11/17/2012 Meditation and Community
Hello again everyone, welcome.
Tonight I’d like to give a few meditation tips; it’s always good to review even the basics.
In Buddhadharma, meditation practice and communal activity are fundamentally the same. We’re a community. We come together. We share positive energy. Anyone who has listened to me for a while knows I’m fond of saying, “There are no ‘cowboy’ Buddhists,” you aren’t out there all on your own. Being a yogi alone on retreat in a cave is a different style of practice. That isn’t what we’re doing here at Lion’s Roar.
In our style of meditation, the emphasis isn’t only on looking within. It’s really primarily an opening up process. Yes, we have our individual practices, and training, but Buddhism is based on a model of friendship – we connect with who we sit with – we’re interdependent. I like to say we’re independently interdependent!
This is why we have Buddha, dharma and sangha. And for our tradition, Lion’s Roar is a four-fold dharma center; we have the Buddha, dharma, sangha, and Lama!
Of course when we “take refuge in the sangha”, we are referring to the enlightened sangha, yes, of the past, present and future. So there are subsets within the sangha, like for example here at Lion’s Roar, we have the tantric sangha.
Essentially, monastics and householders are doing the same practice – but the monastics have a much stronger emphasis on communal living. We’re completely upholding monastic vows and householder vows.
But householders like all of us here should still hold all the precepts; It’s degenerative if we think that only monastics should hold the precepts and householders should just give them money and then go home and not do practice, not keep vows, not do anything. You as a lay person also must put in the effort, with the correct motivation.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, we have the five precepts, eighteen Bodhisattva precepts, fourteen tantric precepts, and there’s much more. It doesn’t matter whether you are a householder or a monastic – to do the training and practice you must uphold the precepts. There’s no other way to do it.
It’s as though we’re all flying a jumbo jet – it’s really complex, and has a lot of moving parts, people really have to work together to make it fly.
In keeping vows and precepts, we’re learning how to work together. As a householder, we learn how to get along in a family. As a monastic, we learn how to get along in a monastery.
It all primarily comes down to how we do our meditation practice. If we separate our meditation from our everyday life, we’re missing the point entirely. So this is the point of communal meditation – that we’re interdependent.
If you show up like you’re going to a movie, like you’re just going to come here, have an experience, then leave, that’s not sangha practice. That’s entertainment. You’re missing the point if you come here thinking, “I hope no one bothers me.” That is not proper motivation.
Proper motivation is when we open up and realize that everyone contributes. Everyone is absolutely necessary. We’re absolutely thrilled when someone sits with us. They give us energy and we give them energy.
It’s also important to realize that even when we sit alone, we are not really alone. We bring in the entire merit field. We have all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with us; we have yidams and dakinis. They’re surrounding us. We aren’t alone at all.
And to me it’s interesting, even with all of that support, we usually keep a secret, private place in our minds in case it doesn’t work out or in case we get betrayed or it’s just a phase.
But it really is a totally communal event. We’re all here. We’re breathing good air. We are breathing the same air. Brahma, Vishna, Ganesh, trees, flowers, all sentient beings are here. We don’t kick anyone out! It’s very inclusive.
We are interested in bodhicitta, realizing emptiness, and primordial wisdom. We’re also interested in how to fix computers, how to make biscotti. All these expertises are wisdoms. (laughs) I’m being a little humorous but we need these different kinds of expertises.
Meditation is very communal. Primarily we’re realizing wisdom, the Middle Way view, and the emphasis is on including it all, not, “Don’t bother me.” I don’t need Annette or Patty. Inherently Annette is empty. Patty is empty. I am empty. What we need is proper motivation to have big bag or container with everything, everyone thrown together. Buddhadharma is inclusive. If we’re sitting with proper motivation, everything can act as a support.
The red coffee cup over there can act as an inspiration, i.e. am I seeing the emptiness of that cup?
Now, if someone is coughing during the meditation period, I know that’s difficult. Things like that make togetherness difficult! The worst things in a retreat for me are if someone’s talking during Shamatha or if I can hear someone’s beads clicking. (laughter)
Communal meditation is important. If I’m sitting and I’m leaving one of you out, I am not going to become enlightened, like, “Ugh, that person clicking the mala, I’m not including them.” (laughter) That isn’t how this works.
Sometimes we fantasize, “I will get enlightened alone… I will get enlightened alone on the beach in Carmel. Everyone will know how enlightened I am.” Well, what if you became enlightened and no one notices? How would that feel?
So, meditation is inclusive.
