big pile of gold. They live their whole life sitting on this pile of gold and they will never even know it's there. And then they die. Our life is like that. The pile of gold is the wealth of opportunity we have as a human being. But what I'm saying is, if we don't recognise it, we won't use it. We have to recognise that it is something very fortunate and also something very rare. Are there any questions about that?
Q: If one does not have karma to find the gold, there is no way to find it.
GT: Karma is not like destiny or fate. Karma is something which we can change every moment. Right now we can create the right karma. We don't have to feel that it is all written before and we can do nothing about it.
So, this is the first subject, confidence. The way you practise this is you sit, and you do like a normal session of meditation, you have the right motivation and you sit in the right posture. For ten or fifteen minutes you think about this subject: confidence. You think about the things I have been saying. And you think about it in a very personal way. You think: "How do I feel about this, what does it mean," you analyse it from different angles. Like when you are trying to teach yourself something or solve a problem, so you think about it from many angles and imagine different viewpoints. It's almost like this subject as food and you are chewing it very properly. Let's try that together for a few moments.
So you just sit and like in a normal session you establish the motivation and then after that you start to think about the subject.
(- contemplation -)
Now stop there. A lot of people say that this type of practise is quite difficult at first, because the mind tends to go blank. Did that happen to you? A little? It's a very interesting psychological problem. If you tell your mind not to think, it will start thinking more. And if you tell your mind to think, it just goes blank. This is because we are putting some kind of restriction on the mind, and it starts to feel like it has to rebel. So the solution is: when we practise we must relax a lot so that the mind doesn’t feel constricted, it can relax and do what you want it to do.
When you are doing this kind of thinking practise or analysis practise, what you do is you think about the subject, but when you find you are getting too tense, when it's too difficult, just relax and let go. Settle the mind and then come back to it when you are ready.
It's the same idea as before, you can have little breaks and keep relaxing within the session. I have described the subject a little bit and that will give you some ideas how to think about confidence, and also you can read books; Akong Rinpoche's book Taming the Tiger for example. There is a chapter called Precious Human Life. That will give you more food for thought. Also you should bring your personal view to this. It's supposed to be very personal. Any questions?
Q: I'm doing massage, which is helping other people, is it enough as a motivation?
GT: It is very good. But I your life you should never think it's enough. If you think it's enough that's the end of your life. You should see yourself as being at the beginning of huge journey. There is no limit how much you can do for your benefit and for the benefit of others. But it's very positive that you already have the seed, which is your work giving people massage, and then you must let that grow to a huge garden.
I'd like to add a little bit more to this subject confidence. Another aspect of confidence is when we feel that we are developing more and more compassion. Through being o the path of meditation it means that we are on the path of compassion, the development of compassion. Everybody in this world knows what is meant by compassion, we all feel compassion from time to time. But it is limited. It is limited because usually it is a feeling of pity. And pity is a good quality, because at least we are thinking of somebody else, but it doesn't actually help the other person. They could easily say: "Thank you very much for your pity but please can I have something to eat?" Compassion is we put into action, not just a feeling.
And also, the problem with pity tends to make us feel superior, like we are above the other person, we are better than them. So we just get proud and we see the other person as being lower than us. This is not pure. We can't really help somebody, if we look them like that. It's important to have compassion with respect, and humility.
Another limitation in our compassion is that we feel very biased, partial. This is where we have compassion only for those we feel close to. Or for example if we see a situation where there is somebody doing harm to somebody else. We only have compassion for the victim. We should also have compassion for the oppressor. That doesn't mean that we justify what they are doing. It means that we should learn to understand them and try to help them.
The biggest limitation in our compassion is a feeling of helplessness and weakness. We look at all the suffering in the world and we feel: "There is nothing we can do about it." We feel totally frustrated and helplessness about it. So, it's important to develop compassion that has confidence. When we are practising on the path of meditation, every session we are dedicating our practise for the benefit of all beings. Right now it might not be helping anybody, but because we are investing each session properly, in the future it will be a benefit to others. That is because in the future we will develop a mind that is more compassionate and more strong and we will help others very genuinely as a result of our meditation training. Even along the way, on the path to that we can help more and more and we can become more and more genuine, slowly.
