Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thousands of Prior Steps

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa gave a beautiful but very brief talk in Tibetan in Gyuto recently to an audience that included many Tibetan-speaking pilgrims from the Himalayan regions as well as Tibetans newly arrived from Tibet, their cheeks burnt from the weeks under the sun's violent glare as they crossed the Himalayan peaks on foot to reach India. There was no English translation, sadly, and His Holiness explained to us English speakers that these are things he always says, so there would be no particular need to translate them for us. But though most of us in this community have heard most of the public talks His Holiness has given in the last few years, and there were new and fresh things for us there. The summary below is limited to the first half of what was perhaps a 10-minute talk! It is offered here with the wish that it may serve as a cause of greater satisfaction and joy in your life...

His Holiness began by observing that it is clear that we all have a longing for happiness, and want peace and wellbeing in our lives. We all want this, and yet we are not always so clear how to get it, how to live our lives in such a way that happiness will come about, or even quite where it comes from. We may at times look to external objects or goods to bring us happiness, and while the Dharma tells us that happiness comes from within and not from without, we can also see for ourselves that people with great wealth are not necessarily people with great happiness. In fact, their lives are often full of anxieties and unhappiness. So obviously happiness does not lie outside. On the contrary, it comes form within the mind of each of us, and each of us must in fact bring that happiness about for ourselves. In this context, the practice of contentment that is discussed in Buddhist texts has a great role to play. Cultivating a sense of satisfaction with what we have is possible, and can bring about a general inner climate of great peace and happiness within us.

As an example, if we consider just the fact that we are breathing, we can see that in fact, not only one factor is required just for us to be able to sit here and breathe, but many things had to happen upstream, as it were, before all that is necessary for us to take a breathe. Many trees had to grow, the atmosphere had to fill with oxygen and many other factors had to come together precisely as needed. For the conditions to come to together so that we can breathe, many prior steps had to happen - thousands of prior steps, in fact, if we analyze carefully. This is actually amazing, if we think about it. And this is not only the case with one single breath. We are breathing 24 hours a day, and so this situation truly can cause us great amazement and delight.

If we consider anything else we have in life in this way, reflecting how amazing it is that the conditions came together for us to have it, and also training ourselves to recognize the great value of whatever we do have, this can enhance our sense of satisfaction and joy in our lives. We can make ourselves happy, and more and more happy, through this recognition.

When problems or difficult situations arise in our lives, as they often do, we can put our energy into thinking how terrible they are and in that way allow our suffering to increase, as our mind focuses on what is negative. Or rather than focus on the inadequacies or unsatisfactoriness of a situation, we can move our minds in a positive direction, by contemplating how tremendously valuable and amazing it is for us to have whatever positive things we do have.

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