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Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation. Copyright Buddha Weekly.

Modern life affords us so little time to practice accumulating of merit and purification—and so many excuses to postpone for today. Who has time for daily offerings? It’s all most of us can do to fit in ten minutes of meditation. Isn’t it better to attend the next Vajrasattva Retreat or Empowerment than to take ten minutes a day for offerings?

Mandala set offerings is a practice that combines the best of meditation, mantra, purification and offerings in one very powerful act, and many teachers, as early as the great Lama Tsongkhapa, advocate this critical practice as a daily essential. It purifies negative karma and accumulates merit not just for ourselves, but for all beings. (Full Mandala offering method at end of this article.)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Mandala offering is a powerful method for accumulating extensive merit in a short time. The Tibetan word for mandala is kyil.kor: kyil is essence, kor is taking—taking the essence. The term means taking the essence on the base of offering a mandala, and what you get from this is merit—the cause. Therefore the essence you take is the generation of the whole path, from guru devotion up to enlightenment, as well as the result, the unification of the dharmakaya and rupakaya. The cause is merit, the path; and the result is enlightenment. — Lama Zopa Rinpoche [1]

Lama Tsongkhapa — One Million Mandalas

Even the great Lama Tsongkhapa, an enlightened being, practiced daily, focusing especially on purification and increasing of merit. Manjushri, at one point, advised the famous enlightened scholar to put aside scholarly pursuits and focus on purification and offering of the mandala. It was as a result of this, we are taught, that Tsongkhapa gained the higher realizations that he is known for in sutra in the tantra.

Lama Tsongkhapa did over one million mandala offerings, but because Lama Tsongkhapa was very poor, he used a stone base and stones. He did it until the skin tore off.

Lama Tsongkhapa completed 1 million mandala offerings.

Daily Mandala Accumulates Vast Merit

Accumulation of merit and purification are two foundation practices of any Vajrayana Buddhist. We accumulate merit many ways—following the precepts prime among them—but extraordinary merit is accumulated through practice of Mandala offerings.

Doing the mandala offering is a way of clearing out all these negative states of mind. Here, “mandala” means the universe and everything in it. Instead of looking at things and saying, “Oh that’s good. I want it!” we train ourselves to think, “Oh, that looks good. I’m offering it to the Triple Gem.” — Venerable Thubten Chodron [2]

In doing a mandala offering, we offer the entire world, everything, not just our earth, but every one of the billions and trillions of planets throughout all universes. We visualize we are purifying incorrect motivations and receiving great blessings from the merit field. We offer the mandala from our hearts, to open our minds.

A completed mandala is an act of offering and meditation, helpful in reducing bad karma and increasing merit. Each level is filled with offerings until the tiered mandala is filled with semi-precious stones, rice, grains, coins or any precious offering. The ‘universe’ of the completed mandala is then offered over the head to show you would give the entirety of existence to help others attain enlightenment.

The Golden Ground and Mount Meru

The base of a Mandala set represents the golden ground of the world or universe. The first ring placed on the base represents the iron fence and the continents. The next rings represent Mount Meru. The Mandala top symbolizes all the precious things in all the universes, our own precious virtues.

One of the Most Important Daily Practices

Mandala offerings are considered one of the most important daily practices because the act accumulates different types of merit, but ordinary and primordial wisdom merit. We practice generosity, which overcomes the stingy or greedy mind full of desires and attachments. We then give up these attachments to the material by offering them to all beings in the universe. We visualize we are offering up the wealth of the entire universe to the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, the Dharma and the Sangha. Every day, this reminds us of the importance of good conduct, generosity and merit activities. Mandala gives us the motivation to achieve our goal of Buddhahood.

Venerable Thubten Chodron explains this merit accumulating practice in a teaching video:

02-04-13 A Modern Mandala Offering - BBCorner - YouTube

It is both a purification and an offering. In making the daily offering to all beings, to the prosperity of all beings and the entire universe, we accumulate great merit. To advance in our own spiritual lives, we need only lightly shadow the example of Lama Tsongkhapa, being diligent in our daily and weekly practice. Prostrations, mantra, meditation and mandala offerings all accumulate merit and purify negative karma. An annual retreat, while of great value, is not as potent as a simple, short, daily practice.

Mandala layers visualized in three dimensions

Three Types of Mandala Offering

We are taught there are three types of mandala offerings, which fall into the broad descriptions of external, internal and secret. External is practiced by all Buddhists, a whole-hearted and generous offering based on sutra and suitable for everyone. Internal and secret are both unique to advance tantric practice.

Mandala is symbolic in all three types of offering. Meditating on the concept of Mandala is a worthwhile activity. Mandala itself, is a form of meditation, that illustrates for us the illusory nature of reality. Merit is accumulated by the act of offering benefits to the entire universe.

Each Day a New Offering

Unlike other offerings, we offer the same mandala offerings over again each time. We begin by purifying our incorrect motivations by wiping grain over the base of the mandala. We then draw blessings towards ourselves. Each day we offer the same semi-precious gems, grains and other materials, renewed and pure each time they are offered. This becomes a precious new offering. Important in renewing the offering is intention: the intention to make offerings, to purify negative karma, to offer merits to all beings suffering in the universe.

Mandala Universe

Visualize the mandala as everything precious in the Universe—the most perfect riches of the worlds of gods, humans and the universe. You offer these precious things up to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The mandala is a microcosmic illustration of the Buddhist cosmology. It need not be taken literally, and, in fact, helps us remember the nature of ultimate reality. It is not a physical representation of reality. Yet the symbolism is rich and worthy of hours of focused meditation. Using modern visualizations is not as valuable as trying to visualize the traditional cosmology.

At it’s centre is Mount Meru, not a literal mountain, but the centre of the entire universe. Surrounding Mount Meru are seven golden mountain chains.  There are four levels of ground, four below the oceans and four above. Above all, is the sun and moon. The highest level in the mandala is the domain of the gods in the desire realm. There are four great continents and eight subcontinents on the great ocean surrounding Mount Meru. A great iron fence surounds the ocean, which rests on golden ground.

Detailed Mandala Set Offering Practice

Take your mandala set on your lap. Hold the mandala base in your right hand. If you have arthritis or can’t hold the base, place on a table.
NOTE: Do not speak the (brackets out loud — these identify where to pour the grain on the mandala). Italics are actions, not spoken.

Take some grain in your left hand and hold the mandala base. Take grain with your right hand and put it on the base. Wipe clockwise three times with your forearm, tipping the grain away from you. Visualize that you are purifying incorrect motivation.

Take grain and put it on the base again. Wipe anti-clockwise three times with your forearm, tipping the grain toward yourself. Visualize that you are receiving great blessings from the merit field to open your mind to offer the mandala from your heart.

Spread some grain over the base to symbolize the golden ground with precious jewels.

Say:
OM vajra ground AH HUM, mighty golden ground.

Illustrated are numbered areas on the different levels of the Mandala, corresponding to the spoken meditation and offering in this article.

Place the first ring on the base. Take more grain and sprinkle it around the inside of the ring. This symbolizes blessing the iron fence that encircles the universe.

Say:
OM vajra fence AH HUM, the iron fence around the edge,

In the center is Mount Meru, the king of mountains (sprinkle in area 1, centre)
In the east the continent Lupapo  (area 2)

East is toward you if the aim is receiving blessing power from the merit field. East is away from you if your aim is accumulating merit.

Say:
In the south Dzambuling  (3)
In the west Balangcho  (4)
In the north Draminyan (5)
In the east are the sub-continents  Lu and Lupag  (6 and 7)
In the south Ngayab and Ngayabzhan  (8 and 9)
In the west  Yodan and  Lamchog dro (10 and 11)
In the north Draminyan and  Draminyan Gyida. (12 and 13)
Here are the precious mountain (14)
The wish-granting tree (15)
The wish-fulfilling cow (16)
The unploughed harvest. (17)
Place the second ring on top of the grain-filled first ring. Visualize placing the eight precious objects belonging to a wheel-turning king who rules the four continents.

Say:
Here are the precious wheel  (18)

The first ring of the mandala. After placing the first ring on the base, offerings are made as instructed to these numbered locations.

The  precious jewel (19)
The precious queen (20)
The precious minister (21)
The precious elephant (22)
The precious horse (23)
The precious general (24)
The great treasure vase. (25)

Continue on the inner area of the second ring. These eight symbolize the eight goddesses carrying eight different types of offerings:

Say:
Here are the goddess of beauty (26)
The goddess of garlands (27)
The goddess of songs (28)
The goddess of dance (29)
The goddess of flowers (30)
The goddess of incense (31)
The goddess of light (32)
The goddess of perfume (33)

Place the third ring on the grain-filled second ring. Place the grains to your left and right for the sun and moon. Place the banner of victory toward you to receive blessing power from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. If there is an obstacle, place the parasol toward you to symbolize receiving protecting power from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The second ring of the mandala with numbered positions per the instructions.

Say:
Here are  the sun (34)

The moon (35)
The precious parasol (36)
The banner of victory in all directions. (27)

Place 38 the mandala top in the middle to symbolize the offerings of Samantabhadra.

Say:
In the center are the most perfect riches of gods and humans, with nothing missing, pure and delightful.
To my glorious, holy and most kind root guru, the lineage gurus and in particular to the great Lama Tzong Khapa, Buddha who is the king of sages, Vajradhara, and the entire assembly of deities, I offer these as a Buddha-field.
Please accept them with compassion, for the sake of migrating beings. Having accepted them, please bestow on me and on mother sentient beings abiding as far as the limits of space your inspiration with loving compassion.

Final Meditation
•    Visualize an enormous tree on the top of Mount Meru with many branches spreading throughout space. On each branch is Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, creating from his concentration innumerable priceless offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Transform the universe you have just created into a pure universe.
•    Hold the mandala at your heart and offer it. Recite the mantra:

Third ring of the mandala.

Idam guru ratna mandala kam nirya tayami

•    Having made your request, tip the grain toward you, thinking that you are receiving their blessings. Visualize that from their hearts emanate brilliant white light and nectar which enter through your crown chakra, completely filling your body and mind and purifying all obstacles formed by negative karmas and delusions that hinder us from gaining realizations.
•    The merit field dissolves into Buddha Shakyamuni, who is inseparable from your root guru. Buddha Shakyamuni comes above your head. At his heart, visualize a moon disk surrounded by the syllables of his mantra:

Om muni muni mahamuniye soha. (Recite this 100 times.)

Outside this mantra is the mantra of Lama Tzong Khapa, which represents the mantra of your own guru:

Om ah guru vajradhara sumati kiti siddhe hum hum. (Recite 100 times.)

•    Perform your meditation practice then dissolve the merit field. At your heart is an open lotus, Guru Shakyamuni descends through your crown chakra and sits inside the lotus. Think that he becomes inseparable from your mind.

Collapsing the Mandala

It is important to face the Mandala towards you, with a cloth in your lap, and tip it into your lap so that all the offerings and rings fall towards you (caught in a cloth on your lap. You can then store the mandala by placing the rings inside the hollow of the base, and the grains or gems inside the rings, wrapped in your cloth.

NOTES

[1] “Mandala Offering” Lama Zopa Rinpoche

[2] “The purpose of mandala offering” Venerable Thubten Chodron

The post Purify Karma and Accumulate Merit with Mandala appeared first on Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation.

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Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation. Copyright Buddha Weekly.