Through every session of meditation that is an expression of confident compassion. Because every time we sit down to meditate, we know that we are establishing the right condition in order to benefit others. It is like somebody who is like a doctor in a medical school. During the training the person knows that they are learning all they need to really help others. This is where compassion is the same as confidence, it is not supposed to be weak, helpless feeling. And also the process of meditation itself will help our compassion to become more of a state of mind rather than a fleeting feeling. Because the action of meditation in our mind develops less judgement and less fear. So that allows us to develop a state of relaxation and compassion as one thing. Knowing that we are on the path towards that should give us a lot of confidence.
Another limitation and obstacle for our compassion is when our compassion becomes selfish. So often our compassion is selfish; we help somebody, but really we are looking for something for ourselves. An example is if we give a big gift to somebody and they slap us in return. And then we think: "I've given them this gift, why they are paying us back like this?" Or if we put a lot of effort into helping somebody and then they abuse us or insult us. We feel so let down. And we think: "After all I have done, how they can do this to me?" This shows that our compassion is not genuine, we are really expecting something in return. We are buying people's friendship. So there is very subtle selfish motivation where we expect something back. It is not unconditional. Unconditional love means to love without expecting anything back and to love no matter what we get in turn.
Often when we are helping somebody, we get disappointed when we don't see the result. We get very exhausted because we are not seeing something like a manifestation of a result from our work. Actually that's quite selfish, isn't it? We have to learn to purify this expectation and grasping that is within our compassion.
When we have this kind of grasping or expectation it means we are not really confident. It means that we are actually afraid. It means we need something because we are not really good enough. When we are feeling that we need something it is because we feel that we are lacking. The more needy we become the more afraid we become. So it's important that we meditate, because in meditation we are learning to have less grasping in the mind. We are learning to dissolve our grasping, our attachment and our expectation. Then we can slowly start to help others in a more genuine way. We can learn to take a situation in the present moment and see how it really is, instead of having alternate motives underneath it.
These are just a few ideas on how compassion and confidence relate to each other. So, you have a lot of information on this subject, confidence, and all you have to think about this regularly.
We will continue these four practises, which help us to transform our attitude and develop more diligence. The first one was confidence, which we looked at this morning and now we are going to look at the second one which is change. We could call this one: Everything Changes. I Buddhism we talk about impermanence a lot, it's a very important subject.
Impermanence and change are the natural state of things and what we need to do is accept that. Everything is impermanent, everything is in a constant state of movement and change. Even an object, which appears to be very solid, is impermanent. This building we are sitting in, the table in front of me, they are impermanent. Even nowadays the scientists will tell us that things are not as solid as they seem. Even a solid table is really lots of different elements together which are themselves changing and impermanent.
This weekend is about how to deal with stress and there are lot of courses these days on stress management. But I think a lot of these courses only deal with the symptoms of stress. For example you could learn quick techniques how to calm down when you are feeling panic, but you are going to feel panic again eventually, it doesn't remove the cause. The real cause is our attitude in our mind, the way we view things. And a major cause of stress and all problems in life is our inability to accept our impermanence. Impermanence is like a river, constantly flowing, and what we are trying to do all the time is to make a big dam in the river and the river keeps bursting over this dam. Of cause we intellectually know, that everything is impermanent, we know this at the level of our brain, we can't argue with it intellectually, but the way we live our life shows that we don't really believe it deep down. We are somehow pretending that things might not be impermanent.
So there is a big split between the brain and the heart. What we know intellectually in our brain doesn't seem to be connecting with how we feel and how we live. The proof of this is that we get attached all the time. That proves that we don't really understand impermanence. Whenever we get attached to anything, any situation, it shows that we are pretending somehow deep down, that maybe impermanence won't happen. If everything is impermanent, then attachment is like fighting a loosing battle, we can never win. With attachment I mean any kind of expectation or grasping. The whole feeling behind the attachment is that we want something to stay and not change and when it starts to change, we feel panic, we feel stress. And all the time there is this very subtle stress, because we know we are dependent on so many things that are actually impermanent, so they are unreliable.
Everything is impermanent and yet, we constantly get attached, so it means we are damaging ourselves all the time, we are creating disappointment and feelings of frustrations. What we need to do is learn to go more with the flow, let the river flow and go with that. What is the opposite of attachment? We use the word detachment, but it's not really a very good word. Because when we think of detachment we become very cold and we think one must not enjoy anything, you must not get involved with anything, you have to keep yourself away from everything. But that's another form of attachment. The best antidote to attachment is to be content with the way things are and let things come and go.
