Impermanence, by Yangsi Rinpoche

We have been talking and reflecting so much about impermanence in our classes and in teachings and studies of Buddhism. But we have been actually shown impermanence in real life by the passing of our dear faculty member & friend Jim.

This experience was incredibly valuable because it made the concepts that we read and study about all the time come alive for many people.

So, for us, we really cannot justify a poor attitude today, saying to ourselves: because I am young and I am healthy I am not subject to these things. No common reason can justify this way of thinking.

Also, because of the reality of impermanence, there is no point in being rigid and aggressive; this behavior becomes silly when you view it through the window of impermanence.

So this has been a very great & intense time for our community members. We have learned a lot from Jim and we love Jim so much.

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Aspirations for A Dear Friend

 ImageAs many of you know, Namdrol (Miranda Adams) had a very unfortunate event in recent days.  Although the situation with her health is still quite critical, our teachers and all our friends around the world are praying and practicing very deeply on her behalf. So at this moment, we can see lots of improvement – progress that is far beyond the initial prediction of the emergency room doctors.

As many of you also know, Namdrol has a mindset that means that every time a challenge comes before her, she wants to conquer it and to go straight through it for the purpose of benefitting others.  So I see that she is doing the same with the current situation. I want you all to know that she is doing very well day by day.  She is in one of the best hospitals for neurosurgery in the west and getting excellent care; and also is improving beyond expectations by her own efforts.

Namdrol is not only my dearest friend & the most important person in my life, but she is also a friend to all the Dharma community.  She has made a unique and special contribution to the Dharma in the West as a person with good heart, good intention and extreme focus on the vision and goals of Maitripa. There are still several critical challenges ahead of Namdrol in the upcoming days.  I want to thank all of our friends, students and teachers around the world who are offering support of all kinds and doing prayers.

Sometimes we wonder why bad things happen to good people and that is a reasonable question. However due to this current hindrance that has arisen, I hope and pray that many obstacles may purify for Maitripa College and for our teachers and our lineage. I request all of you to keep this aspiration in your prayers and dedications.

Yangsi Rinpoche

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Flying

ImageThis week I have been thinking about the fact that no matter how bad our circumstances, no matter what we are going through, survival and success depend on keeping our balance, keeping our equilibrium.

For a long time I have had a fascination with airplanes. Knowing this, recently some dear kind friends of mine encouraged me to take my first flying lesson. When this was suggested, I felt some conflicting emotions. I was really excited. But I was also nervous and quite scared. Actually, until this point I had really liked looking at airplanes, and flying the ones with the remote controls. I hadn’t really thought very much about actually being a pilot.

Anyway since the opportunity had arisen due to the kindness of my friends, I decided to do it. So I went to the airport and there was the plane. It looked pretty small! I got in the plane, in the pilot’s seat, with the instructor next to me. He was a very kind young man with a very relaxed attitude. One of my friends got in the back of the plane and the doors closed. For a few minutes, the instructor showed me things on the instrument panel and gave me details on what to pay attention to, and what to look out for. I listened as carefully as possible. Then he looked at me and said, “Okay, now fly.” He looked completely relaxed when he said this, but I was pretty surprised. I later found out that my friend who had organized everything had told the instructor not to give me a flying “lesson,” but to actually give me the controls and let me fly the plane from beginning to end.

Well, this was very unfamiliar territory for me. From that first moment sitting there in the small plane getting ready to take off, I thought of thousands of reasons not to move at all. There were many, many practical reasons to become paralyzed, to not do anything, to stay still, on that runway, safe on the ground, in one piece. Then I started thinking that even if somehow I was able to get the plane off the ground and fly it, I would soon become distracted by all my doubts and fears about how in the world I was going to land, and this would become a further obstacle. I think I sat very still in that plane for awhile, but there was lot going on in my mind.

As it turned out, when I had gotten inside the plane, I had put the seat much too far back, so my legs were all stretched out and my arms had to reach for the steering wheel. Looking back, I didn’t set the base very well. So takeoff was a little uncomfortable, but somehow my friend the instructor and I managed to make it work together, and soon we were up in the air. Once we were up there I realized how uncomfortable I was, and then I adjusted a little bit and suddenly I felt much better.

