When I rely on spiritual friends, / My faults and negative behaviors wane,
Constructive qualities and skills expand / Just like the brilliance of the waxing moon.
To hold authentic friends like this more dear / Than even my own physical welfare:
This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Audio verse 6
Audio verses 1-6
The commentaries make it clear that in the Tibetan Buddhist literature “spiritual friend” (literally, friend of virtue) mainly refers to an authentic teacher, but both Dilgo Khyentse and Geshe Jampa Tekchok also include our spiritual community under this umbrella.
Dilgo Khyentse says, “Authentic spiritual friends are those who have received teachings from the same teacher as yourself and, detached from worldly concerns, are devoting themselves to practice in secluded places.” Geshe Jampa Tegchok says, “Good companions also include our fellow Dharma students at our Dharma center or monastery…. Even if they do not have great positive influence over us such that they cause our faults to decrease and our qualities to increase greatly, we are still inspired by seeing them study and practice to the best of their ability. ” Our spiritual community can also offer support and help us bridge the gap in the event that confidence in a spiritual teacher is shaken at some point.
Memorization is a tried and true method of internalizing important information, both in Tibetan monasteries and in our own culture in the days of yore. My eighth-grade English class was assigned to memorize 135 lines of poetry over the course of the school year, and I memorized Paul Revere’s Ride just to get the assignment out of the way — not really the intention of my teacher, Mrs. Roberts. She hoped that by memorizing a series of poems that resonated with us, we would end the year with an indelible love of poetry. I disappointed her in the moment, but decades later, I can still recite parts of it: “On the 18th of April in ’75, hardly a man is still alive, who remembers that famous day and year…”
Some of us aspire to memorize all 37 verses of Togme Zangpo’s instructions, so we can have them at hand till death do us part. That doesn’t have to be everyone’s aspiration, but even if it’s beyond your scope to commit them all to memory forever, memorizing each verse as we study it (or at least chanting it a few times every day) is a very effective way to contemplate it.
When I’m with friends who strengthen the three poisons / Reflection, study, meditation fade,
Kindness and compassion are forgotten, / And I’m caught up again in worldly aims.
Not following the friends who harm my practice: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Audio verse 5
Audio verses 1-6 (hover over where the play button should be and click)
Verse 5, which advises us to refrain from following friends who impede our dharma practice, is the last of the preliminary verses about renunciation of samsara — or “disentanglement,” as Pema Chodron puts it. Verse 5 makes a pair with verse 6 (coming next week), which tells us who we should follow: authentic spiritual friends. whom we should cherish even more than our own life. This set of verses marks a turning point in our preparation for the path of awakening. With verse 5, we now have all the instructions we need for disentanglement from the ordinary worldly concerns that bind us to samsara, and with verse 6, we begin to look ahead to what will provide support for our journey.
Of course, we are not done yet with disentanglement, even though we are about to move on to the path itself. We will have to disentangle ourselves in various ways again and again as we travel the path — fortunately, we are not expected to accomplish each one before starting to work on the next. We are just gathering tools and getting practice using them. Aka, lather, rinse, repeat!
This is a brief summary for the KDC class on the Ornament of Precious Liberation, where we are studying the paramita of meditation, within the general heading of action bodhicitta. (Or for anyone else who is interested in these topics.)
I found a pretty good image of the Buddhist Wheel of Life with the 12 links of interdependent origination. Other resources: Kalu Rinpoche, Luminous Mind (with image) and Tai Situpa, Awakening the Sleeping Buddha, chapter on karma and reincarnation (no image, but a very clear and concise explanation).
Main texts: The primary text we are using is The Heart of Compassion by Dilgo Khyentse. This commentary is quite comprehensive and touches on many foundational ideas of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Dilgo Khyentse (1910-91) was a great master in the Nyingma lineage and a contemporary of Khyabje Kalu Rinpoche.
Verse 3: To rely on solitude, along with class notes for part 1, is here.
Commentary: Dilgo Khyentse advises us: “If you wish to concentrate entirely on the Dharma instead of being constantly tossed hither and thither by waves of attachment and aversion, give them up and go to a solitary place.” As we discussed last week, and as the verse states, if we simply isolate our body and mind from disturbance and distraction—if we just sit down every day in our practice space and apply ourselves to study, contemplation, and meditation for an allotted time—the rest of the path will unfold naturally. We have Togme Zangpo’s word for this, and Dilgo Khyentse’s; in fact, all our teachers tell us the same thing. Waking up is so simple. We just have to roll up our own sleeves.
But wait! Many of us find it challenging to engage in formal practice even when we have time on our hands, and for that reason I suggest we ask ourselves, honestly and without judgment: Do I wish to concentrate entirely on the dharma and disengage from the endlessly fascinating waves of emotional turbulence?
You can see the video of this teaching by clicking here. In fact, if you click you will find a small and growing treasure trove of teachings in the KTC PPV video archive. The cost per video is $20 to help support teacher visits and the cost of livestreaming. The archive includes two wonderful teachings by Khenpo Donyo about the enlightened female teachers who inspired the Shangpa lineage, Niguma and Sukhasiddhi, and their Vajra songs expressing the nature of mind.
Lama Tenam, who is Guru Vajradhara Kenting Tai Situpa’s longtime executive secretary and a beloved friend of KTC Monastery, gave a teaching at KTC this afternoon, and summarized for us his thoughts on the seven essential characteristics of a Buddhist.
I saw it via livestream, the video of which is available on demand by clicking here (the fee is $20 to support livestreaming costs). More good news: a second teaching on “How to Deal with Emotions,” is now available via the same link. Both teachings are in English, and though Lama Tenam occasionally double-checks with the audience to make sure he’s got the right word, his English is quite excellent.
Here are the 7 characteristics that make us Buddhist, according to Lama Tenam. The full explanation is on the video.
Old friends I’ve known as long as I remember, / One day we’ll have to go our separate ways.
Material possessions I’ve worked hard for / Will be enjoyed by someone else one day.
This consciousness, a guest, will leave my body, / The guest house where for all my life it’s stayed.
To let go of attachment to this lifetime: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
verse 4 chanted 3x
verses 1-4 chanted 1x
Alternate second line, offered by Kathi Rogers:
“Material possessions I’ve worked hard for / Will end up in the dumpster anyway.” 🙂
The fourth preparation for the path of awakening is to study, contemplate, and meditate on impermanence. We are all very familiar with the idea of impermanence by now. Truly understood, it is the single most powerful motivator to seek a place of solitude and engage in practice without delay. Why it often doesn’t work that way, according to a Western teacher I studied Tibetan with in the 1980s, is that understanding impermanence intellectually isn’t enough to stop us from continuing to relate to everything in our life as solid and permanent. We still get upset over passing trivialities, and/or waste our entire precious human existence on busyness and distraction.