Applying the teachings

Applying the teachings

Part of a series of teachings given during the Winter Retreat in November 2007 and from January to March 2008 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Practicing equanimity to work with the reaction to criticism
  • Fear as an underlying motivating force
  • The fear that arises when looking at emptiness
  • Can praying change an external situation?
  • Being aware in the moment
  • How can I become more mindful of physical actions?
  • What is the purpose of the Medicine Buddha visualization?
  • How can you start untangling the tangled knot of afflictions?
  • Dealing with a confused mind
  • How do you bring in the suffering of others into the Medicine Buddha practice?

Medicine Buddha retreat 2008: 04 Q&A (download)


Take a moment and cultivate your motivation.

Recognize our good fortune in being able to do retreat and the kindness of other sentient beings who are keeping us alive while we’re doing retreat, those who are growing the food that we are eating, cooking, serving it, and cleaning up after us. The people who built the place where we’re doing the retreat, the people who made our clothes, really think how many people are directly benefiting us, just in this one short time in our lives when we are able to do retreat. So how many people are involved in benefiting us our entire lives, and then the countless beings who have been involved in helping, aiding, assisting us, and benefiting us throughout infinite beginningless lifetimes. So, really feel yourself being the recipient of so much care, attention and kindness and benefit from others.

Resident of the Abbey, Carl, and Venerable Tarpa in the Abbey kitchen.

We have so much and we receive so much in this interconnected web of kindness. (Photo by Sravasti Abbey)

So change your self image from somebody who is lacking this and lacking that, has this bad circumstance and that problem. Change that self image to see that we have so much and we receive so much in this interconnected web of kindness. Then generate the wish to repay that kindness by progressing on the path to enlightenment, so that you’ll have the full wisdom, compassion and skill to be able to best benefit yourself and all others.

So, we’ve completed two weeks of retreat. We began on new moon and it is now full moon. How is everybody doing? [laughter]

Audience: I am doing well, Venerable.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): So we have nothing to talk about? You’re doing well? Wait two more weeks. I’m joking. What’s coming up in your meditation? Maybe not everybody’s doing well.

Transforming the idea to control others

Audience: I’d like to share something that happened that’s really quite good. I am working on a project that’s a collaboration and I have to show the others what I have done and let them have at it. I was getting really angry about it and I remember you saying an antidote, but I couldn’t separate myself from the story. So I asked myself what it would be like to receive their feedback and not get angry or worry that it will create a lot more work for me. So I imagined myself not getting angry, I just rewrote the story. So I am not anxious or angry anymore about it.

VTC: So when you’re working on something, you’re considering that other people are going to give you feedback. And you’re writing this whole anxious, angry story about how they’re not going to like this and they’re not going to like that, and they’re going to tell me to change this and do that differently after I have put in all this effort. And your mind is in union oneness with the story. So what you did is you tried to back off and imagine yourself receiving their criticism with equanimity. It worked. Sometimes we get so stuck on the image of ourselves; the only way I can respond to feedback is number one, to consider it criticism, and not just criticism of my work, but personal criticism, criticism of me. It seems that’s the only possible way to consider these things. And number two, when I’m personally criticized, the only possible way to react is to get angry. And number three, when I see the situation coming, the only possible way to deal with it is to get anxious. And so the mind was putting you in a box. And what you saw was that you could take yourself out of the box.

Audience: Before that thought, I was trying to control the situation and was going to try to manipulate them to only give just so much feedback. And I kept thinking how to keep them from criticizing my work and I had the perfect story to get them to back off. And then I saw that I was already suffering from trying to set the parameters and then I knew I couldn’t control them anyway.

VTC: It’s interesting, when we have that thing like, okay, I’ll set the parameters and they can give me feedback about this, but not about that. And so we’re trying to control the situation. But when we’re trying to control it like that, our mind is still not very peaceful. For us to control it means that they have to do what we want only and, of course, they’re not. But when you just let go, then your mind goes, “okay.” That’s very good. Then you see what real Dharma practice is like. Then it’s not just something you read about thought transformation, think this, think that and the other thing. It’s not just a formula, but you’re practicing it in a real live situation in your life and seeing that it works when you do that. Good.

