From: Guru, Deity, Protector 8
Ken: One of the impressions that you get from most Buddhist traditions--but particularly the Tibetan, I think more so than the others--is that you get to a point where things just take care of themselves. I've not seen any evidence for that.
Jamgön Kongtrül, author of this long prayer, quite an extraordinary person, and his autobiography has been translated into English, you can get it. And it's a typical Tibetan autobiography, with long lists of empowerments and teachers, and ceremonies that he did, and things like that.
But, interspersed in all of this stuff, you get a feeling for the person. I think that he lived to 89 or so. He was born in the beginning of the nineteenth century, I think it might be 1812. Died at the end of it. And very shortly before his death, he says, "I'm quite concerned about dying now."
And don't forget, this is one of the great lamas of the nineteenth century. [Ken paraphrases] My mind is very clouded and confused. A couple of years ago, my mind was really clear, and if I had died then, I think I would have been okay. But I am really not sure what's going to happen now.
I read this in retreat, and went like [Ken makes a facial expression of shock].
Student: Was it discouraging?
Ken: Well, yes and no. It shattered the illusion for me. And for this I'm quite grateful. And you can say this was discouraging if you wish. That you get to a point where everything is hunky-dory. And on the other hand, I was left with the appreciation--it doesn't matter how far you get, or what you get to--you still have to meet the next experience. And Uchiyama, in Refining your Life, makes the same point in a very, very different way.
He describes this experience he had when a cut on his foot became infected, and he got blood poisoning. And he was in excruciating pain and horrible fever. And unable to go to a doctor, because he was very unusual as a Japanese monk, he actually earned his living from begging, in the 50s, which was like hadn't been done for about a century. He took dharma somewhat seriously.
So he couldn't possibly go to the doctor, because he had no money. And a woman who lived in the neighborhood eventually gave him some licorice bulbs, which he packed around the cut in his foot, and it drew the poison out. And so he got better.
But then he writes, "I would only be fooling myself if I thought that getting through that experience would be any help, if I were to encounter a similar intensity of pain and suffering again."
You can hear things like this, and you can go, "well, What are we doing all this for? It doesn't help!" Well, it does, but not in the ways that we usually hope it will. You know what I mean? I think...well, I'll just speak for me--I don't know about any of you--I have my suspicions, there's always a secret part of us that goes you know, "If I do this, everything is going to turn out okay. Life will go well, I'll be happy. I won't have any more problems." You know, this part of us; I think that all of us is always hoping for that.
And then we find ourselves in some kind of crisis or really unpleasant situation. Maybe our spouse quite unexpectedly breaks up with us, or someone close to us is dying, very painfully. Or we get very ill--I mean these things happen. And everything is up. You know, all our hopes and our disappointments, and our fears, it's all there. But we've trained, and because we've trained, and we've come to some kind of understanding, while it's very, very vivid, something in us knows that the only thing to do here is experience it. And so we do. We don't fight experience. We may not enjoy it, but we don't fight it. It's there.
Whether we're insane, or depressed, or frightened, those are the easier ones to work with. When we're being admired, loved, center of attention, those are the more difficult ones. But it's all just an experience. And we still have to do things: take care of this person who's ill; work through the challenges of the situation in which we're terrified; put our life back together when our spouse leaves us or child dies, or something like that. We still have to do...still. But there's a knowing, I think, in which we know that it's okay, whatever it is, it's okay. It's just there. Okay.