Staying in the Present

One of the teachings given by Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche at the construction ceremony of the Tara Great Stupa in Hua Hin was that we should constantly be at the present moment. The past is already passed. We can’t bring the past back. The future does not yet happen. So if we keep on thinking about either the past or the future, then we are actually living in a dreamworld. Only the present is real. It is only in the present, the ‘now,’ that we are totally alive and that we are capable of doing anything. It is only in the present moment that we do exist, that we can make any changes, any transformations.

This is a simple yet profound teaching. We need to ponder what it means to say that only the present is real. We may begin by considering the past and the future first. Beings that are wandering in samsara do not live in the present. They are compelled by their past, by their worries, by habitual tendencies that cause them to perceive things in ways that are conditioned by their traces of karma. For example, we have a tendency to get angry when things do not go the way we want. Perhaps we get stuck in a traffic jam and we get annoyed and angry. We become angry because we are conditioned by our habits of wanting to satisfy ourselves and then when what we want does not come fast enough, we get frustrated, angry.

The karmic traces work at a very deep level, and most of us are unaware of it. We believe that we have an “ego” — our own selves — our “I’s”, that need to be taken care of and satisfied. This trace goes back a very long way. We long for satisfying this “I” and when we do not get it, the “I” gets frustrated, bringing about suffering. But when it is satisfied, the “I” does not stop there. It then longs for another thing, and another, and another, and so on without end. That is why beings wander about in the life cycle of birth and death. In fact the life cycle or samsara is nothing but the projections of our own minds which is conditioned by past action or karmas.

Likewise, when we think about the future, we are really thinking of what does not exist. We make plans and when the plan is not realized, we also gets frustrated. Some may be so obsessed with future plans that they become neurotic, losing touch with the real world. Rinpoche said that those who habitually think about the future include those want to procrastinate because they fall under the spell of their egos which want things to remain the way they are. Since dharma practice has a direct effect on the ego, the ego does not want us to do that. So it keeps telling us of all sorts of excuses so that we don’t start practicing. The ways of the ego are so wily.

So what do we do? We remain focused in the present all the times. At least that is the goal. By doing this we do not follow any thoughts and lose ourselves in those thoughts. In fact those who stay in the past or the future are those who lose themselves in their thoughts. They are being led around by their own thoughts, which they believe to be really meaningful and tangible. But thoughts are only thoughts. They are fabrications created by the ego to “make sense” of the world. The problem is that by “making sense” one ironically loses sense of the real reality, which just cannot be said of through words.

Which comes to another of Rinpoche’s teachings that day. One should learn how to say it without actually saying it. This sounds paradoxical, but Rinpoche asked us to ponder its meaning. This is a way of practicing the Dharma itself.

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