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Take a Break, Please. 

Keruo Yan from China

For some people, taking a break is not so easy, even if there is time. 

My first semester of the Translator Training Program (TTP) has been as intense as enriching. Especially this year, due to the pandemic, as all classes have been held online, both the teachers and students endeavor to adapt to the new teaching and learning format as quickly as possible. Our teachers have been incredibly understanding and patient with students. In the meantime, the long-distance did not dampen the students’ enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge or the intensity of training.  

The most rewarding class for me is the daily Translation Training Class, in which we are trained to translate Ani la’s oral teaching and receive immediate corrections from our instructors on the spot. Through the daily training, students in this program have made gratifying progress with amazing speed, which, however, may not be readily perceptible on a daily basis. Therefore, my weekdays have been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, where the ups and downs depend largely upon my in-class performance on that day.  At the beginning of our training, there were abundant opportunities to make mistakes. When that happened, I felt embarrassed, anxious, and guilty.  In order to prevent embarrassment, I decided to commit as much as possible time to practicing Tibetan hence withdrew from all social events, including family activities. Nevertheless, those afflictive emotions did not seem to subside. 

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s annual seminar could have been a rare opportunity to take a break from the usual study routine.  But I just could not relax. Outwardly, non-doing seemed to be easily accomplished, while inwardly, the monkey mind never stopped jumping and grasping.  I woke up at 6 as usual in the morning, staring at the ceiling, wondering what I was supposed to do since there was no morning class. Having nothing to do frightened me, leaving me with anxiety and insecurity, which grew even stronger in the evening seminar when I failed to understand what Rinpoche said in Tibetan.  

A friend invited me to go to a concert after hearing I had a week off. This is a band that both of us are very fond of. But I said no, I need to study and practice meditation, which was put aside during the semester.  

One day, when Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche spoke about motivation in the seminar, I thought of my root guru. When I informed him of my plan to take the TTP, he did not encourage me to excel or even be diligent. Instead, he just said, “make sure to take a break when you feel tired; otherwise, it gets dull, and you will lose the taste of dharma.” Foreseeing my troubles, he added, “intellectual study is a good thing, do not worry much about your practice if you cannot fulfill both. Whatever you do, firstly set your motivation straight. Later, do not forget to check your mind.” 

Then, I started to reflect upon my motivation for taking the TTP at the very beginning — I wanted to spread the light of dharma as far as possible to lighten up even the darkest corner that no one cares about. Now I am one step closer to the initial objective. Then why bother to listen to the grumble made by the insatiable ego? Shouldn’t I take delight in the progress already achieved?   With this epiphany, I decided to initiate a new practice: learning how to take a break. In the call, my friend was overjoyed that I agreed to go the concert with her.  “Finally, your door is open,” she said. At that very moment, I suddenly realized that for a long time, keeping myself busy is just a trick played by the ego in order to save itself from insecurity. 

When the music started, I was drawn to the animation on the large screen began to transform second by second. The theme is the evolution of the universe. The stars and planets were coming into being, moving, extending, shrinking, disappearing. They were constantly changing with the ethereal singing in the background, moment by moment, beat by beat, moment by moment. During the concert, I was keeping close attention to the momentariness of the various perceptions. The sound of music, surreal lighting, musicians’ movements, the smell of people nearby.  Standing in front of me was a group of college students. They were fully absorbed in the world of music, dancing with the melody when it was upbeat and the next moment bursting into tears when it changed into melancholy. Normally I would disdain that behavior as overly melodramatic. Yet this time, I saw myself in them. The emotional rollercoaster that I had experienced daily because of my in-class performance –– is it really less childish than the behavior of these college students?  Are the things that I had been constantly worried about less fictional and illusory than the stories depicted in the songs? I do not think so. 

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche once described the mind of an ordinary man as a naive child that plays sand on the beach, making beautiful castles that would become destroyed by the sea the next moment. When a castle is gone, he builds another, again and again, hoping it will last forever this time. Isn’t keeping myself busy also an illusory castle that I created to safeguard the ego?  

In the Translation Methodology Class, our teacher Maria suggested we bring ourselves into the scenario that the speaker is describing. After the break, we return to the daily routine of study. When Ani la talked about different types of impermanence in the Translation Class, I could finally put Maria’s advice into practice. I recalled my “meditation” during the concert that night with the vivid perception of momentariness. Naturally, the translation process became much smoother than before. Even there were some unfamiliar terms, I was able to interpret them according to the context.  

When the mind is tired, dull, and unpliable, to persist blindly does not amount to genuine diligence since you cannot take delight in the process. Instead, train yourself in taking a break. When you come back with a clear understanding of your limitations and motivation, you will be well-prepared for accomplishing your goal, religious or not. 

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