We constantly feel a sense of loss, because all the good things that we want to hold onto, they seem to be slipping away, so we feel lot of frustration about that. And when we are experiencing this frustration and loss, it means that we are hanging onto something that we feel we are loosing, and we don't have the space to enjoy something new. It means that we are blocking ourselves from just living in the present, we are living in the past, we are holding onto something that we feel we are loosing. Now the other side of the coin is that the bad things in life are also impermanent. It's not just the good things that are impermanent, everything is impermanent. But we also seem to have a lot of ignorance about the fact that the bad things in life are impermanent. Because when we are experiencing a bad situation, a lot of the suffering is because somehow we think this is going to last forever and never change. We get into bad situation and think: "This is never going to change, I'm finished, there is no hope." That is because we don't recognise impermanence. Of course it will change, everything changes. If you look back into your own past, look at how many times you have been in a bad situation, and you've thought: "This is it. I'm finished." And now, it's just a memory. It did change. So it's very important for us to wake up to the fact that everything is impermanent and stop fooling ourselves about it.
The biggest example of impermanence is death. That is the biggest and most frightening example of it. We are all afraid of death and we are afraid of death of those we love and care for. That's a very natural feeling, that's a very natural position to take. What we have to do is to accept that this is a natural part of life, so that it will be easier to deal with. Of course we will have a sense of clinging to our life and of course we will feel grief when those we love and care for pass away, but we can make it a little bit less heavy, little bit easier to deal with.
Actually a lot of the suffering that we experience about the issue of death is based on our denial and suppression of death. In our culture the whole idea of death is seen as something very dirty and bad we must not think about or talk about. All of the advertising and media present us with an image of eternal youth and any sign of aging or approaching death is seen as problem we have to escape from.
In our lives we put a lot of energy in pretending that death is somehow not going to happen. Of course we know intellectually it will happen, but deep down emotionally we pretend it might not. Because of this denial and suppression it means that it becomes something very shocking and frightening. It's a little bit like walking in the forest and suddenly a tiger appears from nowhere and jumps on you and you are very shocked. So it's very important for us to accept the idea of death. That doesn't mean that we become heavy about it or have a morbid fascination about it, it means that we have to accept it and put it in right place in our mind.
Another major proof, that we haven't accepted the idea of death is to look how much we waste our lives. We live our life as if it was going to continue forever. We waste so much time. We spend so much doing things that aren't really beneficial, and then one day it's going to be too late. When people know that they are dying so much of the suffering is based on the sense of regret, that we wasted our life or didn't achieve what we wanted to achieve. But right now here, in our present situation, we have the opportunity to change our view, so that we don't have to go through that regret later, if we right now start living full and genuine life.
Now, when most people think of living a very full life, they just make themselves very busy going round in circles driving fast cars! But the important point to remember is that when we think about this impermanence subject we do it after we have spent some time, maybe a few weeks or months thinking about the first topic which was confidence. These four practices go in order one after the other like climbing a ladder, you have to do each one for a long time before moving to the next one. The first practice we already established is a sense of value and enthusiasm about the opportunity we have as a meditator. So we established a sense that our life is meaningful because we have a spiritual practice, that will help us to progress for our benefit and for the benefit of others. So, when we come to do the second practise, which is about impermanence and death, when we think of living a full life and not wasting it, we have to apply to knowledge we gained in the first practice and bring that into this one.
The whole idea of death and impermanence, we think about it so that our mind becomes more flexible and also that we use our time better. Do you have any questions about it?
Q: The fear of death comes because one doesn't know where one is going.
GT: There are two things: one is we don't know where we are going and the other one is we don't want to let go of where we have been. There is a fear of what will happen next and there is an attachment to what we are leaving behind. A major benefit of meditating in this life is that our mind will become more flexible and have less fear and less attachment. That is the best preparation for death.
Like we did with the first practise, now we are going to sit and do the second one a little bit. So you sit in the normal posture and you establish good motivation and you spend few moments thinking about this subject of impermanence. So you could think about impermanence in general and then you could specifically think about death, both subjects.
(- contemplation -)
End your session now. That was the second of these four foundations. The reason they are called foundations is that they are like foundations of a house. If our house is our spiritual practice, the foundation is the right attitude which we develop through this. And really what we are doing is we are looking at very ordinary subjects, there is nothing strange or mystical or eastern about these things. They are subjects which we know intellectually. We understand them intellectually. Everybody knows that everything changes and is impermanent. But, as I said before, we don't know this deep down, because we live our lives in ignorance. The reason we have to sit and analyse these subjects regularly, is so that we move the information from the head to the heart. This is how knowledge is transformed into wisdom, so that deep in the very core of our being we should know these things to be true and live our lives from that knowledge.
