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What are your non-negotiables?

What are your non-negotiables?

Part of a series of teachings and discussion sessions given during the Winter Retreat from December 2005 to March 2006 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • What are your “non-negotiables”?
  • The freedom of renunciation
  • Having too many options and physical freedom can be confusing

Vajrasattva 2005-2006: Q&A #7 (download)

This discussion session was preceded by a teaching on the 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas, Verses 16-21.

Exploring non-negotiables

I asked you a couple of weeks ago to look at what your “non-negotiables” are. Did you do that? What did you come up with? First of all, did everybody do that?

Audience: A few. It’s more difficult that you think.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Why don’t we just go around in a circle and everyone can share what they came up with for their “non-negotiables.”

Audience: I decided that being here at the Abbey is getting to be more and more of a non-negotiable for me. I’ve also found that having animals and critters in my life, also, as far as my connection to them and caring for them. If it wasn’t here, I think I’d probably find someplace else to care for them. Being outside is a non-negotiable for me. I do not thrive if I do not have that in my life. I have to be honest to say that my practice is definitely deepening during this retreat, but what happens if I go out into the world by myself, to say that the Dharma is becoming a non-negotiable—I’d like to be able to say that someday, but I think it’s still got some vulnerability around it. I think serving my teacher is starting to work into a non-negotiable. It’s having some feeling around it—it’s moving in that direction. I have to get out of the way, however—I think my pride and my sensitivity and my need to be acknowledged have got to get out of the way if I want to do that in the proper way. But I feel a little bit of that coming up, that it might be a non-negotiable.

Audience: Mine are so worldly. The first thing I thought of was really beautiful music. It would be hard for me to give up beautiful sounds, all different kinds of music. My practice is non-negotiable: I will do that everyday. Some movies would be non-negotiable…. I’m very picky about what, but some of them. That’s what I came up with so far.

VTC: Relationships?

Audience: Hmm. Relationships…. “Come, come, go, go,” I think. I don’t have a strong feeling for relationships.

VTC: By the way, when I say “relationships,” I mean all kinds of relationships with people in our lives.

Audience: I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought, but what’s popped into my mind sitting here is that I can only see 6-8 months of non-negotiables. The only thing that popped into my head is receiving teachings. That’s non-negotiable.

VTC: It would be fine if all the people in your life just disappeared, and your wealth disappeared?

Audience: I think so…. I’ll have to look at that. I don’t know.

Audience: To be sincere, I haven’t thought too much about it this week. Now I would say that relationships…. I’ve been thinking about my brothers: they are not really anymore my brothers. We don’t relate too much as a family, and I don’t really need to be with them because I am their brother. But I felt some anguish, and still some dependence of being a member of the family. At the same time, now I am not in a relationship with a woman, but this has been one of my difficult questions: can I be by myself, happy, and calm, and doing my things, whether or not there is a person [in an intimate relationship] with me? I haven’t solved this problem yet. For about ten years I’ve been trying to find it out and feel calm with myself about it, and I haven’t resolved it, actually. I feel kind of lonely in this way.

Audience: When I first thought about this a few weeks ago, my first thought was something about environment and space, and I realized that I’ve always lived in beautiful places, and how much I value that: especially to have open air, fresh air, clean air, etc. And then, I think it was the same week the power went out in the multi-purpose room, and Jan said she would have to move a couple of guys into my room, and I would have to move, and I felt myself going, “No! That’s my space!” But the more I thought about it, I remembered about five years ago when my non-negotiable was organic food: I decided I would only buy organic food; that was my [then] non-negotiable. Then when I moved to another place that didn’t have organic food, I had to give that up. So now I feel like any of those physical things [organic food, space, etc.], if I was in an extreme situation, I could give up—because people have to do that all the time e.g. when they lose their health, or they’re put in prison, or whatever it is. So now, I guess I feel that my only real non-negotiable is to have the time and the support to practice the Dharma, and to learn the Dharma. And that includes Dharma friends.

