Dear Friend and Reader:
The translator was laughing so hard he could not speak. He seemed to have heard the funniest thing in his life. We were all waiting for the English version of what Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Tibetan Buddhist leader known as the 17th Karmapa, had said.
The monastery up in Woodstock, New York, is the Karmapa’s North American base. He was here on his second visit to the U.S. on April 18.
The translator, Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, tried to compose himself, but without much success. He finally seemed to find his center, then after taking about two breaths, he burst into laughter again.
Laughing like the Buddha himself, wrapped in his bright red robe, which the color of his cheeks now matched, sitting at the Karmapa’s feet in his headset with pad and pencil still in his hands. Not your average stone-faced interpreter.
Dorje, for his part, was placidly watching this scene, mildly bemused. By this time the audience was getting the giggles. I am one of those people who notice moments of actual transcendence and this was one of them. You never see scenes like this in the presence of an international dignitary — well, hardly ever.
Finally the Lama Yeshe could speak. “The sad part is, it won’t be as funny when I translate it.” Still, everyone wanted to know.
One persistent theme of Dorje’s talk was urging caution around religious traditions, especially if they’re adhered to mindlessly for their own sake. In that context, he was explaining that there are certain traditions that don’t help the cause.
For example, if you visit Tibet and come home with a souvenir skull and put it on your altar, it might frighten your family and make them think you’re into something really weird. They would not have an accurate notion of your practice. So you don’t have to do that kind of thing.
That, for whatever reason — the teacher’s inflection, or some reference into his personal experience — is what the Lama Yeshe just could not contain himself over, because of how funny it was. You can only imagine why that tickled his funny bone. He’s probably seen a few people bring home some really weird things from Tibet.
Dorje is known as a young, up-and-coming Tibetan leader who is actually with it. He’s just 29, he follows and talks about current events, and as far as I could tell, he has a clue what people are facing at our time in history.
There is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism of offering practical information that one can actually use, rather than complex, abstract spiritual theories that seem neither to have feet nor touch the ground.
Dorje had a lot to say about the difference between religion and spirituality. This seemed to be the dominant theme of the day’s teaching. As he understood the terms as currently used in the United States, he explained, religion is what you do because it’s handed to you by tradition or by your family. You don’t necessarily know why you do it, or what it means.
Spirituality, by contrast, involves a process of personal exploration and direct experience of life. It’s not about following the choreography of tradition; rather, you dive into a journey, make discoveries and actually learn what works for you.
People who have unusual spiritual experiences often get the attention of others, but then their direct experiences are typically codified into religions, and the seed experience is typically forgotten. He offered what he called an imperfect metaphor.
Imagine that the Buddha is in a hall, speaking to his disciples. He finishes speaking and says that the only way out of the hall is to his right. Then he leaves, to the right (experiencing what in context seemed to be a Tibetan word for enlightenment). His followers, though, stay behind in the hall, for hundreds of years.
They remember what the Buddha said about only exiting to his right, and that he walked out of the hall that way. What they don’t know is that he said that because there wasn’t a door on the left.
Now, many years later, there is one, but nobody is paying attention to the original intent of the teacher’s words. First “exit to the right” becomes a rule, then a religious dogma. Nobody uses the left-hand exit, but they don’t understand why.
I took the metaphor on the surface level, though it also seemed to apply to the “right” and “left” paths indicated in many traditions — those of purity and passion, respectively. (In my frame of reference, these align with the white and red paths of tantra, also illustrated in the Hierophant tarot card.)
You can experience your Buddha nature either way. Yet to experience the left-hand exit, you would typically have to break a tradition, rule or dogma. But those are the only things that are stopping you. The door is there if you want it. Remember it’s there. Remember it’s open.
This is a radical teaching. It may not sound like it, though part of the message comes through who the teacher is. The teacher doesn’t make the message more correct, only more compelling. What he’s saying, as I understand it, is to remember that passion and worldly experience are valid teachers. You don’t need to take a conservative monastic path in order to learn and grow. You can live, and live consciously, and also grow, and express your soul’s intent.
Early on in the day, he urged his students to be extremely cautious around spiritual teachings; to scrutinize them like someone discerning whether gold is real before purchasing it. Again and again, his message was pay attention and think for yourself.
