Nancy Copeland-Payton reflects on her life and what she’s learned from the Sravasti Abbey Friends Education distance learning program.
My geneticist son sits by the wood stove, analyzing his research data generated by the university super computer in Florida.
I understand that my delight in his quiet presence at home these days is not a “problem”.
Rather, attachment to my delight in his presence is a problem. And the subsequent sense of loss when he leaves, plus a grasping desire to see him again is a problem.
How far can I journey into delight … without grasping and craving? That is the question.
Lama Tsongkhapa and Lama Yeshe warn that we can’t step even for an instant into such pleasure … without harvesting the seed for dissatisfaction. Not enough method. Not enough wisdom. Very risky behavior. Better not to open to these pleasures.
As if to prove their words, I offer and dedicate my joy … but watch my hands slowly inch forward and grasp to reclaim it for myself.
I’m aware that my mind projects so much onto Adam’s presence, projections that do not reflect reality. If my mind could only see reality correctly, “I” could delight in “his” presence and not be hypnotized by it.
The “disturbing unsubdued mind”, so easily dazzled is real to me. The pain of intense pleasure and intense loss draw me to deeply desire equanimity and a calm mind in this and future lives. And ultimately, it is a desire to not experience subsequent lives at all. This desire is real. I can hold it side-by-side with my well-practiced devotion to worldly concerns. This desire leads me once again to the Kadampa masters’ ten jewels. What a profound teaching. What profound examples they are. I return to them often.
This wish to renounce dissatisfaction is not finely honed, laser-focused. But it exists. And it seems an act of compassion for myself. It propels me willingly onto the cushion for 1 ½ hours each morning. It fuels study and reflection. It motivates me to try and practice the Dharma in daily life.
Sure, it’s in a tug-of-war tension with worldly concerns and well-rehearsed patterns of behavior. It competes with default, automatic living. But there is a seed of motivation to be free, a beginner’s glimpse of something that is far superior than the small, temporal “happinesses” of this and future lives.
I marvel to have such opportunities for teachings and practice in this life. I’m amazed to live so close to the Abbey. Allowing the felt sense of the death meditation to permeate my days, reveals such stubborn attachment to things of this life. There is ample motivation to practice, to familiarize my mind with the teachings so it is changed. Who knows how many days of this life are left? Even with an ample lifespan, my age limits the years left to practice. I’m grateful for the opportunity of whatever days are to come.
This course quickened my awareness. Pay attention! I’m more aware of motivation now … my motivation to get up, to sit on the cushion, to study, to try to live the paramitas, to engage the gathas.
The paramitas and gathas are powerful. They shepherd my mind during the day. When it strays, they return it to focus. They can turn all moments of each day towards the Dharma. Perhaps someday, it could all be practice.
Lessons of karma certainly tether my motivation and actions. Within just this life are so many examples of cause and effect. It is sobering. And it is hopeful. Karma teaches me to be alert, that small things matter greatly, and to enlarge my focus beyond this life … way beyond.
But there’s something more. When I forget to pay attention, when I forget to try keeping the paramitas, there is an erosion of peace and calm. My mind is neither still nor focused, on or off cushion. It’s a close at hand, immediate result. It holds me to the words of each morning, “I take refuge …”
When I think of myself and others as consciousness governed by karma and afflictions, there really isn’t anything to be attached to, or anything to avoid. There really isn’t anything to ever be upset about, to be offended by. Even my experience of “suffering”, of dissatisfaction is merely a labeled emotion.
This has the power to change everything.
Knowing other beings are similarly afflicted engenders a feeling of kinship. We’re mindstreams of pure Buddha potential, enveloped in karma and kleshas.
As I watch Adam work, I ponder our kinship. He and I are separate mindstreams, each clear and aware. Temporally, we’re linked by our bodies’ shared genetic material … and by a few shared moments (in cosmic time) of this-life experiences. Past lives had different intersections which I cannot see.
Knowing this, can my sense of kinship with him and my desire for his happiness expand? Can it be a template for relating to others? Is it possible to have the same feeling of kinship and the same desire for other beings’ happiness (in an unattached way)? Can I be evenhanded about this?
At the end of the day, at the end of pondering and reflecting, at the end of this writing, it’s the Dalai Lama’s words that come to mind. “Whenever possible be kind. It is always possible.”