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Posts Tagged "teachings"
There are 14 results found
December 2002-February 2003
Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche:
The benefits of seeing relics are great. Relics have the nature of primordial awareness comprehending emptiness and the aspect of pills, bones, and so forth. They are established by enlightened beings with great compassion.
It is said that the body of the Buddha is vast like the ocean but that ordinary beings cannot perceive it. For their sake, the buddhas manifest relics. The enlightened beings with high realizations establish relics as a means for passing on blessings of their body, speech and mind. Due to the power of realization and compassion of these beings, anyone who sees, hears of, touches or even thinks of relics receives their blessing. Relics might appear as ordinary bones t those with untrained, ordinary minds but in reality the relics are not ordinary at all. …
Lama Zopa Rinpoche:
In the past, when Buddha was residing in India, many people saw his actual body. Nowadays, due to impure karma and lack of merit, we cannot see the body of Buddha nor hear his speech. We only have the fortune to see Buddha’s relics. Therefore, kind and compassionate Guru Shakyamuni Buddha emanated thousands of relics as an object of devotion for very many sentient beings.
Buddhas appear to arya bodhisattvas in the aspect of the sambhogakaya, to ordinary bodhisattvas in the aspect of emanation bodies, and to those with karmic impurities in the aspect of ordinary beings possessing a body of flesh and blood. Similarly, in the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom we are able to see directly and who is in fact actual Chenrezig, most ordinary beings can only see him in the aspect of a gelong [fully ordained monk] who is still subject to sickness, who grows old, and so forth. In the same way, those who have reached very high levels of tantric realization – for example, like the late Geshe Lama Konchog who passed away in October 2001 [pictured opposite] – leave behind relics for the sake of sentient beings who are tortured by suffering. This happens because they have developed high realizations within their mental continuum originating from the root of great compassion. Geshe Lama Konchog inspired and introduced so many foreigners to the Dharma and planted the seeds of good imprints in their minds. …
By Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Lama Zopa Rinpoche has composed a comprehensive flower offering practice for accumulating great merit. This is a short summary.
From the sutra Distinguishing the Aspects of Karma (Lanam Je): There are ten benefits of offering flowers [to objects such as the buddhas, statues, stupas, scriptures, etc.]:
1. One becomes like a flower in the world. (You will be very beautiful; everyone will be attracted and amazed to look at you and will remember seeing you.)
2. The sense of smell will never degenerate. (Some people have sicknesses in the nose so that the sense of smell doesn’t function.)
3. One will never have bad body odor. (This will be completely purified.)
4. A smell of scented nectar will come from the body.
5. The smell of the morality of the person will spread in all directions and corners.
6. One will be a leader of the world. (One will be a leader of people, of the world, of holy beings.)
7. One will achieve beautiful attractive things.
8. One will have great wealth.
9. One will be reborn in a higher rebirth.
10. One will quickly achieve the sorrowless state and achieve enlightenment, the great liberation.
“The flower offering practice is used to make charity to all beings who have depression, those who have fear of death and dying, people whose minds are filled with anger, the emotional mind, the mind that thinks, ‘I am abused by others, badly treated by others,’ the mind that is full of desire.
“Think of people with marriage problems where one’s husband or wife is unfaithful or has left, or who argue a lot. Immediately, by making the offering, so much loving kindness, tolerance, and affectionate mind is generated in them, and instead of wanting to harm, they want to help. Also, it is good to think of this one person as the most precious one in your life, the most kind and precious one who helps me. By receiving the flower offerings, their hearts are filled with tolerance, they have a very happy mind, filled with patience and loving kindness toward all living beings.
“Making these offerings purifies negative karma as well as helping you to overcome the emotional mind. By being liberated from that, it allows one to practice loving kindness and compassion as well as tolerance. It allows one to have realizations of renunciation, realizing how this samsara is in the nature of suffering and so because of that one definitely needs to achieve liberation, ultimate happiness. Thus, we can use this life’s situation to inspire and awaken the sleeping mind, the hallucinating mind, to see the truth – how this life is in the nature of suffering, samsara. Our life is in the nature of suffering and we need to put effort to be liberated from this; otherwise, we will have to suffer again and again without end.” …
Lama Thubten Yeshe gave this talk on how to integrate emptiness with everyday life at Vajra Yogini Institute, France, September 5, 1983.
What is emptiness? Emptiness (shunyata) is the reality of the existence of ourselves and all the phenomena around us. According to the Buddhist point of view, seeking reality and seeking liberation amount to the same thing. The person who doesn’t want to seek reality doesn’t really want to seek liberation, and is just confused.
If you seek reality, and you think that it has to be shown to you by a Tibetan lama, that you have to look for it outside yourself, in another place – maybe in Shangri-La! – then you are mistaken. You cannot seek reality outside yourself because you are reality.
Perhaps you think that your life, your reality, was made by society, by your friends? If you think that way, you are far from reality. If you think that your existence, your life, was made by somebody else, it means that you are not taking the responsibility to understand reality. You have to see that your attitudes, your view of the world, of your experiences, of your girlfriend or boyfriend, of your own self, are all the interpretation of your own mind, your own imagination. They are your own projection: Your mind literally made them up. If you don’t understand this, then you have very little chance of understanding emptiness.
This is not just the Buddhist view, but also the experience of Western physicists and philosophers – they have researched reality too. Physicists look and look, and they simply cannot find one entity that exists in a permanent, stable way: This is the Western experience of emptiness.
If you can imagine that, then you will not have any concrete concepts; if you understand this experience of physicists, then you will let go of your worldly problems – but you don’t want to understand. …
DALAI LAMA’S ADVICE: BOOK EXCERPT
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Our general condition in human society is that we all depend upon each other. We are social animals, and we must live and interact with one another. Yet it seems that we have lost any feeling of basic human affection or a sense of relatedness and closeness to others. Our society does not place any value on the idea of love or indeed show much interest in it. With material things being prized above all else, nothing is said, is it, about the importance of love for our fellow human beings?
Lacking any such feeling of love, instead we put all our energy into making yet more money. And if we are concerned solely with exploiting others whenever possible, exerting control over them whenever we can, forever hoarding and competing, we will end up using any kind of situation whatsoever to further our own ends. In such an eventuality, the principle of loving our fellow human beings will have no currency whatsoever. Yet without this ideal of human affection, there is no happiness in the family, no happiness between couples, and no happiness between parents and children. However many millions of us there are all living here together, in our hearts each one of us will feel lonely and isolated.
What about the feeling of joy in one another’s company? What about caring for other people and feeling they are our friends? What about trust and confidence in our dealings with others? They all seem to be cooling off. They seem to be lacking, don’t they? …
By Yangsi Rinpoche
From the general advice on the kind of attitude with which to rely upon the spiritual teacher according to the Lamrim Chenmo, there are nine points, or nine ways in which to devote yourself to the spiritual teacher.
The first of these nine points is the instruction to abandon your sense of independence and develop a sense of reliance or devotion toward your spiritual teacher that is like an obedient son or daughter. You should have the mental attitude that allows your spiritual teacher to guide you without resistance. Being obedient here means making sure that the way in which you think and the way in which you act are harmonious with the wish of the spiritual teacher. Sometimes the teacher will give you certain advice as to what to do or what not to do. Even if from your point of view that particular advice does not appear appropriate or does not seem to fulfill the necessity of the situation, for the sake of being able to train your mind in the practice of pure devotion, you should be able to give up your interest and follow that advice.
