January 03, 2011
Just before the holidays, we were very lucky to have Lama Jampa Thaye pay us a visit here in the office. It was a very nice meeting and he is a very likeable and tremendously knowledgeable lama. Among the many topics discussed (everything from Gandharan scrolls to climate change to the history of the Karmapas to Bob Dylan) was the idea of having him be a guest blogger here; an idea of which luckily has come to fruition quickly and with ease. Hopefully this guest post will be the first of many.
Lama Jampa Thaye is a scholar and meditation master trained in the Sakya and Karma Kagyu traditions of Buddhism, a student of Karma Thinley Rinpoche and H.H. Sakya Trizin, and author of several books, such as Rain of Clarity and The Way of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Power of Commitment
by Lama Jampa Thaye
Sometimes it seems like everything is broken; everywhere you look there’s nothing to rely on any more. Between countries there are broken treaties; between people there are broken vows. Politicians break their word and preachers break the golden rule. In matters of love the holy kiss, that was supposed to last for eternity, is forgotten the morning after and, in matters of dharma, the wise men you trusted only wanted to capture your soul and hold it for ransom.
Actually, it’s not really what’s broken outside that’s the problem; it’s what’s broken inside. We are broken and we cannot trust ourselves anymore to be true to anything or anybody. We have no stability of mind or constancy of purpose. Instead we are so fickle that we are like a monkey jumping from tree to tree, grabbing first one thing, then another, in a ceaseless search for novelty.
What makes things a thousand times worse is that there’s much to excite the monkey nowadays. He’s distracted from distraction by distraction. Every time things get a little difficult or a little boring, he flips the channel, buys a new suit, a new toy, a new face and a brand-new mind. When the going gets rough, the monkey gets going—out of the door. After all, the same person who is whispering in his ear: ‘When you’re tired of Miss X, I’ve got another woman for you.’ is also saying: ‘ I’ve got a hot new lama for you as well.’
How can anybody rely on us when this is how we are? So why should we complain when we, in our turn, cannot find anybody dependable or when our efforts in dharma prove futile?
The one way to turn this around is to discover the strength that commitment brings. Only a resolve to live for more than the moment and for more than ourselves can deliver us from the prison of self-indulgence and weakness. In dharma such resolve is expressed in the various vows and pledges that provide the foundation for the spiritual path. So when we take the ‘individual liberation’ vows, whether as lay practitioners or monastics, we shape a commitment to refrain from harm as long as we live. In the case of the bodhisattva vow one’s commitment lasts until one has achieved Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings and, if we receive the tantric vows through Vajrayana initiation, we are resolved to maintain pure vision throughout every aspect of experience. Without such commitments that stretch beyond the immediate present whatever meditation we might undertake in any of the Buddhist vehicles will have no sustaining force and we will inevitably be blown off- course by internal or external obstacles.
Obviously such commitments should not be undertaken recklessly but, once made, we should strive to stay right with them, when the magic seems to fade and difficulties turn up, as they always do. Only those who can trust themselves to be true when this happens are worthy of the trust of others. So, it seems to me that the old heroes were the right ones after all— strong people true to their word, who you could rely on in any situation—the cowboy riding off into the sunset, all duty done, and the man sitting quietly under the tree in Bodh Gaya, dissolving the demon of self.