In a selection from his new book, Surya Das shows just how practical it is to view everything as a blessing.
All Buddhist teachers, and I am no exception, point out that all of our happiness as well as all of our despair arise from the mind. When we search for happiness and an end to suffering, the only place to look is within the mind itself. We each contain within ourselves all that we need for personal joy, bliss, wisdom, equanimity, and peace. There is no reason to look to externals or anywhere else. When one truly embraces this thought, there is nothing to fear. We are truly free.
Until we reach this level of spiritual peace, we are in some ways always at the mercy of external circumstances. We will continue to be affected by all events, great and small. The Tibetan text on turning unhappiness into the spiritual path says that “our hair is tangled in a tree,” meaning that we are bound up in external circumstances that take over and leave us tied up. In a long prayerful poem, [my late teacher] Dudjom Rinpoche wrote, “May I tie around my head the lead rope that is attached to my own nose,” meaning may we realize autonomy and self-mastery, and not always be at the mercy of things outside ourselves.
Difficulties help free us from our attachment to how we want things to be.
My teachers would often remind us that obstacles and problems could be viewed as blessings that should not be avoided. Difficulties help free us from our attachment to how we want things to be. In short, they help free us from the fantasies that keep us from awakening to the joy of enlightenment, the bliss of what is. When we take this approach, we find that we are able to see and appreciate the lessons and opportunities in each experience. This applies to both the positive and the negative. Just as we are often fearful and anxious of negative experiences, and thus fail to reap the lessons that are there for us, so too we can so easily overlook and deny the blessings and simple, everyday joys in our lives.
Many seekers today, for example, complain about the level of stress they are under from the pressures of schedules and responsibilities. Often this stress is generated by the demands we place on ourselves to be better parents, friends, partners, employees, employers, neighbors–in short, to be better people. Perhaps instead of viewing our obligations as burdens, we could incorporate them into a spiritual practice with a little prayer that further emphasizes our commitment to the awakened awareness and goodness of heart embodied in the precious Bodhicitta [awakened heart/mind].
We cultivate and reinforce our compassionate intentions to do good and to help, not harm, others. Because we love and care about ourselves, we naturally learn more and more to extend ourselves to others since they are really not much different than we are. In this way, each of us can transform and recondition much of our own selfish, egotistical behavior, and be more of a peacemaker and bearer of love, shedding light wherever we go.
We all long for spiritual blessings, protection, and wholeness. Yet it is often appreciated how many blessing we all have within us and in our lives. We remember the old spiritual admonishment, “Count your blessings” as we try not to overlook all that we have been given. Moreover we could practice giving blessings to ourselves and our own hopes and ideals; we could freely offer blessings to others from the fullness of our hearts. We need to over come any tendencies to be stingy with our blessings, mistakenly assuming that blessings come from someone else. Each of us is a blessed one–you too!
When we look at everything we are experiencing–good and bad–with sacred out look and nonjudgmental awareness, we further enhance our personal spiritual growth.
The Practice of Pure Perception
One of the unique practices in Tibetan Buddhism is called “dak-nang,” the practice of pure perception or sacred outlook. In this practice, we focus our energy on seeing this world as a perfect Buddha Field–a paradise-like realm–with all beings as Buddhas. This a wonderful practice to keep in mind whenever we find ourselves strongly liking or not liking an experience, and event, a feeling, or a person.
We can further put this into perspective in the bigger context of what Tibetan Buddhists refer to as the Great Perfection teachings or Dzogchen. This is the ultimate revelation through which we recognize that everything that arises both within and outside us is the stately process of what we call the “Dharmakaya,” or absolute dimension–the radiance of absolute truth or naked reality, stripped of illusions and conceptual imputations.
What we mean by Dharmakaya is that Buddha-nature, or primordial luminosity, is manifested and expressed through every element of our world and existence.
In short, everything is Dharmakaya–everything, including our emotions, whether they are healthy or unhealthy, positive or negative, constructive or destructive. The things we like or don’t like, including physical sensations such as pain or pleasure, are all part of the blessed, radian Dharmakaya or Buddha-nature at work–or better yet, Buddha-nature at play.
What this means is that all beings are the Buddhas in this Buddha Field. The earth is the altar, and we are the deities sitting, standing, and walking on the altar. Everything is sacred; all are holy; everything is perfectly radiant and stainless in the Buddhavision-like light of the natural Great Perfection. This is the perspective of “dak-nang,” the practice of pure perception.
When we look at everything we are experiencing–good and bad–with sacred out look and nonjudgmental awareness, we enhance our spiritual growth.
My late friend John Blofeld was a Buddhist author, scholar, and translator; he lived for many years in China and Tibet during the 1950s and ‘60s. Eventually, during the 1970s, he settled into married life in Bangkok with his Thai wife. Once when I visited him there, John told me how difficult it was for him to get acclimated to living in such a bustling, noisy city after living for decades in Himalayan monasteries and Chinese Taoist hermitages. He said that what he found particularly challenging was practicing meditation for two hours in his Bangkok apartment each morning before leaving for his office.
In his apartment, John had created and decorated a lovely Tara shrine and meditation room. The room was filled with exquisite sacred art that he had accumulated over the years–beautiful statues of Buddha; small, delicate paintings; altar pieces; Chinese brocade; sacred texts; and rare books and manuscripts, along with antique offering bowls and lamps. But despite the beauty of his surroundings, John couldn’t keep the discordant sounds of Bangkok morning traffic from coming through his window and interrupting his meditation.
Then one day something “clicked” into place. It must have been a blessing from the “traffic gods.” combined with that of his own lineage of guides and gurus, augmented of course by the good karma he’d accumulated by faithfully persevering despite the distracting noise. Whatever the reason, one morning while he was in his shrine room, meditating on Tara, he suddenly realized that all those honking horns, droning engines, and clunking gears didn’t sound that much different from the blaring of Tibetan long horns and the clash of huge brass monastery cymbals wafting through his old hermitage window in Darjeeling, where John had studied Dzogchen with my own late master, Dudjom Rinpoche. In his master’s monastery, John had found the sounds of the horns an enhancement to his morning meditation. Why should it be different now?
John told me that suddenly he realized–like awakening from a dream–that it was simply a matter of how he was perceiving those sounds–as distracting noise, or as a celestial Tibetan ritual choir–that made all the difference. Until that moment, for no real reason other than his own interpretation superimposed upon things, he had found one set of sounds uplifting, and the other brought him down.
John then fully realized for the first time the secret of the Tibetan practice of pure perception–seeing all forms as rainbow energy, hearing all sounds as deities chanting mantras, and recognizing the Buddha light in everyone and everything. From that day on, John’s morning prayers and Tara practice were totally transformed and absolutely blessed. The sacred sounds coming through his window may have been different from the sounds he had heard in his guru’s distant Himalayan monastery, but–in his transformed vision–they were sacred nonetheless. Thus he had found himself peacefully at home with his guru in Tara’s Buddha Field, even amidst bustling Bangkok–a city that never sleeps.