3. Ethics (karma)
The third topic is ethics or karma. When I'm teaching groups about stress management I usually don't use the word karma, because it's a little bit mystical, I just say ethics. But it's the same subject and I talk about different angles today.
A lot of times when we think about morality or ethics, it's little bit restricted feeling, we feel we are entering the Victorian age. Maybe we feel somebody is judging us and saying "you are bad if you do this and you are bad if you do that and you have to behave yourself." So we become quite fearful and rigid. In Buddhism when we talk about ethics it's much more simple than that. We have to look how actions create suffering and we want to avoid that, because we don't want to create suffering. So in Buddhism the whole concept of right and wrong is based o what creates suffering and what doesn't and it's also based on motivation and intention.
When we relate this to the whole subject of stress, the basic point is that if we live a more virtuous and positive life, then it will be easier for us to relax and have less fear. So much of our stress comes because we are not careful about the actions that we are doing and so we are creating unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others. And a lot of our stress comes because of a subtle kind of fear or guilt about the things we have done wrong. So it is important for us to live as much of a pure life as we can.
And we need to have ethical guidelines in our life. We shouldn't think of them as rules, we should think of them as ways of protecting ourselves and others from suffering. The reason we need these guidelines is because our mind is unstable. We are out of control, we have anger, jealousy, all of these things and we so often act out these emotions without being able to help ourselves. So we need these guidelines in order to protect ourselves and others.
Actually everything in life is based on guidelines. A lot of people say "I don't want any restrictions, I don't like rules. I want to be free." But actually from the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night we live according to guidelines. I give you an example. If you want to make a cup of tea, you have to follow certain rules if you want to get the result. You have to boil the water, you have to have the cup, you have to put the teabag in, and you have to pour the water onto the teabag. There is no point saying "I want to be free and I don't want rules, I want no guidelines." You won't get a cup of tea.
The guidelines are the things you have to do to achieve the result you want. So, in our meditation and in our life in general the result we want is that we want peace and happiness. So we have to do the right things which will create the peace and happiness, and we have to avoid doing the things that obstruct peace and happiness. This is the meaning of karma. Karma is like sowing a seed and then the seed grows into a plant. Everything we say, think and do is like that. We are constantly creating the causes which lea to results either straight away or after long time in the future.
The most obvious thing we want is peace. What is the thing we need to create as a cause for it? Obviously we need to sow the seed of meditation constantly. Every time we sit down to meditate we are establishing the karma, which is happiness. It is like every time we sit down to meditate we are sowing the seed in this big field which will eventually give the crop of happiness. If we know this, it will help us to meditate more diligently, because we will feel enthusiastic that we are creating the right future for ourselves. We can feel really confident because we know the future is in our hands. It is in our hands because we have the ability to sow the right seeds. And on the other side we have to stop sowing the wrong seeds. So that's why we have to have these ethical guidelines.
What we need to do is learn to stop sowing the wrong seeds through our body, our speech and our mind. We can remember different guidelines which will help us in our lives. There are three physical guidelines, four main verbal guidelines and three mental ones. These different guidelines are whole groups of activity based around different subjects. It's not like ten things you must not do, it's more like ten groups of activities which are harmful. I give you an example: the first physical guideline is not to kill. But that is actually group of activities, it covers all kinds of violence and aggression. It doesn't mean you can beat people up, just make sure you don't kill them!
Each guideline names one action but around that there are all kinds of similar actions which should also be avoided. The three physical guidelines are: we shouldn't kill, we shouldn't steal, and we shouldn't cause suffering through our sexual conduct. Then the four verbal things: we shouldn't tell lies, we shouldn't gossip and slander others, we shouldn't speak in a hurtful way woundingly or aggressively to others and we shouldn't waste our energy and distract others through useless speech.
The three mental things we should give up: we should give up envy and covetousness. This is very important in our culture. Our culture is a consumer culture and consumer culture is entirely based on envy and covetousness. If you want people to buy things you have to make them envious. So we are constantly showing images in advertising or in shop-windows, which are designed to make us feel envious, so that we have to buy more. What we learn instead is to learn to be content, to learn to be happy with the way things are.
The second negative mental attitude is resentment and hatred. This can mean that one has anger and hatred towards somebody, or it can mean that one is carrying a burden of long term resentment. Perhaps we cannot forgive somebody for what they did to us and through holding onto this feeling of not forgiving we make ourselves tense, and we carry very heavy burden that drags us down all the time. And also it can mean that we are generally an irritable person, we get upset with others easily, that's another type of resentment. Or it might mean that we become very narrow-minded and fanatical. Many people, if they have an angry disposition, they use religion or politics to express that and they become very fanatical.
