A dream about the end

About 18 months ago, I had a very vivid dream about the end.  It had several parts to it, and I will try remember them and get them down.

At one point in the dream we were in what I understood to be the NKT office.  It was the end of the world, and I understood it to be the end of VGL’s Dharma in this world.  Most everybody was gone or had already gone off to meditate.  Completely exhausted, I was leaving myself to go off to meditate at the end, and I passed by a desk and a man who I understood to be Jim Belither was approaching a computer station.  He was beyond exhausted, and could barely keep himself up.  But despite his exhaustion, he forced himself to keep working.  I then turned the corner a bit and came to understood what he and a few others were doing.  They were busy indexing and storing all of VGL’s teachings so that everything could be preserved given the fact that it was the end.

Then, I was at what I understood to be my home.  I knew they were coming and it was the end.  We were under attack by some type of small, but very powerful mystical creatures.  Everything was gone except I knew the Buddha statues were still in the gompa.  I told Claudine, let’s go there for the end.  Then, something happened which caused me to go out into a small field next to the house.  When I went to go get whatever it was, the small creatures arrived and started flitting in and out of existence.  One finally caught me and started inflicing terrible torturous pain on me.  The whole time, I tried to keep my mind paying attention to and focused on the Dhamarkaya instead of my ordinary body.  I kept repeating to myself as I was being tortured, ‘my true home is the Dharmakaya.’  Despite the pain, I kept trying to do this knowing if I could I would be all right since I was not my ordinary body and feeling it to be practice for when the real thing comes.

Somehow it ended, and I made it.  I then found myself chatting  with one of the creatures who was suddenly kind and unthreatening, like an Ewok or a kind Lilo.  I was surprised and I asked him, ‘so not everyone dies’, and he said ‘oh, no, no.’ 

Then, it fast forward to somewhat later, and we were on the cusp of the real end coming.  I was in a room with Kiara and one of my other kids, I believe McKenzie, and they didn’t really know what was coming.  There were some others who we saw outside the window, who also knew it was the end and they were taking pictures together.  Then, it suddenly grew much darker and a terrible cold wind descended over everything indicating that the end was here.  I again wanted to go off to meditate at the end, but then I thought about how Kiara, who I was holding, would be screaming in terror at the end and that I needed to be with her at that time.  I knew it would be more difficult to do, but that while I was supporting her I could once again try stay centered in the Dharmakaya and I should be OK. 

Then, I woke up.  In thinking about this dream I realized that I need to be like Jim Belither, who, despite all exhaustion, was so dedicated to working for and the welfare of living beings that he kept pushing on to the very end.  He did not go off to meditate, but pushed on in service working for the welfare of others.  He was doing this to preserve and store the Dharma for the future, and I needed to do the same by not abandoning my family but staying with them even until the very end and everybody else has already left.

I just joined Facebook! Strange (but pleasantly meaningful) experience.

Well, I did it!  I made the plunge.  I joined the virtual world.  I just created a Kadam Ryan Facebook identity (is that what you call it?  Perhaps it is “profile.”) and I reconnected with a Twitter identity I briefly created out of curiosity about a year ago.  I then went looking for “friends”, and I found my (real) friends, my Sangha buddies!   

One of the hardest parts about my new life is not having daily or regular contact with my Sangha.  For me, Facebook then becomes a sort of virtual lifeline to (and eventually meeting place to be with) my Sangha.  I was actually (pleasantly) surprised when I found how many Kadampas are already in this world.  When I saw each name, I was able to remember my time with them, and in this way I could reconnect with them and all that they mean to my life. 

Then a couple of days passed by, and I have really only just now been able to reopen my Kadam Ryan gmail address.   I then saw all of the people who “confirmed me” as their friend.  Seeing this was, for me, like those first few hours when we arrive at a Festival at Manjushri and we run into everybody we know and it is like one big family reunion. 

The reality is we are moving into a digital world.  Not completely, but quite significantly in terms of the number of hours of our day will be engaged with it.  When you consider the number of hours a day we are in front of our computers plus our time in front of the TV plus our time in front of our smartphones plus out time listening to music, virtually ALL of our waking experience time is taking place in this digital world.  The rest of the time we are either tending to the needs of our body (cleaning it, feeding it, putting it to sleep) or in the dream state.  Even during a good hour of our non-digital waking time, we are meditating so not really engaging all that much with physical reality. 

