By Geshe Dadul Namgyal

Geshe Dadul Namgyal (Tenzin Chodrak) gave this Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk at the Abbey in 2018. We offer his reflections and advice as a direct teaching from our teacher and Dharma friend who, himself, recently passed away.

monk holding a stuffed owl

I just heard this morning that a long-time friend of mine, who has served for a long time on the translation committee at Sarnath University, has passed away. My brother broke this news to me with a note to pray for him.

I pondered this. Of course there was no doubt that I was willing to do whatever I could do by way of prayer, but it made me wonder whether my prayer would help him. If so, in what way? What would actually help him?

Genuine Dharma

This brought me to consider the point that even if we are doing “religious” things—be that in the way of reading, writing, teaching, or whatever it may be—has it really sunk down to being genuine Dharma? The mere appearance of Dharma will not help.

I tried to remember my times with him, particularly his contributions in the translation field. He helped to restore many old lost Sanskrit texts, bringing them back into existence. Likewise, he was very much into social work and led social work committees for years. Reflecting on this, I was warmed at the heart. I became quite sure that the things he did in the name of religion, in the name of Dharma practice, were genuine Dharma.

Likewise, I looked into myself and said, “Oh yes. What about things you do? Do you do them with mindfulness or not?” I found some gray areas when I viewed the things I did. That made me really commit once again to be mindful of my motivations and actions.

My previous Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner “newsbreakings” were not that calm;  I got carried away. But this reflection made me sink down into the Dharma. I want to make sure that things I present as Dharma, and that others may presume to be Dharma, sink down to being real Dharma. That means they are rooted in a genuine sense of restraint of harm against others. And, more than that if possible, being of genuine benefit to others.

Even when training in compassion, we could have a competitive spirit. “Let me beat him in my training in compassion.” If that be the case when training in compassion, then we don’t have to speak about the possibility of having a competitive rather than a kind attitude when writing, reading, speaking, memorizing, debating the Dharma, etc.

2 monks shave head of a new monk

The present moment is all we have

My friend’s death gives a very strong message that every one of us, without exception, is subject to the phenomenon of eventually leaving this world. In fact, there’s nothing depressing about it. It’s good that things come and go. Otherwise there wouldn’t be room left for everything new, and it would be terrible for all of us.

The main thing is for us to accept this and be able to use it judiciously, use it in tune with Dharma. Not necessarily religiously. Suppose there are people who are listening to this “news” who are not that attuned to things called religion, but are definitely open to things that are genuinely spiritual. In that respect, all it takes is to be kind and wise in the present moment. That’s all we have. The future has no order in how it will come and the past is already past. In terms of how our future passing will come about, it often comes with no signals.

Just a few days ago I read in the news about a husband who grieved that his wife, the mother of four children, passed away in her sleep. He actually saw her last breath. Death could come this way. And it’s not just something that happens “out there.” That’s usually what we think. “Oh, this happened. Ok. That’s for them, not for me. Not for me. Not now.” But that’s not how things work.

So we need to be very practical  and very clear about this—that death could come at any time, and that this is not something depressing or stressful. Rather, one should rise up to this fact. The fact that death is yet to come is a sign that you are still living, and how you live is in your own hands. Let’s commit to living “Dharma-fully,” “Buddha-fully,”  in a genuine human way.

altar with photo

The clock of life

I remember a poem by Robert H. Smith. The title is “Grief Poems: The Clock of Life.”

The clock of life is wound but once
And no man has the power
To tell just where the hands will stop,
At late or early hour . . .
The present only is our own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in ‘tomorrow’
For the clock may then be still.                          

This is very beautiful. Sometimes we can be sidetracked and say, “Oh this poem is so beautiful!” and totally miss the message. This can happen with our Dharma studies and practice also. We can so easily be side-tracked. While we talk about the faults of attachment, all we are really doing is being attached to the point of non-attachment.

In this poem what is very telling, very important, is “Toil with a will.” Keep on toiling, keep on working hard, but with a will, in the sense of being conscious of what you are doing, and hopefully, conscious of what you’re doing for the betterment of yourself and others. That’s something we need to be reminded of.  

If there is an afterlife—of which there seems to be more evidence for than against—then all that goes with us is our consciousness. We very clearly see our gross bodies are left behind. They are dispersed and become parts of so many other things. But if we continue at all, then it’s our consciousness that goes on. 

That’s why what we do in the name of Dharma stays with our consciousness. The way to do that is to not get sidetracked when we are studying, practicing, and living the Dharma, but to do Dharma things alertly, attentively, with focus, and ardently, with a sense of delight. Then there is a possibility that some of that force will sink down into the base of consciousness that goes into the future.