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March
2
Excerpt from Elizabeth’s next book, The Logic of Faith

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Recently, Scott Kelley came home from a year in space. His magical photographs inspired me to share this excerpt from my upcoming book, The Logic of Faith from Shambhala Publications.

 

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In 1968 the United States sent its first manned spacecraft into orbit. Although the focus of the mission was to circumnavigate the moon and explore the mysteries of the cosmos, no one had anticipated the transformative effect that looking back at the earth from space would have on us as a global culture. So impactful was the experience that those involved in the initial journey have wondered in retrospect if it may not have been the most important reason we went.

Since 1968 many astronauts have described their experience of seeing earth from space as a sudden and unexpected recognition of interconnectedness; a de-centering of the strong self-focused tendency we all have to put our self or our nation, at the center of the universe. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who traveled to the moon in 1971, has written books on his experience of this phenomenon, in which he chronicles not only his venture into space but also how it served as an entranceway into his personal exploration of human consciousness, and the nature of self and its relationship to the universe. Mitchell describes the effects of gazing out the window of the spacecraft at planet earth as an alteration of human perspective, “…a kind of self awareness that was not something new but important to how we humans are put together.”

All the great spiritual traditions have emerged from human experiences of awe. As Mitchell suggests, this experience of self- awareness is not something new, nor is it exclusively for astronauts. And although we can’t capture such encounters in words, we put name to them: the grace of God, The Divine, Buddha Nature, or The Tao. We have developed sophisticated systems of philosophy in an attempt to describe these experiences, and have designed various methods of meditations and ritual to cultivate them. And all of this creative expression all the iconography, poetry, hymns, sacred architecture, and language beautifies our world…well, that is of course, until we declare our particular tradition as “rightThis never fails to dampen the sense of wonder that initially inspired this creative expression in the first place. We must take care not to loose sight of the original purpose of our wisdom traditions by protecting them from rightness and remembering that we cherish them because – if even for a moment – they release us from our constant struggle to find sanity in a world we can’t secure.

There are those who, from the core of their being, dedicate themselves to awe. We may have detected this spirit of amazement and humility in Pope Francis when he replied in response to a question on gay marriage: “Who am I to judge?” This is a bold proclamation, especially coming from a pope, upon whom millions rely as the arbiter of truth. His statement echoes the spirit of the old Christian mystics found in such texts as, the medieval classic, “The Cloud of Unknowing”, whose underlying message proposes that the only way to truly ‘know’ God requires that we abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or ‘knowledge’ about God. This demands we surrender what we know and enter the realm of ‘unknowingness.’

To me this quality of openness and humility defines the fully ripened effect of genuine spiritual practice. When I was in my early twenties I remember vividly my first meeting with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, an accomplished Tibetan teacher of the lineage of the Buddha. He had an impressive history. In his teenage years, driven by his own longing, he left home to practice meditation alone in a cave for many years. He mastered all the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism – protecting and cherishing each of them according to their unique qualities while emphasizing their essential likenesses. He escaped Tibet with his family during the Cultural Revolution and settled in India. In time he assumed the position of spiritual advisor to the Royal family of Bhutan and became the father of hundreds of young monks whom he tenderly raised in his monasteries in Nepal and Tibet.

Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Nepal

Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Nepal photo by Matthieu Ricard

He had a grand and elegant physical presence and although he was in his early seventies when I first met him, he didn’t seem confined by time, age or even gender. Before entering his room I had pictured him as a wise old man from whom I would receive spiritual advice. But to my astonishment, as I entered his quarters, what struck me most – and how I remember him to this day – was how he embodied, more than anyone I had ever met, the spirit of amazement. He did not live in some distant state of meditative absorption and the natural confidence he exuded didn’t come from clinging to truths. Rather, he seemed touched and delighted by everything and everyone around him and he responded to it all with curiosity, playfulness and gentleness.

In that moment I thought: “This must be where the spiritual path leads.” 

from Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel’s upcoming book The Logic of Faith, from Shambhala Publications, to be released in February, 2018.

