FPMT » Dharma Realities http://fpmt.org Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition Tue, 21 Apr 2015 08:59:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Technology and Mindfulnesshttp://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/technology-and-mindfulness/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/technology-and-mindfulness/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 00:08:52 +0000 http://fpmt.org/?p=38052 ... Read full article]]> "No Time to Save the World" by Vaun Raymond. Photo: http://vaunraymondblog.blogspot.com.au/2006_11_01_archive.html. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.

“No Time to Save the World” by Vaun Raymond. Photo: http://vaunraymondblog.blogspot.com.au/2006_11_01_archive.html. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

There was a time when I nearly killed myself, but for the attentiveness of the driver of the car coming towards me. I was so absorbed in a problem I was trying to solve that I was totally unaware of where I was, that is, that I was crossing the road. This was well before the days of mobile phones. Now the ubiquitous phones appear to be responsible for many more people putting themselves in danger through the same lack of awareness of surroundings. They, like me, are being intensely mindful. But, something is not quite right. It must be the technology.

New technology tends to have a bad press. Once we were warned against the act of writing, the new technology of the early Greeks. Socrates thought that writing would create forgetfulness because people would not use their memories. I doubt whether this is the earliest example of “inattention blindness,” also known as “lack of mindfulness.” How often did our Stone Age ancestors lose their prey through inattentiveness? Certainly we know that hunters need to be both patient and alert at the same time. Writing is, and was, nothing more than a different form of attentiveness. It may or may not assist our memory skills, but the world has not fallen apart because we can write.

Then we were warned about reading books. This was not a big problem before the breakthrough technology of the printing press. Now anyone could read so long as they had been taught the alphabet and phonetics. It is the cornerstone of primary education.

There is the wonderful story of the 15th-century Luddite, abbot Johannes Trithemius, who was no fan of the printing press, because he thought that the printing press would make monks lazy.1 Copying meant that you worked hard, which was better for the soul than just reading. He also thought that this newfangled printed book was not as nice as the old copied book. That reminds me of the arguments against ebooks: they just are not as nice as the old paper books and they do not smell the same.

Now it is the rise of the internet and the mobile phone which is going to make a mess of our brains, according to Nick Carr in the Wall Street Journal. The problem is division of attention, which becomes locked into our brains.2

Inattention. Also known as “lack of mindfulness.” Mindfulness, being good, implies that its opposite, inattention, is bad.

Take mobile phones, for example. They are also blamed for “inattention blindness.” People walk into cars, fall into ponds, and even kill others by texting while they are driving. We are warned about the ability of our phones to give us an illusion of connectedness while actually creating the opposite. This becomes locked into our brains.

What we seem to be sacrificing in all our surfing and searching is our capacity to engage in the quieter, attentive modes of thought that underpin contemplation, reflection and introspection. The web never encourages us to slow down. It keeps us in a state of perpetual mental locomotion.3

In other words, modern technology gives us new ways to be distracted.

Is this so?

Mindfulness necessarily creates inattention to whatever we are not being mindful of.   

Inattention can also be called: concentration, distraction, inattentiveness, preoccupation, absent-mindedness, daydreaming, dreaminess, reverie, wool-gathering, abstraction, staring into space, obliviousness. Some of these synonyms are good and some are not. Where would we be without daydreaming, reverie, staring into space, brainstorming? These are also opposite to mindfulness. Studies of the creative process show that both daydreaming and attentiveness are required in the process of creation, but at different times. J. P. Guilford, the great psychologist, coined the terms “divergent thinking” and “convergent thinking.”4 We need both.

So, mindfulness which is being directed towards the phone screen is not being directed elsewhere. That does not mean we are incapable of being mindful, it only means that we have chosen to be mindful of one thing without thinking about the consequences. And having something “locked into our brains” is just current jargon for “learning.” Rather than being alarmed by these brain changes, it would be better to recognize that the neuro-circuits can also be unchanged. In other words, we create habits and we break them.

This is true, too, of our Buddhist practices. We can develop mindfulness as an aspect of meditation and as we do that we are inattentive to any problems happening around us. Meditation, wisely, can be single-pointed concentration (convergent thinking) or analytical meditation (divergent thinking). Post meditation is the time for creating merit that is to generate deeper and wiser states of mind, of wisdom and of compassion. Creating merit also requires both convergent and divergent thinking. How can I benefit this sentient being, the mouse and its decidedly unhealthy droppings? Divergent thinking. I want to do this without killing the mouse. How can I trap it without killing it? Ah, here is an idea that might work. Let me put it into practice. Convergent thinking. Both these states are necessary if the meditation or the creation of merit is to be successful.

What really matters is not attentiveness, or even short burst thinking, but the wisdom which realizes we are not paying attention to what really matters at any one time.

Then, of course, there is our motivation that turns everyday activity into Dharma practice. But that is another topic.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in Mandala, Buddhadharma, Dharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

1. Mike Masnick, “A Fifteenth Century Technopanic About The Horrors Of The Printing Press,” Techdirt.com, February 25, 2011 <https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110119/05022912725/fifteenth-century-technopanic-about-horrors-printing-press.shtml>

2. Nick Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, W.W. Norton & Co., 2011

3. Nick Carr, “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2010 <http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704025304575284981644790098>

4. J. P. Guilford, The Nature of Human Intelligence, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1967


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Procrastinationhttp://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/procrastination/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/procrastination/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 20:59:20 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=33008 ... Read full article]]> "Lättja" by Robert Thegerström, 1887. Public domain.

