The Buddha and the awesome, incredible mind

Millions of gods put together can’t beat the mind, says Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche who recently launched a worldwide project to “touch base” with the mind and stem the pandemic 

SIDDHARTHA Gautama was becoming more and more emaciated by the day. His backbone protruded like a line of spindle. His buttocks had become like the hoofs of a camel. His ribs “corroded and collapsed like the rafters of an old and rotten shed”. And he was growing restless. 

Six years had passed since he left the palace and wandered across the basin of the river Ganges and through the hot plains of Rajgir and Bodhgaya (present day Indian state of Bihar) seeking wisdom and teachers, and learning whatever there was to learn and then growing restless. 

He led the life of an ascetic that, as his search wore on, grew into a severe penance. He lived alone and naked in the forest. He slept in cemeteries. He ate once in seven days, an occasional fruit or some wild plant soup. 

But he still hadn’t found what he was looking for.

The knowledge and insight into the reality of samsara and the suffering of sentient beings— the cycle of birth, sickness, old age, death and re-birth with its attendant emotions of pain, frustration and sorrow— to which he had sought to find a solution and had given up his princely life for, eluded him.

So one day, breaking the vows he had kept for six years, he ate porridge of milk and rice offered by a local Bodhgaya woman called Sujata. He then massaged his body with oil and took a warm bath. Alone in the forest, but physically much stronger than before now, he seated himself under a pipal tree one night, vowed not to move until he had found the answers, and began to meditate. 

In the course of his meditations, the prince-turned-ascetic Siddhartha Gautama finally found the answers he was looking for. He learnt the four noble truths of human experience: suffering, its cause, the possibility of curing it, and its remedy. Knowing this, he was liberated from ordinary human condition and attained enlightenment. He became the Buddha, which means the enlightened, or the awakened, one.

This story took place in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, more than 2500 years ago, in India. 

The Buddha was one of the great men, if not the greatest man, ever born and lived in India. That Buddha was not God, or His emissary on earth, but an actual individual, who had managed to liberate himself from ordinary human suffering, and then, out of compassion, had shared his insights with the world, inspired nations and generations of intellectuals and artists throughout the ages. 

His ideas and teachings have travelled to China, Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka and many other Asian countries including, at one time, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the latter of which is the birthplace of the legendary 8th century tantric master and follower of the Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava. In the nineteenth century, Buddha’s ideas and teachings made its way to Europe and the Americas. As it happened, it was the Europeans who invented the word ‘Buddhism’.

The celebrated German philosophers— Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche— spoke and wrote frequently and admiringly of the Buddha. The American poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau translated a French version of the Lotus Sutra into English, one of the most important and influential collections of the words of the Buddha. The famous scientist Albert Einstein called Buddhism the religion of the future because it was compatible with modern science.

When China invented the printing press more than one thousand years ago, the very first publication they worked on and printed was the Diamond Sutra, one of the most celebrated collections of the words of the Buddha and which was translated from Indian Sanskrit to Chinese.

It was precisely to remember and celebrate an extraordinary individual like the Buddha and his teachings that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, the Bhutanese lama, writer, thinker and filmmaker recently launched the global healing project called the ‘Bhumisparsha: Touching the Earth’. 

The name is taken from the symbolic pose of an iconic Buddha image— with his left hand palm upright in his lap and his right hand touching the earth. The gesture represents the moment of the Buddha’s awakening as he claims the earth as the witness to his enlightenment. 

The project aims to recite the Buddha mantra ‘Tayatha Om mune mune mahāmunaye svāhā’ 100 million times by January next year. 

Siddhartha’s Intent India, the project organizer, says the global mantra accumulation is for the benefit of “the Earth, for humanity, for animals, and for all sentient beings”. Importantly, it’s done to help stem the tide of the pandemic. International celebrities such as Hong Kong actor Tony Leung and Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla have lent in their support as participants and influencers.

Already, the mantra accumulation has passed 50 million recitals, achieving half the target in just under one month of what is a five-month project. Many of the Buddha mantra chanters are from Asia, but also from Australia, Europe, North and South America. Youths are in the forefront of the project drumming up enthusiasm and support and coordinating the mantra counts from their respective countries.

According to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, just as an individual has his or her own karma, causes and conditions that dictate their lives, so does a group or a population of a country, or earth. The phenomenon is called group karma. 

For instance, the group karma of the citizens of a nation can determine the kind of leader they’ll have or cause volatile situations like the current pandemic to erupt.

But just as an individual possess various methods in her power to offset her negative karma, so too does a group. 

The global group Buddha mantra chant is aimed to counterbalance the collective negative karma of the inhabitants of the earth and help bring about an end to the pandemic. This would, for instance, help speed up the search for an effective vaccine, or cause fewer deaths, or both. And more.

There are other benefits of chanting the Buddha mantra. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says that the act of reciting the Buddha mantra leads one to “touch base” with one’s mind, with one’s “sanity”. In a world where there is distraction of every kind imaginable, being in touch with one’s sanity is all that stands between you losing your mind and you in control of your mind (and thus your life).