February
9
Losar Greeting from Elizabeth

Dearest Friends,

 

As the lunar New Year (of the fire monkey!) approaches I have begun making some strong aspirations. Aspirations always give my mind direction and an opportunity to clarify and explore the meaning of my life and activity. As many strong aspirations have been surging up in my mind I wanted to share them with you, and hope that they influence you in many positive ways (that is, if you want them to). sablehorse

 

This year, I revisited some photos that I saw at a gallery several years ago in NYC, called The Wild Horses of Sable Island, by photographer by Roberto Dutesco. The photographs capture the spirit of the wild horses that roam freely on a narrow island of sand one hundred miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. They blew me away. What I saw were horses that embodied their full essence, life force, or “chi.” I spend a lot of time around domesticated horses and I can see what comes with taming them. It’s not that there is something wrong with domesticated horses, but they have had to alter something very deep inside to live in a world – a human world – that is not natural for them biologically or psychologically. As I continue to work with my horse, Uma Devi, I learn a lot about her way of adapting to this foreign situation, and do my best to understand the world of “horse.” I continue to educate myself as to how I can communicate with her both energetically and physically. I have a long way to go but I find it sweet how we both try to meet each other half way.thebestofyouth

 

Many years ago, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche hung two large photographs in our house: one photograph of two adolescent tribal girls in Africa, and the other of two elderly Sherpa women up in the Himalayas. Rinpoche pointed to the photos, and said: “This is the best of youth, and this is the best of old age.” I saw exactly what he meant. I had the same experience when encountering these photos as I did when admiring the raw beauty of the horses running on the sands of Sable Island. Like those horses, the women in the photos seemed to fully embody their humanness. Despite their bent, aged bodies and wrinkled faces, the Sherpa women, like the horses, looked unhindered, free, and luminous, with a strong authentic presence and life force. The two young women looked present and un-neurotic. As I look around at people moving about our high tech man-made environments, absorbed in their own small worlds – it has sometimes made me wonder whether returning to this state of authenticity is even an option for most of humanity at this time…thebestofoldage

 

…but I think, “YES”, we do have the opportunity to live freely. And this brings us to the true purpose of the Buddha’s dharma. For me, the purpose of practice is to bring our selves back to our natural state. All the practices we engage, bodhicitta, moving away from self-focus, seeing the interdependent and empty nature of things, appreciating the richness of this sacred world, and resting in the nature of mind – these provide us all with ways to return to something utterly simple and basic – something no one can tamper with or take away.

 

As practitioners, out of confusion, we often make the dharma a “thing” – just another thing to do, some thing to realize, some thing that removes us from the stress of ordinary life, some thing we feel pressured to do for our teacher. Do we really need more things?

 

I recently got a question on my blog asking how I would suggest introducing Mindfulness meditation to children. I love the idea of this… as long as we don’t make it a thing. Children already have an easier time being natural than adults. They have not yet been forced out of their human-ness. So all we have to do is provide some quiet time, ask them questions, honor what they notice, show them by example, and give them an opportunity for silence. Then when they become teenagers and have to fit in socially, they have this basic knowledge or ground to return to. Even if they seem lost at times, they will at some point find the sanity of the ground. It will be an easy recognition of something that never actually left.

 

Nowadays we often complain how everything is moving so fast we can’t seem to catch up and we see a lot of violence in the world. We often talk about how we can’t find time to practice. It is true in some sense that we have removed ourselves form our natural habitat – that we have thrown things out of balance – but reconnecting with your true nature is not something that can be taken away from you. It’s right there if you seek it out. It is the nature of both natural and man-made environments, it is there amid violence and peace. The nature reveals itself, when we stop grasping at and rejecting life and rather appreciate its magnificent world of interdependent expression. So, with this bigger view and appreciation, you will have to include environmental degradation and even violence as part of the display of infinite contingency.

 

This is very important to remember so that you don’t turn away from life and develop an attitude of doom toward the expressive aspect of the nature.

There is no need to turn away from everyday life in order to connect with practice. We can’t actually even practice despite our life and resenting how things are will just get in the way. All the pain and glory that we experience in life is nothing more than the expressive nature of interdependent relationships converging, expressing themselves, and dissolving.

