Last weekend, I attend a teaching by Lama Pema Wangdak, a Tibetan Buddhist who was sent by the head of his order to teach in this country in 1982. I invite you to read about his many humanitarian activities, which include founding schools in three countries and inventing a Tibetan brail alphabet. http://www.ewamchoden.org/?p=2093
Lama Pema represents the next generation of the Tibetan diaspora, educated by traditional Tibetan masters, but fully acclimated to western culture. He illustrates points of philosophy with current movies or ancient stories with equal ease. He has a great sense of humor too.
Many traditional teachings are presented in simple phrases, called “pith instructions,” that are easy grasp with the intellect, but not so easy to grasp in depth. For instance, we all understand the truth that “everything changes,” but it takes reflection to real-ize in the gut what that means in personal terms.
Because of this election season, some of Lama Pema’s comments ventured into the realm of politics. He threw out some of his own deceptively simple concepts, which I’m still pondering and want to pass on.
One of his constant themes is individual responsibility, moment by moment, in trying to create the kind of world we want to live in. “The peace of the world hinges on you and me,” he said. I jotted down some of his other comments.
“We expect the world to be ‘right’ and to make us feel good. In fact, we are in the midst of chaos and it’s up to us to make it right.”
“There are some people who can improve situations by their very presence, by their inner nature. There are others for whom it’s not quite right, and when they are done, it’s much worse. Both capacities live within each of us.”
“We have to stand up for what we believe in, be decisive about what we are aiming for…To belittle oneself, undermine oneself is a real sin…To take risks, even at the risk of being wrong, is far better than not taking risks.”
“A great part of our humanity is sustained by legends, imagination, and hope. It’s all imagination. To take life as a dream helps lower our blood pressure.”
Deceptively simple ideas. The kind it’s easy to jot down in a notebook and forget about a day or two later.
One classic exercise with this kind of teaching is to take one of these points and focus on it for a day or a week or longer. Mull it over, bring it to mind when we wake, while walking in from the parking lot, while waiting at red lights. “What do I believe in, what do I need to stand up for?” for instance.
As if to underscore the idea, Lama Pema gave the example of Gandhi. Even though we know it happened, it’s hard to believe one skinny little man could push the British out of India. The core of all his action was knowing what he believed in, what he stood for, with unswerving certainty.
There was no suggestion that we are called to change the world in such a dramatic manner. The suggestion was that at every moment, our thoughts and actions always change the world, either for good or ill. The suggestion was to bring mindfulness to bear on our “simple” actions and see what kind of difference they can make.