“Lättja” by Robert Thegerström, 1887. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

“Procrastination is my sin.
It brings me naught but sorrow.
I know that I should stop it.
In fact, I will – tomorrow!”
– Gloria Pitzer

I have been diverting myself with countless other activities, both time-wasting and beneficial instead of writing this blog. I’m in the process of procrastination. However, this blog has a deadline and I am already past that. It was Douglas Adams, who said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” I am in eminent company. Procrastination is about putting off what is important. Going to the dentist, or studying for exams, or fixing the leaking tap can all be objects for procrastination. The real question is: what are we avoiding by procrastinating?

Procrastination is an interesting phenomenon. It is partly a function of motivation, or rather, lack of motivation, and partly a function of priorities, or poorly organized priorities. One famous Buddhist procrastinator was Ananda, a direct disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha. When the Buddha was dying, he said to Ananda that the Sangha could abolish the minor ordination vows. Of course, Ananda was going to check with Buddha which rules were minor and which major. However, he put off asking. No doubt, Ananda kept saying, “Not just now. I’ll ask later.” Buddha died. We still do not know which are major and which are minor vows because Ananda never checked. I can just imagine Ananda saying, “Well, I was going to ask, but ….” To be safe, we take them all. To this day, our monastic vows are based on what was relevant 2,500 years ago.

How many procrastinators does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One. But he has to wait until the light is better.

Procrastination comes from the Latin procrastinatus, where pro- ”forward” combines with crastinus, meaning “tomorrow.” In other words, we are in favor of tomorrow and not today. We will get it done tomorrow, which of course is never today. Are we just being lazy? Yes, according to Buddhist teachings. Western psychology has various theories about the causes of procrastination, none of which refer to laziness. Rather, the causes are seen to be disorganization, perfectionism, anxiety, or just plain irrational thinking. So where does laziness come in? Laziness implies we do not care, but when we procrastinate, we do care, perhaps too deeply and for the wrong things. Laziness, like addiction, argues that our short-term pleasure is preferable to facing up to reality. Laziness is about luxuriating in what our self-cherishing calls pleasure, and that is none other than one of the three root faults: attachment.

Really, we procrastinators are like addicts who know what we are doing (procrastinating) is causing problems, but do it (or, do not do “it,” i.e., what we ought to be doing), anyway. So it boils down to this: when the “pleasure” of procrastination is less than the pleasure of completing the task, then we get on with it. Or to put it another way: when the disadvantages of not completing the task are worse than the disadvantages of procrastination. I prefer the positive spin.

My dog does not let me procrastinate when it comes to feeding him or walking him. He has his own way of expressing his impatience. Sitting on my feet is one of his strategies, or pointedly looking at the door. If I still don’t respond, then he gives a little cough, which slowly develops into a louder and louder bark. He makes sure I will be motivated, if only by annoying me. He makes sure I prioritize his needs. The pleasure of sitting in my chair has become overwhelmed by the displeasure of my persistent dog.

There is plenty of advice on the web about how to overcome procrastination or laziness. My own experience is that a hit of reality, like my barking dog, is the best solution. As far as this blog is concerned, that hit of reality is the deadline which has already passed. Such hits of reality seriously erode the pleasure of procrastinating. My biggest hit of reality came recently. My body told me on no uncertain terms that I am not immortal, that one day I really will die. That day could be tomorrow or in 10 year’s time, but my body reminded me, rather forcefully, that it will not last forever. And I know that if I am going to die, then I prefer to die well.

It is not so much that with death I fear discarding my current body. My body leaves a lot to be desired anyway. It is more that I would like a nice rebirth in my next body. That means being reborn as a human with access to wisdom and compassion: what we call a precious human rebirth. Or a rebirth in a pure realm would do me nicely with not even a deteriorating human body to worry about. So how to get there? Well, by practicing the teachings now, which means through generating positive karma while I can. I do not think that procrastination will help.

“You must not procrastinate. Rather, you should make preparations so that even if you did die tonight, you would have no regrets. If you develop an appreciation for the uncertainty and imminence of death, your sense of the importance of using your time wisely will get stronger and stronger.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Thinking about death is like having the dog nagging you. You cannot get away from it easily without taking some action. It’s a most powerful motivator. 

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in MandalaBuddhadharmaDharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

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Is It a Mouse?http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/is-it-a-mouse/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/is-it-a-mouse/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 22:38:35 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=31837 ... Read full article]]> "An Antechinus" by Alan Couch. Creataive Commons Attribution via Flickr.

“An Antechinus” by Alan Couch. Creative Commons Attribution via Flickr.

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

It is a dreamy autumn day. A light rain is soaking into the thirsty soil of my garden to the delight of plants and weeds and birds and possums and our local, sweet little antechinus which looks like a mouse. The dry summer which seemed to last forever has, like everything else, suffered the fate of impermanence. For the first time this year, I have to hang the washing indoors. The occasional patches of sunlight make a half-hearted effort to dry it out. I had planned to work in the garden but my back, another example of impermanence, will let me bend over, but not let me straighten up. I give up on gardening for a few days. Now I can set my mind any way I choose provided I do not use my back. What to choose?

It looked like a mouse, but it was an antechinus that ran across my kitchen bench this morning. They tend to sneak inside when I leave a door open. The antechinus is a little marsupial, common where I live. My home is a great environment as far as they are concerned. Warm, lots of food, especially highly desired dog food. Lots of water, and a dog trained to not catch them. At this time of the year, the females are also looking for a warm place to nest. The locals have a soft spot for them, but not the holiday makers.

