“BUDDHISM IS LIKE A BIG TOOL BOX WITH ALL KINDS OF INSTRUMENTS” – -What Buddhism means for me. Karma Dondub Dennis Barbion..
-What Buddhism means for me. Karma Dondub Dennis Barbion from Belgium talks about Buddhism.
Being a westerner and raised as a Catholic, discovering Buddhism, embarking on the path of Buddhism.
I came into contact with Buddhism for the first time in the beginning of 2005, when I was suffering from serious health problems. I was watching television and at a certain moment I saw a Buddhist teaching by the Vietnamese zen master Thich Nhat Hanch on the Buddhist Television Corporation in The Netherlands. I had never heard anything like that, I found that very interesting and intriguing, I wrote down his name and wanted to found out more about those kind of views and philosophy. Later I bought a few of his books and started to learn how to meditate.
Already before, in 2003, a few months after the death of my four-year-old nephew with whom I had a strong bond, I became interested in spirituality and in what life is about. I started to read books, for example about Near Death Experiences and reincarnation, and later I also followed spiritual, esotheric courses and lectures, for example with guided healing meditations, and workshops to develop the intuition etc.
In 2005, with a group of people of those spiritual classes, we visited the Tibetan Buddhist Nalanda Center in Cadzand in The Netherlands, one of the centers of the Tibetan Institute Belgium. That was the first time I visited a Tibetan Buddhist Institute and temple, and found out more about Tibetan Buddhism.
A lot changed in 2006. With the visit and public talk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Antwerpen here in Belgium, my life took a big turn towards Tibetan Buddhism, and I also started to attend Buddhist teachings.
In October 2007 we went on a three weeks Buddhist pilgrimage tour in North India with Lama Karta Rinpoche, a trip following the footsteps of the Buddha that was organized by the Tibetan Institute Belgium and that changed my life significantly.
Tryst with destiny: describing Buddhism..
Buddhism is very comprehensive but it is very down to earth. You have different kinds of Buddhism, different Schools and traditions, so different approaches and methods. You can study the philosophy, you can practice different kinds of meditations, you can recite mantras or you can do certain rituals etc. Buddhism is also called the science of the mind, so you can also study that aspect. So Buddhism has a lot to offer, it’s a philosophy but also a way of life.
To my feeling, the key words connected with Buddhism are transformation and development: transforming our mind so in this way also changing ourselves as a person, developing love, compassion, wisdom, our care for others and other good qualities that we all have, and reducing, or at least trying to reduce our negative habits and negative emotions, our ego, our irritations or anger, our attachment, because this makes us suffer.
Buddhism is like a big toolbox, offering instruments for all kinds of things, without forcing anything to a person or using the toolbox or not. We are all responsible for ourselves, our thoughts, our deeds and actions, and if we want to evolve and become a better and happier person, we can take a look in that toolbox to see if something can be useful, and then we need to take and use the right instruments. It’s like hanging up a painting on the wall for example, then you need a hammer to knock a nail into the wall, and not a saw. In fact, this is the case for all spiritual traditions or religions, not only Buddhism.
Buddhism invites you to take a look inwards, so introspection and checking ourselves regularly is very important, to see and to notice if something (we) have changed or not, and in which way. Maybe we do our very best and try, but we don’t use the right tools, or maybe there is a better method that is more efficient. In this way we can also find out the changes, the progress that we have made so far.
How Buddhism changed me…
When I compare myself with for example ten year ago, I see that change has taken place in different ways and in several areas, also at work. I work part time at an office in Brussels and the Winter, from October till February, is the most busy period of the year. Many days or weeks we get so many phone calls and emails, people asking things but also complaining, and sometimes in not a very kind way, or blaming us or the company in a rude way. Years ago, I also got upset, nervous, irritated, and I also didn’t always react in a friendly way, because of the stress of answering hundreds of telephone calls in one day, apart from the daily work we have to do.
For years, thanks to Buddhism, I handle that now in a very different way. I remain calm and friendly, take enough time to listen to the people and their questions or complaints, I answer in a quiet way, and explain that we understand their problem and that we are going to check that out for them to find out the cause and that we are going to try to solve the problem. When you remain calm, giving the people enough time and space to speak, when you listen carefully to their problem and answer in a polite and kind way, during the phone call you extinguish the energy of their anger, and in many cases even very quickly, so that both the customer and me can end that angry phone call in a good, calm, friendly way. In the past, during those busy periods, many times I went home exhausted, I lost so much energy, I got headaches, felt nervous.
That is not the case anymore, or this has reduced very much. I think this is a small example of the effects of Buddhism in daily life. Of course, I don’t mean that I never get irritated or upset anymore, and one day is not the other, sometimes we feel better than another day, but it’s also more easy to get rid of that unpleasant feeling quickly.
Relevance of Buddhism in our daily lives..
I believe that most important is not to know Buddhism so to study it, but to live it, to practice. Knowledge or understanding from books, of a philosophy or teachings is good, but I think that is only the start. It’s not about knowing, it’s about doing, using that wisdom. What is the use of reading hundreds of books, knowing so much about Buddhist philosophy, attending so many teachings by a Lama or many teachers, if we don’t use that, if we don’t bring it in practice, if there is no change or influence of our habits or patterns, if we still get angry or upset easily, if we are still attached to things etc. To my feeling, it is much more useful to read something about it, or to attend a teaching on for example loving kindness, and trying to practice that in our daily life. Of course, in order to practice we need to understand it and we have to know the methods, so teachings and books are essential for that. Apart from this, teachings and books on Buddhism are also meant as a kind of meditation, it’s not meant that we say “oh yes that is true, this makes sense and I agree with it”, but to reflect on that, and to apply it to ourselves.
