May bodhicitta, precious and sublime, arise where it has not yet come to be. Where it has arisen may it never fail, but grow and flourish more and more.
Unbroken lineages of wisdom traditions are rare in these times, and Kongtrul Rinpoche descends from a pure lineage of the Dzogpa Chenpo Longchen Nyingtik tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
We have two main study and practice centers in America: Phuntsok Choling in Colorado and Pema Osel in Vermont. Rinpoche teaches the core MSB programs at these two centers. In addition, MSB has several city centers or groups around the world where people gather for group meditation and study, and to listen to the LINK teachings together.
Browse to any of the calendars to find out more about the teaching schedules of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Dungse Jampal Norbu, or Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. View the upcoming events at Phuntsok Choling, Pema Osel, or find out who is giving the next LINK talk.
MSB is a part of the Longchen Nyingtik and Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum lineages. (Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and Terton Chokgyur Lingpa, collectively known as Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum, were the heart of the Rimé, or nonsectarian, movement, which did so much to preserve and harmonize all schools of Tibetan Buddhism in the nineteenth century.)
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The holiday season is usually a time for celebration with a lot of emphasis on gifts, abundance, parties, and all the good things in life. But what I often see and experience this time of year is not always so joyful, because there is also a lot of difficulty during this season: it gets colder, not everyone can stay warm; there are homeless people on the streets looking for food and wanting to stay warm. It brings to mind that there are difficult times even as there are good times.
So I want to speak about those difficult times: the cold, the frustration, and the seasonal depression. No one enjoys these times; no one enjoys this kind of pain or suffering. Who would? But it’s not necessarily a terrible thing, even though it is very hard to face such situations.
As we acknowledge the things that we are thankful for this season, we can also acknowledge the difficulties in life, because the difficulties also play a role for us as practitioners, they play a role to disillusion us from the thought that everything is tinsel, lights, and good food, and happy, warm, soft-lit photograph type scenes. These difficult moments spur us forward to practice.
Spurs are not pleasant but they are very effective. Ask any horse, they’d much rather be guided by your knees, than a sharp jolt by your heel. In a similar manner, these difficult moments can be our spurs. They “can be”, which doesn’t mean that they are.
When we acknowledge such difficult times, we give ourselves a choice: we give ourselves an opportunity to either get sucked into that situation, or to rise above it. To be motivated to go beyond.
This season can also be a time of great loneliness, there is a certain lonely aspect to winter; there is less sunlight, we may often feel depressed, isolated or get sick and people seem to be so very busy all the time focused on their own situation. We can become so engrossed getting ready for Christmas gatherings in that Chevy Chase holiday movie kind of way, with such tunnel vision, just wanting to do our own thing, we get so focused on our own small situation instead of appreciating the larger context around us.
So there is the choice of feeling the intense loneliness by having it creep up around you, or we can acknowledge that this is one of the situations we find ourselves in that is unavoidable and that we’ll feel this way at times. Just as certain painful experiences are unavoidable, we can choose to practice, or not.
Practice here, is really about facing our deeply ingrained habits. Habits that say, “watch TV, don’t practice”, or “go out for coffee or a drink, and leave the meditation or study for later”, which is brought about by even more deeply ingrained habits of resistance and ego clinging; or the resistance to stare at ourselves and imagine that we could go beyond our own personal situation.
It’s the difficulty of facing these habits that makes practice seem more difficult than not practicing. A pig may enjoy rolling around in mud and is perfectly comfortably hanging out in the mud, but when mud becomes quicksand, the pig has to get out. The pig knows that if it doesn’t get out, it will get sucked in forever.
Not calling us pigs and not calling the holiday spirit quicksand, but there a certain similarity in not facing something that is difficult and instead rolling around enjoying ourselves. Not to say that suffering is a good thing, but suffering can serve a purpose, if that is how we choose to take it.
There are also other times, when we might not be deeply entrenched in a difficult experience, when life is just good and even and easy and maybe not really high but not really low, more of an apathetic time. I personally feel more grateful for the difficult times when I become caught in those long, even stretches of apathy, because whether one is deeply faced with pain or not, there’s still the ingrained habits of the self and self-clinging.
Even at a less intense level, a long stretch of feeling caught up in my own situation, not being able to think beyond myself, fully entrenched in apathy, is, in its own way, a much more painful experience than facing suffering head on, because it is more difficult to motivate myself to practice. Not even practice as in sitting on a cushion, but practice just to think of someone else, just to have compassion. It becomes purely an intellectual exercise and that is more difficult for me to be limited in that way than to face a challenge, and see the opportunity to rise above it, and to have that resolve.
This is where our good heart meets the four thoughts that turn the mind toward the dharma. Thoughts of impermanence, thoughts of pain and suffering, thoughts of death. Without these, the motivation to generate the good heart lessens quite a bit. We become stuck in the doldrums of apathy.
And I do think of this most often during the winter season because everyone is busy taking care of their own situation. So this holiday season I want to offer these thoughts for not only giving thanks and appreciating all the good things in our lives but also for the difficult times that give us an opportunity to spur ourselves towards something with a much greater meaning in our lives.
Excerpt taken from MSB Link, 12/1/2013
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