The third mental attitude which should be given up is ignorance and wrong views. And actually this is the biggest, because it is due to ignorance in our mind that we don't find happiness. The obvious way to overcome this ignorance is to study the teachings of Buddha and to meditate. I say Buddha, because I'm speaking as a Buddhist monk, but of course you all have to find your own way and whatever philosophical school appeals to you and makes sense to you, you should study that. But you should always check: is this philosophy genuine, is it compassionate, is it honest. And through following this philosophy am I becoming a more kind and peaceful person?
That's a brief explanation of these ten actions which we should avoid. When you do the contemplation on ethics and karma you can think generally about the subject and then you can also go through these ten points in your mind. The main thing is that we should generally understand that everything we do has a result. If you can do as much positive action as possible, that's the best thing. That will have a positive result. If we do negative action, there will be a negative result. So we should try to look at our lifestyle in that light, and an important aspect of this and one which relates very strongly to stress, is called right livelihood.
The Buddha talked a lot about the right livelihood and what he meant was that we should check: are we making our living out of causing suffering. We should try to choose a career for ourselves which at least doesn't harm others, but if we can, then it should also help others, that would be the best. If we are making our livelihood at the expense of others, if it's causing others to suffer, then how can we truly be happy? It means that we end up becoming more and more harsh and brutal in our mind. It means that we develop a kind of mentality where we think: "As long that I'm okay I don't care what happens to others." That kind of mentality will lead to lot of stress, because with that kind of mentality we sit here thinking: "I need to protect myself, and even if others suffer, I don't mind." With that fear will come. There will always be sense of fear and struggle and disappointment and also guilt. In some people that guilt might be so deeply suppressed that they don't feel it as guilt, they feel it as something else. They might even feel it as ambition but it's guilt suppressed and turned into something else.
Those were few ideas on the subject of karma and ethics. Do you have any questions?
Q: My teacher said I can do whatever I like.
GT: The main point is that if you put your mind into something you can definitely achieve what you want but you have to have ethical guidelines within society and benefiting others.
Q: I was also taught to meditate with palms up.
GT: In Buddhist tradition we are taught to have the hands in lap or on knees palms downwards. What you have been taught is from a different tradition. The problem comes if you go to many different traditions and you get frustrated because they are not saying the same thing. But I think that it is very good there are many different traditions, because different people will be attracted to different paths. Mixing traditions is like taking many medicines at the same time rather than just taking one medicine very clearly.
Q: In Finland the palms up position in yoga and reiki means receiving energy.
GT: It's a different approach with a different aim and different result.
This is the last session and we will complete the practises. We have looked at the first three of the Four Foundations and the last one we'll look at now. We can call this one Suffering and Freedom. In this practice we look at what it is that makes us suffer and what is it that makes us free. Where does our suffering really come from? We have to understand that it comes from our mind. It comes from our ego. We have to recognise that if we are constantly looking at outer things as being the cause of our happiness or the cause of our suffering, we will never be free.
We have to see that everything outside of us is impermanent, we ourselves are impermanent, our mind is impermanent and we need to change our attitude if we want to find happiness. Basic mistake that we constantly make is that we label everything as being either happiness or suffering. What I mean is that we look at objects and we think that they contain the essence of happiness or suffering. So we are constantly running around in a circle and then in Buddhist terminology they call this samsara, which means going round in circles. We are constantly running towards things that we think will make us happy. And running away from things that we think will make us suffer. But through this running we are creating more running.
To find freedom we need to stop and we need to look at our mind. And we have to understand that really there is no satisfaction ultimately to be found in the things around us. We will only find satisfaction if we develop a positive attitude. Then it means that we become independent, it means that we become free. Otherwise we are dependent on everything. We also need to understand that suffering really doesn't come from the things around us, it comes from our own attitude. If we don't understand that, we are always going to run away, and we will never actually find a safe place to hide.
So this fourth practice is all about recognising the importance of training the mind above all else. And we really need to recognise the importance of that so that we see it as a very valuable and precious thing to do with our time, and then we do it more. Like I said earlier, we all have an interest in meditation, we believe in it, but we often find we don't do it as much as we want to. That is because our habits are stronger than our faith. Our faith remains something intellectual and academic. We need to turn it something more like an instinct. And so these four practices are a very effective method for deepening our faith and allowing it to become confidence.