Daily Practice of the Dhamma..
During the years, sometimes people asked me “what kind of Buddhist practice do you do?”, and then I answer “my normal daily life is my most important practice, from the moment I open my eyes in the morning, until I go to sleep in the evening”, so I integrate it in my daily life. All day long we have so many opportunities to practice. Everything can be practice. Buddhism is about transformation, especially our mind. During the day we can apply so many things that we have studied in Buddhism, and our daily life is also the test or a reflection of what we do, and what we have learned, also to deal with difficult situations, problems, conflicts, emotions…
In many cases it’s not even that complicated. People who don’t have much patience for example can work on that when they go to a busy post office and standing in a long line waiting their turn, or waiting at a traffic light or a crossing on the railway, or a train that is delayed. Why are you impatient, is it because of a lack of time, a too busy schedule, because someone is waiting for you, or you need to go somewhere else urgently? What will happen if you come there too late, will someone be angry at you, and if so, why? You can also ask yourself the question what the difference is between being nervous or irritated when you have to wait for a long time, or accepting the situation and to remain calm, and what is best?
If you work on that, investigating and analyzing why you feel impatient, and changing things and of course also your mind, you will feel so much better. You can also use your time in a different way, for example standing in a line waiting gives you the chance to meditate, you can focus on your breathing, only paying attention to your inhaling and exhaling and being mindful of that, and I guarantee that the time waiting then will be more less. The period of time, the minutes and seconds might be exactly the same, but the interpretation of time, and your feeling and emotions will be totally different, and you will have the impression that you had to wait less long. It even happened with me that with a different attitude and mind, standing in a long line, to my surprise the other customers before me needed less time to handle their things and were quicker away, so maybe we can also reduce the period of time in that way, with another mindset.
Practicing meditation, performing rituals and attending teachings
For me, I analyze and investigate myself a lot, also my feelings, emotions. Insight meditation is very useful, and you don’t always need to sit on a cushion with crossed legs and closed eyes to meditate. In fact, I meditate much more not sitting on a cushion than sitting on one.
A question that I ask myself a lot, and already many years is “what does this mean for me?” or “what does this has to tell me?”. This can be the case in certain situations, also with difficulties and problems, obstacles in our life and emotions, as everything happens for a reason, so I always try to figure out the reason or meaning, or the real causes. It’s not always easy, and in most cases even very difficult, and sometimes we never find that reason, but it’s my experience that when I found the reason or meaning or when I got a better view on something, the problem was solved automatically or for the most part, or didn’t come back. It has also been the case that a problem came back again and again, but each time in a different form. When you try a total other approach, or handle it in another way as before, it’s very possible that the problem doesn’t come back anymore. Then we know: I learned my lesson, one of so many lessons. So it’s good to see how you handled it before or the previous times , and try something else, that might work.
With emotions, I also try to figure out the meaning. First of all I investigate what I really feel, or how do I feel with this or that, so analyzing it. Sometimes with this only, the problem is already half solved.
I also love to read books on Buddhism, some periods more intensive than others. Of course it’s not just reading a book, but studying, and applying it on myself.
From time to time I do a meditation, a sadhana, so reciting the text with visualization and mantra recitation, for example the sadhana of Sangye Menla, Medicine Buddha, for whom I have always had some kind of preference. Sometimes I do a short version, when I know that someone is ill or someone has passed away.
I also attend Buddhist teachings, the last teachings I attended were the public talks by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje in Berlin (Germany) in June 2014. I watch online teachings, for example by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There are so many very good teachings or texts available online, for example by The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive with the Lama Zopa Rinpoche Online Advice Books, or texts, websites, teachings by many other qualified teachers.
With what I study or learn from Buddhism, I try to integrate that in my daily life. Developing love and compassion, loving kindness etc. is best in our daily life. What loving kindness is concerned for example, in the morning you can start a day with the special intention to be kind, or more kind to anyone you meet or see or speak that day, whatever happens, in each situaton: with colleagues or customers at work or on the phone, people passing by on the street to who you say hello or giving people a friendly smile, answering people more friendly and kind that day etc.
You will notice that people will also be more friendly to you, or that people who you don’t know at all will also smile back or say hello. I’m sure that people who seem to have difficulties, who look serious or worried or stressed, for example people working in a shop, will appreciate that kindness. In those cases, usually I say something funny to them, even if it’s just something small, to bring a small or big smile on their face, or I just show my understanding.
We can also practice generosity, by a gift to a beggar, a donation for a good cause etc. There are so many possibilities.
With a positive attitude, mind and deeds, the negative ones reduce, and I think that is what Buddhism is about. It’s not only good for ourselves, now and in the future, creating positive karma, but also for the others.
Dennis Barbion (Karma Dondub) is a human rights activist, practicing Buddhist and a writer based in Belgium. He is engaged in several philanthropic activities to contribute to the acts of compassion globally. He has also been the President of Tibetaanse-Vlaamse Vriendenkring (Tibetan-Flemish Circle of Friends) and has significantly organised activities for the empowerment and development of refugee communities in South Asia. To contact Karma Dondub Dennis Barbion:Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook: www.facebook.com/dennis.barbion Twitter: https://twitter.com/dbtibet Google+: https://plus.google.com/+DennisBarbionKarmaDondub
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