A few weeks ago I had a few days where I felt I was struggling with life – as you do – so I took myself to the gompa (meditation room). I sat before the shrine and, looking into the eyes of a photo of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (a fabulous monk who’s written a lot of important books), I asked for help. “What am I missing?” I pleaded with him, tears in my eyes. “I gave up everything – everything! – and now I’m back living the life that I’ve chosen, doing the things that please me. Why do I feel unfulfilled? Why am I looking at others’ lives and thinking I should be doing more?” His pensive smile told me he had the answer so I held his gaze for a few moments before feeling myself drawn to the bookcase at the side of the room. I picked out one of his many books on Buddhism. “How to Solve Our Human Problems, The Four Noble Truths” it was called. I opened it at the first chapter entitled, “Desire”, a shockingly short chapter of only two pages which included the following paragraph:
All our problems – our unpleasant feelings – come from our delusions of attachment and self-grasping ignorance, therefore these delusions are the main cause of our problems. We have strong attachment to the fulfillment of our own wishes and for this aim we work very hard throughout our life, experiencing many difficulties and problems. […] If we had no such attachment, there would be no basis for experiencing suffering and problems at their loss.
Well, that was the answer I needed – I was grasping at fulfillment! All I needed to do was let go of the delusion that things “should” be a certain way and my mind would be calm. I meditated on that thought for a few minutes and then left the gompa, grateful and smiling.
I had a similar experience last week, something was troubling me enormously and so I took myself to the gompa and asked for help. “She’s driving me crazy!” I told the Gyatso’s photo. “I have no choice but to have her in my life right now but she’s making it so hard that I’m always feeling anxious and upset which is beginning to make me ill. What do I do?” Again he smiled his knowing smile. I looked at him hopefully for a few moments before, once I again, I found myself picking out a book from the shelf. “Eight Steps to Happiness – the Buddhist way of loving kindness”. A page had been marked with a small piece of cafe pad and so I opened it right there. My eyes were drawn immediately to a paragraph in italics:
The person who is harming or disturbing me is in reality encouraging me to practice patience; and since it is impossible to make progress on the spiritual path without developing the strong mind of patience, he or she is of great benefit to me.
This person in my life – that’s been driving me crazy! – is here to teach me patience in order for me to make progress on my spiritual path. Just wow.
My third experience of this nature happened today. After being surrounded by like-minded, spiritual people in the community in Sweden, I’m finding it difficult to no longer have that valuable support from a group of people whose values reflect mine. I explained this to the photo. “I need to be with others who understand what I’m doing; I need some support,” I told him. Again, I found myself picking out a book, this one entitled, “Modern Buddhism”, which had two bookmarks marking page 319. “Going for refuge” was the title on the page. I read a little bit of it, not fully understanding what it meant but feeling it was somehow relevant. A monk entered the room “What’s refuge?” I asked him. He explained it’s when you come under the shelter of the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I knew that Buddha is the teacher, Dharma is his teachings. “What’s Sangha?” I asked. “They’re your spiritual community,” he told me. That’s what I need, I thought to myself, a spiritual community. A few hours later I sat in the cafe above the gompa to do some writing and met a few people who’d been meditating. One invited me to join them tomorrow for the third day of what he called their “refuge retreat”. I’d been given exactly the support I’d asked for.
And these are just three neat illustrations of the many ways in which Buddhism helps me in my day to day. If you’re struggling with life, as most of us do from time to time, I highly recommend visiting a Buddhist Centre for a beginners’ meditation course. You don’t have to be a Buddhist, everyone is welcome, and you’ll be among friends. Or if you don’t have a centre nearby, come and ask me a question on my agony aunt website www.chattocherry.com where I give first class advice to help you with whatever you’re going through.