The Power of Contemplative Living

by Tharpa Lodro, Daniel Baker

I have spent the past thirteen months of my life living as a temporarily ordained member of the Buddhist sangha in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia at Gampo Abbey. During this time I have lived by and worked with the five precepts, aiming to hold them in such a way as if I were fully ordained.

The five precepts are not killing, not stealing, no sexual activity, no lying and no intoxicants and these have many manifestations depending upon the particular tradition and practice you are following. At Gampo Abbey, the Tsancho Genyen/Upasaka Brahmacharya ordination, it goes as follows: Not killing, not taking what isn’t offered, celibacy, no lying and not imbibing intoxicants even those made of grain (The grain is important, you will hear it repeatedly during the ordination ceremony!). Everyone who lives at the Abbey is expected to work with these vows in the community, as part of the community.

Delusion or wisdom

This can be, as you might imagine, quite a challenging process. The full manifestation of the various aspects of mind are included: vajra, ratna, padma, karma and buddha[i]. Just as these energies can manifest as delusion or wisdom, so can one’s relationship with one’s vows. There are teachings that allow one to take the vows, through contemplation, to a deeper, more subtle level. Not killing becomes working with aggression, not stealing becomes working with greed, celibacy becomes working with passion, not lying becomes working with deceit and not imbibing intoxicants becomes working with ignorance. Depending on how far down the rabbit hole you are willing to go, working with these five vows as diligently and deeply as you are able will provide the means to see the full extent of your neurosis and wisdom.

Just trying to live by the vows alone provides a powerful context for examining one’s mind. Add into the recipe intensive practice and study within the Buddhist tradition and it’s a double-stock method. When you mix a formal practice of awareness and mindfulness into the vows, it’s like rocket fuel for spiritual and personal growth. It takes you and your mind on a journey through the stars and provides the causes for immense change.

New layer

I already knew I was aggressive before coming to the Abbey, little did I realize how aggressive I was to myself. I had thought that I had no greed but it’s hard not to sneak a snack when it isn’t offered in the afternoon and I want a little something to chew. I felt like my passion was well under control yet, with the time of reflection and practice of awareness, I have begun to realize how it has tainted many of my relationships. My deceit was quite tremendous as I had always thought myself clever and knew how to work people! The biggest surprise perhaps was how much time I spent avoiding reality by spacing out. I seem to learn more about my hang-ups with each passing week, and when it seems as if I have achieved some type of stability and honesty, a new layer is revealed.

Relating to a community that is actively working toward the same goal, based on the same principles, this becomes even more pronounced! Ordinarily it is impossible not to sense, feel and experience in some way those around you, but at the Abbey this is especially so. It is part of the journey, part of the path of being ordained. Take the double-stock and make it triple! What isn’t accomplished through self-introspection, is often accomplished through being analyzed by others. Depending on how skilful they are, this feedback can be hard to work with or it can be empowering. For me often it has been both. Seeing the supposed separateness of your mind from everyone else dissolve is undermining to say the least. You began to see the ephemeral and impermanent quality of your experience even more. Whose experience is it anyway?
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche came the Abbey during my last year here. One of the comments he made was about people we respect and look up to, such as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche or Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He said that when they were put into a situation where there was no escape, they hit a hard rock and then they stuck with it, and by giving into the situation of no escape they became the people that we admire. Being ordained isn’t the only way to live a contemplative lifestyle, nor is living by precepts but it is one proven and powerful method of doing so and one that is guaranteed to work whether you like it or not.

Seduce others

Working with competitive or comparative mind, jealously, has been an on-going difficulty, I have prided myself on my critical abilities and my constant deconstructing and evaluating of my circumstances and those of others. However it is essentially a form of slander, a form of wrong speech, and related to the karma family neurosis of comparing phenomena. It also seems to be a particularly strong habit inside the community of the Abbey as well, here we often seek to analyse and change the environment we are in. I also came to realize just how greatly I attempted to seduce others and situations to come around to my way of thinking. Feeling my wants and not acting on them repeatedly exposed a lot of my confusion in that area. I also came to realize just how pervasive my tendency to sexualize woman was, my instant tendency to see the liveliness and vulnerability of a woman, and being overwhelmed and trying to contain it somehow in my mind.

[i]            This refers to the Tantric Buddhist understanding of the mind


Image: Shambhala Times


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