ACI LA
   
OCTOBER 2007


ACI LA Newsletter

   
 

n last month’s newsletter, Venerable Marut reminded us that the Buddhist path has “two wings” – compassion and wisdom. And just as a bird cannot fly without both its wings, both of these dimensions of the path must be equally cultivated in order to reach the goal.

This month, Venerable Marut asks us why we aren’t doing what we know to be the most essential things with our lives. He reminds us of the rarity of our precious life and asks us to identify what is blocking us from doing what we know are the most important things life and then exercise the antidotes.

We hope this month’s newsletter supports your spiritual practice and provides you resources to make the most of your precious human life.

 



   
  This Month
  A Message from Brian (Venerable Marut)
  Student Contributions
  Dharma Flicks
  Dharma Website of the Month
  Dharma Book of the Month
  Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads
  Current ACI-LA Classes
  Thank You
  ACI LA Home
 

 

ACI LA Newsletter

   
 

A Message From Brian (Venerable Marut)

   
 

For many of us, the main problem is not that we don’t know what the important things of life are and how, ideally, we should be living. Many of us have been to enough dharma teachings, read enough books, and had enough religious training to be clear on how the spiritual quest must take precedence over worldly activities if we are to avoiding wasting the precious opportunity this short human life affords us.

So why aren’t we doing what we know to be the most essential things with our lives? Why are we continually side-tracked by activities we know to be at best of secondary significance and at worst a complete waste of time?

These are not new questions for spiritual seekers. Saint Paul complains, in the seventh chapter of the “Book of Romans,” “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.. . . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."

The same sentiment is repeated in that religious classic of ancient India, the “Bhagavad Gita,” when Arjuna asks Krishna, “What makes a person do wrong things, Krishna – even when they don’t want to, as if compelled by force?” (3.36)

In Buddhism, the link between what we know to be right and the actual doing of those things is the fourth of the six perfections guiding the life of a bodhisattva, virya or “joyful effort.” Virya motivates us not only to move from just thinking about doing the appropriate spiritual things with our lives to really doing them; it is also suffused with the happiness and joy that comes from doing what we know we should be doing. With virya we can justifiably be happy because we realize that we are doing the very things that will bring us more happiness and less suffering.

So the question then is repositioned: What are the obstacles to obtaining the virya that would motivate us to (happily) be doing the most important things with our lives?

Master Shantideva, in his “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” lists three such obstacles.

The first of these is laziness (alasya in Sanskrit, or lelo in Tibetan), which often comes in the form of idleness or endless procrastination. “I’ll get to those ACI courses – or daily meditation practice, or keeping a six-times-a-day book, or volunteering my time to ACI-LA so the dharma can reach more people – later. Right now, I think I need to relax more, to go to more movies, to go out to another trendy restraurant or on another vacation or hang out more, laughing and talking with my friends.”

Pema Chodren calls this “the comfort-orientation brand of laziness” which “is characterized by a profound ignoring. We look for oblivion: a life that doesn’t hurt, a refuge from difficulty or self-doubt or edginess. We want a break from being ourselves, a break from the life that happens to be ours. So through laziness we look for spaciousness and relief; but finding what we seek is like drinking salt water, because our thirst for comfort and ease is never satisfied.”

Basically, what this form of laziness comes down to is this: “I just don’t feel like doing it.” This first kind of laziness is best overcome by getting very, very clear about the impermanent and suffering nature of this kind of life. The recommended method for doing so is through the daily contemplation of the three main parts of the death awareness meditation – the certainty of your death, the uncertainty of the time of your death, and the fact that nothing except for your spiritual cultivation will be of any use whatsoever at that time. Death is inexorably drawing closer and closer, and we have no guarantees that it won’t be very soon. Don’t waste any more time procrastinating! Do now what you know is crucial; don’t wait until it’s too late.

The second obstacle is called attachment to trivial or improper activities, which is actually another sort of laziness. We keep ourselves so busy with things of lesser (or no real) importance that we don’t have time to do what (at some level) we know to be the more important things. As Geshe Sonam Rinchen points out, in his published commentary entitled “The Six Perfections,” “It’s easy to be both extremely busy and lazy at the same time.”