Another theme introduced early in the day was fear. Most spiritual teachers will tell you that you need to feel less fear. Dorje has a different spin. He first explained that fear is what biological instinct intends people to feel in the case of immediate danger. If there’s a tiger about to pounce on you, fear is a natural response. He called this existential fear.
Yet there are things in our current environment that we need to be fearful about, but which typically we are not. One example is climate change (a persistent topic for him). We really should be concerned about that, but for some reason it doesn’t register. He likened it to being told that in three months, a tiger will cross your path; most people would not worry, because it’s not going to happen for a while.
Concern about climate change requires thought and analysis. And this, he said, most people are not bothering with. This is the kind of fear you really need. What he did not say, though maybe he’s said it elsewhere, is that many people experience constant anxiety, which is a form of abstract fear that’s based neither on actual danger nor on a reasoning process. My impression is that anxiety is taking up most of the time, space and energy that would be better devoted to analysis.
Instead, people cut themselves off and don’t feel much of anything. He likened this to a particular kind of lack of love he called apathy — the idea that, “It’s not my business, I’m not involved, this isn’t my responsibility.”
These become excuses for acting in unloving ways toward our neighbors. It’s not the overt kind of unloving, but rather refusing to be present or helpful when you’re needed.
It’s a big problem in the world where people tend to look after themselves and their immediate family, and look for excuses not to offer themselves to the wider community. Then people see one another not caring. The next level of excuse becomes, “I don’t care because you don’t care,” and we end up with the world we have today. This is the logic of a world where love is severely lacking, and where we’ve limited our capacity to love.
Everyone “understands” this, because the excuse has a certain benefit — they don’t have to go out of their way, or take the time and energy required to help. And as a result, the world spirals into a dark place where compassion is often missing.
Later he returned to the theme of religion. One of the teachings of the Buddhist path is not worshipping what he called “mundane gods.” These he described as powers with whom we cut deals, make offerings and presumably receive protection from our misdeeds. Mundane gods get in the way of your connection to spirit or source — the Buddha within.
But he also was cautious about doing what he described as externalizing the Buddha. Whether you worship the Buddha as outside of yourself, or a mundane god outside of yourself, what you’re really demonstrating is lack of self-confidence.
Self-confidence is the most basic, useful kind of faith. When you lack that kind of confidence or faith, you’re likely to project it onto some external authority or object. That will in turn further weaken your self-confidence. So if you want to strengthen your confidence or faith, withdraw your worship of external gods and focus on your true inner nature. I would consider that a practical teaching — the best I’ve ever heard on the theme of confidence.
Part of the day’s program involved an introduction to what are called the three jewels of Buddhism — the three core concepts that compose the heart of the philosophy. These are Buddha, Dharma and Sanga.
Like all his other teachings, the Karmapa reinterpreted these somewhat, making them more accessible. Buddha is the teacher, the awakened one — which can refer to the guy himself, or to the Buddha nature within. You could think of the Buddha nature as loving self-awareness that embraces the world. Said another way, it’s being awake.
Dharma is your process along the journey; it’s what you actually do. Sanga is the family of your brothers and sisters already on the path. That could be quite a few people. In fact it could be everyone, so it may as well be anyone.
More traditional forms of Buddhism define these a bit more rigidly. For example, Dharma is sometimes defined as following the teachings of the Buddha. The Karmapa said that following the teachings and correct action are the same thing. Sanga is traditionally defined not as the community but as the priesthood. He expanded the idea a bit. The implication here is that we are all ministers of compassion; we are all teachers; Sanga is the community of those who are helping.
The afternoon session involved what Buddhists call the taking of refuge vows. I’ve been involved in my community as a kind of messenger or teacher for a long time. It was amazing being in a room of 1,500 people all of whom were promising to be more helpful.
Taking a guess, I would say that about half of us there were locals from in and around the Woodstock area. Imagine if all of those people really took that vow to heart; imagine if there really were a focus on loving self-awareness, love-in-action and honoring the family of those who are helping.
It would take far fewer people than that to completely transform a community — even a large one. Teaching through action (Dharma) has a way of spreading the light, slowly though it may seem.