Many of the disciples who serve Lama Zopa Rinpoche can be considered as examples of disciples who give up independence and freedom like an obedient child. When you serve Rinpoche, you give up your interest in sleep. You give up your interest in food. And you give up your interest in time for yourself. If you want to serve Rinpoche, you have to be able to give up all these things.
Upon encountering a pure, virtuous friend, you should think: “What can I do to fulfill the wishes of my spiritual teacher?” You should think like this, rather than being concerned with what you want or what you need. Although at first it may feel like you are giving up a lot – your freedom, your independence, your own interests, and so forth – indirectly, this is the very best way of taking care of yourself. This kind of attitude parallels that of the bodhisattvas, whose only thought is to benefit others, whose attitude embodies the altruism of having totally renounced self to cherish others. By thinking only of others, they have taken care of themselves completely. …
Webcasts of Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching this year (and in previous years), including the teachings Rinpoche gave during this year’s Light of the Path retreat are available online 24/7 on FPMT’s livestreaming webpage.
Also, all Light of the Path Retreat Resources 2009, 2010 and 2014 are available on the Online Learning Center.
Given at the conclusion of the Yamantaka initiation, Enlightened Experience Celebration, Dharamsala, 24 April 1982. Translated and clarified by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Dharamsala, June 1982. From the Report on the first Enlightened Experience Celebration in Bodh Gaya and Dharamsala, India. January-June 1982.
The purpose of taking an initiation is not to send yourself to the lower realms but to lead yourself to the state of Vajradhara. This is what you should do with the initiations you receive; they are to be practiced, not merely collected. For example, you have just received a Vajrabhairava initiation. This itself is what you have to practice; there is no Vajrabhairava practice other than what is contained in the initiation. The vows and samayas, the stages of generation and completion are all there. And unless you are illiterate you should recite the sadhana every day. If you cannot do the long one you should at least do the short one written by Lama Dorje Chang (Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche); there are only a few pages in it.
Each day you should do the self-generation, and the six-session guru yoga, because it contains all the daily practices you have promised to do during the initiation.
All of you here are highly fortunate. You who have come from the West to this Dharma Celebration have received the highest, most profound teachings from most precious lamas, in particular, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As far as fortune is concerned there is none greater than this.
However, each individual must practice well. There is no benefit in simply thinking, “Now I have received these teachings,” and leaving it at that. If you have received some material like money, perhaps it is enough just to record it as a credit in an account book, but where initiations are involved, merely counting the number you have received is useless; you have to practice.
It used to be impossible to hear Buddhadharma and meet gurus in the West. From the Dharma point of view these were barbaric lands, outlying countries to which the teachings of the Buddha had not spread. But now there are many different Dharma centers in the West, and especially through the incomparable activities of Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, many devoted to preserving and disseminating the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa. So it is very good that you have taken the great responsibility of serving the teachings in this way, engaging in both Dharma and administrative activities to establish these centers all over the world. And although you have done very well so far and are making progress year by year, still you must continue making the efforts necessary for further progress. As the teaching spreads in this way, more and more people in the West can hear the Buddhadharma and are to that extent highly fortunate.
To ensure progress in the many centers you have established there are two aspects of activity that have to be developed together: the Dharma aspect and the administrative aspect. To develop the conditions necessary for study and practice in a center, those who do the administrative work should take proper responsibility and be in good harmony with everybody at the center. On the basis of this, all the students there should make great efforts to develop the center in whatever way possible. It’s like when you have some very delicious food, you take big bites and chew it with all your teeth, taking full advantage of it—this is a Tibetan saying; I hope you understand its meaning. If you were at a place where there were gold coins for the taking you would stuff them everywhere, into every pocket and orifice! Take every opportunity to develop your Dharma center.
With respect to developing the Dharma side, it seems that most of your centers have already received resident teachers. Thus it is extremely important that you expend energy in studying well. But don’t leave whatever you learn as mere intellectual knowledge; you should use it to subdue your minds and eradicate delusions. Your understanding should become one with your mind. As it is said in the lam-rim teachings:
The purpose of understanding what one has heard is to enable one to practice according to his capacity.
After you have heard and understood some teaching-for example, the perfect human rebirth, renunciation, bodhicitta—you must practice it; that is the purpose of the teaching. Each one of us should practice in accordance with our individual level of mind, or ability.
We study, study, study, but if we do not mix whatever we have understood thoroughly with our minds there will be a Dharma famine in our minds; we shall suffer from poverty of Dharma. This is what happens: you live in the middle of a Dharma center, you study Dharma, but you are a Dharma pauper. So don’t be like that. Use the Dharma that you have studied to change your mind, to be different from before. That is the purpose of Dharma, and if you can use it to change your mind in this way you won’t be poor in Dharma. As Tewugen Rinpoche said:
Those who know the secret of turning iron into gold through alchemy never experience material poverty.
How can you become poor if you can transform any old piece of iron into gold? Similarly, if you know how to change your mind with Dharma you’ll never suffer from Dharma starvation. This is the most important thing to worry about.
Because we have not yet changed our minds, we create negative actions and accumulate many non-virtuous impressions that cause us to wander in samsara. How can we know if our mind is unchanged, unsubdued? If we are constantly concerned about the comfort of this life—food, clothing and reputation—we have unsubdued minds. How should we change such minds? By reflecting on topics such as the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, the great usefulness of, and the great difficulty of, receiving the perfect human rebirth and impermanence and death. Through this we should be able to change our minds. Also, if we are seeking samsaric enjoyments such as the pleasures of the devas, our minds are unsubdued. As a remedy we should contemplate the suffering nature of the whole of samsara and generate strong aversion to it. Furthermore, the thought, “How good it would be if I had to remain in samsara no longer,” the concern for oneself alone that abandons the welfare of other sentient beings, while generally not considered an unsubdued mind, is an unsubdued mind from the Mahayana point of view. The antidote to this is training in the loving compassionate bodhicitta and equanimity.
We should accustom ourselves to the fact that all sentient beings—friends, enemies and neutrals—are exactly equal: all desire happiness and none desire the slightest suffering, even in their dreams. Since we ourselves and all others are like that, exactly equal, we should work for the benefit of all sentient beings. All the good things we possess have come from other sentient beings: our perfect human body, with its eight freedoms and ten richnesses, our meeting with the holy Dharma and the ability to practice it, our food, drink and clothing—everything. Thus of course we should work for their benefit.
To be able to work for sentient beings we must train our minds in bodhicitta and thought transformation. This starts with subduing the mind through study and reflection on the lam-rim teachings. This is the most important thing and is the basis for the practice of the entire path to enlightenment. Even though the practice of tantra is so important and is the incomparable method for attaining the unified state of Vajradhara, it depends completely on the lam-rim. Just as the Tibetan delicacy made of powdered cheese and butter is said to depend on the kindness of the butter, without which it would be just a pile of dry cheese, so too does the profound tantra depend on the kindness of the sutra and lam-rim teachings, the graduated paths of those of the three levels of capability. Whoever tries to practice the generation and completion stages of tantra without having gone through these is like a small child gazing around a temple: nothing happens.
You should all study the lam-rim thoroughly, and on the basis of that try to change your minds. That is the essential point. If you then practice the Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara or Vajrabhairava tantras your efforts will be incomparable and you will be able to achieve the unified state of Vajradhara. Please take this advice to heart.
And each of you should take the responsibility of spreading Dharma so that, like the rising sun, it illuminates the darkness of the world. You have been doing so; please do still more. We should all pray for success in this.
