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Vajra Brothers And Sisters Have A Say
A VAJRA BROTHER
Dr. Brett Sutton continues his exploration of the connection between Buddhism and Emergency medicine.
The historical Buddha first witnessed the suffering of the real world when he saw an ill person, an old person, and a corpse. He realized that these were some of the suffering conditions which afflicted humankind. After then seeing a wandering ascetic who appeared to be devoid of suffering, he would spend many years leading a life of extreme deprivation and asceticism, though the suffering in his life was not entirely transformed. A point came where he determined that he would sit and meditate and not cease until his enlightenment. And so, after two days of meditation under the Bodhi tree, it came to be.
Given that we cannot change the reality of the existence of such life circumstances, we are left with our response to them. As doctors, we spend our working lives fighting the effects of an aging body, or an aging mind. We identify illness, choose the most appropriate treatment, and institute it. We also have a real awareness of the inevitable march of time, of the inevitable effects of aging and disease progression. So hopefully this brings us a sense of proportion in the way that we treat patients’ conditions.
The twentieth century brought inconceivable advances in medicine, and public health, that almost doubled life expectancy. Infectious diseases and acute bacterial illnesses were the scourge of a century ago. That we have overcome many of them is a testament to modern medical knowledge and advances in living conditions. A consequence of such advances, however, is that chronic, degenerative and incurable conditions play a larger role in our lives, especially for the elderly.
Increasingly in Emergency Departments, I see patients with what amounts to a deterioration of a chronic condition, or multiple chronic conditions. I find myself treating the aggravating factors, but without any real expectation of improving quality of life. Of course, one is free to live with whatever quality of life one chooses, and medical outcomes are very difficult to predict, but many patients are not free to choose. Some deeply unconscious patients, or patients mute with dementia, have come to me in the Emergency Department, purportedly for life-saving treatment. Sometimes they arrive from nursing homes after years of incapacity. Often the nursing homes are simply responding to the requests of family or the patient’s local doctor. Sometimes, because there is no “living will,” they are obliged to seek further treatment. Sometimes also, the intent is for patients to receive palliation and to die in the hospital. I genuinely feel that emergency treatment or dying in hospital is sometimes appropriate; but for many patients, transfer to an unfamiliar, sterile, and strange environment does not serve their interests well. …
Read the complete article as a PDF.
Valerie Neal is FPMT’s South-Asian regional coordinator and lives in Dharamsala, India. Formerly the spiritual program coordinator at nearby Tushita Meditation Centre, she lives with her husband Jimi Neal and occasionally helps with discussion groups at Tushita.
Last year the conditions of my world conspired to put me into retreat. My husband was away for three months, I was in a nice house with someone pleasant to cook and clean and shop for me, and it was monsoon, which means every time you step out of the house you get very wet, not to mention the snakes and over-abundant vegetation growing from every surface. Much better to be inside and read through those lam-rim topics a few more times. It never ceases to surprise me how topics that on the surface seem quite straightforward continue to reveal deeper, extraordinary meanings. Their directness and simplicity become the most refreshing clear nectar.
One day the topic was on eight worldly dharmas. I was trying to find a part of my life that was not mixed up with these, and in a moment of extreme frustration at not being able to locate such a place, I wrote, “I feel just like Cinderella with her horrible stepmother.” This made me laugh because it was so true. Nag, nag, nag. No peace from the wish for praise, the avoidance of pain, the desire for good reputation, the dislike of any criticism and all the rest.
This image of living in the same sack of skin with the worst of all stepmothers became uncomfortably strong. I decided to look up the story of Cinderella for more understanding of how to deal with this unwanted mother. Many times the images of yaks, high mountain peaks and butter tea just don’t work for me, and so I try to work creatively with the images from my own culture that arise in my mind to reflect on the truths of the Buddhadharma. The image of a nagging stepmother was working very well to express my relationship with the eight worldly dharmas.
