Part of a series of teachings and discussion sessions given during the Winter Retreat from December 2005 to March 2006 at Sravasti Abbey.
What to do after retreat
- How to take what you learned with you after retreat
- Suggestions for practice
- Setting priorities and creating conducive conditions for practice
- Avoiding hindrances to practice and what to reflect on
Vajrasattva 2005-2006: What to do (download)
Questions and answers
- What criteria do you use to make difficult decisions?
- Helping others
- Useful habits learned during retreat
Vajrasattva 2005-2006: What to do Q&A (download)
At the conclusion of a three-month Vajrasattva retreat one of our guests asked me, “What should I do with the rest of my life?” I thought about it and came up with a few ideas. These are applicable for everyone to take with them wherever they may go. I will share them in random order and for those of you who don’t like being told what to do, these are only suggestions. I am quite used to people ignoring me.
First, practice daily when you leave here. Have a regular daily meditation practice that you do not miss, no matter what. Whether you are sick, whether you are healthy, whether you are traveling or stationary, it doesn’t matter: always do your daily meditation practice. Even if you are dreadfully sick in the hospital, or at home in bed: sit and do your mantra or your visualizations. If you are too sick to sit up, then just lie flat on your back, but always keep to the rhythm of your daily meditation practice. I found early on, in the days when I was taking initiations, that when I was given a lot of commitments, keeping a regular practice was very good, because I made a promise to my teacher and I had better do my best to keep it. Having a daily practice is a lifeline and a basis for everything else.
Second, think beyond this life. Do not have a short-term view, but really consider who you are and what you do in regards to the big picture and your previous lives. There is karma and energy behind you, good karma and bad karma. Then, think about how you react to it now and how the ripening of that karma is creating more karma which will influence what happens in the future. If we see ourselves in the big picture like this—and this is very much the way the Sanghata Sutra is asking us to look at ourselves—we are experiencing what we did in the past and we are doing what creates the causes in the future.
Remember when I asked you early on in the retreat: how would you like to look back on this experience at the end of it? Now we can see that who we are is not stationary, not some kind of permanent concrete entity but a part of this big picture that is creating causes and experiencing effects. The big picture also means that we are one of an infinite number of sentient beings. If we consider this, then our own problems and our own dramas don’t seem quite as important. I think that the big picture is very helpful for calming the mind: the big picture in terms of time, space, and sentient beings. Look in the sky, there are infinite universes full of sentient beings, and there are also infinite universes full of pure lands, probably overlapping and intermingling. If you have this kind of view, then how you are in the world has a very different flavor. As you practice daily, do not get distracted by stupid things.
In the past we may not have used the term stupid, but today we equate the word with what is known as “meaningless activities” in the Lama Chopa. From a Dharma perspective, when we are very busy doing meaningless activities it is a form of laziness. We can be very busy and lazy at the same time. So try not to get distracted, but have very clear priorities of what is important to you in your life. If you don’t, and your priorities are not very clear, really spend some time thinking about them. Write them down and list them out, so that instead of your non-negotiables being all the things you are attached to, they become your Dharma priorities. Not getting distracted means not falling back into our old patterns of what we do when we are unhappy, because when we are unhappy, what we usually do is distract ourselves. Some of our distractions are legal and some are illegal. If you are drinking and drugging as a way to distract yourself, it is still a way of not wanting to look at your pain, or resisting to admit your suffering, and not applying the Dharma antidotes to it.
We can get ourselves very busy doing a lot of things that are harmful and not necessary. Many people over-eat, spend too much at the shopping center or have gambling, sex, internet and televison addictions. Some are workaholics. These are all various things that we do to distract ourselves from what is really going on in our minds. When we do this it just perpetuates our misery. When we distract ourselves, we still feel crummy inside. We do not communicate with the people we need to. Those people say to themselves: that person is too busy drinking, drugging, shopping, sleeping, or whatever they are doing, so I am going to stay away from them and the situation just spirals downwards.
Third, try to really face things when they happen and work them out. Do not compromise your values, your beliefs or your precepts. Be very strong in what your priorities and values are and what you believe in. If you go to a party and everybody is drinking, you can say, “I’ll take grape juice.” If they say, “Are you some kind of prude? You don’t drink like everybody else?” then say, “Yes, I am a prude!” Make a joke out of it and keep your precepts. What other people say, they say. What they think, they think. We have absolutely no control over it and it is completely their “shtick”. At the end of the day, we all experience the results of karma.
