"If there is love,
there is hope to have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace.
If the love within your mind is lost, if you continue to see other beings as enemies,
then no matter how much knowledge or education you have, no matter how much material
progress is made, only suffering and confusion will ensue. Human beings will continue
to deceive and overpower one another. Basically, everyone exists in the very nature
of suffering, so to abuse or mistreat each other is futile. The foundation of
all spiritual practice is love. That you practice this well is my only request.
"Oppression has never, anywhere, succeeded in suppressing the eternal desire of people to live as free men - free to think their own thoughts, free to act as they consider best for the common welfare and live as human beings - not as slaves or robots. Even if the Chinese leave nothing but ashes in our sacred land, Tibet will rise from these ashes as a free country even if it takes a long time to do so. No imperialist power has succeeded in keeping other people in colonial subjection for long.
"Only a spontaneous feeling of empathy with others can really inspire us to act on their behalf. Nevertheless, compassion does not arise mechanically. Such a sincere feeling must grow gradually, cultivated within each individual, based on their own conviction of its worth. Adopting a kind attitude thus becomes a personal matter. How each of us behaves in daily life is, after all, the real test of compassion.
"Suffering originates from various causes and conditions. But the root cause of our pain and suffering lies in our own ignorant and undisciplined state of mind. The happiness we seek can be attained only through the purification of our minds.
"One aspect of compassion is to respect others 'rights' and to respect others' views'. That is the basis of reconciliation. The human spirit of reconciliation based on compassion is working deep down, whether the person really knows it or not. Our basic human nature is gentleness; therefore, no matter how much we go through violence and other bad things, ultimately the proper solution is to return to human feeling and affection. So affection or compassion is not only a religious matter, but in our day-to-day life it is quite indispensable."
The Dalai Lama
Maitreya Institute, San Francisco, May 1989
We have a very precious subject to explore this evening-bodhicitta. The teaching of Buddha known as the Middle Path is based on bodhicitta. First Buddha taught about suffering and peace and the various methods through which we can overcome suffering and develop both inner and outer peace. Then Lord Buddha gave a vast number of teachings, the essence of which is bodhicitta. These were later compiled into sutras by his disciples.
Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit term. In Tibetan it is chang chup che sems. Chang chup and sems are two distinct words, with two distinct meanings. Chang can be explained as purification, clarification or the total result of practice. We get used to it. There is no boundary. There is no obstacle. Chup means inclusiveness. Nothing is left out. It is under, it is total, everything is included in it. Che is a particle of grammar that connects chang chup and sems. Sems means mind. Here it also indirectly represents thought, attitude and motivation-everything that is involved with mind.
Chang chup che sems can be looked at in several ways, all of which arrive at the same conclusion. One way of understanding chang chup che sems is total, pure dedication towards full realization and full liberation. The principle thought and motivation of a person who has chang chup che sems is, "I wish to be liberated from the ignorance and defilements of samsara for the benefit of all sentient beings."
Approaching bodhicitta from a more academic or philosophical perspective, it is a particular attitude that will benefit our development. It is a way of thinking, a principle that imbues all of our efforts with meaning. With bodhicitta as our aim and principle, our efforts become continuously more and more meaningful, until we ultimately obtain enlightenment, liberation. This is the inner development that results from the practice of the bodhicitta principle. A bodhisattva is a person who practices that principle of bodhicitta.
In sutra, Lord Buddha said many times, "The validity and the benefit of any expression, activity, outward appearance or practice is totally dependent upon the purpose, philosophy and motivation behind it." Lord Buddha taught about generosity, morality, diligence and all the other positive qualities, but he always emphasized the motivation behind these so-called good and positive actions. That principle, that motivation, is bodhicitta.
Lord Buddha describes the value of bodhicitta in a very direct and strong manner. "Moments before you develop bodhicitta you can be the most evil being in the whole universe, but the moment after you develop bodhicitta, you instantly become the most noble, kind and precious being in the whole universe."
Then he said, "Developing bodhicitta is taking birth in the family of enlightenment." You will find a similar statement in every sutra. Without bodhicitta we can never attain enlightenment, because bodhicitta is the beginning of enlightenment. To succeed on the path of liberation, one has to reach the realization of the bodhisattva by developing bodhicitta-by recognizing it, by practicing it, by putting it into action. That is the first important step.
Four Limitless Thoughts
To understand bodhicitta totally, we must look deeply into each aspect of it. We can get a solid understanding of bodhicitta quite simply from the four-sentence prayer called "Four Limitless Thoughts" that every Buddhist is supposed to recite everyday. Translating these is always a challenge for me. For now I'll use the most common words in use by translators these days, and I'll try to explain them.
In Tibetan, the first limitless thought is champa, the second limitless thought is nying je, the third limitless thought is gawa, and the fourth limitless thought is tang jung. We add che ne at the end of each of them-champa che ne, nying je che ne, etc. Che ne means no boundary, no limitation. Champa is translated as loving-kindness, although many people have told me that loving-kindness doesn't make much sense in English. I have to believe them, but that is how it is usually translated, so we I'll go along with it for now. Nying je is translated as compassion. Some people have said champa should be compassion and nying je should be something else. Gawa is like joy. Tang jung is a little more difficult to translate, but basically it means impartiality. But when we say impartial, there is a risk of misunderstanding. It can mean impartial in an unhealthy way as well as in a healthy way, and definitely we should keep on the track of healthy impartiality. (Health food for enlightenment!)
There are very slight differences between champa, loving-kindness, and nying je, compassion. Champa is being naturally kind and gentle, like a mother towards her child. We have compassion regardless of the other party's suffering. If they're suffering, we have champa. And even if the other party isn't suffering, still we have champa. Nying je is more specifically related with the suffering of others. The example given is the attitude of a powerful and kind king toward his poor and needy subjects. That is nying je. So there is a slight difference between these two.
For champa it is said, "May all beings be happy." For nying je it says "May all beings be free from suffering." These two are the same, of course. If everybody is happy, then everyone is free from suffering. If everybody is free from suffering, then they must be happy. It comes to the same thing. Still, they have their own definition, however subtle.
The gawa is the joy that is naturally there when we have champa and nying je, loving-kindness and compassion. Then, anybody's happiness makes us happy, and the fact that we are able to have this loving-kindness and compassion makes us happy. We have a saying that might sound a little ridiculous if not understood precisely, but it is worth exploring. "Even if we have to suffer, suffer happily." The reverse would be, "Don't enjoy sadly." There is something in it, and I leave it for you to ponder what it means.
The fourth aspect of bodhicitta is impartiality. Our loving-kindness, our compassion and our joy shouldn't be limited to our friends or relatives. It should be impartial to every sentient being. In Buddhism, when we say "every sentient being," it is a vast subject. Lord Buddha's teachings allude to "all the sentient beings in the entire existence." He described the existence of sentient beings, along with where they exist. He said, "Sentient beings exist in space." And he said, "Space is endless." That is quite understandable-I don't think we can knock at the wall of space. There is no end to space. Then he said, "This endless space is filled with numberless universes of all levels." Then he said, "Those numberless universes are filled with countless sentient beings."
Lord Buddha classified those countless sentient beings into six realms. These six realms reflect not only physical differences but also levels of external and internal mental condition. He said, "The highest realm is the devas and the lowest realm is hell. Human beings are somewhere in the middle." He said, "Being human is very fortunate because humans can taste both suffering and happiness." And he said, "If you take advantage of your human life, you can learn a lot. You can make a tremendous leap in your progress." Finally he said, "The human realm is better than any other realm for the development of wisdom and enlightenment." So, impartiality is for all sentient beings of all six realms, for all the sentient beings in the entire universe.
These four limitless thoughts that describe bodhicitta prove that we're extremely ambitious, because we pray that every sentient being will be free from suffering. I think that is quite ambitious. And we wish all sentient beings to be happy. There are practical reasons for this. It's not just a dream. It is practical because every sentient being has the potential to be free from suffering and to be happy. More than that, every sentient being has the potential for enlightenment. There is no one whose ultimate potential is negative. Lord Buddha says, "When it comes to the ultimate potential and essence of everyone, there is no evil in existence." Of course, relatively speaking, there is evil. Buddha, himself, had a brother who caused him lots of trouble. But it is the potential of every sentient being to attain enlightenment that makes this prayer practical. We're praying that every sentient will recognize what they are and who they are. May every one of us realize that our potential is good, not bad, our potential is healthy, not unhealthy, our potential is perfect, not imperfect. Nothing is missing. So may everyone recognize that.
If everyone recognizes this and decides to do something about it, a big part of our job is done. That is the biggest step. Once that step is taken, we should feel a sense of promise or a guarantee that there will be momentum that will move everything forward. But until we recognize this, even if we try to be good, it is a challenge. Because if we don't know that our ultimate potential is good, we assume that we're bad by nature, and therefore we have to become good. We try to be good, but we think that goodness isn't in us, that it's out there. We feel we're trying to become something we're not. But when we know this potential is there, we realize we're not trying to develop something that isn't there. Instead, we're trying to liberate whatever is inside of us, our potential, our real self. This makes a big difference.
When we look at bodhicitta through these four limitless thoughts, we see it is the source of all goodness. I'll give you an example that you can easily apply. When we don't have bodhicitta, others' happiness causes us suffering. It sounds unspeakable, but that is what happens without bodhicitta. It even gives me a funny feeling to say it. When we develop bodhicitta, another person's happiness becomes the source of our own happiness. We have been praying every day for the happiness of others, so when we see somebody happy, it's got to make us happy. There is a big difference in the attitude. And there is a big difference in the impact of the reality of life on our well-being. So, bodhicitta is very precious. Just by clearly understanding the preciousness of those four limitless thoughts, with no strings attached, we recognize what we are, what we can be and how to realize our potential.
Bodhicitta is fundamentally and superficially described as the Mahayana principle. In one way, this is true, because the disciples of Buddha categorized his teachings into many different levels and included most of the teachings related to bodhicitta in the Mahayana sutras. But bodhicitta is the foundation for all Buddhism, because every Buddhist should practice bodhicitta.
All the sutras that are involved with bodhicitta include the philosophy, or the view, and the meditation, contemplation and action that comprise the actual practice. Lord Buddha said contemplation is very important. For example, the first thing we should do with those four limitless thoughts is contemplate them. The purpose of most prayers is contemplation. I'm quite certain the Tibetan word samten and the English word contemplation are the same.
There is a fine line between contemplation and meditation. Meditation is usually a particular method for dealing with mind. Meditation involves using a particular method appropriately, step-by-step, as given in the teaching, in the lineage, as it was continued throughout Buddhist history. Meditation isn't like saying "May all sentient beings be free from suffering." Meditation involves concentrating on the breath, or on a particular visualization, or watching the thoughts, or trying to recognize the pure quality of bodhicitta within. Meditating on each one of these is quite different from contemplating a particular philosophical or technical subject through chanting or a step-by-step thinking process. There is a difference.
When it comes to action, such as diligence, patience, and contemplation, how do we apply that bodhicitta, those four limitless thoughts, into daily activity? Such principles as morality, tolerance (or patience), diligence and contemplation help us to be generous, to be compassionate, to be impartial, to be mindful, and to be aware. They help us to manifest these qualities. They naturally develop wisdom, because wisdom is something that develops within. Intellectual input is information, knowledge. The appropriate application of that knowledge develops wisdom.
Knowledge and Wisdom
It might be appropriate to discuss the difference between knowledge and wisdom in more detail here. Knowledge is information, knowing how to go about something. As far as the practice of the bodhicitta is concerned, knowledge is how to develop bodhicitta, which is our essence. How can we manifest our perfect, kind, compassionate, impartial, joyful potential? By applying our knowledge so that the essence is able to manifest correctly, purely and sharply. This is wisdom. So knowledge and wisdom work hand-in-hand. We cannot say this is knowledge but not wisdom, this is wisdom but not knowledge, because the wisdom of today can be the knowledge of tomorrow, and the wisdom of today can be good information for tomorrow's development.
This is why, in the development of a bodhisattva, there are ten levels. We call them ten bhumis. This is a way of describing the constant development. Actually, rather than there being ten distinct levels, we just continuously grow and develop. The ten levels are just a way to describe it. It could be a thousand levels, it could be a million levels, it could be five levels, three levels, it could be anything. But in the Mahayana teachings, it's taught as ten levels.
Why is it taught as ten levels? Just to give some idea how we progress step-by-step. First we progress to the first level, or first-level bodhisattva. Then, to advance to a second-level bodhisattva, we have to undo everything we've done to become first-level bodhisattva. We do this not by going backwards, but by a process of refinement. So the knowledge that enabled us to attain first-level bodhisattva becomes wisdom after we reach that point. By the time we become second-level bodhisattva, all the wisdom of the first-level bodhisattva is just knowledge. That is what I mean when I say there is no clear distinction between what is knowledge and what is wisdom.
What is real wisdom, ultimate wisdom? The moment we attain enlightenment, the moment we become Buddha, everything is wisdom. There is no more knowledge. From the level of the most basic knowledge, like knowing what to do when we're hungry, to the realization of the tenth-level bodhisattva, everything is a kind of knowledge. And Buddha is the final wisdom.