A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away there lived a girl named Cinderella. Her mother had died and her father had remarried a woman with two daughters of her own. The father then went away and Cinderella was left with her stepmother. Cinderella became a servant, is given very little food and is ordered about to do all the work for the others.
She has the name Cinderella because she is always covered with the ashes and cinders from cleaning the chimney. One gets the immediate impression that her primary work is with fire. Fire is associated with transformation, purification by fire, the tummo fire. She is cleaning the fireplace daily. If the chimney pipe is blocked with soot and ash, the fire won’t flare up, because the air won’t draw up into the chimney. That about describes the state of my central channel.
She is doing lots of other work as well, which reminded me that I was late to start my prostrations. The daily toil of preliminary practices was a bit like her chores and – like her – the “rewards” were serving the needs of the eight worldly dharmas. I did so many prostrations, made so many tsa-tsas, I can be proud of myself for being in retreat for so many months, blah, blah, blah. One tries for pure motivation but deep down it is clearly all mixed.
So I tried to get an idea of what she did in her situation. It seemed she just kept cleaning; she didn’t try to argue with her masters, nor did she adopt their attitudes. She just kept working, cleaning and sweeping. She didn’t seem to have any choice except to live with these horrible people.
There is a lot of wisdom in that. These eight worldly dharmas are not going to suddenly disappear overnight just because I finally see them as not being very pure. Cinderella doesn’t identify herself with them, she doesn’t tell them off or condemn them; neither does she run away, or live in a fantasyland. She quietly bears their company and keeps her mind on her chores without getting caught up in an emotional drama about her situation. And she does this for a long time.
I see Cinderella as that aspiring part of ourselves that has the potential to achieve enlightenment. For most of us, that part of ourselves is still covered over with soot and ash, and the heat of the fires we burn serves to keep the worldly dharmas more comfortable; meanwhile Cinderella sits in a cold room at night, waiting for her day to dawn. We give her all our sympathy, but the conditions haven’t ripened yet to get her into the main living room.
Then the story tells us that the prince of the land will hold a ball and the prince will choose his bride. The worldly dharmas are all in a flap, they want desperately to be chosen: money, praise, fame, reputation, yes, yes, yes! Cinderella is told she will not be allowed to attend and they lock her in the cellar. Wow, now she is underground, as if it wasn’t bad enough before! Sometimes the eight worldly dharmas blaze at full voltage, especially when we’re around the guru, when the best and worst come out of us. Somehow the guru sees through the drama, loves us and comes to our aid when we really need it.
In the story Cinderella is weeping in the cellar because she would like to attend the ball. Sometimes tears are the most cleansing water. Then something wonderful happens. Her fairy godmother/guru deity comes waving her magic wand, like a feminine version of Manjushri’s wisdom sword, saying, “Daughter, things do not exist as they appear! This pumpkin is now your carriage, these mice your horses, these rags your gown and jewels. But you must be back by midnight. Go and meet your prince, but be back by midnight!”
Sound familiar? Things don’t exist as they appear, but keep your pledges or all is lost! In the tantric ball one meets one’s prince (or princess), one is introduced and falls in love. But now one must go back to the kitchen and do all the work in absolute secrecy. On the outside everything looks just the same, but inside she has met her prince. Who knows how long this will take, but at least there is now some meaningful context to the work for Cinderella.
The divine prince then goes searching for Cinderella, holding in his hand a glass slipper that she left behind when she ran from his arms at the stroke of twelve. I don’t yet fully understand the meaning of the glass slipper, but perhaps because our feet are where we meet the ground – does she walk the earth in clear light wisdom? The glass slipper is the only way the divine prince can find her.
The images move me with a promise of future understanding. In time he finds Cinderella, though not without the usual trials and obstacles. And when he does, stepmother is speechless. The worldly dharmas are silenced. The marriage is made.