Audience: I haven’t really thought about it much, but one thing I’ve noticed that’s changed is everything used to revolve for me around work or whatever I’m doing. My Dharma practice supported work and that’s the way it should be, but it gets confusing. What I’m trying to say is, it should be the other way around. The most important thing is my practice but I don’t think I function like that. I do this [Dharma practice] but it’s second to work and sustaining myself. I’m realizing that this is backwards. I’m not sure I’m making myself clear…. I don’t have control over anything. I can feel that. Right now I want to stay connected with my kids and granddaughter. I don’t know what that looks like; I don’t have any control over it. I can see that. Actually it’s been helpful to see equanimity and work with equanimity. It’s not just ‘my kids’ but it’s all sentient beings in different lives. It’s kind of interesting actually. I feel right now on retreat that health care is something that’s non-negotiable. I need to have health care. I think I can do whatever in terms of doing without this or that. But I have really thought about it deeply. The practice piece is interesting though because I had it backwards, really backwards. I realize that that post-meditation session is the rest of my life! That’s big. That’s all I have to say.

Audience: I think that in my life the thing that has been most important is freedom. Those things that give me this sensation to be free, to choose, to think, to act. Many times this purpose was very, very confused. I thought that in these [past] activities I would find freedom, but the result was the opposite. I was totally confused and engaged in a very bad situation that had nothing to do with freedom. But now freedom for me is exactly the Dharma, to think, to stop it, to practice, to taste the Dharma, to be with my Dharma friends, to be with my teachers. Nowadays one of the most important things for me is this relationship with the Dharma. But of course, my family, but my relationship with my family is very free in the sense that I love them; I help them when I can, but I keep my freedom to do the things I need to do. The same with my friends. Nowadays this gives me the sensation of unbelievable freedom. So finally I have found this.

Audience: Mostly I thought about my conclusion. I’ll say it first. My conclusion was to follow the instructions of the teacher. I was thinking about my family a lot with this question. The things that kind of came to mind. I pondered things like activities of the body; how much exercise you need in a day. That used to be a non-negotiable for me: being very active. A lot of things that have been non-negotiable don’t feel that way anymore. I remember last year when we did this question, my non-negotiable was, and still is, my commitments, my Dharma commitments. I was thinking that that’s still there. I was thinking about the situation that come up with me moving here and the relationship with my family. It’s like a conflict; they want me to do one thing with my life it seems at this point, which is kind of funny to me actually. I’m not doing that. That’s the way it’s going to be. [laughter] I have thought about it the first month of the retreat. I thought about my responses and interactions about this and how I could do things a little differently that would be helpful. The mistakes I’ve made that have made it harder for them and how to make that easier. That’s kind of what I thought about when I thought about this question.

Audience: I’ve been turning this one over a lot. One thing that’s really surprised me I think is that there’s a really strong wish to do the Chenrezig Retreat next year; figure out a way to do that, either supporting it or being able to do it. So that’s one thing. Related to that is my family; being kind to them I think is very important to me. It’s becoming more important to me. Especially my grandparents because I think everyone’s realizing that they won’t be around much longer, and for me there’s a desire just to repay that kindness as much as I can before they pass away. I made a list. It’s kind of like a spectrum. You mentioned finances at one point and I hadn’t thought about that, but I have a reasonable amount of financial independence at this point, and I guess I’d like to hold on to that, to be very honest! [laughter] I think one of my biggest attachments is kids, my old kids from the high school [where I taught]. I miss them a lot and having that kind of rapport in my life, just being around kids and teaching. I’m actually back in high school quite a bit [in my sessions]. I don’t know. I’d like to be around that in some capacity—I’m still working on what that means. I still don’t even really know why—I think it’s an attachment and an aspiration both, I don’t know.

Audience: Since I met the Dharma, my perspective has been changing very much. I’m at a point right now where everything, basically, is negotiable. So I’m thinking that now freedom is something very, very important. I have a very strong attachment, for instance, to my family, but right now everything is negotiable.