People like myself understand things by knowledge. But even in my knowledge, certain things are wisdom; whatever inner realization I have is my wisdom. But if I compare this with the wisdom of a realized being, it is knowledge that is probably only 5% correct. Even that is being very presumptuous, because 5% is a lot. So the subject of knowledge and wisdom is quite vast, and it is almost impossible to be precise.
Relative and Ultimate Bodhicitta
In fully understanding bodhicitta, it is important for us to know the difference between relative and ultimate bodhicitta. Relative bodhicitta is all four limitless thoughts. It is related with dualism, with "I want to be enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings." It's absolutely dualistic. And it would be a lie if we said we were non-dual right now. We may be non-dual for short periods of time. If somebody knocks us on our head with a hammer, we'll be non-dual for a couple of minutes. Even that is a rather forced non-duality. Everything we do-learning about dharma, meditating, doing something for other people-is dualistic. We don't have to feel bad about our dualistic condition. We're not cheating ourselves, we're not dreaming, we're not imagining. We're handling our present condition appropriately when we deal with dualism in this way.
Ultimate bodhicitta is non-dual. When a person like me says "non-dual," I'm thinking about something like a first-level bodhisattva. Even that can be too much, but it's close. How will a first-level bodhisattva manifest for the benefit of other sentient beings? As non-dual. But it can't be totally non-dual, because otherwise the first-level bodhisattva would be Buddha. But we have to be practical and honest. If I saw a first-level bodhisattva and a Buddha together, I don't know if I would recognize which is which. I'm afraid I might say to the Buddha, "Please wait here," thinking he is the attendant! I might bring the first-level bodhisattva to my home and serve him. This is because, compared to us, the first-level bodhisattva's bodhicitta is non-dual and ultimate, so it would be hard for us to know the difference at that level.
The second-level bodhisattva's bodhicitta and activity manifestation is non-dual compared to the first-level bodhisattva, and this can go on and on and on. But what is the ultimate bodhicitta? The non-dual manifestation, the Buddha, Buddha activity-only that is final. That is the definition of Buddha. So these two things are important for us to know-relative bodhicitta, which is how we practice, and the ultimate bodhicitta, which is always within us, always there, but when it is totally liberated, it is called enlightenment. And Buddha's compassion, Buddha's loving-kindness, Buddha's joy, Buddha's impartiality are, taken together, the ultimate bodhicitta.
In order for a person like ourselves to apply bodhicitta in our everyday lives, a few important principles are described. These five principles are entitled "Five Strengths." This means a strength that will never be exhausted, a strength that can go on and on until enlightenment. This is inner strength. Every bodhisattva should practice these five strengths.
The first strength is described as "I will attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings." If we know what enlightenment is, if we know what we mean when we say "I," if we know what we mean when we say "I will attain enlightenment," if we know what "all sentient beings" means, if we know precisely what we mean when we say "attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings," that is the first strength. Once we say it, and we know what we say, we'll never give up.
The second strength is that once we say it personally and honestly, we have the constant motivation towards action related to that first strength. And those conditions will help us to gain the momentum to go on.
The third strength is that when that momentum goes on, everything becomes like a seed. Whatever we do now becomes a seed for the next thing. That particular creation which comes out of the seed isn't just a fruit that comes up and is gone. It will be another seed. Everything becomes a seed. When we look at it from another point of view, this is karma. Karma means condition, so everything that is done now becomes a condition for later. Everything that is happening now has a condition related with the past.
To illustrate the fourth strength, we have a saying. "When I make a journey of a million miles, I might miss my step, I might slip millions of times, but I will put my feet back on my path." We're expected to make mistakes. We must not, but we will. It's almost guaranteed. All of us will make mistakes-sometimes terrible mistakes-but we should learn from our mistakes and not lie to ourselves. We shouldn't try to brainwash ourselves that our faults are not faults. We make mistakes and we learn from them. Very simple. We acknowledge our mistakes and then bring ourselves back to the right track and go on. Then we become invincible, because there is nothing that can destroy us. We recognize every mistake we make and we go on. Any bad situation that happens becomes good circumstances for us because it helps us to see all of our mistakes that caused the negative situation.
The fifth strength is very important-to let go of everything at every moment. I have to explain this a little bit more. When we say "Let go of everything," it means that when we do something good, if we don't let go of that, we'll get stuck there. We might get proud of it. And when we get proud of it, we naturally become arrogant. That arrogance becomes a roadblock for us that will keep us from progressing. That is why we totally dedicate anything positive that we're able to do. We don't think about it, we just appreciate it and then dedicate it for everyone.
In the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism especially, it is always emphasized that if we forget to dedicate, then our good deed isn't complete. For that reason, every prayer or practice has three parts-the beginning-the refuge and bodhicitta-the actual practice, and the dedication. First we remind ourselves of Buddha, his teachings and his followers, and bodhicitta-the four limitless thoughts that I just described. Then, the actual practice. Last is the dedication. When we dedicate, it simply means, "I dedicate this merit, I dedicate this wisdom, for the benefit of all sentient beings." We can add, "I dedicate this merit and wisdom for the benefit of all sentient beings, so I will attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings." If we add that, it becomes complete. That is the fifth strength.
These five strengths empower our bodhicitta and make it complete and strong. That way it gains momentum and goes on non-stop.
I've read in many Mahayana sutras and commentaries that if we have pure bodhicitta, the four limitless thoughts, and all of these strengths together, then even if we're not doing anything, our bodhicitta naturally increases. It says, "Every pulse that is moving in your body, every breath that you take, becomes practice." That is quite good. And the reason is because we are the bodhicitta, so therefore we are the bodhisattva.
Thank you for listening. I feel we have communicated to each other quite well. Does anyone have questions? I'll welcome them.
Rinpoche, will you say a little more about the second strength?
The second strength is the constant motivation and momentum towards action related to that first strength. The five strengths are actually just one described strength enumerated into five aspects. The second strength is just the continuation of the first strength.
Did you say that the number of sentient beings is limitless? Doesn't that mean that a bodhisattva who has dedicated himself to always coming back until all sentient beings gain enlightenment will never, himself, reach enlightenment.
That is correct. That is why a bodhisattva's thought has to be limitless.
But he'll never be Buddha, though.
Of course, he'll be Buddha. Don't worry about that. Buddha became Buddha, and he's still helping us just as if he were living and breathing right now, after 2,500 years. This is ultimate bodhicitta activity. Buddha didn't stop being a bodhisattva after his enlightenment. He is working right now through ultimate bodhicitta-not through relative bodhicitta. If we like, we can make up our own vocabulary and say that Buddha isn't a relative bodhisattva, Buddha is an ultimate bodhisattva. Buddha's compassion, Buddha's loving-kindness, is helping us. He didn't abandon us when he became enlightened. But there will be an end, of course. When all sentient beings attain enlightenment, that is the end. When one sentient being attains enlightenment, that is one less in the limitless sentient beings.
Rinpoche, will you say the four limitless thoughts in their entirety?
It's very difficult to say it precisely, although I read it many times in English. It says something like, "May all sentient beings be happy and be with the causes of happiness." But "be with" is poor English. I'm certain there must be better way to say it. The second is, "May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering." But here I have difficulties with the "free from." Should it be free from or free of? Or free with? I don't know. The third one is complicated, "May all sentient beings never be separate, or never be in the absence of pure happiness, pure joy-that is, without any suffering." About the fourth, because of the number of words, the prayer doesn't say "May all sentient beings," because it becomes too long. So it says, "Free from closeness and free from distance, free from attachment and free from hatred, may they always remain in great impartiality." I think that is it. But then, of course, "May all sentient beings" should be at the beginning. I have read many translations on this because it's very important, but unfortunately I haven't found one that makes similar sense to the prayer in our language. So somebody has to do hard work on this.
Would you talk about the relationship between bodhicitta and emptiness?
Because we will talk about emptiness later, I didn't say much about it today. Emptiness is a very difficult word. I personally have lots of difficulty explaining this subject using the word emptiness. Emptiness means that nothing is out there more than just interdependent manifestation. Physical, mental and emotional-everything is there indeed, but just as interdependent manifestation. A person who is very mean, angry, negative and evil can develop bodhicitta because of emptiness. If that person decides not to be mean, not to be evil, not to be unkind, not to be angry, that's where it starts. The person has to work to overcome their habit of being rude or evil, but it won't take long once he or she decides. So it's absolutely connected with emptiness. Everything is possible because of emptiness.
Rinpoche, how can we develop bodhicitta?
It sounds a little presumptuous, but I can almost guarantee that we will not find it difficult at all, because within each one of us there is nothing but ultimate bodhicitta. That is our essence. It is what we are. But relatively, our circumstances cause us to be deluded, so we have to overcome those delusions. Each one of us has different type of delusions that we must overcome, and there are many methods by which we can overcome them.
One of simplest methods is sitting meditation. To do sitting meditation, we don't have to believe in anything or perform any rituals. We first relax our body and our mind, and we use a particular method, such as breathing. That is the easiest method, because we breathe all the time. And breathing properly is even good for the temperament and the health as well. So it's multi-purpose.
If we practice breathing meditation, these delusions temporarily fall away. It's like taking off our dark glasses so we see what is there, even if it is only for a short moment as the result of half-hour of meditation. We see nothing but our ultimate bodhicitta-some part of it, some aspect of it. Then, with the proper information, such as the four limitless thoughts, we recognize how to go about it. That might be the easiest way. But we need proper instruction. You can't just do it from the information I've given. You have to have a teacher to teach the particular method. It will take at least one good session.
Rinpoche, would you say something about Manjushri?
Manjushri is one of the eight bodhisattvas in the Buddhist texts. Each of the bodhisattvas represents a particular quality. Manjushri Bodhisattva represents wisdom. The specific purpose of Manjushri Bodhisattva is for the development of wisdom. We practice Manjushri sadhana, Manjushri meditation, and recite Manjushri mantra to receive the blessing of the Lord Manjushri. Through that blessing, our wisdom will be awakened. That is a short way to describe it.
Rinpoche, can you say something about the three wisdoms?
The most common way to describe the three wisdoms is töpi sherab, samde sherab and gomde sherab in Tibetan. Töpa means listening. It's more like academic wisdom. Samde sherab is contemplation. Samta is like contemplation-samten, samta. So it is thinking or contemplation wisdom. The last one is gompa, gompe sherab, gompa is meditation. So, it's the wisdom that is developed through learning, through contemplating and through meditating.
Rinpoche, I'm still a little confused about the difference between wisdom and knowledge. Could you say more about this?
Knowledge and wisdom are two different things. If we look at the three aspects of wisdom I just explained, knowledge is the first wisdom, the listening. The bridge between listening and meditation, the real wisdom, is contemplation. The contemplation process confirms. In contemplation, we explore every corner, leaving no detail unsearched. We contemplate everything, so what we know is complete. That's roughly it. And today's wisdom is tomorrow's knowledge.
Now, I just said today's wisdom is tomorrow's knowledge, but that is such a short time. Maybe "this lifetime's wisdom is the next lifetime's knowledge" is more appropriate. Now, what is the ultimate wisdom? That can only be the wisdom of the Buddha. Until that, everything is a kind of learning that is more or less dualistic. Even the wisdom of a tenth-level bodhisattva is dualistic compared to Buddha. So when we attain first-level bodhisattva, our realization should be wisdom, but when we become second-level bodhisattva, then the wisdom of the first-level bodhisattva isn't wisdom anymore. That wisdom causes us to attain second-level bodhisattva. That wisdom is the information, that wisdom is the knowledge.
I have been using that particular example, but we can relate this to everything. We can relate this to the tantric way of describing the highest level. We say dorje . . . . . It's like the last state of mind, which is like a diamond, to break through the final boundaries between enlightenment and non-enlightenment. Even at that stage, wisdom still has further to go. And as I said earlier, there is even a difference between the enlightenment of the Buddha and the enlightenment of the highest bodhisattva, or that bodhisattva would be Buddha.
When we look at the life and teachings of the Buddha, obviously everything he had to say contained quite a bit of knowledge, and yet you just described what he attained was not knowledge but wisdom, and so I need a definition of this kind of knowledge.
This is a totally different subject. Buddha's teaching is knowledge for us, but Buddha's teaching comes from his wisdom. Buddha himself said very clearly, "I haven't said anything, but everybody heard me say things." And I'm sure he even didn't say that. So the teaching of Buddha isn't like any of us talking. I learned for almost thirty years from many teachers. Then I did homework to prepare this talk. I thought very carefully about it before presenting it to you. This is absolutely dualistic. But Buddha's teaching is spontaneous, according to the capability and need and condition of the disciples who heard it. And that is the result of the relative bodhicitta, which is the ultimate bodhicitta, which is the ultimate wisdom-not knowledge.
In that sense, the wisdom of the levels is not really comparable to the wisdom of the Buddha but is somewhat like a Nirmanakaya manifestation.