They lived happily ever after in the happiness that is everlasting. It seems that the West has been talking about enlightenment since “a long, long time ago.” The Cinderella in us knows this is true, and it’s the stepmother that tries to deny it. The guru-deity wisdom mind knows things don’t exist as they appear, and that happily ever after is our birthright.
Carleen Gonder, who works as a law enforcement officer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, says that law enforcement and Dharma are compatible.
Ever since I was a small child, I wanted to work in the natural environment, but I thought about myself more as a protector for wild things, for those things that can’t speak, rather than a research biologist. I was a sporadic university student, taking extended time-out, especially after my first trip to Nepal in 1984. During my second trip in 1986 I attended the spring Kopan short meditation retreat, and my third trip in 1987 introduced me to Lawudo Monastery. The Montana USA FPMT Dharma center was conceived in my head during that brief stay at Lawudo and was born that following November. For several years my life was given full time to the Dharma center in Montana and the political issue of Tibet. After I resigned from the center and spent a brief stint as Mandala’s editor, I left the “cave” and returned to society.
In 1997 I felt ready to pursue my childhood wish by preparing for a career in natural resource law enforcement. I felt a need to discuss this with a senior Western practitioner and called Ven. Thubten Kunsel. Her response was, “Wonderful! We need Dharma practitioners in law enforcement.” I went to an academy in 1997 and now I am a federal officer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. For me, the sequence was crucial: meeting the Dharma and my root teachers, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, before becoming a law enforcement officer.
In the US we have a myriad of constitutional and legislative imperatives that provide the legal framework for law enforcement agencies. But it’s the more subtle levels that provide the greatest challenges for individual officers and brings home to me the reality that being in law enforcement is Dharma practice. We need only to look at two recent mind-numbing events to understand the seriousness of those challenges.
In New York four police officers fired 41 shots, killing an unarmed man, and in Los Angeles, California investigations are continuing into a division of that city’s police department that fabricated cases resulting in falsely charging and imprisoning numerous innocent people. As with any facet of our existence, the greatest challenges in law enforcement are our own mental attitudes. These two events are prime examples.
A friend recently wrote to me that with law enforcement and the Dharma, “There’s a bit of a conflict, in a way. The motivations are different.” I disagree. I believe that the motivation is the same. Paramount in our training and makeup as officers are ethics integrity and morality. Much of our Code of Ethics reads like teachings I’ve heard from our precious lamas, such as: “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others.”
I can add that how we view others can dictate how we respond to them, which can be crucial in a crisis situation. Since that shooting in New York, newscasts have been saturated with commentaries. One that was particularly striking to me was an interview with William Geller, author of Deadly Force: What We Know. Mr. Geller has been researching police shootings for over 20 years. When asked how police can “serve and protect in an environment where there are hostilities,” a part of his response really struck a chord: “If the police put themselves in the shoes of the people that they are policing and ask, ‘Suppose this was my brother, suppose this was my cousin, suppose this was my wife,’ what would I do to be sure that we have the most positive contact we can have here? Everything flows from that.”
As our teachers have told us countless times, we have been caught up in cyclic existence since beginningless time, therefore every being has been our mother. This provides me with a context should I need it in guiding a tactical response to a situation.
In police work, actual law enforcement accounts for only a small part of our activity. Since the ramifications of a law enforcement action can be huge, we must give those actions serious consideration. I, for one, give extensive thought to this, always attempting to view it from a Dharma perspective. The 45th of the 46 auxiliary bodhisattva vows states that one should “abandon not preventing those who are committing harmful actions in general, and specifically those who are a menace to the Dharma, from continuing their harm by whatever means are deemed necessary by circumstances.”