The first session of a teaching and meditation retreat on advanced Mahamudra, taught by H.E. Zasep Rinpoche, the author of Gelug Mahamudra: Enlightened Speech of Manjushri. In session one, Rinpoche introduces Mahamudra, then speaks about the nature of mind and its obstructions. He then gives detailed, and often humorous instructions on Samatha and on “resting the mind in the natural state.”

Samatha Meditation Instructions, session 1of a Mahamudra Retreat. - YouTube

Mahamudra meditation is awareness and understanding of the true nature of mind; it is spacious, without beginning or end. It is like observing the sky without the trace of birds, or the criss-cross of jet planes. You can merge your consciousness in the state of Mahamudra, beyond words and thoughts. The true nature of the mind is raw or naked awareness. It is an uncovered, untamed and unaltered state, without fabrication.

Here, Rinpoche introduces us to the spacious mind through Samatha. In the weekend retreat, he covers both Mahamudra according to Sutra and Tantric Mahamudra.

Mahamudra is a practice that leads us to experience the true nature of our own mind, unmediated. The sources of the Mahamudra teaching go all the way back to the Buddha’s Prajnaparamita, or the Heart Sutra , and also to the Samadhi Raja, or the King of Concentration Sutra. In Tibetan it is known as Teng Nye Zin Gyalpoe Do. These Sutras state that the nature of all phenomena is Mahamudra. The Heart Sutra states:

“Mind is emptiness and emptiness is also mind. There is no mind other than emptiness, no emptiness other than the mind”.

Mahamudra is the method of realising the clear light wisdom of Shunyata and accomplishing directly and vividly what we call the ‘meaning clear light’. In its Tantric aspect, the clear light nature of the mind is called ‘ultimate short AH’. It means the uncultivated mind, the unspoiled and pure mind. As the Buddha himself said:

“Mind does not exist within the mind, but the true nature of the mind is clear light”.

After detailed instructions, he invites us to meditate. The teachings are continued in Session 2. Teachings were at the end of 2018 at Gaden Choling in Toronto. Venerable Zasep Rinpoche is the spiritual director of several meditations centres in Canada, Australia and the USA, and teaches around the world.

In the Mahamudra weekend retreat — which will be presented in a series of videos — Rinpoche teaches both Mahamudra according to Sutra, and Tantric Mahamudra. In this video, he begins with instructions in Samatha. In future sessions he teaches Vipashana, and finally Tantric Mahamudra methods.

Gelug Mahamudra, Eloquent Speech of Manjushri by H.E. Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, illustrated by Ben Christian.

Book Details Book Availability

Transcript to follow.

Video teaching on Samatha and resting the mind in the natural state at a weekend retreat on Mahamudra with H.E. Zasep Rinpoche.

The post Samatha meditation teaching: “Resting the mind in the natural state,” video of session 1 of a Mahamudra weekend retreat appeared first on Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation.

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Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation. Copyright Buddha Weekly.

As you might expect of 185 devoted Buddhist nuns, they ask for very little, but here in Zanskar Valley — one of the most isolated valleys in the Himalayas — many live without heat, water and electricity. Some of the nuns are children, as young as four years old, sent there by low-income families unable to raise their daughters, and the oldest nun is 88.

They are not quite “forgotten”, but they cope with being cut off from the rest of India; a single lane road, open only 7 months a year, connects this frigid valley — at 3500 meters above sea level — with the rest of India.

An elderly nun makes her way by foot through the humble buildings of one of Zanskar’s nunneries.

A rugged vehicle is needed to traverse the so-called road. For all of these reasons — and the severe poverty in the region — the nuns of Zanskar are “almost forgotten. Here, money is scarce, but it pays for a lot. 20 dollars feeds a nun for one entire month. $5 gives the nuns transportation to the local health clinic. A hundred dollars can put a nun in clothing, shoes and hygiene products for an entire year. Those dollars are hard to come by in the remote, nearly forgotten region.

Imagine living with limited heat, in a perpetually cold climate, with only a few hours of electricity per day. In some areas, the nuns must melt ice for water. Some of the nunneries have no communal kitchen.

Many of the nuns of Zanskar are children who may have limited access to education and healthcare.

Unlike other areas, where the locals help the nuns with ample donations of food and clothing, Zanskar valley is impoverished — and typically the monks receive the better donations. Their best hope of aid comes from Gaden Relief, a tiny certified charity in Toronto, Canada, who have made it their mission to help the Zanskar nuns.

Three nunneries lack the basics: heat and food

The nunneries in Manda, Rizhing and Byra are the worst off in the valley, with a critical shortage of everything, even heat and food, and basic healthcare. Shoes and clothing must last years, not months. For housing, they built simple structures themselves. Only one of the nine nunneries has access to formal education for the child nuns.

Many of the buildings were built by the nuns themselves and pair. There is only one single-lane road into the valley, accessible only a few months per year.

Unfortunately, the reality of the area is frigid cold, lack of food, poverty, and gender inequality — women are not empowered or equal in the region. Nuns simply are the last to receive donations.

Young nun Stanzin is in recovery and good spirits after neurosurgery. The surgery was only possible after an urgent appeal at a weekend retreat in Toronto. The attendees at the retreat donated money to help pay for her surgery. She had to be flown to the hospital.

Last year, when one child nun needed urgent neurosurgery, there was no way to care for her in the valley. [We covered the story of the nun Stanzin in a previous story, here>>] By western standards, her surgery was a bargain — but there was just no money to pay for it. If not for the quick action of Gaden Relief, she may not have been able to have the 24×28.3mm cystic lesion removed from her left parietal lobe. Irina Safonova of Gaden Relief, asked close students of H.E. Zasep Rinpoche to donate for the emergency. Together, the Gaden Choling sangha raised funds for the surgery. Volunteer Relief

Irina Safonova, from Gaden Relief took a special interest in the isolated and humble nuns of Zanskar. She visited at her own expense, assessed what was need, and has now organized a GoFundMe relief drive. Ninety-five percent of donations directly benefit the nuns, since the charity is run entirely by unpaid volunteers.

Irina from Gaden Relief visited the nuns a few months ago. Many of the nuns are children.

This time, instead of emergency surgery, the funds will be allocated to the simpler things we take for granted in the west: food, water, heat, and electricity, and healthcare.

Some fo the needs are infrastructure since they have little in the way of water and electricity. A few of the nunneries have solar power for a few hours a day, thanks to some past donations.

Some of the nuns are quite elderly, the oldest 88.

The ongoing relief projects they hope to fund with this latest GoFundMe campaign — a very modest amount of $20,000, will go to:

  • Transportation: $5 CAD pays for each nun to travel to local health clinic
  • Food: $20 CAD provides food for a single nun for an entire month
  • Heat: $50 CAD pays for a small smokeless stove
  • Clothing: $100 CAD provides clothing, shoes and personal hygiene products for a single nun for one full year
  • School: Karsha Nunnery desperately needs a school, which will cost about $12,000.

Karsha nunnery is in a very remote area, cut off from road access for much of the year.

In addition ongoing essentials — things we tend to take for granted — will be funded, such as:

  • solar panels and lanterns
  • water storage and delivery system
  • smokeless stoves
  • blankets, mattresses, carpets and tables
  • first-aid items
  • plastic for greenhouses
  • tree seedlings and seeds
  • school supplies.

Gaden Relief is a small volunteer-only certified charity that has supported nuns and monks in many poor areas. Gaden Relief has been helping the nuns of Zanskar since 1991, with 95% of donations reaching the nuns.

The post The forgotten nuns of Zanskar: 9 Buddhist nunneries in “one of the coldest inhabited places” have limited electricity, water and healthcare appeared first on Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation.

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Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation. Copyright Buddha Weekly.

Vajrayogini “is the original and prototypical female Buddha of the Tantric pantheon… compassionate, all-knowing, and supremely blissful… Vajrayogini reigns supreme as the Sarvabuddhadakini, ‘Dakini Whose Essence is That of All Buddhas.’” [2]

On the other hand, Tara appears as the Divine Mother, the Female Buddha who can save sentient beings — who cares for us ferociously as our own mother would — the Saviour Buddha. Both are “action-oriented”: Green Tara with her one leg extended, ready to leap to the aid of her followers, and Vajrayogini who dances in the bliss of Shunyata, to show us the way to Enlightenment.

Most teachers and practitioners see Tara and Vajrayogini as different aspects of the same Enlightened Body, Speech and Mind — the same Ultimate Truth. The key differences are in visualized aspects, and practice emphasis. Vajrayogini, for example, embraces the important concept of “bliss.” [See section on bliss, below.]

His Holiness Sakya Trizin explains: “In order to help different types of people and situations, the Buddha takes different forms. Some yidams are in wrathful form, some yidams are in peaceful form, and some yidams are female deities, like Tara. Yidams are different forms of the Buddha.” [4]

Vajrayogini and Green Tara can be thought of as two aspects of the Wisdom Female Buddha.

Different aspects of Wisdom

In explaining the differences between these aspects of Buddha, His Holiness describes Green Tara:

Tara is a lower tantric practice, generally, although Chittimani Tara is a Highest Yoga practice. Lower Tantra does not imply it is less important than Higher Tantra. Tara is a beloved Female Buddha, the active protector.

“Tara is more for helping develop common siddhis [someone who has attained enlightenment or a paranormal power possessed by a siddhi], for instance, to prevent disasters and to protect you from evil on the path. If you use it for your own personal benefit, that is not the right way. It is for achieving the ultimate goal and helping all beings. You need a long life and wealth and health for that. If you are involved in Tara’s blessings for that reason, that is the right idea, but it is not just for the worldly benefits. It’s like asking a great emperor to sweep the house.

On the other hand, they are also clearly the same. His Holiness explains: “Actually these deities are … the manifestation, of the ultimate truth. The female deities are more on the wisdom side and the male deities are more on the method [compassion] side. But the ultimate, actual transcendental knowledge of wisdom is the complete union of these two things. So they are not really separate.”

It is the Female Buddha’s role as “wisdom personified” that not only makes Her practice important but also leads to the vast diversity of symbolism between Her many aspects.

Divine Mother or Blissful Wisdom?

Robert Beer’s beautiful Vajrayogini mandala. (Low resolution: please visit http://www.tibetanart.com for information on high resolution images)

While most Vajrayana Buddhists categorize the different aspects of Buddha as one of four classes of Tantra — described this way, in part, this way to emphasize the practice emphasis — scholars tend to categorize Tara as a Mahayana practice and Vajrayogini as a Tantric practice.

His Holiness Sakya Trizin points out that Tara can be found in all four classes of Tantra, “whereas Vajrayogini is only in Anuttara Yoga Tantra, which is the highest class of Tantra. They are both, in reality, Prajna Paramita, or the ultimate transcendental wisdom, but in form they are very different. The main emphasis of Vajrayogini, of course, is only achieving enlightenment for the benefit of others.”

Tara is unique, as she was the first Mahayana deity to explicitly be titled a “Female Buddha.” Scholars, such as Miranda Shaw tend to place Tara within the broader Mahayana practices, and Vajrayogini (Vajravarahi) within the Tantric Vajrayana influence. She draws a clear line of demarcation — one scholars are more likely to do, than practitioners:

“A clear line of demarcation can be drawn in the… two classes of female deities. The female divinities featured in Mahayana practice are primarily… divine mothers and Dharani (mantra) goddesses. They are… supplicated and invoked as saviouresses who are tremendously evolved and have extraordinary powers for helping and liberating others… In Tantric tradition, the sacred female completed her ascent and attained the highest stature possible in Buddhism, namely Buddhahood….”