Dharmakaya. Nirmanakaya manifests through the Dharmakaya. The teachings of Buddha that people heard, and which we have in black and white, are the Sambhogakaya aspect, the physical.
So the bodhisattva is working in the Nirmanakaya level?
No. The bodhisattva's contact to Buddha is Nirmanakaya. This is another subject. I don't want to confuse all of you, so I'd like to explain a little bit. When Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment, he became the Buddha. Anybody who attained some level of bodhisattva realization received the teachings and the benefit from the Buddha in his Sambhogakaya manifestation. Ordinary people in India who saw Buddha in his form received the teachings from the Nirmanakaya. The Nirmanakaya of the Buddha died when he passed away in Kushinara. That is the correct way to relate to it.
Although many of the tantras are the teachings of the Buddha's Sambhogakaya, when it is put on paper with ink, and we read it, it is Nirmanakaya. But the contents, the meaning, is the Sambhogakaya teaching, which is heard by the bodhisattvas.
Rinpoche, could you say a little more about the difference between inspiration bodhicitta and practice bodhicitta?
When a person formally takes the bodhicitta vows, we call that first step nunpa senche. Nunpa is translated as aspiration. After that, jigpa senche, entering the real practice, the real application, of the bodhicitta. Most of the time it is done in two individual steps, and in a very serious, elaborate ceremony. It is very important. But these days it became more casual, with almost no ceremony at all. If people want to take bodhicitta vows, they just do it. If they want to take refuge, they just do it. It became simpler. I'm not sure if this is better or not, but that's how it's done now.
The aspiration is, "I want to do my best to be a bodhisattva. I want to try." That is aspiration bodhicitta. Real practice is "Now, I will do everything. I will live as a bodhisattva. I will act as a bodhisattva. I will function as a bodhisattva." There are more vows in practice bodhicitta than in aspiration bodhicitta. These are usually done in two individual ceremonies.
It would seem that you need skillful means to be a bodhisattva.
We need skillful means to do anything. I agree. As a bodhisattva, we definitely need skillful means, because bodhisattva means that we try to help other sentient beings, and for that we definitely need skillful means. We have to be very skillful about this, because if we're not skillful, we might think we're helping somebody when actually we might be destroying them.
Could you please talk more about renunciation, and how it is viewed by the different schools of Buddhism.
Renunciation has many levels. The word renunciation is used more in vinaya. As I said yesterday, Buddha's 45 years of teaching were later categorized by his disciples into four: vinaya, abhidharma, sutra and tantra. According to the vinaya teachings, we renounce anything that is a condition for desire, anger, ignorance, jealousy or ego. Men become monks and women become nuns.
When it comes to the practice of sutra, it is expressed differently. The sutra might say that we leave selfishness behind and we take responsibility for others. Practically speaking, this means we're renouncing our selfishness, renouncing doing things for ourselves. We commit ourselves to doing things for others.
In tantra, we have this same renunciation principle, but the word is hardly ever used. What is renounced in tantra is duality. Dualistically speaking, bad is bad and good is good, and they are entirely different. In tantra, bad is the other side of good, and ignorance is the other side of wisdom. When we overcome ignorance, when we turn the page of ignorance, what happens is wisdom. When we overcome not knowing, we become knowing. So, in tantric practice we renounce the separation between bad and good. And roughly speaking, that is how the different levels of the teaching of Buddha apply the principle of renunciation.
It is time for us to draw a conclusion for today. I believe we have learned from each other, and I very much appreciate that Lord Buddha and all of our teachers in the past made it available to us. Even if it is limited, I'm glad I was able to share some of what I know with you so that you can apply it to your daily situation. Now I would like to request all the venerable monks and lamas and nuns to pray for all of us, that we are able to use this in our daily life, until we reach enlightenment.
[Transcribed and edited by Stephanie Harolde]
Maitreya Institute, San Francisco, May 1989
Tonight we are facing quite a challenge-we're supposed to say something about nothing. With the blessings of the Buddha, hopefully we'll manage.
To understand emptiness, we have to relate to particular teachings of Buddha known as prajnaparamita, or she-rab-pha-rol-tu-phyin-pa. These teachings are contained in seventeen texts, which are recognized as the fourth of Buddha's teachings on emptiness. They contain both philosophical teachings and an introduction to the practice of emptiness. Later, Buddha's disciples, such as Lord Maitreya, elaborated on those practices in teachings such as prajna-paramita-abhisamaya-alankara, which is an instruction on the practice of emptiness.
With this background information, let us now look into the subject. I will try to share what I know about it in the simplest way possible, since that is the only way I can communicate.
The Nature of Emptiness
Emptiness makes everything possible. If it were not for emptiness, nothing would be possible because everything would be fixed, solid. If everything is solid and fixed, then nothing can change, nothing will happen, nothing will improve, nothing will get worse. Emptiness explains why everything is always changing, why everything happens to everyone, and why we can improve. It explains why those who don't see things clearly and don't relate to things appropriately sometimes develop tremendous ignorance and aggression. All possibilities are based upon emptiness. Emptiness provides space for everything.
In the dharma, there are two sentences which express this subject simply: "There is nothing that isn't interrelated, therefore there is nothing that isn't emptiness." Emptiness simply means that everything is there, but that everything which is there is interdependent manifestation.
Views of Emptiness
There are several ways to relate to emptiness. We can relate to it in an ordinary, practical or scientific way or we can relate to it in a spiritual way. Relating to it in an ordinary way, Lord Buddha says, "Nothing is happening, therefore everything is happening." For example, when a family is in a crisis situation, the husband is the same person he was before the crisis, the wife is the same person she was before the crisis, the children are the same people they were before the crisis, and the home is the same home it was before the crisis-nothing has changed. But the communication between the family members is quite poor, so there are facing a family crisis. Yet when we look at it from a deeper perspective, nothing is happening, everybody is the same. Every situation is the same. But relatively, because nothing is happening, everything is happening. If the communication between the family members isn't synchronized properly, problems arise.
When we look at emptiness from an ordinary sentient being's point of view, we need money, we need shelter, we need food, but when we look at each one of them, nothing really is happening. One family is living very comfortably and the next family is facing a crisis, but nothing is happening. Everything is the same. Yet because of interrelation, something is happening. One family is happy and the other is suffering. So, from a situation-oriented perspective, we can see very clearly that because nothing is happening ultimately, relatively everything is happening. And everything happens only as interdependent manifestation.
The Interrelation Between External Existence and Internal Individual Sentient Beings
Lord Buddha then taught about how the interrelation between external existence and internal individual sentient beings takes place. It is also based on the principle of emptiness.
Emptiness from a General Point of View
In sutra, and specifically in abhidharma, Lord Buddha explains emptiness in a most ordinary way. He says, "We relate to external existence through our senses-our eyes see, our ears hear, our body touches. How we feel when we touch something is totally interdependent on the nature of our body, and in connection to that, how that external element manifestation exists." It is the same with all of the senses. He says, "What we see and hear as a human being of this planet doesn't cover even the entire human realm. We are only the human beings of this planet and our particular solid existence." It has nothing to do with any other kind of human being, only human beings of planet earth.
Then he says, "If your mind could enter the body of the person sitting next to you and relate to the same environment you were previously relating to, it would not seem the same." If it were possible for us to enter another person's body and touch things, listen to things, taste things, look at things as that person instead of as ourselves, it wouldn't be the same. He also says, "More than that, within a single lifetime, from childhood to adulthood to old age, how we relate to things and how things affect us totally changes." He is talking about the most basic external things changes. Why does everything change? Because of emptiness.
He gave another, more spiritual. example, involving the River Ganges, a holy river in India. He said, "If you are a human being, the Ganges River is a holy river. You bathe in it in order to receive blessings." Then he said, "If you are an animal, the river is your source of water for drinking and bathing." Then he says, "If you are a hungry ghost, you might run away from this river. Perhaps you cannot drink from it or even touch it." Then he says, "If you are a hell realm being, this river will be like flowing lava that will burn you in one second." Then he says, "Even if you relate to the holy river from the different levels of the different realms, it isn't the same river." Why is it like that? Because of emptiness.
But why do all of the beings of the six realms of this place relate to the same river in a similar way? Because we have similar karma. In abhidharma, Lord Buddha refers to it as kal mnyam. Kal relates to time, or timing, and mnyam means equal. So, it means "equal time." There are karmic causes and conditions the make us see, hear, relate to and be affected by things in a similar way.
For example, here in this room, in this part of the city, we are all in a similar condition. I'm sure some of you think that what we are communicating is very valuable. Some of you think "I already know that." Some of you think "That fellow doesn't make much sense." Some of you wonder "Does he know what he's talking about?" (You're right!) Anyway, kal mnyam means "similar." It's almost impossible to be exactly the same. All of us look different, think different, and feel different because of emptiness. If it weren't for emptiness, everybody might look and feel exactly the same. That is how Buddha explained emptiness from a general point of view.
Emptiness from a Spiritual Point of View
When it comes to the spiritual aspect of emptiness, Buddha says, "Although every sentient being has Buddha nature, he or she can still suffer in samsara, because of emptiness." Then he says, "Even the most ignorant sentient being can attain enlightenment because of emptiness." Then he said, "Billions of lifetimes might go by from the time that we make the decision to attain enlightenment until we actually accomplish it, but when we finally do attain enlightenment, those billions of lifetimes are not even a moment-because of emptiness."
Then he said, "The compassion of the Buddha and the devotion of sentient beings can meet. Why? Because of emptiness." Even if Buddha has compassion, if sentient beings don't have devotion, it won't be effective. Why? Because of emptiness.
In the sutras Lord Buddha repeated this many times. It simply means that all the delusions, all the obscurations, all the defilements are emptiness. And, all the knowledge, all the wisdom, everything is emptiness.
At this point, I'd like to share some good advice from the teachings of Lord Buddha that I have found to be very helpful, and very important. First, if we understand that both ignorance and wisdom are emptiness, we might develop an attitude that since everything is emptiness, why not just do whatever we feel like doing? Buddha strongly cautions us against this kind of attitude. The term he uses makes perfect sense in Tibetan, but when it is translated directly into English it might sound too strong. It says, tong-nyi-dar long. Tong-pa-nyi means emptiness, and dar long is something like an obstacle. So Buddha is cautioning us that knowing about emptiness can become an obstacle to our development if we develop this kind of attitude.
In some of the tantras, a two-sentence caution is given. In Tibetan it's precisely said tong-pa-nyi-la . . . sherab . . . . This means that if we understand emptiness incorrectly, those whose wisdom is limited can be destroyed. And even if we understand emptiness halfway, it isn't good enough because even just a little misunderstanding can cause great damage.
So how do we go about properly understanding emptiness? There is a long verse in Tibetan which says, "Your view can be as limitless as the sky, as space, but your mindfulness, awareness and action should be fine, like a powder." In other words, to the degree that we understand emptiness, we have to be mindful, aware and disciplined in our actions.
If we understand emptiness and become involved with the method and discipline, much benefit will result, because we will not become fanatically involved with our discipline. We will never get obsessed by attachment to our particular method because we know it is just a method. We know negativity is not solid, it is empty. And we know positive things are also not solid. They, too, are empty. But is we work with positive methods to overcome negativity, then it really works.
Since we know this, we can be more relaxed and explore the subject further. If it sounds like I know a lot, that isn't true. Because of the kindness of all the great masters, I have some information. The good part is that I'm more than happy to share it with you.
Emptiness and Interdependent Manifestation
Emptiness and interdependent manifestation are closely related. Interdependent manifestation is the easiest way to understand emptiness, so I will be using this term throughout this talk.
There is a general samsaric interdependent pattern that explains how every sentient being evolves and continues. And there is another pattern that is like enlightenment, the interdependence of enlightenment, and how Buddha manifests and benefits sentient beings. I would like to explore both of these tonight.
Normal Samsaric Interdependence
In normal samsaric interdependence, every sentient being continues through the twelve links of interdependent origination. The core of the entire interdependent circle is ignorance. Ignorance makes everything happen in a samsaric way. Ignorance simply means not knowing exactly what everything is all about-who we are, where we are, what is happening and why it is this way. It is not so dreadful, it's simply the way things are.
I'd like to share with you four sentences from a particular Mahamudra prayer that relate to the practice of mind. Actually, every practice is a practice of mind, but this one particularly so. These sentences are very important to me because I intellectually understood emptiness through them. It says, "Nothing was ever there. My own projection, reflection-I have said it and I have taken it as my object. Then I always recognize myself, but I miss it and I call it I."
I always recognize myself non-stop, but since I don't really recognize what I recognize, that becomes I. Because of these two-out there and in here-I go in a circle, a non-stop circle. Sometimes I go up, sometimes down, sometimes I go out and sometimes in. But it is a non-stop circle. The prayer is: "May I finally overcome and realize this ignorance at once." These four sentences quite clearly explain what ignorance is.
Twelve Links of Interdependent Origination
There are twelve links in the chain of interdependent origination. I will go through them briefly, one by one.