I am attempting to articulate what many people feel is the real issue behind law enforcement: the use of force. Too many have the mistaken belief that officers are trained to kill. We are not. We are trained to use whatever means necessary to stop a threat. In the words of His Holiness [from The Art of Happiness]: “Sometimes, you may encounter situations that require strong countermeasures. I believe, however, that you can take a strong stand and even take strong countermeasures out of a feeling of compassion, or a sense of concern for the other, rather than out of anger. One of the reasons why there is a need to adopt a very strong countermeasure against someone is that if you let it pass – whatever the harm or crime that is being perpetrated against you – then there is a danger of that person’s habituating in a very negative way, which in reality will cause that individual’s own downfall and is very destructive in the long run for the individual himself or herself. Therefore a strong countermeasure is necessary, but with this thought in mind, you can do it out of compassion and concern for the individual.”
With the use of countermeasures, we must guard against delusional thinking. Always. Officers are at times in situations where a split-second decision must be made in the midst of an adrenaline rush. That decision must be made with the purest of intentions.
I had my own taste of this a few months ago in a training scenario. I was alone against two assailants. We were using real weapons reconfigured to fire paintballs. I usually have a difficult time with role-play but this time it felt remarkably real. I had just spent the past several months in real life wondering how I would respond if a hunter were to react violently, which is always a very real possibility. And there it was, brought to life. The decision was instantaneous on my part; I drew my weapon and fired one shot, dropping the hunter who had intended to shoot me. I didn’t “kill” him but my shot did “incapacitate” him and I verbally controlled the other hunter. I received a great deal of praise for how I handled the situation from the instructors, observers and the fellows who played the role of the hunters. I am sure this was because I had done only what was necessary to remove the threat. But what has stayed with me the most was the feeling I had as I fired. It was almost overpowering sadness, maybe compassion, for the hunter.
I can’t begin to claim any great control over my mind. But it is imperative in this work to be as vigilant with what is going on in my head as in my external surroundings. My buttons do get pushed and I have to be more than mindful of this. I must use strong countermeasures against my own thoughts and emotions, so graciously taught to us by our teachers.
I do hope to hear from others in similar fields. We do need to discuss law enforcement issues from the Dharma perspective, to network and form fellowship.
Terry Griffith-Ladner has been a student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche for 14 years: “There was no turning back.” Terry now lives near Washington, D.C., with her husband Lorne Ladner, who runs Guhyasamaja Center.
I am a cosmetologist, which means I do hair, facials and make-up. I am currently doing freelance make-up for Smashbox Cosmetics at a Bloomingdale’s near Washington, D.C. From the time I wake up I set my motivation that whatever I do that day is for the purpose of serving others. When I keep this in mind, I enjoy what I do so much that people can feel it; they sense this enjoyment as they sit in my chair and I transform their look.
I also keep my motivation in mind when I am putting make-up on myself before work. There is a way to take care of your appearance without it appearing totally selfish. One benefit of being more attractive is that you can draw more people to you, which gives you more of a chance to benefit them.
Working with cosmetics is one way I can help others feel better, to help them see that they can change their minds. I don’t think it’s samsaric to help someone feel more pretty or special, because whatever caring and guidance I can give them always helps them feel better about themselves, and in turn helps them to be kinder to others. And they receive some kind of healing-type feeling (not from me but from the buddhas) – especially if you’ve recited mantras – which helps their minds. According to Rinpoche, if you recite the Wish-granting Wheel mantra om pema unika bimale hum phat and then blow on perfume (or incense), whoever smells it or sprays it on receives blessings. And my effort at being mindful, ethical and kind rubs off on my co-workers too and helps them.
One way to create merit when at a mall or beautiful store is to transform and mentally offer to the buddhas all the beautiful things you see, which is what I try to do. It’s okay to notice nice things and to distinguish what is good quality: Lama Zopa, for example, likes excellent quality crystal bowls for offering water at stupas and on altars because, he says, it creates more merit to offer beautiful things to the buddhas. In fact, you can offer all the objects of your senses: all the lights, the smells, the tastes. These methods help us not get overwhelmed with attachment, especially when we live in an environment that is so full of beautiful things.