It seems to me our interactions in this digital world now will define the culture and parameters of the Kadampa experience on the digital world for generations to come.  If we do it right, we can create the feeling of a global festival of all digital Kadampas all of the time!  This is really important. 

I see the tremendous potential for creating a global digitial Sangha (maybe the Kadampa IT people can create an internal “Sanghabook.org” which functions exactly like Facebook but where it is an all Kadampa environment).  Eventually all of the different Kadampa blogs could be transferred to a host owned by the NKT, etc., etc., etc.  Each center will develop a digital identity and community.  People could blog and chat and share from the festivals in real time like people do for political or sporting events, so that the whole world can participate no matter where they are.  Of course all of this has to be done right, and it will take a long time before it matures to that level, but it does seem inevitable.

But for me and for now, the realities of my life are such that I will, despite a sincere effort, probably be pretty bad at being a good digital friend.  But please know it is not because I don’t love you all very much.  You are my Sangha, my vajra family.  I take refuge in you.  We are the planets that orbit the sun of our Guru, and as long as we stay in each other’s orbit we will all pull, push, surf each other to enlightenment.  We all hold on to Venerable Geshe-la and enjoy the meaningful (and blissful) ride!

OM VAJRA WIKI WITRANA SOHA

Ever closer union

There is really only one activity on the spiritual path:  cultivate an ever closer relationship with the Spiritual Guide, in all of his forms.  How do we do this?  First, we come in contact with his teachings and start to put them into practice (Dharma).  Then, we start to develop friendships and personal relationships with others who are also practicing his teachings (Sangha).  Eventually we start to cultivate relationships with the different Buddhas, such as Je Tsongkhapa, Dorje Shugden and Heruka or Vajrayogini.  Then we receive empowerments into these deities, and train to become just like them.  Then, we start to understand how each of these deities is actually an emanation of the Spiritual Guide.  We then mix ourselves closer and closer with the Spiritual Guide, first at the level of self-generation, then at the level of mixing with his body mandala, then with his completely pure subtle body.  The nada at the middle of the subtle body is like the final conventional portal into the Dharmakaya, or his Truth Body.  A Buddha’s Truth Body is the ultimate nature of all things. The Spiritual Guide, from a practical point of view, is a portal through which all of the Buddhas express themselves in this world.  So it is perfectly correct to view all phenomena as by nature the Spiritual Guide.  Finally we realize that all of the different things we have been creating karma with, from the first teaching to the final meditations, are all by nature his emanations.  We realize every moment of every day is part of his emanations. 

The Spiritual Guide assumes countless forms according to the karmic dispositions of living beings.  Each one of these forms functions to prevent us from sinking deeper into samsara and tries to send us in the direction of enlightenment.  Every single moment of our life, every single thing that appears internally and externally is one of these forms.  Our problem is we do not realize this.  By becoming aware of this, these forms become empowered to accomplish their function.  The emanations of the spiritual guide become activated by our becoming aware of them and developing a mind of wonder at his infinite skill.

The Spiritual Guide operates on many different levels.  Functionally, there are four main levels:  the world of our normal life, the world of generation stage, the world of completion stage and the completely pure world of the Dharmakaya.  Each level is increasingly refined.  Traveling through these different stages is the path.  We get t the next level by learning how to be completely balanced with the flow of change at the previous level.  Absent that balance, we get swept away and pulled in. 

There is no relationship in the universe more important to maintain and cultivate than that with the Spiritual Guide.  The real fruit of a marriage comes from cultivating an ever deeper relationship with somebody.  Doing so requires tremendous inner work.  In exactly the same way, but at a much deeper level, the spiritual path is primarily traveled through cultivating an ever deeper relationship with the spiritual guide.  It is hard work to draw ever closer to him because it requires us to shed all that is impure and out of alignment with the way things really are and function.  But that is the whole point and that is why it works.