Audience: I was thinking a little bit about this. I’ve been thinking in my meditation, and it’s been changing. At the very beginning of the retreat, it was like everything was very clear, “Good old me is here doing this retreat, I am this person, and I will go back to the same way, doing the same thing….” And right now, it’s like, I really don’t know who I am, and I don’t know what will happen when I go back! So everything is very open right now.

I talk a lot about my dreams; I have a lot of dreams. I had a dream that I was getting out of this front door here, and after the retreat I felt very different, very young, and my feeling was that I had new eyes, and everything was new. So that is my feeling: I am going back to the same place, the same things, but I don’t know what I am going to find….

Even though I feel that way, I am quite certain that some things won’t change, because I have very strong commitments: for instance, with my spouse, my city, my Dharma group, with my family, so I am sure—I have to be honest, I am not coming to Sravasti Abbey to be a monastic, for instance. I want to stay where I am. For me, something very important is to go where the Dharma is for teachings—but I want to take it to my place. I want to work there, I want to do the Dharma publishing house, to buy property and make a retreat center—to do many things where I live. So it doesn’t make sense to go anywhere else. That’s one of my conclusions. On the other hand, the things that I am very attached to, that were very strong, I think they are still very strong, like watching movies. I am multi- functional, and all over the place all the time!

Audience: I have spent five sessions trying to figure out my non-negotiables. At first, I read about attachment, and then I thought that I want to live in a comfortable place. Always. Then I thought, “Wow. If I want to move where the Dharma is taught, I don’t know where I’m going to live!” Then I thought, “the place has to be clean, with flowers, and a lot of window treatments…. This is non-negotiable!” [laughter] And then I thought, “with music, DVDs, and movies. And a bookcase filled with my Dharma books. So, flowers, books, music, and movies—that’s all I need!” [laughter] Then, “I’m going to live next to a monastery (I don’t know which one) and take classes with my teachers every day.”

And then—I’m working with attachment: And what I am attached to? Attached to flowers, to music, to movies…. ”No, no, no, this is too worldly. What is non-negotiable? I can negotiate the flowers—maybe to have just one flower.” [laughter]

Then a few days later, I was reading the Lamrim about the hell realms. It was so scary. Then I thought, “Wow! Everything is negotiable—what is non-negotiable is that I have to be a human being in the next life. That’s what I have to work for!” Then everything changed. I didn’t want anybody—my spouse, family, nobody—I didn’t want the chains for all my life. I didn’t want to have chains here [in human realm]. E.g. if I’m going there and I feel like somebody is pulling me, attached to me, wanting me to do this and that, I don’t think I want to do that. “This is our only chance we have to do Dharma!”

I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I have to have the freedom to do what I think is right to do. And then I want to move to where the Dharma is taught—that is something I really want to do. But I don’t want anybody to be attached to me; it’s because of that attachment I cannot move! No. I have to cut it. And if I am attached to something or somebody, I have to cut this attachment. I have seen this attachment so clearly: attachment to my comfort, to this ‘I’ that doesn’t exist! I don’t know anything anymore—just that.

VTC: That’s good. The more you don’t know, the better your retreat is going. [laughter] The more you realize that you don’t know—especially what you said, really seeing the bonds of attachment. Attachment is like chains, either us being attached to somebody else, or if other people are attached to us, and then we feel attached back, or we feel guilty, or we feel restrained because of their attachment to us—it’s bonds, it’s like handcuffs.

Audience: And you have to do the thing they want because you are a Buddhist! They have a lot of expectations.

VTC: This is actually in regard to what another Retreatant said who asked: “what’s the difference between being kind to somebody and doing what they want?” That’s what you’re saying too. We’re kind of equating being kind and doing what somebody wants. Are they the same? What’s the difference between being kind and doing what somebody wants? Because if you can be real clear about the difference, then other people’s expectations and attachments don’t trap you. This is related to what a few of you were saying.

Audience: I really love the whole thing about freedom. What we conceptualize as men or women, or Americans about freedom, and what true freedom is. It’s like this question that you ask people: what really is happiness for you? What is freedom for us? This would probably have some interesting answers too. I never thought of the Dharma of being something around freedom—I see liberation, but freedom has a different feeling for me.

