As we come to the close of another year and reflect upon it, we realize yet again that no year passes without leaving behind some wisdom. Every year brings its challenges and joys and always bestows wisdom and experience should we choose to open our hearts and receive them.
This past year, in particular, has most certainly taught us so much. It has been chaotic, tragic and frustrating for millions of people and for some there was boredom, loneliness and sadness. There were acts of tremendous kindness, patience and resilience but also moments of staggering selfishness, confusion, anger and suspicion. Most of us have felt that this has been a year like none of us have ever lived through or imagined would happen in our times.
Particularly for practitioners, it has clearly shown the measure of where we are with our practice and the view of the Dharma. As practitioners, we are always told that practice is simply training for us to still hold true and steady on the path of virtue even as adversities and challenges threaten to overwhelm us. That it is at such times that we have the opportunity to hold a mirror to ourselves and look at who we are as a follower of the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni.
This year we have seen many practitioners truly use this year’s experiences to deepen their practice, study more diligently, and take to heart the true meaning and view of Dharma. The rawness and biting edge of suffering sliced through the hearts of all who truly contemplate upon the path of bodhicitta and hold their bodhisattva vows as sacred. In-fact, that adamantine-like vow has been the greatest armor in the face of the chaos that threatened to engulf many a mind. Your practice, for so many of you, seemed to be the one beacon of sanity while navigating our even more tumultuous world.
Such practitioners have used this year’s adversities to bring the crucial teachings of the Four Reminders to the forefront of their practice. A deepened understanding of these becomes the basis for developing greater awareness of the profound truth of Dharma, the sanity that prevents one from falling into more confusion and entanglement with neurotic kleshas. This sanity gives a practitioner courage to not only transform adversities into inspiration but to have a larger vision to embrace others who are facing adversities with genuine love and friendship.
Now as we move into another year and another cycle, it is a good time to sit back and take an honest look at our lives. As practitioners who, above all, realize the fragile nature of this existence, we should reflect on what we have done with this life up to now and strategize and plot the trajectory of what we want our life to be in the future. To guide us forward as practitioners, we should reflect and meditate on how impermanent and uncertain this life is, how little we understand its transient nature, and how we have been so outwardly focused on our make-believe world. With this understanding, we will have the courage to plan a course forward that correctly aligns with the conduct of a true Dharma practitioner.
Sadly, this year has also shown how, when our daily practice and devotion are weak, our fear and attachment to self can easily engulf us in the throes of their display and drive us headlong back into samsara.
We imagine that somehow clinging even more tightly to our old habits will somehow protect us from the sufferings of the world. The time to recognize this and correct it is right now. If we have not been steadfast in guarding our minds against samsaric ways of thinking, may this very moment be an opportunity to leave these old, tired habits behind us.
As we usher in another year, we all bring to our mind and dedicate our prayers to all those who have died, who are suffering and so many more who are facing immensely difficult times. We especially pray for the good health and long lives of all those brave people: the frontline workers, teachers, healthcare workers, and so many like them, who have tirelessly devoted themselves to the wellbeing and safety of others.
I would especially like to thank our sangha for reaching out to one another and supporting each other this year. There have been so many of you, who through your kindness and friendship, have taken care of one another and stepped in when sangha members needed help and support. In a year where many have been alone and unable to see their friends and loved ones, it has been wonderful to see this worldwide community that, without needing to do anything in particular, is a strong resource and support for all its members.
Through the incredible vision, guidance, and hard work of Jetsün Dechen Paldrön, this year saw the creation of the Dharmashri Online Portal. It has been a wonderful way for the Mindrolling community around the world to practice and study when we were not able to have our usual gatherings. We are so happy that sangha members old and new were able to meet and engage in studies together this way. We offer our deepest gratitude to Jetsünla, without whom the project would never have been possible, and to the entire team that worked on it including Lisa, Zuzana, Alex, Dean, Roar, Jeannie and so many others. I would also like to thank all our wonderful Dharma Instructors who have supported the hundreds of students around the world. We hope this new avenue of teaching and study will continue to be of benefit to practitioners for a long time to come.