- Tagged: teachings
Although some scholars have maintained that Buddhist tantra was derived from Hinduism, this is not correct. The theory, prevalent among those who adhere to the tenets of the Hinayana, is based on a superficial resemblance of various elements of the two systems, such as the forms of the deities, the meditations on psychic veins and airs, the fire rituals, etc. Though certain practices, like the repetition of mantras, are common to both Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions their interpretation, i.e. the inner meaning, is vastly different. Furthermore, Buddhist tantra is superior because, unlike Hinduism, it contains the three principal aspects of the Path: renunciation, the enlightened attitude and the right philosophy.
To elaborate: as even animals want freedom from suffering, there are non-Buddhist practitioners who wish to be free from contaminated feelings of happiness and so cultivate the preparatory state of the fourth absorption (Dhyana). There are even some non-Buddhists who temporarily renounce contaminated feelings of happiness and attain levels higher than the four absorptions. However, only the Buddhists renounce all these as well as neutral feelings and all-pervasive suffering. Then by meditating on the sufferings together with their causes, which are mental defilements, they can be abandoned forever. This is why, while non-Buddhists meditate on the form and formless states and attain the peak of worldly existence, samadhi, they cannot abandon the mental defilements of this state. So, when they meet with the right circumstances anger and the other passions develop, karma is created and the wheel of the circle of rebirth begins to turn.
Because of this and similar reasons, such practices are not fit to be included in the Mahayana. They resemble neither the common sutra path comprising: the attitude of renunciation which wishes for freedom from the cycle of rebirths; the wisdom which correctly understands egolessness, which is the right philosophy acting as an opponent to ignorance-the root of cyclic existence; and the development of the mind which aims for complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings; nor do they resemble the practices of the exclusive tantric path of the Great Vehicle.
The Origin of Tantra
The tantras were spoken by the Buddha himself in the form of his supreme manifestation as a monk, also as the great Vajradhara and in various manifestations of the central deity of specific mandalas. The great beings, Manjushri, Samantabhadra, Vajrapani and others, urged by the Buddha, also taught some tantras.
In terms of the four classes of tantra, the Kriya tantras were taught by the Buddha in the form of a monk, in the realm of the thirty-three gods on the summit of Mt. Meru, and in the human world where Manjushri and others were the chief hearers.
The Pung-Zang tantras were taught in the realm of Vajrapani. Others were taught by the teacher, Buddha himself, and with his blessings some were explained by Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani while others were spoken by worldly gods.
The Carya tantras were also taught by the teacher Buddha in the form of his supreme manifestation in the celestial realms and in the realm called Base and Essence Adorned with Flowers.
The Yoga tantras were taught by the Enlightened One when he arose in the form of the central deity of each mandala in such places as the summit of Mt. Meru and in the fifth celestial realm of desire.
The Anuttara tantras were also taught by the Buddha. In the land of Ögyan the Buddha, having manifested the mandala of Guhyasamaja, taught King Indrabodhi this tantra. The Yamantaka tantras were taught by the teacher Buddha at the time of the subduing of the demonic forces and they were requested by either the consort of Yamantaka or by the consort of Kalacakra. The Hevajra tantra was taught by Lord Buddha when he arose in the form of Hevajra in the land of Madgadha at the time of destroying the four maras. The tantra was requested by Vajragarbha and by the consort of Hevajra. Having been requested by Vajra Yogini, the Buddha, in the manifestation as Heruka on the summit of Mt. Meru, taught the root tantra of Heruka and, when requested by Vajrapani, taught the explanatory tantra. As for the Kalacakra tantra, the mighty Buddha went south to the glorious shrine of Dharnacotaka and there, manifesting the mandala of the Dharmadhatu speech surmounted by the mandala of Kalacakra, taught this tantra to King Chandrabhadra and others. Although he appeared in many different manifestations, actually the tantras were taught by the enlightened teacher, Lord Buddha.
What happens during an initiation
In the initiations of each of the four classes of tantra there are many differences, some great and some small, and so therefore one initiation is not sufficient for all mandalas. At the time of initiation some fortunate and qualified disciples, when receiving the initiation from a qualified master, develop the wisdom of the initiation in their mind streams. Unless this happens, sitting in initiation rows and experiencing the initiations of the vase and water, etc. will implant instincts to listen to the Dharma but little else. An initiation is necessary to study tantra because if the secrets of tantra are explained to someone who has not received initiation, the guru commits the seventh tantric root downfall and the explanation will be of no benefit whatsoever to the mind of the disciple.
The relationship between Sutra and Tantra
Regarding renunciation and bodhicitta, there is no difference between Sutrayana and Tantrayana, but regarding conduct there is. Three kinds of conduct have been taught: the disciple who admires and has faith in the Hinayana should separate himself from all desires; the disciple who admires the Mahayana should traverse the stages and practice the perfections; while he who admires the deep teachings of tantra should work with the conduct of the path of desire.
From the point of view of the philosophy, there is no difference in emptiness as an object of cognition but there is a difference in the method of its realization.
In the sutra tradition the conscious mind engages in meditative equipoise on emptiness, while in tantra the innate wisdom, an extremely subtle mind, is involved and the difference therefore is great. The main practice of Sutrayana, engaging in the path as a cause to achieve the form body and wisdom body of a buddha, is the accumulation of wisdom and virtue for three countless eons and the accomplishment of one’s own buddhafields. Therefore, Sutrayana is known as the causal vehicle. In tantra one concentrates and meditates, even while still a beginner, on the four complete purities which are similar to the result—that is, the completely pure body, pure realm, pure possessions and pure deeds of an enlightened being. Thus tantra is known as the resultant vehicle.
The Four Traditions
As for the sutra tradition, the explanation of the Hinayana and Mahayana is the same in all the four great traditions. Also, as far as the preliminary practices are concerned, there are no differences apart from the names. In the Gelug tradition they are called the Stages of the Path of the Three Motives; in the Kargyü they are known as the Four Ways to Change the Mind; the Sakya refer to Separation from the Four Attachments; while the Dri-gung Kargyu speak of the Four Dharmas of Dag-pa and the Five of Dri-gung.
In tantra, the individual master’s way of leading the disciples on the path depends on his experience and the instructions of the tantric root texts, together with the commentaries of the great practitioners. These result in the entrance into practice being taught a little differently. However, all are the same in leading to the final attainment of the state of Vajradhara.
- Tagged: teachings
Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche, the only one of the seven spiritual assistants of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to escape from Tibet after the Chinese invasion, is the highest incarnate lama of the Ganden Jangtse monastery. Having complete knowledge of all the sutras and tantras, he kindly gave the following teaching at Tushita on December 7, 1979. He passed away in 1983. Edited from an oral translation by Dr. Alex Berzin. From Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. A new edition of this book is in preparation. Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre is the FPMT centre in New Delhi, India.
The Sanskrit word Dharma, chö in Tibetan, means to hold, or to uphold. What is upheld, or maintained? The elimination of suffering and the attainment of happiness. Dharma does this not only for ourselves, but for all beings.
The sufferings we experience are of two types: those immediately visible to us as humans, and those we cannot see without psychic powers. The former include the pain involved in the birth process, the unpleasantness of occasionally becoming sick, the misery experienced with growing old and aging, and the terror of death.
The sufferings that come after death are not visible to an ordinary person. We might think that after we die we will probably be reborn as a human being. However, this is not necessarily the case. There is no logical reason for us to assume that such an evolution will occur. Nor is it the case that after we die we will not take rebirth at all.
