The Real Dharma Practice: How To Meditate In Everyday Life


This post I am stepping sideways to present Geshe Doga’s essential advice (based on several pith instructions by Atisha) concerning how to apply mindfulness and introspection to our ordinary everyday mind and thus incorporate it directly into our everyday lives. And not just when dwelling in the space of our meditation cushion. [1] Such breath-takingly practical techniques provide a firm foundation upon which to experientially  explore the superficial and deep natures of our mind according to the special methods taught within the Mahamudra tradition which has been the subject of recent posts and to which I will shortly return.



As the great master Atisha mentioned:

When alone check one’s own mind, and when among others, check one’s speech.[2]

This advice is very profound and derives from extremely personal instructions which drive straight through our heart. We can all relate to it.

Atisha also said:

The best instruction is constant observation of one’s own mind.[3]


The best friend is mindfulness and introspection.[4]


The best quality is the wish to benefit others.[5]

Atisha’s first point of advice is essentially the same as the second: when alone we check the state of our own mind. Therefore, checking one’s own mind is the best instruction. When we incorporate this advice we find that checking one’s own mind is really most essential if we are seriously interested in improving oneself and achieving beneficial personal transformation.

Indeed, the very moment we take the initiative to check our own mind, irrespective of where we might be and irrespective of what we might be doing, we find that it becomes, at that very moment, a form of meditation. This is because the actual practice of periodically checking one’s own mind and just by looking at its state, we find our mind starts to settle down.

The reason: the particular object of our checking is the mind itself. This is why periodically just looking at one’s state of mind and looking at what is going on is really a very meaningful practice.

Furthermore, when we engage in such actual checking we are also enhancing our discriminating wisdom, our discerning wisdom: we begin to observe and acknowledge whether our mind is in a negative or a positive state. In this way if we find there are more negative thoughts than positive, we can take the initiative, if not to rid of those negative thoughts, then at least to reduce them. By doing this we actually increase our positive mental state and attitude and so are positioned to say that we are engaged in the dharma practice of abandoning what is negative and adopting what is positive. What we are doing is adopting virtuous states of mind and shunting away negative states of mind referring to those that are to be discarded. Unless we begin to do this we can’t claim to have taken the initiative of involvement in dharma practice despite all claims to the contrary.

What are these virtues? These virtuous minds? And what are these negative minds to be discarded? Unless one is able to take the initiative of checking one’s own mental state one will be unable to answer and thus will be unable to transform one’s mind from negative into more virtuous states. Actually, to do this is quite simple once we do know and acknowledge our mental state.

On the other hand, the consequences of not doing so will lead one to become more judgemental and critical of others. Constantly we will see faults in them such as: they are always angry or they have attachments or desires, or they are very jealous or have lots of pride. Finding faults in this way is something we normally do. Indeed, we spend most of our time doing this!

This shows we haven’t paid sufficient attention to our own minds!

angry crop


When we have failed to recognize these faults in ourselves, all it takes is one word to make us project our negative mental states onto others. In contrast, when one does pay attention and make our core practice checking our own mind and attending to its mental states, then we recognize that the delusions are what are at fault: not the persons or individuals themselves. We understand it is the delusions within us that obstruct the clarity of our mind and influence it in negative ways.

Once we have begun to recognize these delusions within ourselves, then when we see others who are influenced by anger, attachment and pride and so forth, we do not immediately have a critical mind towards them and judge them. Rather, we will recognize the delusions themselves as what are at fault. This is what we will merely acknowledge because it will now be possible to make a distinction between the person and the delusion.[6] Consequently, we don’t feel impelled to become critical and judgemental of others. This is because we have taken the initiative of checking our own mind and recognizing the delusions that are present for what they are: delusions.

Just as making the distinction between the individual and the delusions helps us not to think negatively of others (because the delusions and not the person is seen at fault), likewise, with the ability to take real initiative and check our own minds we are able to recognise the delusions within ourselves as the fault, rather than thinking negatively about ourselves. We recognize the challenge: it is the delusions that are to be overcome! Only in this way do we being to get a real sense of one’s own path. This, in summary, is what Atisha is pointing out when he said that checking our mind is the best instruction.

