P N C O

Mostly photography, with the occasional philosophical contemplation

29: Momentary lapse of reason

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Momentary lapse of reason

When i was younger i sometimes dreamt of being famous. Whether a singer or a movie star, i looked up to the ‘stars’ as a youngster.
Now a little older i realize that being famous comes with a big price. First of all a loss of privacy. Not being able to go somewhere without being recognized. Having to live up to others expectations or disappointing people for not living up to their expectations. What a life. And what is even more striking to me, is that being famous is very likely to inflate the ego.
As i can see what pride does in my very anonymous life far from the cameras and media, i cannot imagine what it’s like to having to deal with those issues on a daily basis. So i rather focus on seeing my life as a movie, a film, an illusory display of the mind. So no need to be in others people movies too!

Lately i’ve noticed a wish for simplicity in my life. Less distractions, less fuzz, less buzz. So basically i long for anonymity, like being in a desert where no one can remember your name, for the lack of reverence. America sang about it beautifully. Longing for anonymity does not mean that i don’t  want to interact with the world. But if you’re anonymous, there are no expectations.
Reading the life stories of Patrul Rinpoche (a famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher from the 19th century) illustrates this with beautiful examples.

The book which was composed by Matthieu Ricard (see Enlightend Vagabond – The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche for more info) has multiple stories where this great realized master is disguised as a simple nomadic traveler. And disguised is perhaps not the right word, cause it’s a deliberate choice of the master to wander around like this. In being anonymous, Patrul Rinpoche helps beings without limit, not being limited by the formal ceremonies people perform when they would’ve recognized him. He just wants to be and act out of compassion for all beings. To me he sets a wonderful example of the limitlessness of true unconditional compassion. No need to get praise for the achievements as a master, he is humble and helping wherever possible. When i compare this to the way we treat our stars nowadays, the contrast is striking. We glorify Hollywood stars and Grammy award winning artists and take their opinions serious, sometimes more serious than scientific experts or politicians.

The most important thing i’ve learned from Patrul Rinpoche is that the best thing one can do to counter pride and arrogance, is to practice compassion.

Patrul once wrote:

One: Praise is nonsense – empty and unfounded.
Two: Fame just results in a swollen head
Three: Creating a cache of riches out of offerings creates a rich cache of bad karma

Having given up all these three, May I, Old Dog, die like a dog

source:
Enlightened Vagabond – The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche
by Matthieu Ricard

 

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28: Retreat

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Retreat

Lines throughout the landscapes
Reflect the path of my life
Surrounded by colors
I find refuge here
Together with friends
Becoming still as the land
Unconditional love and trust
Allowing me to be
By retreating into myself
Opening up
To the world and beyond

Mortality

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Reading Buddhist literature makes me question mortality and impermanence. Or not so much question, it makes me think of it.
In fact, it’s such an obvious fact that we’re all going to die that it’s almost weird that we tend to look the other way. We picture it a great drama or keep it far from our every day life. But death does not seem normal in the west. We tend not to talk about it.

I think i’d rather follow the Buddhist advice, which is to think of impermanence and death all the time.
It may sound depressing, but I know from my own experience it’s not. It actually helps to deal with difficult situations more easily.

Why quarrel and fight if you could die tomorrow?

And yet all these things – or distractions – lure our minds into busily debating sports, politics and the latest technical gadgets. Short term happiness is what we strife for.

But in the end we’re going to die. Even if we amass great quantities of wealth, we can’t take any riches with us. Why not give up attachment right now? Why not stop fighting over unimportant matters? Would it not be wise to consider death some more?

26: Tree of Life

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Seeing you feels enchanting
You swirl your way to the top
With leaves so soft and smooth
Colored in the most subtle colors
This little paradise is your domain
Although small others are dwarfed
By your enormous presence
In the silence which surrounds you
I cannot help but wonder..
Can this be the tree of life?

25: Priorities

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Sometimes i wonder if i’ve got my priorities straight. The amount of distraction can be overwhelming from time to time. Willingly i let myself get carried away by endless little things which keep me from seeing what truly is important. Yet all of this existence, whether i am aware or distracted, will dissolve in the end. Like a bubble floating on the surface of a rapid river, my life can end at any point.

I used to fear death and i tried to hide this fear from myself by endlessly distracting myself. I could get caught up in gaming, having fun with friends or randomly surfing the internet. But i knew that i couldn’t hide forever. When i was younger, death had already visited me a couple of times. At one time, thinking about the incredible size of the universe somehow ended up with thoughts of death being the only certainty. And a few years later, in my first year of high school during a lunch break all over sudden i realized that all of these individuals that were there with me at that time sooner or later would die. Not an easy thing to digest as a young teenager.