The first of the link in the chain of interdependent origination is ignorance. Because of ignorance, there is I, there is other, and there is interrelation-relatives, friends, enemies, strangers, neighbors. These various interrelations involve many concepts: "These people are our friends, therefore we should be nice to them." "These people are strangers, so we can dismiss them." "Those are our neighbors, so watch out!" "They are our enemy, so we have to be nasty, and rude." All of these concepts are developed. We can reverse our concepts so that we try to be nice instead of nasty and rude to our enemies, but it is still just interrelation.
All of this is related to two major principles-one is identified as attachment, passion or desire and the other is anger, or aggression. We can refer to them as the positive side and the negative side. Both develop because of ignorance. And because these two develop, when we're in a positive direction in a positive way, good karma is accumulated, and when we're in a negative direction in a negative way, bad karma is accumulated. When we're negative in a positive way, another level of bad karma is accumulated, and when we're positive in a negative way, another kind of good karma is accumulated. This can go on and on and on, in endless combinations.
The second link in the chain of interdependent origination is that all of this is preparation for more to come. And until the chain is completed, this scenario of samsara is not going to end. It is one scenario preparing for the next scenario. Whatever we do now is the result of the past, of course, but it is also a cause for the future. Just because our present action is the result of past action does not mean that it is also not the condition for future action. Our action now is the result of past but also a cause of the future.
This is definitely the result of ignorance, which is the first link, but it is also called preparation, because it is preparing for the next. It sounds like karma is fixed at this stage, but that's not true. Karma is emptiness. But don't worry about this--we will talk about it later.
The third link in the chain of interdependent origination is simply "consciousness." Because of preparation, which we just talked about, everything will continue, and all aspects of consciousness will be strengthened. This preparation of positive and negative activity is reinforcement for our consciousness. We develop more ideas, more habits, more anger, more desire, more aggression and more passion. This will make it more solid.
4. Physical Existence
Because our consciousness became very strong and solidified, it became involved with physical existence, such as the substance of the physical body and all its interconnections. Right now, people like ourselves are totally inseparable from our body. We cannot look at something without looking through our physical eyes. We're totally sealed, bound and inseparable. That is how mind becomes solidified with physical existence.
5. Five Senses
The fifth link is that when this consciousness and this body are totally involved and inseparable, like the eyes through which we see, the ears through which we hear, the nose through which we smell-all of this develops very solidly, very strongly.
The sixth link is touch. Touch doesn't simply mean physical body touch, but includes all aspects of touch, of being in touch. The eye, the form and the color in touch, the ear, the sound, etc. in touch. All the different levels in touch.
The seventh link is feeling. Because of being in touch, we develop feelings-"I like it," "I don't like it," "I hate it," "I don't mind," "I'll think about it," etc. All of these are the result of getting in touch.
8. Sred-pa, or Obsession (Fear and Greed)
The eighth link is obsession, or sred-pa in Tibetan. Some translators translate sred-pa as desire, but it's more like obsession. If we don't like something, we feel as if we can't stand it. Alternatively, if we like something, we can't stand not having it. We can't have it but feel we must have it. Not being able to stand something and pushing it away is called jigs-sred, like fear. And when we have to have something, we call it dod-sred. Jigs-sred is the fear aspect and dod-sred is more the greed aspect. So greed and fear develop next. That is sred-pa.
9. Taking, or Len-pa
The ninth link is len-pa, taking. We push away everything we don't like, and we strive to get what we like. This is len-pa, or taking.
10. Srid-pa, or Possibility
The tenth link is possibility. Because of the tremendous activity we've described-which we can understand very well, because we've all been doing it ever since we can remember-srid-pa becomes solidified. Srid-pa simply means possibility. Nothing is impossible. Everything is possible. Srid-pa also means samsara, and can mean existence as well.
In Tibetan, two terms are used to describe the universe, including all sentient beings and all of existence: srid-pa and jig-ten. Both words have great meaning. Srid-pa simply means "possible." So, one of the names of all existence is srid-pa, possible. Nothing is impossible. Everything is possible. Jig-ten means "impermanence." Jig means "destruction"; ten is the "foundation of destruction." Everything that exists can be destroyed one way or another. This is another way of saying impermanence. Because of all of this activity, everything is possible, and samsara is maintained. Whatever is needed for the existence of samsara, now the job is done. Srid-pa is the last.
11. Birth, or Che-Wa [Skye-Ba]
As a result of cause and condition, there is birth. Birth is very important, whatever kind of birth it is. We have to be born to go through what we have to go through. That is how we become engaged with all of these conditions. Right now I am here as a human being of planet earth, of this universe. To experience another realm, I have to die from this realm and be born in other realm. And remember, birth does not always happen from the mother. There are many kinds of birth.
12. Ga-shi, or Worn Out
The twelfth link is ga-shi. Ga means "worn out"; something that is used becomes old. Shi means "death," "totally completed." The circle of relation of body and mind comes to an end. Then the next life, and a new circle, begin.
These twelve interdependent links explain precisely how every sentient being comes into existence and establishes the conditions for his or her future. And this is how cause, condition and result are all interdependent. So it is emptiness.
Emptiness of Enlightenment
Until a person attains the enlightenment of buddhahood, all processes are interdependent. This isn't difficult to understand. For example, when Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment, he himself was beyond interdependent influence, but his manifestation was not. His manifestation was totally related with interdependence. This is why those who had the karma to see him saw him 2,500 years ago. And those who have karma to see him now will also see him. Those who have the karma to receive his blessing in a most direct way will do so. Those who have the karma to receive his blessing only in an indirect way, that is the only way for them. It is not the case that because Buddha's blessing is given equally to everyone that everyone will receive it equally. It doesn't happen that way. It depends on the karma, on interdependence.
As a follower of Buddha, we say, "I want to liberate all sentient beings." Well, Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago, and still lots of sentient beings are suffering, and lots of his own disciples are still confused! We can't say to Buddha, "What's the matter with you?" but everything matters with us. So Buddha, as an individual, is free from all interdependent influences, but his manifestation is not. His manifestation is definitely subject to interdependent influence.
This is how the practice of devotion works. We have to develop pure compassion in order to develop pure devotion. The reverse is also true. We have to develop pure devotion in order to develop pure compassion. Depending on how pure our compassion is to the Buddha, that is how pure the Buddha's blessing will be to us. If we want to see something clearly, we have to have clear eyes. Depending on how clear our eyes are, that's how clear our vision will be.
The same is true with devotion. Depending on how pure our devotion is, that is how pure Buddha's blessing will be. So, people like myself who don't have such clear eyes have to wear glasses. Those of us who don't have such pure devotion and pure compassion will need advice and practice to establish it. Then we can develop pure devotion. As I said yesterday, the potential for that pure devotion is within us, but it won't come out by accident. And even if it comes out by accident, we'll almost certainly lose it.
This is mentioned in bodhisattvacharyavatara of the great master Shantideva. He said that in the darkest night, a split second of lightening is brighter than anything, but then it's gone. We can have a pure encounter with our ultimate potential by accident, but we can't count on it happening again. Occasionally, when something extremely shocking happens to us, we experience a moment of understanding, or vision, a glimpse of recognition of something deep, but as soon as things settle, it's over. Since we can't count on those things happening spontaneously, we have to practice.
Application and Practice of Emptiness in Ordinary Life
Now that we have this information, we need a method to help us apply it and share it with others. Whether people are Buddhist or not, they can benefit from it. So, let's talk about the application of the philosophy and practice of emptiness in ordinary life.
I found an interesting sentence in a Tibetan fairy tale which involves a king and his soldiers. It was a time of war and there was lots of pain. Someone said, "No matter what happens, only my body can be hurt; no one can hurt my mind." If we can apply such a clear understanding of emptiness as this in our everyday life, we can lessen our own suffering as well as the suffering of others.
This next piece of advice, which is related with defilements, is from the teaching of the Buddha. It gives us some guidance about what to do if we have a particular problem, like anger. Suppose we feel furious, and we want to shout at someone, and maybe even hit them. Instead of shouting and hitting, Buddha advises us to sit down and calmly look into the face of the anger and ask: "What is the anger?" "Where is the anger?" When we do this, we find that the anger is not there. It is no more than just a reaction of all kinds of interdependent manifestation. This same advice can be applied to any defilement-attachment, desire, jealousy. Many people tell me they have a problem with anger and ask for a method to deal with it. This might be a good one.
Another problem we have is habit. In Buddhist terms, it's pa-cha-che-dupa. Defilement is also habitual, but it's a little different. Pa-cha-che-dupa is a very subtle obstacle-like projecting ourselves onto other people, or making the same mistake over and over because we misunderstand other people and judge them in an ignorant way. Later on we find out that we were wrong, but most of the time it's too late. So, from the subtle habitual obstacle, the concept of I, to the most rough-that kind of habitual problem.
In the West, this is quite prevalent because you have so much freedom. If people are free, they have to make their own judgments. You don't go up to someone and ask "I think it's like this, but what do you think?" They might think you're stupid or crazy. So as a result of freedom, people can develop a subtle and positive type of presumption. And of course, it is not possible for us to think through every little detail. We have to draw the best conclusion we can-that this means this, that means that, he meant this, she meant that. We really don't know if we have it right or not, but we assume that we know Consequently, we might live with a particular misunderstanding forever and never understand it clearly because there's no chance for that particular event to take place again.
I'm being very presumptuous here, but I hope you don't mind. I'm sharing this with you hoping it will be helpful. I was personally convinced of this because of some specific experiences I had. When I first came to the West, I heard many people say that they hate themselves. I had a hard time understanding that at the beginning. I couldn't imagine how anyone could hate themselves. I really thought it was impossible. After all, it's you! I must confess that initially I assumed those people were mentally disturbed. Later I was convinced that it wasn't the case. Now I believe it comes out of a deep subconscious habit that draws conclusions too fast. We drew the conclusion so many times that we were a bad person that it became a habitual thought and turned into something like self-hate. But how, having learned about Buddha nature in our past discussion, hopefully we won't have that problem. The practice of emptiness relating to subconscious habits will help very much here, because if we look at statements like "I hate myself" from an emptiness point of view, it's not there. It's not true.
We have another attitude as well. People say "I can't stand such and such and so and so." People even have nervous breakdowns. But if we look at it from the emptiness point of view, I don't think it exists. What does "I can't stand it" mean? When somebody like myself talks and talks, you might think "I can't stand him," but I could continue talking for ten years, and you could go out, have lunch, come back, and sit there year after year and you would somehow manage. You can stand it. But these things are very disturbing to people. Hopefully you can apply your understanding of emptiness to overcome those difficulties.
Well, it has been very nice talking to you, and trying to explain emptiness and share the great teachings that were given to me by my masters. But I'll be happier if you can do something with it. And you don't have to tell me.
If you have questions, I will try to answer them.
Rinpoche, when you were repeating the four sentences from the Mahamudra, you said something about an I which is always present but doesn't recognize the I. What is that I?
Let's go back to yesterday's subject-Buddha nature, the tathagatagharba, the limitless potential, the limitless essence that is always there. It is not hidden. We just don't recognize it. We miss it every moment. Therefore, that becomes I. If I said "I which is always here," I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I should have said that particular essence of I.
So, you're saying that what I usually think of as I-this is the real I?
That's close, but it's not exactly true. It isn't two things, it's one thing. It's like this eye is looking through this eye itself. The eye who misses and what it misses is the same. I think that's where the problem is. If it were two different things, it would be much easier to sort out.
Rinpoche, will you explain that in more depth?
I'll try. Everything that is out there, all the objects, were never there beyond my own projection, my own reflection. But because I don't recognize them as my own projection, I take them to be objects. It's like a magician who builds a castle out of his magical power. He forgets that he created it, gets attached to it, and tries to sell it. Then the castle collapses on his head and he dies there. It is something like that. My ultimate, limitless Buddha nature is always there. And it is me, so there's no question, whether I recognize it or don't recognize it. It is not two things. But because I miss it all the time, that becomes "I." That limitless, ultimate essence is limited to one, and that is me.
Now, we can go on and on-that me becomes my body, my race, my sexual gender, and the type of person I am. All of these limitations make us very small and put us in the smallest possible box in the universe. And the box is locked. We can't get out, because the key is in the ocean. No, I'm joking--it's not that bad. The key is inside with you. So, because of this duality, we're circling in the endless samsara, and may I overcome this ignorance. These are the four sentences.
Rinpoche, earlier you said, depending on how much compassion we have for the Buddha, that much Buddha's blessing comes to us.
I meant devotion. Maybe I said it wrong. Of course, we can say compassion because when we have compassion towards sentient beings, that is having compassion to the Buddha, because sentient beings are Buddha by nature. But usually we don't say compassion to Buddha. Asian culture is very specific about that.
How does emptiness relate to Buddha nature?
Buddha nature is emptiness-but as we've learned, emptiness doesn't mean nothing. If we really want to describe the real emptiness, it is the Buddha nature. Buddha nature is beyond dualistic existence, so it is the real emptiness. Buddha nature is beyond time, beyond limitation, so we can say that it is the emptiness. But if we say that, we have to use all the other characteristics of emptiness, without the "the." So, it's true, buddha nature is beyond everything, so it is emptiness.
