Body and Spirit: The Shining Lights Among Us


One torch can dissipate the accumulated darkness
of a thousand aeons.  ~Tilopa
(founder of Tibetan Buddhism)
"...Be gentle first with yourself - if you wish to be gentle with others.
We are not compelled to meditate by
some outside agent, by other people, or by God.
Rather, just as we are responsible for our own suffering,
so are we solely responsible for our own cure.
We have created the situation in which we find ourselves,
and it is up to us to create the circumstances for our release."

~Lama Ghesce Yesce Tobden

(The Venerable Ghesce Yesce Tobden spent much of his life in political exile,
yet still illuminated the world with his compassionate wisdom.
Photo of Lama Tobden by M. Mulas, taken at the 
Artemide 'There Is A Light On Earth' Showcase Exhibition)

This post was inspired by seeing Artemide's ad in the latest issue of Dwell Magazine. A great commentary on their moving ad campaign is on Form + Function Blog

10 comments

  1. The wisdom he offers is so real and true

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  2. hello Savira! so good to hear from you. Been unable to write recently, and I've missed everyone! - yes, I agree, and I find his words simply amazing.

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  3. Sorry, I don't agree with many of the opinions in these quotes, such as, "we are responsible for our own suffering." Too simplistic and ignores the painful realities of life. I suppose some young girl kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery can always elect not to suffer in her pitiful circumstance and instead "look on the bright side" of things. But maybe I am missing the point, because I know very little about Buddhism. Anyway, thought provoking, as usual.

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  4. Stephanie, I must agree with Mike on this post .. far too simplistic .. yes, in a universal human sense 'we' are responsible for our own suffering - not God or some external force, 'we the people' have created the situation the world is in - 'we' have free will and elect what we do, and that free will is a gift too often abused for personal gain, greed and the accumulation of power and wealth .. but, too often genuine personal suffering is forced upon people who through no fault of their own find circumstances difficult and painful and unfathomably inconsistent with these sentiments .. it is easy, as I discovered many years ago, to sit in an ivory tower and make pronouncements that are philsophically and spiritually appealing, but have little solid ground in the accepted reality of everyday life .. yes, we can choose to see things from another perspective and therefore end our 'suffering' - as suffering is caused by being out of harmony and balance with the true force of life that drives the cosmos, but when one is watching a child die of starvation or, to use the example Mike offers, being treated as an object for the benefit of others, it is often beyond the capacity of an ordinary human - monkish wisdom is all fine and well for those with no responsibility .. I believe this is why the Christ, and most other spiritually inclined philosophers advocate the unattached lifestyle - to be attached is to have obligations, with obligations come suffering - unfortunately, the rest of us are human and have families, and that causes suffering - when they hurt, we hurt .. and as our families are by extension everyone on the earth, until these problems are dealt with, we all suffer .. regardless of the fine words of a recluse .. but, as Mike says, thought provoking .. oops for any errors here (wrote this at a quick glance) .. Love and peace Ms S. {;o)

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  5. Stephanie,
    I continue to appreciate your blog and your posts, and even this current post, because this post DID MAKE ME THINK. After I typed in my comment to you, I typed in "responsible for our own suffering" and did a serach and found this:
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/whyend.html

    Kevin,
    You are so articulate, it makes me feel stupid.
    These words of yours, in particular, resonated with me:
    " . . . to be attached is to have obligations, with obligations come suffering - unfortunately, the rest of us are human and have families, and that causes suffering - when they hurt, we hurt . . . ."

    The web site I referenced has an interesting take on the problem of suffering. What stood out greatly for me is paragraph five, a portion of which is:
    "Our own love towards a certain person may die a natural death, while the person whom we loved still loves us, and thus suffers under our neglect. Or, in reverse, while the other's love for us has died, our own still lives and constantly urges him, encroaches upon his need for freedom, disturbs his peace and tears at his heart, causing him sorrow because he cannot help us. These are quite common situations in human relationships, and their consequences are often tragic."

    I am struggling right now with my own demons and my relationship difficulties, and I thank both of you, Stephanie and Kevin, for your insights, in helping me to think about how things might be changed for the better.

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  6. Oh, this has been a "heavy" day for me: my therapy session, then falling into a funk, reading Buddhist philosophy, being on this post both reading and writing. I think it is time for some uplifting comment -- maybe something about a bra! We shall see. Are you up to it, Stephanie? We do need a break once in a while from the serious side of life.

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  7. first - to all: apologies for the delays in responding; I shall be buried within my 'projects' for a few weeks more before I am able to get back. Thank you all for waiting and for your kind patience.

    @MikeB: Will try to some fun & uplifting post soon - good suggestion and please know good thoughts are being sent to you!