As for the particular type of rebirth we will take, this is something very difficult to know, something not presently within our sphere of knowledge. If we generate positive karma during this life, it will naturally follow that we will take happy forms of rebirth in the future. Conversely, if we create mostly negative karma, we will not take a happy rebirth, but will experience great difficulties in lower states of being. This is certain. Rebirth functions that way. If we plant a seed of wheat, what grows is a wheat plant. If we plant a seed of rice, a rice plant is produced. Similarly, by creating negative karma we plant seeds of rebirth in one of the three lower states as a hell creature, a hungry ghost or an animal.
There are four different states or realms of hells: hot, cold, neighbouring and occasional hells. To further subdivide these, there are eight different hot hells. The first of these is known as the Reviving Hell. This is the one of least suffering, relatively speaking. To understand the extent of the misery experienced here, the pain of a person caught in a great fire would be very slight in comparison with that of beings in the first hot hell. Each hell below the Reviving Hell has an increasingly intense degree of misery.
Although the sufferings of hell creatures and hungry ghosts may not be visible to us, those of the animals can be seen with our eyes. If we wonder what would happen if we ourselves were to be reborn as animals, we can just look at those around us and think what it would be like to have their conditions. Dharma is what holds us back and protects us from experiencing the suffering of these lower rebirths.
The entire wheel of rebirth, the whole of cyclic existence, has the nature of suffering. Dharma is what safeguards us from all samsaric suffering. Moreover, the mahayana Dharma, the teachings of the great vehicle, brings protection not only to ourselves but to all living beings.
In Buddhism we hear a lot about the three jewels of refuge—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The first of these includes all the fully enlightened beings who teach the Dharma. Buddha Shakyamuni, who first turned the wheel of Dharma at Varanasi by teaching the four noble truths, is most significant to us. The last of these four truths—the truth of the path—is the Dharma to be practised in order to achieve liberation. This is the refuge object called the Dharma jewel.
Dharma practice entails two things: recognizing the root of samsaric suffering and eradicating this root. What is the root of cyclic existence? It is the grasping for a truly existent self and for the true existence of phenomena. We need to develop a repulsion for this grasping which brings us all our sufferings. We must develop an understanding of the antidote to grasping at true existence. This antidote is the wisdom of selflessness or identitylessness. It is this understanding of selflessness which will bring us liberation from suffering.
The sufferings we experience in cyclic existence do not occur without a cause. They are caused by the delusions and the karma created by the delusions. The root of all delusion and karma is the grasping for a self. When we understand this, we aspire to obtain the antidote to this grasping for a self. Why have we not yet developed the antidote in our mindstream? Why don’t we understand selflessness? One reason is that we are not sufficiently aware of death and impermanence.
The only possible outcome of birth is death. We are inevitably going to die. There is no living being whose life did not end with death. People try many methods to prevent death’s occurrence, but it is impossible. No medicine can cure us of death.
Just to think, “I’m going to die,” isn’t really the correct way to contemplate death. Of course, everyone is going to die, but merely thinking about this fact is not very powerful. It is not the proper method. In the same way, just thinking of the fact that one is going to disintegrate and degenerate, that one’s body is going to decompose, is not enough. What we have to think about is how to prevent our downfall.
If we think about the fear that comes at the time of death and about how to eliminate that fear, then our meditation on death will be effective. People who have accumulated a great deal of negative karma during their lives become very frightened at the time of death. They cry, tears run down their cheeks, their mouths dribble, they excrete in their clothing and are completely overwhelmed. These are clear signs of the suffering that occurs at the time of death because of fear caused by negative actions performed during life. Alternatively, if during our lifetime we withhold ourselves from committing negative actions, the time of death is very easy for us to face. The experience is one of joy, like that of a child going home to its parents. If we have purified ourselves, we can die happily. By refraining from the ten negative ways and cultivating their opposites, the ten virtues, our death will be easy and as a result we won’t have to experience rebirth in a condition of suffering. We can be assured of rebirth in more fortunate states. By planting the seeds of medicinal plants we obtain trees with medicinal powers, by planting the seeds of poisonous trees we produce only harmful fruits. If we plant the seeds of virtuous actions on our consciousness we will experience happiness in future rebirths. We will have fortunate situations both mentally and physically. This basic teaching of the Dharma—avoid the ten non-virtuous deeds and cultivate the ten virtues—is given not only in Buddhism but also in many other religions, including Christianity.
How should we contemplate death and impermanence? As mentioned previously, just thinking, “I’m going to die,” is not very beneficial. We should think, “If I have created any of the ten non-virtuous actions, at death I will have a great deal of fear and suffering to face, and as a result I will evolve to a rebirth of intense misfortune. On the other hand, if during my life I have created virtues, at death I will not experience fear or suffering and will be reborn in a more fortunate state.” That is the correct way to contemplate death.
This meditation should not be merely the gloomy, pessimistic thought, “I’m going to die and there is nothing I can do about it.” Rather we should think in terms of what will happen when we die. “Where will I go after death? What sort of causes have I created? Can I make my death a happy one? How? Can I make my future rebirths happy? How?”
When contemplating future rebirths we should remember that there is no place in cyclic existence which is reliable. No matter what body is obtained, it must eventually pass away. We read in history of people who have lived for a hundred or even a thousand years. Yet no matter how fantastic these accounts are, there is no case of a person who did not eventually have to die. Any type of samsaric body that we gain is subject to death.
Nor is there a place to where we can go in order to escape death. No matter where we are, when the time comes, we will have to die. Then no amount of medicine, mantras or practice will help. Surgical operations may cure certain types of diseases within our body, but there are none that can prevent death.
No matter what type of rebirth we gain, it will be subject to death. The process is ongoing. Contemplating the long-range effects of our actions and how the process of birth, life, death and rebirth is continuous will help us generate much positive karma.
Even though we sometimes plan to practise the Dharma, we usually plan to do so tomorrow, or the day after. However, no-one can tell when we will die. If we had a guarantee that we definitely had one hundred years left to live, we would have free space in which to arrange our practice. But there is not the slightest certainty when we will die. To put off our practice is very foolish. Some humans die in the womb even before they are born, others die as small babies before they learn to walk. It doesn’t follow that you are going to live a long life.
Our bodies are very fragile. If they were made of stone or iron perhaps they might give some feeling of stability. But if we investigate we will see that the human body is very weak. It is very easy for something to go wrong with it. It is like a delicate wrist-watch made from countless tiny and fragile parts. It is not something to be trusted. There are many circumstances which can cause our death: food which has become poisonous, the bite of a tiny insect or even the prick of a poisonous thorn. Such small conditions can kill us. The food and liquid that we use to extend our life can become the circumstances which end it. There is no certainty at all as to when we will die, or what circumstances will cause our death.
Even if we feel certain that we will live for a hundred years, many years of that span have passed already and we haven’t accomplished much. We approach death like a man sleeping in a railway carriage, constantly getting closer and closer to the destination yet unaware of the process. There is little we can do to stop this process. We just constantly come ever-closer to death.
No matter how much money, jewelry, houses or clothes we have accumulated during our life, it will make no difference whatsoever at the time of our death. When we die we will have to go empty-handed. Not even the tiniest material object can be taken with us. The body itself must be left behind. The body and the mind separate and the mindstream continues by itself. Not only is it impossible to take a possession with us, we cannot even take our body.