With the twelve interdependent links, where is it in the cycle that we stop?
We can stop anywhere and we can attain enlightenment at any stage. But the key to all of it is overcoming ignorance. Then everything is over.
So anytime we feel we're looking at something and that something is still out there, we're still in the cycle?
Of course. But don't worry about that. When you start to worry about that, I worry too! When anybody is worried about that, we all have to worry! Something can go wrong, so don't worry about it. We should be happy about knowing this, and then we can deal with everything normally, applying effort to overcome ignorance and develop our wisdom through practice. But don't worry about it.
But if someone is awaked, don't they also experience the solid, dualistic, relative world?
By awake, do you mean Buddha? Buddha is beyond. We cannot imagine how Buddha sees and thinks, because we're not enlightened yet. When the time comes that we can think like a Buddha, and understand precisely, we will be Buddha. It's the final taste. For example, how can you explain about snow to a person who lived their whole life in the South African desert and never saw snow? What will he think if he hasn't see it in person, or on TV, or in the movies, or in photographs? He can talk about it, and he might have a particular idea, but when he really sees and walks in it, then he knows. So Buddha's way of relating to everything is beyond dualism, but we can't say anything more than that.
Did you say that you would explain how karma is also empty?
Okay. Yes, I did said I would say something about it. If karma is empty, all the tigers can go to sleep. Karma just means that everything has a cause and condition. The cause and condition of everything is what we call karma. Karma is emptiness because it's nothing more than cause and condition. Karma cause, karma result, karma condition. When we really look into the study of the karma, there are, if I remember correctly, six causes, four conditions, and five results. That's how karma is explained. The karmic cause, condition and result are all interrelated. That is the definition of emptiness.
People talk about emptiness a lot and it seems like they dress it up. It's made into some big thing instead of something sensible. I feel there's a joke being played on me, because when we talk about it, it seems so very accessible.
That's what I try to do, but sometimes it's hard to manage because when we communicate, we have to become a little wordy. But if no one talked about it, it would be difficult for people to know about it, or think about it. So it's a very good thing that there are teachings and methods for it. But I can't agree more with you that the teaching of Buddha is the most accessible, most ordinary and most direct teaching. Whenever Buddha taught, he taught in order to give advice. He never taught courses or performed ceremonies the way we think of courses and ceremonies these days. A person simply came forward and asked Buddha questions. Buddha then gave direct answers and the person went off to practice it. People came to him with full devotion and gave him their cold heart and he made it warm and gave it back. Then, after many hundreds of years, it became the religion of hundreds of millions of people. And still nowadays there are institutions where they study and debate on the texts of Buddha, like in any other religion. But even though there is a vast difference between how Buddha taught and how we learn now, we shouldn't be disappointed. If those things didn't happen, maybe we would have nothing. Instead, we have something. So I think we should accept it.
At the end you were talking about habit, and repeatedly making mistakes by misunderstanding people and projecting ourselves onto them. Could you say a little more about that?
Okay. I think it's unnecessary to involve emptiness in this answer, so I'll just answer straight, without worrying about how it ties into emptiness. First of all, we can't think of anything which we can't think of. And what we can think, and how we think-these things we can improve. Whatever it is we communicate, we can only relate to in our own way. No matter who we are or where we come from, we always deal with things from our level. That's the only way we can do it. But if our mind is able to see whatever it is clearly, our communication will be more accurate. When our mind is confused, we can be misunderstood. So the basic reason to practice Buddhism is to develop clarity.
Meditation methods like shamata are given to settle our mind so that when we relate to something, our mind isn't involved with hundreds of other things. It can just relate to that one thing. Then, when we listen to a person, our mind is calm and clear and we're just concentrating on what that person is saying. We can totally listen to that person from beginning to end. And when we respond, our response wouldn't be too far off. Even a little bit of simple shamata meditation every day will help to develop clarity. It might also awaken our clear potential so we can work with it.
I've found for myself that studying quantum physics has helped me visualize more clearly the concept of emptiness. And I was just wondering if you saw a way of incorporating that into the teachings?
I'm sure there is a way, but I don't know how at this point. What came into my mind was a place I visited in Europe where they worked with the smallest particles. One professor took the time to explain to me what they were doing. He said that the Dalai Lama and a few other great masters had a conference or discussion there several years ago that involved emptiness. It sounds like they understand emptiness, but I can't really judge.
Now let us make a dedication.
[Transcribed and edited by Stephanie Harolde]
Maitreya Institute, San Francisco, November 1989
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Our subject tonight is enlightenment. Believe it or not, we're talking about enlightenment! Enlightenment is the most important subject for Buddhism, because the purpose and intention of every action is enlightenment. In fact, for Buddhists, attaining enlightenment is the purpose of life itself.
Although we can describe enlightenment in very simple terms, this won't give us a complete understanding. It does allow us to draw a number of quick conclusions, however, and most of us like quick conclusions because they usually take less time and effort. The simplest way of defining enlightenment is that we become what we ultimately are. We achieve the ultimate goal that is there to be achieved. Or, we are liberated ultimately. But to do justice to this subject, we need more than just a quick definition.
Tonight I would like to give some background on this subject and look into it in more detail. It will be a little like putting together the pieces of a puzzle to arrive at the whole image-which, in this case, is a wholesome understanding of enlightenment.
Distinguishing Between a Perfect Human Being and an Enlightened Being
Enlightenment and realization are the two English words most often used to denote ultimate liberation. Sometimes the word buddhahood is used. When we contemplate or meditate on enlightenment, there is, in addition, the presumption that an enlightened human being is a perfect human being. While that depends on what we mean by a perfect human being, to my understanding there is a difference between a perfect human being and an enlightened person. When I say enlightened human being, I'm talking about a being who has become a Buddha. When I say perfect human being, I'm talking about one who is accomplished in the practice of shamata and vipassana meditation. As you know, shamata and vipassana meditation develop calmness, stability and peacefulness, and from that calmness, stability and peacefulness, clarity will emerge.
Two Tibetan terms describe this process: dod-sems-tse-chig-pa and lus-sems-shin-tu-jem-wa. Dod-sems-tse-chig-pa is rich in meaning. Dod-pa means desire. Sems means mind. Tse-chig-pa means one-pointed. This is directly related to human beings of the human realm. When Buddha taught about sentient beings, he described six major realms-human beings, animals, hell beings, ghosts, gods and semi-gods. The gods are the highest. Semi-gods are below them. Human is below them, then animal, then hungry ghost, then hell beings.
Within those six realms, we are human beings of the planet earth. The human realm is considered to be the desire realm, because human beings are primarily occupied with fulfilling their desires, ambitions, attachments, and passions. That is the primary physical and mental structure of the human being.
Dod-sems, the mind of the desire realm, is the human mind. As soon as the mind of a sentient being enters the body of a human being, no matter where that mind comes from-whether it comes from the god realm, the hell realm, the animal realm, or any other-that mind becomes the mind of a human being. Mind is always the same, but because of the human body and human environment, the human mind becomes a unique mind, strongly preoccupied with attachment and all aspects of desire. That is dod-sems, the human mind, which, again, means one-pointed.
Within the dimension or realm of human beings, how one-pointed, stable, consistent and sane we can achieve is dod-sems-tse-chig-pa. We still have attachment, desire, everything, but we're a perfect human being. That is dod-sems-tse-chig-pa. But this not ultimate enlightenment, buddhahood.
Lus-sem . . . shin-to-jen-wa makes the dod-sems-tse-chig-pa more clear, complete and wholesome. Lus means body, sems means mind. Shin-to-jen-wa means totally developed, totally purified, totally mature. A mature mind and a mature body. So, it is the highest of one-pointedness of the mind of the human realm, the desire mind. It is mind and body that are fully developed and pure.
One way to describe this is by looking into the opposite-the body and mind which is not purified, the mind which is not one-pointed. What kind of mind would that be? Mind that is not one-pointed is confused mind. It is influenced mind. It is mind that is unstable, mind that can be easily changed by outer circumstances. Neurosis is determined by how easily the mind changes and how much influence occurs.
When we say "I feel neurotic," what does it mean? When I say it, I personally mean that I am totally overwhelmed by the situation. I lose my perspective. I can't think anymore. I can't expect myself to get the truth straight. My mind will be totally influenced by everything. This is the confused mind. It is the total opposite of dod-sems-tse-chig-pa.
Then, the opposite of lus-sems-shin-to-jen-wa is that it's very easy to do harmful things, easy to fall into negative actions and thoughts. For example, most of us have to exert effort to do something good, but we find that it's quite easy to do something not so good, to do things we're not supposed to do. That's what I mean by the opposite of lus-sems-shin-to-jen-wa. So therefore, the dod-sems-tse-chig-pa is the opposite of that confused mind, and lus-sem-shin-to-jen-wa is the opposite of having a difficult time doing the right thing and finding it much easier to do the wrong thing. In other words, lus-sems-shin-to-jen-wa is when doing the right thing is automatic and doing the wrong thing is almost impossible.
So, my definition of a perfect human being is a human being who achieves dod-sems-tse-chig-pa and lus-sem-shin-to-jen-wa. And if you ask me personally, I'm very far away from it. But that is what I mean by perfect human being. When we talk about enlightenment, it is more than just a perfect human being. Enlightenment is much more than that. It is much deeper, and limitless. The perfect human being, as we just described him here, is limited.
With these two definitions, we will hopefully have a more accurate perspective about enlightenment. This doesn't mean a perfect human being is not worth aspiring to. We have to become a perfect human being before we can achieve enlightenment. We have to become what a human being should be-a human being who has feeling, who has desire, who wants to get the best out of the best as well as out of the worst, a human being who can go through all the realities without having to make excuses or ignore things, without having to make up things, who is able to handle whatever is going on without becoming affected by it. We don't have to brainwash ourselves. We face the reality, we handle it and we don't get affected by it. That's what a perfect human being is according to this definition.
Enlightenment is a continuation of this. The perfect human being is like the foundation of a building. Upon that foundation, enlightenment, or buddhahood, or realization, is based. As I said earlier, realization, enlightenment and buddhahood mean beyond any limitation or boundary. That includes any limitation we can think of. It means free of every aspect of limitation.
The Three Kayas
There are several ways to describe enlightenment, but the simplest way is through the principle of the three kayas. In Sanskrit, this is dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. I'll go through each of these definitions briefly.
o Dharmakaya: Dharma means everything-all phenomena, everything. Kaya means body. Dharmakaya means the body which is the embodiment of everything.
o Sambhogakaya: Sambhoga means complete, nothing is left out, nothing is excluded. It is like a person who is fully dressed, from head to toe. So sambhoga means the total. Kaya means the body. So, sambhogakaya is the body which is the total development, the total everything.
o Nirmanakaya: Nirmana means emanation, manifestation. One emanates two, three, to numberless manifestations. Kaya means the body, or embodiment, which is the manifestation.
When a person like ourselves becomes enlightened, when we become Buddha, our mind is dharmakaya, our body is nirmanakaya, and our energy, speech, and expression is sambhogakaya.
Now let's look more deeply into each of these.
Pujas: Smoke Offering, Smell Offering & Fire Offering
Tai Situ Rinpoche
Three kinds of fire pujas
The fire pujas, there are three major different fire-related pujas. One is called SANG, another is called SUR, and another one is JIN-SEIG. So. SANG, SUR, JIN-SEIG, three kinds of fire pujas. AND inside of each, there are many different kinds, but mainly there are three.
The major principle of fire pujas is offering. You put the food and whatever ingredients in the fire. Fire burns it, so fire eats it. Then, it is totally consumed, so that is way of offering.
In the SANG, you are offering the smoke, in the SUR, you are offering the smell. And in the JIN-SEIG, you are just offering fire itself, flame itself, and burning itself.
Offering to four categories of objects
So, all of them involve four objects, to whom you are making the offering. You are making the offering to Buddha and Bodhisattvas, and the deities that are one. Then you are making the offering to the protectors, and very high spiritual gods, that are number two, And you are offering to all sentient beings, that's number three. And you are offering to the ghosts, and hungry ghosts, then also the special being that you have negative karma with, like karmic debt to pay. So you are making offering to them, this is the fourth. So, to these four you are make offering. Or sometimes the fourth one we call it generous, the third one we call generosity, and the first and second one we call it offering, offer and give.
SANG: Smoke offering
Now, SANG is mainly concentrating on the Gods of the mountain, the Gods of the sky, the Gods of the sky, the Gods of the river, and the Gods of all aspects. So, specially offer to them. You invite the Gods of the whole universe, and then especially you are offering the Gods of your local place. So, there are all four, but concentrated on this, that is SANG. We do that normally on the top of the house, or on the top of the mountain, make very big smoke. It is very important for SANG offering to be clean. It has to be 100% vegetarian, and cannot have any meat in the SANG. So, it has to be purely vegetarian. It has to be purely clean.