Fear of understanding emptiness

Audience: Venerable, I have stumbled into a place of recognizing how enormous fear is as an underlying motivating force for me and I think maybe for everybody. Partly I have been looking at the things that scare me and stop me. But mostly as I have been thinking about what refuge really is and how I have wanted refuge to be something solid. And if I meditate more and more on the emptiness of myself, my body and this whole situation, I am beginning to think that refuge actually means learning to work with the fact that nothing is solid and that really is terrifying. It was very helpful to do some tonglen with this fear. Is that fear the self-grasping, the fundamental fear of everything—that fear of not being? I see I want to find something I can put a hand on to support my self.

VTC: Yes, that’s it. You are talking about fear of just everything, trying to make the world manageable and controllable and everything like that. That’s why when we were talking about the three kinds of patience, one being the patience of practicing the Dharma, that’s why you need that kind of patience.

Audience: Yes and I don’t know if I even really have a question about it, but somehow my understanding of refuge has taken a tilt.

VTC: Before this time, your refuge was, “How am I going to use refuge to make this situation solid and controllable and manageable?” And now, it has to change to, “How can I use refuge to help me enjoy free falling?” I remember talking to a friend when I was in the first year of starting the Abbey, and she was saying, “How did you do that?” And I said, well at one point I had to just jump and do it. Then I said, no, I take that back. I was never on solid ground and then jumped. You’re always in the process of free falling. And so it’s not like you’re in a solid place and you leave a solid place and you’re waiting to arrive in another solid place. It’s not like that.

Audience: So in thinking about overcoming ignorance, is it fair to think that partly working on developing that sort of patience, that somehow the understanding of emptiness becomes more experiential the more I can let go?

VTC: I think what you’re kind of saying is, how can you make this less fearful when you’re letting go of ignorance?

Audience: Well, I am trying to make it less fearful, because I am trying to understand it rather than feel it. But I am trying to find out what is self-grasping, what is self cherishing; and I think you have said you can’t separate them, but there is just this raw terror.

VTC: The raw terror is very much the self-grasping. The self-centeredness is the thinking that my happiness is more important than anybody else’s. There is some difference between them. They are different. You can abandon one without abandoning the other. But it really shows how we’re always trying to put everything in boxes and make it so that we think we have control over it and understand it, and we don’t. The thing is, our whole body, our whole mind is changing, arising and passing away from one moment until the next. So, this whole idea that I’m going to make everything steady and firm is a fallacy because the nature of reality is that everything is arising and passing away, arising and passing away. It’s transient and it’s impermanent. So, trying to concretize something is impossible, and the more we try and do it, the more nuts we get.

Audience: Then using Medicine Buddha with the analogy as an illness and affliction, trying to use the Medicine Buddha to cure the fear isn’t exactly right. Is it more right to try to use the Dharma to let go?

VTC: To cure the fear means to let go. To cure the fear doesn’t mean that you staple everything down. To cure the fear means that you let go and you realize that things are in motion and they’re conditioned all the time. There is no “I” that is controlling it or can control it. And, what I was going to say before, the key if you’re having terror about realizing emptiness is when you begin to understand that ignorance is your enemy and you begin to really feel that. You watch how the self-grasping comes and you’re in the fear and instead of saying, “oh, the fear is so terrible I want to get rid of it,” you say, ”this fear is based on the self-grasping ignorance and I need to get rid of the self-grasping ignorance.” Because you really see the self-grasping ignorance as the real enemy, the real detriment, so, then when the self-grasping comes up, instead of it controlling your mind, you’re able to say “oh, this is the thing that is making me miserable.” So then when you are meditating on emptiness and you start to let go of that self-grasping, instead of cringing up and grasping and thinking, “wait, I don’t want to stop existing,” you have more confidence that actually this is the way to have some internal peace, because it’s that grasping that is the whole core of the misery.

