Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Sometimes I think that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and a few others are the only hope for Tibetan Buddhism in the 21st century. It is merely a maybe-not-so-useful feeling I have. Here is something that he published just a few days ago on his Siddhartha's Intent website: "A Short Note From Someone Pretending to Do Retreat."
Last month yet another great master, Kyabjé Penor Rinpoche, passed into paranirvana. What a loss for the world! And what a loss for those of us who have a connection with him! For me, his passing has brought home the troubling realization that, while many great masters are still alive and with us, from the point of view of our own impure perceptions, they are no longer young, and sometimes appear to be quite frail. This worrying reality should inspire in all of us a real sense of urgency.
During the past few years, I myself have noticed that, quite suddenly, many of my friends are being attacked by terminal diseases, like breast cancer and brain tumours. Although I know I shouldn't be surprised, I always am because I have such a tenuous acquaintance with the concept of impermanence.
Actually, people all over the world are dying every second, yet it's only recently that I've started noticing it happening to people I know personally, and every time one of my friends dies, a big part of me always asks, "Why is this happening to me? To us?" Eventually, of course, I remember that death is simply one inevitable aspect of being human. Then I feel foolish for not having seen that, for me and everyone of my age, such losses are unavoidable; that, in fact, as we get older, we will have to face the deaths of those we love more and more frequently.
What is the human body, after all? Little more than a bunch of pathetically fragile components that have been cobbled together without the proper glue or strong enough nails. Is it any wonder that, sooner or later, we all fall apart? Yet, every time it happens, our ignorant minds are constantly surprised by death and illness, and everything that goes with it.
Over the years there have been so many tragic deaths, but the most tragic of all is the death of someone young. Personally, I am always saddest when someone younger than I am dies, and I think that for almost all human beings, the idea that young people die is somehow unacceptable and unfair--this is how we think. In reality, though, death doesn't have any preferences; it doesn't strike according to the age of its victim. And as Buddhists, we've been told about the uncertainty of death so often, we really can't complain that we haven't been warned--Shantideva alone repeatedly dedicated whole chapters to the subject. Nevertheless, we still complain--it happens all the time.
So, what is purpose of this message? For those of you who are "over the hill", like myself, please take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and Guru, Deva and Dakini, because we all need protection from bad health and all manner of disasters. After all, who knows what's in store for any of us?
I'd also like to emphasize that one of the main causes of our weakness and vulnerability is the sheer weight of our karmic debt, and in order to repay and clarify these debts it is important to practise Riwo Sangchö.
Of course, when you practice--whichever practice it is that you like to do, Refuge, Bodhicitta, Riwo Sangchö, whatever--always take a good look at your motivation. Doing any kind of spiritual practice because you think it will ensure a long life--perhaps even that you'll live for ever--is like trying to freeze a bubble of soap in time; it's just not possible.
All you can do is practise with the wish that you remain alive long enough to become better acquainted with the dharma. Even one second longer in such a life is extremely precious. Ultimately, of course, we should say prayers and do practice in the hope that one day we will be free from the agony of time, and from the agony of the separation of all the transitory elements that, in our deluded minds, we have pieced together so convincingly. Most of us are so lost in our delusions that we actually believe them to be permanent, and when the illusion we've created reveals itself in its true colours, we suffer the most unbearable agonies. And it is from this kind of delusion that, ultimately, we need to free ourselves.
A short note from someone pretending to do retreat.
Bir, 12 April 2009