Failing to do such checking  in an honest fashion opens the possibility that we will be filled with conceit or pride regarding even the slightest quality that we might have. We will have a tendency to be pompous, even with our gestures and actions. Every opportunity to try and show our excellent qualities will be taken!


Lord Atisha in teaching mudra. 15th Century Bronze. Tibet

Another way of establishing these points is found in Atisha’s advice:

Proclaim one’s own faults while hiding one’s qualities. Proclaim other’s qualities while hiding their faults.[7]

To do this in practice would be ideal. Again, these are very profound instructions. Without having capacity to check our own mind we will be unable to proclaim our own faults at the proper time and on a consistent basis. Likewise, as I have just mentioned, rather than being able to hide our own good qualities, because we are not mindful we will go around doing the opposite: proclaiming our qualities and thus be trying to advertise ourselves in a pompous fashion, attempting to show off our talent and so forth in ways that only increase our pride. This is what happens when we lack mindfulness.

On the other hand, when we proclaim others’ qualities, this means, of course, that we are also acknowledging them. Since everyone has certain qualities, by acknowledging them in a practical way we are helped to actually appreciate their qualities more and more. As a consequence we will become closer and generate strong feelings of affection towards them. So we can see how so many benefits will then arise in our lives.

For example, because we don’t proclaim their faults, but rather, hide them, we no longer have the same capacity to denigrate others and put them down. At the same time, it becomes increasingly obvious how we must take more and more initiative towards recognizing our own. In this manner they become clearer, more transparent to us–as the faults they are.

So, if we have noticed that we easily get angry we can see that it is best to tell others, let them know we have this fault. But normally, what we do is pretend that we don’t get angry, that we are cool, don’t have any desires, or whatever. These are all points that we really need to take into our practice.


Geshe Doga disarming young monk! Sera Monastery. Photo Ross Moore 2014


All of what I have been explaining is practical and something that can be applied to our daily lives. By doing so we will actually see the transformation taking place within ourselves and thus realize the true value of dharma practice. In fact, it is much more worthwhile to practice in this way on an ordinary level than to try to attain some higher level of practice, one for which we are unlikely, in any case, yet to be ready to practice.

The main thing is to really work on levels that we can manage and in accordance with where we actually are and then not to neglect those practices: those we can actually practice. This is true in my own case and this is what I seek to share with you. I have many anecdotes and stories but we don’t have opportunity to go into these now and I am not sure that you would relate to them all. But what I am seeking to share are those that I feel are indeed important and worthy of paying real attention towards.

In summary, on a practical level we really need to take the initiative of always investigating our own mind, scrutinise what is going on, investigate. Then we will be able to acknowledge both faults and qualities that are taking place there. By not doing this we will fail to recognise our own internal qualities, let alone recognise our own internal faults.

Failing to recognize our own faults is a great disadvantage but so also is failure to recognize our own good qualities for then we will find no way of actually improving ourselves and allowing for true transformation to take place. So this is something to which we must apply.

In this way we come to Atisha’s other essential point of advice which is that our best friend is mindfulness[8] and introspection. Why? Because having recognised our qualities as well as our faults we are aware of the need to be constantly mindful–in the sense of remembering them–in order to further develop positive qualities such as love, compassion and other virtues which are the opposites of the delusions. In other words, we become increasingly and constantly mindful of the virtues of non-anger, non-jealousy, non-pride, and so forth.


Detail from Hy Spy by Mark Apers

In the same way we can be mindful of the negativities and, by recognizing them for what they are, avoid being dominated or mentally influenced by them. To do this requires introspection which is a mind of vigilance applied to what is going on internally in order to be able to keep mental focus upon positive thoughts and actions while avoiding negative ones.[9]

In relation to our everyday life, to be vigilant means to check whether we are being mindful of the actions of our three doors: those of body, speech and mind and therefore in regards to both physical and mental actions. So the question we must ask: are we maintaining a virtuous frame of mind; is it in line with the virtuous or positive actions in which we are engaging or is it negative? Again, the ability to answer is dependent upon our ability to discern and this, in turn, relies upon introspection. This is why we must apply introspection in our daily practice. By so doing we will begin to see a true transformation taking place in our daily life. Things will actually now be getting better!