Serene and motherly; or ferociously compassionate?

She goes on, in a scholarly way, to compare iconographic conventions: “The iconography of Vajrayoini, and indeed all Tantric Female Buddhas differs markedly from the goddess characteristic of the Mahayana… Mahayana divine females are usually shown in a regal seated posture, modestly and sumptuously clothed in silken raiment, draped with jeweled adornments, and elaborately coifed… Their faces glow with maternal warmth and compassion, while their attributes reflect their specific ministrations and liberative activities. The noteworthy exception to this pattern is Tara, who is explicitly recognized and titled as a Buddha…”

“In contrast, Tantric Buddhas such as Vajrayogini have a more dynamic passionate persona… Their faces exhibit intense concentration and even ferocity. Their bodies are unclothed, and their hair unbound in the fashion of female ascetics and yoginis. Their bone ornaments betoken a nondualistic outlook and familiarity with the charnel ground, while their handheld attributes allude to their attainment of supreme bliss and wisdom.”

His Holiness Sakya Trizin describes the symbolism

His Holiness Sakya Trizin

His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, describes them with similar language: “Actually, Vajrayogini has many different forms, but the one we normally use is in between wrathful and peaceful. She is usually in the red color, with one face and two hands holding a curved knife and skull cup filled with nectar and she is adorned with bone ornaments. All these different ornaments and objects have many very deep meanings. The curved knife usually represents the fact that she cuts all defilements. The cup represents what in Sanskrit is called mahasukha, which means “the great bliss.” She is in a complete state of great bliss all the time.

“Tara usually has her right hand in what we call the “giving gesture.” She is bestowing siddhis on all beings. The left one is holding the utpala flower, which represents the many qualities of the Buddhas.” [4]

Practice differences

The 21 forms of Tara include White Tara and Green Tara, among the most beloved deities in Tibetan Buddhism.

While Tara is famous for her many practice and meditational forms — 21 Taras, 108 Taras, White Tara, Green Tara, and her Highest Yogic aspect Chittamani Tara — Vajrayogini is equally diverse, but in a strikingly different way. She can be the consort (representing Wisdom) of many Buddhas: Chakrasamvara, Hayagriva, and many others. Tara can be found in all of the four classes of Tantra yogas, while Vajrayogini is only found in the Highest Yogic practices. Tara is famously associated with praises and supplications for aid in our daily lives and practices; Vajrayogini is, on the other hand, most notably associated with supreme practices such as the Six Yogas of Naropa, the Eleven Yogas of Vajrayogini, and, of course Tummo — all advanced practices.

Both Tara and Vajrayogini are also known for their mantras. Tara’s mantra, Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha, is chanted by millions around the world, and is well known for its effectiveness. A practice of Tara can be simply that — her mantra. Likewise, Vajrayogini is well known for the practice of her mantra — which is not published here, as it’s best to have initiation and instruction into her practice first. Vajrayogini’s practice is also considered a powerful, complete practice. This is somewhat unique amongst Highest Yoga Tantra deities. Chanting Vajrayogini’s mantra can lead to Enlightenment if chanted by a person of complete faith.

In other words, their mantras, just like their aspects, have different aspects and emphasis, but they are the same at the core. Tara, as a Buddha found in all four classes of tantra, is diverse, and can help us in many ways. Vajrayogini tends to be more focused almost on Enlightenment. Her dance transcends mundane concerns. But, she is still a mother, who loves her children, and there are countless stories of her saving and helping her followers. Her approach may be more dynamic and fierce, but she is still, in essence, the Female Buddha.

A different type of saviour

While Tara might save a man drowning in the river, Vajrayogini is seen as a saviour in a different way.

This complex thangka depicts the various lineage masters going all the way back to Buddha Vajradhara, who is actually Buddha Shakyamuni is tantric form. At the upper left are the main tantric deities – Yamantaka, Heruka Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja. At the upper right are the Buddhas of the past and present – Krakucchanda, Kasyapa and Shakyamuni. At the bottom left are the three long-life deities – Amitayus, Namgyalma and White Tara. At the bottom right are Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani, who, taken together can be said to represent Lama Tsongkhapa, the great 14th century Tibetan scholar and saint who is an emanation of these three great Buddhas. Below Vajrayogini are two Dharma Protectors – 4-faced Mahakala (a wrathful emanation of Heruka) and Citipati, the special Protector for Vajrayogini practitioners.

For example, there is the story of the novice monk Kusali who saw a leper woman unable to cross the Ganges river. All the other monks ignored the sick woman, afraid of contagion, but he had compassion and carried her on his back across the river. Half way accross the river, he suddenly found himself bodily dangling in the air, rising above the river. In fact, the leper woman had been Vajrayogini, and by showing compassion, She took him immediately to her Pure Land, Kechara. There are numerous stories of Vajrayogini coming to her followers, and immediately taking them to her pure land.

Miranda Shaw explains: “Vajrayogini is, first and foremost, an enlightened being. She has attained full awakening and manifests a divine body that expresses her spiritual realizations, providing a model on which others may meditate in order to attain the same goal. As an enlightened being, Vajrayogini has attained both transcendent wisdom (prajna) and supreme bliss (mahasukha)… She possesses the five transcendent insights of a Buddha and the essences of spontaneously arising bliss.” [2]

The goal of Enlightenment — and the role of Bliss

The ultimate goal of Enlightenment remains the same in all practices, Tara, Vajrayogini and others. However, the yogi or yogini who practices Vajrayogini intensely focuses on the goal of Enlightenment through the introduction of bliss to help us embrace Emptiness without nihilism.

[For more on the role of “Bliss” in Vajrayana, see>>] https://buddhaweekly.com/bliss-helps-us-understand-emptiness-without-nihilism-vajrayana-develops-faster-insight-balance-bliss-emptiness-compassion-wisdom-mandala-deity/
Gelek Rinpoche explained [5]:

“Emptiness is not a specialty of Vajrayana. Yidam meditation is part of Vajrayana, but is not the special quality of the Vajrayana. The special quality [that enhances the practice] really is the bliss.”

The great teacher Pabongka, put it this way:

“Within that bliss, the subtle primordial mind observes the object, emptiness. This is the most difficult, very subtle point of Vajrayana, the union of bliss and void.”

The most venerable late Gelek Rimpoche explained it with a stage-play metaphor:

“Let’s say I am the Vajrayana, I am sitting on the stage. If there is no stage, I can’t sit on the stage, right? The stage of Vajrayana is bliss and void. If there is no void, you have no stage. Bliss and void are the Vajrayana stage, the Vajrayana base. All the performances that are done in Vajrayana are done on the stage of bliss and void.” [5]

The feeling of bliss overlays everything in Vajrayana practice. Even when we describe the Purelands — which many people think of as a state of mind — we often use the word “bliss” to describe it. It’s peaceful and blissful. Not just blissful, but the ultimate form of bliss — an ecstatic, perfect bliss. Not a temporary bliss, like that of an orgasm, but permanent, sustained bliss that only comes from realizations of the true nature of reality.

NOTES
[1] Buddhist Goddesses of India (Hardcover) by Miranda Shaw
[2] Ibid, Chapter 18
[3] Precious Human Rebirth
[4] Interview with His Holiness Sakya Trizin: Understanding the Tantric Tradition’s 3 Major Deities: Trike Daily
[5] Cittamani Tara Teachings Gelek Rimpoche Jewel Heart Sangha (PDF)

The post Tara, the Saviour, and Vajrayogini the Sarvabuddhadakini: how are they different, and how are they the one? The importance of Female Buddhas: Wisdom personified appeared first on Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation.

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Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation. Copyright Buddha Weekly.

Guru Rinpoche’s supplications in Seven Chapters are recited daily at “Monasteries, retreat centers, and homes where Guru Rinpoche’s presence is invoked ring daily with the sounds of these supplications.” [1]

They remain a vital and living spiritual legacy from the great Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born. Perhaps the best known of the Seven Supplications is “The Supplication for the Spontaneous Fulfillment of Wishes, a text that was revealed by treasure revealer Tulku Zongpo Drakpa, and translated by Rikzin Godem Chen (1337-1408) into Tibetan.

It is said that faithful supplication of Guru Rinpoche with this supplication can bring the fulfilment of wishes.

The Supplication for the Spontaneous Fulfilmment of Wishes

“Namo Guru!

When Master Lotus-Born was about to depart for the southwest land of the cannibal demons, he arrived at Goung-tong. There, Son of Heaven Mutri Tsepo prostrated before the Master and circumambulated him. He touched the Master’s foot to his head, then clutched the edge of the Master’s robe. Tears welled up in his eyes and he wept as he addressed these mournful words to the Master:

Alas, Guru Rinpoche!

In the final five hundred years

My family’s home is established here

At Mong-youl, on the Goung-tong plain,

Beside the range of snow mountains.

If we lords lose rank, find suffering,

How pitiful, Tibetan kings!

To whom can my family turn!?

Wars and battles: the nation’s life.

Hills and dales are with bandits rife.

If hermitages empty stand,

No time for practice through the land,

Both the masters and their patrons

Will be totally disheartened.

To whom can the future faithful turn!?”

The woeful verses continue, with terrible descriptions of sickness, famine, and demons who plague the Tibetans. Finally, he collapses into a faint. The Logus Born revived the king, and gave  exhorts him: “My compassion responds quickly and is very potent. It will appear at that time. Pray continually to me!”

He gives him the most famous and popular of supplications, for the Spontaneous Fulfilment of Wishes:

