Sacred outlook- or, how not to be a seflish ass.

I have decided to recount some of my adventures here for your enjoyment(and comments if you like). Way way back in 1992 when I was a young dharma warrior, I had the amazing fortune to spend the best part of a year studying and spending time with Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche. I was in Asia with Gesar, my dear long lost partner in chaos, attempting to study the dharma from the boss (and smoke a few joints with G along the way- but thats another issue not for today).
Anyway, the daily activity for most of that time was a lesson from rimpoche through the schools of buddhist dialectics, starting with the most basic, then working our way through the entire body of buddhist schools. At night, G and I had to summarize the point of the morning lecture, then debate in front of rimpoche or with him. If we got it wrong, it meant the same lesson the next day.
What an amazing experience, and one I will not easily forget. Nevertheless, my momentary bliss was interrupted by another new student of Rimpoches, whom I shall call Mr x. Mr x had some interesting ideas about the dharma, and the origins of his birth, but was as keen as I was. Due to his interesting ideas, Rimpoche asked G and I ‘to look after him’. This meant he tagged along to everything we did, and was around all them time, and for me and G became a source of annoyance, so I at least spent most of my time making his life difficult.
One fine day, Rimpoche says that G and I are going with him to the monestary in Bir, and Mr x begged us to come along. The poor guy had to endure being shoved in the luggage area of a Suzuki maruti jeep, where he sat for about 10 hours. He begged me to swap places with him several times, but I just ignored him. I was pissed that my little world had an ‘invader’ so to speak. This time was for G and me!
Eventually, I relented ( after being asked by rimpoche) and crammed myself in the back, where I proceeded to get ill rather quickly. I only had to survive about two hours of this torture before we finally reached the monastery, only to find more dharma groupies there waiting for the boss.
I was in a rather antisocial mood, so proceeded to sulk in my room.
I didnt know what I was feeling. I was in the middle of my ngondro( prelimenary practices for vajrayana buddhism) at the time, and as some of us know, this can really stir things up. Suffice to say that my compassion levels were running on empty… and I was furious. At what, I didnt clearly know.
Later that evening, Rimpoche sent a monk to come and get me to go over to his house. I refused to go, but eventually made my way over there. Rimpoche was in the middle of holding court, entertaining his guests, which, as far as I could see at that time, involved his students kissing his ass, turn by turn, telling him how great he was, and agreeing with everything he said, and laughing at all his jokes. Rimpoche was also being so kind and loving to Mr x. Well, that was the straw that broke this camel’s back. Needless to say, Rimpoche knew exactly what I was feeling at the time, and had been watching me all day. I was definitely not in the mood for such frivolous activities, and stormed back to my room. This made it apparent to everyone that I was in one hell of a mood. Rimpoche sent another person to come and get me again, and my reply was a curt ‘…. you.’
That night I lay in bed, totally out of control. What was going on? I couldnt figure out why I was so angry. I felt hurt, emotional, totally egotistic. It was a sleepless night. Somewhere in the middle of it, I had a revelation. I had been making this guy (Mr x) miserable for weeks. Why?

I suddenly remembered one of the lessons I had had with Rimpoche where he had talked about sacred outlook. It is one of the fundamental concepts for leading the boddhisattva way of life, and in non buddhist terms, is just a thought to remember when leading a human life. For me, it was still just a concept, and not a reality. Suddenly, I had a glimpse of what it might be about.

To explain it simply, I had made a religion of judging this poor guy and making his life miserable. The very things that pissed me off about him were qualities that I myself had. His thirst for knowledge. His desire to be with my guru. His desire to fit in. His desire to be loved. His desire to know. What was making me angry was that I was looking at myself in a mirror and I didnt like it at all.Who was I to judge anyone?
Reality was, and still is to this day, a reflection of my current state of mind.
Suddenly, humility was reborn again, and I realised what an utter ass I was and had made of myself in front of everybody. And how cruel I had been. Me the super buddhist.