In a holiday town like mine, many visitors think the antechinuses are mice. Mice are vermin and have to be killed. They set their baits and lethal traps not knowing they are killing off a native animal. Without being taught, it is difficult to discriminate between mice and antechinuses. Discrimination is a form of wisdom. Without this wisdom, antechinuses become mice, and thus, vermin.

Wisdom has several aspects, and discrimination is one of them. Each of these are born from Prajñaparamita, the mother of wisdom. All her children have different qualities designed to oppose different forms of ignorance. The main ones are:

1. Mirror-like Wisdom, the child that watches and which sees everything, just as a mirror reflects everything near it, there is no anger in this child, just watchfulness.

2. Wisdom of Equality, the calm child, the child that feels his or her pleasure and pain and but does not build them into dramatic stories of needing the pleasure or being horrified by the pain. This child has no pride. She knows what it was like before the calm set in.

3. Wisdom of Discrimination loves maths. This child can easily separate one object from another. All objects are simply that so this child has no space for grasping and clinging.

4. Wisdom of Accomplishment is the child that shows us how to get things done. Jealousy is not an issue, it only interferes with the task. So this child shows no jealousy.

5. And finally there is the child that is rarely seen but always present, Wisdom of Dharmadhatu, the essence of the wisdom of our own consciousness, the wisdom that becomes the boundless essence of a buddha.

So what has this to do with my antechinus? Obviously the wisdom of discrimination will help me differentiate it from a mouse, but the other wisdoms are also ready to help. Mirror-like Wisdom points out that I do not need to label the creature as good or bad and so there is no need to be angry with it. Wisdom of Equality teaches me that any alarm that may arise comes from me and not from the cute little animal. My pride becomes dashed by this awareness. Wisdom of Accomplishment points out that I can see this little creature as a teacher, not separate from my Dharma path. And within the help of Wisdom of Dharmadhatu I can see both “I” and it are impermanent and we do not inherently exist. It teaches me to see through the eyes of Buddha.

Now I need to be practical and find a non-lethal trap for this little antechinus because it does, like mice, leave its droppings everywhere and I do not want myself or my visitors to become ill. Then when it is caught, I can release it gently back into the bush and hope that it finds a new habitat there. May this precious teacher find the happiness that does not change.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in MandalaBuddhadharmaDharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

"Claws for Diggining" by Michael Sale. Creative Commons Attribution via Flickr.

“Claws for Diggining” by Michael Sale. Creative Commons Attribution via Flickr.

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Wisdom and Maturityhttp://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/wisdom-and-maturity/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/wisdom-and-maturity/#comments Thu, 06 Mar 2014 22:20:54 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=29618 ... Read full article]]> "Prajnaparamita" by Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr. Sanctuary and statue made by Sagaravajra Buddhafield Green Retreat 2006. Creative Commons Attribution.

“Prajnaparamita” by Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr. Sanctuary and statue made by Sagaravajra Buddhafield Green Retreat 2006. Creative Commons Attribution.

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

We all know what wisdom is, yet we find it hard to define. It is not knowledge, although knowledge is one of its qualities. It is not ethics, although that also is a quality of wisdom. There are countless images that appear on a Google image search. Some are trite, some funny and some are profound. Yet there is some part of us that recognizes wisdom when we see it.

Mostly wisdom is depicted in male form, but there is a question that does its rounds on the internet: what if there were three wise women rather than three wise men? They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts and there would be peace on earth. A woman’s wisdom is more likely to be practical.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are five wisdoms identified, one for each of the tantric families of deities. They are the mirror-like wisdom which simply recognizes things as they are; the wisdom of equality which recognizes that feelings are just that and nothing else; the wisdom of discrimination which allows us to recognize things and give them labels; the wisdom of accomplishment which enables us to achieve our goals; and our own innate wisdom, our dharmadhatu, which enables us to recognize wisdom when we meet it.

These are not just Buddhist or Tibetan qualities. Nor are they specifically male or female. Wise people, regardless of gender, would have all these wisdom qualities well developed. We can find a Western version of wisdom in Abraham Maslow’s list of the qualities of self-actualized (wise) people. He also adds a few more in addition to our five wisdoms: spontaneity, comfort with solitude, a freshness of appreciation. Wise people usually know first-hand what Maslow called “peak experiences,” that experience of being at one with all things, of being in the “flow.” Wisdom seems to have a spiritual component as well.

And yet, even with all these qualities, there is a simplicity that we recognize in wise people, of humility, of gratitude, of their knowing they are just one in a network of beings who have contributed to that wisdom. They do not seek fame, or wealth, or praise or comfort from their wisdom. They are not trapped in a self-seeking ego.

The Stanford University Dictionary of Philosophy describes five different ways of understanding what it takes to be wise: (1) wisdom as epistemic humility, (2) wisdom as epistemic accuracy, (3) wisdom as knowledge, (4) a hybrid theory of wisdom, and (5) wisdom as rationality. All of these are different ways of understanding what wisdom really is. But Buddhism goes one step further, it has, as its central theme, the wisdom that overcomes our root ignorance, the wisdom realizing emptiness. The prajñaparamita.

