Interview with Javier Perez-Karam

Javier Perez-Karam grew up in Venezuela, and relocated to New York in 2002 to pursue a film-making career. In the process he discovered Meditation and Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy, and as he started incorporating the practice into his life, he has gained a new purpose with his film career as well as his recent found drive to teach and share his experience with Meditation within the framework of Buddhist Philosophy and it’s applications to the modern life.

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

 What brought you to a meditation practice?

His relationship started “non-spectacular”, he was “chasing a lady!” That’s how it started. He liked this woman, and she invited him to a Buddhist meditation class. He couldn’t say no, so he went. It was Geshe Michael Roach, from the Tibetan Gelugpa tradition. He’s a very polarizing person. He became his first teacher, put the seeds of meditation into his brain. Learning about karma, mindfulness. and emptiness. He had already grasped these concepts before from his own experience, but didn’t have a framework for understanding.

Meditation can lead them to the best version of yourself. He liked the promises of what meditation leads up to. His parents were going through a divorce, and he had broken up with his girlfriend, so that further encouraged him. His fiancee calls him an “experience junkie”, so he gave it a try about 8 years ago. It took some time to make it part of his daily life. But it radically changed his way of seeing his reality. But also has a new view of Buddhism.

How did meditation help you with sad events? 

It helped him accept sadness, it’s ok what is going on right now. So it is not so strong of an emotion later. He can now accept it. Through the practice of meditation and off the cushion through mindfulness and in living. He could now better identify what he was feeling and how it made him react to the world.

When his parents divorced, it hurt him very much. He felt physical pain in his chest, he’d never felt physical pain from sadness before. He could better understand it, and now allow that pain to become part of everything else. He did notice how this pain from broken relationships in his family affected how he started seeing others. He noticed he was objectifying women and rejecting love, but it was coming so much from his own relationships, but from seeing the broken relationships in his life like his parents. And by objectifying, he was protecting himself through this objectification.

Through meditation he was able to realize how he was putting on that barrier, and he was able to break it down. After that he started seeing clinging to possessions, and other afflictions in himself. So he could now find the problems in his life, and observe, and re-frame, and then it was not a problem anymore, but an opportunity.

Were there any particular practices that you found particularly helpful with particular struggles?

He read this book by Lama Christie (see link below), about a death meditation. About through visualizations, you try to simulate what it means what it is like to die and see how your possession and loved ones are left behind. It plays with the idea of uncertainty in the time of death. That was a wake up thing. He always liked to think death was far away, so you don’t pay attention. We like to think it won’t happen to us, we don’t pay much attention to our own death.

He started doing this death meditation over and over again. And he could now start to appreciate the shortness of human life, and appreciate the moment, so precious. And the fact that he was experiencing was mind-blowing. It is his choice whether to love or objectify a woman, cheat or not, etc. It’s all based on the choices you make now. That sitting down and self-analysis about mortality, really triggered a deeper practice.  He needed to understand now more of our own reality, and how his mind creates his own reality, through that death meditation.

Was there more of a sense of what the consequences are of your actions?

Yeah, as small and insignificant as our actions are, there are consequences. He can recall things he did when he was a teenager, and now sees how those things created consequences. Very interesting once you learn about karma or the things you put into the world, the causes and effects.

And it then makes you more conscious about what direction you. want to take with your life right?

Yes, completely, that is also where mindfulness comes in. Because you may get cut off in traffic, or you have a fight with someone with work. That is where the practice takes shape in real life, not so much in sitting down. If you’re not mindful in your daily life, you’re bound to make mistakes, terrible mistakes even.

We tend to do something, there’s this urge, and then ohh, shouldn’t have done. The moment you have an impulse, this urge, not surrender to it right away. You take a second with mindfulness, you have that moment to think about it before you do it.

Regret is delayed illumination…

Yeah, we go through life without realizing. Sometimes we think we can get away with it. But when we know we didn’t. We’re constantly judging ourselves.

Do you have more self compassion through practice?