As well as our mind, it can also have a positive effect on our physical body. This is not to say that we can avoid illnesses and so forth from occurring altogether. But there will be a definite, even great difference when illnesses and so forth do arise. The benefit is found in how we will take those experiences on board.

As well as help with our immediate daily life, applying mindfulness and introspection and thus performing more virtuous than negative actions will also naturally secure a better future life. The benefits in both short and long terms can therefore be considered.


In short, what I am describing is how when we mention the word “meditation” what we are actually implying is not forgetting the virtuous object. Mindfulness in relation to meditation has this role of not forgetting. We are also referring to the consequences of forgetting the virtuous object. Such occurs when non-virtuous minds such as attachment do arise.

Though normally we do see some disadvantages of attachment, for example, if we do not hold the virtuous mind of non-attachment we will become easily influenced by it. Likewise, when we forget the virtuous mind of non-anger. Or non-jealousy. Without meditation based on mindfulness and introspection, such negative minds will be able to take over in our daily lives. In this way our virtuous minds are allowed to decline.

Here we can see how mindfulness is not just required in terms of formal meditation practice itself, but in terms of what we do outside of our meditation practice. In other words, we need to understand mindfulness and introspection in terms of our everyday life, and how we employ them to check our actions of body, speech and mind. I consider this the real meditation practice. To be a real meditator we do not need to be sitting on our cushion rigidly cross-legged.

What we must understand is that meditation is something which we can practice at any time because whenever we check how we are conducting our actions of body, speech and mind we are meditating. Doing this is itself meditation practice.

When we pursue the example of familiarising ourselves with the virtuous object further, we see it means also familiarising ourselves with minds such as love and compassion. Again, to be mindful of love and compassion doesn’t require us to be sitting on our cushion; one can be outside doing something else. Indeed, meditation occurs whenever we remember, whenever we are mindful of love and compassion together with their qualities, together with the need for them as well as how to apply them in everyday life. So this is how I see real dharma practice. This is the dharma we can apply at any time. This is how to incorporate the dharma in our lives.

Of course, the teachings explain how to obtain liberation and enlightenment and these should also be our aim. But, again, in everyday terms, if we become too obsessed with such a lofty set of goals, ones that seem so far away, this is how we can become disheartened, even to the degree that we might not even see the benefits of dharma practice for ourselves. What we must do then is focus on those goals within the context of relating the dharma to our life experiences right now. If we rely not just on the external conditions but also the internal conditions for developing ourselves, we can really develop and bring about transformation.

Again, in summary, as Atisha says: “this is the best instruction”.



Let’s take a personal example: we will all have had the experience of coming into contact with an object or a memory and then suddenly having a feeling of despondency or sorrow, maybe even melancholy, arise: the mind becomes immediately very unsettled.

What we must understand here is that this experience arises due to contact with that object or memory. In terms of our meditation, these are the types of objects from which we need to distance ourselves, defamiliarise ourselves. Virtuous objects, on the other hand (and we are looking at this in very simple terms), give us a quality of feeling or emotion that uplifts the mind, makes us feel joyful, elated. But here we must distinguish between those objects that give us excitement, seemingly inordinate pleasure and those that give rise to a deep sense of contentment and satisfaction within oneself. It is the latter that we can refer to as virtuous objects and it is these with which we need to further acquaint and familiarise ourselves with.[10]

When we find that we are inclining towards becoming unsettled, melancholy or unhappy then that is the [measure of the] time that we are not being mindful of virtuous objects; it is clear sign that we are not allowing our mind to pay attention because, rather than virtuous objects, we are focusing upon non-virtuous ones.[11] We are giving-in to unvirtuous objects; we are not focusing on virtuous objects. That this is happening is a clear sign that our mindfulness and introspection are declining within ourselves. Thus we are no longer practising in our everyday lives.

