Kalu Rinpoche Yangsi Madrid 2011

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On practice

A recent new friend made a comment to me earlier today which sparked the motivation for this post- thank you L! She said something that reminded me why I left the safe confines of a life in Northern India as a monk and decided to go back into the world to face my demons. Basically, because I knew that the demons were there, and regardless whether I was sitting in some Himalayan retreat, I needed to deal with those very same demons before a life of retreat was going to do me any good.

I had taken temporary monastic vows under the direction of my root guru, who had as usual given me excellent council. “Being a monk for the rest of your life isn’t for you, but definitely go and experience what it is like in India, and learn from it.” In the Tibetan tradition, the taking of vows is a life long decision, and the breaking or handing back of those vows an extreme karmic no-no, so as usual my teacher showed the flexibility of thought for which he is famous, and sent me to an old Theravadin monk in Wat Bawan, right smack dab in the heart of Bangkok, where I took temporary vows which I could renew each month for as long as I liked.

Anyway, back to the story. I had undergone a year and a half of living in West Bengal, and to be honest, it had mostly been a roller coaster ride of me eating to know just how fickle my mind really is. In retrospect it was a fantastic experience, but at the time I was honestly an absolute mess, creating more chaos around me than clarity. I practiced a lot, and in doing so, stirred up so much karmic mud that I got lost inside it all.

Then suddenly, one beautiful Darjeeling day as the morning mists roared up the valley below my window and swept over my room”s window, I was struck by this realization; it is one thing to sit and contemplate compassion, buddha nature, emptiness etc, and another thing to get up off my butt, go back into the real world, and try to mix the dharma with my daily life. I was struck with just how much unresolved “stuff” I had left behind, and that if I really wanted to lead the life of a monastic or recluse, I first needed to go back and learn how to balance dharma with my daily life.

I got up, contacted my teacher and told him of my decision, that I would go back to Australia, get a degree and study a new language- Japanese. His guidance as usual, was pithy and precise; make study and work your practice.

Well, for the last thirteen years, I have attempted to do just that. And here I sit, on this fine Sunday afternoon in Tokyo, on a break in the middle of my practice dedicated day, doing that very same task. I can now feel the parallel existence quality as those two selves, the recluse in Darjeeling, and the dharma practitioner in Tokyo, look at each other from across the expanse of time and distance. They are one and the same. They are both me.

Now I start the gradual curve back to that life of practice. I long for it in a way and with a depth of appreciation that I did not feel before, and I look at my journey so far with a sense of humility at how little I have learned, and just how much all of these things in daily life challenge me. Now, I do not see these things as demons any more, I see them as important aspects of my path. As such, I am liberated from them and they adorn my practice.

Practice is integral to be a buddhist. If you don’t practice, then you are not a Buddhist its a simple as that. The more you practice, the more the philosophy and teachings will resonate within you. You will strengthen the bonds you have with your teachers, and your sense of appreciation will grow inside. Confidence in the practice and in yourself will grow. And the final jewel in the crown of all this, is that it will profoundly affect everything you do, everyone you meet, everything you touch, see, smell and hear.

Practice is the foundation of your commitment to the dharma.