The Superstitious Mind
By 10 April 1977 Lama Yeshe and Peter were back in Madison, Wisconsin. Once again, Lama stayed in Geshe Sopa’s Lake Mendota Drive home. Jon Landaw and Petey Shane rented a house just down the road.
While Jon Landaw assisted Lama Yeshe in preparing the teachings he was to give, Petey Shane helped with secretarial work and housekeeping. “Lama wrote to one student about the way a woman’s mind worked,” said Petey. “He said a woman could think through something, make up her mind, think it through again, and change her mind faster than a man could think it through once.”
Lama Yeshe’s health continued to be a concern to those around him. “There were so many demands made on his time and the strain showed,” Petey continued. “He still had a rest after lunch, but not for as long as he was supposed to. He had this huge paper package full of herbs, which had to be boiled down into a decoction. Sometimes he drank it and sometimes he didn’t. There was also a lot of Tibetan medicine he was awful about taking. He called me Mummy and joked, ‘Oh, you got yourself this baby who won’t behave!’ We had a lot of fun in the kitchen together, especially when he got in there and made momos, splattering the walls with dough.”
Even though it was not yet summer, Madison was not an ideal place for Lama Yeshe. The humidity caused him to struggle for breath, not that this seemed to curtail his activities. One person he visited frequently was Kalleen, the cheesecake maker, and her husband. They invited him to parties in their home and she fondly recalled watching him introduce himself to their houseplants, stroking them and saying a few words to each one. Despite his breathing difficulties he played frisbee enthusiastically in the front yard, much to the delight of the neighbors. One night they put up a sheet in the back yard and showed slides of Kirlian photography in which Lama had become very interested.
Lama Yeshe also went to see the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He said it was the best religious movie he had ever seen, adding that he hadn’t really cared for Conrad Rooks’s Siddhartha.
Jon Landaw accompanied Lama Yeshe to the English classes he attended regularly on the other side of Madison. Naturally, Lama wanted to drive. “I was always telling him to slow down, slow down,” Jon explained. “‘But they take advantage when I slow down!’ Lama replied. He was fearless in everything and that included driving. Saying mantras while sitting beside him was the only way to keep sane. We’d park in this underground car park after making a right turn from a fairly busy street. After a lot of practice he had that maneuver down pretty well and did it at the same speed every day. Then one day he whipped into the car park without slowing down at all. I caught my breath and he said, ‘Did I get you hot?’ That was his key phrase that summer, ‘Did I get you hot?’ So I told him, ‘Yes, Lama, you got me hot.’
“Another time Lama drove Petey and me out of Madison for a picnic. By the time we were ready to come back it was getting late and as expected, he also wanted to drive on the return trip. But I was worried that he was too tired so I asked him for the keys. Lama refused and I actually wrestled him for them. Wrestling with one’s lama was not something most people would ever think of doing, but Lama Yeshe was so comfortable to be with that I had no hesitation doing whatever I could to get the keys out of his possession. I have to admit, however, that I was not successful.”
When Geshe Sopa returned from Albuquerque, Lama Yeshe and Peter prepared to leave for California. On the day of their departure, they were running late as usual and Jon Landaw rushed them to the airport. “I’m basically a cautious, law-abiding kind of a guy and certainly no risk-taker as a driver. But on that day I pulled out all the stops and drove them to the airport as fast as I could, even driving off the road at one point to pass another driver. Lama was very pleased that I allowed my wild side to come out and whistled his approval.”
Lama planned to stay there for six weeks and teach another of Maitreya’s five treatises, Discriminating between the Relative and the Ultimate (Skt. Dharma-dharmata-vibhaga-karika, Tib. Chö dang chönyi nam che). Jon Landaw worked with Lama Yeshe to create a simple English translation of this relatively short work.
On the first day of his commentary, Lama Yeshe explained:
The entire subject matter of this work is included within these two terms dharma and dharmata: relative and absolute phenomena. In this work the term dharma also means samsaric phenomena while dharmata signifies the phenomena of liberation, or nirvana. So what exactly is dharma or samsaric phenomena? It is the dualistic mind. This is the superstitious mind that perceives the dualistic vision. As such, it is the cause of the uncontrolled, agitated life. And from this cause of the agitated life comes uncontrollable sickness, uncontrollable death, uncontrollable rebirth and all other forms of uncontrollable confusion. All these samsaric phenomena come from one root: the dualistic mind perceiving the dualistic vision, what we may call nam-tog, or superstition. This is something we have to understand.
This work by Maitreya explains that the dualistic mind is always involved in some form of competition. This is a major characteristic of modern life, isn’t it? When we consider the Western way of life, and particularly American culture, everywhere we look we see competition; there is always some kind of contest going on. Take a simple example: the man next door buys himself an expensive car and, as soon as we see it, jealousy begins to arise in our mind. “He has such a good car, so big and comfortable. Where does that leave me? I’ll have to do something about that. I’ll get myself an even bigger car….” As far as material progress is concerned, such a competitive spirit is good, but as far as our mind is concerned, it is not good at all. Why not? Because it only makes us more agitated and conflicted; this is the symptom of the dualistic mind. We call it dualistic because as soon as one thing appears to our mind we look around for something else to compare it with. That shows our dissatisfaction, the way in which we are always searching for something newer, something better, something else. This is the way our dualistic mind is; this is how it works.
This syndrome of the dualistic mind is true for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are a religious person or a non-religious person, Buddha’s teaching describes the way things are. This is not a religious trip we are talking about; it is not Buddha’s trip or some lama’s trip. Whether you are religious or non-religious, intelligent or dull, as long as you have a dualistic mind conflict is always arising. Sometimes it appears on a gross, emotional level; sometimes it works on a subtle, unconscious level. But as long as there is the dualistic mind, there is some form of contradiction and conflict going on.
The dualistic mind is functioning within you right now, and if you just take a look it is easy to understand and experience how this mind is playing games with your life, games that only lead to misery. You can see just how this mind leads to restlessness, frustration, and dissatisfaction. And when you release that dualistic mind, you are a Buddha, or whatever you want to call that state of complete freedom. At that point you can call yourself a liberated lady or a liberated gentleman if you want to; it doesn’t matter. In short, the cessation of the dualistic mind is liberation, the experience of ultimate reality.