This was a greatly anticipated weekend in February. For many people, those few months that Lama Rabsang spent in his retreat solitude felt like ages. It could be felt in the atmosphere and seen in a number of people (which was about 40) that his guidance and presence was much missed over the winter. Even though practice is always our own responsibility and really up to us how much we put into it, inspiration, blessings and a regular reminder of the Dharma basics carries us along the path, which otherwise might slip into being like another task to tick on the list of the mundane duties.
Over the weekend Lama Rabsang explored the topic How to Use Emotions as a Path of Practice from different viewpoints. He also led a Calm Abiding meditation day with teachings and meditation sessions.
Precious Human Life, Gratitude and Appreciation
On Saturday Lama Rabsang started the topic on emotions as practice by saying that at first he will focus on personal side of it and in the afternoon he will approach the topic looking at the relationships to other people.
Lama brought our attention on how we start our day: We should wake up with a sense of appreciation and gratitude having a precious human life and being still alive. Having a precious human life is an opportunity which is very rare. He pointed that life can be seen as very precious because it is impermanent and actually also very short. Every second we are getting older whether we like it not! He said that we cannot stop or control our emotions. We have developed these emotional habitual tendencies over many lifetimes. Since the life is very short we need to bring the emotions into practice.
It Is Up to Us How We Start Our Day
“So, when getting up in the morning, be grateful that you are still alive” Lama started going through a day from the moment of waking up. “You can think that I don’t want to waste my life, I don’t want to be miserable, I want to wake up. Whatever happens today is caused by many causes and conditions, I cannot control it. I have to just accept it. Whatever comes to my way today, I will deal with it positive way.” He approached the topic by pointing out that our attitude starts already from the moment of waking up to the alarm and how do we take that. Are we feeling tired and miserable, or do we decide to just get up with a more positive mind, seeing the great opportunity for another day of practice and use this human life in a meaningful way? Lama said that it does not come automatically, it is not easy, but we have to force ourselves a little bit to do that. If we manage to do that, we start reducing the dullness of the mind already. He went through the normal actions we go through every day, breakfast, shower etc, and pointed that we can do them in rush, mindlessly and being miserable, or just do them in a relaxed way, mindfully and aware.
Lama reminded us that throughout the day, when there are situations that we cannot change, we can always use our compassionate aspirations and prayers to wish good. There is no point in thinking just negative things in the world which we cannot change. We should use these opportunities to understand the world, our human mind and develop good aspirations and pray for the better world.
What Is the Point in Being Angry?
Lama noted that we can easily see how too many choices in our lives give us suffering and confusion because we cannot make up our mind. Also the tendency to make small things so big and difficult is something that is constantly giving us self-created suffering. With his light and joyous way Lama pointed that we take things so seriously. “What is the point in being angry, what is the point being upset? If someone doesn’t like you, you cannot change that. Just let it go. We cannot make everybody happy. We cannot make everyone like us. No matter how much we try, some people just don’t like us. If we are angry, who suffers most? Ourselves!” Lama put it simply, cutting through a lot of our possible psychological counter arguments, which we many times might use to keep the sense of justification for following our emotions.
Emotions as Learning
Lama gave examples of how to use emotions as a learning experience: When the emotion – anger, jealousy or something else – arises, relate to it with gratitude. The gratitude comes when we can see ourself and our reactions and habits better. This way we relate to the emotion in a positive way, and the difficult situation becomes learning, seeing our mind better, seeing our ego. When we take these negative emotions this way, we are able to say “Thank you so much for showing me my ego” and then the negative emotions support our practice. Also Lama reminded us to develop compassion through our negative emotions and experiences by seeing that when something negative happens to us, we can think “I will never do this to anyone, this is really painful”. This develops understanding that we are not so different from each other in experiencing suffering, pain and happiness, even though we might be different in our habitual tendencies and life situations. Understanding oneself allows us to understand others easily. When we don’t understand ourselves, then the ego is like a king and blaming others. When we understand our negative habits and how difficult things are to us, we have compassion to ourselves and to others. Buddha said that use yourself as an example: if you have pain others have pain also.