E Ma Ho! In the western Blissful Pure Land, Buddha Infinite Light’s compassionate blessing stirred To bless manifest enlightenment, Lotus Born, Who came to this world to aid the beings of Tibet Compassionate one, who unceasingly aids the world, Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously From King Trisong Detsen Until the end of the royal lineage of Buddhist kings, You bless each ruler continuously, Sole friend of Tibet’s religious kings. Compassionate one who lovingly protects spiritual sovereigns, Master Lotus-Born, please bless me- Grant Grant my wish spontaneously. Your body subdues cannibal spirits in the southwest While your compassion turns toward Tibet. Glorious leader of sentient beings lost in ignorance, You skillfully guide beings with deep-rooted emotions. Compassionate one whose loving affection never ceases, Master Lotus-Born, please bless me-Grant Grant my wish spontaneously. In evil times, when degeneration reaches its depths, You will come to Tibet at dawn and dusk, Riding the sunlight’s brilliant rays. On the tenth days of the waxing and waning moons you’ll visibly appear. Compassionate one who works forcefully for others’ benefit, Master Lotus-Born, please bless me- Grant my wish spontaneously. In the degenerate time of conflict, the final five hundred years, All sentient beings’ five poisonous emotions will coarsen. When those poisons churn within me, Be loving toward me, Guru! Compassionate one, who leads the faithful to higher realms, Master Lotus-Born, please bless me Grant my wish spontaneously. When I am surrounded by hordes Ready to destroy Buddhist insitutions, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana, circled by gods and demons’ eight groups, You’ll turn back the ruthless armies Master Lotus Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When disease strikes sentient beings’ illusory form, Bringing overwhelming intense pain, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Inseparable from the Medicine Buddha of Oddiyana, You’ll surely dispel these obstacles and ensure that my life does not end. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When the elements rise as enemies and the earth is polluted, Bringing danger of sickness and famine, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Divine Wealth God of Oddiyana with your assembly, You’ll surely dispel hunger, thirst, and poverty. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When destined persons reveal treasures for beings’ benefit, Armed with the fierce confidence of having kept their commitments guilelessly, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana, inseparable from the deity, Your children will surely retrieve their father’s wealth. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When I wander in hidden, densely forested, isolated regions And raging blizzards block my way, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana with your circle of powerful local deities, You’ll surely guide practitioners on the path Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grand my wish spontaneously. When I encounter wild animals, such as tigers, leopards, bears, or poisonous snakes, In the fearful wilderness on open plains, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana with ging warriors and guardians, You’ll surely chase savage beasts away. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When obstacles of the elements — earth, water, fire, or wind — Threaten to destroy this illusory body of mine, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana, with the four elements’ gods, You’ll surely calm the elements within themselves. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When I walk along a narrow, fearful passage And murderous thieves and bandits threaten me, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana, skilled in the four gestures, You’ll surely destroy those savage men’s greed. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When I am surrounded by killers Who will strike me with sharp weapons, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana with a vajra tent, You’ll surely make the killers drop their weapons and flee. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When my life ends and death arrives, And the intense suffering of my extinction torments me, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana, emanation of Buddha Infinite Light, You’ll surely lead me to Blissful Pure Land. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. Once this borrowed illusory body has died And I suffer from delusionary appearances after death, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana, compassionate knower of the three times, You’ll surely free delusion within itself. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. At any time, when karma or conditions Lead me to suffer from overt attachment to delusionary appearances, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: Master from Oddiyana, essence of the king of great bliss, You’ll uproot my suffering caused by delusion. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. When suffering overwhelms the six realms’ beings And, in particular, when Tibet’s ruler and people suffer, To you I pray with no doubt or hesitation: When I pray with intense faith, respect, and devotion, Master from Oddiyana, continually watch over me with compassion. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously. Master from Oddiyana, your disciples who wish to leave the wheel of life Turn to you with single-minded devotion; Like children calling their parents with heartfelt songs, We pray to you during the six times of the day and night. Master Lotus-Born, please bless me — Grant my wish spontaneously.

Guru Rinpoche statue.

NOTES

[1] Ngawang Zangpo. Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times (p. 216). Kindle Edition.

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Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation. Copyright Buddha Weekly.

Not all Buddhists are vegetarians. Did the Buddha actually suggest a vegan lifestyle? And, putting aside Buddhists, why is the meat industry growing when the science says it’s hurting our planet? These are the questions that frame our special feature focusing on Vegetarianism: five ways it could save the world, five Buddhist teachings that recommended veganism, and five reasons it’s just the ethical thing to do. And, since not everyone reading this feature is a Buddhist, let’s start with the science.

Over 56 billion farmed animals are killed each year by humans — 10 billion land animals in the U.S. alone. 3,000 die each second. This does not include countless fish. Billions of animals suffer and die painfully — animals who, according to scientists, are sentient and feel emotions. [4]. Put another way, each person who eats meat, is directly responsible for the lives of an average of 95 slaughtered animals each year. [5]

According to most scientists, animals are sentient and feel emotions. Contrast this happy pig to the unhappy pigs on a factory farm below.

The Scientific Buddhist, 5 Ways Vegetarianism Could Save the Planet

The data and science do suggest vegetarianism could indeed save the world. There’s a big “ism” in this statement. The only way vegetarianism could help save the world is if at least 25 percent of us stopped eating our earthly companions — non-human sentient beings. How is it possible that simply reducing demand for meat could save the planet? The most compelling reasons include:

  • emissions — the meat industry is one of our largest polluters, more than all cars and planes put together [1]
  • scarcity of land — 30% of the available ice-free surface area of the planet is now used by livestock, estimated to soon increase to 45%
  • inability to feed our population: perhaps more urgent than the environment is our inability to currently feed the world’s population, in part due to the unbalanced allocation of land: meat production uses 23 times as much land as crop production.
  • overuse of important resources such as water — and pollution of water.

Reduction in demand for meat by any sizeable percentage, would ease many of the issues and pressures identified by experts.

Demand for meat around the world is growing, with over 56 billion animals slaughtered each year, increasingly from factory farms who are major polluters.

If we’re serious about global warming and the environment, even modest reductions in dependence on meat will have a higher impact on the environment than things such as emissions controls on automobiles.

That restaurant steak on the plate could represent 9,000 liters of water, 40 kilograms of poop (waste), 4 kilograms of feed and more emissions pollution than a car might create on an hour-long drive to the restaurant.

Animals are Sentient and Feel Emotions say Prominent Scientists

Science also supports the view that animals are sentient, which makes the ethical arguments all the more compelling. “A prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists and other experts made a strong declaration, endorsed by Stephen Hawking, affirming that all “nonhuman animals… including octopuses” are sentient and feel emotions such as fear and happiness. We wrote about this in a popular Buddha Weekly feature: “Prominent scientists declare “All non human animals … are conscious beings.” (View here>>)

Prominent Scientists Declare “All Non Human Animals… Are Conscious Beings.” The Dalai Lama Protests Chicken Slaughter. An Orangutan Won Non-Human Rights Over Zoo Keeper. What Do the Teachers Say About Non-Human Compassion?

We challenged readers: “The advance in non-human rights begs the question, from a Mahayana Buddhist perspective, when we promise to liberate all sentient beings — or not to kill — just who do we include? If our definition includes all beings down to insects and octopuses, how do we reconcile our dependence on “lower” beings for survival?”

His Holiness the Gwalwang Karmapa is a vegetarian and recommends the lifestyle to Mahayana Buddhists.

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa gives a very direct answer:

“We say I am going to do everything I can to free sentient beings from suffering. We say I am going to do this. We make the commitment. We take the vow. Once we have taken this vow, if then, without thinking anything about it, we just go ahead and eat meat, then that is not okay. It is something that we need to think about very carefully.”[3] The Dalai Lama also strongly recommends vegetarianism.

According to scientific consensus, animals are sentient and feel emotions. This duck is a little happier than the birds in the chicken factory farm depicted below.

We asked Buddhist teacher Theodore Tsaousidis, of the Grey Bruce Mindfulness Centre, to put this in perspective. He didn’t sugar coat his view:

“If you claim to be a compassionate person or Buddhist in the 21st century and still eat meat, there are possible elements of pathology, hypocrisy and ignorance that beg reflection.”

But, before examining the ethics and Buddhist perspective, let’s start with five ways meat is damaging the environment and our world.

Meat consumption is growing in developing nations. There won’t be enough land to support the growth. It is estimated 45% of non-ice land in the world will be used for meat production within a few years.

Just the Facts: Why the Meat Industry is Damaging our Environment

The meat industry is one of the largest emissions contributors, producing more emissions than all the automobiles and planes put together. This issue will only be exacerbated by the expected growth of our population 4 billion. As a practical consideration, putting aside environment, ethics and all, there is not enough land to produce that much meat. It’s worth remembering that developing nations are quickly becoming advanced nations, increasing demand for meat.

There are some simple, largely indisputable, well-cited facts, that lead to the concept: “5 Ways Vegetarianism Can Save the Planet” story, only some of which we quote here (we recommend a read of the article of the same name in The Guardian>>)

Factory pig farm producing waste products. Unlike organic farms, large scale factory farms product more pollution than a small human city.

Fact One — 18% of Global Climate Emissions are a result of meat production, more if you include supporting factors [1]

Factory farming is responsible for 37% of all methane emissions “which has 20 times the global warming potential of CO2.”[6]

“We humans eat about 230m tonnes of animals a year, twice as much as we did 30 years ago,” according to The Guardian newspaper. “We mostly breed four species – chickens, cows, sheep and pigs – all of which need vast amounts of food and water, emit methane and other greenhouse gases and produce mountains of physical waste… UN calculated that the climate change emissions of animals bred for their meat was… more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.”

The meat industry is currently the largest methane producer, and the biggest contributor to pollution and global warming.

World Bank Scientists pegged the number at much higher, because they include extra considerations like clear-cutting oxygen producing forests to favor animal agriculture, fertilizers and many other factors, such as transport, bringing the total up to 51%.

In other words, if only 25% of the world’s population converted to vegetarianism, the impact on the environment would be staggering. That’s a fact, not even arguable (although certainly some will try. Which brings us to fact Two — the population is increasing.

Increasing wildfires and turbulent weather are two of the consequences of global warming.

Fact Two — It takes 23X as much land to grow our vegetables as to raise meat livestock — not enough land to feed the expected increase in world populations.

Currently, according to facts cited in the Guardian feature: “Nearly 30% of the available ice-free surface area of the planet is now used by livestock, or for growing food for those animals. One billion people go hungry every day, but livestock now consumes the majority of the world’s crops.”

In other words, when the population grows by only 3 billion, we’ll need to consume another 15% — assuming demand per person doesn’t increase as nations grow richer—and we’ll have another 500 million starving humans. For livestock, 45% of land in the world — and unlikely possibility, even if we clear cut the few remaining forests (which leads us to the third fact — deforestation). Not all land is suitable for livestock. Of course, speaking facetiously, if the polar icecaps keep melting we may have more land for meat.

Factory farming requires extensive land, water and natural resources.

Put another way, in the US. alone, 13m hectares of land are used to grow vegetables, while it takes nearly 23 times that much, 302m hectares for livestock. “The problem is that farm animals are inefficient converters of food to flesh,” writes the Guardian. For example, pigs need 8.4kg of feed to produce one kilogram of meat.

Fact Three — Millions of hectares of trees cut to produce burgers

Agriculture in general is causing deforestation, mostly for meat and a few crops such as palm oil and soya. Write the Guardian: “Millions of hectares of trees have been felled to provide burgers for the US and more recently animal feed for farms for Europe, China and Japan.” 6m hectares of forest land a year are lost (roughly twice the size of Belgium) with most converted to farmland. Putting aside the destruction of animal habitat there’s an enormous climate cost. The second largest crop to go on that clear-cut land is soybeans, mostly grown to feed the cattle.

Clear cutting is necessary to create more land for meat production. Currently, 36% of non-ice land in the world is used in meat production, expected to grow to 45%.

Fact Four — A single cow farm can generate as much waste as a small city

The Guardian: ” Industrial-scale agriculture now dominates the western livestock and poultry industries, and a single farm can now generate as much waste as a city. A cow excretes around 40kg of manure for every kilogram of edible beef it puts on and when you have many thousands crowded into a small area the effect can be dramatic. Their manure and urine is funneled into massive waste lagoons sometimes holding as many as 40m gallons.”

Using arable land for crops versus meat production could have more impact on global warming than emission controls on factories and cars.

The article goes on to present shocking pollution statistics, such as “most summers between 13,000 and 20,000 sq km of the sea at the mouth of the Mississippi becomes a “dead zone”, caused when vast quantities of excess nutrients from animal waste, factory farms, sewage, nitrogen compounds and fertilizer are swept down the might river.” There are nearly 400 dead zones that have been identified, largely due to animal farming.

Fact Five: Current meat animals drink too much: producing a pound of beef requires 9,0000 litres of water

It may not be a top of mind issue in North America, where water is somewhat plentiful, if polluted. But in most other parts of the world, water shortage and clean water is a serious, even life-threatening issue.