VTC: I think it’s called “How to Free Your Mind.” There’s a reason! [laughter] It was very beautiful, what R. said about freedom.

Audience: Once the mind gets turned away from the resistance to letting go of the attachments, and letting go of how we see ourselves, because there’s a real investment in that. When you see the freedom, that you actually do have these choices, then all these possibilities open up. It definitely requires the mind to do this 180 degree turn: it’s not what you’re losing, what you’re missing. It’s more about “I don’t know what’s going to happen….” Freedom is turning your mind totally around, looking at the same circumstances and situation, but looking at it differently.

Audience: We need to be able to see all the possibilities, and not get stuck on one or two.

Letting go of control

Audience: But a lot of that has to do with letting go of control.

VTC: Letting go of control, letting go of attachment.

Audience: And the eight worldly concerns.

VTC: Yes.

Audience: I agree with what was said about freedom. And longing for freedom is really nice, but right now, what I see in my mind, is that I am not in control. It [my mind] goes wherever it wants. For instance, this thing with attachment and the emotions—it is so clear, and you are seeing everything—and there is nothing you can do but relax, work on it, reflect, and see all the connections. But it is there, and it is not really moving. So, one of my conclusions is that the retreat is just the beginning: I really have to practice. I really have to purify. Because what is most striking for me is to think that everything was there—I was just not seeing it! It has been working the whole time.

VTC: Yes….

Audience: I am sure that when I go back home I will cover it up again. [laughter] But I think I will remember, and it’s quite scary, because I really couldn’t do anything. I ‘ve had some experiences that I won’t relate because they’re very embarrassing, but my mind sticks to these things. It won’t move. It doesn’t matter what I do. I can jump, and cry, and scream—it won’t move. It literally has taken four or five days for it to let go. And I think it is still around, but my mind just found something else go grab onto…. [laughter] I feel like my mind grabs something, lets go, and it loosens for a little, and then it picks up something else—it is very, very strong! I can’t do anything. To really take control of the situation, it will take a while. So this freedom for me—I am not free right now to do anything.

For me, then, the commitment thing is very important. Before I became your student formally a few years ago, my practice was very loose. I actually didn’t know how to practice—I was practicing this and that, and trying this and that, and then I found out that regular practice, being consistent, and persevering, is very rewarding. But now I know that what I was doing before was nothing compared to this. So this is why I say that I don’t know what’s going to happen afterwards. After this atomic bomb, who knows?

The last thing is that it will take lots of work to get rid of that [stubborn mind]. The image in my mind is of a very, very strong structure. It is there. Maybe it is not inherently existent, and it can be removed, but it is very strong and very clear, so let’s find out how to remove it, because it is there.

VTC: It was very interesting to hear you say at the beginning, “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what’s going to happen—but I’m going back home, I’m living in the same house, with my spouse, and I’m doing the Dharma group, and I’m doing my job, and I’m doing this, and I’m doing that….” [laughter] It was like the door opened, and then the door—wham! [VTC claps hands together].

Audience: I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t see it that way, because for me, having my job is really great: I can be here. I’m not thinking about giving it up. It’s great. I really love where I live, so I would go to many places, but I love living where I live, and I really want to do what I’m doing. For instance, my Dharma group: I love it. I don’t want to go somewhere else to live close to some other teacher. Because I would like to be there and bring the teachings to where I live. For me, I don’t feel it like a contradiction. I don’t know what’s going to happen, because when I go back, I don’t know what I’m going to find, but right now I really want to go back and do what I was thinking about doing. Some things I want to do, some things maybe will change. But I don’t see it as a contradiction. Let’s see what happens….

Audience: I am very worried about this. I feel like the previous Retreatant feels, a bit out of control. What happened in the last two days, I feel worried because this is too much pain for me. It has been very painful. I wanted to find the Dharma and find spirituality and be of good to others, but I didn’t think it was going to be so painful! [laughter] My god! It’s been very, very painful. I wanted to comment on this.