Using difficulties to support our Dharma practice

Audience: Those comments reveal to me that I have been doing the deity practice with a wrong motivation. I just do it to feel good in the moment with my emotions of that time.

VTC: I mean, if you call up the deity and the light and say the mantra, it helps you calm the emotion. It’s very good for dealing with the emotion temporarily, and that helps you let go of the emotion temporarily so that you don’t create some negative karma by it. So, it’s good: it’s an antidote because meditating on emptiness sometimes is a little bit too advanced for us. So, if you do the deity and the mantra and the light coming and purifying and letting your mind be still, that’s quite good because it prevents the creation of negative karma. But, that alone is not going to free you from the ignorance, because you really have to be able to see the self-grasping ignorance and see what it’s holding onto and see that it doesn’t exist. So, when we feel fear, our instant reaction is that we’ve got to get away from it. And I think when your meditation on emptiness becomes stronger, then when you experience fear, you watch the fear and you see the object of negation and then you start saying, “Who’s afraid?” “Who is afraid?” and, “I’m afraid,” well, who, who? You start looking for that “I.”

One of the things with taking refuge and also when we make prayers is that sometimes we think the solution to our problems is to pray to the Buddha to change the external situation. And so you know when people call us and say “please dedicate for somebody who is sick,” or whatever, they want us to pray that the disease vanishes. I think there is no harm in praying like that, may the disease be healed. But I think the real prayer is that if the disease persists, may they cope with it in a Dharma way. May they use the disease to create good karma. May they use the disease to practice and generate compassion and renunciation. And the same thing when we are making request prayers to the Buddhas for their blessings, it’s not just “may all my confusion vanish,” because the external situation that I’m in makes me confused and I want it to go away. But it’s “may I learn to deal with my confusion,” so that whatever situation I’m in I don’t go bonkers with it. Do you see what I mean?

We often still see things as, “let’s just pray that the whole thing goes away.” That Buddha, aka God, swoops down and the external situation changes and I live happily ever after. But maybe the real thing to pray for is, “may I be able to deal with this situation in a Dharma way and use it so that it enhances my practice and helps me to have more compassion, more renunciation and more wisdom.” That’s why the bodhisattvas always pray to have problems, because problems can help you grow. Whereas we pray, “may I have no problems, may the other person have them all.”

Mindfulness: thinking beyond the surface of actions and objects

Audience: I have a question about my experience of trying to be aware or mindful, it’s kind of fake right now, it’s not really very strong, but it seems like there is actually being aware in the moment which is very rare and then there’s this odd sort of imagining that I’m aware in the moment, imagining myself doing what I am doing as I am doing it and then I am watching myself imagine it. It doesn’t have a calmness of mind. It’s not conscious. I know I’m not aware, I have been aware and it’s not that. My mind is not off in the distance. I am imagining I am there. Like I am writing a story about what I am doing, being overly aware without actually being aware.

VTC: What I find sometimes in the situation is that I’m aware of what I’m doing, but there is some factor of restlessness in the mind. The mind is not just content to be really present with what I’m doing. And by being really present I don’t mean just, “Oh I’m picking up the fork and putting down the fork.” You pick up a fork, you put down a fork. You want to be aware of what you’re physically doing, but you need to be aware of what your mental state is as well. And that’s what I mean. I can be aware that I’m picking up my glasses, but there’s a part of my mind that is kind of restless and I’m ready for something else more interesting to happen. And so I think that’s where, for me, it becomes very helpful to anchor my mind to some kind of Dharma principle. Instead of just anchoring my mind to, “I’m picking up the glasses and putting down the glasses,” to be anchoring it to compassion or anchoring it to renunciation or thinking, okay, I’m picking up the glasses, but the glasses are all these little atoms that are zipping around, changing, arising, passing away all the time. In other words, there’s something more penetrative that’s necessary. Is that what you’re asking?

Audience: Sort of, yeah, I want to know ways to get around that. It’s very superficial, but it’s tricky because when I have some moments of clarity, I feel like the way to get back there is to get really focused on each action.

