Fortunate enough to have travelled some of the holiest cities in India, one thing has always puzzled me – tourists with such miserable faces.
This may appear judgemental – it really isn’t meant to. But almost every group of tourists I’ve encountered on my travels through India who’ve come to study meditation etc with a personal Guru, looks absolutely miserable as sin. The men appear to have spent a whole month continuously smoking pot, and the women look like startled rabbits in headlights, painfully thin, and frustrated at not being able to understand what it is they’re meant to do. This naturally brings me to the question where is the joy? Spiritual practice often involves chanting, giving reverence and respect to deities who’s influences help us move forward in life. Therefore joy is a major part of spiritual practice – or at least it should be. Can you imagine how it would feel, if you threw a big birthday party and everyone sang happy birthday as if they were exhausted and couldn’t be bothered even being there? Well it’s pretty much the same thing really.
So here’s today’s little issue for debate ……..
Why do you think, so many people take meditation and mantra so seriously? And do you think it’s appropriate to show joy in such situations?
In my last post we discussed the issue of death, and why Western culture often finds it terrifying, dark & complex. In Buddhism, the death process is also seen in a similar way, but for very different reasons. In Buddhism one of he most significant things relating to the death process is Bardo.
This takes place between the point of death & rebirth. The process is said to last for a 49 day period and during this time the consciousness will go through many different phases until it is finally reborn. As the process takes place, different prayers are recited from scriptures called the Bardo Thodol . These prayers are aimed to guide the consciousness to the point of rebirth without distraction. In Tibetan Buddhism, the consciousness is said to be the last thing to leave the body even when all other organs have shut down. This means technically the person is still alive right up until the point where the consciousness leaves. When this happens, a small spot of blood will usually appear on the crown of the head, or fluid will start to leave through the deceased persons nostrils. At this point, the body is ready for cremation etc.
There are 6 Bardos, but the final 3 are after death states:
1- The painful Bardo of dying (Chikai): When consciousness of the newly deceased becomes aware of and accepts the fact it has recently died.
2 -The luminous Bardo of Dharmata (Chonyid): The consciousness reflects upon its past life and the mind is laid bare, karma is assessed in preparation for rebirth.
3- The Bardo of becoming (Sidpa): During the second state of Bardo, the consciousness will encounter terrifying images and sounds. These are only attributed to the winds as the senses start to close down. How we react to those terrifying images and sounds, determines what will happen in the third Bardo (becoming) in other words how we will be reborn. This is why we are encouraged to meditate on death whilst we are very much alive, and why we should encounter every difficult situation with a mindset of compassion and generosity so that when the battle process is happening we can hear these terrors and know exactly what to do without panicking.
Different cultures view death and dying in very different ways. Here in the West we usually lay out our loved ones in the chapel of rest for around three or four days before burial or cremation. This is so people can pay their last respects, share memories about the person’s life-who they were & what they were like etc. In Islamic culture however, it’s traditional to bury the body as quickly as possible without delay.
So here’s today’s question to ponder…. If we accept the Bardo theory as accurate, what thoughts feelings & emotions are raised about our own traditions of burying or cremating the dead?
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We’ve all at some time or other, sat and pondered on the wonders of life & how it began. There are many different perspectives on how we got here. God, The Big Bang, Apes, Dinosaurs etc – they’re all widely debated. Buddhism however, teaches the law of causality – Everything has a root cause and is dependent upon other factors to exist. When it comes to ‘sentient beings’ karma is that root cause. According to Buddhism, how we are born in this life for example, human or animal (Reincarnation) very much determines how our past life was. For example, if in our past life we were greedy and uncaring about others – making no effort to change, it may be we are reincarnated as an animal of some kind. The fundamental difference between animals & humans is the ability to fully understand & exercise morals (What’s right & wrong)
An animal when it’s hungry will hunt. It pays no attention to the pain of its meal – it’s only desire is to satisfy hunger. When it’s finished the meal,it will curl up and sleep peacefully. If you own a pet dog, you’ll have felt the unconditional love he/she shows. But if by chance you died would your lovely canine friend eventually eat you? Of course he would.
So Buddhism teaches, we are all reborn as a result of past positive/negative karma
But What real evidence do we have that reincarnation is true?
The first teaching of the Buddha was called the four Noble truths’s. The 4 Noble truths’s speaks about suffering, and the cessation of suffering. in other words, how to get rid of it and make a happy life for ourselves and others. According to the 4 Noble truths, nothing in this world that exists without an element of suffering. However, for many people this sounds pretty grim – let’s face it, if everything is all about suffering then how can we ever be happy? But what actually are the 4 noble truths?
The Four Noble Truths
The truth of suffering (Dukkha) This means that suffering actually exists.
The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya) understanding where suffering comes from.
The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha) understanding that because suffering exist, it can also be ended.
The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga) How to end suffering.