So the practical benefit in applying this technique is that we do not intentionally let ourselves focus on objects which cause us discomfort and mental agony. Instead, we intentionally forget about that and apply our mind instead to a virtuous object. Due to becoming familiar with the virtuous object in this way, when we next meet that non-virtuous object, it will not have the capacity to affect us in the same way. We will be better able to manage how to deal with it. It will not have the same power to cause agony or angst in our mind.[12]




To share a personal story to illustrate: In my younger days when I was first sent to the first monastery near my town [in Kham, Tibet], I was quite young then and would at times miss my mum. So when my mum would come and visit me, of course I was initially very happy and excited. And then, when she left, I would feel really quite sad. And that sadness in my mind would linger for some time and make me feel uncomfortable. My teacher would very skilfully distract me by making me, allowing me to play a bit, instead of getting me to study straight away. In that way he would allow me to get a little bit distracted. Because I was holding so closely to that memory of my mum, her visit and then her having just left, this distraction would take my mind temporarily off my upset. Because my mind was taken off that memory temporarily, them my mind would become more relaxed then, when my teacher put me to study and so forth, it was easier to engage. Even though I would remember my mum occasionally, it was not as intense as the feeling of being left alone when my mum went away. The feelings associated with that departure were not as intense. So this is how, with skilful means and methods, it is possible for us to gradually overcome the pangs of pain we feel in relation to certain objects.

At this point I also regularly share with you some methods for best dealing with those times when children are going through difficulties. As the parent, you might not be able to understand and really know exactly what is going on, such as when they are showing disinterest in their studies, or not doing some household chores or even caringwhat is happening outside. This means that their mind is troubled. So, when their mind is troubled, to further add to that by constantly telling them “you should do this” or “you should do that” will only put more weight on their already troubled mind and consequently won’t be very helpful to them. Because it does not agree with their own state of mind,they might even become rebellious and so forth. Best is to actually console them and treat them very nicely, treat them with even more niceness than usual! That will help to pacify their mind and thus they can then take more initiative on their own part to care for their own life.


When we think about effective, skilful ways to help and care for others, whether it be our children or maybe our business or work associates, friends, or companions, whoever it may be, then when one takes the initiative of helping them in this way, due to having helped them at their time of difficulty, strife, when they were troubled, then whatever help you presented to them at that time will be really appreciated. Later, when they recollect, they will naturally feel very grateful and appreciative because this help was received at a time when so many difficulties were being experienced. I have also many other stories about this.

We should consider how the measure of whether or not someone is a good friend (and thus exhibiting the true mark of real friendship) is whether they come to your aid when you are most in need. When we refer to a good friend we don’t mean those who come to enjoy themselves when times are good yet shy away when times change and become hard. That some do is a sign, in fact, that they are not true friends. So we really need to pay attention to these points ourselves if we wish to be a true companion and friend for others. These are the qualities we need to seek and express within ourselves.


Photo courtesy:


In relation to what constitutes a true friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama mentions that a true friend or companion is one who comes to help you in the time of real need. Such a friend does not need to be wealthy, rather, they rely not on external qualities but internal qualities as we described earlier. These are what we need to develop within ourselves. In Atisha’s words (earlier quoted): “The best quality is the wish to benefit others.”

To think this through, it means that our willingness to benefit others comes from our personal acquaintance with love and compassion; when we develop love and compassion within our heart the willingness to benefit others comes naturally. If one does not recognize the suffering of others, one will not have any feeling of wishing to free them from suffering and if one does not have the intention of relieving their suffering, then there can be no love for them wishing them to be happy.

We note here that love has the aspect of wishing others to be happy whereas compassion has the aspect of wishing them to be free from suffering. Thus, if one does not wish that they free from suffering, one cannot have compassion towards them. So we must understand this mutual dependence like that. Indeed, to lack the intention for others to be happy actually means that we lack love for them: to lack the intention for others to be free of suffering likewise means that we lack compassion for them.