 

So now based on all of this rambling, I want to make some aspirations from my heart. These thoughts just bubbled up from my own mind with great feeling and so, because you are my friends, I want to wish you well…not as if I were someone special, but just out of care. If you like them you can just make them for yourself (using the pronoun “I”) or you can also make them for others as I am. Or, you can pick one or two that you like, or dismiss them all and make your own! But whatever you decide, here they are:

 

“May you enjoy practice as returning to the naturalness of being and not see it as a pressure or just another “project” or ego-enterprise. May you pause continually so that you don’t get swept away by the momentum of habitual mind. May you respect that all things, whether you like them or not, arise from the great nature of interdependence. In the spirit of this, may you never resent your life and circumstances. When you see pain, may you respond to it with compassion instead of despair. When you see beauty may you rejoice and marvel at it. May you respect the nature of cause and effect and utilize the richness available to you in order to increase your wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. And in doing so, may your life force increase and remain strong!

 

Lots of love to you all! Happy Losar year of the Monkey…yes, I know it we are moving out of the year of the Sheep and into the year of the Monkey, but it’s always the year the of the horse for me.

 

                                        Elizabeth

December
15
The Path of Living Wisely: How Buddhism and Ayurveda Go Together

Gina Mastroluca (Ayurvedic practitionerLiving wisdom-logo-badge and dear friend) and Elizabeth discuss what we can do day to day to attain liberation.

Listen to the 30 minute interview.

November
11
Interview with Elizabeth

Olivia Clementine spoke with Elizabeth on October 26, 2014, about a range of topics, from the definition of “liberation” to in-depth questions about the benefit of meditation to how to face the world without boxing ourselves in. Enjoy this excerpt and read the full interview here.

Olivia: What is your definition of spiritual?   What is your definition of liberation?

Elizabeth: I try not to use the word spiritual too much because it often seems to refer to that which is not worldly – it often seems to imply a separation between our notion of the divine and the grittiness and earthiness of life that we experience each moment. I see my “spiritual” path as being extremely practical in that the practices I engage in – the Buddhist practices – require a deep and direct investigation of all aspects of my life in a subtler way.

However, just as a raw experience, as far back as I can remember, I have had moments where I experience a sense of awe. I don’t see this as anything special, but rather something we all do or can experience by virtue of being human. I suppose you can describe this kind of experience as a spiritual one…but you can also call it an experience of liberation too. Perhaps spirituality just refers to an interest or path of allegiance to a more authentic experience of clear seeing and liberation describes the clear seeing itself.

People describe these moments of clarity in so many beautiful ways. Sometimes someone will say they feel infinitely connected to everything around them; or use words such as ineffable or fathomless. One might describe liberation as stepping out of delusion – a respite from ordinary reactive mind and neurotic attachment. There is a famous Buddhist text, The Uttaratantra Shastra, which describes liberation as seeing the nature of things directly. It is written that when one sees the nature of things without confusion, one sees that “there is nothing to add or nothing to remove.” In other words, there is no divine as opposed to ordinary, just gratitude, appreciation, and a sense of humility present right there. So this implies that these deeper encounters of mind with its world is not something outside of us but how we understand who we are in relationship to experience.

Learning to cultivate this kind of clarity and make it practical is the path. On the path we may have moments of liberation. For instance, when we can directly experience loving kindness for others, we are liberated from self-clinging. When we have the wherewithal not to react to things in an ordinary way, we experience the liberation of profound patience. When, for even a moment, we are able to see that the world around us is not limited to what we think about it – that we are not so “right” after all – we may have a moment of seeing the fathomless nature of things. This sense of awe liberates the mind into openness and humility. When we have an unconditional acceptance of things as they are, we find liberation from our own preferences. The great teacher Patrul Rinpoche calls this,The ability to bear the profound truth.” When this is where someone lives, we call that enlightenment, which is extremely rare.

Olivia: Why can meditation bring peace and lightness to the mind?

