Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Meditation

Today is Earth Day. The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa gave a teaching this morning from India. At the end of the teaching, he told everyone to go out and sit on the earth and do some meditation, so I went out with my kids and sat in the courtyard of a local Schiedam church on the grass.

Actually, everyday is Earth Day, the Karmapa explained. We are dependent upon the Earth for our very survival. If it weren't for the Earth, and the complex set of interdependent circumstances that allows Earth to sustain life, none of us would be here.

As I was biking home this evening from a rather disappointing meeting, I started to feel a sense of gratitude for being here on this planet. It was a small moment of joy and gratitude. The sun was setting over a river in Rotterdam. It was a huge, firey ball reflecting off of the water. There were Egyptian ducks walking along the river bank, and I biked alongside them, taking in all of this remarkable beauty. It had rained earlier, so the sky was clear blue with a few scattered clouds, and the grass and trees were imbued with fresh green dampness.

The sun shines on everyone without discrimination. We can all enjoy the beauty of the sun, the sweetness of birds singing, and the greenness of trees, grass, and plants. We can all appreciate these things on a very basic level. It's a very simple and joyful thing to do.

Lately I have a heightened sense of birds singing everywhere I go. There are little white balls of plant fuzz floating through the air all over town. The days are beginning to get a little hotter. Disappointment slides away as easily as it comes these days.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Leaving Fear Behind

Leaving Fear Behind is a beautiful film by Dondup Wangchen. He interviewed Tibetans in Tibet on their feelings approaching the Olympic games in 2008. Some of the responses are quite emotional. Several people start to cry when they say that their greatest wish is that His Holiness the Dalai Lama be allowed to return to Tibet.

It's tragic that Tibetans are facing the decimation of their culture, and I think this film is an important document in that it allows Tibetans to express their own ideas about what their lives are like.

In the past several months I've had the great fortune of meeting several Tibetans. Whenever I meet a Tibetan I am always amazed by their warmth and sincerity. I truly love the Tibetan people. They are such kind, warm hearted people. To me they represent the ideal that I am striving to fulfill for myself. If it weren't for the Tibetan's dedication in preserving the Buddha's teachings, I myself would be totally at a loss. By extension, if I make an effort to become a better person through contact with Tibetan people, then I can inspire other people in turn.

The Buddha's teachings tell us that everything we view as a misfortune is actually a teaching in disguise. Whenever we endure mental hardship we become stronger. We can use it as a form of mind training. As an example, if I think that my life is difficult or lonely, I can think about the Tibetans, and see that actually my life isn't difficult at all. Either that or I can think, I am suffering now, but I am going to use my suffering, and mentally take on the suffering of others', thereby relieving them of their burden. In developing an altruistic attitude, my mind becomes joyful because I am able to assist other beings in finding happiness.

Dondup Wangchen is still imprisoned, and is probably being tortured for making a simple film.

Several months ago I met a man who was arrested and tortured in a prison in Lhasa. He recounted his story. It was a horrific one. Yet, despite the suffering he'd obviously endured, he told his story with a smile. I wish I could retell it here, but I haven't asked his permission. Even though he was telling a very difficult and sad story, he was still able to make it positive. After enduring weeks of starvation, he explained that the food he finally was allowed to eat was the most delicious food he'd ever eaten. And then he also said that after being denied water, when he finally did get something to drink, the water he drank was the sweetest water he'd ever tasted.

In actuality, I feel my own pain as a great burden at times, and I bemoan my lot. But my pain is non-existent. And my life is a happy and lucky one. Even the slight discomfort I feel, my shyness, and inability to make friends here, is really not bad at all. I can see this in comparison to many of the lives of people I read about and meet. And I can also see that if it weren't for the perception of suffering that I've experienced throughout my life, I would never have been led to study the Buddha dharma. If I hadn't felt a great sense of loss, and of being lost in the world, of failure, loneliness, what have you, I wouldn't have felt the sense of desperation that was the driving force behind my great thirst for the Buddhist teachings.

Alternately, I can train myself to rejoice in my own qualities, to really look at what I have as valuable, and to view my life as valuable. However small my contribution is, whatever good thought I have, or small kindness I bestow on another being, I can rejoice in that small virtue. Little by little, drop by drop, I can slowly transform my attitude, so that I no longer feel anguished. As my own attitude changes, I will become more a capable, and I will be able to reach out to others in more meaningful ways. I can also aid others in their quest to become relieved of their own suffering.

So it is through my own pain that I have come to discover greater truths, and that I have come into contact with Tibetan people. My fortune is truly great, indeed.