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Column: We need meditation more than ever before

Regular meditation boosts mental and physical health, and is easy to incorporate into your daily routine, writes Buddhist monk Ringu Tulku Rinpoche.

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
I’VE PRACTISED MEDITATION all my life, and I often give talks on how it can boost mental and physical health.
Frequently, I’m met with scepticism.  Lots of people I meet don’t believe in the benefits of meditation, or don’t feel it has any relevance to their life.   They tell me they’re too busy to meditate, or they’ve tried it and it didn’t ‘work’.  Or they think meditation is something only Buddhists do.
The truth is it’s possible for anyone to incorporate meditation into their life – no matter what their routine or their religious beliefs.
What is Meditation?
At the most basic level, meditation is simply a technique that trains the mind.  I call it ‘taming the mind’.
Taming the mind means making your mind do what you think it should do: if you want your mind to be quiet, it will be quiet; likewise, if you need it to be active and working, it will do as you want.
To tame your mind successfully, you need to make some time in your everyday life. Meditation doesn’t have to take hours; as little as 15 minutes a day is enough.  Then – by focusing on your posture and letting your thoughts come and go – you can relax your mind and learn to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the present moment.
How to meditate
If you would like to give meditation a try, follow these simple steps as often as you can:
  1. Allocate some time – in the morning or evening or whenever you can – to creating a peaceful state in which to train your mind.  This doesn’t have to be a large amount of time.  Fifteen minutes will do, if that’s all you have to spare.
  2. Establishing the right body posture helps the mind to settle down. So meditation starts with taking up a balanced and relaxed body posture. Sit down (traditionally, we sit cross-legged, but that’s not essential – if you prefer to sit on a chair, that’s fine) and keep your back straight.  Don’t let your body lean to either side or forwards or backwards. Your face should be softened, without too much tension; your teeth not grinding or clenched; and your lips and eyes relaxed.
  3. Next, try to feel at ease. Some people suggest you can artificially create a feeling of relaxation by imagining all the cells in your body are smiling.  How would you feel if all the cells of your body were smiling? It would feel nice, wouldn’t it? Feeling nice is important because, from a Buddhist point of view, the more you become used to feeling a certain way, the more you become like that. So the more relaxed you feel, the more relaxed you become; the more joyful you feel, the more joyful you become. And, in the same way, the more angry you are, the more angry you become; the more miserable you are, the more miserable you become. It’s all habit.  With meditation, we’re trying to relax. Because once you feel nice – as if all the cells in your body are smiling – then there’s no need to feel bad; no need to feel tense.
  4. Now for the mind: we want the mind to be relaxed too.  The problem is it won’t stay that way – the mind will run; the mind will jump. And that’s why meditation can be difficult: if you try to just stop your thoughts, you can’t do it.  In fact, the more you try, the more tense you become.  So the most important thing to learn about meditation is you have to let your mind be. When a thought comes up, let it come up and then let it go. Don’t follow the thought; don’t get entangled with it and run around after it, just say, ‘This is a thought’; that’s all. Relax in the thought; relax in the emotion.  If you are able to do that, then you will gain the confidence of being in control.
These four steps are the basis of meditation. Like learning a new language or learning to drive, it requires practice and repetition to get it right.  But once you get it right, the physical and mental health benefits can be immense.
Benefits of Meditation
The benefits of meditation have been proven by thousands of years of practice, as well as more recent academic studies.  They include: lower stress levels and protection against mental illness; improved memory and cognitive function; an enhanced capacity to manage pain; better sleep quality; and a greater ability to regulate your emotions.
I believe meditation is as relevant to the busy global citizen of the 21st Century as it was to the Buddhist monks who practised it thousands of years ago.  In fact, I would argue we need meditation now more than ever before.
In Ireland today, for example, there is ongoing recession, high levels of unemployment and emigration, and public dissatisfaction with the economic situation.  I’ve been coming here for the past 23 years, and I’ve observed many changes since my early visits.  Meditation can help with the stress of such changes; it can help people to remove tensions from their lives, and to focus less on problems from the past and on worries about the future.  By focusing on the present moment instead and by taking control of their personal response to what is happening, people can become healthier and more relaxed.
I’m giving a free public talk in Dublin this weekend on the benefits of meditation, and I’ll be discussing these issues.  If you’re curious about meditation – if you’re wondering what’s the point – this is your chance to find out more.
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche was ordained a Buddhist monk as a baby.  He is internationally regarded as one of the greatest living Tibetan Buddhist masters, and has a close working relationship with the Dalai Lama.  He is the founder of the cultural and educational organisation Bodhicharya International, and is based in Sikkim in Northern India, where he directs a meditation retreat centre at the foot of the Himalayas.  He spends over half of every year travelling and teaching around the world, speaking about meditation and participating in interfaith and ‘Science and Buddhism’ dialogues.  He has authored many books, including an important scholarly volume on Rimé, which explains the many strands of vajrayana Buddhism that have evolved in Tibet over the past 1,000 years.  He is actively involved in a substantial worldwide programme to translate the entire teachings of the Buddha into English.
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s public talk on meditation will take place on Saturday, 6thJuly, at 2pm at the Hilton Dublin Kilmainham Hotel, Inchicore Road, Dublin 8.  The subject of the talk will be ‘Meditation: What’s the point?’, and topics covered will include the relevance of meditation to everyday life, as well the links between science and Buddhism.  All are welcome to attend, and admission is free of charge.  For further information, go to www.bodhicharyaireland.blogspot.com or  Meditation: What’s the Point?
The journal.ie 