What accompanies the consciousness after death? If we have to leave our body, our friends and all our possessions, is there any helper or anything which accompanies our consciousness to the future life?
There is something that follows the consciousness after death: the karmic imprints that we have accumulated during this lifetime. If we have committed any of the ten negative karmic actions, a black karmic debt will accompany the mindstream as it evolves into the future rebirth. By killing other beings, stealing others’ possessions or indulging in sexual misconduct, black karmic debts from these negative actions of the body are placed on the mindstream. By lying, slandering others, causing disunity amongst people, speaking meaninglessly or harming others with words, the black karmic debts of these negative actions of speech will travel with us at the time of death. If we have had many covetous thoughts, often wishing to have the possessions of others; if we have had ill-will towards anyone, wishing that they be harmed or that something bad would happen to them; or if we have held distorted views, such as ‘there are no past or future lives,’ ‘there is no such thing as cause and effect,’ ‘there’s no such thing as refuge,’ these non-virtuous actions of mind will generate a black karmic debt which travels with and directs our minds into future rebirths.
The reverse is also true. If we have performed virtuous actions and turned away from creating negativity, the karmic seeds of such positive energy will travel on our mindstreams and produce better circumstances in our future lives.
When we really think about the situation we are in, we will resolve to try in every way to generate positive karma and eliminate its opposite. We should try to cleanse ourselves of as much negativity as possible, not leaving even the smallest karmic debt to be repaid in our future lives.
We need to look at what type of reactions can happen within the law of cause and effect. There is a story of a person who had very many good qualities, but was harsh in his speech. He abused another, saying, “You talk like a dog.” As a result he himself was reborn as a dog five hundred times. A seemingly small action can have a very large result.
Similarly, a very small positive action can produce a great result. There is the story of a young child who made a humble offering to the Buddha and as a result was reborn as the great king Ashoka, who built thousands of Buddhist monuments and performed countless sublime activities.
Contemplating the various types of non-virtue that we have committed and their results is a very effective way of ensuring our welfare and happiness. If we think of the suffering we ourselves will have to experience as a result of our negativity and thus give birth to a very strong wish not to have to experience this type of misery, we have developed what is called ‘renunciation.’
Acquainting ourselves with this type of thinking in itself is a form of meditation. First we should develop mindfulness of our own suffering; then we should extend this mindfulness to all living beings. Consider how all beings do not wish to have any suffering, yet are caught in a suffering predicament. This type of thinking leads us to compassion. If we do not develop the wish to be free from all our own suffering, how can we develop the wish for other beings to be free from theirs? We can put an end to all our own suffering, yet this is not ultimately beneficial. We should extend this wish to all living beings, who also desire happiness. We can train our mind and develop the wish for everyone to be completely parted from their sufferings. This is a much wider and more beneficial way of thinking.
Why should we be concerned with other living beings? Because we receive so much from others. For instance, the milk that we drink comes from the kindness of the cows and the buffaloes, the warm clothing that protects us from the cold and wind comes from the wool of sheep and goats, and so forth. These are just a few examples of why we should try to find a method that can eliminate their sufferings.
No matter what type of practice we do—the recitation of mantra or any kind of meditation—we should always retain the thought, “May this benefit all living beings.” This will naturally bring benefit to ourselves as well. Our ordinary life situations can give us an appreciation of this. For example, if someone is very selfish and always works for his own gain, he will not really be liked by others. On the other hand, someone who is kind and always thinks of helping others is usually liked by everybody.
The thought to be developed in our mindstream is, “May everybody be happy and may nobody suffer.” We must try to incorporate this into our own thinking through recollecting it again and again. This can be extremely beneficial. Beings who in the past developed this type of thinking are now great buddhas, bodhisattvas or saints; all the truly great men of the world based themselves on it. How wonderful if we could try to generate it ourselves!
Q: Are we advised not to defend ourselves when somebody tries to harm us?
A: This question introduces a very extensive subject. If someone hits you over the head with a club or stick, the best response is to meditate that you are experiencing this because of your own past negative actions. Think how this person is allowing this particular karmic debt to ripen now, rather than sometime in the future. You should feel gratitude that he has eliminated this black karmic debt from your mindstream.
Q: What if someone attacks my wife or child, who are under my protection? Should I not defend them? Would it be a negative action to do so?
A: As it is your duty to protect your wife and child, you must try to do so in as skillful a manner as possible. You must be clever. The best is to protect them without harming the attacker. In other words, you need to find a method of protecting them whereby you do not inflict any harm.
Q: He can harm my children but I cannot harm him? Is it not our duty to defend our children against barbarous and cruel acts? Shall we just lay down our lives?
A: In order to handle this situation skillfully you need a great deal of courage. There is a story about a previous life of the Buddha, in which he was a navigator who went to sea with a group of five hundred people in search of a buried treasure. There was one man in this party who had very greedy thoughts and, in order to steal all the jewels for himself, was plotting to murder the five hundred. The bodhisattva (Shakyamuni Buddha in a previous life) was aware of this and thought that to let the situation develop was incorrect, as one man would kill five hundred. Therefore he developed the very courageous thought to save the five hundred by killing this one man, willingly accepting upon himself the full responsibility of killing. If you are willing to accept having to be reborn in a hell in order to save others, you have a greatly courageous thought. Then you can engage in these acts, just as the Buddha himself did.
Q: Under such circumstances is killing still considered to be a negative action?
A: Nagarjuna says in his Friendly Letter that if one commits negativity in the name of protecting one’s parents, children, Buddhism or the three jewels of refuge, one will have to experience the consequences. The difference is in whether or not you are aware of the consequences and are willing to take them upon yourself in order to selflessly protect your wife and child. If you harm the enemy, you are going to experience a suffering rebirth. However, you should be willing to face this by thinking, “I will take that suffering on myself and then my wife and child won’t suffer.”
Q: Then according to Buddhism it would still be a non-virtuous act?
A: To protect your wife and child is a virtuous action, but to harm the enemy is non-virtuous. You have to be willing to accept the consequences of both.
Q: You said that if one creates negative karma one will suffer in the future, but if one does good, happiness will follow. Can these good actions lead to complete salvation, in the sense of not having to experience rebirth?
A: If you wish to achieve salvation, you have to follow the teachings completely and precisely. For instance, if you are following the Christian path, you must follow the teachings of Christ perfectly. Then Christian salvation is possible. Jesus alone cannot save us from our sins; we ourselves have to do something. Otherwise, why would Jesus have said not to sin? If we ourselves follow correctly what Jesus taught, I think that Christian salvation is possible. If we follow correctly the teachings of Buddha, Buddhist salvation is possible.
- Tagged: teachings
Geshe Lhundrub Sopa Rinpoche, a great scholar of Sera Monastery renowned for his insight into the Mahayana philosophy of emptiness, has taught in the USA for more than thirty-five years and recently retired from his professorship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is the spiritual head of Madison’s Deer Park Buddhist Center. He gave this teaching at Tushita on July 30, 1980. From Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. A new edition of this book is in preparation. Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre is the FPMT centre in New Delhi, India.
As the great eleventh century Indian master Atisha has said, “The human lifespan is short, the objects of knowledge are many. Be like the swan, which can separate milk from water.”
Our lives will not last long and there are so many directions in which we can channel them. We should be like the swan, which extracts the essence from milk and spits out the water. There is so much that can be done: we should practice discriminating wisdom and direct ourselves to essential goals that benefit both ourselves and other beings in a way affecting this and future lives.
