A Student writes:
The Awakened Heart Sangha online Death Cafe met today and we had a very helpful conversation. Part of our time was spent talking about the impact that the pandemic is having on everyone and especially what it would be like to be one of the people who are dying from it – because they are in isolation, are they dying alone, without family around.
Lama Shenpen responds:
This might well start to happen so it’s good to think ahead for ourselves and those around us. We may have to face some very difficult decisions in the coming months but let us try as much as possible to keep in touch with isolated people to the best of our ability.
This might need a great deal of ingenuity, organisation and courage as time goes on and the situation worsens. We are already trying to think of ways we can continue to support Sangha members and neighbours through this crisis in spite of the Hermitage shutdown.
We explored what we, as a sangha, could do to help and that perhaps this is a time when we can focus on developing our love and compassion and collectively offer this to the world as an antidote to the fear and uncertainty.
Yes, love and compassion can be practised at all times however uncertain and anxious we are feeling. Strangely when we let our sense of anxiety about our own situation spread to anxiety for everyone in whatever situation they are in, it becomes compassion and somehow our small minded ego-clinging mind just cannot cope with it – it has to relax into the bigger picture and let the natural warmth and kindness of our true unchanging nature take over.
That takes confidence and that comes from faith and insight into the True Nature of reality. Samsara always was, is and will be uncertain and as long as we cling to it we will be trapped in fear even if we temporarily feel secure sometimes – samsara is never safe – on the other hand, the Awakened Heart is invincible and cares for everyone.
Is there a particular practice that you think would be most effective – or if there are several practises that we could choose from according to our own inspiration? We also wondered if there is more power to do this in unison? We could share this with the whole sangha so that those that want to join in could add to the effect?
All Dharma practice is about love and compassion. Yes its good to have appointed times of day when we practise in unison – you are welcome to join us online everyday here at the Hermitage 7am, 9am and 7.30pm most days, except Sundays when the evening is at 5pm and Mondays when there is no evening group practice.
There is the full-moon feast practice too. By joining in together we are strengthening the connections of our Sangha mandala and supporting each other’s practice and generating punya that we are dedicating for the benefit of all beings – so yes lets practise together as much as we can.
Maybe what you had in mind was a specific time during this period of coronavirus crisis – what can we do extra? I would say keep going with whatever practice you are doing – let the crisis galvanise us into realising its true that death can come at any time and be as ready for it as we can with a heart full of love, compassion and confidence in our true nature – making pranidhanas and dedicating punya for the benefit of all beings and for the easing of the present world crisis in particular.
I can forward you a practice created by Tang Tong Gyalpo, specifically for dispelling epidemics. But I suspect that to recite the prayer to Guru Rinpoche we do every day would be equally effective – the one starting ‘Guru Rinpoche Union of the Buddhas of the three times’ etc. [The full liturgy for these practises can be found here.]
You can recite it over and over like a mantra if you feel anxious either for yourself or for others – equally we could recite his mantra or the Seven Line prayer to him ‘In the North West Land of Urgyen’ or OM MANI PADME HUM or any mantras that we do.
They are all powerful and effective and we can recite them while linking into the love and compassion of Guru Rinpoche’s heart, the heart of the Buddha and of all the lineage Lamas and of course our own heart – our true heart – our true nature and as we open out into that we can let go of all fear and anxiety – our compassionate actions will spring from deep love for all beings equally because they are all Buddha by nature and like us they don’t recognise it, but Buddhas do and we can make connections on behalf of all beings in order to draw them all closer to Awakening and the joy that will never diminish or fail.
At the 7am session and the 9am session each day [at the Hermitage in North Wales, broadcast online] we recite the four Apramanas. I will suggest that we spend a bit longer each day meditating on love and compassion after we have recited them and use this opportunity to remember what is happening in the world and linking everyone to the loving and compassionate heart of the Buddha – the Awakened Heart – Bodhichitta.
We would be interested in any suggestions that you might have. Just in our conversation we felt a shift when we could widen our view and realize the effect of this pandemic on all humans around the world and open our hearts to the suffering. It feels as if, within this suffering, there is a potential for a shift in our hearts!
Yes there is – so thank you all for taking the time and opportunity to reflect on this together and maybe some of you would like to find special times when you could arrange to all be practising love and compassion at the same time – whether online or simply by prearrangement – just yourselves or inviting others in the sangha.
With much love and encouragement,
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