If our reputation in front of worldly people is more important than our precepts and more important than our values, then we experience the result of this in future lives. But, if we are able to keep to our precepts, we will experience the results. Since future lives are longer lasting and much more certain than the future of this life in which our reputation seems so crucial, it is actually more important to pay attention to future lives than to what people think of us during this life. This is really important, because if we start by breaking our precepts, we start feeling really crummy about ourselves and our self-esteem goes down. We then medicate our problems by doing more things that take us away from the Dharma, which causes us to feel worse. We have all been there and recognize that video.
Fourth, make a Dharma connection with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. If you have not been to any of his teachings make sure you go at some time during your life. Along that line, make very strong prayers, and do this continually, so as to always be guided by fully qualified Mahayana and Tantric spiritual mentors. This is so incredibly important, because if we meet a teacher who is a charlatananda, as some say, then our Dharma practice becomes a charlatan-disciple, or a charlatananda’s disciple.
I look at when I first started meeting the Dharma and I realize I was so innocent, so naïve, so stupid, that I probably would have followed anybody. I think it was the fact that whoever I was in the previous life must have made very, very intense prayers to meet the teachers I did and that I was able to meet really impeccable spiritual masters. I think it is important to pray not only to meet them, but to recognize their qualities and follow their advice, because sometimes we meet them, but our mind is so full of rubbish that we can’t see them for what they are or we don’t want to follow their advice. I think this is a really important thing because if we do not learn the pure Dharma, then whatever we practice is going to be wrong. On top of that, if we put energy into practicing wrong views, then we are creating the cause for incredible amounts of upset in our future lives.
Cultivate a good relationship with a qualified teacher. Do not just take notes and then have your notebooks on your book shelves and not do anything with them. Geshe Dargay used to tease us about that all the time. He said, “Oh, you take so many notes and you have your whole bookshelf lined with your notebooks but do you ever read them?” He used to tease us very badly about that and he would say; “Oh, you come all the way to India, here, to study. Make sure you go back home and take something valuable with you and I do not mean the things you buy in town.” He was an incredible teacher.
Fifth, put yourself in a good environment for practice, this is very important. We each know what a good environment for practice is and sometimes we have to give up some of our worldly perks in order to put ourselves in one. This is hard because we want to have samsara perks and Dharma at the same time. But, if we do not put ourselves in a good environment, samsara takes over because we have so much habituation with it: infinite lifetimes of habituation. We may have to sacrifice some samsaric pleasure in order to accomplish this, but the benefits are worth it.
Putting ourselves into a good environment is really crucial, otherwise we go right back to our same old stuff so easily. Along with that, live near one of your teachers and live with, or near, Dharma friends so that you are with people who can really encourage you when you practice. If there is a center near you,then go to the center regularly.
At times we have the idea: I will meditate but I am tired, or I will just finish this little bit more of whatever I am doing and then I will meditate, but sometimes it never happens. Bobby and Kathleen have this thing that they have been doing for years with their meditation buddies. They live in different places so two or three times a week one will call the other. They set their motivation, put the phone down, meditate, and do their sadhana. At the end, they pick up the phone, dedicate, and talk a little bit. When you have a meditation buddy, this person counts on you to be there, to make that phone call and because of this you do it every week which keeps the both of you practicing regularly.
This is the same principle as at the Abbey or any kind of monastery. The schedule keeps everyone practicing together. You just have to be there. This stops the mind that thinks it does not have time or space for that. I know sometimes for me I have to teach and I am sick or don’t feel well. It does not matter, I still have to teach. You just do it. My experience has been whenever you do this you always feel better afterwards.
People in America complain to me about how they can’t go to teachings and that they don’t have enough money to go to retreats, or they do not have time to do this and that. Many people write or come to me stating that they want to hear teachings on this night and that night, from this time to that time, not too long but not too short, on this specific topic, and by the way, pack a lot of jokes in. People complain to me that they have to drive half an hour across town to get to a Dharma center. They want the center to be right around the corner from them, but still they may not come and that should be okay. Some say “You should tape it so I can listen to it later, but I am not going to transcribe it, and I am not going to do anything with the tapes, other people can do that! It is unbelievable how spoiled people are! They do not get any sympathy from me.
