Suffering in life? Here’s how to transcend it – Wisdom from a Buddhist Nun.

Suffering in life? Here’s how to transcend it – Wisdom from a Buddhist Nun.

This is an extract of a talk given by Ayya Khema on the topic of Dukkha. Ayya Khema (1923–1997) was an international Buddhist teacher, and the first Western woman to become a Theravada Buddhist nun.

Transcript

Mankind has dukkha. Each one of us has it. But, the wonderful teaching that we have is that there is a way to get beyond it.

There, we have to change our thinking a hundred and eighty degrees.

We are operating on an illusion. It is the illusion of being an individual, an identity.

You can feel it. “That’s me getting up, that’s me being dissatisfied, and it’s me having dukkha.”

The Buddhist great enlightenment explanation was not that dukkha can go away, but this delusion can go away, and then we’re beyond Dukkha.

There are moments when we feel a deep inner peacefulness. When we see a beautiful sunset, a rainbow, we hear exquisite music, watch a happy baby, and we think and immediately make up our minds that the lack of dukkha at that moment is due to the fact that there was a rainbow or a happy baby.

We are externalising. That isn’t that at all. It’s because in those moments, we were totally concentrated on what is happening that we forgot about ourselves. That’s why these moments are without dukkha. But externalising them means that we are in this case, praising the trigger. In other cases, we usually blame the trigger. They are all outside of us. What is happening within us, that’s our life.

We usually try to arrange our outer life so that it is convenient and comfortable, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that. But do we arrange our inner life so that it is convenient and comfortable?

Have we ever given that any thought that it is actually possible to do that?

The promise of the Buddha that we can all get beyond dukkha is something we have to take on (with) faith at this moment because we haven’t got beyond dukkha yet. If we take such a promise, all it means is that we’re willing to try. And that’s all the Buddha asked people to do. Try it out. Try out the methods, Try out the instructions, and see whether they help.

We don’t get pass dukkha immediately. Nothing of the kind. Meditation can take dukkha away temporarily, but how long does anyone sit in meditation?

What we need to know and what we need to experience is the possibility that through seeing things in a different light, seeing ourselves in a different light, seeing dukkha universally instead of individually, we have a chance to have a totally different relationship to everything that happens in our life.

“All things are not-self”when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.

This is the path to purification.

– Dhammapada Verse 279

Film Review: The Way Out – Mindfulness, Environmentalism & Burnout

Film Review: The Way Out – Mindfulness, Environmentalism & Burnout

Buddhist Film Reviews is a partnership series between HOL & THIS Buddhist Film Festival 2021 (25 Sept – 8 Oct’21). Themed “Open your mind”, THISBFF 2021 features 15 thought-provoking documentaries and feature films from 12 countries. 


TLDR: The journeys of two young men searching for answers converge at  Plum Village. It offers light in a world where we see escape as the only means to happiness.

It often feels that a day barely passes without the media talking about mental well-being or climate change as a subject that demands our attention. However, it is rare for a film to stir your attention and make you sit up to notice these issues.

Director Wouter Verhoeven’s heavy use of first-hand footage, interviews with protagonists and others brings into focus, the plight of Mother Nature and burnout in life.

Wouter masterfully uses mindful pauses in the film (shots of nature and the characters doing mundane activities) to create moments for reflection.

His main message is clear throughout the entire film: The way out of these crises starts when we look inwards.

The film, with momentary commentary by the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, further enhances the impact of the film’s message.

The founder of Plum Village teaches, “The way out is in. The way out of climate change is inside each of us.” His invitation is to pause: to stop running and observe what is really going on.

The Way Out is Reflection

Wouter’s documentary focuses on two protagonists: Eddie, an environmental activist struggling to prevent fracking in Yorkshire, England; the other, a London banker facing an existential crisis. The banker, upon deeply examining his life, discovers its monotony and emptiness.

The film lays bare their attempts to remedy that despair in both their searches. Eddie searches for environmental protection while the banker searches for meaning. 

As I watched the film, I was moved by the protagonists’ raw, unfiltered examination of their lives. The courage to confront their insecurities and uncertainty struck a chord within me. In a world where social validation of positivity is lauded, this film was a breath of fresh air.

For example, the banker realises that so many peers are depressed, in spite of their material success. He reflects that everyone is living in a fishbowl: one can look outside of the bowl but is incapable of experiencing the ocean outside (real world).

“There is a place for peace to reign, to settle, and you should go there. You know how to do it.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

ds

“There is a place for peace to reign, to settle, and you should go there. You know how to do it.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

The Way Out is Harmony

What makes this film worth sitting up and paying attention to? For me, it was the Director’s elegant weaving of the two stories into one storyline. As I watched the film, I was trying hard to understand how the two protagonists’ stories would meet. Hint: Plum Village is the centre stage.

Within the film, harmony is achieved by the director’s thoughtful mix of tense scenes of confrontations with still nature shots and interviews with a Plum Village monastic.

The monk speaks to Eddie about his confrontations with the fracking industry and how Eddie feels about it.

“Don’t make a front, make a circle, there is no one to fight. We suffer because we don’t know better,” the Buddhist monk counsels Eddie as he faces burnout over his cause. 

Nuggets of wisdom like this sprinkled throughout the film makes it a compelling watch. The film is not alarmist but rather, awakening.

The Way Out is Change

The most beautiful part of the film is watching how these two protagonists transform their mental states, especially after they come into contact with Plum Village, a Zen monastery in France. Seeing their calm faces while meditating, and their serene smiles while doing temple chores brought a smile to my face.

