How remarkable that a short text composed in Tibet some 750 years ago should carry such a recognisably authentic message of liberation in this age of social media. Of course, Jetsun Drakpa Gyalten’s ‘Song of the Eight Practices of Dreams’ goes far deeper than advising on how to deal with today’s world-wide monster, as Lama Jampa clearly showed us when he taught the the text last Saturday at London's Wetland Centre. For it shows how cunning and resourceful ego follows us all into our dharma lives - and, importantly, how to watch out for it so it doesn’t keep its hold.
These days it seems, especially in the Twittersphere, that we have to have an opinion about everything - about every little thing and every big thing that happens. And we have to come out on the side of the good guys or else we’re seen not to care. As Lama Jampa says in ‘Wisdom in Exile’, it seems like it’s the age of compassion now. The key is to check out which team, which tribe, to support as being on the side of good and revile the other.
Or is it?
What does Jetsun Drakpa’s teaching say about this? What does Lama Jampa himself actually say about this?
Explaining the Jetsun’s advice, Lama Jampa simplified the whole business for us last Saturday. One of the song’s liberating messages is that if we develop pride in our own side as being right, as being the side of the ‘good ones’ and if at the same time we are trying to practise the dharma, then we are making a mistake.
Realising this frees us up to have compassion for both sides and all sides. We can be totally free with regard to our dispensation of compassion. The Lama even put it like this, in answer to a question: “We are promiscuous in our compassion. It’s not us versus them. Not goodies versus baddies”. So truly freeing our hearts.
A further aspect of the teachings from last Saturday, which seems connected with this, is that if we are seriously trying to practise dharma, then sooner or later we will need to live without approval from others with respect to what we think we think about everything that’s going on. This is reminiscent of a point made by Karma Thinley Rinpoche in his ‘Lamp that Dispels Darkness’:
“Since the ways in which beings experience a thing are various, what is non-existent for one is fully existent for another and there is no need for any similarity.”
In the afternoon, Lama Jampa gave an initiation that enables us to cultivate meditation on the principal bodhisattvas of the three Buddha families: Manjushri of Vairocana’s Tathagata family, Chenrezik of Amitabha’s Lotus family and Vajrapani of Akshobya’s Vajra family. This is very special as it provides a way to cultivate the three innate qualities that we need to sustain us on the path: wisdom, compassion and power.
Those of us who have embarked on this mode of meditation can see that such practice actually does help to turn us around in our hearts. Rather than seeing the kind of teachings we heard in the morning as an onerous giving up of what we really want to do, we gain a freer way into a lighter compassion which doesn’t need to carry a heavy heart.