It requires approximately 9,000 litres of water (20,000 pounds) to produce one pound of beef, 1,000 litres to produce one litre of milk. A broiler chicken “only” consumes 1,500 litres. Pigs are the worst, with the largest pig farms consuming as much water as a normal-sized human city.

Indicated on map are areas of the world with not enough water for survival. Meat production uses a disproportionate amount of precious water resources and contributes to the pollution of remaining water.

There is no doubt that farming consumes the majority of our water, 70% according to expert estimations, but this number could be dramatically reduced if we transitioned more food output to crops versus meat.

For instance, potatoes take between 60 and 229 pounds of water per pound of produce — as compared to 20,000 pounds of water for a pound of beef. [1]

Cows feel emotions, according to the majority of scientists. A glance at this happy cow reinforces this fact.

Bottom Line — Meat a higher negative impact on the environment as compared to other major industries.

If we put aside ethical and Buddhist arguments, the meat industry is harmful to our collective help. Even a modest decrease in demand for meat can result in positive environmental returns. Significant decreases in demand could, literally, save our planet.

5 Buddhist Teachings and Teachers Recommending Vegetarian Lifestyle

Science not only proves horrendous impact of the meat industry on climate change and our environment, it asserts rather forcefully that even fairly simple non-human animals and birds — including fish — are sentient and have emotions. Both positions might be debatable, but these facts are credibly established. Which returns us to ethics and Buddhist teachings, since helping sentient beings is one of the most important compassion foundations of Mahayana Buddhism.

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Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation. Copyright Buddha Weekly.

The great Lama Yeshe said: “Our problem is that inside us there is a mind going, ‘Impossible, impossible, impossible. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t’ … Human beings have great potential; they can do anything. The power of the mind is limitless.”

To subdue this “I can’t” mind, many Buddhists — and non-Buddhists — practice mindfulness to still the mind. In Buddhist practice, this stilling of the “monkey mind” has many advantages, and can help us glimpse reality as it truly is — the wisdom path to eventual enlightenment.

Then, to activate the “impossible” mind, Buddhists — and non-Buddhists — practice forms of visualization. Deity visualization in Vajrayana Buddhism is a powerful practice that imagines “ourselves as we would like to be, as an enlightened being, and this enables us to actualize that state much more quickly,” according to Geshe Tashi Tsering in his book Tantra: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought.[1]

Non-Buddhists also often enhance their life with personal visualizations — everything from daydreaming, to positive affirmations, to guided meditations. It’s the same principle in Vajrayana, except with Enlightened Beings as the object of visualization — and the mantra (and what that represents) as the positive affirmation.

Mindfulness mediation can be seated and formal, or casual as you work through the day. There is a feeling of peace, and being in the “present moment” with mindfulness. The stillness can allow us glimpses of our own Buddha Nature.

Vajrayana visualization meditation is nearly the “opposite” approach to mindfulness meditation. Actively guiding the meditation with all the senses can allow us to participate in our own Buddha Nature. Visualization meditation can be enhanced by a feeling of place. Even though the visualization is projected mentally, meditating in special places can enhance the feeling of extraordinary. Here, Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche performs a Chod ritual and visualization in a cemetery. The special place, the sound of sacred drums, and the very special guided visualization empowers the meditation beyond the “ordinary.”

Which is Better?

From a Buddhist point of view — neither. Mindfulness, or stilling the mind by bringing us intimately into the present moment, has an immediate advantage of simplicity in today’s busy world. It’s also easily understood, can be self-managed, and requires no major training. Visualization practice pursues the same goal with the opposing tactic: activation, rather than pacification, of the mind—using every sense in the body and every available neuron in the brain. Both styles of meditation have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. There are also separate “health” and living benefits, not related to practice goals.

Both mindfulness and visualization meditation can be done anywhere. In many Vajrayana meditation practices, special places such as fast rivers, high mountains, sacred spaces and cemeteries are desirable to enhance the experience. Still frame from the film “Please Come Again: The Reincarnation of Zasep Tulku Rinpoche.”

At a high level, one of the goals of both styles of meditation, in Buddhist practice is to glimpse reality — and realize the wisdom of emptiness. More importantly, according to many teachers, mindfulness allows us to still our mind enough to glimpse our very own Buddha Nature—inherent to all sentient beings.

Deity visualization, on the other hand, allows us to step-by-step activate our Buddha Nature—rather than glimpse it. Using active, guided meditation, it also stimulates “compassion” in addition to “wisdom.” Bodhichitta is a major focus of nearly all visualization sadhanas (in modern speak, “manual” or guided meditation). By activating our “Buddha Nature” we overcome our sense of being “ordinary.”

“The sadhana is like a passport to a new universe,” writes Geshe Tsering. “At first glance it may seem like an arcane ritual, but when we understand the skillful way it can transform the mind, and especially how it uniquely blends the conventional aspects of our practice, such as developing the altruistic mind, with the wisdom realizing emptiness, we can see what a profound psychological tool it is.”

Mindfulness underpins Vipassana meditation methods—seeing things as they are. Deity visualization supports tantric methods — seeing beyond the ordinary.

Prayer is a form of meditation. It is consciously incorporated into Buddhist mediations of any type when we set our motivation “to obtain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

“Through meditation on emptiness and bodhichitta, we use the visualization of arising as the enlightened deity to eliminate this sense of ordinariness,” explains Geshe Tsering in his masterful book on Tantra.[1] “The practice of generating ourselves as a deity and holding a sense of divine pride or divine identity is an integral part of Vajrayana practice. It is a way to bring the result into practice by feeling that we are already what we will one day be.”
What’s the Same?

All forms of Buddhist meditation share a single goal, no less than ultimate full Enlightenment. The methods differ, but there are at least four aspects that are the same:

  • Goal: Enlightenment
  • Goal: Bodhichitta (both aspiring and engaged Bodhichitta)
  • Living the Six Perfections: generosity, patience, morality, joyous perseverance, concentration and wisdom.
  • Wisdom realizing emptiness

One goal of mindfulness is to glimpse the Buddha Within and ultimately to develop the Wisdom of Emptiness. Vajrayana visualizations pursue the same goal by actively experiencing the Buddha Nature—at first through imagination.

Cutting the Ordinary

In addition to the shared traits, Vajrayana visualization cuts through “ordinary appearances” by using intense visualization and identification, and four unique elements, known as the four complete purities:

  • Purity of Environment: accomplished through visualization of ideal sacred environment or mandala
  • Purity of Body: through visualization of ourselves as an Enlightened deity
  • Purity of Resources: visualizing mundane offerings as offerings suitable for the divine
  • Purity of Activities: guided visualization on benefiting sentient beings.
Comparing the Two Skilled Methods

Mindfulness                                     Deity Visualization

No focus                                             Focus: Deity, or idealized Enlightened being.

Observe the self in the moment         Observe what we one day will be/can be

Seeing beyond the ordinary               Participating beyond the ordinary

Stills the mind                                    Activates the mind

Stress-reducing                                 Strongly enhances cognitive function

Easy to learn                                     Normally requires a teacher

Self-guided                                        Guided meditation

Non-focused                                      Focused

Enhances wisdom                             Enhances wisdom and compassion equally

Simple and quick                              Complex and requires time commitment

Neurologically parasympathetic        Activates sympathetic system

Immediate stress reduction              Immediate cognitive enhancement

Observes energies and thoughts     Manipulates energies and thoughts

Tends to pacify (relax) energies      Deliberately activates subtle energies

Vajrayana visualization practice opens the mind in an active way. Vajayana and tantric Buddhists tend to practice both mindfulness and active visualization practices. Advanced practitioners may practice only deity practices, but these advanced sadhanas combine the best of both.

A popular visualization of Amitabha, with symbolic attributes, such as body of red in the nature of light, begging bowl and lotus flowers. Amibtabha is the head of the “Lotus” family, the compassion of the Buddhas.

Visualizing Deities

The exotic nature of visualizing deities also shifts our mind, helping us move conceptually away from “ordinary” thinking. Deities in Buddhism are not Gods as thought of in theistic religions. Deities are a complicated topic, but from a strictly psychological point of view they tap into universal archetypes. “Each deity in Tibetan Vajrayana is an iconic representation of a particular enlightened energy within us that we are trying to actualize,” writes Geshe Tsering.

The very power of visualization is working with images (as well as sounds, smells, touch and other senses). For example, the image of compassion is Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara), is often visualized with 1000 arms, each arm reaching out to help sentient beings, symbolically expressing His extraordinary caring. Green Tara is visualized as green (symbolizing wind or activity), and she is seen with one leg outstretched — the hero leaping up to help those in need, in Her lovely capacity as a savior.

Since visualizing requires an object of refuge to visualize, deities are reinforcement for our meditation. We tap into an particular aspect of the Buddha Within—for example Manjusri for “wisdom” or Avalokitesvara for “compassion.” The power of sadhanas stems not only from the combination of wisdom and compassion, but also from the use of all the senses to reinforce the “beyond ordinary” experience.

Unique to Vajrayana are advanced and highly detailed visualizations of the “Field of Merit.” The meditator tries to create and hold a vision of the lineage of buddhas, bodhisattvas, lamas, sages and mahasiddhis right back to Shakyamuni Buddha (here shown in the centre.) Then, mentally, we prostrate and make offering to the visualized gurus and deities. Such strenuous visualization trains and disciplines the mind, while also creating the conditions for positive merit.

All the Senses Used in Sadhanas

We use multiple skilled methods and all the senses in visualization practice, reinforcing the extraordinary meditational experience, for example:

  • sound: words and mantras
  • breath: visualizing prana (chi) and the subtle body
  • smell: we visualize the scent of wonderful offerings of incense
  • taste: we visualize food offerings
  • prayers: in psychological terms, affirmations
  • offerings: representing our generosity and generating merit
  • activity: for example, visualizing purifying light blessing all sentient beings, and other activities.

All of this reinforces the visual symbolism of the deity. Sometimes, even the actual physical (or visualized) location is heavy with symbolism and reinforces our meditational goals. For example, advanced Chod practice is often conducted in a Cemetery, at night.

Formal sadhanas are usually in text form through an unbroken lineage from guru to guru back to the Buddha. Here, a meditator in lotus position meditates with a written text (Sadhana) as a guide. A Sadhana combines sounds (prayers and mantras), actions (mudras), intense visualizations (guided), even a sense of place (mandalas) and the six senses (smells, tastes, and so on from the visualized offerings.)

In The Way of the White Clouds, by Lama Govinda, he describes deities as “not merely beautiful decorations of aesthetic value but as representations of a higher reality, born from visions of inner experience. They were put into as precise a language of forms as is contained in a geographical map or scientific formula, while being as natural and expression as direct an appeal as a flower or a sunset.”

Non-Buddhist Scientific View

From a less spiritual point of view, mindfulness is well accepted in the psychiatric community as a method for reducing stress, and improving health issues that are impacted by stress — arguably all major health issues. A 2011 study in Neuroimage, broadly maps out how mindfulness changes the brain for the better.

Research proves that Vajrayana meditation techniques improve cognitive performance.

On the other hand, Vajrayana Deity visualization practices improve cognitive performance and have a promising impact on patients with degenerate brain disorders, according to a study from the National University of Singapore.

Difference in Perspective

What’s the main difference between non-Buddhist and Buddhist perspectives on the two methods? The goals, clearly. Buddhist practitioners will have taken refuge prior to any meditation, while non-Buddhists likely wouldn’t. As Buddhists, the ultimate goal is nothing less than touching the Buddha within and achieving Enlightenment. Non-Buddhists will be content with either heightened relaxation and stress relief—with mindfulness methods; or, improved cognitive function, conceptual thinking and planning with active guided visualizations.

