You are always with your practice

by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

I would like to say is that people definitely have to work and support themselves. When you have the enlightened attitude you have a responsibility to the people around you, to your country. You care about them. You are always with your practice. You are inseparable from it. You seize opportunities to benefit others and you will benefit others in whatever way you can.

You have been in this country. You were born in this country. Many people who will read this, are from families that have been here for generations. This country has been an important place for you. You have to offer respect for your grandparents and you must live a decent life, a dignified life that upholds the traditions of your ancestors, that meets the approval of society, your parents and yourself. If you are really going to serve this country and help its people, this seems like a reasonable way, rather than belonging to this party and that party, and getting involved in this competition and that competition, and all kinds of politics. As practitioners of the Dharma we don’t have to deny politics and reject politics, but we don’t have to play those games, either. It is not necessary. It is not important. It is not needed.

If you are working, may be in a hospital, you can see how you might have the opportunity and responsibility to help people. In the same way, what ever work you have taken, there are definitely people that you can benefit. So you should serve your people, serve your country, not expecting your country to serve you. And that’s the part of the practice of the Dharma. Not working is not taking responsibility.

If you are practitioner of the Mahayana teachings, that means you have something to be proud of, something to be worthy of, something to be descent for. But many people go around like some kind of outcast, in rags, with long hair, unwashed, as if you are a drug addict or something. This is not the proper way to present yourself. You are not maintaining your respect, you are not respecting Dharma that you are practicing, and you are not creating the proper outlook that the excellent Dharma is worthy of.

This is the message to the practitioners of Dharma that they must be dignified internally as well as externally, and their internal dignity must reflect outwardly also. We are not some drug addicts. Wearing the descent clothes, and being a descent human being, and serving your country, your people, serving the Dharma, and also yourself, being a self-respectful person is the Dharma path. How are you to benefit beings by looking as if you are completely discarded from the society?

By exposing that appearance, you are not taking the responsibility or you are not reflecting the enlightened attitude. If you are practicing the enlightened attitude, you should naturally be able to attract people so that when people see you, they might think, “Yes, these people definitely seem to be descent people, I think I could relate to them, and could ask something of these people. They might even be able to help me.” So in this way, you appear capable of giving help, or, at least capable of giving some directions to them for the help.

We are proud of ourselves as examples of the Dharma. If you are going around in rags, not taking care of your body, and going in the world like a misfit, it makes a very bad impression of that Dharma Center that you are involved with, and also as a person of this country, which means that you bring disrespect and a bad impression to this country and it’s people.

These are certain points that before I leave, I would like to offer to people so that they can use it. I hope that whoever hears these words, whether you are a Dharma practitioner or not, or whether you have entered into Buddhism or not, I hope that it will make some sense to you. It comes sincerely and truly, not with any put-on, or masquerade or diplomacy, but truly-straight and clean.

With integrity and sincerity you can serve beings, and as you work in the Dharma, you will serve many beings. And that is the greatness of the Mahayana teachings and practice. You don’t have to be a drop out from the country, the society or family. You are not. Cause, you have dignity.

The charnel ground is not merely the hermitage; it can also be discovered or revealed in completely terrifying mundane environments where practitioners find themselves desperate and depressed, where conventional worldly aspirations have become devastated by grim reality. This is demonstrated in the sacred biographies of the great siddhas of the Vajrayāna tradition. Tilopa attained realization as a grinder of sesame seeds and a procurer for a prominent prostitute. Sarvabhakṣa was an extremely obese glutton, Gorakṣa was a cowherd in remote climes, Taṅtepa was addicted to gambling, and Kumbharipa was a destitute potter. These circumstances were charnel grounds because they were despised in Indian society and the siddhas were viewed as failures, marginal and defiled.
—  Judith Simmer-Brown writing about the Mahasiddhas, completely realized tantric masters of the Nath, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen traditions.

Don’t recall -

  Let go of what has passed.

Don’t imagine - 

  Let go of what may come.

Don’t think -

  Let go of what is happening now.

Don’t examine -

  Don’t try to figure anything out.

Don’t control -

  Don’t try to make anything happen.

Rest -

  Relax, right now, and rest.

  ~  Tilopa (988 - 1069 A.D.), Buddhist mahasiddha (translation by Ken McLeod)

Five Mindfulness Trainings

by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

1. Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

2. True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

3. True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

5. Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

Happiness in Every Breath

by Thich Nhat Hanh

The human mind is always searching for possessions and never feels fulfilled. This causes impure actions ever to increase. Bodhisattvas, however, always remember the principle of having few desires. They live a simple life in peace in order to practice the Way and consider the realisation of perfect understanding as their only career.

