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Marieke van Vugt

Leading the life of a practitioner

Leading the life of a practitioner http://landsofwisdom.com/?p=2863

I am currently at a retreat in Lerab Ling, where we had a visit by an amazing lama from Sikkim: Yangthang Rinpoche. One of the most penetrating teachings he gave was about renunciation. Now that may sound really scary or irrelevant for modern life, but in fact I felt it was exactly about how to be a real practitioner of meditation in today's complex and busy world. The teaching gave me a lot of things to think about, which inspired me to write this blog, as a means of reflection.

One of the things Yangthang Rinpoche talked about was the importance of getting fed up with samsara, this cycle of desire and disappointment in which we continuously tend to get ourselves trapped. If you really look at how you've spent so many hours, days, years, trying to make yourselves comfortable and happy, only to find that you are still not happy, it is shocking. This then can make you feel a certain pointlessness of it all. To take an example from this retreat; I may sit at a long session thinking about how hungry I will soon be, and keep obsessing about this, and how about how long the session will still last, and so on. Notice that I am not even hungry yet, I am just worried about me being comfortable in the future. And then once I'll have had a lunch break, in the next session, I am worrying about being hungry again. In the mean time, I have missed most of the teaching that was happening, I feel bad about myself for missing the teaching, and so on. In fact, it is shocking to realize how much time and energy I actually spend in trying to be comfortable and happy. The time I waste with worrying about these things actually prevent me from enjoying what is happening right now. And this is samsara, and it also shows how pointless it is.

Another approach (non-samsaric) we could use in this situation is to really appreciate what is happening right now. How we are receiving teachings from this amazing old lama, who with his eight-plus years of age still spends all day practising meditation, teaching, and so on. And most importantly, to learn from how he keeps enjoying this small moments when someone gives something to him, or when something funny happens. Instead of worrying about being comfortable himself, he just relaxes in the situation and focuses his energy on how he can help others. Maybe not worrying all the time about your own comfort is in fact renuncation. (note: self-care is actually very good, but sometimes, as in the example above, it can go overboard)

On a larger scale, renunciation is thought of as giving up all worldly pursuits and spending all your life following a spiritual path. Yet in the context of my own life, I think that renunciation does not necessarily have to mean that I give up my whole career and life and spend all my time meditating in empty caves. Maybe more important is to examine with what motivation I do what I do. Do I work in order to become a famous scientist, so that people celebrate me and applaud me? Or do I work so that my students really learn something from me that impacts their lives, and so that what knowledge I discover may actually help people in some way? If I am not continually seeking for praise and trying to avoid blame and insignificance, then I have much more energy to really make a difference with my life. And meditation can help to remind myself of that motivation, and to be more aware of when I get distracted. If only I could remember this more often...