Next morning came, and I could barely show my face as you can imagine. The inevitable call came to take my lazy butt over to see the boss. When I arrived, guests were being shown some amazing objects- Yeshe Tsogyals bell, Jyamyang Choki Lodro’s mandala plate. Yep, I felt like shit again. Rimpoche looked at me and said rather perceptively- ‘you look like shit.’
He dismissed the others and suggested we go for a walk. He said to me ‘ you have no idea how to be angry with me, no idea how to be angry’. And he was right. He asked me if I had anything to say, and I replied ‘ if you expect me to kiss your ass like that bunch did last nite, you can forget it.’ His response was a smile and ‘good.’
It was the look in his eye that said it all to me. He knew that I had changed, without saying a word. He knew I had started to learn the lesson of sacred outlook myself. I saw a look of enormous trust and love in his eye that I can still remember. He had watched me go through this journey myself, and had given me the space to figure it out on my own, then turn around and continue on like nothing had happened.
Nothing really had happened- except to me.

Even today, when I walk down the street and catch myself making a judgement about something or somebody, I stop and ask myself- who am I to judge? Who is making the judgement? For me, sacred outlook means- life is a mirror. The very things i choose to judge are mere reflections of myself or my own state of mind. The wisdom and constant lesson in life for me is to just learn to let them be as they are- perfect.

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Tibet twenty years on

Given the current serious state of affairs in Tibet, and the somber Losar celebrations this year throughout the Tibetan refugee community world-wide,  brings back memories of my own trip to Tibet some 21 years ago. At that time, the country was also under lock down mode by the Chinese government with no passage in or out, yet I and a half tibetan reincarnate tulku snuck in from the mainland so that he could be enthroned at his previous incarnation’s monastery. A long story not touched upon here 🙂

1991 China was still in  the era of Deng Xiaoping, struggling with conflicting political and social forces, both liberalizing and conservative, yet still very much closed to western influence. Using the earliest form of stealth technology ( ie being inconspicuous) we had managed to sneak in to Tibet thanks to the help of a wily old tibetan monk and the financial proclivity of a police inspector and his vehicle that made regular trips in and out of the region.

Our trip in from Chengdu was appropriately dark, rainy and cloudy, bumping down logging roads carved into the steep banks of the Yellow river. Just like in a Sung dynasty painting, we rolled in and out of thick fog covered valleys, heavily forested mountain sides and blissfully beautiful vistas that opened up along the way. Hiding each night and catching only a few hours of sleep, constantly praying for both protection and success to our journey, we endured weeks of privation so that we could eventually reach this isolated Khampa community living at some 4000 metres height. Passing over a 4000 meter pass and starting the journey into Tibet proper, we were suddenly struck with a thunderously blue sky and sweeping green steppe countryside.

On our journey into that wondrous land, we were confronted with a very stark but beautiful environment, one that would not forgive any fool for too long. Weather could change drastically in an instant from sunny to freezing and back again in rapid succession. Incredible valleys covered in high grasses, a blue sky that was a deep azure and seemed to continue on until infinity, freezing Himalayan streams of clear pale blue waters, and scenes of massive cultural destruction everywhere. Thousands of Tibetan monastic cities had been obliterated and their once thriving communities scattered to the four winds. The remnants of many a temple or monastic center were everywhere to be seen.

Yet, despite the obvious signs of attempted cultural obliteration that greeted near every vista, we met with a tough, resilient and happy people, that remained as unconquered by the harsh environment as with their new red overlords from the east. The landscape seemed to have a proclivity to carve out strong personalities, and made our pampered western lifestyles and personalities pale in comparison. Jagged rocks, jagged faces, rough-hewn houses and facial characteristics, each contrasting and yet complimenting the other. 
To label these people that we met as simple would be a great misnomer and injustice. They seemed accustomed to the vast space that surrounded them, almost resting in it, as me and my companion sucked in each breath at the 4000 meter altitude. At times greeted with suspicion, (as one would be with invaders that always took and never gave) on seeing our malas and other religious items faces quickly broke into wide smiles and we were quickly plied with salt tea, momos and air-dried meat.
Watching the tv reports of late, imagining the continuing harshness of the land and their new overlords, you cannot help but remark on the Tibetan people’s indomitable spirit. I pray sincerely that their struggles for the freedom to live their lives as they choose are close.