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It is a pleasure to be a student

I am a student.
I have been a student as long as I remember
And it is a pleasure to be a student.

It is a pleasure to learn that I don’t know.
It is a pleasure to learn that I already know.
It is a pleasure to learn that I was mistaken.

It is a joy to learn from Great Masters.
It is a joy to learn by sharing what I learnt.
It is a joy to learn how to be what I am.

I seek to learn about the world around me.
I seek to learn about what I actually am.
I seek to learn how to be a proper human being.

Clouds show me the nature of my world.
Rivers show me the nature of myself.
Babies show me how to be more human. I am a student.

I will be a student as long as I live.
And it is a pleasure to be a student.

Ringu Tulku
Gangtok. 18th Jan, 2003



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Prayer for Peace 

I invoke the blessings of omniscent and omnipotent,
I invoke the blessings of All enlightened and realised beings,
I dedicate all the power of positive deeds that I have done and will do.
May the suffering of violence and bloodshed come to an end in this world.

The cause of violence is hatred, greed, jealousy and prides humiliated.
May the people of this world learn to love their neighbours and understand each other.

May we learn to tolerate the varieties of peoples, cultures, beliefs and ideas.
May we be able to clear all misunderstandings and ignorance.
May we be able to help each other and not harm each other.
May we learn to live and let live.

Ringu Tulku
Ammersee, 1st April 2003




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Bodhicharya Winter Retreat, Berlin - January 2013

Cold, wet, and gray as it gets in January, city of Berlin hosted the first Bodhicharya winter retreat very well. First wave of confusion was overcome easily as registration went on smoothly and retreatants settled in cosy future cafeteria of great Berlin Bodhicharya center. Warmly greeting each other we kept our best face for Rinpoche who, due to sore throat and loss of voice did not show up for the first teaching. Well, things happened, don't they?

Over the next few days we received what I humbly consider as complete Buddha's teaching, in simple, direct, and precise way. It started with preliminaries and it ended with deathlessness. Rinpoche covered it all in three and a half days. It is difficult to say how much of it we could conceive, but there is no slightest doubt that he gave it all out. He kept nothing for himself. An ultimate gift of love, said someone who received similar teachings years ago on different continent.