Mahfouz Naguib

Prajñaparamita means, literally, the “perfection of wisdom.” We know this perfection of wisdom in terms of the prajñaparamita texts such as the Heart Sutra. The ground of wisdom is the clear and experiential knowing of the truth of the lack of inherent existence. This is the ground from which all things dependently arise. When it is fully realized, it is the antidote to all our suffering. Prajñaparamita texts are the teaching on emptiness, a favorite topic of intellectuals who like the conundrums embedded in this study. And yet the depiction of Prajñaparamita in human form is not an intellectual male, but an older woman. She is not a sex object, but the mother of all the Buddhas. She is not a playful dakini, but a mature woman, one who has given birth to all the wisdom of all the buddhas.

We do not become wise just because our skin has become wrinkled and our hair white. But a life that is lived with wisdom and compassion will have a quality of maturity that we may not recognize in our rush to be young and trendy. To reach the realization of emptiness is not just a matter of having worked it out intellectually, but of living in a way in which the qualities of wisdom become fully developed. That is the psychological component of the realization of emptiness.

Prajñaparamita is the embodiment of a life of having given birth, of continual creativity, an example of a dignity that is only possible when a life has been lived with all the qualities of wisdom. She is a deity for the elderly.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in MandalaBuddhadharmaDharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

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Self-Inflatuationhttp://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/self-inflatuation/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/self-inflatuation/#comments Fri, 06 Dec 2013 19:35:52 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=26618 ... Read full article]]> Creative Commons Attribution, http://juliewasiuk.com/over-inflated-ego/

Creative Commons Attribution, http://juliewasiuk.com/over-inflated-ego/

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

My brain loves playing with words which is why, one day, I read “self-infatuation” as “self-inflatuation.” Only a small change, but what possibilities my new word held. What a wonderful combination: flatulence and infatuation. Actually, I was reading about the Dalai Lama as reported by his cat.1 Now this cat may have misheard what His Holiness said, but I like the idea of self-inflatuation and it fits our Buddhist teachings very well.

Infatuation is “a foolish, unreasoning or extravagant passion or attraction.” That sounds very like our Buddhist definition of attachment and is closely related to addiction. It derives from the Latin infatuatus, meaning “to make a fool of.” An infatuated lover will do anything for the person they are attracted to and will regard this as dedication, passionate love, being totally for the other and without thought for oneself. Many women in abusive relationships stay there, they say, through the depth of their love. Hidden in this love is the thought, “I cannot leave this person because I am determined to hang on to the belief that he will, eventually, give me all I want.” We, looking from outside, know they are deluded, infatuated. They are out of touch with the reality of their predicament.

Self-infatuation is quite insidious. We also call it narcissism, a total absorption in an unrealistic and foolish view of oneself. We may be obsessed with a positive view, which means self-inflation or with a negative view, self-deflation. One child, when she was told she would get an award from school said, “But it can’t be me. I think they have made a mistake.” Often this self-infatuation is a belief about ourselves that we believe is absolutely true. I must be perfect, but I am not. I am clumsy. I can get my way through fighting. I am the brightest student in the class. My parents won’t love me if I don’t get a sports award. The belief is one thing. Obsessing about this belief is another.

In Buddhist terms, self-infatuation is ego-grasping – attachment – and attachment overvalues the wanted aspects of an object and ignores the unwanted aspects. Self-infatuation bloats our overriding self-importance. It is a view of self that goes well beyond the boundaries of reality. In the end, self-infatuation comes from the root ignorance behind all our suffering, believing we have an inherent existence. We are not immune from self-infatuation until we reach enlightenment.

In the film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,2 when Charlie and his grandfather become inflated and have a merry time floating around, they have to burp to deflate themselves. Of course the other alternative, politely called “passing wind,” is not appropriate for a children’s book or film. Mind you, I think children would have a lot of fun with the alternative, but that is another story. We all know what flatulence is. How very picturesque this is: greed leads to an overfull digestive system which emerges in a very anti-social and smelly burst of wind. Self-inflation may feel like that, but is not quite the same, and it is very difficult to let it go. It is much more likely that it feels so good that we want more and more or it. We forget about its inevitable emergence in burps and farts.

In its extreme form, self-inflation is the manic part of bipolar depression. It can also be called arrogance, pomposity, the pride of thinking one is better than others when that in fact is not so. It demands to be fed but is never satisfied. No matter how many fawning acolytes one has collected, no matter how much wealth and power one has accumulated, it is never enough. It becomes dangerous and violent when the need for this pride to be fed dominates one’s whole mind. Compassion is seen as weakness. Nothing matters unless it feeds this voracious and expanding appetite. We can quickly create a list of people like this. They are among our politicians, media moguls, mining magnates, banking bullies, and cult leaders, found even in our tennis clubs and Dharma centers. Self-inflation is a damaging pride in which we think we are better than others when that is not true. Its dynamics we find in the Tibetan Wheel of Life when we look at the links of craving, grasping and attachment (addiction).

Of course, we think, this only applies to others. I do not believe I am Jesus Christ or Buddha. I do not believe that I am perfect.

Self-inflation can also mask as guru devotion. “I do more for my guru than anyone else, therefore I am more important.” Or, “I will be seen as being a better student than the others because I sit up straighter, meditate longer, know the details of ritual, donate more money or time (or whatever else you might add here) than any other student. And finally, “I, and I alone, am the backbone of this center.”

In putting infatuation and inflation together to createself-inflatuation,” I mean a sense of self that is both bloated and obsessive. Self-inflatuated people can be the pillars of our communities, including our Dharma communities. They work SO hard. It is not what they do that causes problems, but the motivation behind it, puffing up the self, relying on the eight wordly dharmas.3 They delude themselves with the belief that the center exists through them and them alone and no one else is capable of keeping it together. They may not be the appointed director, but the appointed director absolutely must take their advice.