Practice- a love hate relationship

 As a reasonably long time buddhist, I can say that for the most part, I have been more hare than tortoise with my practice. Bursts of energy with focus to complete a particular commitment, then lulls when I seemed       to just space out and lose focus, getting caught up in real life concerns. The passage of time brings all things into focus.
 I remember when I first became connected to the dharma, the very first time I read the buddhas teachings and learned about the four noble truths. At the time I had been practicing under a different spiritual discipline, and literally as I read the words regarding the origin of suffering, I felt as if my mind just disintegrated into space. I felt as if a fire had been lit in my heart that had been but an ember for the 23 years of life preceding that very moment.
This connection to the 4 noble truths drove me to walk away from a music career that had been fraught with the realities of big business USA: the LA lifestyle, the constant maneuvering for position, the struggle to stay in the jealous god realm that fame really is. That fire of motivation propelled me to a buddhist summer camp where I lived and work amongst other like minded individuals, meditating every day and learning about the buddhas teachings, the dharma, soaking it all in. I met my teacher who made a brief visit there that year and then I proceeded to chase him half way round the world for a teacher/disciple reationship, which I was eventually and very fortunately granted.
I jumped into practice headlong, taking on all the external trappings of the new life I had chosen for myself. From there followed travels to India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, receiving teachings and empowerment, and living a very full buddhist life. Or so I thought.The blazing fire that burned within me at through sitting meditation retreats, preliminary practices, deities practices. All the time I was looking for something to make me feel whole.
Somewhere along the way, without realizing that it had already happened, I started to take on a superficial and shallow essence of the teachings, deluding myself that what I was living was “first thought, best thought” wisdom in action. I started believing “that something was happening” or was about to happen. In the process, I lost my way. The fire that burned inside me started to fade.
I became, over time, a Buddhist only in name. Practice became inconsistent, the dharma a justification system rather than a living practice that I embodied, regardless of all the blessings, practices and teachings I had received. It was as if I was outside of myself, looking in. Buddhism became bla bla bla. A stint in Darjeeling for a year and a half living as a monk provided many questions and not so many answers.
Life went on, I went back to school in Australia, moved to Japan for work, and life took its toll. 23 years went by in a blink of an eye.  Several times I tried to get myself back on the buddhist practice wagon, each time I fell off, most probably because yet again, my view of what it means to be a buddhist and my understanding of the core teachings was superficial. All this time my teacher was patient with me. Meetings or phone calls were always met with a smiling face and voice, a patient nod, encouragement and much love, often words just telling me to trust myself.
The fire never went out completely. At times, it was merely a spark, as I searched for something outside myself to fill the void that I was feeling. But looking outside of myself I was, and in doing so I cleanly missed the point of practice.
Last year, in the beginning of March, an earthquake here in Japan shook up my life. From those massive rumblings and waves that washed away so many lives and hopes and fears, my life too was splashed with cold water. My teacher was there again, right away when I needed him, concerned for my safety and offering prayers and encouragement. But the fragility of this constructed world that we live in struck me deeply. My fast paced life suddenly screeched back down to moment by moment. I was not comfortable in that space.
Practice was the only time where I really had a chance to confront myself, and when I did, I didnt like what I saw. Restlessness, nervousness, lack of satisfaction, the wanting for something else other than this, the neediness of my existence.
But slowly slowly, inch by inch, moment by moment, I reclaimed my life and developed the habit of consistency in practice, and have started the long and arduous process of stripping away the mental trappings that were once real obstacles to me living a more full life.
We human beings waste an incredible portion of our daily lives just not being here, in the now, the present moment. With an aspiration to never forget that core truth, I vow live my life.