VTC: But you’re just watching the external thing, and that’s not necessarily so inspiring. You need to look at what’s going on in your mind, what’s the nature of the object you’re dealing with, what’s the nature of the relationship between you and the object. How do I know these are glasses? I say I’m holding the glasses. How do I know these are glasses? What makes them glasses? Or, I know I’m holding these glasses. Where did they come from? How many sentient beings went into making them? Maybe try and go a little bit deeper. I find it very helpful to be aware of the inner feeling tone of my mind, right now. What’s the inner feeling tone? Is there some kind of low grade anxiety going on? Is there low grade restlessness? Is there low grade anger? Is there some kind of grasping? Or maybe there’s just joy in the moment, or whatever it is. Be more aware of the internal goings-on.

Audience: Venerable, along those lines, I want to ask, as I am quite good at rushing around and I knocked over a cup today and bumped into some walls. I also try to force slowing down and that doesn’t seem to work either.

VTC: Okay, so becoming more mindful physically so that you’re not spilling things and bouncing into things. For me, it’s not, “I’m picking this up, I’m picking that up.” It’s not this commentary going on in my mind. I’m moving this foot, I’m moving that foot, because that’s just a bunch of intellectual stuff. But it’s more being aware of, again, just the feeling of how I’m moving through space, because when you’re rushing around doing something, there’s a certain feeling in your body. And when you’re not rushing around doing it, there’s another feeling in your body, even though you’re still moving and doing things. But there’s another feeling in your body. So, I personally find it more helpful to look at what does it feel like when my body is full of this “rrrrrevved up.” I’m getting on the highway, zoom, pressing the gas pedal, you know? What does that energy feel like in my mind versus the other energy of just kind of slowing down? For me, I find it works better if I’m just looking at the overall energy of the body.

Audience: Rather than the details about movement?

VTC: Yes. So these are just some things for you to play with and to see what works for you. But definitely mindfulness of your body is not this ongoing sportscaster thing of, “okay my right foot is out there and it’s about to step on someone’s toe and, oh, there it did!” It’s not just reciting to yourself what your body is doing. It’s more feeling what your body is doing or checking in with your body sometimes. What position am I sitting in? Is there any tension in the position I’m sitting in? When I’m walking, is there tension in how I’m walking? When brushing my teeth, I don’t think you have to say “the brush is going up, the brush is going down, the brush is going up, the brush is going down.” It’s more like, “with what kind of mental state am I moving this toothbrush?” That’s how I find a better way in to it, to being really mindful.

The purpose of the blue Medicine Buddha visualization and practice

Audience: So when you’re doing the visualization, when you’re the Medicine Buddha, and you’re sending out the light, then one of the things is it touches the sentient beings and they transform into Medicine Buddhas. So if it could work like that, why didn’t the Medicine Buddha transform us already into Medicine Buddhas? And if it doesn’t work like that, aren’t we just doing Walt Disney, this kind of unsung la-la adventure land?

VTC: The purpose of the visualization is to change how we think of ourselves so that we learn to reach out and be of benefit to others. Because if we only think of ourselves as, “oh well, you know, Buddha can’t even pull the suffering out of these sentient beings’ minds, and the Buddha can’t pull the delusions out of their minds, and so, what good am I, I can’t do anything either.” If we have that attitude, then definitely we are not going to try and become Buddhas. Then even if someone comes into the room and says, “Can you help me make a salad?” we’re going to say no because we feel like we can’t do anything.

So, I think one of the big things we are trying to do when we imagine ourselves as the deity and send out light and enlighten sentient beings is to imagine that it’s actually possible to benefit others. Because if we can’t imagine that we can benefit others, then we’re never even going to try to benefit them. Whereas, if we imagine that we can benefit them, even imagining that we’re sending out light, it’s having some effect. You’re recognizing that you’re not one solid entity and somebody else isn’t another solid entity, so that there is a play between you and that what you do can influence somebody else. So even if you’re not enlightening them by imagining the blue light going out and touching them, first of all, you’re changing your own mind so that when somebody asks you for some help you can give, you’re more likely to respond positively. And secondly, maybe when you are a Buddha, you’re going to be able to send out a lot of light and just ripen somebody’s mind. We don’t know.