It's very important that we don't see meditation or Buddhism or whatever we are practising as something external to us. Lot of people see spiritual path as being something separate to them and they try to change themselves to suit that practice. They end up becoming more and more dishonest. We can end up adapting ourselves so that we seem more spiritual, we are pretending to fit in with this particular spiritual system. And then we start to hate the parts of our self that don't fit in with that spirituality. So we often repress all of that and pretend to be very good. This is because we are trying to fit ourselves into something else. It's more useful to instead bring the spiritual practice into us. So that means to take the teachings and absorb them and use them within ourselves in a very honest way.
So to bring the practice into our own life and use the practice with all of our problems and suffering and all the parts that we don't like, use the practice within that. These Four Foundations should help us to do that. Because when you practise these Four Foundations it is very important to be very honest and very personal and to use your own life experience as part of that analysis.
So then, what we are doing is learning to internalize our faith and deepen it so that we have more confidence about the importance of meditation. Without that confidence we will only meditate very irregularly. So this is the point of these four practises. And of course the other point is to develop a more healthy outlook on life.
You can practise these as a formal session of practice, and in that case you should spend maybe a month on each one in isolation. A very good system would be: in the morning you get up and do the meditation watching your breathing and in the evening you do a little bit of thinking of these Four Foundations. But with the Four Foundations you should spend maybe a month on each one before moving onto the next. They have to be done in order, not mixed together.
The reason you have to do them in order is because you are gradually accumulation your understanding and the understanding gained in the previous one helps to inform the present one that you are working on. And so, that is how you practise. In your daily life in between the sessions you should also try to be mindful regularly, so mindful when you are walking, eating, moving, etc. and that means you bring your mind into the present and you are aware in a very direct, simple and uncomplicated way.
You don't have to focus on your breathing to do that, you are just aware of the present situation. It is open and spacious, it is not that you are concentrating on one point. And then also in your daily life you can think from time to time in a more casual way about these Four Foundations. So you can try to see situations and see life through the filter of understanding, through the filter of impermanence for example. Any questions?
Q: What happens after you have done all of the Four Foundations? Should one start again from the beginning?
GT: That's up to you. Once you have them all one by one gradually you can, if you like, go back and focus on different ones at different times as I said, depending on the situation. Another thing you can do, which is very effective is to regularly every day just remind yourself briefly of each one. That is what they do I retreat for example. At the beginning of retreat they will spend s long time on each one separately and then after that every day they will quickly remind themselves on each one in order to keep connecting with that understanding regularly. You can also do like that.
Blue Light Visualisation
There is on last practice that I would like to offer you. This is a visualisation practise, and you can use this practise when you are having a difficult time. When you feel emotional and confused and you feel you need little bit of help. If your mind is very stirred up, your mind is very active or you feel frightened you can use this practice as a special kind of blessing that you are doing for yourself.
So you are going to visualise a blue light. In the Tibetan Buddhism especially we use a lot of visualisation practises. So it's quite good to try this blue light visualisation. In itself it's very effective, but also if you later on are going to do other practices it's a good introduction to visualisation. A lot of people find visualisation quite difficult and it's usually because they are trying to do it the wrong way. They think they are supposed to use their eyes and they are trying to see the visualisation. And in fact the word visualisation is a bit misleading because it suggests 'visual', but it shouldn't be like that. When you visualise something you are not trying to see it with your eyes but you are imagining it with your mind.
Actually it's very easy because we do it all the time, don't we. We are always thinking, we are always imagining. So if I tell you to imagine a friend of yours or your house, it's quite easy. That's visualisation, its nothing more complicated than that. When we use visualisation in terms of practice, we visualise one thing and we use that as a way of stabilising ourselves. In this case we are going to use that as a way of giving our strength, we are going to visualise the blue light entering us and filling us with strength and taking away our problems.
When you are trying to do this practice, if you find that you are getting tense and you find that it's hard to visualise, don't push yourself, just relax, let go, breathe a little and try again. For us as beginners it will be very difficult to hold the visualisation constantly. Our mind will be unstable and so the visualisation will be unstable and that's fine. You don't have to compete with yourself, it's not an experiment to see how long you can visualise, you are actually doing this in order to give yourself some strength. So, focus more on the meaning than on the technique or the details.
I will talk you through the practice now. Sit as you would normally sit for meditation. Just sit, relax and be present in your own body.