Since I  no longer have regular physical access to Sangha, for me this blog and my virtual spiritual activities are my main ways of creating karma with sangha.  Looking forward, it seems clear that a new world is being created, a digital world, and more and more beings will be spending more and more time in this world interacting with others in this digital world.  So just as we need to bring the Dharma into the physical world, so too we need to bring it into the digital world and learn how to practice in that world.  This blog exists on the cloud of this virtual world, and is like my digital reliquary (for whatever it is worth…  :)).

I have not been very interested in venturing onto Facebook, but I am starting to reconsider.  If the world we are moving into is a digital one.  If used correctly, Facebook is a powerful way of keeping in contact with and cultivating relationships with the people who have been important in my life.  In particular, my sangha.  I am thinking of making a “Kadam Ryan” Facebook page as a means of keeping in contact with my sangha.  Since I do not have physical access to them, I can still maintain their relationship in my life through Facebook.  In this new digital world, at least for now, Facebook is how people stay in contact with each other and how they hang out.  Just as the most important relationship to cultivate is the one with the Spiritual Guide, so too with the Sangha.  The Sangha are those other beings who are clustered around the spiritual guide.  By drawing close to them, we anchor ourselves in the karmic orbit of the guru, not only for this life but through life after life.

Making our life our retreat

In general, the place of practice within our life goes through a progression:

  1. Before we encounter the Dharma, we simply have our life.  It is full of problems and our aspirations are generally to accomplish the things of this life (wealth, a good reputation, pleasant experiences, high position, etc.).  We pursue these things, but never really find any satisfaction or meaning. 
  2. We then find the Dharma, and at first we organize our practice around our life.  Our normal life is first and foremost, and when we have spare time or capacity, we then engage in our practice.  But it feels like our practice and our life are two different things.  We continue like this and we gain some experience of the Dharma, it starts to solve some of our problems, we start to change our outlook, and we start to make the connection between how much we practice and how happy we are.
  3. We then organize our life around our practice.  We realize that our practice is the way to solve our problems and to be happy.  Doing our practice is as essential to our day as taking a shower or eating.  Just as we clean and nourish our body, so too we need to clean and nourish our mind with our practice.  We realize that our practice is actually the most important thing we do in our day and in our life, and that through it we can manage the rest of our life.  But there still feels like there is a gap between our life and our practice.  We practice to be able to survive in our life.
  4. We then make our practice our life.  Here we make the central focus of what we do in our life to be directly doing practice related things.  We directly engage in Dharma activities as the main activity of our life.  This can take the form of working for a center, being a Resident Teacher, or generally working to help spread the Dharma.  We see no point in worldly life and we make Dharma activities our life.  This stage is still characterized by some grasping at inherently worldly life and inherently spiritual life, and so we reject the former and do the latter.  Sometimes this stage is also combined with some pride in the ‘spiritual life’ we have chosen and we look down on those who are still doing worldly life. 
  5. We then make our life our practice.  Here we realize that all situations are equally empty, therefore all situations provide an equal opportunity to practice Dharma.  We abandon the grasping at the distinction between worldly activities and spiritual activities.  If we have a mind of practice, then everything we do becomes our practice; if we have a worldly mind, then everything we do becomes worldly.  This is equally true regardless of whether our life is occupied with Dharma activities or with conventionally worldly activities.  We realize that in the previous stage we were a bit tending towards the extreme of spirituality and as such were not ‘normal’.  But we also realize that it was OK to be like that.  But at this stage, the duality between our life and our practice is essentially gone.  Everything we do in our life is our practice and our practice is everything we do in our life.  The essential meaning of Dharma practice is to train our mind, and our life simply provides us with the external context for doing so.  We realize we can simultaneously live a completely normal life and a completely spiritual life and there is no contradiction whatsoever between the two.  This does not mean we necessarily abandon making Dharma activities the central activities of our life.  It is perfectly possible for somebody to continue to directly engage in Dharma activities of teaching, working for centers, etc., as the main activity of their life, but they do so with a different mind and point of view.  But some others might experience a rebalancing of the activities of their life where they more resemble the norm of what people do in this world (work, family, etc.).
  6. We then make our life our retreat.  Amongst the modes of engaging in Dharma practices, retreat is the highest form.  When we are on retreat, we leave all worldly activities completely behind and allow ourselves to focus exclusively on our practice.  We stive to have 100% of our bodily, verbal and mental energies single pointedly focused on training our mind in the Dharma.  Just as before we overcame the perceived duality between our life and our practice, on this stage we overcome the perceived duality between our practice and our retreat.  Once again, since all situations are equally empty, with a “mind of retreat” every moment can equally be our retreat.  All duality between our life, our practice and our retreat are completely dissolved and we feel directly and simultaneously:  (1) our life is our practice of retreat, (2) our practice is our life of retreat, (3) our practice is our retreat of life, and (4) our retreat is our practice of life.  Each one of these four recognitions are experienced simultaneously as different aspects of the same mind.  This does not mean there will not be times when we engage in traditional retreat, rather it means that when we do so it will just be a different phase or iteration of one uninterrupted continuum of our life as retreat. 

