Annual India Tours
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt
gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity.
These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
Jhampa Combs Sept 20
On death and personal impermanence. It is important to balance one's life through bringing our awareness to the limitations of our finite life. With that awareness we should balance our activities. So often we don't incorporate change as a very real part of our life. And how we can engage how it is incorporating it into our life or not, is for example, a car get scratched or a flat tire, a window breaks, or something like this. When those things happen, if we get upset, then obviously we think those things should always be there forever and never break!
We do have to live in our mind set which says that we are around for a long time. In fact, we never want to incorporate impermanence in our life at all. So that is something which we have as an experience, the mind which has an attitude thinking I am going to be around for a long time. I have no facet to my mind which is recognizing the flow of things.
Traditionally the subject matter is termed renunciation. The Tibetan word is nay jung, which means death and emergence. People who translated that word were Fundamental Christians who translated it as renunciation, as in that monks had renounced worldly existence in spiritual path. And that does apply a little bit, but the connotations for us as Westerners, is sort of that we have to give things up. That is what the connotations mean. But it doesn't really work. The better word is spiritual determination because it gives the proper connotation as to what is really required for a renounced attitude.
The difference lies in our approach to life. It does not rely on outer activities. There are three definite points where we deal with the world. We deal with relationships with others, our possessions, and finally with our own body. Those are the three areas we have to reconsider in the light of being an impermanent entity. When we talk of renunciation, we think of it as strict, I shouldn't have friends. Like in the Buddhist term, he or she is selfless and has no personality whatsoever. They are sort of drab or something. This is the thoughts that come to mind thinking of selflessness or egolessness. That is the idea that comes to mind. Of course, renunciation comes as part of this. That you have no more feelings, that you are subdued and wouldn't get excited about having a possibility of friendships because you would then be attached, and that would be bad and you would not have any spirituality. Those traditional kinds of ideas about it.
The problem lies really in that those are not realistic. Nor are they getting to the source of the problem. The Tibetan tradition or mahayana tradition has something called hairy renunciation which refers to someone who feels a strong urging of renouncing everything and run off to the mountains and cut themselves off from all the inputs. Really they do not do anything. It is said that they take the village in their mind to the mountains and there think of all of the things which are going on. So really they remain worldly even though they live in the mountains. So that is a hairy renunciation or a non realistic approach.
To put it in context where it would be more applicable, for example I said the realization and egolessness should make you a selfless person, that you be walked all over, you are everyone's victim! This would give you an idea about that! But that is a misunderstanding. Actually in Buddhist terminology, I have to work with the Tibetan which is close to sanskrit, they say dokmay which is non self grasping. They do not no personality. In that way, if you become a person who has realized selflessness, you can have all the personality you want, it is just that you do not cling and grasp at the sense of yourself. I know all my teachers have unbelievable gregarious personality. When you watched him, you saw this terrifically fluid personality. And that comes from the point of renunciation is a transfer or change in the attitude we have to relationships, to possessions and to our own body. And it has nothing to do with not having any friends or being cold because we are renounced and feel detached. That is not realistic and not the meaning of realization. It is more actually sort of an apathy or lack of feeling. Or again, in regards to possessions, I am renounced because I have no possessions, and I have to beg!
Again, that is not a necessary thing, if your attitude towards the possessions you have is one where you have detachment to them, that is an enlightened attitude. It is not that I have to give away everything. So for a Buddhist, renunciation does not require that you loose everything. Even the ordination texts, although it is said a monk should live a simple life, it does not say the monk cannot have possessions. In that way, although it is best to have a robe and begging bowl, they can still have possessions. So it is the poverty side of renunciation.
And finally regarding one's own body, it does no mean you have to wear a blanket to take care of yourself, rather it your attitude to your appearance. So the implication of I am an impermanent entity, I am going to die one day. How does that affect our relationships, how does that affect my relationship to myself? That is what we really want to ask ourselves.