Now imagine that you are looking into a deep blue sky with no limit. You don't have to see the sky with your eyes, you are just imagining it with your mental eye. Imagine that this sky is very vibrant with a lot of energy and a lot of light. The image will keep coming and going, that's fine, just return to it when you can.
In the distance you see a point of light which is coming towards you slowly and expanding. As it gets closer it becomes a perfect sphere of swirling rainbow colours. It is now in front of you as a ball of rainbow colours and you feel that these different colours represent the purity of the five elements. The colours are swirling around. Within that there is the yellow light of the earth element which gives balance. There is the white light of water which holds things together. There is the red light of fire which gives warmth, there is the intelligent green light of air and the intense deep blue light of space. All of these are the five elements which give balance and health and life.
Now feel that the lights melt into the deep blue light. They all become this blue colour. It's like lapis lazuli in a form of light. As you look at this blue colour, feel that that it gives you real feeling of unshakeable confidence and courage. And feel that the blue light streams towards you out of the sphere and enters into the centre of your chest. So this light contains all the healing qualities of the whole universe. And it enters you and fills you up. If you find it difficult you can imagine that each time you breathe in, light is entering you, of you can have it as a constant stream of entry.
As this light enters you, where-ever it meets any fear or negativity in you, it transforms that into a blue black smoke. This smoke comes out of your body and disappears into the air in front of you without leaving a trace. So the light is entering you and healing you and transforming all your problems into smoke which leaves your body. And if there are any places in your body where you feel you are holding problems, feel that the light really enters those places and cleanses them. And any difficult feelings that arise, feel that the light goes into those feelings and transforms them, purifies them.
As you feel that this is cleaning your problems, feel that your body becomes less solid and less heavy and becomes lighter. Your body is filled with the purity of that blue light which is very spacious, your body looses it's solid feeling. Just rest in a feeling of relief, freedom and confidence. Everything is spacious like the sky.
So we stop there. That's a simple practise we can use from time to time, especially when you feel very unstable and suffering, you can use this to stabilize yourself. You can also use it as a means for developing compassion. Through letting this blue light heal us we are giving ourselves compassion. And you can also extend the visualisation to others and that will help you to develop compassion to others. The way you do this is after you have received the blue light for yourself you can then start to imagine that the blue light is going to other beings.
You can remember somebody who you feel close to or somebody who is in trouble or in need and you can imagine that the blue light goes to them and enters them and heals them, transforms and purifies all their suffering. You can also imagine that the blue light goes to all beings everywhere and transforms everybody's suffering. So you can use this kind of visualisation whenever you want to or you need to. And you can have a very strong intention, almost like a prayer, where you can imagine that this blue light may remove your problems, especially if you are feeling very strongly about one particular thing you are working on, you can really imagine that the blue light sorts that out. Any questions?
Q: What about using white light?
GT: This is one particular practice, altogether there are six different ones with different colours, I was choosing this one.
Q: What does white mean?
GT: I'm not sure, I have to look in the text. This is from a series of practices in the Tara-Rokpa therapy program which involve using different colours and different lights.
Ani Sherab: I the book Taming the Tiger there are many of these practices. In general white light is connected with purifying body, red light is connected with purifying speech and blue light is connected with purifying mind.
Just to remind of the practices that you now have which you can use: the main thing is to meditate regularly, where you use the awareness of your breathing and it's very important to have the motivation at that beginning of each session and the dedication at the end, no matter what practice you are doing. And then you have to integrate that to your daily life by relaxing and being aware and mindful regularly throughout the day. And then, in the evening, or whenever you like you don't have to be too rigid about it, you can do these Four Ordinary Foundations. And then you can use this blue light visualisation whenever you are feeling stress and tension and fear etc., or any kind of problems. That should give you enough to be getting along with.
And of course if you want more advise and you want some personal guidance, then you can see Ani Sherab and you can go to her classes and learn more meditation. It's quite important to have somebody you can turn to for advice in your spiritual practice because it's so easy to confuse ourselves and we need somebody from the outside to tell us what to do.
The most important thing in our Tibetan tradition is called lineage blessing. The people who carry this lineage blessing have the name tulku. So they are called Rinpoche or Tulku and the overall head of our organisation is Akong Tulku Rinpoche. He is the boss of me and Ani Sherab, all the work we do is under his authority and under his guidance. And we always feel that the most useful thing that we can do is to give other people contact with Akong Rinpoche. If we can create the right attitude in our minds to attract him to Finland then he can come and give us the lineage blessing. So we need to practice. We need to create a need for spiritual advice.