SUR: Smell offering
Then SUR, it is for all four, but more concentrated on ghosts, and the spirits, and the beings that you have negative karmic debt with. So, you are giving it to them. That you are burning al kinds of foods, and anything. And there will be some SURs that also need to be non-vegetarian. You also burn meat. But there is vegetarian SUR, and there is non-vegetarian SUR. There are two different types of SUR, and you have to separate them. Prayers have to be separated, and also fires have to be different fires, not same fire.
JIN-SEIGN: Fire offering
Then, the JIN-SEIGN is strictly, it is related with all, but strictly concentrating on the deities. So, JIN-SEIGN you can't burn anything. There has to be special ingredients according to each different kind of JIN-SEIGN. And it has to be done by the priest, not by the public. Public can not touch the JIN-SEIGN ingredient. So, only the priests have to handle the JIN-SEIGN. And it has to be a particular ingredient, not anything, not just anything like this. (Note: there is a SUR offering at the same day and place) Here is everything, not like that. It has to be specific, and it has to be handled and offered according to the prayer. Then this particular ingredient has to be offered, then that has to be offered. Then, when other one comes, then that one has to be offered. Normally, there are four kind of JIN-SEIGN, peaceful, wrathful, powerful, and magnetic, four aspects of JIN-SEIGN, and sometimes combination of all four. So, each one have their own ingredients you have to follow. And it is not handle by lay people. It has to be priest, or ordained, or even sometimes not ordained, but has to be priest.
So, that is what JIN-SEIGN is. I think I don't know, but I think HUO-KONG (Note: in Chinese, which means fire-offering) in Chinese language is actually the JIN-SEIGN, not the SANG, not the SUR. I think it is the name of JIN-SEIGN. I think I am not sure. What does KONG means? (people answer: offering) Fire offering, I think that is the last one. But I think in old days Vajrayana masters came to China, and performed JIN-SEIGN. JIN-SEIGN is normally done after very big puja of a deity. And after that you do it. Or you do it for the whole temple; you do it for the whole country. So, JIN-SEIGN is not like SANG, or SUR, that you do all the time now. So I think it was performed for emperor or for the like. By that way this language came, I think, maybe I am wrong. Maybe HUO-KONG can be for all three, the name for all three, it is possible. But now it is used for all of them, HUO-KONG is for all three of them.
Question and answer
Question: What is the Mantra and visualisation methods when we are doing fire offering?
Answer: Normally, that is all done by priests, the lay people just participate. But if you want to, then it is OK. You can do it. You can say OM-MA-NE-BEI-MEI-HUM. Or, if you are doing different kinds fire of pujas, there are different kinds of Mantra. But OM-MA-NE-BEI-MEI-HUM will be the most appropriate to recite. Then you should think of offering to all the Buddhas... etc, the four objects, you know? Offering to all the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, offering to all the Gods and Protectors, and big generosity to all sentient beings, and then specially, to all the spiritual ghosts and those ghosts you have karmic debt to pay to. You can do like that. But what you burn are just so little. Those we burn, if you really give them, cannot be given to too many people. You know. But, then, you have to pray, just fit the all styles, it will multiply countless times, billions and billions times. They become many different things what those things need. And whatever offering is appropriate to Buddha and Bodhisattvas will become limitless. So you have to think of it. Otherwise, just these, you know, are just little things. Yes, they are a lot, but still in reality, how many people you can make happy to have these. And there are countless sentient beings in the whole universe. Six realms you are offering to. So it has to be multiplied, and transformed. Each grain might become skyful of grains that supposedly can fulfil the need of hungry ghost, for example.
We don't have time to have many questions, because we have to do the puja on the following. Anyway, one more question, it is OK? (Note: During Rinpoche's answering, there are a lot of questions written on the paper and passed to the interpreter.) But anyway the kind of visualisation thins we don't encourage people. Because, for example, if you are calling all the spirits to receive your offering, OK, then, you make, you can call them. But if you can't offer, then you call. It's like you invite ten thousand people for dinner, and you cannot give food, not very good. So, this way, if you do, you have to be able to do properly from beginning to end. And if you cannot, then you can just sit there, and say OM-MA-NE-BEI-MEI-HUM, and have faith to the Buddha. Do these things that are much much better. Because you have to be really able to do it. Otherwise, you call so many, and you can't do anything. That you are not to be positive.
Question: When we do the wind horse, or prayer flag release, should we do any prayer at the same place that we release the wind horse?
Answer: No, not like that. The Lamas have to do the puja, there or somewhere. Because, normally, we put the prayer flag very high up, and then we invite Lama there to do the puja, then people put the prayer flag there. But sometimes Lama is doing the puja in the Temple, and people carry the prayer flag to the mountain where there is no Lama. So, prayer flag blessed in the Temple, and then they carried it very very far away, many many miles to the mountain. That also is done. But during that, there should be a puja right there or somewhere else.
Conclusion and dedication
Now, I hope this is beneficial for all of you. And, since you do it so much. Then, when you know it, I am sure; it makes quite clear for you that why you do this. But even you don't know, even some people don't know, if they have faith, they do it still the same. Because if we have headache, and we take medicine. And some people know what is in the medicine; other people don't know what is in the medicine. But for both, medicine works. So if you have faith, it works for both. Then, let's do the dedication. (Note: Disciples followed Rinpoche and Lama reciting the dedication prayer.)
Original article was publishes by Wisdom Eye Spring 1988.
This edition was published with the permission of the owner Pema Chodron.
We appreciate her kind support.
and wellbeing of mind and body
Ever since human beings have evolved, the purpose of any religion, any culture, any way of life, always has been to take care of the body and the mind.
When we look at a place like New York City, we see many millions of people who walk around and who do all sorts of things. With all respect, if we look from one perspective, it is just like looking at ants. But what is happening is that they are all just trying to take care of their body and their mind, what else? So this is a rather vast subject: the importance of a healthy body and a healthy mind and the connection between the two. First of all, let's look into the Buddhist concept of enlightenment and try to relate that to this subject. Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, means that a person reaches finally to their potential or destination, and that the person fully awakens and fully develops. So that particular person, whoever he or she is, when he or she fully awakens and fully develops, they reach Buddhahood. Reaching Buddhahood means a state of consciousness totally awakened and developed. So that means that such a person has a perfect and healthy mind.
Who has the healthiest mind on this planet? It may sound dualistic, but with the limitation of our language and vocabulary, I would not feel guilty by saying that the Buddha has the healthiest mind. And below Buddha, one person may be healthier than another, but there is a little bit of something there, so their mind cannot be considered ultimately healthy. Now don't take this literally; I am just using our title tonight and trying to combine this with it and make some sense out of it.
So now the mind-body connection can be explored by going into a little bit of detail about the Buddha. When a person becomes a Buddha, what is supposed to happen to that person? When we don't learn about Buddhism deeply, it sounds like when we attain enlightenment, we just disappear or something--we become nothing. That isn't the case. Enlightenment means that the mind reaches the ultimate level. So the physical manifestation, the spontaneous manifestation beyond limitation, that is what a Buddha's body would be. In Vajrayana Buddhism there is a very appropriate term for it, and the mind aspect is expressed through this word--dharmakaya. The physical aspect, energy and all that, is indicated through the words sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. So what is the healthiest body and mind on earth? The sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. So if we relate the idea of a healthy mind and a healthy body to the Buddhist principle, then the ultimate of the purest and highest level of the mind and body is indicated through the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya principle of the Buddha.
Dharma practice means doing things and saying things and thinking about things that will help a person to develop the healthiest aspect of mind and body. Therefore we have centers, membership, program--you know, we have all kinds of things. But the main purpose, the main core is doing every thing we can with our body, with our speech, and with our mind to reach that level of being fully awakened and fully developed.
Now, as knowledge, the Buddha taught many sutras and many tantras, and they are all words--words of advice given by the Buddha, the enlightened one who reached that level. Now all of his words can be interpreted on many levels, for the very simple reason that every single human being is at a different level of inner development. We all have different levels of mental health, let's say, to use our term of tonight. Therefore the particular method has to be the most beneficial instrument for us to proceed further. Because of this reason, the teaching of Buddha, called Dharma, was given at many levels. Those levels are sometimes described as the nine yanas, sometimes as the three yanas, sometimes even as the two yanas. (I think when people's time is so precious, like a New Yorker's time, nine yanas might be two yanas.) Anyway, those different levels, those different yanas, can sometimes even become a different sect: the Hinayana sect, the Mahayana sect, the Vajrayana sect. And in the Hinayana sect itself there are many sects, and then among Mahayana and Vajrayana there are also plenty of sects.
The reason for all those sects is quite simple. It is because different levels of individuals received different levels of teachings to help them, and they continued that particular style and it became their particular sect or particular kind of lineage. But all these particular lineages have a very simple belief in common: That is, to refine and purify and develop the mind, one has to apply the right methods and the right kind of discipline that will make it happen.
The practices that involve discipline, physical discipline, deal with causes and conditions that will result in physical negativity. In Buddhism, everything has a cause and condition. It can be a distant cause and condition, it can be an immediate cause and condition, it can be an accumulation of millions of things, but there must be a cause and condition for anything to happen. Therefore, these physical disciplines deal with those causes and conditions of negativity.
There are two ways to overcome negative physical manifestations. One of them is to dissolve the negative causes and conditions, while the other is to develop positive causes and conditions. It is actually the same thing, like two sides of a coin, but one is heads, and the other is tails. Those physical disciplines, then, are actions such as trying not to perform harmful physical acts against others, and trying not to perform harmful physical acts against yourself as well. Against others would be something like killing, and against yourself would be abusing yourself. So these are the basic disciplines.
Then, there are also disciplines for the speech, like not to say negative things, and on the positive side, to try to do beneficial things for yourself and others. Now look at these two. When you look at them, they are just two sides of the same coin. If you try to do positive things, you do not have to make two efforts--trying not to do negative things and then trying to do positive things. It's the same thing when you avoid negative things. How will you avoid doing negative things? Anything you do to avoid negative action itself is positive. So in that way the method of discipline involves the physical and verbal in dealing with the causes and conditions of negative manifestations. And it involves the causes and conditions of positiveness.
When you do something physically, you have to involve your mind: You cannot do something positive without involving your mind. You cannot say something positive with out involving your mind; therefore your mind is involved there as well. But there is another method that involves the mind more than the body and the speech, and that is meditation. When I talk about meditation here, what I am referring to is a particular method that involves a special discipline of the mind. It can be just sitting and not following thoughts, or just sitting and thinking of a particular thing. But there are very specific methods of meditation. When it comes to meditation, we don't have to think, "Now I want to meditate, but I don't know what to meditate on, or how to meditate." That question does not exist in Buddhism. If you want to meditate there is a meditation method, and you don't have to invent it. (Inventing is supposed to be risky, actually, from the Buddhist point of view). So in the Buddhist tradition, all the methods of meditation are already prepared; one just has to follow them.
So what happens during meditation? First, the mind must become calm. The reason is that our mind has all the capabilities--capabilities to understand, to think--everything is there, but it is like a precious thing that is locked in a safe. What appears is just a solid unmanageable safe; you don't see what is in there until you open it. In the same way, our mind has all the potentials, but without letting those potentials manifest, there is no guarantee that it will work. Because of that, we make lots of mistakes; we have ignorance and so forth. And worse than that, we are not even helpful to ourselves most of the time. So the number-one step in meditation is to make your mind calm. And because of the calmness, a clarity will happen; calm mind will be clear. (Generally speaking, people are always saying, "Don't disturb me right now, I have important things to think about," or "Don't make noise, go away; I want to think, I have some important decisions to make." So that is one expression of common sense.) After developing some clarity, then there will be the next method, the continuous method, to use that clarity, implement that clarity, and to develop further clarity.
Let's look into two particular terms: ignorance and wisdom. What do they really mean? Ignorance means that there is no understanding, absence of clarity. But what is wisdom? It is knowing, the absence of not knowing; and it is clarity. Through practice of meditation, you make your mind calm and clear, and you gain wisdom.
I come across people who like to ask tons of question. With all respect, they mean very well, because for them it is very complicated and they want to ask questions, but I end up asking them the questions back, because the question itself is not clear. I don't mean I am better than they are. I have been through meditation, and practices, and I have met many teachers. I have been fortunate, I think most unfairly fortunate, and therefore I have had all these advantages in the early part of my life. Because of that, I have gained some kind of understanding, and somehow I will be able to see the questions clearly, a bit more clearly than some people who are asking them. (Not every person's questions are like that. Some people ask me questions that give me a headache. I have to think: they give me a hard time. I appreciate that, because I learn from them; those kinds of situations are my classroom.)
But anyway we have a saying, "Where is the answer? Where is the answer? The really true answer is in the question." If you are able to phrase your question clearly in your mind, that is the answer. Of course, if you take it literally, certain kinds of questions will not follow that. If you ask me "When were you born?" even if you know how to ask that question with super clarity, it won't answer itself. But most of the important questions, the questions that are related to insight, more advanced questions, they contain the answers. What I am trying to say here is that to develop the clarity of the mind is the most important first step of meditation, which will naturally develop wisdom.