So i know death has always been with me. Not so much in the physical sense, though i did see my grandparents go. Death has long been a reality in my thoughts and mind. I just wasn’t ready for it just yet. I first had to undergo suffering. The lesson came when out of the blue a former roommate of mine died. It took me many years to really deal with his loss. Eventually i found a way to cope with the loss which death brings. But i hadn’t come closer to death itself.

This all changed once i got interested in Buddhism. Death is a major part in philosophy and religion and Buddhism is no exception. When i read Buddhist teachings i soon found out that there was this openess about the reality of death, the emphasis on the importance of understanding our own mortality. It would be foolish to ignore such a basic fact, and yet if i looked back at my life, it was precisely what i had done. And what was taught to me in school, by the media and the social structure. Death was ugly, something to put away and not to look at.

In the last few years i’ve learned to look my enemy straight in its eyes. And i saw that he was not my enemy at all, but a teacher and a friend. Death taught me to see the fear within me. Death itself is nothing to fear, but the change which accompanies it, is something we may find hard to accept. But death is coming regardless. So every now and then i try to take some time to really experience the reality of death. Each moment, each second brings me closer to death. It is not something to become depressed about or sad. Rather, i use this as an opportunity to check whether i have got my priorities straight.

Life became so much simpler, so much easier once i’d accepted the reality of death. There is always this basic ground to resort back to in times of difficulties. Is this really worth all the suffering? Does it help me to understand and accept my mortality? Or is it just a mindless distraction which does not help me on my life’s path? Most of the time i’ll know within an instant that i was taking a detour, instead of being aware of the reality of death. I now try to be guided by the certainty of death. In a way it can be liberating once you allow death into your life. As long as you keep death out, you keep yourself from being whole.

I’d like to explain the image i choose with this blog. The patterns on the photo remind me of bubbles. The bubbles in the stream i’ve talked about earlier. They represent our lives. Vulnerable, very easy to break and very short lived. Yet we think we will live eternally. But reality shows us that everything which is born, will ultimately die. Next time you see a stream of water, or perhaps even your cup of coffee or tea, be aware of the few bubbles. That’s us, our lives, fleeting moments within time. Choose death as your friend and teacher, instead of as an enemy to be feared. If you become more aware of death in your life, you’ll be able to appreciate the value of life more. You’ll find it easier to make a distinction between what is important in life and what is not. And you will be able to let go of a lot of things you don’t really need. Realize that our life is like a bubble. Don’t hold onto it, you’ll have to let it go in the end anyway.

I’d like to close with a few lines from the Diamond Sutra, a famous Buddhist teaching which has inspired me a lot and helped me to deal with the subject of death

“So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:”

“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”

“So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”

Thus spoke Buddha.

24: Waking Up

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Slowly i seem to be waking up
But still the wondering:
Who is waking up?
The city betrays a deeper layer
What is this dream?
Penetrating all the senses
Human existence so dense
Living twenty-four-seven
The city invites me to go further
‘Look beyond the old dream
I offer a new dream of hopes sky-high
Speed up and lose control!’
But i know i am tired of dreaming
All these old and new castles of illusion
Try to lure me back into deep sleep
But i know this dreamworld
Has nothing to offer me
It’s just a circle of never ending stories

 

Lesson learned?

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I forgot that I knew

I now know that I forgot

Cause once more I remembered

What I knew but had forgotten

 

It took an old familiar pain

To point out the obvious truth

The reason why I left you

You only cause me harm

 

Now or in the near future

You may tempt me again

Lure me into your deadly trap

Full of your poisonous lies

 

I may even fall for you again

I know my flesh is weak

And so is the craving mind

Which blindly follows

 

But it no longer matters

So easily the winds blew away

Your so called stronghold

Tumbling house of cards

 

I can now see that in the end

I’ll know and I’ll remember

Trust

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When I first met you I was still young.

You played along with my childhood games as we both shared the fun.

Unaware of the challenges of life I gave in to you without a doubt.

The fullness of life was so overwhelming I did not have to choose.

Later when doubt had entered the arena, you slowly disappeared to the background

Life became complicated with rules, relationships, expectations, punishment and reward.

The simpleness was replaced by intricate thought mechanisms which locked me into place.

Each day my life became more and more an experience of dull and boring rationality.

