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The Difference Between a Prison and a Monastery

The following is the second excerpt in a series from Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen’s teachings from the 2015-16 Winter Retreat. See the first here. Lama Tenpa will join us again this Dec. 30 – Jan. 3— info here.

The second instruction for entering into retreat is: return to the present moment. Whatever you’re doing— walking, eating, sleeping— let it be meditation. Let it be mindfulness. The essential point is to stay in the present moment. Relax. Be in the present moment. And appreciate.

Relaxing alone is not it. We can space out, get drunk or get high… that’s not it. It’s important to be in the present moment. But we often treat the present moment as the least desirable thing. We’re bored; we want to try different things to get away from it. The present moment could be scary or ugly to us— our hell. We look for everything elsewhere. We pray about the future— “may I become…”

But the Buddha’s teaching is that the present is everything. We might regard the present moment as our samsaric hell, but we need to examine that and shift our attitude.

What’s the essential difference between a prison and a monastery? Is there no Buddha in prison? Because there’s no Buddha statue there? If there is no Buddha in prison because there is no Buddha statue there, then there is no Buddha in our heart, because there is no Buddha statue there either. Buddha is everywhere— all pervading. And if Buddha is there, then dharma and sangha are there too.

In many ways, a prison is nicer than a monastery. You have TV, a playground, a full breakfast… And you can sleep— at a monastery, you have to wake up at 3 or 4 AM! An American prison facility is so comfortable that Tibetan monks could go on retreat there!

The essential difference between a prison and a monastery is that no one wants to be there in prison. If you don’t want to be there, then that’s your prison.

So, we don’t need to change our place, wherever we’re at, right away. We just need to change our attitude. We need to say to ourselves “I’m OK to be here.” We need to accept.

The first function of wisdom and compassion is to accept things as they are. Without acceptance, there’s no wisdom or compassion— or devotion. If we don’t accept, our prison is worse. If we accept— if we change our attitude— then even wha’t spainful and ugly can be transformed. That’s the beginning of change, of transformation. Try to see the monastery in the prison, the nirvana in samsara.

author-lama-tenpa-largeSo, first, relax. Sometimes we don’t even know how to do that. We are stuck in our mindset. Then, develop an appreciation of nowness— the present moment. If we’re not willing to be in the present, our meditation is just a prayer for the future— a speculation. Appreciation of the present moment is through acceptance. If we accept the present moment, then our practice will go well.

Interested in this year’s retreat? Click for info. And get last year’s teachings for over half off.

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