An average person might ask how we define a healthy mind. Healthy mind does not mean stubborn mind; many people think that healthy mind means stubborn mind. And in some places that are very liberal, they think healthy mind means the most emotional, sensitive mind--for example, a huge man who can cry just like a kid. That is culture, but it doesn't really mean very much when we talk about a healthy mind.
Anyway, when we talk about the body and the mind and its healthy quality, and also about well-being and all of that, they are all connected; they are definitely connected.
Now let's touch on one part of our title, "well-being." What is well-being? Well-being means a principle. When you have a valid principle, and you center your entire physical, mental, and verbal activities around that principle, then I think that is the definition of well-being.
I have been asked several times in different places to talk about "the practice of Buddhism in lay life in North America." There are a lot of specifics in it: "The practice of Buddhism in lay life in North America." So people want to talk about it. Now what really makes sense in that is the well-being. That makes sense. Of course I can say when you wash your hair (because you wash your hair every morning in America), then you can think of your soap as the blessing of the Buddha, washing away all the negativities; I can talk like that, but that does not make too much sense.
Of course there is benefit if we have that kind of practice; we call it "Beginning to end, the circle practice." When you eat, you think of something, when you talk, you talk of something, when you sleep--everything. But that is too much for most of the people in North America. I think I would be responsible for making quite a few people quite crazy; I think some people could develop paranoia--imagine thinking like that for every single thing! It is not invalid; for a person of that level it would be very good; but what makes sense to me (and also there is no risk) is the well-being. If you have that principle, and if you are able to place every single effort that you make, even just to survive, around that principle, then I think you could consider your life very meaningful. That way, everything that you can do has some kind of benefit for yourself and for others, and everything that you do will have less chance of becoming harmful for yourself and for others. That would be a very good beginning.
And if you are able to carry on with that kind of well-being, that principle, then you can expect that just by living a normal life, and by doing a little bit of meditation every day, and some kind of study and further exploration into knowledge and wisdom--putting some kind of effort there, but for the rest just living a normal life--you will get great benefit out of it, because your life will be lived with a most valid principle and everything that you do will be involved with that principle. So my understanding about well-being means living with a valid principle.
Now how do we define that principle? Of course, according to each person's state of mind, according to each person's involvement in reality, there will need to be a slight alteration or adjustment, but one principle that always remains is having faith and trust in the truth. Truth is the most important thing, for me. The reason I have faith in Buddhism is because everything that Buddha said is true. So because of that, I have faith and trust in the teachings of the Buddha. That is why I try to do something meaningful, even if most of the time I don't manage, and I have to work hard at it. I do it because that is the truth; to do something meaningful is beneficial, is good; doing something meaningless is harmful and not good. If somebody says a bad word to you, you don't like it, you don't feel good; if somebody cheats you, you don't like it, it doesn't feel good. It's the same for others: if you do something that is not good, people will not feel so good, they will suffer.
So believing in that kind of truth, having faith and trust in that kind of truth, is what I mean by the principle. That principle can become almost spontaneous, so that you try not to do anything that would be harmful to yourself and to others, and try to do everything beneficial, try to be as helpful as possible to yourself and to others. In that way, one can live a life with the most appropriate kind of positive qualities and good will.
Therefore I think it is most important as a Buddhist, or as a person who tries to be a good person, to discover the most essential principle, the most personal and simple, and then proceed from that principle and involve your entire actions and intentions in applying that principle. Somehow that covers this subject.
This article is an edited version of a teaching by H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche given in New York City on November 24, 1987. It was edited by Kathy Wesley.
Sherabling, India, October 2000
As I was requested, I am going to give teachings on mahamudra. Mahamudra, as a teaching, is presented in an enormous amount of texts, some of which might take a very long time: some as much as a year, with daily teaching sessions. Then, mahamudra introducing the nature of mind might not even take one hour. So there is so much variety in the mahamudra teachings. Therefore, I am not going to teach from just one particular mahamudra text. This will be very much like an introduction for those who don't know anything about mahamudra, or for those who know very little about mahamudra. For those who know a lot about mahamudra, it will be a reminder, because when you know a lot you might get a little bit mixed up. So this might sort out some of the over lapping and some of the confusion, or what is unclear about the mahamudra teachings in general. So for that purpose, I am teaching mahamudra here as an introduction or clarification or general teaching.
First of all we have to define the terminology. Mahamudra is Sanskrit terminology, and it is translated into Tibetan as chagya chenpo. So the terminology itself, or we can call it a title, even though it's not really appropriate to give a title to something that doesn't have anything to do with a title. It's a little confusing, but we have to "play dumb". We know mahamudra cannot be boxed into anything or packaged, but we have to play dumb and package it, and then put the title 'mahamudra' on it. We have to do that, otherwise we might get very confused, and even worse we might get lost. It could be like a 1000 story building with 10,000 rooms which have no floor numbers and no room numbers: it would be very complicated to find anything. So we have to conventionalise the ultimate, and give a title to something that cannot be restricted or limited by a title.
Now the mahamudra word itself, chagya chenpo, somehow has to describe what the teaching is. So here, the simplest way to define the mahamudra terminology is to say that everything which is relative, from heaven to hell, is part and parcel of the most sacred, most ultimate and most profound essence. So let's put it this way: the most undefiled and pure environment of a Buddha, or pure land of a Buddha, and the most painful, negative environment of hell are connected. They are not un-connected. As long as something is there, it has to be connected with everything else. For example, there is the most profound and pure being, a bodhisattva, and there is the most neurotic and evil being, whoever it is. As long as they are in the universe, they have to move in the same space, they have to breathe the same air, they have to influence the short wave, medium wave and all kind of waves of the universe. So they are all interconnected. You cannot separate anybody from anybody, and you cannot separate anything from anything. Everything is connected. So that is the relative understanding of mahamudra. Now the ultimate potential of that is that the worst being has the possibility and the potential to be the best person, and the chance and potential to become Buddha. So when we see a bad person I don't know what it could be that your definition of a bad person is, but I am sure that each one of us has a definition of a bad person, the worst person in mahamudra understanding that is a Buddha who does not know that they are Buddha. They misused their time and opportunity and got it wrong. So temporarily they appear and manifest as a result of their own doing. Here, temporarily doesn't mean one week: temporarily might mean ten billion centuries or ten centuries or three life times It depends. But temporarily, as long as it is not forever, is temporary. So in that way, the definition of mahamudra terminology is most comprehensive, and is the most ultimate aspect of description of the teaching of Buddha.
Then we have the mahamudra lineage, and the practitioners of the mahamudra lineage. This means the teachings of mahamudra, which are bestowed by the Buddha Shakyamuni, who in this case we call Buddha Vajradhara. The Buddha Vajradhara's teaching, which is the essence of all the teachings, has continued from there until today, in an unbroken lineage of transmission. So how does the lineage get broken? The lineage means the Buddha's wisdom. Buddha is the embodiment of wisdom, and Buddha is the embodiment of compassion. That compassion and wisdom are received by the disciple, who is the embodiment of devotion. The devotion of the disciple and the compassion of the Buddha connect, and then wisdom is transmitted. That is the blessing; that is the transmission. If that connection is broken then the lineage is broken. But that will never happen from the Buddha's side; that will happen from us, the followers side. So that connection, unbroken from Buddha up till now, is the mahamudra lineage. Anybody who comprehends the mahamudra teaching, who implements the mahamudra teaching and who lives according to the mahamudra view, practice and action, then that is a mahamudra practitioner. Whoever manages that pretty well, then that is a mahamudra yogi. Whoever does not manage that very well, but tries, is a mahamudra follower. Whoever supports that is a mahamudra patron, and whoever admires that is a mahamudra devotee. So there are devotees, patrons, practitioners, yogis and so on and so forth. So that is mahamudra: the lineage.
Now there is a little, how do you say, 'unfinished business' here, because mahamudra means everything, but now here is the mahamudra lineage. One minute it is everything, and the next minute it is somebody, but not everybody. How come? Well that is quite easy to understand and comprehend. The mahamudra practitioner's view, practice and meditation is about everything; that's what it is. But it's like when a person has very clear, good eyes and can see everything clearly, but another person doesn't have clear eyes and can't see everything clearly. Or a person who has lost one eye and cannot see three dimensionally. If a person is sick with hepatitis they see everything yellow. If a person has bronchitis they see everything as white and grey. In that way the vision and the perception is limited. In this way, a person who practices mahamudra is supposed to be able to see everything clearly, with mahamudra view, but we can't claim that we do that all the time. Sometimes we might, but at other times we can't. It's like when we catch cold or hepatitis: we have to put on eye glasses and so on. In this way we are not perfect, but we try our best. So I think this much might give a very basic, very simple definition of the terminology and the title mahamudra itself.
The Source of Mahamudra
When we say 'teaching of Buddha,' it means sutra, abhidharma, vinaya and tantra. These are the teachings of the Buddha. But it is very interesting, because these days Buddhism has become so popular, and everybody knows a little piece of Buddhism. Because it is so popular it becomes a household language, but then it can become not so clear and sometimes even confused. For example, these days, if somebody sees a Buddhist person reading a book, they always say "Oh he's reading a sutra." I even saw one book about a Buddhist printing press, and the title of the book is 'Buddhist Sutra Printing Press'. So that means that in that printing press there will be only sutra. There will be no abhidharma, no vinaya and no tantra: only sutra. Anyway, the essence of the tantra, the vinaya, the abhidharma and the sutra is the mahamudra. Now out of all of these, which particular teaching of Buddha says this? It is the tantra. The tantric teachings of Lord Buddha cover everything. In the tantra you find the teaching of sutra, vinaya and abhidharma, but in the sutra , the abhidharma and the vinaya you will not find the teaching of tantra. So the tantric teachings of the Lord Buddha are the essence of everything. This means that the mahamudra teaching is the principle and the path that is given in the teaching of the tantra. In the tantra itself, there are so many levels, and the highest of these is anuttarayoga tantra. So the mahamudra teaching is the essence of the anuttarayoga tantra: the highest of all the tantra's that manifest from Lord Buddha. These tantric teachings, such as Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Kalachakra etc., are from the anuttarayoga tantra, and the mahamudra principle and teachings are the essence of that tantra.
The source of the mahamudra teachings is the Buddha. These days people use these words "Lord Buddha's words" or "Lord Buddha's teachings" and that's fine, but as a mahamudra practitioner we never think that Buddha was there and some crowd gathered, and he was in his room thinking about what to tell them. Then he did some homework, sought through his mind, and said "This is what I am going to say," and then came out and talked about this particular thing and taught it. Our mahamudra idea of Buddha is never like that. Buddha manifested as a result of what made him Buddha: his compassion manifested. So, to anybody who has devotion, Buddha will manifest to them. According to the capacity of the being, the Buddha's teaching manifests. They hear him say things according to their own capacity: their level of maturity, their level of devotion, and according to their level of compassion for all sentient beings, which we should call their motivation. According to that, the Buddha's teaching manifests. So although we have to say the words such as "Buddha spoke," "Buddha taught," "Buddha said that," and "this is what Buddha meant," we have to say these things, but we can never mean that. Because if Prince Siddhartha was like that then he is not the kind of Buddha that we believe in. He is a very wise person, a very intelligent person and a very clear minded person, but that's it. That's not Buddha. Buddha is beyond all of that. Buddha is not within the perimeter of dualism; Buddha is beyond dualism. Buddha is not limited by anything; Buddha is limitless. So in this way the tantric teachings, such as the anuttarayoga tantra texts that I have mentioned, these tantras and Buddha are inseparable. They are the embodiment of the Buddha. The teaching of Buddha is the embodiment of the Buddha. It is not the thought of the Buddha, or the words of the Buddha; it is the embodiment or manifestation of the Buddha. It manifests in the sound, and beings saw Buddha speak. Actually, in the sutra, Buddha once said "I did not say anything, but all sentient beings heard it". So surely, from the mahamudra point of view, Buddha didn't even say that [laughter]. So you can't say that that was the only thing he spoke: he didn't even say that. There was a need for that, so that's what manifested. That's what those particular beings heard and that's it. In this way the gyu, or the tantra, is the actual teachings of the Buddha, in which the mahamudra aspect of teaching is taught. That is one source.
The second source of the mahamudra teachings is called gyazhung. Gyazhung actually means those texts which were written by the great masters of India: the mahapanditas and mahasiddhas of India. Those teachings were translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan and are called gyazhung. What defines a teaching rather than just a book is that it is the teaching of the lineage, and not somebody's research and thesis or somebody's interest. For example, every year at the Frankfurt book-fare in Germany there are tens of thousands of newly published books, and all of them we would not consider this kind of text (but some of them might be). So gyazhung means the teachings about mahamudra. This is mahamudra gyazhung. Gyazhung can be about anything, so mahamudra gyazhung is the teachings about mahamudra, written or spoken by great enlightened masters of the lineage of mahamudra in India. All of these texts were translated, I think, more than a thousand years ago. So they are not recent translations. They are old, or ancient, translations. These teachings are numerous; there are so many. There are specific teachings, such as the mahamudra doha. Doha is like inspirational sacred poetry, a little bit like a song. For example, the Mahamudra Upadesha or Ganges Mahamudra, by Tilopa; so named because he wrote it at the bank of the river Ganges. Then there are other texts like Naropa's condensed text of view, which includes the philosophy, the view and the perception. So that is another text. Also, there are enormous numbers of teachings that are individual teachings: the 84 mahasiddhas' teachings, their poems and their songs; the teachings of the 30 great enlightened women the dakinis their teachings, songs, poems and so forth. All of these kinds of teachings that are translated into Tibetan are called gyazhung. They are another source.