Elizabeth: When left in its habitual state the mind is often disturbed and unsettled. My friend sent me a study, which showed that most people would rather than do anything than sit alone with their mind! We don’t know what to do with all our disturbing thoughts and powerful emotions and all those uncomfortable physical sensations, attachments and aversions. We generally don’t have a way to process them. I have always wondered why being human in this way does not come naturally to us.

In our tradition the texts describe the untamed mind as a limbless, blind person sitting on a wild horse. In other words, we have no way to reign in the mind. Meditation gives us the infrastructure to work with the mind. It gives us the support and strength we need to bring sanity to our lives. We begin to see the possibility of even enjoying the rich energy of our experience.

Sometimes when I teach meditation I peek out at all the participants sitting in the room. They often look so beautiful, peaceful, and elegant.

Continue to the full interview.

September
1
Why Do Buddhists Pray?

BD-F-14_cvr-half-size_-no-code-1In the Buddhadharma: The practitioner’s Quarterly most recent Fall 2014 publication Elizabeth spoke to the power of prayer:

Buddhists tend to dismiss prayer, which perhaps isn’t surprising. After all, aren’t we trying to get away from putting the responsibility for our spiritual development on something outside of us? And if we were to pray, whom would we pray to anyway? In this day and age, prayer is often seen as superstitious and embarrassing. We forget that we function in dualism most of the time and that there are benefits to knowing what we want and asking for it on the spiritual path. Prayer can help us do that.

Prayer is like riding a bike—our steering will always naturally follow our gaze. The direction we go in is up to us. If we direct the mind toward making money, we have a better chance of earning money. If we don’t, it’s doubtful we’ll have enough to pay the rent. The same is true with our spiritual life. Spiritual progress—human progress—requires clear intention.

Read the full article

 

June
8
A Beautiful Argument for the Nature of Interdependence

Celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has said, echoing Carl Sagan: if you feel insignificant given the immensity of the cosmos, you’re not looking at it in the right way. “We are not just figuratively but literally made of stardust.”

Read the full article.

May
23
The Middle Way – Investigating Reality in the Shambhala Sun

shambhala sun cover 2014In the July 2014 issue of the Shambhala Sun Elizabeth published a pithy summary of the Middle Way teachings, or Madhyamika:

Middle Way teachings, lie at the heart of all the Buddha’s teachings. The Middle Way, when fully understood, refers to the unshakeable wisdom and confidence of buddhahood. We might associate it with those moments of insight we encounter when everything extraneous to natural being falls away, revealing a fathom- less, uncontrived brilliance. The Middle Way also describes the path of insight, through which we question the many unexamined assumptions that bind us to false certitudes and spiritual vagueness. The Middle Way is not a dogma to adhere to but a process of direct investigation that moves us toward sanity as we navigate life.

Read the entire article.

May
6
Meditation Instruction Video

Elizabeth taught a one-night seminar on basic meditation instruction on April 7, 2014. The teaching included an introduction to shamatha practice and discussion of the view or framework of the practice. Elizabeth called this creating a new kind of “infrastructure in the mind”. This wonderful hour and half event is available for viewing on Ustream for $10.

If you are curious about what the most basic form of meditation is, or how it can be applied to all the experiences we encounter in the mind, this lively presentation, which included numerous questions from the in-person and online audiences, will make clear how meditation immediately benefits our mind and life.

Watch Now.

March
23
A Photograph from Tibetan New Year
kongtrul rinpoche and elizabeth at losar 2014

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and Elizabeth in front of the Sangdo Palri Temple on New Year’s Day, March 2, 2014

March
12
Elizabeth on “Up Front with Jonathan Bastian”

Jonathan Bastian of WFPL Public Radio in Louisville, Kentucky, conducted a lively interview with Elizabeth last October on the topic of meditation and spiritual practice. Elizabeth appreciated the “genuine and intelligent questions Jonathan asked about spiritual practice, its purpose and the meaning of faith”. Enjoy this 27 minute clip.

Up Front with Jonathan Bastian, Season 1, Episode 8 from WFPL News on Vimeo.

Do you or someone you know practice meditation? Or Buddhism? This week Jonathan speaks with one of America’s great meditation teachers, Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, about the power of meditation, and how it changed her life.

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