Conversations With My Guru
Chapter 6 WHWWHHHHHHYYYY?
Chapter 6: WHWWHHHHHHYYYY?
In Buddhist teachings, short instructions given by your Guru are called “pith” - meaning the essence of something - instructions. This story is about what I viewed as a very simple pith instruction given by Khensur Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup Rigsel (late abbott of Kopan Monastery and one of Singha Rinpoche’s root gurus).
I first met Khen Rinpoche at a dinner at a friend’s home. After dinner, we were told we could have a meeting with a Lama. I had no idea what was going on but my spouse was keen so we went to see him.
Lama Lhundrup (as he was known then) said, “Do you have any questions?”.
I said “No”. My mind was blank, as usual, and not being a Buddhist meant I had no idea what to ask the “monk” who sat in front of us.
And then, he said to both of us, “Be Happy”.
There was a pause as I considered that – it was said not as a command or a request, but almost like a wish for us. Suddenly my mind was accelerating and considering “what does being happy even mean? After that pause, I replied, “I will try”.
He said, “Good, good, have compassion”. Another mind accelerating statement – what does that even mean? Compassion?
When I next met Lama Lhundrup several months later, he asked me about work and family and quite frequently he would just say WHY? as I was babbling about all kinds of nonsense that I was experiencing. But in his unique way - a very long “why", something I try to reproduce in the title of this post.
One day, Lama Lhundrup very briefly explained that the question “why?” had two sides – "why" in terms of what our motivation is, and "why" in terms of understanding the reason behind things happening. I now carry this little question around with me in my heart to train my mind.
WHY - MOTIVATION
Our actions are typically due to worldly concerns. I often struggle to identify whether anything that I did the entire day was truly not for this life and unselfish. Often, even prayers and other “Dharma activity” seem driven by worldly concerns if not first set with a reminder of motivation. And if the motivation is just recited like some formula with no real impact on the mind, is that even a motivation? The question has kept me honest. Why am I REALLY doing something? I often still forget and halfway through a prayer or making offerings, when I finally remember my motivation, I have to restart. There have been countless times when I just recited blah blah blah and then right at the end wondered – what was that for? In my actions, it has been a useful mirror to check myself.
WHY – STUFF HAPPENS
This one is more difficult. The right view of Buddhism tells us that we never experience something we had not somehow created the karma for. So when a loved one cheats on you, or disappoints you in some way, or you lose a stack of money to a trusted partner, or you get into an accident through no fault of your own, the difficult question we have to ask ourselves is...why? The answer is the same - the cause had been created (in some life, not necessarily this one), the seed planted and with the right conditions it ripened. Should I complain, blame, or seek revenge? Am I completely “innocent”?
The mind training teachings provide a balm to soothe our emotions when faced with these situations but practising this when difficult situations arise is not easy. Should we maintain contact with a friend, relative or someone who has disappointed you? Should we give up on them? Buddhism does not provide easy answers. We have no choice but to work out these answers for ourselves. Fortunately, we have the basis of wisdom and compassion, the help of Gurus and the community of practitioners - both ordained and lay - to help us, together with our prayers and practices.
The simple but very effective question – WHY - is easy enough to remember. It is not a long sutra, or a mantra, or a teaching but it is so essential. I must admit, despite writing this, I still forget even something as simple as this in my day-to-day activities. We are mere humans after all.
So, we keep trying every day. May we all strive and aspire to become a bodhisattva that Shantideva describes in his “Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life":-
As their bodies are happy due to their merit and
their minds are happy due to their wisdom,
even if they remained in samsara for the sake of others,
why would the compassionate ones ever be upset?
7 Nov 2021