—The Sutra on the Eight Realisations of the Great Beings

The Buddha said that craving is like holding a torch against the wind; the fire will burn you. When someone is thirsty and drinks only salty water, the more he drinks, the thirstier he becomes. If we run after money, for example, we think that a certain amount of money will make us happy. But once we have that amount, it’s not enough; we think we need more. There are people who have a lot of money, but they are not happy at all. The Buddha said that the object of our craving is like a bone without flesh. A dog can chew and chew on that bone and never feel satisfied.

We all experience moments when we feel lonely, sad, empty, frustrated, or afraid. We fill up our feelings with a movie or a sandwich. We buy things to suppress our pain, despair, anger, and depression. We find a way to consume, in the hopes that it will obliterate the feelings. Even if a TV show isn’t interesting, we still watch it. We think anything is better than experiencing the malaise, the ill-being in us. We have lost sight of the reality that we already have all the conditions we need for our own happiness.

Each of us has our own idea of happiness. It’s because of this idea that we run after objects we desire. We sacrifice our time and, to a certain extent, destroy our bodies and our minds. According to the Buddha, happiness is simple — if we go home to the present moment, we realise that we have more than enough to be happy right here and now. All the wonders of life are in us and around us. This realization can help us release our craving, anger, and fear.

The more we consume, the more we bring in the toxins that feed our craving, anger, and ignorance. We need to do two things to return to mindful awareness. First, we can look deeply into the nutriment that is feeding our craving, examining the source. No animal or plant can survive without food. Our craving, just like our love or our suffering, also needs food to survive. If our craving refuses to go away, it’s because we keep feeding it daily. Once we have identified what feeds our craving, we can cut off this source of nutriment, and our craving will wither.

The second practice is mindful consumption. When we end our consumption of things that feed our craving, ignorance, and wrong perceptions, we can be nourished by the many wonderful things around us. Understanding and compassion are born. Joy in the present moment becomes possible. We have a chance to transform our own suffering.

The Four Nutriments

The Buddha spoke of four kinds of nutriments, the four kinds of foods that we consume every day. Our happiness and suffering depend very much on whether what we consume is wholesome or unwholesome.

The First Nutriment: Edible Food

The first kind of nutriment is edible food — what we put into our mouth and chew, swallow, or drink. Most of us instinctively know what food is healthy for our bodies and what food isn’t, but we often choose not to think about it. Before eating, we can look at the food on the table and breathe in and out to see whether we are eating food that is making us healthy or making us sick. When we are away from home, whether we are eating a snack on the go, dining at an event, or grazing on something while at work, we can pause and decide to eat only the most nourishing food. This is mindful eating.

Mindful eating can begin with mindful shopping. When we go grocery shopping, we can choose to buy only food that feeds our well-being. We can use the cooking of this food as an occasion to practice mindfulness. At the table, we can be silent for a moment. We can practice breathing in and out and give thanks for the healthy food in front of us.

The Second Nutriment: Sensory Impressions

Sensory impressions are what we consume with our eyes, ears, nose, body, and mind. Television programs, books, movies, music, and topics of conversation are all items of consumption. They may be healthy or toxic. When we talk with a good friend or listen to a dharma talk, the seeds of compassion, understanding, and forgiveness are watered in us, and we are nourished. But an advertisement or film can touch the seed of craving in us and make us lose our peace and joy.

When we drive through the city, we consume, whether we want to or not. We are assaulted twenty-four hours a day by sensory impressions on billboards, on the radio, and all around us. Without mindfulness, we are vulnerable. With mindfulness, we can be aware of what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching. Our mindful awareness can help us change the focus of our attention and be nourished by the positive things around us. The blue sky, the sounds of birds, the presence of a friend — all of these things feed our compassion and joy.

The Third Nutriment: Volition

The third kind of nutriment, volition, is also called aspiration or desire. Every one of us has a deep desire, and we are nourished by that desire. Without desire, we wouldn’t have the energy to live. That deepest desire can be wholesome or unwholesome. When Siddhartha left the palace to follow a spiritual path, he had a desire to practice and to become enlightened in order to help people suffer less. That desire was wholesome, because it gave him the energy to practice, to overcome difficulties, and succeed. But the desire to punish another person, to acquire wealth, or to succeed at the expense of others, is an unwholesome desire that brings suffering to everyone.