Being up in the sky flying that plane was a lot of work. It is much different driving an airplane than just riding in one. There was so much to concentrate on, to pay attention to – check the instruments on the dashboard, check the line of the horizon to make sure the plane doesn’t tip over, look out for the clouds and the rain on one side or the other, keep an eye on the mountains nearby, check for other airplanes – and then back to check the dashboard instruments and the whole cycle starts again.

With all of these things to do, with all of this adjusting and constant vigilance, trying to keep balance between body and mind, you keep the balance of this single engine airplane, and through that you keep the balance of the relationship between the airplane and the sky, the clouds, the mountains, and so on. And the most important thing is that all of this has to be done with softness, and gentleness. If you are too strong, or too reactive, or pull too hard, or are too tense, you can turn the airplane completely upside down and then you are in big trouble.

So I worked on this, up in the air. and gradually it began to become more natural to me. As I went through the steps, with gentleness, with softness – dashboard, horizon, clouds, rain, mountains, other airplanes, dashboard, horizon, etc. – what actually happened was that things became very calm. There was no time or space at all for the thoughts of fear, stress, and worry, or even excitement or shock at what I was doing, to arise in my mind.

I was flying, just being the experience. That was a great feeling.

So life is exactly like that. When things are turbulent and scary, and we find ourselves in unknown territory, out of our comfort zones, we should remain calm, and move forward with softness and gentleness. We should not cause interference with our expectations and dissatisfaction, we should not create drama with our fears and reactions. We should remain gentle, and vigilant, and move our focus with intention from one object of focus to another, internally and externally, giving each equal attention and care, adjusting with a gentle touch where we can be of benefit.

From this, a beautiful life can arise.

In the end, flying that airplane was about not pushing too strongly or pulling too hard, not turning left or right with too much force, not reacting with too much fear or tightness – but keeping balance, keeping calm, and making gentle adjustments along the way.

When we finally landed that plane, the instructor told me I had done pretty well. I think he was a very great flight instructor, and I will remember that day forever.

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Letting Go

The great Indian Buddhist saint Shantideva said, “If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.”

This is very applicable advice for us even today. Our personal lives, societies, and communities can be vastly improved by applying this simple practice. In general, we are all trying to make our lives meaningful, we are working to accomplish our own heart goals and to achieve certain things. We are giving energy to projects or people or relationships or intentions that are important to us, for one reason or another. But sometimes we get caught. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck, unable to move forward or back, like an ant in a spider web, thrashing around and getting nowhere.

Why does this happen? Because we have lost our flexibility. We forget that the world does not function according to our own plan and schedule. Basically, our ego takes over and becomes a control freak. We try to control everything. We expect everything to work according to a plan … our plan.

But this is not a realistic expectation. If we can step back and look at what is going on, we will realize this. Just thinking about this, knowing this, reflecting on it, and applying the words of Shantideva to our situation will change our situations entirely. It will bring peace. Basically, it will help us to loosen up, to take things easy.

Please be clear; taking things easy does not mean laying back and not doing anything. It means being compassionate and keeping the peace and sanity of our own mind. It means taking responsibility for the only thing we can really control – ourselves. Once our minds are peaceful and calm, all of our positive potential will awaken, and ripen, and bear fruit. Then what happens is actually we end up getting what we want. Our life’s goals can be achieved without aggression, without fighting, in a peaceful way.

This is very simple, practical advice from thousands of years ago that can we apply to ourselves, to our own minds, in today’s world. We just need to practice it to make it work for us. Try it and see.

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The Leadership Crisis

In recent days, there has been so much difficulty apparent in the leadership of the world. It is very hard to feel inspired sometimes when we look around and see what is going on. There are very few sources of hope. Because of the lack of good leadership, we see an effect in every aspect of our lives – our economic systems, our social structures, our financial systems, our education systems – all of the structures that we base our world on seem to be in danger of falling apart. Our basic needs as a society, as human beings, are not being met.

But if we think about it, with our knowledge and training, especially those of us who have some experience of Buddhist study and practice, we already have most of the answers right in front of us. The essence of Dharma is actually training ourselves to be strong leaders – first we become leaders of our own inner world, and then, eventually, we can take what we have learned and bring it into the external world around us.