Emotions Are Habitual Tendencies Arising From Ignorance
Lama made a distinction in different ways we can relate to our emotions and use them as practice: one way is using them as learning about ourselves, our tendencies, about life and other people, developing compassion and understanding. This is a way anyone can use emotions as a practice path. Then he took another view and said that the Buddhist way of looking at our emotions is a bit different. The emotions are seen to arise from ignorance, stupidity, not knowing our true nature, and they are just our habitual tendencies which we have developed over the countless lifetimes. Emotions are seen just like a dream, illusory in nature. We can see how those habitual tendencies just arise from somewhere. Lama quoted The Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra saying that when it says that in emptiness there is no feeling, no thought, no taste, no sound, no sight, no dharma, etc..then what does that mean? We are here, everything is here? He said that this is a different level of understanding, one needs to understand emptiness, and continued saying that we are not yet at that level. He emphasized that we are mostly on the level where we need to contemplate precious human life and impermanence. This is something that supports us in dealing with emotions in a more positive way. He gave an example: “Two years ago you liked this cup, after that you don’t like it anymore. You can see how everything changes. Also the relationships change. At first you like someone and then after a while not. Our minds are like a weather. When you understand that, then you are taking things more easily. If you have something, you have it, if you lose something, you lost it, and you accept it more easily. This brings more balance. Accept everything, don’t blame or punish yourself or others. That’s our level what we can do. This is not however Buddhist emptiness level of understanding. But if we practice this way, it is quite simple.”
Lama clarified the meaning that when he is saying “Be happy”, it does not mean just like “hahahahaa” happy. It means that we accept where ever we are, whoever we are, whatever we have. This is more like contentment. The causes and conditions in our lives are what they are, but what we can do is to accept it and deal with it in a positive way, and not worry about the future. He advised that we of course can plan the future but we should not think too much about it.
So that we would not have unrealistic expectations for what our minds should be like, Lama said that emotions are always there, but we should not let them bother us so much. In line with a calm abiding meditation is the attitude when we don’t follow the feelings, but just see them and leave them be. We cannot get rid of the feelings, but when we leave it be, it just disappears naturally.
Emotions Arising and Dissolving – Let it be
We can see that our ego wants drama, emotions, ups and downs. We just cannot let go and then we follow the emotion. Lama advised just to recognise it, drop it and the drama is gone. When we recognise the emotion, let it be without trying to get rid of it or to change it and just rest there, there is freedom and openness. This is the Buddhist (meditation) training. If we have anger – recognise, let it be. If we have pride – recognise, let it be. Same with every emotion. Lama also directed our mind to ask ourselves: “Who is angry?” then relax and meditate. One might be able to see how within one’s mind a feeling of anger is seen as not solid and it disappears somewhere. This is the highest purification of anger. “That’s the practice” Lama said and continues that this will lead to equanimity. He urged us not to follow our emotions and crazy thoughts. He pointed out that every day the causes and conditions change and we feel different and we really don’t know how tomorrow will be and how we will feel. Karma, body level, elements and everything will affect how we will feel. Main point is not to follow our feeling, but just to see it and let it be.
There was a question about ego and how to get rid of it and lama addressed it the following way: Everything is our mind’s perception. The whole world is our mind’s perception. This comes about through the multiple causes and conditions. When we understand that everything is a mind’s perception, and that we just label and conceptualise things, then we get rid of the ego. Then we see that there is no ego. Ego arises from ignorance, of not knowing the truth. Lama explained that if we examine where is the ego, we cannot find it even though we can feel it. When looking at that feeling of ego, we can see that it is just space and clarity. It is emptiness already. When we realise this, then we get rid of ego. Then also all emotions are self-liberated. All emotions are habitual tendencies when we don’t see the truth. We need to wake up to see the truth. This way of dealing with emotions is more coming from the view of understanding emptiness.