In our relationships, we do have this intention that I like you! That is the start. And when we enter into it, the of course we get a warm feeling with friends. We enjoy them and such. Nothing wrong with that. But what happens at a certain point is our grasping at permanence or our clinging to the situation, eventually becomes a kind of fear. The loss of that feeling! Any changes! And expectations come into it! In having established a warm relationship with someone, when they don't act according to our projections, then again I get uptight. You are not responding to the way I expect you to! So our clinging or attachment or our inability to allow things to go through a process of change is what makes us have trouble.
Let's talk about it. Someone who has a rigid attitude and no capacity to appreciate that their impermanent, their relationships are very solid real things, they are fixed. The people I have around me, I cling to them! As I say, we start up a relationship and we have a warm feeling, I want to give to this relationship. Then as time passes, I actually don't want to give any more, I need this relationship, I want to feel the warmth and need the security and support. So the relationship changes into not what one gives to it, but rather what one takes. And this incorporates that my attitude does not appreciate that I am impermanent. At the time of my death, none of my friends are going to help. They can cling to my body, but when I die, I move out! There is an analogy that death comes like hair pulled out of butter. The butter stays behind! Like that, even if we had everyone cling to the parts of our body, when death comes, our mind goes!
So like that, we have to appreciate that we are not very realistic in our relationships. In fact we have shifted in our attitude from I enjoy your company to I need you or grasp to you. You have to give me what I need or I am going to get very unhappy! And isn't it, in a relationship, if normally I am warm to you and one day I am cold, we are so insecure with our relationship with others, that we get very uptight! The problem is we have not thought about impermanence, and that as life passes, at the end of the life, what will have been the real benefits. Because at the end of our life, all we get is who we are. So what we have done in our relationships is what we will have in the end.
For someone who does not incorporate impermanence, when the end of their life comes, there is clinging and strong emotions. And there could be a lot of hatred, it is unbelievable! At the end of their life, all they could be left with is bitterness, anger, or resentment, or hatred. Or on the other side, attachment which cannot let others be what they are. When you have really heavy attachment to something, they are really in a narrow channel and others have to meet all your expectations, because when they don't you freak out on them! Again, because our attitude is clinging, attached, not very receptive to the impermanence of life, and we really don't think about what that means at the end of our life. How we are going to be left with the type of person we have been during our life with a lot of attachments and craving, clinging, fears, and sorrow! Very difficult to live that life and die that way!
If you think of yourself as an individual, when the clinging to permanence, I want this situation to be solid and permanent, then it makes an awful demand on the individual we so called love. It is no longer I am giving to you, but rather I am taking from you. That you have to stay in this narrow definition of what I call the relationship. We all click into you must be the way I think you should be! If we move out of this into a more enlightened attitude, I am an impermanent person and I am going to die one day. And when I do, all I have left is the type of person I am, how I have acted. So if that is the case, what sort of person do I want to be at the end of my life? Do I want to have a sense that I was able to give warmth, support, the possibility to grow as individuals. Think of it? What do we want from our relationships? We want happiness. We want the people around us to be happy. So if we had an attitude conscious of impermanence, and then recognized what we would like to have at that time in my life, and bring it back to the present time, we want is a sense of giving in our relationship. That my relationship is what I am offering to my friends. What is unique about that head space, is that you have no end of friends! You would have so many people care for you because you are a nice person! And when one passes away, there can be joy in ones heart. Death is a sad experience. But there can be a joyful memory in our friends. There will not be great anguish and such. There we be more joy and rejoicing.
So if we incorporate impermanence into our existence, it is very possible that we may have healthier relationships with people and have more real friendships not based on the fickleness of personality but more based on something deeper, that my quality is a durable reliable quality. That is relationships.
