Welcoming Difficulties as the Path

Lama Shenpen on ‘Welcoming Difficulties as Our Path’ – working together with others in service as our practice can be joyful whilst throwing into sharp relief all our conflicts and assumptions:
Lama Shenpen Hookham

“The point of the lineage – and our sangha being integral to it – is that this is how we keep the connection with the Mandala of Awakening alive in the world and from lifetime to lifetime.  Mandalas need to be protected and maintained through samaya connections and that is what we are about in the Awakened Heart Sangha.

This means we have to work through difficulties and obstacles and not be put off by them. We need to embrace these difficulties with enthusiasm, as they are opportunities to learn and make a difference, not just for ourselves but also for everyone involved.  We won’t give up on anyone and even though sometimes conflicts can leave wounds and scars we are still all committed to being there for each other.

We all face difficulties individually that we open to and treat as practice rather than thinking ‘I can’t practice because of difficulties’.  What we mean is I am practising but it’s still difficult. There is no need to say ‘I can’t practice’ – even when one feels so uninspired that even practice feels flat – that is our practice isn’t it?  Keeping the connection going, even though uninspired, is practice in itself. It is kshanti – patience. Traditionally this is regarded as one of the main ways of purifying karma and accumulating punya.

There are often difficulties that arise in the sangha mandala between people that need sorting out – and maybe they never get to the point where everyone feels satisfied that they have really been heard or received the empathy they long for.  That is practice too – again it is kshanti. Nevertheless, there is so much to be gained by restoring trust and connection between everyone in the mandala so improving our communication skills as we go along is excellent practice.

Not only is it keeping the speech precepts, but it is also a way of learning to be kind to ourselves – the basis for metta, love and compassion and Bodhichitta – the Four Apramanas. So like with last year’s theme of love and compassion and listening to receive wisdom, this year’s Gana Gathering came back round to kindness to ourselves.  This year’s teaching theme on emptiness and welcoming difficulties takes it all a step further.

For all these practices we need to realise what we are. Kindness to ourselves ultimately means realising what we truly are – the openness/emptiness, clarity and sensitivity of our being – and how that manifests as our personal mandala of body, speech mind/heart and environment.

Ultimately it is all about mandala principle – how to guard, protect and maintain the central principle and the boundaries on all the different levels of the hierarchy, the messages and established shared understandings, that are like the samaya connections, that allow positive and supportive energy exchange [these are aspects of mandala principle – taught in the Awakened Heart Sangha’s Living the Awakened Training].  

Seen this way, this kind of activity and the attitudes we all need to adopt in order for all this to function well becomes intrinsic to what we mean by supporting the mandala and reinforcing it. It is what it means to take Refuge in the sangha by participating in it and making it real – not just an idealised version of what it should be but working with what we have got and seeing how it is inseparable from the Mandala of Awakening and that our connections really matter in this and all our future lives.”

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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