When I met the Dharma, I had to go halfway around the world to meet my teachers because there were zero Dharma centers where I lived! I had to quit my job and leave my family. I left them questioning what had happened to me and wondering if I had “flipped out again”. They thought I had calmed down and was going to do something sensible. My family was so shocked that I was going to live where there were no toilets that flushed, and I did. I lived in a place where there was no running water or flushing toilets!
I realize it was hard for all of you who came from Mexico. You worked for a long time in advance and had to pay a very expensive airfare. But you really put your energy into it, prepared for it over a period of years and you did it! Some of you who live closer by did something to be able to come to this retreat, which makes you value it. Keep this same kind of attitude for the rest of your Dharma practice, because then when you hear teachings, you will appreciate them, you will put them into practice.
I really feel that we have to put something out to get the Dharma. If we don’t put something out, if we do not have to give up some of our samsaric comfort and luxury, then we have no respect or feeling of gratitude for the Dharma. It is only when we have to really put ourselves out to receive the Dharma that it truly means something to us.
Sixth, think about vows before you take them and then take the level and the various kinds of vows that are appropriate for you, when they are appropriate, and do your best to keep them. Most people here have the pratimoksa individual liberation precepts, and those include your five lay precepts, or eight precepts, or novice ordination, or full ordination. Then there is the bodhisattva ordination, your tantric vows. We don’t keep them perfectly but this is exactly why we take them, because if we could keep them perfectly, we would not need to take them. Really see your precepts as your friends, and see them as helping you to not do what you have already decided you do not want to do. Don’t see your precepts or any kind of guidelines as something that is tormenting you or restricting you, because if you do, you are going to be miserable. Do not take them if you think you are going to be fighting them. But, if you really see them as something that is going to protect you, then they are so valuable and they keep you feeling connected to the Three Jewels.
When we take refuge, what is the first advice the Buddha gives us? It is the five lay precepts: so they keep us really connected in a very, very strong way. It does not matter if you can’t visualize very well or you are distracted in your meditation. If you are keeping your precepts, you have that very strong link and you really feel this in your heart. You feel this because there is some shift in how you are. After a while when others say that keeping precepts accumulates merit, you will know what it feels like.
For example: lying. What happens when we lie to other people? What are the effects and what happens to our relationships? What happens to our self-esteem, and what happens karmically? If we think about this then we really do not want to lie. Then, when you take a precept not to lie, the precept is extra added protection so that when we get into a situation where we are very tempted to lie, we have not only our own thought process that has decided we do not want to, but also we have made a promise to the Buddha. This really helps us and fortifies our determination.
Seventh, slow down and pay attention. This is really swimming upstream in America. Slow down so you really pay attention to what you are doing. Pay attention to what you are about to say and see if you need to say it. Pay attention to how you are moving through space. Are we clomping around because we are in a hurry? Are we angry or agitated so we are knocking against things and slamming doors? Are we showing our kindness through just the way that we walk by people and the energy we give off when we are near them? We all know how important body language is. Slow down and pay attention, and if you see in yourself that your body language is getting out of whack, ask yourself, “What is going on in my mind?” If you see that your speech is getting out of whack or you are unhappy, again question, “What is going on in my mind?” Really spend some time looking at it and pay attention. When you are happy look at that too. What brought this happiness on?
See how our happiness is dependent on external things and how interesting it is? I was watching the two types of happiness during this retreat. There is one kind of happiness, like my samsaric happiness, where there is a certain excited feeling inside of me. I just go zing! Like some kind of little kid – oh goody, oh goody, oh goody. Just to watch this I wonder what is going on, what am I getting so excited about? Is the happiness that comes through settling my mind? Is it working out an issue or letting it go? What is that, what does that feel like? What causes it? We are not just looking at when our mind is out of whack, we are looking at when our mind is quite balanced. How did we get to this balanced state and what can we do to nourish and keep it going?