And what are keeping ourselves so busy doing? In the “Guide,” Master Shantideva targets as “trivial” or “improper activities” anything done out of motivation for worldly respect or reward. That would seem to cover pretty much all of those supposedly “very important” activities we use as excuses for not making the time to do our spiritual practices. This kind of obstacle, this form of laziness, derives from just not making the right choices when it comes to the priorities in life.

The best antidote for the second main hindrance to joyfully exerting ourselves in our spiritual activities is to remember what the texts call “leisure and fortune,” the fact that the kind of lives we all are leading (and mostly taking for granted) are extraordinarily rare and hard to obtain again. We are presently free from hindrances that totally prevent many, many other beings from spiritual practice, and are blessed with advantages (economic, religious, social, political, etc.) that others can’t even imagine. So what are we doing with these miraculous lives? Are we being diverted by our professions, our shopping, our families, social lives, hobbies and entertainment, and thereby wasting this precious (and extremely short-lived and hard to acquire again) opportunity?

As it says in the “Guide”:

You must make use of this boat,
The human life you have, to cross over
The great river of suffering.
The boat is hard to find again later;
Do not sit then, ignorant one,
At this moment there asleep.

You give up the highest kind of pleasure,
The holy Dharma, infinite numbers
Of causes that bring you pleasure.
Why is it you are attracted so much
To being distracted by causes for pain,
To busyness and the like? (8.14-15)

The third principal impediment to our practice is discouragement, loss of heart, and low self-esteem. We maybe try for a bit to reorient our priorities and make strong efforts with our spiritual cultivation, but then get discouraged when things seem not to change or to become even more difficult – when results are not instantly forthcoming. Indeed, some teachers point out that the main reason for this obstacle is that the practitioner has not yet started, or has not persevered long enough, to taste the sweet fruits of his or her efforts in the spiritual life. We give up on our practice, and ourselves, thinking, “Maybe others can make progress, but I’m different. I’m unable to do it.”

The antidote to this blockage is the development of a kind of justifiable pride (mana) in oneself, where we remember that we all, if we try, have the capacity to achieve the highest goals.

Never allow yourself the feeling
Of being discouraged, of having the thought
"How could I ever become enlightened?"
About this Those Who have Gone Thus,
The Ones who speak the truth, have spoken
The following words of truth:

Those beings who are flies and gnats,
Or bees, and even those
Who live as worms as well
Can reach unmatched enlightenment,
So difficult to reach,
If they develop the force of effort. (Guide, 8.17-18)

If those who were once insects or worms have, through their own efforts, become Buddhas, how much easier it will be for beings like us who have so much going for us?

Master Shantideva also recommends that when we become discouraged and self-pitying, we remember that we owe it others, to those suffering beings who are depending on us to do something to help them, to work hard (and, always, happily) toward our own perfection – even and especially when we feel lazy, diverted, or dispirited.

Cultivate your virya assiduously. Identify what is blocking you from doing what you know are the most important things to do with this short, precious life and then exercise the antidotes.

We don’t have time to waste. The clock is ticking on us all. Do what you know you should do, and do it now.

With all good wishes,

Marut

 

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  tudent Contributions
   
 

St. Francis

By Irma Gomés

This month my contribution is a deep, wise prayer that I used to say when I was in (catholic) school.  These words, which had been stored in my head for years, started to flow while I was traveling on the road. I began to understand more deeply what St. Francis wanted to say. This is a lovely mantra that links wonderful to our Holy Lama’s Windhover teachings on Death. May we die to our old “me!” to be reborn in a heaven … bliss on earth.
 
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

 

Fire Puja

By Cliff Spencer

Last Monday night, October 1st, several ACI-LA students gathered for a fire puja (“puja” is sanskrit for “offering”). This was not only the culmination of the class on the four powers to purify karma, but also the fulfillment of our plans made at the recent retreat led by Ven. Pelma, to learn the practice well and perform the ritual on a regular basis.   

After some recitation and some meditations on emptiness and karma, we took turns casting into the fire all the lists of old negative karmas that we’d been carrying around for too long, and watched burn up and disappear, completely purified. Afterwards, we talked and laughed and made plans for our next fire puja.