For the first time, I had a difficult experience, and I thought, “I’m purifying this karma.” So then I said “thank you.” I felt like I was dying! I don’t want to dramatize it, but it was so strong, this anxiety of dying, of losing myself completely, and not being of worth to anybody, and not being able to control things. Last night was the most difficult night, but at the same time, I learned to think about purification. I remembered what you told me, and I learned something. I really felt that I could not control the anxiety and the pain, but I felt, “what if I let it happen without control?” Then the emotional level came down. Now I have to remember when something like that comes up so strong, I can just let go, or what you said, step back. And then let things happen. This is the first time I came to be a bit more relaxed.

VTC: Good, very good.

Audience: It was a very important lesson for me. I think I’m starting to care about me. I’ve had problems with anxiety, when I felt I couldn’t breathe, but I just tried to follow your advice, and it was much easier at the end of the session. It helps to keep practicing! I learned that, too. [laughter] I also had a bad dream, and I reacted very strongly to it. I realized then, that it was the mind that makes the body respond so strongly. I had a thought, and I couldn’t control it. I’ve had blood pressure problems, and pills to help me with them, but the thought—the thought is so strong, and I think it causes a lot of my problems.

VTC: You’re learning a lot!

Audience: I want to stop the pain! [laughter]

VTC: You are. You’re in the process of doing it. You are. You did very well last night, you handled it well, you learned a lot of things from it. You’re in the process of doing that.

Audience: I am very grateful to be here.

Audience: I had something to say about some comments from before about control. I certainly have felt—or, I am realizing I don’t have control over my mind or my body either. That’s been interesting to observe what I do with that. I often take refuge in my attachment. This is where attachment comes up. It’s like, I’m out of control: if I make PLANS that will put me back in control. [laughter]

Actually, when we did the dispelling hindrances, I imagined this engineer side of me trying to plan out every last thing I’m going to do with my life—it didn’t work; it [this planning mind] is still here. I thought about it, and tried to think about Refuge: what are those plans and what else could I be taking Refuge in? With the attachment, there is such a sense of solidity, and that’s being undercut when the sense of control isn’t there. I’ve been trying to turn my mind more towards Refuge.

VTC: There’s a security issue, too. You know, when one makes plans: I know who I am, I know what I am doing, I’m secure here, in samsara! [laughter]

Audience: Each week or so, I think, this is it! This is the one [my life plan]! And then I’m like, “no, no, I know this isn’t it,” but then today, I thought, “I’ve got it! This is great! Now I can just not worry for the rest of the retreat.” So, absolutely, it’s a real question of control and lack of control, and security and lack of security.

VTC: It would be interesting for you, in your meditation, when that comes up, to stop the mind from planning. Push the pause button on that. Don’t let the mind take refuge in planning. See what happens. See if you can relax.

Audience: When I was seeing all those things, that everything is negotiable, I realized the inspiration that the teacher gives me was my practice. If I don’t have that, uh-uh, I won’t be able to do too much. The life goes, so that’s why I have to have that.

Renunciation unlocks attachment

Audience: In the meeting yesterday, one Retreatant talked about how when you’re feeling crummy or when you’re feeling good … how we tend to turn our energy in more when we’re feeling crummy. Then sometimes we get extroverted when we’re feeling good. We can turn that in also. It’s a suggestion for the group. I was thinking about that in terms of renunciation. What does it feel like. I was thinking of the prayer, “day and night unceasingly” [from the Three Principles by Lama Tsongkhapa] because I do that prayer every session six times a day in Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Dharma. It’s kind of like a renunciation-bodhicitta little prayer. So I contemplate that the way I structure my contemplation-motivation. The prayer says ‘induce’—basically you’re trying to induce in your mind renunciation. Sometimes if things are crazy, out of control, I can relate to R completely. It’s easier to go there [to renunciation]. You feel like the suffering is strong so I want out of here [samsara]. Then when you’re not feeling that, you have to generate it [feeling of renunciation-bodhicitta]. So that I can understand. Then I wondered how true is it? If you’re going to have this feeling of renunciation 24-7 all your mind states have to have it, this sense of renunciation … all your mind states.