Human goals should be greater than those of beings such as animals, insects, and others because humans have greater potential. We have a very special intellectual capacity and can accomplish many things, even in one short lifespan. The goal to be accomplished should benefit not only ourselves but all sentient beings. Every sentient being hopes to gain the highest state of happiness or pleasure and be free from all kinds of suffering. All beings would like to attain a state of complete freedom from every kind of trouble and misery.
A human being has the potential to attain the highest happiness, the highest peace. Everybody would like to have such a state of being. Alternatively, everybody wishes to avoid misery and suffering. As spiritual practitioners we should wish freedom from misery not only for ourselves but for all sentient beings. Humans have an intelligence capable of achieving these goals. They are able to practice the teachings, the methods by which these goals are realized. A human can begin from his own starting point and then gradually attain higher levels of being, until final perfection is achieved. In certain cases the highest goal, the state Buddhists call buddhahood, enlightenment, or the pure light, can be attained in a single lifetime.
IIn the Bodhisattvacharyavatara, the great yogi and bodhisattva Shantideva wrote, “We all seek happiness, but turn our backs on it. We all wish to avoid misery, but race to collect its causes.” What we want and what we’re doing are in contradiction. Our activities aimed at bringing happiness just cause suffering, misery and trouble. Shantideva goes on to explain how even if we desire to obtain happiness, because of ignorance we usually destroy its cause. We treat the causes of happiness like we would an enemy.
According to the Buddhist teachings, people must first learn, or study. Is there a way to attain the highest achievement, a state of peaceful freedom, the perfect light? This opens the doors of spiritual inquiry. We then discover that if we direct our efforts and our wisdom, we can gain personal knowledge of that very goal. This leads us to seek out methods or paths to enlightenment. Buddha set forth many different levels of teachings. As humans we are able to learn these—learn not only for the sake of learning, but to practice the methods.
What is the cause of happiness? What is the cause of misery? These are important questions in Buddhist teachings. Buddha pointed out that the very source of all our troubles is wrong perception, or wrong ideation. We are always holding some kind of “I,” some sort of egocentric thought or attitude. Everything we do is based on this wrong conception of the nature of the self. From this wrong grasping, this attachment to an “I,” comes all self-centered thought and the thought cherishing oneself over others. This is the basis on which rest all the worldly thoughts and which creates samsara. The problems of all sentient beings start from this point. This thought, this ignorance creates all attachment to the “I.” From “me” comes “mine”—my property, body, mind, family, friends; my house, country, work and so forth. From attachment arises anger at or hatred for the things that threaten the objects of attachment. In Buddhism we call these three—ignorance, attachment and aversion, or anger—the three poisons. They are the real poisons. They are the real causes of our problems. They are the real enemy. We usually look outside for our enemies, but Buddhist yogis realize that there is no enemy outside. The enemy is inside. Once one removes ignorance, attachment and aversion the inner enemy has been vanquished. Pure consciousness remains. Ignorance is replaced by correct understanding. There is no longer any mistake in one’s perception. The delusions are gone.
Ignorance, hatred and attachment, together with their branches such as conceit, jealousy, envy and so forth are very strong forces. Once they arise they quickly dominate the mind. Then we fall under the power of the inner enemy and no longer have control or freedom. These inner enemies even cause us to fight with and harm the people we love; they can even cause someone to kill their own parents, children and so forth. From where do such acts come? They come from the inner enemies, from attachment, anger and ignorance. All conflicts, from those between members of a family to international wars, arise from these negative thoughts.
Shantideva said, “There is one cause of all problems.” This is the ignorance which mistakes the actual nature of the self. All sentient beings are similar in that they are all overpowered by this ego-grasping ignorance. On the other hand, each one of us is capable of engaging in the yogic practices that refine the mind to the point that it is able to see directly the way things exist. One can then see the true nature of the self and all phenomena. The workings of the illusory world no longer occur. When ignorance is gone, mistaken action will not occur. When actions are done without mistake, the various sufferings will not arise. The forces of karma are not engaged. Karma, the actions of the body, speech and mind of sentient beings, together with the seeds they leave on the mind, are brought under control. The causes of these actions—ignorance, attachment and hatred—are destroyed, thus the actions that arise from them cease.
Buddha himself first studied, then practiced, and finally realized Dharma, achieving enlightenment. He saw the principles of the causes and effects of thought and action, and then taught people how to work with these laws in such a way as to gain freedom.
His first teaching was on the four truths seen by an arya: suffering, its cause, liberation and the path to liberation. First we must learn to recognize the sufferings and frustrations that pervade our lives. Then we must know their causes. Thirdly we should know that it is possible to get rid of them, to gain liberation from them. Lastly we must know the truth of the path, the means by which we can gain freedom, the methods of practice that destroy the seeds of suffering from their very root. There are many elaborate ways of presenting the path, which has led to the development of many schools of Buddhism, such as the Hinayana and Mahayana, but to all schools the four truths are basic teachings. Each school has its own special methods, but all are based on the four truths. Without the four truths there is neither Hinayana nor Mahayana. All Buddhist schools see suffering as the main problem of existence and ignorance as the main cause of suffering. Without removing ignorance there is no way of achieving liberation from samsara and no way of attaining the perfect enlightenment of buddhahood.
What is ignorance? It is a wrong understanding of the self and of the nature of all phenomena. Buddhism talks a lot about the non-self or shunya nature of all things. This is a key teaching. The realization of shunyata, or emptiness, was first taught by Buddha, and then widely disseminated by the great teacher Nagarjuna and his successors, who explained the madhyamaka or middle way philosophy. Theirs is a system of thought free from all extremes, that is, they hold that the nature of how things actually exist is free from the extremes of absolute being and non-being. The things we usually perceive do not exist as we see them. As for the “I,” our understanding of its nature is also mistaken. This doesn’t mean that there is no person and no desire; when Buddha rejected the existence of a self he meant that the self we normally conceive is not existent. Yogis who have developed higher meditation have realized the true nature of the self and have seen that the “I” exists totally other than the way we normally conceive it. This is the emptiness of the self, the key teaching of the Buddha, the sharp weapon of wisdom to cut down the poisonous tree of delusion and mental distortion.
To use it we must first study it, then contemplate it, and finally investigate it through meditation. Then we can realize the true nature. That wisdom, realization of shunyata or emptiness, will cut the very root of all delusion and put an end to all suffering. It directly opposes the ignorance of not knowing correctly. Sometimes we can apply more specific antidotes—for example, meditating on compassion when anger arises, on the impurity of the human body when lust arises, on impermanence when attachment to situations arises, and so on. These antidotes can counteract particular delusions, but they cannot remove the root of delusion. To remove the root of delusion one must realize shunyata. The wisdom of shunyata is like a sharp ax having the power to cut the root of all distortion.
However, merely using it alone is not enough. An ax requires a handle and a person to swing it. Meditation on emptiness is a key practice, but it must be supported and given direction by the other methods. Wisdom must be supported by method. Many Indian masters including Dharmakirti and Shantideva have asserted this to be so. For example, meditation upon the four noble truths includes contemplation of sixteen aspects of these truths, such as impermanence, suffering, and so forth. Then, because we must share our world with others there are the meditations on love, compassion and the bodhimind, the enlightened attitude of wishing for enlightenment in order to be of greatest benefit to others. This introduces the six perfections, or the means of accomplishing enlightenment—generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom. The first five of these must act as supportive methods in order for the sixth, wisdom, to become stable.