In addition, I would like to thank all the members of the Mindrol Lekshey training program that began this year. Through all the difficulties of lockdowns, restricted travel, work schedules, and long distances, most of the members of this team of students remained steadfast and continued to practice, study, and serve the Dharma in whatever ways were needed. They led study groups, organized to support fellow sangha members, continued to study online, and showed how a strong Dharma community can thrive, even when faced with such profound outward difficulties.
Now as we look ahead, it will be foolish if we are not careful to use all this year’s experiences and take time to examine and reflect on what they have shown us. It is important that we think carefully as to how have we approached this year’s experiences and what wisdom can we now take into 2021?
Moving ahead what will we do with this deeper, more profound understanding of impermanence that we acquired this year?
Will we fall back into habitual tendencies or like a true practitioner, worthy of being called a Vajrayana practitioner, transform the poison into amrita?
Will this painful, difficult 2020 bring individual growth, renewed vigor to practice and deepen our commitment to truly practice the precious Dharma, as if one’s hair is on fire?
These are the questions we perhaps need to ask ourselves at the end of a year everyone cannot wait to be over.
So often we imagine we are practicing, but times like this past year allow us to stop and ask ourselves: how far have we progressed on our dharma path, especially in our devotion and refuge?
These two aspects of Dharma form the very foundation of a practitioner’s life.
Difficulties come, but to overcome them, one needs to be strong. And true strength comes only through spiritual knowledge. Blindly rushing here and there mimicking the conduct of a practitioner without having taken time to cultivate true knowledge and understanding of the dharma will prove to be a big mistake. However, having cultivated the view of the dharma, a practitioner with strong refuge and devotion will easily find the strength to be centered.
All kinds of abundance come with devotion, and devotion becomes complete with true spiritual knowledge. You get both devotion and knowledge through meditation. And those who persevere with meditation and watch their own mind, will always find strength and an unshakable smile in their hearts and on their faces.
When one gets caught in the grip of self-cherishing mind, we make ourselves and others unhappy. Foolishly, we do not realize that we can use this mind either to create well-being or misery for ourselves. Everyone has this choice. Every moment, we must check whether we are choosing self-cherishing or whether we are choosing equanimity and samadhi, which are the deepest rest and a space from where joy and beauty blossom.
Are we relaxedly focusing and abiding in this ground of awareness? And is this building within us the courage to go beyond self-cherishing ?
Distilling all that we have learned as practitioners, we should recognize that life is just a certain amount of time and energy. We give it all kinds of pretty names. We like some parts and not others, but from the practical perspective of a dharma practitioner, it is quite simple: putting whatever time and energy we have to maximum use for everyone’s well-being is all that matters.
What matters is bringing sanity amidst chaos with the wisdom of Dharma. Illuminating the world with gentleness and compassion, bringing joy where everything appears to be filled with hopelessness, being a source of simplicity in the face of complications and wisdom amidst foolishness is Dharma in action.
When there is chaos, there is confusion. At such times, and when there are problems all around you, then calmness is needed the most. It is then that wisdom is most valuable. When life’s challenges strike, that is when all the knowledge and skillful methods we have been studying and practicing are to be applied. When people blame you, when they do not understand you, that is when you need the inner strength to be patient and remain unperturbed. When things do not go the way you want them to, that is when you need the endurance, the strength, and the courage to continue on and not be disheartened.
With such courage and deep awareness, as we all enter the New Year together, may we all reflect and learn from this past year. May we all plot a fresh course, leaving behind old samsaric habits and ideas. May all acquire true knowledge, strength, and clarity through the Four Reminders, Refuge, and devotion. With an unshakable understanding of the truth of the Dharma in our hearts, may everyone become true embodiments of Dharma in action: sources of compassion, hope, joy, simplicity, and wisdom for the world.
I pray that each and every one of you have a wonderful New Year and that 2021 is a kinder, gentler and more sane year for the entire world. May the buddhas and bodhisattvas continuously shower their blessings and may they never be weary of us. May goodness and happiness prevail! May all find courage, wisdom and serenity.
Jetsünla, Mayumla, Dungse Rinpoche, Jetsün Rinpoche, Britton la and I are joined by all the monks, nuns, and staff of Mindrolling International in sending you all our prayers and very best wishes.