Ven Sean Price’s classes on mindfulness were a true Dharma gift. For the few of us who were able to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holidays to attend his teachings, we had a chance to just stop and check our minds, to look at our motivations honestly, and to watch the whirlwind of feelings and emotions. What better way was there to prepare for the disruption in the daily routine, kids out of school, house guests, the bittersweet sorrow of seeing aging parents and friends, and those complicated ‘I should have saids’, ‘I shouldn’t have saids’?
Ven Sean began by presenting a Shakyamuni Buddha meditation practice, “The Treasure of Blessings” written by Mipham Jamyang Gyatso. He noted that there’s an unfortunate tendency for Shakyamuni Buddha to be overlooked and forgotten in favor of other more enchanting deities and lamas. He carefully explained each of the branches of the seven limb prayer. Interestingly, instead of translating the Tibetan word “shakpa” as meaning “confession”, Ven Sean said it has the connotation of tearing something out, as if tearing/ripping out of your chest and laying it in front of oneself — to rip out a negative action not with any sense of guilt, but just to lay it aside.
Ven Sean gently guided us through meditations on the four mindfulnesses, the mindfulness of the body, the mindfulness of feelings/thoughts, the mindfulness of the mind, and the mindfulness of Dharma. By practicing these simple meditations, we were able to ground ourselves in the here and now, getting us out of our heads and reuniting body and mind. Ven Sean emphasized the importance of mindfulness as it is the basis for all subsequent meditations of either the sutra or tantra varieties. Moreover, mindfulness is crucial for the accumulation of virtue and abandonment of non-virtue. We need to acquire the habit of doing a quick check – is this action of my body, speech or mind virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral?
Just before the last class, I asked Ven Sean if he could please explain the relationship between the lo rig teachings (the science of mind, for lack of a better term) and the practice of mindfulness. As many of you know, the lo rig teachings are very technical, and dry – an exposition of consciousness presented as a collection of lists. (While I have tried to make it through Lati Rinpoche’s book “Mind in Tibetan Buddhism” for many years, I’ve never really understood it).
Ven Sean explained that the lo rig teachings are a means for dissecting the workings of the mind, for identifying and categorizing what happens in any given moment of consciousness. Growing up in southern England, he helped his father – an avid gardener – maintain the family garden. Using the analogy of a garden for main mind itself, he discussed how we choose whether to weeds (negative mental factors e.g., desire, pride, ignorance, etc,) to proliferate or rather to clear them and cultivate flowers, (positive mental factors e.g., love, non-attachment, non-hatred, non-ignorance, etc.). A bird bath, bird table, pond and fountain were likened to the variable mental factors (sleep etc. which are neither virtuous or non-virtuous) which can contribute to the beauty of a garden depending on how they are kept/cultivated. The gardens of our minds need constant attention to prevent the weeds from choking out the flowers, to prevent algae and grime from accumulating on the bird bath and fountain, etc. And so with our minds.
As the winter wind howled outside hurling the brown oak leaves against the classroom windows with a dry clatter, it was difficult to recall summer roses, larkspurs and daffodils and their counterparts – crabgrass, clover, dandelions. Nevertheless, the analogy of carefully tending a garden, of choosing what to grow struck a chord with me. Perhaps lo rig offers the gardener tools for cultivating the mind, while mindfulness is the gardener patiently sowing and weeding out in the sun, the wind, and the rain.
Written by Dina Li, Edited by Ven Sean Price
Copyright @ 2007 The Guhyasamaja Center