To obtain buddhahood the obstacles to the goal have to be completely removed. These obstacles are of two main types: obstacles to liberation, which includes the delusions such as attachment, and obstacles to omniscience. When the various delusions have been removed, one becomes an arhat. In Tibetan, arhat (Tibetan: gra-bCom-pa) means one who has destroyed (Tibetan: bCom) the inner enemy (Tibetan: gra), and thus has obtained emancipation from all delusions. However, this is not the attainment of buddhahood. An arhat is free from samsara and all misery and suffering; he no longer is prone to a rebirth conditioned by karma and delusion. At the moment we are strongly under the power of these two forces, being reborn again and again, sometimes higher, sometimes lower. We have little choice or independence in our birth, life, death, and rebirth. Negative karma and delusion combine and overpower us again and again. Our freedom is thus greatly limited. It is a circle: occasionally rebirth in a high realm, then in a low world; sometimes an animal, sometimes a human or a god. This is what is meant by ‘samsara.’ An arhat has achieved liberation from this circle. He has broken the circle and gone beyond it. His life has become totally pure, totally free. The forces that controlled him have gone, and he dwells in a state of emancipation from compulsive experience. His realization of shunyata is complete.
In the method side, the arhat has cultivated a path combining meditation on emptiness with meditation on the impermanence of life, karma and its results, the suffering nature of the whole circle of samsara, and so forth. But arhatship does not have the perfection of buddhahood. Compared to our ordinary samsaric life it is a great attainment, but the arhats still have a certain degree of subtle obstacles. The mental obstacles such as desire, hatred, ignorance and so forth have gone, but because they have been active forces within the mind for so long they leave behind a subtle hindrance, a kind of subtle habit or predisposition. Desire may have gone, but it leaves behind something very subtle in the mind. Or, although an arhat will not have anger, he may continue an old habit such as using harsh words. And he will have a very subtle self-centerdness. Similarly, arhats do not have ignorance or wrong views, but they do not see certain aspects of cause and effect as clearly as does a buddha. These kinds of subtle limitations are called the obstacles to omniscience. In buddhahood they have been completely removed. No obstacles remain. There is both perfect freedom and perfect knowledge.
With the ripening of wisdom and method comes the fruit of the wisdom and form bodies of a buddha. The form body has two dimensions, the samboghakaya and nirmanakaya, which with the wisdom body of dharmakaya constitute the three kayas. The form bodies are not ordinary form; they are purely mental, a reflection or manifestation of the dharmakaya wisdom. From perfect wisdom emerges perfect form. Buddhahood is endowed with many qualities: perfect body and mind, omniscient knowledge, power and so forth. From the perfection of the inner qualities is manifested a perfect environment, a ‘pure land.’ A buddha has a cause. His cause is a bodhisattva. Before attaining buddhahood one must train as a bodhisattva and cultivate a path uniting method with wisdom. The function of wisdom is to eliminate ignorance; the function of method is to produce the physical and environmental perfections of being. The bodhisattva trainings are vast: generosity, with which one tries to help others; patience, which keeps the mind in a state of calm; diligent perseverance, with which in order to help other sentient beings one joyfully undergoes the many hardships without hesitation; and many others.
As we can see from the above example, the bodhisattva’s activities are based on a motivation very unlike our ordinary attitudes, which are usually selfish and self-centered. In order to attain buddhahood one has to change one’s mundane thoughts into thoughts of love and compassion for other sentient beings. One has to learn to care all the time on a universal level. The self-centered attitude should be seen as an enemy; the loving and compassionate attitude should be regarded as the cause of the highest happiness, the real friend of both oneself and all others.
In the Mahayana we find a very special practice called “changing the self for others.” Of course, you can’t change you into me or me into you; this isn’t the meaning. What we must change is the thought or attitude of “me first” into the cherishing of others. “Whatever bad things must happen, let them happen to me.” Through meditation one learns to hold the self-centered attitude as the enemy and to transform self-cherishing into love and compassion, until eventually one’s entire life is dominated by these positive forces. Then everything one does becomes beneficial to others. All actions naturally become meritorious. This is the influence and power of the bodhisattva’s thought—the bodhimind, the inspiration to obtain enlightenment for the benefit of other sentient beings as a means to fulfill love and compassion.
Love and compassion have the same basic nature, but a different reference or application. Compassion is mainly in reference to the problems of beings, the wish to free sentient beings from suffering. On the other hand, love is in reference to the positive side, the aspiration that all sentient beings might have happiness and its cause. Our love and compassion should be equal toward all beings and have the intensity that a loving mother feels towards her only child, taking on ourselves the full responsibility for the well-being of others. A bodhisattva regards all sentient beings with that kind of attitude.
However, the bodhimind is not mere love and compassion. A bodhisattva sees that in order to free sentient beings from misery and give them the highest happiness he himself will have to be fully equipped, fully qualified. First he himself must attain perfect buddhahood, the state free of obstacles and limitations and possessed of all power and knowledge. Right now we cannot do much to benefit others. Therefore, for the benefit of other sentient beings we must obtain the enlightenment of buddhahood as soon as possible. Day and night everything we do should be in order to obtain perfect enlightenment quickly for the benefit of others.
The thought characterized by this aspiration is called bodhicitta, the bodhimind, the bodhisattva spirit. Unlike the self-centered, egotistical thoughts of ordinary people, that lead only to desire, hatred, jealousy, anger, and so forth, the bodhisattva way is dominated by love, compassion and the bodhimind. If we ourselves practice the appropriate meditative techniques, we shall become bodhisattvas. Then, as Shantideva has said, all our ordinary activities—sleeping, walking, eating or whatever—will naturally produce limitless goodness, fulfilling the purposes of many sentient beings.
The life of a bodhisattva is very precious, and therefore in order to sustain it one sleeps, eats and does whatever is necessary for staying alive. Because this is the motivation in eating, every mouthful of food gives rise to great merit, equal to the number of the sentient beings in the universe. In order to ascend the ten bodhisattva stages leading to buddhahood he engages both method and wisdom: on the basis of the bodhimind he cultivates the realization of shunyata, or emptiness. Seeing the emptiness of the self, his wrong grasping and attachments cease. He also sees all phemonena as being empty, and as a result all things that appear to his mind are seen like illusions, like a magician’s creations. The audience believes in a magician’s creations, but although the eyes of the magician see the same show as the audience does, his understanding of the spectacle is different from theirs. When he creates a beautiful woman, the audience experiences lust; when he creates terrible animals they become afraid. The magician also sees the beautiful woman and the animals, but he knows they are not real. He sees how they are manifest but knows that they are empty of existing as they appear. Their reality is not like their mode of appearance.
Similarly, the bodhisattva who has seen emptiness sees all as an illusion, and the events that previously had caused attachment or aversion to arise in him no longer are able to do so. As Nagarjuna said, “By combining the twofold cause of method and wisdom, the bodhisattva gains the twofold effect of the mental and physical dimensions (Sanskrit: kaya) of a buddha.” His accumulations of meritorious energy and wisdom bring him to the first bodhisattva stage, where he directly realizes emptiness and overcomes the obstacles to liberation. He then uses this realization through meditation to progress through the ten stages of a bodhisattva, eradicating all obstacles to omniscient knowledge. He first eliminates the coarse level of ignorance and then, through gradual meditation on method combined with wisdom, attains the perfect achievement.