Eddie’s calm focus while making bread for fellow practitioners and the banker’s gaze while being in the monastery garden were my favourite scenes of inner change for these two characters.

Seeing Eddie and the banker find the strength to feel comfortable in their own skin and at peace was a relief. It was akin to witnessing a fish finding its way out of the fishbowl into the greater ocean. Change can be painful but necessary.

Change enables to let go of superficial & lesser happiness for the greater & deeper happiness in life.

Who do I Recommend the Film for?

Friends who find themselves stuck in the grind of the 9-to-5 or those feeling burnout from championing causes close to their hearts. 

This film speaks directly to you and is unafraid to show you the costs of your ideals. It is a great introduction for those new to Buddhism as the film gives a taste of how Dhamma can be applied in real-world situations. How do we approach people who are in direct conflict with our values? How do we face an existential crisis? The film is a perfect illustration of Buddhism in action without requiring deep Buddhist knowledge.

You will be challenged to stop running and to take a pause. To find a mindful and peaceful way out.

A positive post-note to the film: In 2019, the UK government halted fracking in England. This effectively bans fracking in the UK, a watershed moment for activists and the environment. Scientific studies warned it was not possible to rule out unacceptable consequences for those living near fracking sites.


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Film Review: A Monk’s Inner Journey in ‘Wandering… But Not Lost’

Film Review: A Monk’s Inner Journey in ‘Wandering… But Not Lost’

Buddhist Film Reviews is a partnership series between HOL & THIS Buddhist Film Festival 2021 (25 Sept – 8 Oct’21). Themed “Open your mind”, THISBFF 2021 features 15 thought-provoking documentaries and feature films from 12 countries. 


TLDR: ‘Wandering… But Not Lost’ is a documentary about Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s solitary journey in India and Nepal as he explored different terrains and places while centred on his awareness. 

Last year, I bought a book by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche titled In Love With the World. The book chronicles his experience wandering through India and Nepal as a way to practice mindfulness. Mingyur Rinpoche had for a long time intended to go away quietly for a personal three-year retreat in the world and finally realized it in 2011. This book on his journey is now translated into a visual form in the documentary Wandering… But Not Lost.

The book is not so much a travelogue into the different Indian and Nepali provinces but about the monk’s inner journey. Although his body is moving from place to place, there is the reminder for us to keep recollecting our awareness, like he did, no matter where we are and what we are doing.

As a tulku, Mingyur Rinpoche was born into privilege in the monastic aristocracy of Tibetan Buddhism. A tulku is a reincarnated lineage holder in Tibetan Buddhism, who as a child is raised and taught by students of his predecessor to be groomed into a teacher of Buddhist scriptures and meditation to continue the tradition and practice. With all these identities and expectations put upon him, Mingyur Rinpoche wanted to discover his true mind by letting go of all of his privileges and identities. He sought to do so by living as a wandering yogi.  

Mingyur Rinpoche has been teaching internationally to both the monastic and lay community before he brought his plan for solitary retreat into fruition.

Heeding his late father’s advice, Mingyur Rinpoche slipped away in the middle of the night out of his home monastery – Tegar Monastery in Bodh Gaya to take a train to Varanasi, without anyone’s notice.

All Buddhist traditions practice mindfulness retreats but each may do it differently due to various cultures and environments. In Tibetan Buddhism, monks usually retreat to a remote cave to practice solitary meditation for a few years. He is tended to by an attendant who will help him with his basic necessities such as food. As a tulku, Mingyur Rinpoche had his taste of a solitary retreat in a cave, but not out in the world on his own. He had been inspired by the likes of Shakyamuni Buddha and Milarepa

At the start of the adventure, the young abbot faced challenges immediately at the train station. He had not been used to handling money as his attendant was always the one buying tickets for him. He bought a ticket to the lowest class cabin, which he was also unaccustomed to. He sat amongst the crowd and meditated to the sound of the train and was mindful of his aversion towards the body odours found in every corner.

The real test came when Mingyur Rinpoche ran out of the few thousand rupees he brought along with him when he was at Kushinagar.

Kushinagar was the place where the Buddha entered parinibbana. It was also the place Mingyur Rinpoche nearly died. He fell ill from food poisoning, having begged for his first meal at a stall he once frequented. Debating whether to call for help or to allow things to be, Mingyur Rinpoche chose the latter and sat weakly against a wall to meditate on awareness.

The documentary features majestic views of the Himalayan mountains and valleys, as well as Indian and Nepali holy sites as Mingyur Rinpoche travelled and ate by depending on the kindness of others. The film included interviews with him about how he faced challenges by reminding himself to pay attention to awareness. Mingyur Rinpoche added that most people meditate to gain the feelings of peace. But the true purpose of meditation is to see awareness itself. He described awareness as a diamond sitting within us waiting to be discovered. But all we see are the coloured backgrounds that the diamond is placed against.

Mingyur Rinpoche’s journey took a turn for the better after his near-death experience in Kushinagar.

His body became weak, but his awareness brightened and expanded. He felt he was everywhere but yet nowhere. Saved by a retreatant on a pilgrimage in India at Kushinagar, Mingyur Rinpoche recovered from the food poisoning episode and emerged with joy and freedom as he wandered the streets and the mountains, feeling at home everywhere he went.

The documentary is a reminder for us to pay attention to the diamond within us. We can be in the city and our hearts are in the mountains. Or we can be in the mountains and our hearts in the city. But wherever our bodies may go, it is our awareness that is the real beauty against the backdrops of our own lives. 

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