Which is better? Neither. Both are powerful, and most people can benefit from using both styles of meditation. Mindfulness meditation pacifies, creating space for wisdom—and reducing stress. Visualization, on the other hand, activates mind on the heroic quest for the Buddha Within—and improves cognitive function. Contrary to the notion that they might be opposites—pacification versus activation—they are complimentary.

Some of the images in this article feature Zasep Tulku Rinpoche from the movie Please Come Again:

TIBETAN BUDDHIST TEACHINGS ON REINCARNATION - YouTube

NOTES

[1] Tantra: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Volume 6, Geshe Tashi Tsering foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

[2] Visualizing Yourself as a Deity, Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive

The post Visualization Activates the Mind; Mindfulness Stills the Mind — Which is Right for Your Buddhist Practice? appeared first on Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation.

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Zasep Rinpoche strongly recommends Metta practice.

In two recent Buddha Weekly advice videos, teacher Zasep Tulku Rinpoche explained that mindfulness meditation and loving kindness meditations were among the best therapies for bereavement, stress, cognitive issues, memory loss and even Alzheimer’s. (Bereavement Video>> and Cognitive Video>>)

Perhaps not surprisingly, peer-reviewed medical studies may corroborate this claim made by Buddhists for centuries. Here, we’ve pulled together ten key benefits and ten reviewed studies of those benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM).

Mindfulness meditation’s place as a genuine therapy with tangible health benefits is well documented and accepted by medical and psychiatric practitioners. (For our previous article on the peer-reviewed ten benefits of mindfulness, refer here>>)

Compassion, kindness and metta are core practices for most Buddhists.

Metta practice (maitrī in Sanskrit, metta in Pali) is common to all three major schools of Buddhism and has always been a pivotal practice in Buddhism. The daily Buddhist custom of the “Four Immeasurables” is part of this practice. (See end of this feature for this practice). These four states are qualities cultivated in Buddhist practice. In Mahayana Buddhism, Metta rises in significance even further, labeled more often as “Compassion” — which together with Wisdom are the path to Enlightenment. (Technically, Compassion is “karuna” rather than “metta”, although the distinction is small — see below for details.)

(LKV mediation steps and Metta Sutta chanting practice at end of this feature.)

10 Proven Benefits of Kindness and Compassion Meditation

Great Zen Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: ““Only your compassion and your loving kindness are invincible, and without limit.”

Some of the benefits identified by medical or scientific research are (cited below):

  • Reduction of stress, including increases in Respiratory Sinus Arrythmia (RSA)
  • Slows aging (decreases telormere length)
  • Increases brain matter
  • Decreased illness
  • Reduces chronic pain
  • Decreases Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD
  • Reduces incidence of migraines
  • Decreases schizophrenia spectrum disorders (pilot study)
  • Increases empathy, compassion, reduces bias and discrimination (no surprise there) and increases social connection
  • Increases self worth and self love, reduces self-criticism — all of which can have positive impact on psychological and physical well-being.

A professor with a special focus on the science of happiness, Emma Seppala, summarizes the benefits this way: ” Research shows that Loving Kindness Meditation has a tremendous amount of benefits ranging from benefitting well-being, to giving relief from illness and improving emotional intelligence.” [4]

Regardless of your take — and future research findings — there can be no doubt that Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is every bit as beneficial as Buddha taught.

A Mother’s Love and a Sense of Self Love

A mother’s unconditional love is the model for Metta meditation, with he goal to cherish all beings as a mother would a child.

Interestingly, meditating on the love of others always increases a sense of “self love” and “self worth.” However, the focus of “Metta” meditation is a lofty one, as established by the Buddha, here explained in a Discourse by U Nandiya: “In the “Metta Sutta” the Buddha has chosen the love of a mother for her child as an example. Imagine a mother’s love when her child is hungry; she watches carefully to feed her child even before it asks her for food. When the child is in danger, she will risk her own life. So the Buddha taught us to love all beings as a mother loves her only child.” [2] In Metta meditation we have to expand this high level of love to include all sentient beings, not just people we like, but also our “enemies” and not just humans, but even the most scary creepy crawlies — all sentient beings.

Here are the top ten benefits (there are more), with some recent research to back them:

#1: Reduction of Stress: 2011 Study on Loving Kindness as a Buffer to Social Stress

From Abstract: “Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) has the potential to improve intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning. This unique quality of LKM makes it a desirable candidate for buffering the stress of being social evaluated or socially excluded. Using the Trier Social Stress Test and the Cyberball social exclusion paradigm, the present study investigated the effectiveness of a brief LKM session in buffering against social evaluative and social exclusion stress.” Details of study here>>

#2 Slow Aging: Longer Telomeres from Loving Kindness

From Abstract findings: ” The LKM [Loving Kindness Meditation] practitioners had longer RTL than controls at the trend level (p=.083); among women, the LKM practitioners had significantly longer RTL than controls, (p=.007), which remained significant even after controlling for BMI and past depression. Although limited by small sample size, these results offer the intriguing possibility that LKM practice, especially in women, might alter RTL, a biomarker associated with longevity.” Details of research here>>

Traditional style Pali chanting of the Metta Sutta (Sutta in full is at end of this feature):

Karaniya Metta Sutta in Pali - YouTube

#3 Increases Brain Matter: Promising for Cognitive Issues?

“For all of us, love can be the natural state of our own being; naturally at peace, naturally connected, because this becomes the reflection of who we simply are.” 
Sharon Salzberg, author of Loving Kindness.

From study 1: “Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation: loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada tradition for at least 5 years. Compared with novices, more gray matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural differences associated with meditation, and its specific role in mind and cognitive empathy theory suggests the uniqueness of this finding for LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety and mood. At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared to be greater, an observation that has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM. Overall, the findings of our study suggest that experience in LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.” Read more here>> 

From study 2: “The comparison between meditation vs. rest states between experts and novices also showed increased activation in amygdala, right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in response to all sounds, suggesting, greater detection of the emotional sounds, and enhanced mentation in response to emotional human vocalizations for experts than novices during meditation. Together these data indicate that the mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion alters the activation of circuitries previously linked to empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli.” Read more>> 

From study 3: “This study examined the dissociable neural effects of ānāpānasati (focused-attention meditation, FAM) and mettā (loving-kindness meditation, LKM) on BOLD signals during cognitive (continuous performance test, CPT) and affective (emotion-processing task, EPT, in which participants viewed affective pictures) processing. Twenty-two male Chinese expert meditators (11 FAM experts, 11 LKM experts) and 22 male Chinese novice meditators (11 FAM novices, 11 LKM novices) had their brain activity monitored by a 3T MRI scanner while performing the cognitive and affective tasks in both meditation and baseline states.” Read more>>

#4 Decreases Illnesses: Open Hearts Build Your Health and Wellness Resources

From study abstract: “The authors tested this build hypothesis in a field experiment with working adults (n = 139), half of whom were randomly-assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation. Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.” Read more>> 

#5 Reduces Chronic Pain, Especially Low Back Pain

From study abstract: “Loving-kindness meditation has been used for centuries in the Buddhist tradition to develop love and transform anger into compassion. This pilot study tested an 8-week loving-kindness program for chronic low back pain patients…. Preliminary results suggest that the loving-kindness program can be beneficial in reducing pain, anger, and psychological distress in patients with persistent low back pain… Clinicians may find loving-kindness meditation helpful in the treatment of patients with persistent pain.” Read more>> 

#6 Decreases Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD

From study abstract: “A large effect size was found for PTSD symptoms at 3-month follow-up (d = -0.89), and a medium effect size was found for depression at 3-month follow-up (d = -0.49). There was evidence of mediation of reductions in PTSD symptoms and depression by enhanced self-compassion. Overall, loving-kindness meditation appeared safe and acceptable and was associated with reduced symptoms of PTSD and depression.” Read more>> 

Ten other benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation.

#7 Reduced Incidence of Migraines

From study abstract: ” Meditation is gaining popularity as an effective means of managing and attenuating pain and has been particularly effective for migraines. Meditation additionally addresses the negative emotional states known to exist with migraines. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of meditation as an immediate intervention for reducing migraine pain as well as alleviating emotional tension, examined herein as a negative affect hypothesized to be correlated with pain. Twenty-seven migraineurs, with two to ten migraines per month, reported migraine-related pain and emotional tension ratings on a Likert scale (ranging from 0 to 10) before and after exposure to a brief meditation-based treatment. All participants were meditation- naïve, and attended one 20-minute guided meditation session based on the Buddhist “loving kindness” approach. After the session, participants reported a 33% decrease in pain and a 43% decrease in emotional tension. The data suggest that a single exposure to a brief meditative technique can significantly reduce pain and tension, as well as offer several clinical implications. It can be concluded that single exposure to a meditative technique can significantly reduce pain and tension. The effectiveness and immediacy of this intervention offers several implications for nurses.” Read more>> 

#8 Decreases schizophrenia spectrum disorders

Pilot Study abstract: “This pilot study examined loving-kindness meditation (LKM) with 18 participants with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and significant negative symptoms. Findings indicate that the intervention was feasible and associated with decreased negative symptoms and increased positive emotions and psychological recovery.” Read more>>

And Many More: Increases Compassion, Kindness, Social Connection and Reduces Bias

For benefits 9 and 10, most people would accept these results without reference to research or studies. Meditating on Loving Kindness intuitively would — logically — have benefits in these areas. There are, however, numerous controlled studies that verify this, too many to list here. Here are three helpful links:

Increasing Empathy>>

Decreasing Bias>>

Increases Social Connection>>

How to Meditate on Loving Kindness

There are many suggestions from many teachers, but no greater teacher than Shakyamuni Buddha himself. Chanting the Metta Sutta (below) is certainly very effective, especially when combining with visualizing.

Sit comfortably and think kind thoughts.

There are four kinds of loving kindness:

  • Metta, or friendliness
  • Karuna, or compassion
  • Mudita, or appreciative joy
  • Upekkha, or equanimity.

 The principles of LKM:

  • kindness
  • patience
  • trust
  • non-striving
  • a beginners mind
  • no judging
  • letting go
  • acceptance
  • staying in the moment (mindfulness).

One simple practice embraced by Buddhists around the world is a daily chanting or reciting of the Metta Sutta. The entire Metta Sutta in English and Pali are at the end of this feature. We’ve embedded two videos of Metta Sutta chanting, one traditional and one more “modern.” While chanting focus on loving all beings.

Meditation on loving kindness has 10 health and wellness benefits according to peer-reviewed studies.

The Four Immeasurables

Most Buddhist practitioners include, in their daily practice, the “Four Immeasurables”, often phrased as:

May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering; May all sentient beings never be separated from the happiness that knows no suffering; May all sentient beings live in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

In original Tibetan:

SEM CHEN TAM CHAY DE WA DANG DE WAY GYU DANG DEN PAR GYUR CHIG

SEM CHEN TAM CHAY DUG NGEL DANG DUG NGEL KYI GYU DANG DEL WAR GYUR CHIG

SEM CHEN TAM CHAY DUG NGEL ME PAY DE WA DANG MI DREL WAR GYUR CHIG

SEM CHEN TAM CHAY NYE RING CHAG DANG NYI DANG DREL WAY DANG NYOM LA NAY PAR GYUR CHIG

Self Love Important

Most teachers of Metta begin with a meditation on self love. Loving acceptance of the self is key to loving others. A person who loathes self cannot easily generate love for others.