Did you ever stop and think that there are a lot of people meditating right now, and they are sending out light to all sentient beings? There are a lot of people sending out light to me, imagining that I’m becoming a Buddha? Did you ever stop to think about that? I don’t think so. But then, there are all these bodhisattvas that are sending out light. It’s not that this light is going to work like magic, not like the magic light like in Fantasia or something like that. But, it’s like somebody is actually sending out some well-wishes towards me. Am I even aware that there are beings in this universe that are sending out well-wishes towards me, or am I so stuck in my own little drama and my tragedy story that I feel like nobody in the whole universe understands me? That’s how we feel, isn’t it? We forget that there are Buddhas and bodhisattvas out there, let alone our Dharma friends and our teachers and other people doing tonglen and meditating on love and compassion for us. We can’t even tap into all that good energy that’s coming our way because we’re sitting there in our pity party. So what would happen if we actually kind of sat back and thought, “Oh, imagine us receiving some light.”

I remember one time going to see Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey and he made some comment about, “I pray for my students.” I thought, Oh my goodness, somebody prays for me. I never even thought about that. I never even thought that one of my teachers would be making prayers for my benefit. It kind of changed something inside of me to think that. So, if we think that there are people doing this kind of visualization and practice, maybe it might change us if we let that energy in.

But the purpose is not to send out a blue light and then somebody becomes a Buddha. What you are really training for, after you become a Buddha is to be able to make manifestations, to manifest many many different forms according to the needs, dispositions and interests of sentient beings. So it is not that you are sending out a blue light of Medicine Buddha and boink it goes and enlightens somebody. But you are thinking how can I manifest as somebody who has the ability to guide this person?

There are lots of Buddhas who are here guiding us, but we don’t know who they are. They don’t announce themselves. But they intuitively know how to manifest according to our karma and guide us in the right way by appearing just as ordinary people or even objects. So the whole meditation that we are doing where we are sending out light is kind of thinking, well one day may I be able to just have that kind of intuition and out of compassion and wisdom make these manifestations. So, don’t make the meditation too literal, “I just spent half an hour saying the mantra and sending out blue light out to you so that you will calm down and you’re getting up out of the meditation session and I can still see that you are a wreck. My meditation was a failure because I was not able to control you and keep you pacified.” [laughter] That is not the point. Ok? [laughter]

Tangled up in afflictions

Audience: I am noticing all my afflictions are tangled together. I was thinking about my pattern of thinking I can do it all myself perfectly and if I don’t, then I feel bad about myself and then any feedback seems like criticism. If I feel overwhelmed, I feel angry really easily. It all comes back to self-grasping. It’s a big knot of all the negative stuff.

VTC: I think that what you have said applies to all of us, that all of our afflictions are so tangled together, like a ball of yarn. And they feed off of each other too. I get attached, then I get angry at myself for being attached. Then I feel ashamed because I am angry. Then I get angry at other people because they made me feel ashamed. You can just watch this sometimes. We all have our own little series of how these interact and tie together

How do you go about untangling the whole thing? First, I think noticing is a big step, because before we did not even notice it. And then I think that looking at what are the primary patterns, the big patterns that are lying behind a lot of it. What you are saying about low self esteem and the pride coming to the same point is very true. Why do we get arrogant, because we don’t believe in ourselves. So, if you see that, then it’s Oh, OK and then you start watching it in your life. And there are various ways to deal with it. One way is to ask, “Who is this “I” that I am worried about whether it is good or bad? Or, if you can’t do that, go more toward the emptiness meditation or ask, “Why do I fear being good or bad?” Ok, somebody criticizes me, that’s okay, I don’t have to feel low self esteem. Somebody praises me, I don’t have to feel arrogant. Painting myself as some good person is not really going to benefit me. What good does it do? So, think more of the conventional thing of helping ourselves to realize that what we are trying to do is not really helping us.