At first more for others, then more recently for myself. He took longer to develop compassion for himself. For such an individualistic society, in the west, we don’t really teach to love ourselves. Sure indulgence our selves, yes, but respect and love ourselves, not so much.

There is judgement in this culture about failing too. We are not allowed to fail in this culture as much.

Initially there’s more of self serving in a way initially because of cause and effect where you make sure it doesn’t come back at you. But regardless that still makes the world a better place.

Lately he has been doing Tonglen (Tibetan) practice, “giving and taking” with his future self.

Has your sense of who you think you are changed?

Yes, completely. When he was younger, he thought his identity was a film maker, and had to get a message out, self serving though.  He didn’t care initially what he was making if it mattered to others. But now after practicing Buddhism, it does not define him anymore.

But with the Buddhist practice, and getting more wisdom, but now his film making career doesn’t define him so much anymore. Film making is now something he does, that doesn’t mean he is that. Now he feels more like a human being, a future father, future husband. He’s in a different framework.

Now the stories he tells through video, he wants to inspire with them, more oriented to what people the world needs. Inspire people to be the best version of themselves.

So what is the film you’re working on right now?

Yes, it’s called, The Perfection of Giving”, a documentary film shot between Kathmandu and NYC. See link below for more info. 108 lives project, from his teacher. The idea was to replicate the project in many other places. Javier wanted to offer his help. Initially just 5 minute pieces to document this giving to the 108 resource poor people, But as he was helping the organization to become bigger. As he started helping, their attitude started changing.

Just a couple hours a day thinking about the needs of those 108 other people. Was making them happy, brutally happy. Ah, there is something here, maybe altruism is not so much about helping others, but helping ourselves, to find ourselves. Not so much about building schools, but helping ourselves. They help people paint schools, teach kids English, etc. And then all the volunteers go back to their own lives. Sure there is an exchange, their lives don’t change much, but the volunteers experience as human beings completely changed! So that is what the story is about.

It’s a very personal film. It doesn’t come from his personal view, but that is not what he hopes it comes across as. Let’s see how it plays out. He’ll put it online after screening it at festivals. And he hopes it will help some people do some crazy non-self interesting things.

You mention non-self, what are you talking about for those who don’t know?

Yes, the blurry line between me and you. It’s the illusion from our own duality of mind. When you put yourself in a very generous position, “playing the Bodhisattva”, those boundaries just blur. When you see somebody laugh, you cannot help but laugh, or if you see someone in pain, you feel their pain.

Is that why you called it, “The Perfection of Giving”?

Yes, it’s exactly about that. In Tibetan Buddhism, the first perfection is about giving, dana. Blurring that space between our body and minds and access to the oneness. Certainly the experience we lived in the movie, was at least a little taste of what that means, that oneness, that blurring between giving and receiving.

So the self and other dissolves in that giving?

Giving is a full circle. There’s someone on the other end of the giving. For that person to be taking, it immediately becomes an interdependent arising. There can not be giving without receiving, not a giver without a receiver. Two sides of the same coin.

When is the film ready?

It’s done already for private screenings. It will be out to the public, depends on how the festival goes. It will be available in September 2015 for watching online (see below for links).

So you are a teacher of meditation?

He guides meditation offerings at the 3 Jewels Meditation Center. He’s now a junior teacher there. He’s also studying under a Shambala tradition. Mostly teaches mindfulness meditation and giving and taking meditation (Tonglen). Easy meditations for beginning meditators. One is based on breath, and the other on visualizations. He does a little bit of both.

Currently also doing an immersive meditation teacher training for a year, at a place called the interdependent project in New York City. They explore together with other teachers, and several lineages, to built more skills together with other teacher. Under several lineages of the Buddhist tradition.

Is there any meditation for really busy lives with distracted people like in New York?

If you are just starting out, recommend anybody to just breath, focus on your breath. Don’t beat yourself up. Your mind is going to wander somewhere else, just bring it back to your breath. Even if you do it “badly”, you can do it, to gain benefits from meditation. It’s better to learn how to breath first.