And it’s very important that when you start your meditation, when you sit down to train, you be assertive. You need to really think about what you want to do, what you’re about to do. That way your practice will be energized, be focused and have intention. If we sit and are vague and think, “I don’t know,” that is not what we want.
You must be assertive, decisive. When you’re on a freeway, you have to pick a lane.
Now, there are different styles of shamatha. In the West, it’s common to use the breath, to focus on and count breaths in a cycle. In the Vajrayana tradition, it’s common to first count twenty-one breaths and then bring forth the object of visualization. Sometimes we use this technique in the Generation stage of our meditations.
Even without an empowerment, you can visualize a deity or yidam in front of you. Visualization is difficult for many Westerners. Because of my previous karma, visualization is easy for me. But after teaching for a while, I’ve learned that it isn’t easy for some people.
There are physical, postural basics too. First, we sit upright in the seven-point posture. We make a mudra, we cradle our right hand in our left at our waist level and the thumbs touch. We have an open chest, breath and energy can move. It’s funny, it’s the same as in Tai Chi, but here we’re sitting.
Holding our hands like this can feel difficult at times but the benefit of this posture is we get immediate biofeedback! If we’re drifting, our mudra will collapse in on itself. Another advantage is our thumbs are right over our belly, so we can tell we’re breathing correctly. We may also notice that our thumbs are really tight against each other, so we need to relax. This feedback helps us.
Another style is to place your hands on your thighs, just above your knees. The benefit of the hands on the thighs is we are open – but this is actually more difficult, because your energy is more spread out, less contained. Another problem is your shoulders might slope forward, closing off your chest, so you don’t want your hands to slip down onto your knees.
In the texts, the classic seven-point posture is seen as easiest. It looks hard at first but it really isn’t. Your pelvis needs to rock forward but be higher than your knees. And there are reasons for all this, like later on, this posture is important for completion stage practices when you are working with the winds. It matters; It makes a difference how you hold a fork when you are eating spaghetti, right?
And there are things like for example, next year I’ll turn 60 years old; it’s important to maintain flexibility as we age! Don’t give up on yourself!
Questions and Answers
Q: When you do your visualization, should it be moving or more like a painting, like our thangkas?
Lama Jinpa : It should be holographic, not flat, and it should be fairly stable.
Now if you say, “I’m going to do generation stage practice,” many things are moving, in that case there are a lot of moving parts, for example mantra syllables are moving.
Sometimes when you’re doing your practice, something interesting happens. All of these possibilities exist in Vajrayana.
Sometimes we see something, but it’s not the nature of awareness, rather it’s just entertainment – it’s just an interesting experience. That’s why we have a qualified teacher. He can tell us when we aren’t doing it correctly. He can tell us whether we’re doing generation practice or having an hallucination!
But if you have had an empowerment and are doing this sort of practice, it’s interesting. What’s staying still? What’s in motion? As we’re generating and dissolving, even though we’re physically still, there’s lots of movement.
When we’re doing basic shamatha, generally we visualize something very stable, like Shakyamuni Buddha. It shouldn’t be stiff like a painting though; we’re visualizing with light.
Q: Circulating back to the beginning of your talk. I wonder how a person can meditate in a group versus as a cowboy, on their own, on a daily basis. Other than in a monastery, how would a lay person find a daily group unless their family meditated?
Lama Jinpa: Actually, honestly, it isn’t common in the West or the East. In this situation it’s your motivation that’s important – inviting the sangha to practice with us, being open to them and not secretly wishing that you are in a cave.
But because we do have separate dwellings, we aren’t living communally, we get together like this. Even in a monastery, monastics have time alone in their rooms, and then they also have group pujas. So motivation is what is important.
Q: Can you speak about Shamatha?
Lama Jinpa: Shamatha is Sanskrit for ‘calm abiding.’
Calm abiding is translated as the result of this training, where we’re effortlessly present with the object. But the path of calm abiding doesn’t always feel calm. There are ups and downs, hills and valleys. Sometimes we slip off and have to come back.
In the meditation manuals there are ten levels of shamatha . As we do the training diligently, there’s a gradual change from things being like a small mountain stream to the being like the Ganges River. It takes effort to do this.
One aspect of shamatha is mindfulness. Mindfulness means ‘to remember.’ There is also clarity, balance, introspection…
(To questioner) Who did you study with?
Q: I’ve studied Shambhala, Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen. My teacher had a broad path from many traditions.
Lama Jinpa: Sitting meditation can mean lots of things to different people, or in different traditions. In the Vajrayana tradition, shamatha practice is something very precise. Shamatha practice is pretty consistent across the four or five Tibetan schools of Buddhism.
