My mother’s Vermont-based Dharma group, that I help advise via Skype every week, is using the most delightful book as the basis for its study: Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness. Yes, the title sounded a little corny to me at first, too. But the content! This young lama presents the Buddhist path in such a warm and cheerful way, and such gentle humor and a keen understanding of modern Western thinking, that you can’t help but fall in love with it.
So, on this Chotrul Duchen, the day of the Buddha’s display of miracles in which the positive or negative actions of the faithful are said to be magnified 10,000,000 times, I offer you this small but profound gift from our reading this morning:
“The opposite of samsara [the neurotic cycles – including those of birth, death and rebirth – to which we are subject until our ignorance is overcome] is nirvana, a term that is almost as completely misunderstood as emptiness. A Sanskrit word roughly translated as “extinguishing” or “blowing out” (as in the blowing out of the flame of a candle), nirvana is often interpreted as a state of total bliss or happiness, arising from the extinguishing or “blowing out” of the ego or the idea of “self.” This interpretation is accurate to a certain extent, except that it doesn't take into account that most of us live as embodied beings going about our lives in the relatively real world of moral, ethical, legal, and physical distinctions.
“Trying to live in this world without abiding by its relative distinctions would be as foolish and difficult as trying to avoid the consequences of being born right- or left-handed. What would be the point? A more precise interpretation of nirvana is the adoption of a broad perspective that admits all experiences, pleasurable or painful, as aspects of awareness. Naturally, most people would prefer to experience only the ‘high notes’ of happiness. But as a student of mine recently pointed out, eliminating the ‘low notes’ from a Beethoven symphony – or any modern song, for that matter – would result in a pretty cheap and tinny experience.
“Samsara and nirvana are perhaps best understood as points of view. Samsara is the point of view based primarily on defining and identifying with experiences as either painful or unpleasant. Nirvana is a fundamentally objective state of mind: an acceptance of experience without judgments, which opens us to the potential for seeing solutions that may not be directly connected to our survival as individuals, but rather to the survival of all sentient beings.” – p. 117-8
On days such as these, we try a little extra harder to tailor our thoughts and activity to virtue. And what, exactly, is virtue? Let HH the Dalai Lama explain in the pithiest statement on the subject you’ll ever hear: “If you can help others, do so. If you can’t, at least don’t harm them.”
Update: Bhante Dhammika at dhamma musings shares a story of such pure generosity. A perfect cap to an excellent day.