Sitting outdoor on a khaat, a woven traditional Indian bed, one recent hot and rainy morning in Bir, India, a sweaty Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche talked to the participants about the Bhumisparsha project via Zoom.

“Gods don’t make us sane,” he said as he waved away airborne pests from his face. “In fact, gods have made us more insane sometimes. Gods can’t give us sanity. Actually no one can give you sanity. No one needs to give you sanity. You have it in you all the time. You just need to use it. You need to discover it. You need to give chance to this sanity to bloom.”

The Buddha said the key to wisdom is experience. And that the qualities of all human experiences depend on the mind. It’s the mind that controls the way we experience the world, the way in which we make it our world. The mind is the window onto a person’s reality. The mind is what gives you sanity.

“This mind is just so powerful,” Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said. “…The most powerful thing, machine… Even if millions and millions of gods are put together they can’t beat this mind… this mind is just so incredibly powerful.”

The 8th century Indian monk Shantideva, a follower of the Buddha, wrote: “By the mind the world is led… The mind swings like a firebrand, the mind rears up like a wave, the mind burns like a forest fire, like a great flood the mind bears away…”

So to ensure that you don’t lose your mind down the rabbit hole of desire, attachment, pride, jealousy and hatred, which are bound to bring you pain and suffering, it’s crucial that you stay in touch with the mind every so often, if not all the time, says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. 

One of the millions of techniques developed and shared by the Buddhist sages of the past to help you from losing your mind is the practice of chanting the Buddha mantra. “It’s very simple. There is nothing complicated about it.” 

And while you are at it, if you can think of the Buddha, or be in the present moment, just staring at your legs or being aware of your breath going in and out, even for half a minute, without getting distracted, it’ll bring you that much closer to your mind, and your sanity.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says that Buddha’s teachings on the mind and the importance of staying connected to it have special relevance in these turbulent bewildering times. It will mean so much more in the future. 

Computer algorithms that can monitor and understand a person’s feelings are coming. Some of it is already here. “Amazon shops they seem to know what I want; they seem to know what I read.” When a man loses his ability to make decisions for himself to the machines, his illusion of free will, among many other things, will crumble, says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

“When the world is run by algorithms, artificial intelligence,” said Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. “…Democracy will mean nothing. Individual freedom will mean nothing. But sanity will always mean something.”

 

What is group karma, really?

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche explains to Kuensel the phenomenon of group karma vis-à-vis his ongoing Bhumisparsha project

“Group karma is defined as an action created by two or more sentient beings who share the same values, distinctions, and judgments. So, for example, if a road is blocked, as the Thimphu-Phuentsholing road likely is right now, a group of travellers all eager to reach their destination and knowing exactly what to do and not do, will likely share the result of the action they take.

From the Buddhist point of view, such karmic conditions can even result from previous lives. So, just being born Bhutanese, we together share the group karma of experiencing some of the longest ever road construction delays – (the new road) between Phuentsholing and Thimphu for example.

But bear in mind that karma is very subjective. All the years of delay in building that road could be the good karma of the bears and other wildlife whose habitat will remain undisturbed a bit longer. And we can probably say it’s also the good karma of all the restaurant owners in Chapcha.

With that in mind, we see that phenomena can arise that cause even very large numbers of beings to experience similar karmic consequences. For example, 330 million Americans may or may not have Kamala Harris as their Vice-President.

But that gets even more interesting because all those beings who have a karmic debt with Americans, even if they are a thousand miles away, may go through some suffering every time there is an election there.

So right now, due to obvious and not-so-obvious things we have done in the past, and despite all our mighty scientific viral and antibiotic research, we’ve still been reduced to washing our hands and covering our mouths.

Conversely, if our compassionate motivation leads us to join a scientific research team to find a vaccine or to propagate hand washing and social distancing, or even just to wish those people well, then we can help generate a favourable group phenomenon.

Bhumisparsha is like that. As we chant the mantra and remember who performed that earth touching mudra – the Buddha – we are generating an attitude and an action that will produce a favourable outcome.

That Bhumisparsha action is so simple that it won’t drain you at all – far less so in fact than lifting food from your plate to your mouth. The action is simply touching the earth. Because this earth binds and nourishes us, we have group karma connected to the earth. So instead of ridiculously alienating ourselves from this earth, we can at least simply touch it.

Please also ask your children and other children to do just what the Buddha did in response to the biggest, final and most fearsome test and challenge he faced in his search for enlightenment. 

Instead of issuing forth bright lights, manifesting as a giant, attacking his enemy riding a tiger with a thousand heads, bribing his enemy with two fish and five loaves of bread, or indulging in any other kind of superhuman display of power that we normally expect from beings of his stature and position, all the Buddha did was to touch the earth.

So let us all touch this earth.”

 

To learn more about the Bhumisparsha project and how you can participate, please visit: https://siddharthasintent.in/bhumisparsha/

 

Contributed by  Kencho Wangdi (Bonz)

The writer is a former editor of Kuensel.

He can be reached at @bonzk on Instagram

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