And if, perchance, you think that self-inflatuation would never apply to you, then think again. It is so easy to slip from a positive motivation into a self-inflatuated one. If you ever find yourself being upset because the work you have done was not recognized, or because your teacher seems to favor other students, or because you are upset about where you happen to sit in the teachings, then you have been caught up in self-inflatuation. In fact, any time we experience a negative emotion it is a sign of self-flatuation. As good Buddhists, we give ourselves a different title: I am being the best volunteer, or the biggest donor, or the smartest student, or the stickler for rules through my guru devotion, my dedication, and my passion for the teachings, never through my pride. I would be surprised if there was any Dharma student around who does not suffer from this blown-up state, at least sometimes, and that includes me. Since the definitive cure is enlightenment, we’d better get on with taking our medicine, the Buddhist path.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in MandalaBuddhadharmaDharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

1. Michie, David (2012) Dalai Lama’s Cat, Hay House Visions

2. Dahl, Roald (1964) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc

3. Being motivated by craving, pleasure, wealth, fame or praise on the one hand, or being terrified of pain, loss, disgrace, or blame on the other hand.

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Food Mindfulnesshttp://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/food-mindfulness/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/food-mindfulness/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 18:55:48 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=23866 ... Read full article]]> "Hands" by Lady Lazer_One. Photo courtesy of http://lazerone.wordpress.com/.

“Hands” by Lady Lazer_One. Photo courtesy of http://lazerone.wordpress.com/.

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

Food. It occupies a lot of my mind. In fact it always has, but more so since I was diagnosed with diabetes (Type 2, no big deal). So I wonder again, as I have many times in the past, how much easier life would be if we did not have to eat. This is possible in science fiction, and, as I found out after many years, for some Tibetan yogis: a complete food substitute in a pill.

This gives a new meaning to “the pill” – not a contraceptive, but a no-sugar, instant energizer that  helps us diabetics. It is available from Tibetans, made from flowers amongst other ingredients and called chulen. Unfortunately, the energizing effect of this pill takes some times to kick in and one also needs a very good motivation for it to work … and some pretty good positive karma as well.1

There are three kinds of chulen: flower chulen, stone chulen and water chulen. With flower chulen, there is a pill composed of many different kinds of flowers; you take three pills: one in the morning, one at lunch, and one at night. That is all you eat, and it is sufficient. Then, when you get used to it, one pill is enough. And when you’re totally used to that, you don’t need to eat at all – you just use the visualization and absorb the elements directly into yourself. The energy itself is sufficient to sustain you.

When you do chulen you generate yourself as the deity, then you take the pill and you visualize taking the essence of the five elements – earth, air, fire, water and space. You absorb the essence of them into yourself. By doing this you don’t have to rely on any raw food at all.

For Dharma practitioners, doing a chulen retreat helps you not waste time. You don’t waste time gathering the food together and cooking it, which means you have more free time to practice Dharma, especially when you go do retreat in a cave. You don’t need to rely on a benefactor to sponsor the food. And moreover it makes your mind extremely clear. It helps the energy in the meditation. The secondary benefit is that it prolongs your lifespan and it reduces your gray hair and wrinkles. It also makes your face and body more beautiful.”2

It takes a lot of time to shop, prepare and cook food for a family. I used to think how much more spare time I would have if none of us needed to eat. Of course, this would disrupt a massive industry that relies not just on the need to eat, but also on the greed to eat. Millions of stores would become redundant. Even more millions of people would be out of work. On the other hand, there would be no looming food crises due to wars and climate change. What would we all do with so much time?

Our human history does not indicate we would use it well.

On the other hand, think of all the negative karma we create by grasping for food. None of this would occur. Our whole digestive system, which occupies a large proportion of our bodies, would become obsolete.

The Tibetan creation story tells us that we devolved from beings of light into beings with coarse human bodies because we became greedy for food. At first we had given to us exactly what we needed for one day. Then someone became frightened that the food would not arrive the next day and stole his neighbor’s food. The neighbor then needed to steal from another person and so on until everyone was hoarding their food supplies and protecting their hoards.3 I suppose that if we were given a daily magic pill, we would end up doing exactly the same. Back to reality. I need to eat, which means I need to shop, prepare and cook food.

Not only do I need to eat, but my metabolic state means I need to eat mindfully. There are the meditations on mindful eating in which we take note of every moment of tasting and chewing food. Mindful eating, though, also means mindful shopping and mindful food preparation. I need to ask, Where is the dreaded sugar? Mindful shopping means reading the labels carefully and knowing the disguises under which sugar hides. Mindfulness, then needs to be supported by wisdom.

Another important form of food mindfulness is becoming aware of the difference between being hungry and wanting to eat. Then there is the mindfulness of my reactions to refusing myself what I would like to eat. Mindfulness of the discomfort that follows. Mindfulness of the source of my discomfort. Mindfulness of my ego. Mindfulness of the source of my ego. Mindfulness of its non-inherent existence.