When you see it in this way, you can really begin to understand how love is felt towards others and how compassion is also felt towards others. Then we are in position to really start working ourselves to bring about the qualities that will enable us to do that. We must do this more and more, actively work to increasingly familiarise ourselves with love and compassion based on our understanding of what they mean and what their intentions actually are.

By making this our core practice, a consequence is that we become much more relaxed and happy in relation to others because we wish them to be happy and experience more joy. In this way there is benefit for both self and others. The benefits go all the way around!

Jok_170 A

Maitreya, Nepal, Early Malla Period, 13th Century. Lhasa gTsug lag khang; inventory no. 635[B]. Photo: Ulrich von Schroeder 1996. Note the exquisitely relaxed posture.


When we talk about relying as a Buddhist on the Three Refuges, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we can now come to an understanding of what Dharma actually really means: to rely upon the positive qualities within oneself that contribute to our own wellbeing and happiness and thus the happiness and wellbeing of others also. Therefore the real reliance is to have love and compassion in our hearts. They are the love and compassion within ourselves. This is the real protector, none other than the Dharma within ourselves. This is what we must rely upon. So you can see that reliance on the Dharma does not mean something vague and mysterious, rather, it is the living actual experience within oneself. And this is what becomes more stable over time. This is what becomes more tangible, more obvious within ourselves as we develop more conviction and trust in the dharma, become better appreciate its real values.

On the other hand, if we don’t rely on our internal qualities in this way then it will be really difficult to rely on the Dharma with strong faith and conviction because we will not appreciate and experience the actual benefits of so doing. Looked at the other way, if our internal qualities are not so obvious [to us] then it will prove really hard to generate strong conviction or a conviction that is itself more than what is superficially apparent.

To illustrate with a story. At one time Lama Zopa suggested that I might go and teach in Singapore and Hong Kong a bit. I agreed and on the way to India I stopped over and gave a talk in a large hall in Singapore hired for that purpose. After I had finished, the Centre Director asked to have a private word with me in his office. He told me that as director he was responsible for financially supporting the centre, ensuring its material needs etc. This was not so difficult. In fact it was quite easy! However, what was proving really hard was getting people to actually come to listen to the Dharma. He mentioned that some visiting teachers when they came would explain that if you did a hundred-thousand prostrations or a hundred-thousand mandala offerings or a hundred-thousand mantra recitations, that would make you become enlightened. Then the director added: “I am not saying that others are incorrect or wrong. It might be correct, right”? Then he continued: “However, if these practices are presented without any real understanding of how to apply dharma practice in everyday life, then how could such practices transform the mind”?

I personally felt that he had made a very good point because even if grand practices are presented but one does not know or fails to connect them to our everyday level, how can they actually change and transform our mind, let alone alleviate even our immediate difficulties? So I felt that the sentiment he shared with me was really true. This is not to say that while I could agree with him and also understand what others were saying about practice, I was so sure about what I myself was doing!

Anyhow, the reality is that even if the dharma is presented the very best intentions, it does not necessarily mean that it will agree with everyone. There is a common [folk] saying in the Tibetan tradition: “even the Buddha can’t make everybody happy.” What this means is that when presented to an audience, maybe within ten people, nine are quite happy whereas for one, it was found not suitable for their mind. Or maybe 50/50? This is why there is no need to worry about such things because when Dharma is presented with the very best of intentions, the very best motivation, then that is what we must rely upon.

So I have spent a whole morning just elaborating on Atisha’s advice which are intended as instructions for one’s life. I feel that this advice is very intimate and something that we can use practically. With that intention in my mind, I thought to share something of the benefit for our everyday lives. This was my intention and I hope that it will be of such benefit.



Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Geshe Doga gave this extended talk on the second morning of an Easter Course on the Vajrasattva Purification method given at Tara Institute in March 2016. It was translated by the Ven Michael Yeshe and has has been lightly edited by me as intended part of a forthcoming e-book to be published by Tara Institute Publishing Group, Melbourne. The soiund file name was 2016-03-27am Easter Vajrasattva. It has been presented  in its entirety as its flow returns in a perfect arc to its beginning: the several quotations of Atisha.

