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Verse 64: Our supreme friend

Verse 64: Our supreme friend

Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.

  • The importance of studying and contemplating the teachings
  • Putting the teachings into practice in our daily lives

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 64 (download)

Who is the supreme friend, always helpful in times of need?

Mindfulness of the spiritual instructions learned through study and contemplation.

Now, some of you said the spiritual mentor. But the spiritual mentor isn’t necessarily always going to physically be there. Mentally, in your guru yoga practice, they’re there. But that is part of following the spiritual instructions learned from study and contemplation. So your teacher actually physically being there, we don’t know. But in order to create that feeling of support, and in order to figure out how to deal with our own problems, we have to remember the teachings that we’ve learned from our teacher—and then think about them, and put them into practice, and study and learn them well. And then, when there’s time of need, we’ll be able to figure out what to practice and we’ll be able to practice it. Instead of just going like, “Oh, I’ve been studying Dharma for fifteen years and now my parents died and I don’t know what to do. I just feel devastated.” You know? If you’re in that shape then something throughout those fifteen years…. You’ve been overlooking something at that point.

First of all, we have to make an effort to learn the teachings. And then we should take the teachings home with us and think about them, start putting them into practice right away, and then when situations arise we already have some familiarization with those techniques and we can remember them and put them into use. Or, if you can’t remember at that very moment, what I do is my 9-1-1 to the Buddha, and think, “Okay, if the Buddha were here and I presented my problems, or if my teacher were here and I presented my problem, what advice would they give?” And then that forces me to think of the teachings that I’ve heard. Because when we have a problem our teacher isn’t going to give any advice other than the teachings. And to think of what teachings to put in practice at what time in our lives, and to be able to figure that out ourselves when we don’t have somebody right next to us who can help us.

That’s why it says, “the supreme friend always helpful in times of need.” That’s turning back on ourselves, isn’t it? The supreme friend isn’t outside. It’s our own internal practice, our own internal connection with the Dharma that we’ve developed over the years. And that’s what we really need to rely on. Because otherwise every time we have a problem, which is, like, daily, then we’re lost.

It’s surprising to me…. Well, it doesn’t surprise me anymore, but it used to. We would have a retreat, for example, on helping the dying and the recently deceased, and I give all the instructions on how to do things before somebody dies, after somebody dies, and so on. And then a few months later somebody who was at the retreat would write and say, “My aunt, my uncle, (whoever it was) just died, what do I do?” And it’s like their mind completely blank at that moment, you know, because of the shock of somebody, a dear one, dying. But that’s the precise time when we need to really rely on our practice. So I give them instructions again, but, you know, what would happen if I weren’t there when they called? What would they do? We need to be able to learn these things and remember them, and remember to apply them when we have a problem. Not just keep them as nice antidotes written in our notebooks that we put somewhere and never look at again.

The word mindfulness here: “Mindfulness of the spiritual instructions.” The word mindfulness is the same word as for “memory.” So, remembering the spiritual instructions learned through study and contemplation.

[Response to audience] I know for myself sometimes it’ll happen…. You know, when I do my little 9-1-1, I’ll get a specific thing: meditate on death, meditate on the kindness of others, whatever it is. And once in a while I’ll just hear—you know, when my mind’s spinning—Lama Yeshe will just say, “Keep it simple, dear.” And you know, yes, that’s it. Why am I making things very complicated?

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.