Maybe it is a good thing that I have diabetes if it brings me back to mindfulness of non-inherent existence.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in Mandala, Buddhadharma, Dharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

1. You can read one first-hand experience of being on “the pill” at http://www.lamayeshe.com/?sect=article&id=489

3. For a full version of this creation story, see http://bhutanjournals.com/history-culture-tradition/buddhism/the-creation-a-buddhist-tale/

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‘Your Dog Smells’http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/your-dog-smells/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/your-dog-smells/#comments Mon, 17 Jun 2013 18:56:06 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=22306 ... Read full article]]> Vale Maya, may you have a precious human rebirth. Painting by Miki de Goodaboom; www.mikidegoodaboom.com

Vale Maya, may you have a precious human rebirth. Painting by Miki de Goodaboom; www.mikidegoodaboom.com

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

“Your dog smells,” says my granddaughter. “He smells even after you wash him.”

“Well, that’s true, but you smell too.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Of course you do. Everyone has their own smell.”

“Well, my smell is not a BAD smell.”

“That all depends. Your smell may be nice to you, but my dog might not like it. He probably wishes you’d go and roll in some wombat poo.”

“Eeyyooouu. No way.”

“I don’t particularly like that deodorant you use, anyway, but obviously you like it.”


“So can Merlin have his own smell?”

No reply. She is an intelligent girl and gets the thrust of my argument.

It all depends. What smells good to a dog does not smell good to us, and I expect vice versa. If my dog could talk, he would probably agree that one smell is wombat poo and the other smell some flowery deodorant. But there would be big differences in what we might perceive as good or bad.

We may agree that the object on my rug is a smelly dog, but whether the smell or the dog is seen to be good or bad is entirely our own preference. What matters is that having made that preference, a whole lot of implications follow. If we label “bad” then we develop an aversion. If we label “good” then we develop an attraction. Now, having developed an aversion, then other thoughts fall quickly in line:

I don’t like that smell, therefore, I don’t want that dog here; therefore, I want you to send him out, which you won’t; therefore, I have an aversion to you; therefore, I am not going to listen to you. This will make you angry with me, which confirms that I ought to have an aversion to you; which means I will now only see your negative side; which means that though you were once my friend, now you are my enemy; which means that I am alone in this world; which is unfair; which means I feel really sorry for myself …

Smells are interesting things. My dog’s perception of smell is way more sophisticated than mine. It has a richness that we experience through our eyes. Our color sense has countless subtle shades not available to him and he has countless tiny variations in smell not available to us. He constructs his world through smells.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to negotiate the world by smell instead of sight. Would we identify things by their particular hues of smell? What would happen to our perception of boundaries? Our eye sense easily picks up boundaries and makes things stand out from each other. Smells do not have boundaries; they simply become more and more diluted. Would we lose that sense of separation from things as their smells intertwine as they waft past? Would we sense ourselves as a cloud trailing behind us or blowing in the wind? Would we then view the world as a swirling smellscape in which different smells may sometimes predominate? Would we be immediately aware of how we affect each other as our individual smells drift together like smoke from burning incense? What would happen if we constructed our world mainly through smell?

Imagine that you are blind and deaf, but have an acute sense of smell. What would you recognize in your environment? Would you know when I entered your room? What would you be aware of when traveling on a train or bus? How rich, or poor, would your world become? Until we stop and contemplate like this, we have no idea how strongly our senses affect the way in which we see – or smell – the world.

If things are no longer predominantly rigid, with sharp boundaries, then there is a chance that our minds will not be rigid with sharp boundaries. In a swirling, ever-changing world, impermanence would be obvious. I wonder what would happen to our sense of self and the unchanging rigidity that we project onto it.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in Mandala, Buddhadharma, Dharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University. In June and July 2013, Ven. Chönyi is teaching two courses at Kopan Monastery in Nepal.

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‘Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness’http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness/#comments Mon, 10 Dec 2012 06:14:03 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=16211 ... Read full article]]>

“Together Old in Itlay 02″ by Miki de Goodaboom. www.mikidegoodaboom.com


By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

It’s official. I am now old, an old fogey. I have passed the 70th-birthday benchmark. And I feel myself changing.

It is a bit like being an adolescent all over again, except that the unstoppable bodily changes herald old fruit rather than fresh flowers. I can now talk about “young people” as anyone under the age of 50. When I fumble with my credit card in the supermarket, I sense the irritation of these speedy youngsters. They are totally unaware of the fact that they, too, will become an old fogey, unless they die before then. We are mostly unseen. A recent magazine supposedly reporting “what women want” did not have one picture in its several articles of anyone over the age of 40, let alone 70. There is no celebration of old age as there is of attaining adulthood. No one, it seems, wants to be reminded of imminent and inevitable death. Perhaps celebration is the wrong approach to aging. 

We celebrate spring rather than autumn. Autumn is “the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” said Keats in “To Autumn.” I can feel myself wanting to be “earthed.” Somehow, digging in the garden, putting new plants in the soil fills this need. The theologian, Paul Tillich called God the “Ground of our Being.” I have always liked Tillich’s phrase. I can easily adapt it to my Buddhist understandings. The ground of my being is my “Buddha Potential.” But it is deeper than just potential. The ground of my being is my absorption in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We Buddhists talk about grounds: the grounds and paths to enlightenment. 

The path shows the way forward. The ground is what we have established. Sitting here in the garden, protected from the wind, I allow a sense of absorption to pervade me. All of it, the warmth, the protection, the spring flowers, the prayer flags, my dog guarding the gate, the people walking past my gate to the beach … all of these are pervaded by this same energy. Whatever happens I feel quiet, still, grounded. It may be spring in the garden, but it is autumn in my heart.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?  
think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—  
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

The songs of autumn are the songs of the grounds of our being. 