Eighth, reflect on bodhichitta and emptiness as much as possible, not to mention renunciation. We really cannot do bodhichitta and emptiness if we don’t do renunciation. Bodhichitta is not just having a kind feeling towards someone. This is not bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is really wanting to attain enlightenment so that you can lead others out of samsara. You have to have a sense of renouncing your own samsara and renouncing others which means that we have to understand what samsara is. Reflect on bodhicitta, reflect on emptiness and really try and see yourself and others as just karmic bubbles. If reflecting on emptiness is too hard, then reflect on impermanence, on how everything is changing all the time. Sometimes this can get you to see how things lack a substantial entity.
Don’t think that bodhicitta is just smiling and being a nice person. It is much, much deeper. His Holiness says that when he was younger, he meditated a lot on emptiness, got some feeling for it, and then later he started meditating on bodhicitta. He said bodhicitta was a lot harder, to really see other sentient beings as wanting happiness as strongly as we want happiness. Or forgiving other sentient beings, really offering our heart to them. This is not an easy practice. We have to have a sense of our own suffering and compassion for ourselves, which is renunciation, and then try to open our hearts to others. We don’t wish to solve just one particular problem in their lives, what we really want is that they be free of all samsara.
It is good to wish others to be free of whatever problems they have right now but this is actually quite minor. We want to wish them to be free of all samsaric suffering. We may solve somebody’s problem now, but if they don’t learn about karma, how to avoid creating negative karma, how to purify their negative karma, or how to create good karma, then we have stopped one fire but another one is going to break out in two seconds. If we can’t help them with their present life problems, then think about how to help them with their future life problems. Sometimes, of course, people do not want to hear our suggestions about how they should stop creating negative karma. They will tell us off or get mad at us, but you have to keep the door open and make prayers for them. Do the taking and giving meditation. Do not just give up on them. Maybe you are the person that gives them the one dharma book that they read, maybe they hear his Holiness give one dharma talk and maybe they heard one mantra. Sometimes just planting the seed is the way to help living beings.
There are times that I think that it is easier with animals than with human beings, because when I used to go down to see the sheep, I could say a mantra to the sheep but I couldn’t say a mantra to the neighbors! But, there are many different ways that you can try and place input in human beings’ minds. I remember one time being at the beach with Rinpoche – he put his mala inside the sea anemones and they would close up around it. I think it was his way of making some karmic link with those sentient beings.
Ninth, really know the antidotes to afflictions and apply them. Even if it’s hard, keep on applying them because it gets easier with practice. Everything gets easier with familiarity. Even at the beginning, if it seems like your mind is not budging, just keep working with it. After my twenty-one month stint in Italy, I did four months of retreat. For the first few weeks of the retreat I was just furious because I was working with some macho Italian guys. Here I was sitting in my little hot room, just the mice and me, and I was furious, even with nobody else around. I was so unbelievably angry sitting there applying Shantideva. I was getting angrier every day so I would read Shantideva every night, then go back and get angry the next morning, and then I would read Shantideva again.
During one night of this retreat I was furious while trying to work with chapter six. But, I was able to sort of calm my mind down for a few minutes and got to the end of the meditation session. I took a break., and when I was having tea I was okay, but then I would sit down for the next meditation session and RAAA!!! This idiot! I was so furious again! It was very interesting because before I went to Italy, I didn’t think that I had a problem with anger. I thought, “Oh I get angry sometimes but I am kind of a fairly mellow person, I’m not too bad, I don’t get that angry. I don’t yell or scream and I don’t throw things. I do not have a problem with anger. I think this is why Lama sent me to work with those people.” If Lama had come to me and said, “Chodron, you have a problem with anger” I would have said, “No, Lama, I am okay.”
So, what did he do? He sent me to work with them. Of course I was totally innocent, completely compatible, easy to get along with, always kind, and everything was their fault. I was so thick. Even when I wrote to Lama that I wanted to leave, because he was the one who sent me there, I wrote: Dear Lama, I am not getting along very well with these people, they are making me create a lot of negative karma. All my negative karma is their fault. His response was: keep on applying the antidotes, keep on working with your mind, keep on doing the practice.
A person who comes to the Abbey, one of the people from Montana, has a slogan: just keep on showing up. She says this is what she has to do for every retreat, because if you show up, something gets in. You do some practice, you become more familiar, and you just keep on showing up to the Dharma and to yourself.