Lama concluded the morning session bringing the attention again to the meditation perspective. He said that when we practice meditation we will slowly develop a calm abiding state of mind. Then where ever we sit, where ever we are, we are peaceful and calm. Emotions are still there and thoughts are there, they don’t go away, but they don’t bother us. We can see them but we don’t follow them. Then at insight meditation level we can see all our thoughts and emotions as illusory, as emptiness, they arise and dissolve. They are not experienced as so solid anymore and we become free from the power of emotions and thoughts, they don’t affect us. We can see our thoughts and emotions as clarity and emptiness. When someone praises us, it is just empty words, when someone puts us down, it is just empty words. “None of that will change what you are, so you can just say thank you.” said Lama, clearly speaking from a place of knowing the truth.
Compassion and Forgiveness in Relationships
In the afternoon session on Saturday Lama Rabsang was addressing the difficulties we experience in relation to others, emotions that can become entangled and our minds very confused. He acknowledged that relationships are difficult but one of the biggest things that helps is when we learn to forgive each other. We can be upset, but could just let it go. We can try to deal with all our emotions in a positive way, trying to understand each other. This is the simple, easy way of taking things. This is not just a Buddhist way. Lama said that we cannot transform our emotions so easily, but if we want to do something, we should just try – just do it.
When we see our friends or other people going through difficult emotions and suffering, that can arouse compassion in us. We should look at them with acceptance and understanding, not judging. We might see and experience other people’s ego, anger, pride, jealousy etc, but we should try to understand it, relate to it with compassion and don’t take it personally. When we react to other’s emotions with our emotions, it makes a big soup, more confusion and mess. Lama Rabsang emphasized that it is important to remember that our emotions are our own responsibility, we have to deal with them, and other people’s emotions are their responsibility and they have to deal with them. Then there are not so many problems.
Lama Rabsang brought our attention continuously into remembering compassion and forgiveness when dealing with others, or ourselves as well. He pointed out that since we are living in a desire realm, self-interest is often the motivating factor in our choices and actions. We act in relationships like it was business, we want profit, we expect something in return when we give something. Lama said that in behaving this way, problems start easily and it breaks down relationships. We can see how friends end up being enemies, when we have expectations for others and then for some reason they are not met and we become disappointed. Because of expectations we cannot just be open and relaxed in our relationships. Lama urged us to be more independent saying that we should not to rely too much on others. He clarified that even though this sounds quite bad, it does not mean that you don’t trust or like others. It just means that you understand that people are easily led by their emotions. Relying too much on others and thinking they will never let us down or cheat, we will become disappointed in our friendships and relationships, because even though we don’t want to follow our desires, we cannot control ourselves.
Dharma View – Relationships as an Opportunity to Do Something Positive
Lama however took another view point, more from the Dharma perspective, to the relationships. He said that taking things in a Dharma way, things become more easy and simple, it is like practicing generosity. Instead of seeing other people as something they should give to us, we can see the chance to help someone as an opportunity to develop our generosity and kindness. We start appreciating the person because they give us a chance to help, they give us a chance to do good and accumulate merit for the benefit of all beings. We can see this precious human life as a great opportunity to accumulate merit and positive karma. When we give something without expecting anything in return, and also dedicate that action for the benefit of all beings, this multiplies our merit of generosity. Lama said that if we don’t understand this, then our relationships are likely to break down. We expect thank-yous, we want appreciation and we are just acting on samsaric level pleasing someone. Lama strongly advised that when we give something, we should do it genuinely and completely. If we feel like we don’t want to give, then don’t give, since if we regret our giving we will lose the merit.
Emotions and Understanding the Four Thoughts That Turn The Mind
Concluding the day Lama brought our attention to the four reminders again and the importance of really deeply understanding them: Precious human life, impermanence, karma and samsara. He said that if you really believe that the human life is precious, then you really appreciate yourself and everyone, you never hate yourself or others. If you really understand impermanence, then you don’t want to waste your life, you want to do something beneficial and meaningful now. If you really understand karma, you know that only by acting positively will bring positive results – by being compassionate and kind now, we will be more so in the future. Understanding karma, we will also see the interdependence – how everything arises through many causes and conditions in our lives. If we really understand samsara, we can see that is just driven by greed, desire and other emotions and it only ends up in suffering. We never feel we have enough. We try to have enough but actually we always want more. Bringing this to the Dharma practice context he stated: “We have no time to practice because we continuously want this and that!”