The next step is to generate loving kindness to others. Here, a meditation (guided or otherwise) would be structured somewhat on the self and the “four types of persons” toward whom you should develop loving kindness. In this order, they are easier to accept, since the last one (a hostile person) is often the most difficult to visualize):

  • self: start with the self
  • beloved and highly respected person (such as your Guru)
  • dear ones: family members and close friends
  • neutral feelings: people you know but have no special positive of negative feelings about
  • a hostile person: someone you dislike or are having troubles with.

Mechanics of LKV

One visualization for metta includes visualizing those who are hostile towards you in front of you and those you love behind you to reinforce that all beings should be equally loved.

There are three types of Metta meditations most commonly recommended: visualization, listing (reflection) and auditory.

Auditory is the simplest — and used by most Buddhist worldwide. This could include chanting the Four Immeasurables (above) or the Metta Sutta in either English or Pali (below). Aspirations, such as “May you be happy” are important. This particular practice could evolve into a social ritual outside of practice, where you might surprise your hostile associates with “be happy” wishes coming in to every day communication.

Perhaps more involved is “reflection” where you mentally list or affirm the positive aspects of one person from each of the groups. You imagine a respected, beloved, neutral, and hostile person and mentally acknowledge at least one positive thing about them.

Visualization is more formal, usually a part of advanced Buddhist practices, where they might be guided. Truly advanced visualizations include Vajrayana Buddhist meditations where you place all of your enemies in front of you and your friends/family..

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Feeling stressed? Read on for more information about symptoms, effects and how to fix it.


What is stress?

By Chloe Bennet

Stress is the way humans respond to danger or harm whether it’s real or just in their mind. We feel threatened and then a chemical reaction causes us to act in order to prevent an injury of any kind.

This is also known as “fight or flight” response. If you are experiencing this, your heart rate increases, breathing gets harder, your muscles are tighter than usual and you have higher blood pressure.

This is how you protect yourself. This is when you are ready to charge.

Stress happens differently to different people – you might get stressed over something your friend never would have. Some people handle stress well, some are not that well. Not all stress is bad either – although we all have a bad association with it nowadays. In small doses, stress can actually save your life or get you running from the danger.

Our bodies are made to handle this – but not the chronic stress that we face today.

There are many symptoms of stress (see feature for the full list). Don’t ignore these important indicators.

What are the symptoms of stress?

Symptoms of stress can vary from person to person as we don’t always respond to things the same way. There are also different levels of response from physical to mental or even behavioral. Here are some of those symptoms:

Emotional Symptoms

medita in the office can make you more productive. Mindfulness during a meeting can result in fewer mistakes. Breathing meditation can calm the stress that inhibits innovation and enthusiasm.

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Becoming easily frustrated or moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Avoiding people
  • Difficulties relaxing or calming down
  • Low self-esteem, depression and feelings of worthlessness
Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms include:

  • Low energy
  • Upset stomach – in any way
  • Headaches – including Migraines
  • Chest pain
  • Insomnia or poor sleeping
  • Any aches and pains from tense muscles
  • Frequent colds
  • Low libido
  • Shaking, cold hands or sweat
  • Dry mouth
  • Grinding teeth
Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms include:

  • No appetite or constantly needing food for comfort
  • Procrastinating, avoiding responsibility
  • Drinking, smoking, drug abuse
  • Nail biting, fidgeting, pacing, leg shaking
Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms include:

  • Worrying
  • Inability to focus
  • Forgetfulness
  • Pessimism
  • Poor judgement
Long-term Effects of stress

Stress, while it may seem like a temporary thing, can leave some long-term effects on your mental and physical state. This is precisely why it needs to be handled timely and not when it’s too late. Again, to a certain point, stress is normal and fine. But past the point of being an occasional occurrence, it’s too much for the body. Here are some long-term effects:

  • Mental health problems like depression, anxiety and so on.
  • Heart diseases like heart attacks, stroke and high blood pressure.
  • Obesity or eating disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Skin, hair and nail problems
  • Menstrual issues
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Stress comes at us from many directions. Lifestyle changes can help you manage stress.

How to manage stress

Fortunately, there are ways to help yourself. They will probably not be the definite solution for all your troubles but they will help mitigate some of the issues and teach you and your body and mind to deal with stress better or not to perceive certain situations as stressful.

Stress Relief With Meditation

Meditation is an activity that has numerous health benefits and it can be a really effective way to reduce stress. Harvard University did a study where they have shown the scientific background of meditation and mindfulness. However, it can be a bit hard for some people to keep doing it after that initial session. Life gets in the way.

But, meditation is an easy habit. With practice, it becomes easier and easier to remember to do it every day. It becomes more effective as you practice too, since you build resilience to stress. To get into meditation in an easy, simple way, you should start with the basic version.

Being able to meditate in a busy place can help train the monkey mind — although we don’t recommend sitting on a street.

But don’t worry, this basic version will be able to give you inner peace in the long run and you’ll be able to use it effectively even later, when you gain more experience.

  • Start with a comfortable position – Find what’s comfortable for you, it doesn’t need to be the position people consider is traditionally related to meditation. You want to be relaxed as much as possible. However, it’s good if your back is straight, to prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Close your eyes – Once you sit comfortably, close your eyes gently and relax all of the facial muscles. Just close your eyes, don’t squeeze. Relax every part of your body.
  • Clear your mind – This is where most people give up because this seems impossible. But what they don’t understand is that the goal isn’t to see blank in your mind right away, but to just gently steer your mind towards silence in the beginning. As you practice, this will get easier too.
  • Keep practicing every day!
Don’t expect it to be perfect because it will never be. Even meditation masters have to struggle with their inner voice getting in the way sometimes.

Start with small sessions,  minutes long. When you feel like you are comfortable with that and that you could do more, go for 10 and then 15. After that, you can slowly increase this time to full 30 minutes, which is ideal for any lifestyle. The more you practice, the better it will be and you will get more benefits from it. Set your own meditation goals.

Stress is a big problem nowadays. Everyone is experiencing it and we are not that well-equipped to handle it either. It creeps into our lives and ruins some of the best moments and situations. If you want to prevent stress and learn to handle it better, it will take time and effort. Reducing stress means completely rewiring your own body to relax instead of jump to action. Meditation and proper lifestyle, just like some of the tips above can help you live a better, less stressful life.

[See this previous feature on peer-reviewed studies of the benefits of meditation>>]

Exercise is a proven way to relieve stress, and — of course — has numerous health benefits. If you are new to an exercise, always seek professional advice.

Exercise

“Exercise is a great way to get rid of some of that extra energy that gets built up as bad things happen. Often we keep a lot of our anger or sadness – or both – bottled up inside that we need a vent. What better way to vent than by exercising,”says Molly Halley, an author at Elite Assignment Help and Big Assignments.

For one, you’ll let go of everything you carried inside. You’ll also look and feel a lot better.

A healthy diet is important to health and stress reduction. Reducing caffeine also helps.

Eat well

Eating well should go hand in hand with exercising. There is some food that can make you jittery or simply feeling bad so you should definitely stop taking it. For instance, if coffee has a bad effect on you, stop drinking it. Take some tea or tisane instead. Next, junk food isn’t your friend. All it does is sit in your stomach with no value and you feel sluggish and lazy. Eat some fruit and vegetables, some fibers and protein – but the right kind; bacon is not protein. Avoid sweets.

Avoid triggers

Watch yourself carefully. Notice what triggers your stress. Is it phone notifications? Your boss yelling at you? Deadlines? Family?
The simple way to avoid stress is to avoid triggers that cause it. For instance, turn off your phone notifications, talk with your boss, remind him that yelling is abuse, don’t be lazy and finish everything at least a day before the deadline, don’t gather with family that often and so on.

Join a class and be social. Or, just do something you enjoy. Above: Nick Loffree teaches Chigong in a formal class.

Do the activities you love

So, now that you have learned to avoid stress, you should do the things you love doing. Read, walk, run or do anything else that you like. Fill your free time with the things you love. Again, make sure that the time is really free because you don’t want to get lazy with your work.

Socialize

This tip is only for those who really like going outside and hanging out with people. There are plenty of introverts who don’t like it and prefer staying in. That’s okay. But if you feel like a friend or a member of your family could be a good company, go for it. Spending time with people is one of the best ways to lower your stress levels.

Beating a drum is a great way to “beat out” stress. It has numerous other benefits to both health, stress reduction and meditation practice. See this story on the benefits of drumming. Theodore Tsaousidis leading a drumming session at a Buddhist temple.

Use music, art or writing

Writing, drawing, doodling or painting can all be activities that could potentially help you decompress and feel less stressed.

[This topic was covered extensively in this separate feature on drumming>>]

Talk to a professional

“A therapist is always a good choice when you are trying to get rid of stress,” says Ginny Carson, a regular contributor to State Of Writing and Australia Help.

Change your lifestyle

If none of these steps work, try changing your lifestyle. Change your career, your home or anything else you can that will help you become a more peaceful person. Many CEOs have switched up their busy lifestyles for a more natural, relaxing one.

Stress is a big problem nowadays. Everyone is experiencing it and we are not that well-equipped to handle it either. It creeps into our lives and ruins some of the best moments and situations.

Road rage erupts spontaneously, and can be dangerous both to self and others — and causes extreme stress on the body. This driver clearly needs a meditation session when he gets home.

If you want to prevent stress and learn to handle it better, it will take time and effort. Reducing stress means completely rewiring your own body to relax instead of jump to action. Meditation and proper lifestyle, just like some of the tips above can help you live a better, less stressful life.

Chloe Bennet works as a content writer and proofreader with years of experience at Boom Essays and Literature review writing help. Chloe also has a degree in Education and loves writing about edtech and teaching strategies at Essayroo.

Important note: seek advice

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

The post The effects of stress on your body: how meditation and 8 other lifestyle changes can help you stay healthy appeared first on Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation.

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The term Spiritual Warrior (Tibetan “sems dpa”) may hint at more than a whiff of bravado and violence — until it is understood that the enemy of the Spiritual Warrior is “avidya” or self-ignorance. Overcoming avidya is at the root of Buddha’s teachings, and so is the conduct of the warrior spirit inherent in the term.

Buddhism — while pacificist in nature — is full of military terms — not because Dharma is violent, but because, “warrior” is a metaphor best understood by human beings. In Mahayana Buddhism, where compassion is the equal of wisdom, the concept is taken to the next level, where the warrior is also the hero rescuing others — the Bodhisattva. Then, there’s is the greatest “super hero” of all time: Green Tara; or the great Yogi hero Milarepa, who faced countless demons.

“Warrior” connotes fearlessness. Overcoming fear is a core practice in Buddhism. Green Tara, in Tibetan Buddhism, is a practice focused largely on removing fear. Equally, self-discipline is the key to successful Buddhist practice. Buddha, himself descended from warrior caste, understood the military well. When Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree, in his mission to attain Enlightenment, he faced entire armies of fears — Mara’s hordes:

Shakyamuni Buddha meditated under the Bodhi Tree, ultimately attaining enlightenment. He wrestled with temptations, demons, and vile cravings. Mindfully watching these cravings or thoughts as an observer can help the meditator, ultimately, conquer obstacles.