Ideas I would like to explore further

The following are some key ideas that I need to consider further:

  1. I need to have a unity of purpose in all that I do.  I should view everything I do through the lens of how it helps me build towards this singular purpose of building my pure land.
  2. I need to learn to listen.  I am usually either talking or planning what I am going to say, and I rarely listen.  I need to create the space to listen to and appreciate what others have to say.
  3. I need to create the space for my kids to “join the conversation.”  My wife and I talk a lot together and we have been doing so for all the time we have been together.  But what I have realized is we are so busy talking about what we need to do that we have not created the space for our kids to join in the conversation.  When they are babies, we deal with things; but as they grow older they too want to participate in the conversation and we need to create the space for them to do so.
  4. The reason why we do retreat is to “see ahead” on the path so that we know where we are going.  When we do retreat, we gain profound insights about how everything fits together.  This serves as a beacon for the direction we need to head in.  Then our job in non-retreat times is to catch up with that insight.
  5. The key to being being a diplomat is to be considered likeable by everyone.  People naturally want to help you out and draw closer to you when they find you to be likable.  When people don’t like you, they don’t want to help you or work with you, and they naturally resist your efforts. 
  6. I am way too attached to not wasting time.  Of course we should not waste any time, but that does not mean we should be attached to not wasting time, where we become upset when we feel like our time is being wasted.  Ultimately, we are only wasting time if we do not know how to use a moment for the accomplishment of our goals.  If we are singular in purpose of wanting to build our pure land (transform ourselves into the pure land), then every moment can be used towards that end and no time will be wasted at all.
  7. I need to find the right voice for this blog.  I think I need it to be a log or journal of my own thoughts about my own practice, not so much me explaining things to others.  Then it is more of a sharing of experience of a practitioner as opposed to a platform for teaching.  But ultimately, I am sharing with an audience in mind so there is necessarily a connection.  This is something that will have to evolve with time. 
  8. When people want to do something, they find excuses and reasons to do it.  When they don’t want to do something, they find excuses and reasons not to do it.  If you want to know what somebody really wants, just ask yourself what the final implication is of whatever reason they are giving.  The reasons are secondary and more a reflection of what in their heart they want (even if they don’t realize or know it). 
  9. If you want to know what is the correct path to follow, it is the one that leaves your mind at peace the more you travel down it.  If you want to know what is not the correct path to follow, it is the one that feels like you are chasing, but never quite reaching, the end of the rainbow.
  10. While communicating through the computer is better than no communication at all, it should never be a substitute (or an escape) from cultivating real relationships with real people. 
  11. At the end of the day, the reason why the Spiritual Guide is reliable is because he “sees farther down the road” than we do.  We think we know better, so we don’t listen to what he has to say. 
  12. I very often don’t want to listen to people who just want to tell me their stories because I feel like they are wasting my time.  This is arrogant, rude and a bad habit that I need to work on.
  13. Multilateral diplomacy is a higher level of diplomacy, but often the questions addressed are of lesser importance because at present the nation state is still the primary actor.  So there is a balance to be struck.  But it is clear, the relationship between the the US and Asia is where the future is, and within that the bilateral relationship between the US and China is the most important.  If I want to have the biggest beneficial impact, this is the direction I need to go.  The relationship with Europe enables a stronger collective voice for the world to be shaped by the shifting of the center of the world to the Pacific.