[2] The verse reads:

Examine your speech when amid many people.
Examine your thoughts when alone.

The root text is The Jewel Rosary of an Awakening Warrior (Byang-chub-sems-dpa’ phreng-ba [Bodhisattvamaniavali]. Composed by the great Indian pandit Dipamkara Shrijnana. See Rabten, Geshe and Geshe Dhargyey. Advice from a Spiritual Friend. Translated and edited by Brian Beresford with Gonsar Tulku and Sharpa Tulku (Boston: Wisdom Publications,) 1977, 1996), 136-7

[3] “The best instruction is the constant observation of one’s own mind” See Sayings of the Kadam Masters in which Khutö, Ngok, and Dromtönpa asked Atisha: “of all the teachings of the path, which is the best?” See Thupten Jinpa, trans. The Book of Kadam: The Core Texts (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008), 560.

[4] “The best friends are mindfulness and introspective awareness.” Ibid.

[5] “The best excellence is to have great altruism” Ibid.

[6] Shāntideva writes:

Although it is their sticks that hurt me,
I am angry at the ones who wield them, striking me.
But they in turn are driven by their hatred;
Therefore with their hatred I should take offence.

Verse 41. Chapter 6, Patience, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Revised Edition (Shambala Publications: Boston) 2011, 52.

[7] “Hide your own good qualities but proclaim the good qualities of others.” Atisha, The Jewel Rosary of an Awakening Warrior, verse 10. For root verse and commentary by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey see Advice from a Spiritual Friend, 107-8.

[8] Mindfulness (Skt: smṛti; Tib: dran pa). As B. A. Wallace explains: “The Sanskrit term translated here as mindfulness also has the connotation of recollection, and it is the faculty of sustaining the attention upon a familiar object without being distracted away from it.” See The Buddhist Tradition of Samatha: Methods for Refining and Examining Consciousness Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, No. 2–3, 1999, p. 178.

Note that Geshe Doga is using the term beyond the context of developing single-pointed concentration (samatha). Instead, he is employing in the context of analytical meditation but the principle and features are essentially the same. Sometimes mindfulness is described as memory (or recollection) in that it has the feature of ascertaining again, or rather, once again, the object that was known (or held) in the immediately preceding moment, allowing of course for momentary impermanence.

As Geshe Rabten defines: “Recollection is a distinct mental factor that repeatedly brings to mind a phenomenon of previous acquaintance without forgetting it.” See Rabten, The Mind and its Functions, 117-8. In the case of analytical meditation, mindfulness enables us to continue investigation of (in this case) the mind and its mental states without losing or interrupting our attentive focus by wandering off, whether spasmodically or even entirely to other objects and hence dislodging the flow of our concentration.

Geshe further describes the benefits:

In everyday life it gives order to one’s daily activities through enabling one to remember what has to be done at particular times and so forth. In brief, recollection is compared to a treasure house that can store many wholesome qualities without letting them perish.

Ibid, 118.

[9] Introspection/introspective sense (Skt: samprajanya: Tib: shes bzhin). B. A. Wallace writes: “While it is the task of mindfulness to attend, without forgetfulness, to the meditative object, introspection has the function of monitoring the meditative process. Thus, introspection is a type of meta-cognition that operates as the ‘quality control’…. In the Buddhist tradition, introspection is defined as the repeated examination of the state of one’s body and mind and it is regarded as a derivative of intelligence.” Wallace, Ibid.

Sometimes it is also metaphorically described as a spy because it peeps in upon the scene of meditation (as might a spy through the crack in a door) in such a manner that it can observed, but not itself be detected. See Hopkins, Meditation on Emptiness, 76.

Its role, in general terms, is to monitor and assess whether or not mindfulness is intact and bearing upon its object of awareness (or observation) as intended. If it isn’t it instigates a correction by returning it, without further ado, in such a way that the process of remedy doesn’t itself become a distraction. Mindfulness and vigilance therefore work in tandem, at least until advanced stages of mindfulness are achieved wherein distraction is no a possibility.