The main subjects of this discourse—renunciation, emptiness and the bodhimind—were taught by Buddha, Nagarjuna and Tsong Khapa, and provide the basic texture of the Mahayana path. They are three keys for those who wish to obtain the enlightenment of buddhahood. In terms of method and wisdom, renunciation and the bodhimind constitute method, and meditation on emptiness is wisdom. These two are like the wings of a bird, enabling one to fly high in the sky of Dharma. A bird with one wing cannot fly. In order to achieve the high stage of buddhahood, the two wings of method and wisdom are required.
The principal Mahayana method is the bodhimind. To generate the bodhimind one must first generate compassion-the aspiration to free sentient beings from suffering, which becomes the basis of one’s motivation to obtain enlightenment. However, as Shantideva has pointed out, one must begin with compassion for oneself. One must want to be free of suffering oneself before being able to want it truly for others. The spontaneous wish to free oneself from suffering is renunciation. Most of us do not have this renunciation. We do not see the faults of samsara. We cannot ourselves continue being entranced by samsaric activities while speaking of working for the benefit of other sentient beings. Therefore one must begin with the thought of personal renunciation of samsara, a wish to obtain freedom from all misery. In the beginning this is very important. Then this quality can be extended to others, as love, compassion and the bodhimind. These two combine as method. When united with wisdom, realization of emptiness, one has all the main causes of buddhahood.
Of course, to develop these one must proceed step by step, and therefore it is necessary to study, contemplate and meditate. We should all try to carry out a daily meditation practice. Young or old, male or female, regardless of race, we all have the ability to meditate. Anyone can progress through the stages of understanding. The human life is very meaningful and precious, but it also can be lost to temporary goals like seeking sensual indulgence, fame, reputation and such things, which benefit this lifetime alone. Then we become like animals; we have the goals of the animal world. Even if we don’t make great spiritual efforts, we should at least try to get started in the practices that make human life meaningful.
Question: Could you clarify what you mean by removing the suffering of others?
Answer: We are not talking about temporary measures, like hunger or thirst. One can do acts of charity with foods, medical help and so forth, but these provide only superficial help. Giving can never fulfill the world’s needs and can itself become a cause of trouble or misery. What beings lack is some kind of perfect happiness or enjoyment. Therefore one cultivates a compassion for all sentient beings that wishes to provide them with the highest happiness, happiness which can last for ever. The practitioners, yogis and bodhisattvas consider this as the main goal. They practice giving temporary things as much as possible, but their main point is to produce a higher happiness. That is the bodhisattva’s main function.
Question: Buddhism believes strongly about past and future lives. How is this consistent with the idea of impermanence taught by Buddha?
Answer: Because things are impermanent they are changeable. Because impurity is impermanent, purity is possible. The relative truth can function owing to the existence of the ultimate truth. Impurity becomes pure, imperfect becomes perfect. Change can cause conditions to switch. By directing the way our life builds and develops, we can stop negative patterns. If things were not impermanent there would be no way to change and evolve.
In terms of karma and rebirth, impermanence means that one can gain control over the stream of one’s life. Our life is like a great river, never the same from one moment to the next. If we let negative sources flow into a stream it becomes dirty. Similarly, if we let bad thought, distorted perception and wrong action control our lives, we evolve into negative states and take a low rebirth. Alternatively, if we control the flowing of the stream skillfully we evolve positively, take creative rebirths and perhaps even attain the highest wisdom of buddhahood. Then the coming and going or imperfect experiences subside and the impermanent flow of the pure perfection comes to us. When that happens the human goal has been achieved.
Question: In the example of a stream of water, the content of the stream is flowing water, sometimes muddy and sometimes clear. What is the content of the stream of life?
Answer: Buddhism speaks of the five skandhas, one of which is mainly physical and four mental. There is also a basis which is a certain kind of propensity that is neither physical nor mental, a kind of energy. These five impure skandhas eventually become perfectly pure and then manifest as the five Dhyani Buddhas.
Question: What is the role of prayer in Buddhism? Does Buddhism believe in prayer, and if so, since Buddhists don’t believe in a God, to whom do they pray?
Answer: In Buddhism, prayer means some kind of wishing, an aspiration to have something good occur. In this sense a prayer is a verbal wish. The prayers of buddhas and bodhisattvas are mental and have great power. These beings have equal love and compassion for all beings. Their prayer is to benefit all sentient beings. So when we pray to them for help or guidance they have the power to influence us.
As well as these considerations, prayer produces a certain kind of buddha-result. Praying does not mean that personally you don’t practice at all, that you just leave everything to Buddha. That is not the case. The buddhas have to do something and we have to do something. The buddhas cannot wash away our stains with water, like washing clothing. The root of misery and suffering cannot be extracted like a thorn from the foot. The buddhas can only show us how to pull out the thorn. The hand that pulls it out must be our own. Buddha cannot transplant his knowledge into our being. He is like a doctor who diagnoses our illnesses and prescribes the cure that we must follow through personal responsibility. If the patient does not take the medicine or follow the advice, the doctor cannot help, no matter how strong his medicines or excellent his skill. A doctor must give medicine to a patient who will take it and follow his advice in order that his efforts will be successful. If we take the medicine of Dharma as prescribed and observe the supportive advices, we can easily cure ourselves of the diseases of ignorance, attachment and the other obstacles to liberation, and also the obstacles to omniscience. To turn to the Dharma but then not to practice it is to be like a patient burdened by a huge bag of medicine while not taking any. Therefore Buddha said, “I have provided the medicine. It is up to you to take it.”
Question: Sometimes in meditation one visualizes Buddha Shakyamuni. Did Shakyamuni himself visualize anything when he meditated?
Answer: What should we meditate upon? How should we meditate? Shakyamuni Buddha himself meditated in the same way as we teach: on subjects such as compassion, love, the bodhimind, the four noble truths, and so forth. Sometimes he also meditated on perfect forms, like that of a buddha or a particular meditational deity. These deities symbolize perfect inner qualities, and through meditation on them one is brought into proximity with the symbolized qualities. Both deity meditation and ordinary simple meditations tame the scattered, uncontrolled, elephant-like mind. The wild, roaming mind must be calmed in order to enter higher spiritual practices. Therefore, in the beginning one tries to stabilize the mind by focusing it on a particular subject. This is shamatha meditation. The main aim of this type of meditation is to keep the mind focused on one point without any wavering or fatigue, abiding in perfect clarity and peace for as long as one wishes without any effort.
As for the object to be visualized in this type of meditation, there are many choices: a piece of lamp, a statue, an abstract object, and so forth. Since the form of an enlightened being has many symbolic values and shares the nature of the goal we hope to accomplish, visualizing such an object has many advantages. But it is not mandatory; we can choose anything else. The main thing is to focus the mind on the object and not allow it to waver. Eventually one can meditate clearly and peacefully as long as one wishes, being able to remain absorbed for days at a time. This is the attainment of shamatha. When one has this mental instrument, all other meditation becomes far more successful.
At first when one tries this kind of practice one discovers one’s mind to be like a wild elephant, constantly running here and there, never able to focus fully on or totally engage in anything. Then little by little, through practice and exercise, it becomes calm. Even concentrating on a simple object like breathing in and out while counting will demonstrate the wildness of the mind and show the calming effects of meditation.
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If you follow self-cherishing thoughts, those thoughts become your identity. Then anger, pride, the jealous mind – all this negative emotional stuff arises. When you let go of the I and cherish others, negative emotional thoughts do not arise. That’s very clear. Anger does not arise at those you cherish.
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