I feel like a failed Buddhist!

Apr 19, 2021

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina,

I’m reaching out for some advice please. My resilience is really low at the moment. Lockdown has been very isolating and I’m having quite negative thoughts, which become quite overwhelming at times. I can see it happening – the ego grasping and the wish for things to be different than they are, but I can’t seem to stop it and although I know these are just thoughts, it’s been very hard to have any separation from them and I end up crying a lot. Life feels quite meaningless, and even when I try to think that I’m doing my actions for the benefit of others it just feels silly when it didn’t before

I feel like a failed Buddhist – put to the test and unable to cope, but here I am.

Can you offer any advice? Your “something to think about” videos are very helpful, but I’m a little lost on what practice I should do and how to reset my mindset.

I’m going to attend the Vajrasattva practices on Zoom with you on Thursdays as Vajrasattva is the practice I am most familiar with.

I hope you are well.

Best wishes,

D

 

ANSWER

Dearest D,

Thank you for telling me what’s going on.

It seems you understand your mind well!

Frankly I think what you’re experiencing is simply purification. Even in the ancient texts, when they describe the process of attaining single-pointed concentration, they say that a sign of success at the first of the nine stages is that you think your mind is getting worse. No, it is not at all! It’s simply that we’re seeing our mind more clearly.

So, not only are you not a failed Buddhist, you’re a successful one!

This is what’s happening for you, I’d say. One of my friends, who’d been doing serious three-year retreats, at some point was so distressed at the levels of despair and anger and arrogance he was experiencing. When he told Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Rinpoche laughed and laughed and said, “Fantastic! The dirt has to come out! The dirt has to come out!”

So the key thing you have to learn to do is not believe the thoughts. We’ve all got negative thoughts. They’re uncontrollable until we have good concentration. It’s just natural.

The main thing about negative thoughts is that they’re exaggerations. We need to see this. It is crucial. Bad enough we exaggerate the bad things, the worst part is we believe the stories these thoughts tell us.

Because we can’t stand the thoughts we wish they’d go away. We need to learn to live with them, to hear them clearly — there’s depression, there’s anger, there’s fear, etc., etc and then learn to not believe in them, sometimes using our positive, useful, virtuous thoughts to argue with them. And, crucially, not to identify ourselves with them.

Of course, it won’t happen overnight. But this is practice, D.

What do you think?

Much love,

Robina

 

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina,

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond and for your compassionate words.

Yes, that all makes sense. These thoughts are part of life and the point isn’t to get rid of them but to see through them. Perhaps Vajrasattva practice has brought all of this to the surface and this is my chance to really see it for what it is.

I tell myself that even though it might appear that my experience is caused by government policy it is actually something I created, that this is my karma and it is mine to deal with. This helps when I remember to bring it to mind, but I frequently find my mind caught in a very angry rut focusing on all the things that have been taken away from me this last year.

I think one of the difficulties of lockdown has been that it has cut me off so much from others that I’ve become (even more) self-centered since I don’t have anyone to offer any sort of kindness to, or to really think about or care for. I do realise there is a whole world of sentient beings out there but they seem very abstract to me right now.

Perhaps adding some compassion meditation into my practice might help me see outside of my own little world? At the moment, I offer water bowls each day and when I sit down on my cushion I practice Vajrasattva.

Best,

D

 

ANSWER

Yes, D, you understand perfectly what’s going on! Our trouble is we panic as soon as things aren’t the way we hope. We have to persevere.

It’s great you do the water bowl offerings! And Vajrasattva. Perfect.

Yes, add some compassion. I’ve noticed that many people have increased their compassion during this difficult time, so try to do that. Not easy, but as His Holiness says, “If you want to help others, practice compassion. If you want to help yourself, practice compassion.”

Much love,

Robina

 

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina, 

 

I’m reaching out for some advice, please. My resilience is really low at the moment. Lockdown has been very isolating and I’m having quite negative thoughts, which become quite overwhelming at times. I can see it happening – the ego grasping and the wish for things to be different than they are, but I can’t seem to stop it and although I know these are just thoughts, it’s been very hard to have any separation from them and I end up crying a lot. Life feels quite meaningless, and even when I try to think that I’m doing my actions for the benefit of others it just feels silly when it didn’t before. 

 

I feel like a failed Buddhist – put to the test and unable to cope, but here I am. 

 

Can you offer any advice? Your “something to think about” videos are very helpful, but I’m a little lost on what practice I should do and how to reset my mindset. 

 

I’m going to attend the Vajrasattva practices on Zoom with you on Thursdays as Vajrasattva is the practice I am most familiar with.

 

I hope you are well. 

 

Best wishes,

 

ANSWER

Dearest D,

 

Thank you for telling me what’s going on.

 

It seems you understand your mind well! 

 

Frankly, I think what you’re experiencing is simply purification. Even in the ancient texts, when they describe the process of attaining single-pointed concentration, they say that a sign of success at the first of the nine stages is that you think your mind is getting worse. No, it is not at all! It’s simply that we’re seeing our mind more clearly.

 

So, not only are you not a failed Buddhist, you’re a successful one!

 

This is what’s happening for you, I’d say. One of my friends, who’d been doing serious three-year retreats, at some point was so distressed at the levels of despair and anger and arrogance he was experiencing. When he told Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Rinpoche laughed and laughed and said, “Fantastic! The dirt has to come out! The dirt has to come out!”

 

So the key thing you have to learn to do is not believe the thoughts. We’ve all got negative thoughts. They’re uncontrollable until we have good concentration. It’s just natural. 

 

The main thing about negative thoughts is that they’re exaggerations. We need to see this. It is crucial. Bad enough we exaggerate the bad things, the worst part is we believe the stories these thoughts tell us.

 

Because we can’t stand the thoughts, we wish they’d go away. We need to learn to live with them, to hear them clearly — there’s depression, there’s anger, there’s fear, etc, etc and then learn to not believe in them, sometimes using our positive, useful, virtuous thoughts to argue with them. And, crucially, not to identify ourselves with them.

 

Of course, it won’t happen overnight. But this is practice, D.

 

What do you think?

 

Much love,

Robina

 

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina, 

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond and for your compassionate words. 

 

Yes, that all makes sense. These thoughts are part of life and the point isn’t to get rid of them but to see through them. Perhaps Vajrasattva practice has brought all of this to the surface and this is my chance to really see it for what it is. 

 

I tell myself that even though it might appear that my experience is caused by government policy it is actually something I created, that this is my karma and it is mine to deal with. This helps when I remember to bring it to mind, but I frequently find my mind caught in a very angry rut focusing on all the things that have been taken away from me this last year. 

 

I think one of the difficulties of lockdown has been that it has cut me off so much from others that I’ve become (even more) self-centered since I don’t have anyone to offer any sort of kindness to, or to really think about or care for. I do realise there is a whole world of sentient beings out there but they seem very abstract to me right now. 

 

Perhaps adding some compassion meditation into my practice might help me see outside of my own little world? At the moment, I offer water bowls each day, and when I sit down on my cushion, I practice Vajrasattva. 

 

Best,

D

 

ANSWER

Yes, D, you understand perfectly what’s going on! Our trouble is we panic as soon as things aren’t the way we hope. We have to persevere.

 

It’s great you do the water bowl offerings! And Vajrasattva. Perfect.

 

Yes, add some compassion. I’ve noticed that many people have increased their compassion during this difficult time, so try to do that. Not easy, but as His Holiness says, “If you want wto help others, practice compassion. If you want to help yourself, practice compassion.”

 

Much love,

Robina

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