I attended a Tibetan meditation class over the weekend because I know next to nothing about Tibet, and wondered how Tibetan lineages differed from Indian lineages of yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. I was also curious about what kind of meditation technique would make Tibetan monks the "happiest people on Earth". It appears that between the 11th and 14th centuries, the Tibetans translated most of the available Buddhist texts at the time into Tibetan. Some of the original Sanskrit Buddhist texts were subsequently lost during various wars; hence a lot of these lost works survive only in Tibetan translation. Therefore Indian Buddhism/yoga and Tibetan Buddhism/yoga essentially came from the same lineage.
Previously I tried to do some internet research about Tibetan Buddhism and got super confused about all the scandals of various Tibetan leadership figures, strange creatures worshipped by various sects, bizarre rituals of secretive Tibetan monks, and disagreements between different Tibetan sects. I'm glad this teacher was able to cut through all these complications and instead introduced to us some simple concepts from the Tibetan teachings that can help us with our disappointments and anxieties about life.
The teacher, Reema Datta, introduced us to the Four Powers:
1. The Power of Truth
Recognizing that the world is just our mental projection. What we perceive as something bad happening to us is merely a result of what we did in the past (ie. bad karma from perhaps a few life times ago).
So, if we want to stop bad karma from propagating, there are steps to help us out. Step 1: identify something negative we have done recently (eg. arguments with a loved one; cutting someone off in traffic; failure to keep a promise with a friend, etc).
2. The Power of Regret
Sincerely regret this negative action. Don't get all guilty, just honestly recognize it as a negative action that we shouldn't have done and wouldn't like if other people do it to us.
3. The Power of Resolve
Promise ourselves not to do this again, for a realistic amount of time that we can actually achieve, like: I will not argue with my mom for 3 days. Why 3 days? Because realistically I might break this promise if I set anything longer, and that will cause more bad karma for me.
4. The Power of Action
Dedicate an action to "burn off the bad karma", eg. an asana practice, or clean the gigantic pile of dishes in my sink, or vacuum the whole house. Mindfully set the intention, and then perform the action with the dedication in mind.
This to me sounds like the Buddhism version of a Catholic confession, except we are confessing to ourselves; what holds us accountable are consequences of karma in the future rather than an eternity in hell. In addition to the four steps, the teacher said we could ask a higher being to help us out. This higher being could be Jesus, Allah, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, our favorite grandpa -- anyone we regard very highly and look up as a role model. She asked us to visualize this "higher being" in our mind when we make our confessions and think our regrets. Then imagine this higher being agreeing to help us out.
Last year when this teacher led this negative karma burning session, she led it in a way that I actually saw (with my closed eyes) a white light and a holy-looking being nodding at me. That was seriously a cool experience. I finally understand why some people are so devout with their religions. A acquaintance of mine said when she was praying at church one day, she saw Jesus appearing in her mind, asking her to follow him. She bursted into tears, and since then has decided to become a nun. I would never have believed her if I hadn't gone through this experience myself. That being said, if this visualization happened to me when I was going to church at a younger age, I'd still be a Christian now.
This year for some reason my mind wasn't as settled at the workshop so I couldn't get into "the zone". Some people are very suggestible and can easily be hypnotized. For me it's much tougher because I am so skeptical. But in "the zone", somehow the brain relinquishes control to someone else's voice, and whatever that person suggests, the person complies. It's quite a nice feeling, especially when the voice is asking the brain to relax the body, to visualize a loving holy being surrounded by white light, and to feel security, bliss, joy, pure happiness. My brain was like "O-K! Let's make it happen." I wonder why we can't easily self-hypnotize to induce this kind of experience. Perhaps the consciousness doesn't like it when the subconsciousness goes off and creates these imaginary things so it normally suppresses it. Perhaps it's a skill that just requires a lot of practice to make it happen. I never took Psych 101 so I don't really know how the subconsciousness works.