People who hold the Berlin center are hard workers, fully dedicated to assisting Rinpoche in every task he performs. Always on time, precise, and most of all kind, they run this retreat as smooth as possible. Meals were tasty and yet easy to digest, as retreat meals should be. Dishes were carried in and out, full or empty, nothing got broken. Toilets were always clean, and there were these pretty blue vases, feng shui, I guess. Even the gift shop was always open, in case someone felt like offering gift to themselves or to someone else. It seems that everybody was doing everything, and yet in harmony. Maybe it has to do with what is commonly referred to as traditional German discipline, but I think it takes more than that. Perhaps, an insight that it is meaningful to do things in good way, to assist our teacher properly, and most of all, to know that all of this is Dharma practice as Rinpoche teaches.
The center itself, half finished or half unfinished, depending on how optimistic one is, is a story on its own. It is huge indeed, and yet, easily observable in sense of unity. There is a main gompa as it should be, then, everything else is working it's way around it. Hallways, lamas rooms, balconies, future organic gardens, who knows what else. The big part of this project is a hospice center with people who work as volunteers with terminal patients and their families. This is to embody Rinpoche's teaching on Dharma practice in social action.

To conclude, just to say that every part of my experience with this retreat was inspiration to be more useful and active part of Rinpoche's vast mandala of teaching, practice, and activity.
The next Bodhicharya winter retreat is going to happen around the same time as this one. Dates are to be announced soon.

Tanja Popovic-Thuret


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Recent visit of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche to Brussels - January 2013


Recent visit of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche to Brussels was a mixture of inspiration, transmission, and further confusion for me.
Rinpoche was radiant and transparent as always. His wisdom shone as compassion towards all of us without any discrimination whatsoever.
Patiently repeating the same words regardless of topic or the center where he was giving teachings, he kept everything as simple and humorous as possible.
Rinpoche makes Dharma accessible to every level of understanding and that, I think, is a quality of real master. Of course, there is also that warmth around him, and when he takes your hand there is a gap. At least, that is my experience.
Attending to some of his needs, such as food or transport is also a teaching in itself. He lets you feel comfortable, but there is precision to that comfort. You better be ready on time with everything. Also, it is good not to guess, but also not to ask to much. What shall we do then, one may wonder. Do the right thing, in the right time, and in the good way. And, keep it simple.
As for the confusion part, may it arise as wisdom, as soon as possible :).

Tanja Popovic-Thuret

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Meeting Kasung Jetsun Pema - December 2012

Few days ago my husband Emeric and me were invited to dinner party held in excellent Tibetan restaurant here in Brussels called "Le Tibet".The dinner was held in honor to HH Dalai Lama's youngest sister Kasur Jetsun Pema, also known as Ama-la.

I found myself little embarrassed for not knowing much about Ama-la, so I have done a little research prior to going there. Everything I read about her indicated that her life has been completely dedicated to helping others. This was not a surprise of course, but meeting her was much more then one can imagine while reading about her. Gentle and warm, soft and beautiful, noble and elegant, and most of all utterly humble, are just some words that come to mind while remembering being in her presence. Ama-la sat there in peace and sincerity mostly surrounded by important men such as HE Khentchen Pema Sherab Rinpoche who came to Brussels to give teaching that week in Ogyen Kunsang Choling, Lama Karta from Yeunten Ling Institute, representative of Tibet in Bruseles, and many others whose work in helping Tibetan people is crucial. She patiently meet everybody, accepted every request for photos to be taken, even insisted on taking her own food at a buffet table. At one point she went to the part of restaurant were Tibetan youth were gathered, and spend some time with them. Maybe it was my imagination, but I sensed that she especially enjoyed that.

Ama-la shook my hand twice that night, upon arriving, and when leaving. Both times her familiar touch made me remember my grandmother Pemba whose arms and lap were my ultimate refuge while growing up. And, her vivid kindness and laughter which totally resembles the one of HH the Dalai Lama, dispelled my fear about being inadequate to represent Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and Bodhicharya sangha on this auspicious event.

Emeric and me are very grateful to Ines Wouters for entrusting us with this task.

Tanja Popovic-Thuret