Apathy deepens the darkness. Dharma is the correct response. It was very encouraging both to hear this and to know that the idea was being given a credible endorsement.
The thing I don’t understand about apathy as a choice; that is, about pretending that everything is someone else’s business, is that it’s so painful.
I may have to go out of my way in order to help someone, but I feel better when I do it. I would feel no better if I chose not to; personally, I am helpful to be helpful and because it feels good to do so. Helping, or acting in a loving way, spreads the positive energy. If someone has helped you, you’re more likely to help someone else.
Typically we get caught in the negative expression of this principle, the logic “Nobody wants to help me and I don’t want to help anyone.” We get this message a lot — it’s the very core of the neoconservative, Ayn Rand-based social theory that altruism does not exist. Take note that in fact altruism is self-serving because it makes you happier and helps you feel less isolated. Also, the real meaning of self-serving has a lot to do with your definition of self, which you might define as our collective existence.
The thing is, in our world, it takes a spiritual master on the level of the Karmapa to point this out, if anyone is going to believe it. We think we need a reincarnated expression of the Buddha himself to tell us that our lives will be better if we’re more willing to open ourselves up and offer our goodwill.
Hey, whatever it takes.
Planet Waves Monthly Horoscope for May 2015 #1046 | By Eric Francis
Aries (March 20-April 19) — Pull your mind into focus and set your priorities. This will give you a sense of direction. As you move through the next few weeks, you’re likely to revise your plans many times, or more likely, rework the language you use to describe them. I suggest you not get lost in the sauce of thinking that the words you pick to describe something are more important than whatever they are designed to illustrate. Focus on your central idea and you’ll find it a lot easier to be clear. Stay close to your subject matter. At the same time, keep shifting your viewpoint, so you get a fuller panorama. Notice when your perspective gets stuck. When it does, move around and look from another angle, or through a different lens. If you find yourself arguing, argue the other side of the case as well, and then weigh and balance what you learn. Language is always a matter of experimentation, of revision, and of getting the best approximate fit between a concept and how you sketch it out. Think in terms of improvement rather than perfection. Remember that good writing is not merely about clear words but rather about expressing clear ideas. And it can take some time to get there. If you consider that you’re describing something that already exists, this process will be much easier.
Taurus (April 19-May 20) — You seem determined to sort out the money issue, which is a good thing. Remember though that money is not usually something that comes to you. Rather, it’s something you go out and get. And if it does come to you, it’s often the result of long preparation. That’s actually good news, because there are likely to be several skills you’ve developed that qualify. In that light, I have two suggestions: One is to embark on a personal resources inventory. What do you know, or what skills do you have, that are of value to others? What do you currently get paid for that you can improve, so as to increase its value? Before you go striking things off your list for not being perfect, or well-developed enough, take it slow and consider carefully what you’re working with. Communicate with people who pay you and find out how you can snuggle tighter with the larger business plan. Second, you need to connect to your motivation. That’s another way of saying what drives you, and allow it to do so. Skip excuses like ‘money isn’t everything’ or ‘money doesn’t really matter that much’ and actually make contact with your need or desire to improve your life from a material standpoint. If you look carefully you’ll find many matches between your resources and your motivation to succeed.
Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Think of yourself as a weaver. You already know that fibers that are woven into fabric are much stronger, with more integrity, than a collection of loose threads. Therefore, collect the loose threads and, one at a time, gather them into the fabric of your life. Weaving is a conscious act. It’s based on an idea and an intention. You may at first need to trace the threads back to their origins, untangle them and place them where they belong. This is of course a mental process, and you may be sorting through some complex ideas about who you are, how you feel and how you feel about others. There would seem to be some scenario from the past that is calling for a careful review. You’re likely to notice interconnections between people and events that you might have missed, though you saw the clues many times before. You don’t need to look for the connections, merely to notice them. I also suggest you pause before you judge the intentions of others, especially on events in the past, because much information is going to come to the surface. The timing extends into mid-June, because Mercury is retrograde in your sign (beginning mid-May). Other chart factors say you may be in a rush to get to the bottom of things, or experiencing some other form of impatience. Give yourself time to untangle and weave what you learn into a coherent story.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) — If you’ve ever wanted to reveal all your secrets to yourself, this is the time. With this I would include deep, unspeakable desires, which you may find are more easily translated into words over the next few weeks. You may discover that you can see viewpoints that are opposite what you typically hold. This doesn’t mean you’re changing how you feel, but rather that you’re open to considering different perspectives. Notably, you don’t have to share this information with anyone yet. In fact you will be working out a diversity of inner contradictions, and you won’t know for a while where you really stand with yourself. It would probably be better if you kept what you’re working through to yourself, or perhaps only a trusted confidant, at least through the end of Mercury retrograde on June 11. The real gift seems to be getting to the bottom of your anger. This would be especially true if you feel you don’t have any. And it’ll be helpful if you’re aware that you struggle with forgiveness in any way, especially in a world that seems intent on doling out insults and injuries on a regular basis. There’s plenty you can do about this, at least in terms of cultivating your own peace of mind. Understanding really is the most significant precursor to compassion, and within a short time you will understand a lot more than you do today.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Many mysteries will reveal themselves over the next five or six weeks; that seems to be written in every corner of the sky. Your own personal discoveries are likely to surround your sexual history. The fact that sex is exploited, commercialized and joked about does not lessen its significance. In a clear and sober state of mind, just about everyone would agree with that statement. You now have a rare opportunity to focus on a dimension of your healing that you may have been trying to see clearly for years. There’s a factor you first encountered during childhood that may make itself known. The result of that event or experience seems to have been accelerated maturity, but you paid a price for that; you left behind an aspect of the child you once were. Information about this may come from any direction, though I suspect that a series of interactions you have with people in your community or circle of friends are going to help you figure out how you feel and what you need to do. Pay attention to any conflicts that arise, particularly with people you thought you trusted. Be aware when someone reveals another side of their personality, or when you notice that it’s there. Look for the other side of every story. This will guide you closer to the truth that you seek. Then take that information in and contemplate it quietly.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — You seem to be fixating on the question of why you struggle with insecurity to the extent that you do. It’s a good question, though if you look around at the world and notice how much is teetering on the brink of disaster, you would feel better about yourself. We in the 21st century often think of ourselves as being so much better off than the pioneers or the settlers or assorted primitives who came before us. But is that really true? There’s so much more that can go wrong today. For you, though, the question is where you place your focus or, as may be the case, your over-focus. Because the things that concern you and consume your energy so rarely go wrong, you can read your own thoughts like a tarot spread. You don’t actually need to worry about what you tend to worry about, though it will tell you a lot. There really is a root cause to your worries, and from what I can see you’re in an excellent position to figure it out. I can give you a clue, which is that it’s likely to be a variant on something that troubled your parents and perhaps their parents but is no longer a factor in your environment. Once you understand that their problems are not your problems, you will feel so much better.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — You now have the blessing of being seen, and even better, being seen for who you are. While it’s true that your focus is often on making sure that others are taken care of, you’re not always recognized for that. If you are who you are, it will be obvious who you are. Under this astrology, you have extra freedom to reach for goals that may have seemed distant or impossible, and actually get a result. Just make sure that you don’t talk yourself out of that possibility. Surround yourself with supportive people, and gather a few new ones. Make sure you take care of yourself and that you’re taken care of by others; your state of mind is nearly all that matters now. Therefore, if you have a crisis of faith, I suggest you speak with those who are in a position to help. You might even decide that it’s better to leave certain concerns to others whom you trust, so that you can keep your mind free to take care of other things. Under the current astrology the best thing you can do is be visible, show your face in public and stay on the radar of those you respect or want to work with. All of that, and remember your goals. Know what you want and don’t forget.