    KW & MikeB: thank you both for you viewpoints on this post - I love a good conversation!
    In this case, I would say that personally, I do not believe that Lama's words were ever meant to be uncompassionate or to negate true physical suffering, nor to imply that they caused it themselves.
    There is, in Buddhism, the idea that you can experience all of life (joy, pain, love, sadness) but that you do not have to allow it to take you over ( create emotional suffering)There is, in my opinion, a difference in the wording and meaning and also some issue of translation and of the different perspectives and philosphies between Western vs. Eastern cultures.
    yet both Jesus and Buddha said the same:
    Buddha said "You are the Buddha."
    Jesus said "I am in/with you always, your body is your temple."
    In both cases, I understand these preachings to mean that we hold within ourselves more power than we thinkand , in other words, we are 'responsible', or let's say it instead as 'able to control', our feelings, actions and reactions. To be responsible for how we act or react to ANYTHING that happens to us or others, including choosing not to be uncompassionate, but also to not lose ourselves in anguish or becoming overwhelmed emotionally over things we cannot change or affect.
    @KW: you bring up a point that I had held for years: the isolation of monks(& the non-marriage of priests)used to bother me; I had felt that their detachment & isolation from everyday life made them ill-prepared to truly understand things, or give me any advice. I thought them to be cowards, believed that they had run away from life, and that anyone could live happily beig so removed from 'real life'. But what I also found out was that the monks in monasteries do stuggle with their own suffering in spite of being so isolated, so it is all relative, I suppose. Yet I still wonder if one can truly experience all of life being in such an esoteric environment.
    Nvertheless, I acknowledge that my perception of things has changed. Through 'excercises' that take great persistence to experience, and going against all I had known or thought I knew, before. The result was that it did not negate the love, nor the interaction, but it did change my reaction to it, and in that way, did, in fact, lessen my suffering and heartache...so because I have experienced the positive effect of this Buddhist concept firsthand, I now see the words of Lama Tobden very differently than I would have only a few years back.
    Further, the quote shown in this post is only a partial of a longer quote; here is the full wording, which is more in context(and similar to MikeB's link.) Tell me if seeing the entire quote does or does not alter your understanding or POV in any way:

    (will have to do in 2 segments, as ther eare cahracter maximums)...

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  8. "It is never too late.
    Even if you are going to die tomorrow,
    Keep yourself straight and clear and be a happy human being today.
    If you keep your situation happy day by day,
    you will eventually reach the greatest happiness of Enlightenment. If your spiritual practice and the demands of your everyday life are not in harmony, it means there's something wrong with the way you are practicing. Your practice should satisfy your dissatisfied mind while providing solutions to the problems of everyday life. If it doesn't, check carefully to see what you really understand about your religious practice.
    Religion is not just some dry intellectual idea but rather your basic philosophy of life: you hear a teaching that makes sense to you, find through experience that it relates positively with your psychological makeup, get a real taste of it through practice, and adopt it as your spiritual path. That's the right way to enter the spiritual path. When Lord Buddha spoke about suffering, he wasn't referring simply to superficial problems like illness and injury, but to the fact that the
    dissatisfied nature of the mind itself is suffering. No matter how much of something you get, it never satisfies your desire for better or more. This unceasing desire is suffering; its nature is emotional frustration.
    Be gentle first with yourself - if you wish to be gentle with others. We are not compelled to meditate by some outside agent, by other people, or by God. Rather, just as we are responsible for our own suffering, so are we solely responsible for our own cure.
    We have created the situation in which we find ourselves, and it is up to us to create the circumstances for our release."
    ~Lama Ghesce Yesce Tobden

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  9. I understand what you are saying, Stephanie, when you write that we do not have to let our pain, sadness, etc. create emotional suffering within ourselves. Sometimes, that is a difficult thing to achieve.

    The fuller version of the Tobden quote puts a different perspective on things. Thanks for sharing it. I suppose he means that we can choose the attitude we take towards our circumstances. Once again, sometimes a difficult thing to achieve, especially in the face of great sorrow, illness, etc.

    A family member of mine has been suffering with illness since 1974, and I believe it is difficult for him to achieve the happiness he desires. But he does have things he enjoys doing, and he tries to spend time doing them to take his mind off his suffering for at least short periods of time.

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  10. @MikeB- thanks so much for your follow-up comments. Yes, you are quite right; there is nothing easy about putting this concept into practice. But it is easy to get lost and consumed by difficulty, sadness, grief and other of life's challeneges. The message is not that these things will not happen, but that we do not have to be overwhelmed with suffering because of difficult or tragic events. We can shift our perceptions of it, working to becoming so aware of our feelings and reactions. In this way, we can accept that all of us have to endure difficulties,but not have them destoy us, instead rejoice in what good and beautiful things we still do have, so that our own pain is lessened, and then too, we can help others as well.

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