Most people who come into the store seem to be miserable and don’t say anything until they’re asked, so I always try to find something to say about how nice they look or about their outfit. As His Holiness always says, it’s important to just smile at people, so I try to turn my selfish mind around and help others feel good about themselves.
One time when I worked at a department store in Santa Barbara, a customer returned a $100 jar of moisturizer that was completely empty, hoping to get a refund. She said the moisturizer didn’t work, that she didn’t become younger looking and she was lonely and, on top of that, it was Valentine’s Day. I returned the money to her and she said the $100 was her only solace that day.
Another lady here in the D.C. area returned her eye cream because it didn’t take away the puffiness of her red, crying eyes. She was very sad and mentally disturbed. We talked about Jesus and cosmetics. At another hair and make-up salon I worked for in Westchester County, New York, the owner was open to me bringing in my stationary prayer wheel that my husband Lorne had made. I brought it for the clients to spin, and when I moved I left the prayer wheel there because she wanted one so much.
Where I work now there’s a transvestite who has been coming to the mall for years hoping to make a connection with someone who will treat her nicely and do her make-up. She wears a wig, full make-up, a dress, nice ladies coat and very high heels – the works! Nobody wants to help her, as they feel she is somehow dirty and just plain weird. I finally got the chance to be this friend she has been looking for, and now she is so happy to come to me and get make-up tips. We have fun together and make each other laugh, and when I do her make-up I show her new ways to look prettier and softer. We have girl talk together and laugh about how she is always making the same mistakes with the lipstick. I am glad to make this man feel like how he wants to be treated, which is like a woman.
By Andy Weber
German artist Andy Weber, who lives in England, started studying Tibetan art in 1975, mainly with the great Thargye-la in Boudhanath, Nepal. “I want you to teach painting!” Lama Yeshe exhorted him at Kopan in 1982 – and he has been doing so, throughout Europe and elsewhere, ever since.
Here Andy explains how to consecrate a statue in order to transform it into a holy object.
The Tibetan word for sculptor is lha dzowa, which literally means “the deity maker.” Tibetan deity makers preferred to use metal for their work. The two main techniques were “lost wax casting” and “repousse” (hammering and shaping). Most small images were cast using the former method.
When a statue is finished, its hollow interior is filled with mantra rolls, relics, grains, incense and other precious objects and then sealed with a metal or wooden plate, which usually carries an image of a double vajra. Lastly, lamas give life to the statues with prayers and blessings.
Filling statues is an art and a spiritual exercise, and should be undertaken with sincere motivation and intention because you are trying to recreate the divine spiritual body of an enlightened being. For this reason you should if possible learn the finer details from a qualified teacher. The statue only gets its power when it has been filled in the proper manner and blessed by the consecration ritual.
To begin with it is good to wear facemasks in order to prevent foul breath entering the interior. The statue should be cleaned as much as possible on the outside and inside. Purify the interior with saffron water, using a brush, and then let it dry. Light incense and recite the relevant prayers holding the incense inside the statue to purify it and create a pleasant smell. Put a precious substance, for example a blessed pill or an item of your spiritual teacher, at the crown inside the statue. If the statue is very small and there is no room at the crown for the crown mantra, then a mantra slip (a piece of paper with a mantra written on it) can be cut in two and rolled together, taking care that the mantra syllables are not defaced.
To create the mantra rolls, use a piece of incense stick, the same size as the mantra slip. The writing of the mantra is rolled inside from left to right (clockwise). To tighten the roll, keep the top up, hold the roll in the right hand and roll sharply with the left hand. The whole roll should be so tight that the incense doesn’t fall out. Secure the roll with cello tape or sew a piece of cloth around it. Write the name of the mantra on the roll and mark the top as it is important to remember when placing these vertically into the statue.
While rolling the mantras, one should be aware of one’s motivation and recite mantras. There is even a specific mantra for rolling mantras. If you don’t know this, recite the mantra of the deity, and if that is unknown, om mani padme hum, Chenrezig’s mantra, is suitable. Depending on the size of the statue, sometimes the mantra slips of crown, throat and heart, etc. can be rolled together, the crown mantra being the innermost slip. The whole roll of mantras can then be held together by cello tape or cloth.