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — You certainly seem to be walking that fine line between fear and desire. Yet your fear, in some ways, seems the larger of the two, as you contemplate all that could potentially go wrong. That’s not really an issue, though if it is, ask yourself whether you’re using your power correctly. Consider carefully, and if the answer is yes, then move on. What really may be the thing making you nervous is the passion you’re feeling for someone, or that they feel for you. In that way, intense desire can come across as fear, though I would ask: fear of what? Aaah well, fear of the only thing that seems to get anyone’s attention, which is the potential for change. Change in this scenario means experiencing actual feelings, and meeting someone who has the potential to match or even exceed your energy. Remember the many ways you’ve invited this into your life. Remember that if someone seems to be just a bit difficult to understand, it would be helpful if you were to note the context in which you’re seeing and experiencing them. You may have a way of taking things very personally, which would be natural enough. Yet I suggest you pull back your vision and look with a wide perspective. See all the contexts that are involved. And then take every opportunity to share, and to feel, as fully as you can.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You don’t need to argue with your emotions, or block them, though you would be wise to notice them and treat them as real. You seem ready to step out of a corner that you somehow let yourself get backed into, and the issue appears to be whether you really can trust someone. Looked at more closely, though, the question is whether you can trust yourself. If you can manage that much, you will be able to make more sense of the potentially erratic thinking and/or conduct of someone you’re close to. I suggest you hold open plenty of space for them to go through their gyrations, and to express everything they want to express, including and especially their contradictions. As they do this, if you’re paying attention, you will have all the information you need to figure out exactly what’s going through their heart and soul. Just be aware this could take a little while. You may have reasons to change, radically shift or end the relationship; I would urge patience and forbearance. Act like you have all the time in the world. While you’re doing this, you’re going to learn a lot — and I do mean a lot — about some inner questions and issues you’ve been wondering about forever. The tolerance you offer to others is the same as what you offer yourself. The truth is organized in layers — therefore, patience really helps.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — It would help if you believe the information you’re given, especially if you recognize that it’s associated with your personal evolution. Your charts suggest you might not recognize as true something that is indeed true, even though you have evidence to support it. One hint is that you’ve figured this out before, and it didn’t quite register. Now the pattern is easy to see. You don’t need to make the same mistake again, especially if it involves a relationship and what you’re learning and exploring there. You have by this time figured out there is some internal issue that’s preventing you from fully trusting this situation, or in truth, many others. It’s as if you can see this scenario as it is only when you don’t look directly at it. Now, however, a constellation is aligning that is allowing you to enter a direct dialog with this issue. One theme is whether you feel you can accurately express yourself. This in turn has a way of making you feel the only option is silence. But that’s not really a viable route; not now, anyway. The more progressive way to go is to enter into a direct dialog with every taboo. Put the subject matter into words, whatever that takes. Strive for clarity day by day and please don’t be deterred by the small effort it can take to get there.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — Keep scratching out your niche in the world, the one where you belong. If it often seems more difficult than necessary, remember that you’re doing something original. You may also be doing something that contradicts the many prevailing beliefs of our time. But what it doesn’t contradict are the prevailing needs of our time. Rather than focusing on beliefs or on what is supposedly acceptable (or not), stay close to the necessities you’re responding to. Know what they are, and when in doubt, come back to the egg. That’s the thing to speak to. Remember that people are hurting, that they often feel dispossessed of the world, and that they have less energy and often less ability to reason than you do. Plus, very often you’re willing to take chances they are not willing to take. Therefore, don’t try to convince anyone of anything. Rather, speak directly to their needs, and demonstrate what you can do for them. It’s true that this puts you in a nurturing role, though in truth that is what’s required for both your own progress and for that of the planet we all share. Remember too that the solution to any problem is most often born of creativity. That in turn requires an experiment, which is exactly how your chart is describing your life at the moment. So keep at it, one day at a time.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Consider all the possible combinations of work, wellbeing and healing, and experiment with them. I don’t mean the words, I mean what those words represent. This is where you can find benefit in your life, for yourself and for others. Many factors may seem to be unpredictable or unstable, at least for the moment. What is dependable is that there’s work to do, that you have some important healing processes going, and that wellbeing is the core theme of your life. Your greatest productivity and strongest relationships will come from the place where these things meet. Focus on those relationships and you will strengthen them, and come into a new state of balance. The world may be stressed out, and people may be struggling to find time to check all their devices. You have abundant energy, you have a clear agenda and a sense of what matters to you. You can trust your perceptions about these things. While you’re here, I suggest you focus on one longterm plan that you know is going to improve your life. If you must lean on others to create (or claim) the space and energy for this special project, that’s why they’re in your life. Allow yourself to be supported by your environment. If it helps, remember the abundant benefit people get from your presence. Take care of yourself and remember that your priorities actually matter.