Running away from retreat; setting strong virtuous intention

So, is anyone thinking of running down the hill? [Laughter as one raises his hand.] Okay, you’re thinking of running down. Anybody else? [Another raises her hand.] Yes, you’re thinking also? Oh, not today? It changed today. What made it change?

Audience: I had this experience in my sit. I couldn’t stop the stories, getting hooked. Taking the precepts changed me and reading over the refuge sheet. It deeply hit me. Then the next sit, I imagined myself really deeply praying to remove all obstacles to enlightenment. And there was a strong voice asking whether I was sure. And I thought I am sick of it and felt I had to say it in all directions. And I said I was sure in all directions and I felt a lot of light. I am trying not to get too hooked on it as an experience.

VTC: You can see that you don’t want to grasp at the experience but you don’t want to ignore it. But what you are seeing is the power of having a strong virtuous intention. You see that from your direct experience. When you just have a strong virtuous intention and keep setting it over and over and over again, that’s very powerful.

Audience: Then a kind of shaman thing happened. I asked myself what am I attached to, and thought of a hike in the redwoods. And so I took a hike there in my mind and a huge mountain lion came and sat in front of me and I was really afraid, but then I released into my fear and I knew it wouldn’t hurt me. I don’t know if it’s a spirit animal or what because I have seen it before.

VTC: When an image appears in your mind, you don’t have to make it literal. You can see that when you imagined a mountain lion coming, you felt fear, but you were able to let it go, that’s good enough. Don’t worry about if there’s a real mountain lion or the spirit of a mountain lion. Don’t get into that.

It’s funny, when we want to run down the hill, it’s like I want to run down the hill, but where am I going to go to? We don’t look and think “Where am I going to go to?” What am I going to do if I get to the dilapidated homestead down the road. What am I going to do there? Stay overnight in five degree temperature? Sounds good! [laughter] Then you realize that whatever was bothering you here you just took with you. When I was in Thailand the master gave such a nice example of this because in Thailand and India you have a lot of dogs who just hang around the monastery and around the temple and most of them have fleas. So the dogs scratch, scratch, scratch, and they get so tired of scratching their fleas that they get up and walk across the yard and sit down somewhere else because they think that there are no fleas where they are sitting down. [laughter] So this is kind of like us. We want to run down the hill, thinking, I am going somewhere else—as if I am not taking my fleas with me. [Laughter]

So, what were you going to do when you were going to run down the hill? Why were you going to run down the hill?

Audience: Which time? It’s up and down. I keep making prayers to want to be here but I feel like I don’t want the Buddha to change my mind so that I do want to be here. I feel like I want to go. My mind just goes up and down. It’s when you’re confused, everything seems just as real as when it’s clear. So I really can’t figure out at any point which one is right, so I just say, well, I will wait it out. If I don’t know the right answer, I only have a 50-50 chance of getting it right. I can flip a coin. But I think I’ll wait until I get more information. My mind just goes back and forth so quickly, even here at the Abbey. Neither one wins out. If I see the Dharma isn’t really going to work, I can just leave. I don’t have to worry about it. I can just wait and see.

VTC: That’s a good decision, because some people are more impulsive than others. If every time that we have an impulse in our mind, we act it out, we’re going to be nuts and the people around us are going to be nuts also. Whenever the mind is confused the best policy is that it is not the best time to make a decision. When you see that, how the mind is changing that quickly right to left, right to left to right to left, then you see why it is important to practice the Dharma. And then if you decide that this is not going to work then you can’t just leave. You need to also decide what is going to work better. Because it is not like you’re hungry and you don’t like potatoes, so you are going to leave the potatoes. You’re still going to be hungry. You have to figure out what you want to eat.

From another retreatant: Can I ask you (the retreatant) a question? I just wonder, maybe when it’s not moving so fast back and forth, but it’s moving more slowly, and you spend more time in one or the other choices, is one of those choices associated with happiness and one associated with suffering? Because that’s how I discern it, I just figure if I’m suffering, I’m deluded. So I know my confusion can’t win because I’m always suffering when I am confused. That helped me for a long time. It seems you are seeing so much more about the contents of your mind.

