Parts of the world are beginning to leave the COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns and are emerging into a new reality. For many people though, the time for leaving behind social distancing measures remains uncertain. Life in these times can be challenging.
An Opportunity to Look In
Isolation, however, can have its benefits. For Buddhists and our religious cousins in other contemplative traditions, a great emphasis is placed on solitude. By self-isolating from the hustle and bustle of the mundane world, we become more attuned to our inner essence and can develop the skills required to check our worst impulses and, when we return to the world, act with grace, compassion, and dignity.
Obstacles as Tools
The Vajrayana path in general aims to use the very impediments and obstacles we encounter in our practice as tools for spiritual transformation. Phakchok Rinpoche also emphasizes the importance of working with our circumstances to transform our minds. With this in mind, Samye Institute has made a selection of its course offerings “donate-what-you-can”, so interested practitioners can utilize their time in lockdown as an opportunity to study and meditate on key elements of the buddhadharma.
How To Begin
In Training The Mind: An Introduction, Phakchok Rinpoche gives students a comprehensive toolkit for them to begin training their minds. Throughout the program, students will develop the capabilities to begin interrupting the constant stream of thoughts, and in so doing, become less governed by them, breaking negative compulsions and habits.
Key Points of Practice
Those interested in engaging with Buddhist scripture are well served by the course on the Noble Wisdom of the Time of Death Sutra (Sanskrit: Āryātyayajñānanāmamahāyānasūtra, Tib: ’phags pa ’da’ ka ye shes zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo). Despite the name, this sutra is a pithy discourse by the Buddha on the nature of mind. Phakchok Rinpoche often teaches on this sutra, as it details key points of practice useful to practitioners of any level.
If you are trying to make the most of solitude by meditating more frequently, or for longer sessions, you’re possibly encountering some physical challenges or discomforts, Samye instructors Neil Roberts and Somananda Yogi provide two courses emphasizing yogic exercises aimed at improving flexibility and comfort for sitting meditation. Neil’s Mobility for Meditators aims to gently improve comfort for all meditators. Somananda Yogi’s Yoga Asanas for Sitting Meditation introduces a short, simple yoga session with positions (asanas) that will improve flexibility and comfort for meditators of all stripes.
Living with Grace
Finally, the support program Noble Living, Noble Caring, Noble Dying explores how Buddhist practice can inform living, caring, and dying so that they are noble–filled with dignity and grace. Phakchok Rinpoche, Tulku Migmar, and Andrea Sherman provide insight gained from deep experience and practice to help students first live nobly, creating a basis for providing respectful, dignified care to others, and finally caring for ourselves in the process of aging, sickness, and death.
Study, Reflect, Meditate, Connect
We hope that these courses provide interested practitioners with the tools that they need to navigate this uncertain and challenging time. All the courses contain forums to share practice experience and insights with others. Even if you’re not going into a strict retreat, we hope that these materials allow you to continue to study, reflect and meditate, and connect with other practitioners also affected by the pandemic all over the world.