Each person’s life is like a mandala – a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life. We enter a room, and the room is our mandala. We get on the subway, and the subway car is our mandala, down to the teenager checking messages on her iPhone and the homeless man slumped in the corner. We go for a hike in the mountains, and everything as far as we can see is our mandala: the clouds, the trees, the snow on the peeks, even the rattlesnake coiled in the corner. We’re lying in a hospital bed, and the hospital is our mandala. We don’t set it up, we don’t get to choose what or who shows up in it. It is, As Chogyam Trungpa said, “the mandala that is never arranged but is always complete.” And we embrace it just as it is.
Everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening. From this point of view, awakening is right at your fingertips continually. There’s not a drop of rain or a pile of dog poop that appears in your life that isn’t the manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn’t a doorway to sacred world. But it’s up to you whether your life is a mandala of neurosis or a mandala of sanity.”
When we see deeply that all that is subject to arising is also subject to cessation, that whatever arises will also pass away, the mind becomes disenchanted. Becoming disenchanted, one becomes dispassionate. And through dispassion, the mind is liberated.
The Buddha said long ago that when anyone in the future met with his teachings, it would be the same as meeting him in person. Therefore we can “meet the Buddha” today in the form of teachers, teachings, or our own practice. Saying we want to meet the Buddha is like saying we want to meet the awakened state of our own mind. We don’t have to change who we are in order to meet the Buddha in this way. The purpose of our meeting is not to become a student of another culture or to discover someone else’s wisdom. We’re not practicing Indian culture to become Indian, or practicing Japanese or Tibetan culture to become Japanese or Tibetan. Our purpose is to discover who we truly are, to connect with our own wisdom.
When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,
nothing in the world can offend,
and when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way.
In short, unless you mingle your mind with the dharma, it is pointless to merely sport a spiritual veneer. Keep to the bare necessities for sustaining your life and warding off the bitter cold; reflect on the fact that nothing else is really needed. Practice guru yoga and supplicate one-pointedly. Direct every spiritual practice you do to the welfare of all sentient beings, your own parents. Whatever good or evil, joy or sorrow befalls you, train in seeing it as your guru’s kindness.
The thing that really surprised me when I first went to the West was to hear people saying, “I hate myself”, I could never understand that. But now I think I understand; when people say, “I hate myself” what they really mean is, “I love myself too much”, and they are always disappointed for not fulfilling the expectations they have of themselves! I think what they mean is, “I am always disappointed in myself.”
The British have this very romantic idea about ancient culture and wisdom, which is reflected in their academia. If an Englishman wants to study Buddhism, he begins by examining the root texts in original Pali or Sanskrit, and he studies the code of conduct Buddha prescribed for Indians twenty-five hundred years ago, and he feels loyal to that ancient atmosphere.
Many of us have these romantic notions, not realizing the contextual nature of these early rules. When we see a serene Theravada monk begging in the streets of Mandalay at sunrise, it makes our day. But if the same smooth-shaven, maroon-robed man was seen begging alms on Kensington High Street next to the Hare Krishnas, it would offend the sensibilities of the uptight British. Removed from his romantic setting, the monk is little better than a pest. My English friend seems to have forgotten that after Buddha offered these rules and regulations to his immediate sangha, he said the Vinaya will have to be determined by time and place. Aside from the four root vows — abstaining from sexual misconduct, stealing, killing a human being (born or unborn), and major deceit — there are no rules that apply across the board. But Trungpa Rinpoche taught that you can be a Buddhist and still be a successful banker or entrepreneur. This was a huge contribution to modern Buddhadharma.
If Trungpa Rinpoche had manifested as a typical monk from Surmang — wearing robes, exuding serenity, begging alms, and behaving perfectly from a vinaya point of view — at least he would have entertained those romantic, ancient morality–loving British. But would he have been able to reach all the others? Could he have inspired thousands of people to adopt the ancient vinaya rules of shirtless, dinnerless monastics? It’s well and good to daydream about the glory days of shaved heads and wandering ascetics, but if the venue and the times have changed, the methods must also change.
If we try to practice meditation without the foundation of goodwill to ourselves and others, it is like trying to row across a river without first untying the boat; our efforts, no matter how strenuous, will not bear fruit. We need to practice and refine our ability to live honestly and with integrity.