A master narrative for your spiritual life

The purpose of this blog is to share my experience of practicing the Kadampa instructions in the context of my formal Dharma practice, my personal life and my professional life in the hopes that it may prove helpful to others seeking to transform their modern lives into the path to enlightenment.  At a personal level, doing this blog helps me crystalize my own thoughts about the Dharma by putting it into writing and it helps me bring my bodhichitta (the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all) alive.  How so?  At a practical level, the bodhisattva path is the improving of oneself for the benefit of others, in particular the process of gaining Dharma realizations so that we can help others do the same.  By doing this blog, I can view each moment of my normal modern life as an opportunity to gain spiritual realizations which I can then share with those who read this blog.  It gives purpose to each moment of my life:  I must learn how to transform each moment so that I can help others in similar situations do the same. 

 

The starting point of transforming every moment of our life into the path is to have a unifying narrative that binds every aspect of our life together into a common purpose, or more specifically, project.  In this way, everything we do is directed at and contributes to this singular purpose/project.  If we can accomplish this, then not a single moment of our life will be wasted.  For me, this singular project is “to build my pure land.”  At a very profound level, the project is to transform myself into my pure land.  What is a pure land?  A pure land is a realm emanated by a Buddha within which living beings can take rebirth and enter, progress along and complete the path to enlightenment.  Quite simply, it can be thought of as a bodhisattva’s training camp.  For maximum benefit, this pure land must pervade the entire universe and function to lead all beings from the deepest hell to the highest enlightenment. 

 

The two characteristics of a pure land is there is no manifest suffering and everything functions as a cause of one’s enlightenment.  Suffering is ultimately a state of mind that is dispelled by the wisdom knowing how to accept and use painful experiences for our spiritual advancement.  Thus, the difference between living in samsara, or a world of suffering, and living in a pure land is our knowing how to use every experience, painful or otherwise, for spiritual development.  With such wisdom, we will be able to enjoy every experience as fuel pushing us towards enlightenment, and from an experiential point of view, it will be as if we are in a pure land.

 

A modern Kadampa life has three main spheres:  our formal Dharma practice, our personal life and our professional life.  This is true for all Kadampas, not just those who are lay practitioners.  A Resident Teacher living in a center, for example, still has their own family and many friendships and engages in all sorts of professional activities in the running of a center.  If the unifying project of our life is to build our pure land, how then do we accomplish this project in these three spheres?  In our formal Dharma practice, we strive to transform ourselves into the Yidam.  In our personal life, we strive to transform ourselves into the Guru.  And in our professional life, we strive to transform ourselves into the Protector.  In this context, the Yidam, or personal deity, is the supreme spiritual doctor who heals the suble body, speech and mind of all living beings.  The Guru is the supreme spiritual father (or mother as the case may be) and friend of all living beings who leads all living beings from the deepest hell to the highest enlightenment.  The Protector is the supreme spiritual servant-king who forever and always arranges all the outer and inner conditions so that everything is perfect for the swiftest possible enlightenment of everyone.  Practically speaking, this means in our formal Dhama practice, we strive to develop within ourselves the qualities and engage in the actions of a supreme spiritual doctor.  In our personal lives, we strive to develop within ourselves the qualities and engage in the actions of a supreme spirutal father and friend.  And in our professional lives, we strive to develop within ourselves the qualities and engage in the actions of a supreme spiritual servant-king.  If we can do this, then our entire life will be integrated into our spiritual path, bringing both meaning to every moment and unwavering progress towards the final goal.  Over time, these three spheres will merge into one and we will become the embodiment of guru, Yidam and protector liberating all beings in our pure land.  We will have completed the path.

 

Some people mistakenly believe that certain life contexts, such as being ordained in a center doing formal Dharma activities all of the time, are more conducive to enlightenment than other life contexts.  As a result of this ignorance, they either become dissatisfied with the life that they have or they judge others who are pursuing a way of life different than their own.  The reality is all situations are equally empty, in other words created by mind, and so all situations are equally transformable into the quick path to enlightenment.  This blog will attempt to share my personal expereince of being a Kadampa Working Dad as my quick path to enlightenment.  Hopefully the lessons learned will prove beneficial to all Kadampas, working parents or otherwise.  It is my hope that through sharing this experience others can learn from my mistakes and that I can live up to my bodhichitta wishes.  Enjoy!