To put it in a nutshell, the Buddha taught, that once we understand the root of our suffering, which according to Buddhism is ‘desire’. Then we can actually move towards ending it. This is why the Buddha was often compared to a physician because he diagnosed an actual human and universal problem, then prescribed the cure in 4 relatively simple lessons.
But here’s something to debate….. LifeIf life is just suffering, as Buddhism claims, why is it some of us don’t see it this way? Why do some of us see life as wonderful rather than filled with suffering?
We all experience negative emotions such as stress & anger but how do we reduce them before they cause long term damage? Well, the first port of call for many of us in the Western world is a large glass or even a bottle of wine, recreational drugs or even prescribed medication.
All provide great short term benefits, but each has its own side effect & if used in excess, can damage our physical/mental health. We tend to do this for various reasons, sometimes we need a quick result, other times we don’t know an alternative way. Tibetan Buddhism teaches the most effective way of reducing negative emotions, is by cultivating & increasing compassion & selflessness (altruism) When we think kind thoughts or do nice things for another person, chemicals such as Seratonin (Natural Happy Chemical) are released into our body & therefore our mood is lifted. Have you ever noticed how great you feel when you give gifts at Christmas or birthdays? The act of giving seems to create more joy than actually receiving but it isn’t just about materialism. Just a simple act of Altruism can impact so many people and touch their lives in ways you can’t imagine.
Here’s an example; John has worked for the same company for 25 yrs but for the last 10 years, that job has become more stressful. More responsibilities have been put on John and he isn’t able to manage his workload. He isn’t getting any younger and is afraid of losing his job so he works late most nights to get things finished. John’s manager notices him working late, but isn’t aware of John’s stress. All he’s interested in, is getting the products out on time. John is seeing less & less of his family so he and his wife argue a lot. His wife is almost always sad these days but they have a mortgage to pay so nothing can be done. All their friends have stopped visiting because the atmosphere is tense and they leave feeling sad. This has a knock on effect on their friends & families too. Eventually John starts to feel ill and collapses at work, so needs to take time off sick. He is visited by his manager who responds very differently than John expected. John’s manager is so affected by his stress, he agrees to help John by first reducing his workload and distributing tasks more evenly, also authorising paid holidays for him with immediate effect. This takes so much pressure off and immediately his wife’s mood improves. John’s health begins to improve too but all their friends notice the positive change. Because of this, lpeople start to visit more and they carry the joy into their own circles etc. So here we can begin to understand how one act of compassion by John’s manager impacted so many lives.
There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t show regular acts of compassion and altruism but in our busy competative Western culture we’re often in it only for ourselves and what we can achieve. Despite this fact, evidence shows we have the highest levels of Mental Health problems, Workplace Stress & Depression.
What are your thoughts on Compassion & Altruism being the greatest reducer of Negative Emotions?
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Yesterday evening I had the great honour & privilege of having Geshe Lama Ahbay Tulku Rinpoche visit my home for the 3rd year running. With a small gathering of spiritually minded people, we ate together, laughed together (what an infectious laugh he has) and shared some great philosophical discussion.
After supper we all moved to my healing & meditation room for Q & A about Buddhism & life in general before taking part in the dedication prayer.
One of the questions raised during our discussion was this…… Why do you think Westerners have a deep rooted fear of death?
Maybe it’s because in the West, the main focus is on materialism. The media is all about materialism, as are the newspapers & Internet. It’s all about products that make you feel and look good giving you the false hope of regaining youthfulness. We know the hope is false because from the moment we’re born, we are physically moving towards eventual death. That’s the cycle of life really – no escaping it. Then when illness & sickness comes it’s a terrible shock because we thought we were invincible. Death is something we Westerners choose not to talk about because it’s considered morbid & dark, but we all want a comfortable death surely? But, if we’re ever going to prepare for the inevitable event of death properly we must discuss it in life.
Rinpoche’s words gave me some great food for thought and so I’d like to put these 2 questions out to the universe…..
1, What are your thoughts on death?
2, Where are you going after death?
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Laughter Yoga started in 1995 in a Mumbai park in India, when a medical doctor – Dr Madan Kataria became interested in the power of laughter in curing illness. It started with just 5 willing participants but there are now over 1000 laughter clubs across the world. http://laughteryoga.org
Evidence has shown, that making yourself laugh provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as real laughter because “the mind does not know we’re faking it.” Laughter yoga sessions generally start with gentle warm-up techniques which include stretching, chanting, clapping, eye contact and subtle body movement to break down inhibitions and encourage childlike playfulness – something we adults don’t have enough of in my professional view. Breathing exercises are also used to prepare the lungs for laughter,
Laughing is brilliant way to strengthen our immune system, completely reverse the symptoms of depression & anxiety alongside many other health benefits. How does this happen? By bringing more oxygen to the body and brain, which in turn, enhances positive feelings and improves interpersonal skills. Just 15 minutes a day of real belly laughter is proven to be the equivalent of 100 sit ups in the gym – it’s perfectly natural, has exactly the