As for possessions, it is not that one should give up everything. But rather, I will only have at the end of my life what I have done with my objects. In clinging and being attached to objects, the objects then use one. For example, my pen. Using me to preserve it a avery good condition. For example, to polish it everyday, and so on. The whole attitude of clinging and attachment kind of relationship to it. So it has used me totally because I have is a very miserly attitude about my pen. Whereas, if I flip over to a more enlightened attitude, I am an impermanent entity. During my life various objects will come and others will go. So it is just an object that I use, that I maybe give it to you because it is not that I am clinging to it! If someone needs it, I am happy to give it to you! In that way, I am utilizing my objects! Therefore I am making the potential with having a positive relationship with it! Or if my watch is functional I use it. If I get upset if something happens to it, it is using me. It becomes more valuable than me! And at the end of my life, there is an incredible clinging, like who is worthy enough to have my watch! It's like that. People bequeath all of their wealth to certain people only because they are the real worthy ones who will value the possessions as equally as they have!
With a more enlightened attitude, I use my watch, if it wears out whatever, I can give it away if it seems appropriate. I am using my objects in a way that is an out growing flow, it is a warmth and sharing with others.
Whereas others who are miserly are used by objects, and at the end, they are miserly, uptight, upset when something went wrong. Actually, they were really afflicted by negative feelings because of their possessions. Whereas if we have the other attitude, there is that I shared, people got to enjoy my possessions! A whole different thing. And one did not have to renounce anything. Just change the attitude in regards to possessions!
The final area is in regards to our own body. That comes down to our vanity. Isn't it that as we age, and change, if our vanity is very strong, our body is using us! We talk about my body. I am the owner of my body. The relationship we have is I have these things. This is the way our personality sets it up. But really, where as we think we posses this body, but it is that the object actually possesses me because what happens when you look in the mirror! As we age the pouches under the eyes sag, the flesh is getting less brilliant! I could never understand lecherous old men looking at young women. But now, I am older! And it is the glory of their beauty! It is the beauty! When we age we start to loose it! And our society is so anti-aging.
At some point in one's life, one has to give up vanity or else one will be terribly miserable. Everything gets baggy and saggy. The back hurts all the time. As time passes, everything changes. So our attitude to our body should be why don't we use our body. We have a body, we have a lot of capacity, so use. Do something where one can be proud of one's body! You take your existence and make it that you are doing something with your existence, rather than it using you and being therefore miserable about as the years go by. So it is an attitude change.
In the first regarding relationships with others, we change our attitude from being what we get to what we can give to our relationships. This is a renounced attitude which renounces clinging and all of the negative effects that come from trying to cling to permanent and life and friends. Or in possessions, that I use my possessions versus my possessions using me. And finally, I use my body rather than my vanity about my body using and abusing me.
So the integration of impermanence into your life is actually a change in attitude. In this, you have the potential to be a wonderful person joyful to be around, your possessions become, not that you have to give away everything, it is not that your door is always open and people are walking out with your furniture, that is not realistic. And you have to think, is it beneficial to give everyone exactly what they ask for. Maybe it is creating more craving in them so you can say old! So it is a sharing. They can sleep on your furniture.
Regarding yourself, you can have vanity about yourself. Others pick up on this very fast. If someone is vain, it is easy. Yet it is so far from reality. The body can use the person. Yet, with a more enlightened attitude, if you are beautiful, use that. Attract others and be a wonderful vibrant person. Make it a quality because it is a part of your character. Whereas if you are arrogant, then it has made you a negative person and has not been utilized in a way that could be beneficial. It depends on attitude. And that is the whole point of renunciation.
It is a movement away from an attitude which does not incorporate impermanence to one which is more in tune or in harmony with impermanence.
For this evenings meditation it is important to think in regards to ones, possessions, friends, and my own body. The way you can tell if there is a wrong attitude, is for example, if you start making demands on your friends. Because then you are not giving to the relationship, you are asking. In that position, it indicates that you are clinging and unwilling to let go. But if you try to incorporate that you are an impermanent entity, you can relax and find a healthier relationship with others. Because you are not afraid or have the fear and paranoia of being vulnerable to others. Because your invulnerability is a quality of warmth and love in relationship. You are invulnerable because you don't have a point where you can be hurt.
The object of the meditation is the transference of attitude to a more realistic attitude incorporating impermanence. A more positive attitude where there is more warmth and sharing on our side. It is not that we loose anything, maybe we gain a lot.
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