[10] The implication, and speaking in broadbrush terms: the objects of unwholesome minds, such as anger and desirous attachment can to be considered non-virtuous and those of wholesome minds, virtuous, and those of indifferent minds, neutral (neither positive or negative).

Geshe Doga is also asking us to distinguish between objects of excessive excitement, for example, and those of an excitement (or delight) that might arise upon unexpectedly meeting someone whom we regard with a deeply compassionate and stable love. The two minds therefore have significantly different aspects. Likewise the object of a superficial supercilious elation is different to that of a calm and peaceful elation arising from meditation. It is useful to consider here also the roles of innate self-grasping ignorance and inappropriate attention in producing afflicted minds. Jampa Tegchok writes:

When we do not understand this Dharma of emptiness, I-grasping–the view of a personal identity–will continue to arise spontaneously. Due to this, attachment will automatically arise toward objects that our inappropriate attention exaggerates as being attractive and the source of happiness. Similarly, anger will persistently arise towards experiences an objects that our inappropriate attention exaggerates as being unpleasant or threatening to our well-being, Due to attachment, anger, and other afflictions that stem from I-grasping, we will create destructive karma.

See Khensur Jampa Tegchog, Practical Ethics, Ebook, Loc 2829-2837 of 8545. T

Therefore the objects of “unwholesome minds” such as anger, ignorance and attachment (the Three Poisons) must be understood in terms of their relation to the distorting productive power of innate I-grasping together with the manner in which inappropriate attention (which is dependent upon it) works to erroneously project qualities onto merely pleasant, unpleasant and neutral objects in excess of what is actually, or intrinsically, there. Geshe Doga is not dealing with this productive or hallucinatory power of ignorance here, nor the complexity of the manner in which objects are perceived. But it is useful to consider, or at least have it running in the background, so that we avoid the easy trap of essentializing objects as good, bad and neutral from their own sides and thus regarding them as fundamentally cut-off from the nature and mode of our cognitive engagement.

[11] It is interesting to consider here the object of grief: is it to be also discarded? Can we distinguish the object of grief based on attachment as the same as the object of a grief based on a generous love? This is a topic explored in the post A Buddhist Grief Observed.

[12] Again, a pertinent reference to grieving would seem appropriate. Geshe Doga is not asking us, for example, to suppress recollection or memory of the loved one who has died and whom we have lost, for example, altogether, but that we should creatively find a way of recalling them that is less conducive to causing deep distress and pain and more conducive to giving rise to a peaceful contentment based on love and deeply-enduring affection.

Such a gradual, rather than abrupt process, involves choosing and modulating our “object” together with employing and skillfully steering (with mindfulness and introspection) the defamiliarization and re-familiarization (or even new-familiarization) techniques as Geshe Doga is describing, whereby we shift the object from a negative to a positive one. Considered in this way we see a compatibility between classical Buddhist cognitive mind-training techniques with their progressive emphasis and forms of contemporary grief counselling.

See Joanne Cacciatore, Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss , and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief (Wisdom Publications: Boston), 2017 for some first-hand testimonials concerning the efficacy of a technique involving selectively embracing and positively and successively steering memory from pain successively towards a healing compassion, one sufficiently open and large to embrace the griever also.

When a grief is managed in this grounded yet open way (one not denying the reality or impact of intense emotional pain and stress) it has potential to become source of insight and transformative understanding, rather than atrophying as (seemingly) impenetrable, immovable trauma, a catastrophic block as it were.




1 Comment

There is much to ponder here, Ross. Thanks again for recommending ‘bearing the unbearable’. There are many points in the book that resonate with me. There is one distinction so far that relates to what you have mentioned above and helpful for those of us who are experiencing grief. Cacciatore distinguishes between ‘what we feel and how able we are to cope with what we feel’. She goes onto say, “the focus is on strengthening our personal and interpersonal resources rather than diluting the many colors of grief. This is crucial because the course of grief, once past the acute period, is to emerge and reemerge, moving from the foreground to the background, rising and falling.”


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