Replacing an Empty Mind with an Open Mind

10 May 2009 - 8:51am Comments Off

Cheri first joined Kechara House when she began working with the retreat centre department. Since then, after listening to Dharma teachings and attending Dharma classes, she’s become not merely a staff of the organisation, but family and is always involved in our centre’s many activities. As the work in her department overlaps with other departments of the Kechara group, Cheri plays a pivotal role in working closely with many members of the organisation to constantly find ways to expand, develop and succeed in our Dharma work.

Throughout my life, I wondered what pilgrimage was all about. From observation, and talking with my Muslim friends, I summarised in a nutshell that it was about making journeys to holy sites, reciting prayers collectively, instilling pure thoughts during the pilgrimage, bringing back holy water to one’s home to distribute it to family members and loved ones and most importantly to make a connection with God for guidance and endurance, to face hardship when encountered in this life.

Buddhist pilgrimage is seldom heard of and not extensively promoted in this country. I was keen to go to Nepal when invited to join the trip for I wanted to experience for myself what pilgrimage was about.

My strive to climb up 480 steps to the Vajrayogini Chapel in Sangkhu Monastery certainly created many memories where I can now look back and laugh at myself, while simultaneously congratulating my determination to reach the top. I was panting away while climbing up, my legs and lungs screaming inside me out of pain and exhaustion; at the same time I also had a voracious mind to see and cover as many temples and holy places as I could while I was in Nepal.

As we neared the peak where the gate was, only about 30 steps away, I felt unsure if my body could, at that moment in great fatigue, even carry me that far! I felt I needed rest, perhaps to sit at the steps for a minute or two. Then, I heard the sound of the metal gates being opened for us. I was visualising that it was almost like I was out of samsara and tempted to step into heaven. It didn’t matter whether it was Kechara, Tushita or Nirvana… any heaven, as long as I could be out of samsara. That was the driving force that drove me to push my tired legs without rest, to climb just that little bit more to cross over the gates.

What touched me then was the supportive energy channelled out by the group which encouraged each other to carry on climbing and not leave anyone behind. There was Yek Yee, hobbling along with one injured foot, who had a companion making sure that she was well cared for; the elderly crowd had the younger ones beside them ready to assist in carrying their bags and take care of them; as for myself, there was Jamie Khoo, who I felt was equally exhausted but held my hand to clamber up the hill together. It is essential to cultivate a collective energy in the form of encouragement for one’s Dharma practice especially in a spiritually impoverished country like ours. It’s okay to slip but sometimes we just need another Dharma practitioner to pull us back on track.

Throughout the trip, I was quiet, contemplating over what I saw – the place, people, their faith in practising the teachings of Buddhism. In my opinion, our group had an added advantage as it was infused with educational Dharma talks given by Rinpoche. I found the Dharma talks to be the most valuable.

I felt that Rinpoche may have sensed a particular disharmonious energy or certain doubting minds or thoughts within the group and hence, gave appropriate Dharma talks with logical reasoning to diffuse it or to remind us of what we already knew, to cultivate patience in our reactions towards people and situations. In short, he showed us how we can all have the ability to listen to almost anything or anyone without losing our tempers, thus replacing an empty mind with an open mind.

Topics of Rinpoche’s teachings which captured my attention were “The Internal and External Enemy” and “Tolerance”. In my conclusion, this is interrelated with Patience. Patience challenges anger, the most potent destroyer of virtue as it has the ability to creep into our mind with no difficulty and consume our merits with blazing ease. A lot of sufferings arise from anger and it does not only prevent us from judging a situation correctly, but also causes us to react in regrettable ways, destroying peace of mind and disturbing everyone else we meet.

From the teachings, Rinpoche explained that most of the time, anger is triggered off by something quite insignificant such as an expectation not fulfilled, a habit we find irritating or a comment we take personally. Anger exaggerates the unpleasantness of the situation, it provides rationalisations and justifications for the sense of disappointment, outrage and resentment. Worst of all, it leads us to say and do harmful things, thereby causing offence to others and transforming a small difficulty into a great sand storm.

External enemies harm us in less subtle ways at a slower pace, and if we practise patience with them we can even win them over and eventually turn them into friends. However, there can be no reconciliation with the internal enemy, such as anger, for if we are lenient with it, it will take advantage and harm us not only in this life, but continue to harm us for many future lives.

During this trip I had listened to Rinpoche’s teachings with ease, without constantly worrying over what time I needed to return home, what needed to be done before I went to work the following day etc etc. This was an enriching journey for my mind especially as I came to understand more about the essence of a pilgrimage excursion.

I also now know how to better explain the significance of tours like this to friends, relatives and to people that I would meet in the future, who may wish to make unique trips like this. I hope to encourage them to go on a journey of self-discovery and examine their own mind by viewing circumstances from another perspective.

Trips like this one certainly were an eye-opener to me in terms of seeing other people’s faith in Buddhism despite facing poverty. It seemed that the entire culture supports this practice, helping to improve my understanding and deepen our appreciation of the teachings of Buddhism.

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