Playfulness was thrown out of the window in order to make sure I would fit in with everybody else.

But the more I fit in, the less free I felt.

Trapped by tempting promises and nightmares of hope and fear, the web of illusion closed in on me.

The one thing I had lost I had no idea I was missing.

Only when I found you back I knew I had been wandering in a cold and barren desert forever trying to clench my thirst.

The walls build around the inner temple squeezed the life out of me.

I tried to forget, suppressing everything I did not want to hear – I did not want to know.

Cause forgetfulness was better than to be reminded of not having you near.

Oh trust, life saviour, love giver.

On your shoulders I long to build my life.

Better than the sweetest dream, you wake me to a reality which is profound in its evidentness.

You are the atoms which hold the universe together.

Universaly revered because you are so humble.

I can now see myself again when I trust.

Naked with arms wide open, laying myself to rest in the heart of the world.

To trust is to know.

The wise among us know how to trust.

Trust. Let go. Fly.

Inner riches

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Once you start to notice, it’s intriguing to see everything which goes on inside our body and mind system. Various parts call out for our attention, while other parts try to take the house down and yet other parts try to be the ruler of the inner universe.

Yet all of this happens within one system. Parts may not like the feelings which accompany other parts, or choose to ignore, but there’s always an overview available. The sum is greater than all of its parts. This field of awareness is the ground for all of the parts to play their games.

If one can learn to stay in contact with the field of awareness, integration becomes a possibility. Mindfulness, simply being with all the various parts, not being overwhelmed by the accompanying and often conflicting emotions. This helps to create a compassionate attitude to whatever arises from within.

All the inner riches await us. They may be covered in dark layers of soil, but they’re there. As so often in life, to reach these places within requires hard work, effort and resilience. One needs to learn to deal with conflicting emotions instead of fighting them. Being with emotions, allowing them to show what they’re hiding from us, is a process which can be aided by it curiosity. Curiosity is the key to unlock the treasures within.

If one can befriend one’s inner demons, the inner riches can be uncovered. All the beautiful traits of our childhood can be integrated. Not in one attempt, but as one progresses, each time it becomes increasingly easy to deal with everything which arises within.

All the inner riches are waiting to be explored!

21: All clear

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Soon all will be clear
Bare trees remind of the fact
We’re all born naked

Stretching our being
Branching into ground and air
Longing warmth and food

Sheltering within
The ever presence of mom
As we learn and grow

Independence calls
Us to grow to great new heights
Let mom and dad go

The cycle goes on
Each new family member
Is like a small tree

Finally we reach
For the top of the forest
Seeing miles ahead

Our destiny clear
One day we’re naked again
Waiting for our death

18: Flower of Compassion

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Flower of Compassion

Oh flower of the heart
Shine your light over us
Open up and show your beauty
The guiding force

You know what it is like
To be vulnerable
Naked and alone
You know there is no need
To be afraid of our tears

You grow so easily
As you are inherent within us
On the good soil of pure intent
Our wish for all to be happy
Stems from your seeds

Oh flower of compassion
Love is your guiding light
Teach us to be human
Help us to accept
The basic uncertainty of life

 

This poem was inspired by the documentary Crazy Wisdom (2011) about the late Tibetan Buddhist Master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Rinpoche taught people how to become warriors of Shambhala, how to become genuine human beings. A beautiful and encouraging message worth contemplating.

16: The Extraordinary Ordinary

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So often we tend to look for the extremes.
It has to be fast, beautiful, precious and rare.
It has to be true, profound, smart.
But having explored these realms of inner riches,
i’ve found that all the beautiful things my mind can create,
have never been able to really fulfill me.
Sure, there have been days in which i’ve been thrilled and exited by an insight,
but as the years have passed i’ve come to learn
that these fleeting moments don’t define my existence.

The extraordinary experiences can become addictive,
like drugs they lure you into the next big high.
But never high enough, as the sky is the limit.
I’ve decided not to give in any longer,
not to crave for that which is delusive.

And so i’ve turned away from getting the next kick,
instead, i’ve learned to recognize what was always there.
The normal every day life which i took for granted,
has learned me life is full of surprises.
That which i once deemed boring and to be avoided,
turned out to be the exact place where the magic happens.

The extraordinary is that the ordinary is extraordinary!
Whether we recognize it or not, each moment is pure magic.
But we don’t need to describe it eloquently with words,
or try to grasp it’s innermost secret meaning.

We are part of the extraordinary ordinary.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is extraordinary!