Many years ago I wrote a poem, unaware that it would one day apply to me. Back then I was one of those young ones who were irritated by the old woman holding up the supermarket queue. These were liberated ladies in that they all belonged to a club for women with university education, but I guess they still fumbled in the supermarket. They were no fools. Now I am one of them.

liberated ladies

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

The liberated ladies sit and nod
as each autumnal leaf
falls past the sun …
half remembered caricatures
of round full fruit.

They will not hold the sun,
but fold their shoulders warm
with friendly ghosts.

Softly, gently,
each soothing monotone
will sink into the earth …

more like a fruit
than like a stone. 

Perhaps as we get older the practice of Dharma becomes more important than Dharma practice. By this I mean that awareness of the ever-present Buddha energy, arranging one’s mind towards constant compassion, and settling into such knowingness, are more important than the formal words and even the mantras that we recite each day.

These days, I am more interested in making sure the ground beneath my feet is firm. I have many lifetimes ahead with new paths. At least I can carry some of this grounding into my next life.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in Mandala, Buddhadharma, Dharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

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Leaves in the Wind: People Who Wish for Deathhttp://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/leaves-in-the-wind-people-who-wish-for-death/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/leaves-in-the-wind-people-who-wish-for-death/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2012 20:30:05 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=14512 ... Read full article]]>

“What Death Is All About.” Image courtesy of Athina (chryssalis.deviantart.com).


By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

 … I’d been craving on and off, since I was fifteen, for Death to come and take me the way the wind does a dry leaf out on its limb.1

Suicide is a great tragedy and behind each one is unbearable pain. Tong-len2 practice is about breathing in this pain, and to do that effectively, we need to be fully open to the experience of that pain. On my daily walk to the beach, I tried to imagine how it would appear to a suicidal person. It was a sparkly, windy day. A wild riot of waves threw themselves at the beach. The piercing cold from overnight storms was tempered by a late winter sun. I was exhilarated, but I had not yet imagined being in those other shoes. When I did, the brightness hurt my eyes. The wind was malignant. The waves taunted me endlessly. My walk became a fearful journey. Where were my enemies? That elderly couple walking towards me? Or were they hiding in the runnels of sand, newly created by the storm? Or leaving messages in the tangles of seaweed and driftwood? Everything threatened. And with each threat, the beach became more and more menacing.

I was glad that I was only imagining this overwhelming oppression and fear. I let it go and returned to that initial exhilaration. Merlin danced around and barked at me to play.

Why would anyone want to die?

Mood disorders are terribly painful illnesses, and they are isolating illnesses. And they make people feel terrible about themselves when, in fact, they can be treated. … These are serious illnesses; they kill just as cancer does. They lead to alcohol and drug abuse in many people. They’re devastating, and they’re treatable.3

At one stage of my life I was one of those people. My reason, believe it or not, was altruistic. Since so many other people and creatures enjoyed life, why should I use the water and breathe the air and eat the food that they otherwise might not have available to them? This was long before I discovered Buddhism. I was not craving death. I just could not see any point in being alive. I never got as far as contemplating how I would die, but just that it seemed a worthy and generous gift to others. Fortunately for my children, I decided that it would be unfair for them to be without a mother during their early childhood. I put off the idea and it never really came back.

I knew my life to be a shambles, and I believed – incontestably – that my family, friends, and patients would be better off without me. There wasn’t much of me left anymore, anyway, and I thought my death would free up the wasted energies and well-meant efforts that were being wasted on my behalf.4

Since as Buddhists we believe that all suffering comes from the mind, then the mind is the answer to everything. In the end, this is so. But in the meantime, many people are caught up in the anguish of untreatable physical and mental illnesses that no amount of rational thought will cure. Rational thought only deals with the manifestations – the symptoms – of the disease. Severe depression, as distinct from feeling low, is firmly embedded in our bodies as a dependent-arising.

There was the phase in my life when, like Van Gogh, I would have happily chopped off my right ear and for the same reason, Ménière’s disease. I have had a constant, irritating tinnitus for over 30 years. Like the suicidal thoughts in depression, chopping off one’s ear is a desperate attempt to escape irritating and unremittent pain. By that time, though, I had come across Buddhism. I did not know a lot about it, but what I knew gave me hope. My theme became “work with your mind and your body will take care of itself.” Karma, however, has a big say in what anyone’s body can or cannot do. Karma has given me a few blips in my serotonin pathways. This is called “depression.” But knowing this does not always overcome the lethargy or despair or carping self-criticism. I can, indeed, work with my mind to accept my limitations and apply the principles of thought transformation. When I do, then I am left with the physical effects of mental illness – that same lethargy – but without the despair of self-criticism. Sometimes our medications are the ripening of positive karma, not a condemnation for not dealing with negative karma. Some people need their lithium pills, I need my anti-depressants, type 1 diabetics need their insulin.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche has often been asked for advice about depression. Sometimes he suggests specific prayers and practices for different people. But more generally, he mentions karma as a cause of depression. To one person, he suggested cutting down on sugar and sweets for three months. More importantly, he says:

When depression comes, use it against the ego, the self-cherishing thought, which has given you the depression. Then rejoice, “How wonderful it is to have depression in that it can destroy the ego!” Rather than the ego defeating you, you defeat the ego. Rejoice how it’s wonderful to have depression. It means you have succeeded in the prayers you made in the past to experience all the sufferings of other sentient beings, especially the important one, the depression of all sentient beings.5

This self-cherishing thought, and the underlying self-grasping, is precisely what we are trying to eliminate through our Dharma practice. So if, like me, you experience clinical depression, then coming to understand the depths of the wisdom of emptiness becomes a very poignant activity … and so it should.