Where do we start? Not just by sitting still and praying for things to change – although that is okay too, but it is not enough. Rather, as individuals and as a group, in our own small communities, we need to begin to implement our practice. We start by training our own minds.

A good way to begin with this is to train ourselves to continually look to the big picture, not to be caught in the details, and not to circle around and around in our minds all tied up in our stories about how things could be better, or should be better, or would not be so bad if only someone did as I wanted them to.

What do I mean by the big picture? The big picture relates to our underlying motivation – the course of action that is the most selfless, that will benefit the greatest number of people, and will not harm anyone. Once we have the big picture in mind, and we are certain that it is beneficial and useful to ourselves and those around us, we can use it as a touchstone to return to continually, to check ourselves, again and again and again. When small things distract us and we feel like giving up entirely because we are mad at so-and-so or somebody else didn’t treat us as we wanted them to, we can remember our big picture, and relax our minds into that vision, and let the small things go.

If we become good at this, we will able to manage almost any situation that arises in our lives, and our activity in the world will flow naturally and spontaneously, with less self-interest. This will bring great joy to ourselves and to the people around us.

Once we become a little bit skilled at this practice, we can gradually add in the more complex practices, such as patience, tolerance, compassion, and clarity. Patience means not getting angry when we get what we don’t want or when we don’t get what we want, and being able to bear difficult situations with a calm mind. Tolerance means a sense of open-mindedness and a non-judgmental attitude toward those we come in contact with. Compassion means wishing for others to be free from suffering, and working to fulfill that aim. And clarity means keeping our minds single-pointed, crystal clear, on whatever goal we have in our sights.

As we perfect these states of mind, and they become more and more spontaneous for us, we will find that we become natural leaders. The ease and spaciousness with which we approach our everyday lives will naturally inspire others, and we will not need to seek out followers of any sort. They will naturally arise.

So please think about this. Remember that Buddha himself taught that we all have the capability for perfect leadership within our very own minds – some people call it buddha nature, or tathagatagarbha, or the potential for enlightenment, or whatever. In any case, within our very minds we all have the promise of a perfect leader.

So let’s start small, by learning to lead our own internal worlds, and then gradually as we perfect that, we will naturally and beautifully find ourselves able to become leaders in a more conventional sense as well. We should start on this as soon as possible; there is great need in the world today.

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How to Stay Sane in a Crazy World

Our country is in a crazy place these days. Don’t you agree? Just look around you. But I think it’s important to remember, no matter how bad things look, we are still living in a free country. In many places things are much worse. People live in fear and desperation, with nothing to eat and with violence all around them, with no control. Many people have it so much worse than us. No matter how bad things look here, there is a basic sense of law and order that can be our foundation for enacting positive change. We are so fortunate to have that opportunity.

Also, no matter how bad things look, it is important to remember every day that nothing is permanent, nothing is forever. If we look at past history, even within our own lifetimes, we see that things can turn around, and become better. But sometimes we have to learn this the hard way.

I think if we approach our worldview from this angle, we can be more effective in our efforts change the world around us. Also, we can begin to turn our attention to the inner world, which is equally as crazy as the one outside of us. With this attitude, remembering impermanence, remembering how things change, and that they CAN change, we can see that it is possible to become free from our inner hungry ghosts – which means our dissatisfied minds. This dissatisfaction is one of our most destructive enemies; it causes so much harm.

In reality, we are all impermanent, we are all guests, we are all here just temporarily, for a relatively short time on this earth, in this life. But our projections and illusions fight with us all the time to make us believe we are here to stay forever. This is a very strong delusion.

If we understand this, and work to change it, then we can begin to relax, to have a good time, to appreciate and enjoy our lives and our privileges. We can take everything a little less seriously, and bring some lightness into our attitudes. And we can be kind to each other, and open to each other. We can stop torturing ourselves, and stop torturing everyone else in our lives.

If we do this, we will see the beginning of real change, of real revolution, and real reform – inside and outside of ourselves.

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Launch of Yangsi Rinpoche’s Blog on Enlighten Me!

Welcome to Yangsi Rinpoche’s blog as part of Maitripa College’s 2011 Enlighten Me! Project. Our first post will be going live on October 31st.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for more exciting developments with this project and at Maitripa College in general!

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