Each of us can look deeply to recognize our deepest desire, to see whether it is wholesome. The desire to help fight pollution and preserve our planet is something wonderful. But our craving for money, power, sex, fame, or to punish others only leads to ill-being. That kind of desire pulls us in the direction of death. If we find this kind of volition rising up in us, we need to stop and look deeply. What is behind this desire? Is there a feeling of sadness or loneliness we are trying to cover up?

The Fourth Nutriment: Consciousness

Consciousness here means collective consciousness. We are influenced by the way of thinking and the views of other people in many ways. Individual consciousness is made of collective consciousness, and collective consciousness is made of individual consciousness.

It is our collective consciousness that determines how we live in the world. If we aren’t mindful and we live in an environment where people around us are very angry, violent, or cruel, then sooner or later we’ll become angry and cruel as well. Even if we intend to be compassionate and kind, we can’t help but be influenced by the collective consciousness. If everyone else around us is consuming material things and giving in to craving, it is more difficult to maintain our mindful awareness. This is especially true for our children. When we put our children in an environment, they may be as influenced by that environment as they are by our parenting.

Most of us don’t live in an environment where people are always peaceful, compassionate, and open. But we can be mindful of creating a community around us that fosters these qualities. Even if it is only our house or our block or our small community, we need to surround ourselves with compassionate people.

The Buddha said, “If you know how to look deeply into the nature of your craving and identify the source of nutriments that have brought it in to you, you are already at the beginning of transformation and healing.” Every kind of ill-being has been brought to us by one or more nutriments. Looking into the nature of ill-being in terms of the four nutriments can lead us onto the path of mindful consumption, which is the path to well-being.

Mindful Consumption

More than two thousand years ago, the Buddha offered guidelines called the Five Wonderful Precepts to his lay students to help them live peaceful, wholesome, and happy lives.

I have translated these precepts for modern times as the Five Mindfulness Trainings, because mindfulness is at the foundation of each of them. The First Mindfulness Training focuses on reverence for life; the second on generosity and right livelihood; the third on true love and sexual responsibility; the fourth on deep listening and right speech.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training, focusing on health and healing through mindful consumption, says: “Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, and not in wealth or fame, we are determined not to take as the aim of our life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure, nor to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying. We are committed to living simply and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those in need. We will practice mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs, or any other products that bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness.”

We can make a decision to follow this training and commit to not consuming anything that brings toxins into our body and mind. Mindful consumption is the way out of craving, not only for us as individuals, but also for the whole world. The only sustainable way for human life to continue is if we consume less and become content with fewer possessions. Once we are able to live simply and happily, we are better able to help others. We have more time and energy to share.

Mindful consumption means looking deeply into your desire to consume, as it arises, staying with that desire until you have some insight into its origins and the intention at its base. When we perceive something, anything at all, we create a sign of it in our mind. A sign is the object of our perception. When we look at a friend, for example, we first see her appearance. We see a self. But if we look deeply into the appearance of our friend, we see elements in her that are not her. We see the air and water, the earth and the sun in her. We see her ancestors in her. So we are not caught in thinking her appearance, her sign, is all she is.

Wherever there is a sign, a mark, an appearance, there is deception. Signs trick and deceive us. But we can break through the veil of signs, and see the nature of things as they are. Seeing the nature of reality is not the fruit of twenty years of meditation; it is our daily practice. We can do it at home, at work, or wherever we are. When we look deeply, we can discover the true nature of a person or a thing; we see the characteristics of interdependence and interconnection. We touch reality as we eat, as we drink. We see the piece of bread as the reality it is; we see our brother, our sister, our partner, our children, and our colleagues at work as they truly are. We can look deeply into the nature of money or material possessions and see that they will not bring us any more happiness than is already available to us. The more we look deeply, the more clearly we see, and reality reveals itself to us bit by bit. When we see reality as it is, there is no craving, no anger, and no fear.

Running after our cravings has brought us a lot of suffering and despair. Committing to mindful consumption is committing to our own happiness. It is a conscious decision to make space for the happiness that is available in each step and each breath. Every breath and every step can be nourishing and healing. As we breathe in and breathe out, or as we take a mindful step, we can recite this mantra: “This is a moment of happiness.” It doesn’t cost anything at all. This is why I say that mindful consumption is the way out of suffering. The teaching is simple, and the practice is not difficult.