VTC: I think this relates to the whole thing about freedom, because when there’s renunciation in the mind then attachment doesn’t have a hold; either our own attachment isn’t running the show or our own attachment isn’t hooking into other peoples’ attachment to us: people are attached to us then we’re attached to them: e.g. “I got to do what they want me to do.” I feel guilty if I don’t. This kind of thing. Renunciation is just unlocking all of that because the mind’s so clear when there’s renunciation about what’s important and what’s not important. You’re just doing what’s important and you’re happy and relaxed about it because your mind isn’t sitting there tormented with, “I should be doing this and why aren’t I doing that? Maybe I made the wrong decision and I should have done this. No, maybe this was the right decision.” You’re mind’s just free of all that.

Audience: So the aversion to unpleasant experiences is like the feeling of suffering, so that’s not actually renunciation.

VTC: With renunciation the aversion is toward dukkha, the dukkha of samsara. It’s not just towards unpleasant experiences because everybody has that, even people who don’t practice the Dharma! Nobody likes unpleasant experiences. But it’s seeing dukkha very clearly and just saying, “I don’t want to go there. Doesn’t have any purpose.” Then all of a sudden there’s so much freedom in the mind. People say this, people say that. “That’s nice. I can listen.” But you don’t get confused by it.

Audience: That’s the way I was taught about renunciation, that it means Freedom. Freedom from everything that causes suffering, either now or in your future lives. So you’re choosing freedom from your own suffering, and whatever level of vows you take, every one of those vows is helping you with that. To me it’s the same word: renunciation is freedom, freedom from your own suffering. E.g. Whenever I drive to town I was realizing recently, I don’t even think about stopping at a bar. I was realizing all the things I don’t even consider that I use to consider when I was in my craving [non-renunciation] mind: e.g. “where can I go next and get a fix of something, some simulation.” All the things I no longer consider because of the vows. I do look at the espresso house however! But I don’t ever think about bars or pancake houses or ice cream parlors or whatever. All those things that used to fill me up temporarily.

VTC: So there’s more freedom in the mind, isn’t there?

Audience: Yeah, there’s not all this “oh should I stop there; should I not stop there.” Just go and come back. Very simple. Very clear.

Audience: Part of my misunderstanding is that I think I’m making a choice when the craving mind arises. That when I go by e.g. the espresso stand or go by the ice cream parlor I’m making a choice. To some extent I am, but it’s actually the craving mind and the attachment to that sense pleasure that’s driving the choice that I’m making! I give myself a lot more credit that what I have going on in my mind at the time. Because I’ve watched—and I agree that ever since being here at the Abbey and not having the ‘fixes’ that I’m normally used to having—To some extent when I get into my distracting mind, I can see where my mind used to go when I got in cars, getting those sense pleasures and getting those distractions of friends and calling on the phone, etc. But here at the Abbey, I’ve had this gracious withdrawal without having to go cold turkey. Now I don’t even think about the things that used to come up in my mind that I used to say were ‘given constitutional rights’ that I could have: e.g. going to the movies and pancake house and calling my friends on the phone and talking for hours. I don’t even miss them! And ironically, that was the biggest fear when I came here and I told Venerable, “I’m afraid of losing my autonomy; my ability to make a choice to leave—to go to town and go out with a friend.” And it’s been almost two years and I hardly ever think about those things. I had all this charge around loosing these things that I thought was some sort of sacrifice that I was not going to be able to make. And now, it’s like I rarely want to leave; I just would rather be here. When I do [those things], then I enjoy myself and it doesn’t have that kind of craving of ‘let me out of here’ sort of feeling. It’s more like I want to share a friendship or whatever. The misunderstanding is that we can’t live without certain things in our life. I think the whole point about those non-negotiables is that they are negotiable. And replacing them with things that really feed you, rather than just the saltwater that you take in a glass.

VTC: Yes, that’s the whole point, they are negotiable.

Audience: Why when we offer the mandala, why are we giving the objects of attachment, aversion and ignorance? Why are we giving those?