Along that line, train the antidotes before you need them. Do not just hear the teaching on anger and then wait until you get angry to go back and look at your notes and do the meditation. If you wait until you are in the middle of anger, your antidotes are going to be very weak. The same with attachment. If you wait until you are in the throws of attachment before you go back and meditate on the antidotes of attachment, it’s going to be so hard. Like going for your driving test when you have not done driver’s training. If you go for your driver’s test and you have to parallel park but you have not practiced parallel parking before, are you going to pass your driver’s test? No!
I learned to drive in a racetrack parking lot! They needed a big parking lot that was empty where the high school students could learn to drive. We learned to drive there because there was nothing much to hit. You got some familiarity with it so you could go take your driver’s test and pass. It is the same with the antidotes to afflictions. Practice them at home on your meditation cushion when nothing much is going on. We have lots of things from our past to practice with! I mean, I am sure we would not have to look very hard to find somebody that we are still holding a grudge against, somebody that we have not forgiven, that we can use to practice the antidotes to anger with. I know if we look around, there are lots of people or things that we can find that we are attached to. Practice the antidotes to attachment, jealousy or arrogance, with lots of things that have happened in your past. Just pull those things out and by practicing the antidotes to them, two things happen. One is, we clear up all that stuff from the past. Two, we get more familiar with the antidotes so that we are more prepared for the future.
This is what you have been doing these last three months. Keep doing it, it really works. Along that line, purify negative karma. This does not mean just saying mantra, it means really reflecting on our actions and purifying when we know that we have made a mistake. It involves the whole practice of the morning, generating our motivation to not harm, to help, and to aim for enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings. In the evening, reflect on what you did that day. Be honest with yourself and don’t beat yourself up. We can look and we will see, wow, I was angry at somebody, but I didn’t open my mouth and scream like I felt like doing. That’s good. Or, I was angry at somebody but I did not go to my room and sulk like I usually do. So this is good. You rejoice at that part of it, but you also realize, I am still angry so I need to do some purification and work with the antidote. Rejoice that you did not follow the old habit. Or you rejoice because you gave a bottle of ketchup to somebody. Whatever small or big thing it was, you rejoice about it.
Then when we do not measure up to our own expectations, it is okay, just learn. Make a determination for what you can do tomorrow, forgive yourself and go on. Try and receive teachings as much as you can and be fearless. Be really fearless, be confident, have a sense of your own Buddha nature and have confidence based on your Dharma practice. This gives you a certain kind of courage and fearlessness. The last thing is be kind to yourself and to everybody else. So, that is what came off the top of my head in response to your question. Other people may have some reflections or you may have some other things that come into your mind about this.
Audience: Somebody asked what you base your decisions on? How do you make difficult decisions in relationships as to what you are going to do, or difficult situations where you have given some advice. What is your criteria for making these decisions? I think a lot of folks, when they go back home or even here, have some important decisions they have to make if they are going to shuffle their priorities again. Could you speak about the criteria?
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): The criteria that I use for making decisions: first I ask myself and I outline what the various choices are and try to be really creative. In other words, don’t see it as either this or that, because then the mind just gets too extreme. It gets too black and white. So, what are the various choices? Some may be to create causes to go in the direction of that choice and that is okay. Then I think to what degree, in each of these options, would I be able to keep my precepts and keep good ethical behavior? To me that is the bottom line, because if I put myself in a situation where I am not going to be able to keep my precepts, and where I am not going to be able to keep good ethical behavior, then the base is gone. This is how I make principles work. It is like, where am I going to really be able to keep my precepts and live as an ethical being? That is number one.
Number two is, where am I going to be able to practice bodhicitta? What situation is going to be supportive of my bodhicitta practice? This involves situations that may involve whether I live near my teacher or near a group of Dharma people, or in a community. These are the kinds of criteria that I think are really important for decision making. In other words, not what is going to bring me the most happiness now or what is going to bring me the most material gain now, or how am I going to be famous and respected, but how will I be able to keep ethical discipline? How will I be able to practice bodhicitta? This is what I use and if you look at these two, there are so many causes we need to create to be able to do them that it branches out into a lot of different factors to consider when we are making decisions.