Looks like our next one could happen on Sunday, November 4th. We’ll confirm that and post it on the website. A fire puja is a simple but powerful ritual that puts into practice your understanding of how karma and emptiness work. The effect of a good one is you feel lighter, happy, relieved and confident that you’ve made made a dent in cleaning up the old bad karmas that keep you knocking around the same old problems and patterns of unhappiness and frustration. This is a great gift from our teachers on how to “tweak the matrix” and we’re looking forward to the next one.

 

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ACI LA Newsletter

   
  Dharma Flicks
   
 

Implicit Dharma - Beyond Rangoon

With the tragic events of the last few weeks in Myanmar, I began thinking of Beyond Rangoon (1995), an American Film directed by John Boorman that gives an insight to the country’s political strife.

Beyond Rangoon was inspired by the history of political repression in Myanmar (formerly Burma). It tells the fictional story of Dr. Laura Bowman, an American who travels to Myanmar as a tourist, seeking to forget a tragedy at home. Confronted with the searing brutality of the ruling military dictatorship, she is transformed by the suffering of the Burmese people and the inspiring leadership of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi. To this day, Aung San Suu Kyi and the movement she heads still seek democracy and a government that recognizes basic human rights.

Dharmically, the film recalls a famous quote from Khen Rinpoche, “A dog wags its tail in Tibet the same as it does in New Jersey”. I take it that he meant something like, “Suffering in the U.S. can’t be escaped in Myanmar”. It’s no surprise that the suffering Laura finds suffering as soon as she disembarks in Myanmar but what makes the film especially worthwhile her discovery that wisdom and compassion are the only two things that can truly prevent suffering

 

Explicit Dharma - Buddha's Lost Children

In the borderlands of Thailand's Golden Triangle, a rugged region known for its drug smuggling and impoverished hill tribes, one man devotes himself to the welfare of the region's children. A former Thai boxer, turned Buddhist monk, Phra Khru Bah Neua Chai Kositto (also known as the Tiger Monk), travels widely on horseback, fearlessly dispensing prayers, health care, education and tough love to villagers far from the protection and support of governments or non-governmental organizations. With his Golden Horse Temple he's built an orphanage, school and clinic - a haven for the children of the region, who see him as a shaman, father figure and coach. Buddha’s Lost Children gives great insight into a region and a culture that is often not represented outside of tales of the Golden Triangle and shows the tremendous power of one individual motivated by compassion.

 

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ACI LA Newsletter

   
  Dharma Website of the Month
   
 

We thought it might be useful to bring to your attention a valuable dharma-oriented website each month. There are so many great dharma sites on the web…

Web Site of the month: www.lamrim.com

This website is the definitive source for Tibetan Buddhist Internet Radio. You can listen to teachings from His Holiness Dalai Lama, Lama Thubten Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Sarah Thresher amongst many other greats!

Visit www.lamrim.com to listen to an array of amazing teachings.

Enjoy!

 

If you come across a site that you’d like others to know about, please email Shannon and contribute to this part of the newsletter.

 

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  Dharma Book of the Month
   
 

Cutting Through Material Spiritual Materialism

byChogyam Trungpa

"Cutting through Spiritual Materialism" by Chogyam Trungpa is an amazing book. It tries to explain and uncover our habits as spiritual practitioners, to collect religions, to sanctify our egos, and to justify our habits by our spiritual endeavors. Through this book, he addresses our deepest voice, our deepest person and calls it out like a warrior would a dragon. The call is one of truth and power, one that let's us be true to our deepest self. To hear this call, is like that of a horn on a mountain, one of our true surrender. "The problem is that ego can covert anything to it's own use, even spirituality". With beautiful compassion, he gives us a very incisive explanation of how to take ourselves to our Lama, how to let go of our monkey like mind and how to evolve into the being we all live with behind our smiling masks of deceit. To say that he has a great understanding of human nature is a basic understatement.

"Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spirituality when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism."

Click to purchase from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Cutting-Spiritual-Materialism-Shambhala-Editions/dp/0877730504

 

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  Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads
   
 

Dharma Poscast

You can watch Dharma flicks, read Dharma books and now you can hear Dharma pod casts. Life in the modern world certainly makes life easy for a practitioner to get wonderful access to teachings! Don’t miss our new weekly podcasts at www.aci-la.org.