If possible one should use the mantras of crown, throat, heart, highest yoga tantra, the particular deity, the five greatnesses, auspicious prayer and lotus. If the status is tiny, one should use at least the mantra of the particular deity.
The empty spaces around the mantras are filled with little cloth bags containing fragrant sandalwood, amberwood, etc. and powdered incense. You can add a mixture of dried flowers, dried pine needles and any other available blessed substances. In larger statues, many more large items can be offered for the inside like prayer books, robes, little bags of jewelry, tsa-tsas (sacred images of the Buddhas usually made of clay or plaster), ritual instruments and ornaments.
In order to create positive collective karma for a whole group, donations from the spiritual community are requested such as personal jewelry, gold, silver, etc.
If the statue is large enough, you can put another, smaller, statue at the heart, or a vajra and bell. For a very large statue, you use a four-sided stick slightly tapered at the top with the base wider than the top. Painted red, it represents the central channel. Kusha grass is placed on the two sides and symbolizes the two nadis (channels of the subtle body through which the wind energies flow). The grass needs to point upwards. On the top of the stick, one draws an image of a stupa (a reliquary representing the Buddha’s enlightened mind) with gold (or gold-like) paint. Then, going down from there, draw the appropriate syllable for each chakra: just above the level of the forehead om, at the throat ah, at the heart hum, at the navel tram and at the secret place (four finger-widths below the navel) hrih. At the bottom of the stick, draw a double vajra (symbolizing enlightened method); otherwise, one can draw half a vajra on all four sides and a bliss swirl on the bottom of the stick.
The mantra rolls are then attached around the stick – sometimes just one mantra roll, although in many cases they are put in clusters of specific numbers. The whole stick is then carefully placed inside, and the empty space is filled with sacks and offerings.
If the statue is huge, platforms are attached to the various levels of the chakras and then mantra rolls are stacked upon them. At the bottom of the statue, place a picture, drawing or photocopy of a double vajra so that it faces the inside. One can also add various mandalas of offering dakinis, wealth deities, offerings and auspicious prayers. Finally, place the base onto the statue and ensure the mantras and bags do not fall out by using glue or by hammering the edges of the rim. If no base is available, one can cut a piece of thick cardboard, copper or plywood so that it fits the bottom well.
I live my life with buddhas and deities all day long and this affects my view of reality. For me, the images receive power and become vehicles for higher beings. There is the external power of an image which attracts us to it, but on the subtle level is the internal power of the blessed substances which gives the holy image its spiritual body. Looking at a blessed image should be like looking at a buddha. This is behind the belief that, whether you are a Buddhist or not, seeing an image of the Buddha brings blessings.
In order to give life to the statue, the Buddha must be invoked. This is done by the lama, who is the living manifestation of the Buddha, during the blessing ceremony. It is the same for the artist: until the om ah hum have been written on the back in the right places or given to a lama to be blessed, it’s just paint on a canvas. It may look fantastic, but until it has been blessed by the lama or the artist writes the syllables, it is just paint on a piece of cloth.
Only after the blessing does it become a different object. This is quite different from the way most artists would view the world. Deity makers are not merely trying to please the eye consciousness of sentient beings. They are creating the mandala of the enlightened beings and these higher beings come into the statues or paintings once they are blessed.
If you read Atisha’s life story, the statues talked to him, bent their heads left and right. I know of a statue of Vajrayogini that has talked. There are numerous anecdotes about people receiving messages. Having a blessed image on your shrine is like having a direct telephone line (or email!) to the higher world.
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Be as careful as you can. Our minds are funny. Sometimes we are skeptical of things that are really worthwhile and completely accepting of things that we should avoid. Try to avoid extremes and follow the middle way, checking with wisdom wherever you go.
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