Audience: What am I going to do for the rest of my life is a very big question. So, yesterday when I saw that we were going to discuss this, I started thinking: in a way it could be an easy question to answer, because I would answer it realistically. Either I am going to really commit to what I say and keep it, or, I am going to say a lot of philosophical things and not really have anything to take back home. I would say that this is important for me because I am not a very practical or realistic person. I live most of my life with good hope and the intention to help others. But I am so idealistic that many things I thought I could do, have not happened. I have plans, practical plans, that I want to implement when I go back and at the same time, in my mind I think: am I really going to do that?
Venerable: Did you notice that when I discussed what is important for you to do with the rest of your life, practical plans were none of it? It was not: I am going to go here and do this job, or I am going go buy this, or I’m going to… What I think is important for the rest of our lives is to have a clear mind. When our mind is clear, the practical decisions fall into place. When our mind is not clear, we can make all the practical decisions we want to and things do not turn out very well, because it is a muddled mind making the decision. Did you notice what I said? I did not tell all of you I want you to go do this and do this and buy this or give away this, or have that, or meet this person or have a relationship with this person. The only person I told you to meet was His Holiness. I didn’t tell you what to do, did I? I told you what to think about because I am really a very firm believer that the more our own mind is clear about what our priorities are, what our values are, what’s important in our lives, then what to do is not a big decision. When our mind is not clear, it is so tormented because we want to make sure we are doing the right thing. If I do this, what happens? If I do that and not this, then years down the line I might have wished that I had done this instead of that. Maybe there is a third thing but I have to choose one of them and maybe, after five years, re-run my life and go back and do another one. After another five years, can I re-run again and do the third? After having done all of them, can I re-run again and live out which one was the best one?
You can’t live your life like that, can you? Doubting yourself and being so afraid of making the wrong decision – you would go totally bonkers! When we make a decision about what to do, we have to do it with as much clarity as we can and then just go ahead, without all this self-doubt, and have a practical way to work out how to do it. The important thing is to have a clear mind. What I see so much is when our minds are not clear, we are just living in our heads with a lot of idealistic daydreams and we aren’t sure if we know what we want. Do I want to be in a relationship with this kitty or not, or with this person or not? Do I want to live here, or don’t I? If you do not know, then don’t make a decision. Go back to your principles and what is important to you in your life. When you do the practical, stuff falls into place.
Audience: In the meditations when my mind got into a state of do this or do that and started pushing, I couldn’t get busy enough to do any of those things. It was very helpful to see that it would just drop away and gave some muscle memory for my whole. That when it’s like that out there, I can just watch that and not get all whipped up, just watch it and it’ll stop, it’ll calm down. I don’t have to get plugged into all that, so that was helpful.
Audience: What strikes me as being so significant is having a bigger view, it pushes my buttons because, in a sense, it feels really radical. I struggle with not taking care of myself. I do my morning practice and I can be involved in all kinds of virtuous activity, but at the end of the day if I’m exhausted my evening practice is sloppy. I lose my focus and then I’m not doing any good for anybody. It has this sort of spiraling result of not being effective. If I think about future lives, maybe I won’t go see a patient one night so that I can try to become a Buddha. But this is a radically different view and I get overwhelmed. I am not a strong person regarding my boundaries. There are so many people in need. There is no end to altruistic suffering and I need to deal with that. I just get sucked in and it is all great work.
VTC: This is why to do great work you have to make sure that you take care of yourself and your mind so that you are effective in doing that work. Sometimes I get into that too. I mean, all these people write to me with their problems, their this and their that, and I get into feeling like I’ve got to respond immediately or else they are going to fall apart. This retreat is the first time I told the webmasters if people write with their personal problems this year don’t forward it to me, tell them I am in retreat and to write back in March. Why? Because maybe they will find somebody else to help them with their problem, or maybe they will solve their own problem and if I accumulate this stack of people’s problems for three months, by the time I respond it may not be a problem anymore. In a way it was like being able to trust that if I’m not around, people will somehow find the resources they need. If I am the only person who can help then, you know bodhisattva vows: you’ve got to be there. But if there are other ways that people can find help, that is better.
Audience: Yes, I guess new behavior is what I’m looking at here.