VTC: Because when you give them then they aren’t there for you to hold onto. If you give you’re objects of attachment to the Buddha what are you going to say, “Buddha I want them back?” Especially people that you are attached to, if you think about it, aren’t they better off under the Buddha’s care? Isn’t it better to offer the people you’re attached to to the Buddha? And let them go in our mind instead of thinking “hold onto me, I’ll save you”? So that whole thing in the mandala offering, of offering and the visualization you do of offering your body, and how your body becomes different parts of the mandala. Again, it’s this whole thing because whatever you give then it’s no longer there for you to cling to. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. In our monastic vows we’re only technically allowed thirteen different possessions, you know, our three robes, and a needle, a bathing cloth, a strainer, and our bowl and these kinds of things, but whatever you use—because you live in a community and you use many things—then you think “this doesn’t belong to me”. So then the mind doesn’t cling to it, but you also feel a sense of responsibility because it belongs to the community. So if I break it, it’s not just me throwing away my own personal stuff, it’s like “this is community”. So it changes your relationship with how you relate to the objects around you because you’ve given them. That’s why in the Bodhisattva practice it says, you know, because we’re always talking about giving our objects of attachment and when you do six-session guru-yoga you’re giving your body and possessions and abode and three-time virtues and just everything you give—then it’s not there to be attached to.

Physical freedom causing confusion

Audience: I’ve been trying to offer my future to the Buddha. And I’m still working on that.[laughter] Presumably it’s better in His hands than in this anxious mind, in my hands.

VTC: You should just, every session have somebody else worry for you. [laughter] “Please worry for me. Please plan my future.”

Audience:It’s almost like you get these precious human rebirths, and have these eighteen freedoms and fortunes, and sometimes it looks like we have so much precious human rebirth that we are confused about the possibilities.

VTC: Thinking about the people who come here, is they have so many things to do in their life or they could do, that it’s very hard for them to stay put and stay focused. So often it’s the ‘31 Flavors mind’, except now it’s in Dharma. You know trying the 31 Flavors of Dharma and going around, because there are so many options and so many teachers and so many places and you have money and all you do is get a ticket and go there and you can live there. You spend one retreat planning what course you’re going to take after that one. And then you spend that course planning the retreat you’re going to do after the course! [laughter]

Sometimes I think too much physical freedom is not good for us. I mean, we have to have enough freedom to choose, but I see now people have so much freedom they get confused. When I started noticing that was after my first Dharma course when I went into the grocery store. I was so confused. I find grocery stores tremendously confusing, because there are so many things you can choose from. In those years in India there were milk bickeys and that was it! Now there are even more cookies in India to choose from. It gets confusing when you have a lot of things to choose from. I was thinking, in old Tibet, there weren’t so many things to choose from: people made a decision, and then it was so much easier to stick with it, because the mind wasn’t always going.

When I went to MABA, there was one young man who came to live with us. From the day he got there, he was on the internet looking at other monasteries and dharma centers where he could go. And every time he went to another place, he would be unhappy with it, and start looking for other places to go. Sometimes our mind is just like that. Too much physical freedom sometimes can bring confusion.

Audience: When we were young, we had three TV channels, and we enjoyed it a lot! Now we have 200, and no one enjoys television anymore. There are too many things to see!

Audience:You spend one hour just to see what’s on.

VTC: Exactly!

Audience: And you don’t feel calm when you’re watching it.

VTC: Right: What can I get that’s going to give me the most happiness? So we’re not satisfied with anything—we’re looking for the better thing. It’s the same thing of the grass is greener on the other side of the meditation hall. The mind does the same thing. Somebody wrote this last week, and was saying that they really understood how important commitment was: I thought, “Wow! This person is getting it.” That’s what really deepens, when we can really commit to something.

Audience: Related to this, with the people who shop for our food and supplies: it’s actually easier for them when we specify which brand of toothpaste or whatever, because otherwise it’s too confusing for them: there are so many choices!

VTC: Right, how we think “the more choice, the more happiness.” Not true.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.