Meeting The Dalai Lama
When I signed up to a 10 Day Silent 'Introduction to Buddhism' Retreat at Tushita Meditation Centre I knew I was in for a treat but I didn’t realise how much it would change my view on what it means to be Happy. I certainly didn’t expect to be formally invited to meet the Dalai Lama at his Temple… it seems I had some good karma going for me.
Meeting the Dalai Lama was amazing, he has this adorable manner of making a joke and then sticking out his tongue. What resonated with me the most was how he said that Buddhism isn’t for everyone and every religion is important as they share a common theme of world peace. I couldn’t help but smile when he said this as he sounds a little like Yoda from Star Wars, I could just imagine him floating up from his chair and sticking his tongue out as one of his little jokes. But the Dalia Lama was not the highlight of my 10 days...
Tushita is an oasis of calm nestled among tall pines deep within the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India. Here you actually listen. No one is talking so you can appreciate the sounds of nature but you also listen to your own internal dialogue and find your mind isn’t quite as clear as you thought it was, or that was the case for me at least.
So lets say a 99% silent retreat; one hour a day we assembled in our discussion groups to pull apart the Buddhist teachings and work out what resonated with us, and then which parts of Buddhism didn’t quite float our boats. This is one of the most important things that the Buddha taught, to question the Dharma or teachings and not just ‘grasp’ or ‘cling’ to the ideologies without a sound understanding of what they actually mean so as not to idealise the concept of a ‘spiritual path’. Although I loved sharing insights and learning from others during these discussion times, retreating back into silence for the remainder of the day allowed for greater internal insight and sorting through the many layers of my own mind.
There were times during the day when negative emotions or thoughts would arise and it was empowering to just sit with the discomfort and pain and find the strength within to work through it. One day after lunch I was sat on the roof terrace looking at the crazy monkeys swinging around in the tree tops and thought it ironic how they reflected my unsettled monkey mind in that moment. I started to feel sad, I was thinking about someone who I’ve felt a disconnection with lately and my mind went on a little journey thinking “oh no, what if they get ill...what if something happens to them...what if they die and I never get to iron things out”. Following a teaching on the ‘self’ and whether the mind or the brain is the ‘self’, or whether the ‘self’ exists within the mind or the body (confusing stuff I know), I then started to search for where that emotion was. It wasn’t in my body, I couldn’t find it in my feet, my legs, my arms, belly or brain, yes my heart felt a little heavy but then when I looked closer this was just an imagination of the mind, there was nothing wrong with my heart.
After scanning my body for the source of this sadness, then the mind, I could logically see that there was no need to feel sad as none of the circumstances my mind created had actually happened. There was no sensation of sadness within my body and now my mind was also free of this ‘suffering’. I then giggled to myself and lay down on the bench feeling totally content like a cat lying in the sun on a summer's day. These are the sorts of revelations I had during the 10 days. Learning how to detach from emotions, negative and positive, so as not to get carried away in a day dream. It leads to living more in the present, the ‘here and now’, as many yogis and spiritual types like to say.
For me, I connect with Buddhism as it uses analytical meditation and practical tools to sharpen the mind with the sole purpose of removing ‘suffering’; that could be suffering related to attachment, jealousy, anger, or delusion, and it cultivates feelings of equanimity, love, compassion and joy. The Buddha taught...
“Avoid evil, do good, purify the mind”
...by purifying the mind it means not grasping or clinging to anything as being the ‘self’ or belonging to the ‘self’. In other words, removing that sense of self-importance and shifting towards developing yourself so you can find lasting happiness and help others to reach that level of happiness too.
Buddhism is a middle way, of course you need to put yourself first sometimes, the teachings are essentially a self-help tool that you can use to explore your mind in meditation with the intention of helping others once you’ve found your own way. You create the causes and conditions for your own happiness, the power is within you to create the conditions for meditation and discovery to take place. That’s essentially Karma, creating conditions or scenarios to nurture a desired result, in this case calming the mind. But be wary of being too attached to the result or ‘grasping’, just observe with awareness trying not to attach expectations.
The other powerful lesson I learnt at Tushita was Impermanence, the impermanence of material objects, relationships, experiences, moments. Everything and everyone is constantly changing, ask any quantum physicist, although a chair may look like a chair when you look closely under a microscope it is just a cluster of atoms constantly changing shape and moving. This takes a while to get your head around but when you think about it, it’s true. People are constantly changing, you cannot expect them to stay the same, and that’s why you have to work at relationships and adapt not expecting them to be your ideal partner, father, friend or companion. Same with your laptop or car, you may have splashed out on a brand new Mac or a Land Rover but one day it will get damaged or just wear out over time. In the end everyone and everything dies, it may sound a little negative but if you know me personally I am very positive and I see acknowledging death as a form of impermanence as a positive thing. Knowing this you can recognise how precious life is, and how important it is to make the most of every moment by truly living in the moment. It is HARD, don’t get me wrong, I’ve learnt all this intellectually but I’m still working on integrating it into my everyday life. It’s easy to practice the Buddhist principles in a perfect retreat scenario but when you go back into everyday life, that’s when the lessons and challenges come rolling in and you’re not so zen anymore. It is a continual lifelong challenge, but challenges are where the magic of transformation take place.
Finally The Buddha said...
“Self is the refuge of the self”
...the Dharma is there, you can choose to agree or disagree based on what is right for you, but at the end of the day it is only YOU who can create the causes and conditions for lasting happiness and a clear mind.