This month’s Dharma Podcast: Desiring Happiness

We worship the things we desire. In this podcast, Lama Marut urges us to desire and worship happiness – to think of it as the highest goal and really strive to obtain it. For if we’re leading a happy life, we’re of benefit to others. If not, we’re a charity case. To achieve true happiness we must let go of our attachment to a lower, suffering self and desire “ecstasy,” which means to “stand outside” of our old caterpillar selves and become the butterflies we are meant to be.

This podcast is taken from a Diamond Mountain University course on “Killing Anger” taught in Tucson, Arizona, in the spring of 2007.

If you enjoy having access to these wonderful Dharma podcasts, please make sure to comment in the comments section on iTunes.

Also, make sure to subscribe to keep up to date on the digital downloads! Click on the subscription button at www.aci-la.org and/or www.lamamarut.org and enter your email address to receive podcast updates. You’ll receive an email announcement when new podcasts of teachings are uploaded to either site.

Enjoy!

 

Recent Audio Uploads

Teachings on Tibetan Heart Yoga 6

Karma Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita

DMU Class: Sanskrit Readings

 

 

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Current ACI-LA Classes

ACI classes are free and open to the public.

   
 

Lam Rim Meditation
Taught by Stéphane Dreyfus
Ongoing Tuesday Evenings
7:30pm
Hill Street Center
237 Hill Street
Santa Monica, CA

>> See the flier for more info!



pcoming Teachings

ACI Formal Study Course 7: Vows of the Bodhisattva
Taught by Lauren Benjamin and Catherine Eaton
Thursday nights
7:00pm – 9:30pm
Starting September 27th
Venice, CA

>> See the flier for more info!

 

ACI Formal Study Course 15: What the Buddha Really Meant. Level 2 of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita)
Taught by Cliff Spencer
Monday nights
Starting October 15th
Venice, CA

 

Public Talk with Venerable Marut:

Relax and Work Hard & Other Paradoxes of the Spiritual Life

Date: Monday, November 26th at 7:30pm
Location: Aldersgate Retreat Center, 925 Haverford Ave, Pacific Palisades
Admission: Free and open to the public; donation only
Taught by: Venerable Marut

>>> See the flier for more info!

 

Explorations in Emptiness, Part 2

Date: November 28th, December 3rd and 5th, at 7:30pm
Location: Aldersgate Retreat Center, 925 Haverford Ave, Pacific Palisades
Admission: Registration required. To register please contact info@aci-la.org
Taught by: Venerable Marut

Emptiness is the name for ultimate reality in Mahayana Buddhism. But what does it mean and how can it transform our lives? We'll use perhaps the greatest text on emptiness - Arya Ngarjuna's Verses on the Root of the Middle Way - as a basis for discussing the way things do and don't exist. Each class inclused a guided meditation on emptiness that helps us penetrate the appearances of things and uncover their true nature.

>>> See the flier for more info!

 

Dharma Essentials IX: The Ethical Life

Date: December 10th-13th, at 7:30pm
Location
: Westside Waldorf School, 17310 W. Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades
Admission: Registration required. To register please contact info@aci-la.org
Taught by: Venerable Marut

This 4-class course explains the relationship between an ethical way of life, meditating deeplu, and experiencing ultimate reality. Topics include: the essence and basic nature of vows; reasons to live and ethical lide; why morality is the key to meditation and seeing emptiness directly; the specific karma resulting from each of the ten non-virtues; how to find a teacher; taking refuge; the four forces of karmic purification; and the six perfections.

>>> See the flier for more info!

 


Podcast of Teachings Now Available!
Make sure to subscribe!

Click on the subscription button at www.aci-la.org and/ or www.lamamarut.org and enter your email address to receive podcast updates. You’ll receive an email announcement when new podcasts of teachings are uploaded to either site.

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ACI LA Newsletter
   
 

Thank You

   
 

Thank you to Venerable Marut for his kindness in coming to teach the Dharma here in Los Angeles and around the world. Thank you to Lauren Benjamin, Cliff Spencer, Rick Blue, Lindsay Crouse, Summer Moore, Stéphane Dreyfus, and Catherine Eaton for their kindness in continuing to teach here in Los Angeles.

Thank you to Stéphane Dreyfus for maintaining the ACI-LA website. All suggestions and updates for the website can be sent to Stephane. Shannon Parry will be producing the newsletters and would appreciate submissions. Please email your contributions to Shannon by the 25th of the month.

 

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