“Monks, Māra, the evil one, did not pay heed to Sārthavāha’s warning. Instead, he gathered all four divisions of his great and powerful army. It was a terrifying army, so brave in battle that it would make anyone’s hair stand on end. Such an army had never been seen before, or even heard of, in the realms of gods and humans. The soldiers were able to transform their faces in a trillion ways. On their arms and legs slithered hundreds of thousands of snakes, and in their hands they brandished swords, bows, arrows, darts, lances, axes, tridents, clubs, staffs, bludgeons, lassos, cudgels, discuses, vajras, and spears. Their bodies were covered in finest cuirasses and armour.”

Fearlessness is a necessary trait of successful Buddhist practice.

The enemy is “delusions”

Lieutenant Jeanette Shin, the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, points out:

“Terms like charioteer, sword and shield, war elephants, banners, fortress, archers, arrows, poisoned arrows, are all used in expressing the struggle to overcome one’s delusions.” [1]

Buddha on his famous beloved horse Kanthaka with his attendant Chandra behind. Shortly after this scene, the brave prince renounces worldly riches and power, cuts his hair, and becomes a poor medicant searching for Enlightenment. Horses, chariorts, bows and arrows are common terms in Sutra, often used as metaphors.

Here are just a few examples:

  • In explaining why he remained unresponsive to the four questions, Buddha used the parable of the poisoned arrow.

    Conqueror — in Sanskrit Tathagata — is synonymous with Buddha: the victorious conqueror over samsara.

  • Sems dpa — Tibetan for “Spiritual Warrior,” synonymous with the Bodhisattvas (both the Enlightened Bodhisattvas and the Mahayana practitioners who become “bodhisattvas” when they generate bodhicitta.)
  • Sangha — in Pali and Sanskrit means “company” or “assembly” and is governed by precepts
  • Vinaya — in Pali and Sanskrit means “discipline”; also called Patimokkha (Pali) or Pratimoksa (Sanskrit.)
  • Daka and Dakini — translates as “Hero” and “Heroine,” the champions of the Enlightened Sangha in Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Protectors and Guardians — often symbolically armed with many weapons: spears, flaming swords, lassos — each carrying profound meaning.
  • Shaolin martial arts — in legend Bodhidharma, the great Buddhist saint, reputedly taught the monks the skills of self-defence.

Clearly, these word choices do not mean that Buddhism espouses violent behaviour — and the only “killing” going on will be that of our delusions. That fearlessness does carry over into “daily” lives, though, as explained by Lieutenant Shin, with the story of Buddha stopping the physical (non-spiritual) armies of King Virudhaka [1]:

King Virudhaka declared war against the Buddha’s clan, the Shakyas, and marched against them. The Buddha stood in his way three times. Each time King Virudhaka dismounted, paid his respects, remounted and retreated, but he kept coming back every day.

Despite the warrior metaphors, Buddha was also careful to caution against the pride of victory [from the Dhammapada]:

Victory breeds hatred
The defeated live in pain,
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.

The great Milarepa, the fearless Yogi.

Fortitude to face Demon Valley

Imagine the lone Yogi, in a cave high in the mountains, surrounded by howling winds and wild animals and unseen dangers. Among the greatest of Yogis was Milarepa, who famously described the demons who tried to subdue him in Lachi Snow Mountains:

“When I arrived at the foot of the mountain, violent claps of thunder and flashes of lightning struck all around. The whole sky was on fire… The Lord of Obstacle-Makers … came in the guise of a Nepalese Demon called Bhairo with a vast demonic army as retinue…”

Lord Gizo courageously descends to hell on a lotus throne to help those suffering in hells. He is beloved all over Asia as the protector of children. He also taught “demons” in his compassion, transforming them with the Dharma.

The Demons tried everything to intimidate Milarepa, with huge boulders flying through the air, rivers diverted from their riverbeds to swamp him. Milarepa subdued the flood with a simple gesture.

Whether you view the dangers as internal, or external, it takes courage to practice as a Yogi.

Famously, Chogyam Trungpa wrote the book, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, in which he wrote:

“Warrior-ship here does not refer to making war on others. Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word “warrior” is taken from the Tibetan “pawo,” which means, “one who is brave.” … “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

It’s fascinating that this mirrors another spiritual warrior (previously interviewed in Buddha Weekly) named Sean Walking Bear, a Cree medicine man:

Sean Walking Bear.

“Spiritual Warfare is the battle in the mental and physical against all adversaries of the Creator. They are obstacles. They distance us from the Creator. They can attack us psychologically and biologically. They are what some may call demons, evil spirits. Their attacks are endless and last from birth to death. But, it is still possible to have peace.”

The great weapon in the Buddhist Warrior’s arsenal

King Gesar of Ling, the fearless Dharma king. His adventures, told in a million verses, are a story of Dharma conquering the maras (evils or obstructions.)

In one way, it’s unfortunate, as we live in a violent, war-like reality; but that is precisely what Buddha’s teachings are focused on. Samsara is a world of suffering, and the discipline of Dharma is the best way to overcome the perils of the world. One of the great weapons in the Buddhist warrior’s is kindness, compassion and helping others. In the Abhaya Sutta, the “Fearless Sutra,” Buddha explains why the person who has “done what is good” has nothing to fear:

Buddha mentions a fearless person “who has done what is good, has done what is skillful, has given protection to those in fear, and has not done what is evil, savage, or cruel. Then he comes down with a serious disease. As he comes down with a serious disease, the thought occurs to him, ‘I have done what is good, have done what is skillful, have given protection to those in fear, and I have not done what is evil, savage, or cruel… He does not grieve, is not tormented; does not weep, beat his breast, or grow delirious. This, too, is a person who, subject to death, is not afraid or in terror of death.” [Full story here>> ]

Military-like code of conduct

Many other religions use military language, of course. In The hymn “Onward Christian soldiers” comes to mind. But, in Buddhism, the metaphor of soldier and warrior is pervasive, right from the original teachings of the Buddha, through to the Vinaya code of conduct, through to the various forms of Buddhism, and especially in Tibetan Buddhism and Shaolin Mahayana Buddhism.

The military-like code of conduct, the Vinaya, evokes the proper discipline and tone of the original monks and nuns of Buddha’s Sangha, as described in the Agganna Sutta. In monasteries, a high ranking monk is normally the “disciplinarian.” For lay practitioners, we had only five core moral precepts — not to kill, steal, lie, become drunk or high, or abuse sense-pleasures (to use modern language). But, in personal practice, we are our own disciplinarians.

Refraining from killing remains a key precept. But the activities of the Buddhist practitioner, working with the “demons” and internal obstacles of craving, doubt and anger, remains a warrior-like mission. Even in simple breathing meditation, military-like discipline is needed.

Shaolin kung fu is almost synomous with Buddhist monastic discipline. For a story on Martial Arts and the Dharma, see>>

Missed a meditation session? Impose a hundred metaphorical laps around the stupa as a self-imposed discipline. Craving a new luxury car? Sit, and meditate on the attachment — and how that money could benefit so many others. Lied to a friend? Come clean, then promise not to do it again. In moral conduct, an even more rigorous “military” code — the precepts of the Buddha — makes sure the spiritual “soldier” focuses on compassion and wisdom, and ultimately, Enlightenment.

There are two key differences between the spiritual warrior and the actual weapon-brandishing warrior: spiritual warriors fight obstacles and delusions, and do not kill sentient beings; and the discipline is self-imposed. You are the hero, general, and soldier. You answer only to the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and the Enlightened Sangha. The Enlightened Sangha of spiritual heroes is our example.

Modern day statue of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma, according to tradition, brought martial arts to the monks to help with discipline, health and self-defence.

Moral dilemmas of a soldier

Buddhists face the same dilemmas and tough choices as a soldier with a gun. The soldier might have enlisted to save lives, to stop terrorism, to protect his nation — all positive motivations — and any killing would be in defence of innocents. They may take on the karma of the killing, but may still feel morally vindicated by the lives they saved. In the same way, a lay Buddhist might face tough choices such as:

  • White lies to avoid unnecessary suffering of another (some truth that might be devastating to the person hearing it)
  • Euthanasia issues, to eliminate one kind of suffering for the terminally ill pet, for example, is against the precept of killing — but often we take on that negative karma for the sake of our beloved, suffering pet.
  • Killing in self-defence — a similar situation to the working soldier with a gun who is defending the innocent from harm.

In other words, like real soldiers, the Buddhist must make daily decisions with repercussions. The real soldier relies on the chain-of-command to justify actions. The Buddhist spiritual warrior relies on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha — and ultimately, the self.

Prince Siddartha, later to become the Buddha, grew up in the palace and was an expert in martial arts.

Shakyamuni Buddha, born to “warrior caste”

When Shakyamuni Buddha cut his hair, he symbolically separated himself from the worldly, including his past role as a princely member of the “warrior caste.” The Shakya clan — to which he was the heir — was a warrior caste governed state, at a time when the warrior caste and the brahminic caste were rivals for leadership. He was an expert He put aside all of that, and instead marched to war against Mara and his demons. You can view Mara as a literal devil-like being, or as our own mind’s temptations born of our cravings and self-ignorance (Sanskrit: avidya.) Either way, when Buddha determined to release the world from the suffering of Samsara, his mission became a mental crusade. In the final “battle” he sat beneath the Bodhi Tree, fighting with Mara and his demons and daughters (temptations) until he attained final, and complete victory.

The river metaphor appears often in Sutra teachings. Here, Shakyamuni is assailed by Mara, but the evil ones are swept away in the river of Samsara. Buddha, the Enlightened, is unassailable.

Buddha and the demons

Confronted by the demons, according to the Lalitavistara Sutra:

Yet the One Who Has Qualities, Marks, and Splendor
Keeps his mind unshaken, like Mount Meru.
He sees all phenomena as illusion,
Like a dream, and like clouds.
Since he sees them in this manner that accords with the Dharma,
He meditates steadfastly, established in the Dharma.
Whoever thinks of “me” and “mine”
And clings to objects and the body,
Should be afraid and terrified,
Since they are in the clutches of ignorance.
The Son of the Śākyas has realized the essential truth
That all phenomena arise in dependence and lack reality.
With a mind like the sky, he is just fine,
Unperturbed by the spectacle of the army of rogues.

One by one the “sons” of Mara try to bring down the great Bodhisattva. One tries to enter his body and destroy him from within — possession — another tries to poison him with a “gaze than can turn the waters of the ocean to ashes”, and another sends “divine girls”, an exquisite harem. But, even the demons realize the futility. Dharmarati says:

“He only delights in the pleasures of the Dharma,
The bliss of concentration and the significance of immortality,
And the joy of liberating sentient beings and the happiness of a loving mind.
He does not delight in the pleasures of passion.”

Ultimately, the greatest torment, the vilest image, the most bloody of threats, and the most exquisite of beauties cannot move Siddartha’s mind. In the end, they send their entire army against the Buddha, but the result is a rain of flowers, as reported by Bharasena, the general of the demon army:

“Wherever this army is found,
Dust and soot rain from the sky.
Yet at the seat of awakening, a rain of flowers falls,
So heed my words and turn back!”

NOTES
[1] “The Buddha as Warrior” Lieutenant Jeanette Shin. https://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/the-buddha-as-warrior

The post Sems dpa, the Buddhist Spiritual Warrior, the Hero, the fearless Buddhist: overcoming self-ignorance and our maras appeared first on Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation.

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