Sacred West

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Beyond Hope and Despair Lies Duty

August 28th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Filed under: Ngondro · Practice

Living and acting beyond hope and despair – this is a state we aim for on our practice path, knowing that both emotions are two sides of the same attachment.

The full thought that makes up my title to this post came out of a planning meeting I took part in a few days ago. We are developing sustainable practices to fight the effects of climate change, and I mentioned that personally I have no hope that the human race can change its habits in time to save itself from massive catastrophe.

How then, some wondered, could I remain motivated?

Practitioners will readily understand that hope is not necessary at all for compassionate action to manifest. There was no time in the meeting to go into this, but I did post a short rallying call on the project blog the next day (proclaimed of course also to Twitter):

Lift up your hearts, because although the planet and our species are in great peril, all is not lost so long as we work constantly to seek solutions.
Beyond Hope and Despair Lies Duty

That link will explain the project if you care – and it’s a wonderful project, another global demonstration and wakeup call. But it’s not why I’ve been so absent from this place, even though my time is consumed right now because of it.

I’ve lately started on the vajrayana by my own volition, beginning ngondro without a guru, and this has shaken up my life beyond any ability to write notes along the way. But now I think I can offer some findings.


I asked an acharya of my Shambhala lineage about this shortly after I’d begun and he supported what I was doing, but he felt impelled to tell me that I wouldn’t get very far without a living, human guru.

And I know this, but I don’t expect to get very far. Getting far was not my purpose.

From a book I was studying I had incidentally been practicing a little bit of Guru Yoga, and I found myself falling in love with Guru Rinpoche. I just wanted to be with Guru Rinpoche more. I realized that without intending it I had strayed into the vajrayana already, and I wanted to set some formality to it.

I started to practice The Dakini Heart Essence ngondro, falteringly of course, and the first time I went all the way through it and let it carry me I wept to realize I had come home.

It felt to me as if I had been hiking for several months already in the rocks and ridges of the high mountain country, on my own in wilderness with no human mark anywhere – and suddenly a makeshift wooden signpost appeared saying this is the border to the land of vajrayana. And the other side of the sign, the same rocks and ridges.

You could break a leg in such terrain, or fall an unimaginable depth, regardless of what they called the country.


It will take me another 2-3 years to arrive at the vajrayana in the Shambhala path. And the Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche awaits my coming with boundless generosity. I don’t know if I’ll get there. My acharya doesn’t know. Many days my heart cries out for a teacher. But I feel that I can at least get on with some of the work while I wait.

When I am worthy of a teacher’s time, my teacher will appear. And if this never happens in this lifetime, it doesn’t matter. Let me tell you why.

I’ve realized in just the last few days that none of this is about me. It’s finally starting to sink in that this is about all sentient beings.

I’ve been reading a lot of commentary during this time, and the wonderful, glorious Chagdud Tulku with his heartwarming reality reminded me that no one will get anywhere (even with a teacher) without the aspiration to practice for the sake of all beings.

And this closed the circle for me.

I’ve been struggling so much to get this new thing right. There have been many days when I’ve felt pretty worthless. My ambition has run smack into my laziness and this has thrown my self esteem into ruin. I had never been accustomed to missing practice, or failing in discipline, and now I’ve seen many days when I’ve slunk off to bed without ever having practiced that day. Worthless.

I couldn’t just go back to shamatha and give up Guru Rinpoche. And I could feel the blessings in my life. And yet it was so hard to go forward.

Mama never said there’d be days like this.

But everything is karma. And wheels are made for turning. Time and tide bring new days. And Chagdud Tulku sure helps. And finally I see that it’s not for the perfection of me that I could practice, it’s for others.

It seems to me the only purpose of the path is to generate merit to dedicate to the enlightenment of all beings.

There is no other purpose.

And one can be an instrument, and pass the rain of blessings through oneself, back out into the three realms, until samsara is empty.

And so coming to the cushion and the floor, or not coming to the cushion and the floor, need not be a reflection of how strong I feel in my purpose or my practice. I don’t have to be very good at what I’m doing. Because anything I do will be better than everything I don’t do. Some merit will arise. Some merit can be dedicated to the enlightenment of all beings. If I practice.

And this has changed everything.


It turns out, then, that the title of this post applies all the way from the beginning of the post to the end, which this is 🙂

If there is merit here, I dedicate it to the enlightenment of all beings.

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lauren // Aug 30, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Thank you, Ross. I have stumbled on the path lately, so I read with great interest your reaction to missing practice. I just took Level I for the fourth time, so I drove to the center in the morning reflecting on your post and my relationship with meditation, the Shambhala path and myself. Thank you for your insight.

  • 2 Gretchen // Sep 3, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Thank you, Ross. We’ll talk in person soon.

  • 3 Kennith L. Quinn // Nov 2, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    The practice of reciting and writing sutras in order to remove obstacles and purify karma is common to many Buddhist traditions. The practice itself can be traced back to India, even though it is highly emphasized in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

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