Next time you hear about someone committing suicide, please be aware of how intense the pain must be to drive that person to such drastic, irredeemable action. Think about that devastating sense of hopelessness.

And yet, it is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and color to one’s loves and friendships.6

Oh, if only a suicidal person could experience my joy when walking along the beach. Ah, but that is the nitty gritty of tong-len practice. What a wonderful practice. How joyful to share one’s exuberance.

Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in Mandala, Buddhadharma, Dharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.

1. Dubus III, Andre. The House of Sand and Fog, Sceptre, Hodder Headline Australia, 2000, p 46.

2. Tong-len is the practice of giving and taking; taking in the suffering of others and sending them the joy and peace we have developed through our Dharma practice.

3. Bello, Grace. “A Conversation With Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry,” www.theatlantic.com, November 11, 2011.

4. Jamison, Kay Redfield. Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

5. Rinpoche, Lama Zopa. “Severe Depression,” posted November 2007. www.lamayeshe.com.

6. Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind. As quoted through Wikipedia.

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Bistro Blinds: Creating Protection for the Mindhttp://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/bistro-blinds-creating-protection-for-the-mind/ http://fpmt.org/dharma-realities/bistro-blinds-creating-protection-for-the-mind/#comments Thu, 07 Jun 2012 20:01:48 +0000 http://fpmt.org/mandala/?p=13078 ... Read full article]]>

“Rain” by Janine (janineomg) via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

By Ven. Chönyi Taylor

I live in an incredible beautiful part of Australia: down south, near Wilson’s Promontory. It is so beautiful, and also so windy that Shallow Inlet, curving around behind the town, is considered one of the best places in the world for wind surfing. This same wind sweeps up the street and swirls around my house. Whatever the wind’s direction, it pulls off the leaves, throws the plants into a frenzy and wails around the chimney. This is not conducive to sitting outside under the veranda unless one likes wind. I installed bistro blinds. What had been a desolate, wind-swept veranda was instantly transformed into a large and congenial space.

Sometimes we need to face the elements, but sometimes they are too much.

As I increasingly experience the suffering of old age, my need for protection has become more important. My skin tears and bruises more easily. My hearing and sight are no longer accurate. Then there is my mind. Like many older people, I fear the possibility of dementia; I actually should be more fearful for the imprints, the karma, I create. Our positive karmic imprints can be fragile and need protection. The winds of desire with its graspings and aversions begin to howl and complain more loudly as our bodies crumble towards death. What to do?

My mind needs its own bistro blinds ‒ something that allows it to see the outside world without being tossed around by it, a way of staying in touch without being overwhelmed. A strong equanimity that can withstand the raging heat of desire and the painful hailstones of aversion would be good. But I cannot buy equanimity. It is something I have to make myself. It is made, so Buddha told us, from judging rightly, without bias, without attachment or aversion.

It is equanimity which gives us the chance to see the elements raging from the recesses of our minds with clarity. Our ego says, “I want everything good for me.” The stronger the ego, the more grimly we hang onto what we want, despite its impermanence, or franticly reject what we don’t want. The fierce heat of grimness, the hailstones of panic rage around. Equanimity is the first line of defence against the self-centred, self-grasping ego. Equanimity arises only when we are not concerned about our egos.

We need equanimity in so many ways. In meditation, equanimity refers to the balance between too much mental activity (excitement) and not enough (mental dullness). When we train in compassion we begin by developing the equanimity that sees all sentient beings as the same in the sense that we all want happiness and not suffering. We judge them rightly, correctly, without our tendency to label sentient beings as friend, enemy or stranger. With our clear equanimity bistro blinds, we are no longer thrown around by the turmoil that comes from such labels and our emotional reaction to the labels.

Since I cannot put up the inner bistro blinds alone, I need help, a qualified contractor. I am not alone. I call in the contractor. If we do need help, then it makes sense to ask for it. Here is a real life story:

“During my fifth year at primary school I began to experience strange voices inside my head,” Josh explained. “They seemed to replace normal sounds, such as wind in the trees or the noise of a person climbing a staircase. It was like a collision of thousands of human voices, which were aggressive and very frightening. It got so that every sound I heard was transformed into these voices, sometimes for hours on end and especially when I was trying to fall asleep at night. I felt so helpless and frightened and covered my ears with a pillow to block them out, but this only made them a little less loud. I often cried myself to sleep, but even my whimpering made them come.

“My parents didn’t know where to take me for help,” Josh continued. “Then Lama Yeshe came to Melbourne. I felt apprehensive about visiting him but he greeted me with extreme kindness and warmth. His beaming smile made me feel completely relaxed. He made me sit beside him on cushions and asked me about the voices. Then he poured some special medicine into a bowl of hot water, placed a towel over both our heads and together we inhaled the vapors. It was just like inhaling eucalyptus, and I felt wonderfully relaxed and protected by his presence. We did this for some time, then Lama gave me a big hug and told me I would never hear the voices again. I believed him and from that day on I never did.”1

Equanimity is the internal protector. It is held fast by the external protectors. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has given us lots of advice for protection from external storms, disasters and harmful energies. Much of this is available from the Foundation Store in the form of protection practices, cards, amulets and stickers. If you type “protection” in the search box at Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives, it will come up with 160 references.

1. Josh Aitken, quoted in Adele Hulse’s Big Love and related in conversation with me many years ago. He is now a father himself and has had no more voices in his head or other signs of schizophrenia.

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