In the Shambala mediation style, it combines shamatha, Mahamudra and Dzogchen.
Q: As a practitioner, how do you know which one to do?
Lama Jinpa: In the Vajrayana tradition, a kind of standard path is to begin by studying Lam Rim, but really when we want to start a meditation practice, the first thing is, we need a teacher.
In our lifetimes, some of us, I won’t say who, might have taken a car out without instruction –no training, no license. (laughter) We may have been used to riding in a car, and watched what other people did and maybe we did okay. But sometimes that doesn’t go so well, does it?
To actually safely and effectively drive the car, we need instruction. We need training. We definitely need instruction if we are driving a stick shift!
When I was young, my friends and I were wicked rich kids! We took out my friend’s dad’s Porsche! It was easy to drive…
Student: Easy to lose control.
Lama Jinpa: Right. You need a teacher.
Q: Are the instructions different for each student? Does the teacher read each student individually?
Lama Jinpa: Generally, yes. Do you have a teacher?
Q: It’s complicated.
Lama Jinpa: Well again, you don’t want to try and be a cowboy, out there on your own. You want someone riding with you, showing you the way, showing you the ropes. It saves time.
Because of my karma, I met my teachers early. When I was fourteen, fifteen years old, I went to Japan, that was where it started. And I really thought that I would become enlightened on my own.
Then in 1969 I heard about Tibetan Yoga and the Secret Doctrine. These things sounded interesting, and I set out to learn more. And that’s what I found out; you need a teacher at some point. If you’re practicing and you’re driving around a parking lot, at some point, you want to take the car past thirty miles per hour, yes?
Lama Jinpa: And finding a teacher can be hard. Then when you do start with a qualified teacher, there’s a power struggle at first, and there’s a period of testing, but really that’s how it should be. It’s like anything else, like you’re meeting a defense attorney for the first time and you don’t tell all the embarrassing things right away. Gradually you build up trust.
If we get a car, we need to be taught how to use it. If we get a Maserati, we want a really qualified teacher to show us how to use it. And without a teacher, don’t kid yourself, you’re probably going to crash, maybe hurt yourself – if you have an empowerment with no one to check in with, it’s dangerous.
Q: I get confused about where Mahayana fits in. It is integral, creating causes and conditions to prepare for other paths like this one?
Lama Jinpa: Right now.
Q: I’m not hearing it
Lama Jinpa: Sutra is in everything, Heart Sutra and Lam Rim, really they’re part of everything we’re doing.
The Mahayana view, developing bodhicitta, studying emptiness, the Tibetan traditions are somewhat fused. Like how a wedding ring and engagement rings are sort of fused. They’re not totally separate, they’re together, related.
The assumption is if you’re following Vajrayana you’re doing Tantra. So you absolutely have to have a Lama, to help you keep pure vision, to keep your commitments. And if you’re doing Tantra, you’re automatically doing Hinayana and Mahayana. You’re keeping pratimoksha and bodhisattva vows.
Lama Jinpa to questioner: What sutras do you like?
Q: I don’t know many
Lama Jinpa: In our tradition, tantras are seen as the culmination of the sutras.
In Zen, especially in China and Japan, people venerated the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra became like a bible. Tantras are sutra too. They were spoken by the Buddha –
Shakyamuni Buddha manifested as Vajradhara or Kalacakra and gave transmission.
Q: What about tantras like Tara, or Medicine Buddha? I feel like when I do these the deities tell me, “We are like you.”
Lama Jinpa: With kriya tantra in Japan and China, it’s different, they don’t visualize themselves as Kuan Yin or as Manjushri. Instead, they try to embody the qualities of that Buddha. It’s a different tradition, a different view.
They don’t have vajra pride. They don’t have consort practice, there’s no inner completion stage. So there’s none of the vajra pride of being Chenrezig. In the Sutra tradition, there’s not as strong a need to see teacher as Buddha.
Vajrayana practice is like high opera; everything in opera edges up a notch. It’s more intense, more elaborate. That’s partly why Vajrayana is secret. But it’s very effective, so it spread out over Tibet, and Mongolia. It’s the quick, hard path.
Really it’s easy to do. It’s kind of like Quantum physics compared to, well, physics. (laughs)
Q: Both lead to enlightenment.
Lama Jinpa: Well, ‘no self’ is the same, but with Vajrayana we have a much bigger energy field to work with. We have more tools – that’s why it’s quicker.
Sometimes it’s too complicated for some people. Opera is my style, I love opera. It’s easy – fall in love and die of tuberculosis! (laughter)
For other people that’s too confusing. That’s why we have different styles.
Okay, let’s do closing prayers.