And of course Akong Rinpoche's schedule is incredible full. If he doesn't come for a while you shouldn't feel there is something wrong with you, but you should really pray and wish very hard that he finds the time in his schedule to come and visit. But like I said, it's very important from your part to create a right kind of spiritual readiness in yourselves. Lineage blessing means that from the Buddha to the present day there is a line of great masters who carry the transmission of enlightenment. These enlightened teaches can be either male or female, there is no difference. And in fact in our Buddhist tradition there are female teachers who are held to be very highly enlightened. The lineage teachers give us blessing which is like putting a seed in our mind that will flower. But the only people who can really do this are the enlightened masters who have the title tulku.
When one is in contact with these people it is like plugging oneself into an electricity current or drinking from a very pure stream. If we do that, it means that our practice will go faster and have more energy. It doesn't mean that we become enslaved to a guru. Akong Rinpoche has absolutely no wish to be a guru. He doesn't like to be a teacher. He doesn't travel around the world trying to gather students. However, because of his pure motivation and because of his position in the lineage we can receive all the blessings of the vajrayana teachings through him.
And so, when he visits a country, usually he spends a lot of time giving personal interviews. This is because everybody is different and everybody needs different advice for their spiritual practice and their life in general. And Akong Rinpoche is very well known not only as a spiritual master but also a doctor and therapist. He doesn't like to give formal Buddhist teaching in public, he prefers to do it in private through interviews. But what he does do in public is he performs various Buddhist ceremonies. One of them is called the Refuge Ceremony. This is where people wish to make a very formal inner commitment to Buddhist path. In the Refuge Ceremony they have the opportunity to receive the blessing of the Buddha through Rinpoche and to make that connection, which will help them in their practice.
The other type of ceremony which Rinpoche performs a lot is where he gives the transmission for the different practices. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition we have quite a lot of deity visualisations. Like the practice of Chenrezig, Tara or Medicine Buddha. For these different practices it is very important to receive the transmission of the lineage which is done through empowerment ceremony. These empowerment ceremonies are given because people wish to do the particular Tibetan practices. Those practices involve visualisation and mantra recitation. But also these empowerments are open to everyone and many people come simply for the experience of making a connection and to receive a blessing to help them to overcome physical and mental obstacles.
An important thing to remember is that somebody like Akong Rinpoche is a carrier of an ancient heritage which is the Karma Kagyu Tradition. The Karma Kagyu Tradition goes all the way back to the Buddha and it contains great masters such as Milarepa and Karmapa. To make a connection with that lineage will help us in our practice because it gives us something greater to aspire to. Also a lineage gives us a context in which we can benefit beings. Within each lineage there is a complete treasure of instructions, complete within themselves. And the job of the lama is to open the lid of this treasure chest. Any questions?
Q: Can the empowerment happen on another level?
GT: There are different ways of receiving an empowerment, definitely. For us as ordinary individuals we receive the empowerment through the lama sitting in front of us and performing various rituals and saying various prayers. It's quite a complicated ceremony and in the end of the ceremony we go up to the lama and he or she places the objects on our head to give us the blessing.
That is the general, common way of receiving the empowerment. But then it says in the teachings that for individuals who are more spiritually ready, they will receive empowerment in all kinds of other ways. And that will be called the transmission of mind to mind. For that maybe one doesn't even need to be in the same place with the lama. But I've got no idea about it because it never happened to me!
Q: How long one needs to practice Chenrezig before one can have initiation?
GT: Straight away. You can have the empowerment whenever you like and if you want to have it soon you can come to Samye Ling, I think Chenrezig initiation will be given there next month. So you can check the website for that. And also you can receive empowerments many times again and again.
That's the end of our course and what I always say to people is that when you attend these kind of courses you should only take with you only what you find useful. If you found anything that you didn't agree with or if you found wrong, then just leave it here, don't take it with you. But take what you did find useful and I'm sure there is one thing everybody finds useful. And that is how to relax. I think everybody will find that useful, there is no argument about that, is there? Thank you very much for listening and I hope you found it interesting. I found it interesting, because whenever I give these courses it helps me to find out more about what people need and what people are interested in. That's how I study, I study through talking to people and finding out what they need from the dharma. So thank you for letting me experiment with you!
Audience: Thank you! May I take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of all the students here and Rokpa Finland Association for coming to Finland and teaching us so well. We wish you all the best in the future and in all your journeys.