First retreatant: Well, I was clear when I asked for the precepts. But this ignorance isn’t just not knowing. It grabs at what’s not true and says it is the truth. It seems like it is just as viable an argument as the clarity. It’s tricky, except that I am not happy when I am feeling the anger, anxiety. I feel like something will come through if I just keep making prayers.

VTC: Actually, you’re doing something like what she is suggesting. You are realizing that your mind is confused, “I am deluded right now. I shouldn’t trust that mind.” And that’s kind of what you were suggesting doing.

Another retreatant: What I find helpful is to look at the experience of which thought causes me suffering. Where else can I go that I can make the changes, where I can take care of the suffering?

First retreatant: My mind says anywhere is better than here with very convincing internal arguments, blaming it on external circumstances and thinking I need to leave the Abbey. I keep waiting for something or someone from outside to make the decision for me. If I felt the same way for a month, I could decide, but my mind changes every ten seconds. [laughter]

Another retreatant: To make decisions based on clarity, joy and confidence and introspection is a new experience for me. Lots of my decisions before were based on strong afflictions, wanting to run away. Now I get a chance to hold myself steady, to say, “No no no no no. Go take a walk,” before I decide to do something that’s not helpful.

First retreatant: I’ve made such a strong commitment in my mind that I know I have to wait it out. Sometimes I pray an airplane will crash onto the Abbey, so it will decided. [laughter]. God as an airplane, something from the outside to decide for me. [laughter] I change my mind every 30 seconds. (laughter].

Audience: I have a similar problem. I went to visit my family. And it gets so hard in actual situations. Like about generosity, Venerable just gave all these teachings about it and yet when I get confused, it just doesn’t seem clear. It’s not a new pattern, I haven’t walked around “the hole” yet, I’m still stepping in it. All that works for me is to do compassion. Then I know I can act, move forward. It is very confusing. It feels so tangled with the emotional reactions. If I could just stay compassionate and not go to personal distress.

VTC: That’s why they call it practice the Dharma. That’s why they call it practice. Because these things are confusing and our mind isn’t clear and we are stuck in these old ruts and so we kind of apply an antidote and it kind of loosens a little while and then the mind goes phhht again and tightens back up. And then we keep applying it and keep working with it. This is the reality of practicing Dharma.

That’s why it is helpful to be Medicine Buddha and have Medicine Buddha be the person in that situation. We have to nudge our minds sometime to try using the antidotes. Otherwise it is like being inside a whole pharmacy and being sick because you are just looking at all of the bottles but not taking anything.

Using Medicine Buddha in our degenerate times

VTC: She’s asking about the Medicine Buddha appearing in this degenerate time when there is so much need of healing. How can that be brought into our meditation? I think very much just you look and you can see the physical suffering and suffering from various diseases that people have. But you can also see the mental suffering. You can see the suffering that is caused by people having too much information and getting indigestion on the information. You can see the suffering of spiritual confusion. You can just see all of these things and respond with compassion. You just keep sending out that blue light and sending Medicine Buddhas to all these different beings and all their different kinds of suffering. But not just the “ouch” kind of suffering. But also thinking of the people who think they are happy now. Think of the gods who are in the upper realms and their concentration but they managed to get concentration without wisdom and they are going to fall down some time. And think of the third kind of suffering as well, just of having a body and mind under the influence of ignorance and afflictions and karma.

Thinking of various kinds of suffering and then being the Medicine Buddha and learning to constantly and continuously respond to all of it with a positive attitude instead of our usual thing of where we feel suffering and we are angry at the people because of their suffering. Or we are angry at the world because they made them suffer. Or we’re depressed or we’re who knows what. Just train the mind to see all of this and respond with a positive attitude that really cares and that is optimistic and hopeful because you know that the afflictions are the source of the misery and that the afflictions can be eliminated. You just bring the whole world, this degenerate age right into it. You can do a whole meditation on the five degenerations and see them in the world and you be Medicine Buddha and send out emanations that help beings cure the five degenerations or help them manage them better or help them transform these degenerations into Dharma practice and realizations.

Let’s sit quietly.

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.