VTC: Or maybe you can’t go and help them because there are so many, so you call them on the phone and you talk for five minutes. Sometimes what helps people the most is just to know that somebody else cares. It might just be a five-minute phone call that’s sufficient, but it’s good work you are doing. To keep doing it and not have compassion burn-out, you need to keep yourself balanced.,
By the way, for all this talk about balance, it is something that exists for a nano second, okay? Don’t think you’re going to get balanced and then remain so for the rest of your life. Keeping ourselves in balance is a lifelong thing. Why? Because the circumstances around us are changing all the time. Our own mind is changing all the time and different karmas are ripening all the time. It’s not like you get balance and live happily ever after. It’s kind of like somebody on ice skates or roller blades. You’re always trying to stay balanced and you just learn to flow with it, move with it.
Audience: Like spinning a plate that you keep adjusting to keep it up there so it stands.
VTC: Yes, you keep adjusting and to do that you have to slow down and pay attention. It’s like trying to find solid balance or find this solid out of balance, instead of the fluidity in it.
Audience: This happened maybe around 1990 or somewhere in the early 90’s when I was visiting my brother, who is a doctor, and while we were talking one day he asked, “Where do you want to be in your life ten years from now?” He was expecting me to give him some concrete practical plan and I said, “Ross, I want to be a kinder person in ten years and I want to be wiser.” I just kind of talked like that and he said, “Don’t you want to have your own dharma center where you are the person in charge and everybody comes to you?” I said “No, not particularly” and that was that. It’s quite interesting how things have evolved in my life.
Audience: One thing I thought about, that keep going day by day, that was what I was going to finish saying. Just going, just trying to be, day by day, and see how circumstances are developing for me, to take decisions and move. If I plan too much, I force. I get tense, and I want. The other thing I thought we learned about in three months, we have some habits we learned. The little things I observed in me in other situations. I see that the retreat is ending, and we are, like, the retreat is ending so we are not as aware as we were in the beginning. I think that it’s easy to start even to drop some things that we kept because we were forced to keep it within the choice available.
Audience: When I go back I would like to make a daily practice with the habits I have learned. I will try to continue getting up early so it will become natural. Before the retreat I was staying up late into the night and not getting up until late in the morning. I feel different now. I would like to find out what is going to help me to keep these habits. What will help me is to go day by day and learn what is going to be and to see what I can do because I have developed some skills. All of my life I have worked in television, radio, theater and music. I feel like my scope is in communication. I thought, if these are the skills I have, then how can I be useful to society? I can find out how to do some work in the community, to be helpful and useful. I really feel I can do something else instead of all the things I liked to do before. But maybe it’s going to take time or I won’t really be able to be useful.
Audience: One of the most important lessons is to take care always, without expectations or praise or needing to have retribution. Before I came here, I was engaged in a very difficult situation with a nephew who helped me. It was a very bad situation, and because of my emotional state and physical reactions I almost lost the opportunity to come here. I kept the decision to be here because I thought it was not possible to compromise. Our ego is looking for praise, it’s looking for song. I learned here that this does not protect me and is very dangerous,
Audience: For me, I think the thing I learned was a clearer skill about watching what my mind is doing. About the introspective alertness that really builds. This is what I want to make sure to keep hold of.
Audience: The things I have learned are practical, like keeping the altar very clean and caring for it in detail. Also, to learn more about what the altar means and its value. And this is difficult for me, but to be punctual and on time for everything I do. The emotional part is to be aware that things change a lot, they are not solid and it is possible to find out that not every situation is going to be the way you conclude. I think we don’t believe we can be a Buddha. We see a person who wants to be a Buddha and consider them to be pretentious. I really want to work slowly to assimilate, and it’s very interesting to feel someday I could find the bliss of emptiness. That would be the best, most beautiful place in my life, so why not believe in that?
Audience: For me the most important habit is the habit of practice. Now when I think about doing two sessions a day, one and a half hours each, I feel like why not, it’s so easy? Before, it was almost unthinkable. Today I feel like just two sessions? Waking up at four? What? No problem. I think I was talking to someone about my practice in relation to my daily activities. If I was too busy then my practice was short in the morning or at night. Now, my priority is to reorganize my life in terms of my practice. I’m very serious about waking up at the same time, doing my practice in the morning and at night. I will find time for my work and now it looks easy, like, why not? But before it was very complicated. I will really try.