The third source is mengak. Mengak means something like sacred instruction. It is not secret instruction, but sacred always becomes secret, because sacred, by definition, means that if somebody cannot comprehend it then it is not available. It is only available to those who can comprehend it. So that is sacred. The transmission of sacred instructions from the great masters of India and Tibet, as far as the lineage is concerned, is called mengak. Most mengak are written down on paper, but also a tremendous amount of mengak is from person to person: from lips to ear. So that is ear transmission. It is not written down.
But these days we have a tremendous amount of liberation, so even the sacred mengak texts, some of these are even translated, and many of them are printed. You can buy for just a few dollars. Very cheap. These are available, but an old fashioned and backward person like me doesn't like it, because then it is not sacred anymore. It becomes, how do you say, "accelerated" or "short circuit," and so it will be spoiled that way. The lineage can be destroyed very easily if mengaks do not remain as mengaks. So this is maybe a little bit off: a sign of this time of degeneration, but of course not hopeless.
Anyway, there are a tremendous amount of all of these kinds of teachings, and in our lineage there are three texts that somehow combine as one group of teachings. The first is Ngedon Gyamtso or "Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty". That's an elaborate text which has 97 steps of instruction, with each step having many steps of instruction within it. That is a tremendously detailed teaching about mahamudra practice. Then there is a secondary or medium size text, which is Marig Munsel or 'Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance' I think that is how it is translated. That is the secondary text. The shortest text in this particular group of texts is Choku Dzuptsuk, which means 'Pointing Out the Dharmakaya': you use your finger to point out the dharmakaya. That means the direct introduction to the nature of mind: the essence of our self; the essence of everything. So those are three particular texts written by the Gyalwa Karmapa. But then, of course, there are tremendous numbers of other instruction texts, and a tremendous amount of person to person transmission lineage of mahamudra instruction. So gyu, gyazhung and mengak are the physical sources of the mahamudra teachings, which are the essence of all the teachings of the Buddha. That's where mahamudra comes from.
Ground, Path and Fruition
Now, since we have a basic understanding of the terminology of mahamudra and the source of the mahamudra teachings, I think it is extremely important, not only for mahamudra practitioners but any practitioner of dharma, to understand why we are practicing dharma. What for? You know? When we say "May I become Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings" then we have to know: why would becoming Buddha be beneficial for all other sentient beings? Why should all sentient beings become Buddha? For what? What is the connection between Buddha and all sentient beings? What are they trying to become when they say "May I become Buddha"? We have to understand all of these things, otherwise it becomes some kind of curiosity or hobby, "lets find out": sort of temporary entertainment, you know? It doesn't go further than that. So therefore, we have to know as clearly as possible what all these things mean. What am I? What is Buddha? What are all sentient beings? When I say "may I become Buddha" and "For the benefit of all sentient beings" what am I actually saying? What does it all really mean? We can understand this through the very basic way of teaching dharma, which is through three things: ground, path and fruition. Through these three simple principles we can comprehend and have some idea of what we are saying and what we are doing.
Ground means potential. Path means how to materialise, purify or develop our potential. How to go about it that is path. Fruition is exactly the same as potential, because potential and fruition are the same thing. When the potential is fully developed, then that is fruition. You cannot achieve something that has nothing to do with you. What you will achieve at the end will be exactly what you are: what is in you or what is about you. So the potential and the fruition are the same thing. Undeveloped potential is ground, fully developed potential is fruition, and how to develop undeveloped potential into fully developed potential is path. So ground, path and fruition. Through this we will then understand what mahamudra practice is, and what we are saying in the mahamudra dedication when we say "Because of this merit may I attain the full realisation of mahamudra, and lead all sentient beings to the realisation of mahamudra." It's the same thing as "Because of this merit may I attain buddhahood and lead all sentient beings to the realisation of buddhahood", but in the mahamudra prayer, sometimes we say that.
I have been teaching you about the general definition of mahamudra, and the source of mahamudra teachings. Then I introduced to you the principle of ground, path and fruition. So that is a sort of general outline which is very simple, but it can somehow unfold. Otherwise you might call it complicated or a deep subject, but ground, path and fruition is easy to remember, and somehow clarifies so many things. Sometimes it is a little bit misunderstood, but when you define it clearly then it is so simple. When you say "I want to be Buddha," you must have a ground for saying that. On what ground are you saying that? Your ground is that "I am an unenlightened Buddha, because I have the same potential as Buddha Shakyamuni equal." Every sentient being has the same potential as Buddha Shakyamuni, and is equal to Buddha Shakyamuni in essence or in potential, but you should never mistake that for thinking you are equal to Buddha right now (but I don't know, maybe there is some Buddha manifest here as an ordinary person. In that case I don't have to confess, because Buddha purposely manifested like that, and that is part of the Buddha's aspiration. If Buddha said before his enlightenment "May I appear as an ordinary person so that I can benefit all the sentient beings, especially those people who call themselves teachers, and give them the privilege and opportunity to teach me." [laughter] Yes; why not? That is a very, very profound connection. That is a very great honour; so that could be. In that case, I don't even have to apologise because I am just following the Buddha's will). Anyway, we are not enlightened, because of our own cause and condition, which is created by ourself: with our own will, with our own decision, with our own effort. That is why we are not Buddha.
Buddha Shakyamuni and three other Buddhas have already become Buddha on this planet, in this galaxy and in this solar system. So four individuals have already become Buddha, with Buddha Shakyamuni as the fourth. So those four were prophesied Buddhas. How many un-prophesied Buddhas were there? It would be countless. From the beginning of the human evolution on this planet, we Tibetans believe that we are evolved from monkeys and ghosts. Once, something like a ghost or a demon, which was female, came together with a male monkey, and the offspring of that combination were Tibetans [laughter]. It's interesting, because I sometimes think how come? [laughter] We are not like demons or monkeys; so, how can that be possible? But some other times I am convinced [laughter], because if you look at Tibetan history: if Guru Rinpoche did not come to Tibet and tame us, we would be impossible [laughter]. It took somebody like Guru Rinpoche, who did not just teach and bless, but he performed miracles, you know? He turned mountains upside down and boiled an enormous lake: he boiled it with his spiritual power. But even by doing all of that sort of thing, it still took quite a bit of time and effort to make us normal [laughter]. So I think maybe there is some truth in this combination or this genetic engineering. Anyway, by the blessing of the Buddha, by the blessing of Guru Rinpoche and especially by the blessing of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who manifested in Tibet in so many ways: great masters like His Holiness Dalai Lama and His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa are all manifestations of Avalokiteshvara. So with all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas working so hard, and doing so many things to make us what we are, we are privileged. So what I am talking about here is: that since the beginning of the human evolution on this planet which is relative of course until now, the prophesied Buddhas are four, un-prophesied Buddhas who knows? So many, but it cannot be countless. It can be countable, but we don't know.
By definition, in the entire universe, the sentient beings who attain buddhahood are countless. That is countless. Buddha describes this when he says "If there is one sentient being who attains enlightenment, or buddhahood, in a period of time which is a period of yuga then the equivalent amount to the grains of sand in the river Ganges attain buddhahood." That means that if one person attains enlightenment on one planet after such a long, long time, (yuga means a very long time. Some yugas are described as from the creation of a universe until its destruction, and some yugas are described as the cycles within that period. So there are different kinds of yugas) Buddha said that even though it is that rare, still, every moment countless sentient beings have attained buddhahood. Because space has no end, you cannot count the universes. It is so infinite that, even though buddhahood is so rare, every moment countless numbers of sentient beings have attained buddhahood. Otherwise you end up with space having an end, and with the universes having a number. But there is no end. It is infinite. Therefore infinite beings have to be enlightened in every moment. So from the time when we began this session until now, in this couple of minutes, countless sentient beings have already attained enlightenment. That is not imagination; that's the facts. It has to be that way, otherwise nothing will make sense. So that is the reality.
Now, the ground, by definition, is that all sentient beings have Buddha potential. Those who made it are few, on our planet, but those who made it in the whole universe are countless. Why did that happen? Because that's their potential. That's their destiny. The destination of every single sentient being is absolute freedom with no limitation, and absolute freedom with no limitation is described by the word "buddhahood." Buddhahood means you are free with no limitation whatsoever, and that can only be for the purpose of no limitation. So if you wish to be free, without limitation, then it has to be for the purpose of freedom without limitation for all sentient beings. If you wanted to be free with no limitation just for yourself, it is impossible, because that is the biggest limitation. It has to be for the limitless purpose; it has to be for the limitless outcome, and it has to come from the foundation or the ground: the base of the limitless potential.
So that is ground mahamudra, and this is described as free from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Therefore, it is relative truth and absolute truth in union, which means the unity of relative truth and absolute truth. Now, the "extremes of eternalism and nihilism" is what has to be overcome to understand and define the ground mahamudra. The outcome of that is that relative truth and absolute truth will be in unity. Okay, so that is ground mahamudra.
Now the path mahamudra. Why have so many beings attained buddhahood, and why have so many of us still not yet attained buddhahood? Why? It's not because somebody made some kind of mistake somewhere, or that we lost our plane ticket, but it happened. We are still here, when others have already got there. It is because of our own doing. It is not the fault of somebody's unfair play, and it is not because of some kind of corruption somewhere. It is our own unfair play and our own corruption that made us stay behind and be left behind. You can't blame anybody. (everyone is interconnected, of course, but that doesn't deserve blame).
Now, the path is described as free of assertion and free of denial. So you have to be free of asserting. For example, it's like you saw a mouse, but you say you saw a tiger. That is assertion. Denial is like you stepped on a cockroach, but you say you did not step on anything. That is denial. So free of assertion and denial. In the path, or in the practice, when we do good things, and we are attached to our good practice then that is assertion, and that is something we have to overcome. It is not something we have to, how do you say, abandon. We cannot, because as a beginner practitioner we should be attached to our good practice. We should be upset when our practice is not doing well, otherwise we will never practise, you know? So that is there, but it cannot go further than that, and we have to do our best to overcome that, rather than increase it. So that is assertion. Denial is when you learn lots of things such as emptiness, non-duality, primordial wisdom and so on and so forth. Then by learning those things you think you understand everything, but you don't, and you say "I don't have to practice; doing good is emptiness; doing bad is emptiness; the potential of good and bad is the same." If you have too much of that kind of perception, and you act on it, then you have denial. You are a little bit like the devil, because your good understanding becomes the obstacle for your progress. So these ways of assertion and denial are both the obstacles one has to, very skilfully, overcome. Once that happens then the practice, or the path, is the accumulation of merit and wisdom in union: the unity of the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom.
How do you accumulate merit? By doing good things and by avoiding bad actions. By learning, by doing prayers, by being generous and so on. That is accumulation of merit. The accumulation of wisdom you cannot gain like that. The accumulation of wisdom occurs as a result of letting your inner potential or inner Buddha manifest. That is meditation, and the accumulation of wisdom is through meditation. The accumulation of merit is through activity: physical, mental and verbal activity. So, the path which is free of assertion and denial is the union of the accumulation of merit and wisdom. That is the path.
Then, the fruition should be free from, or free of, samsaric end or passive end. Many times the word nirvana is used here, but it means peace or the passive end. Of course samsaric end is something we should be free of, and between samsaric end and nirvana end we should chose the nirvana end, but actually, as far as being an end, it's the same. So what does that mean? If we go on with worldly activities as a worldly person with a worldly motivation then we will end up in the samsaric end just as usual. That's very easy to understand, because we are in samsara: you are in samsara; I am in samsara; all of us are in samsara, and all of us are going in circles. Sometimes my circle is a little bigger, so that I might not notice that I am going in a circle, and sometimes your circle is a little smaller, so you might feel you are going in a circle sometimes. But sometimes it could even be vice versa. It's not supposed to be, but I think it could be. Anyway, the end of the whole thing about samsara is that no matter how big or small the circle you walk, at the end of the day you did not get anywhere. You can walk very hard; you can be running, or you can be carrying things, but you end up in the same place. That is samsara. The nirvana end means that if we overcome all of that then we have no pain, suffering or defilements, but we don't have the primordial wisdom awakened. So we will be very comfortable, very happy and very peaceful, in something like paradise. The idea of paradise is that everything is positive and nothing is negative. That is nirvana: the passive peace. That is good, but it's not buddhahood, which is free from, and a step beyond, both of those ends of samsara and nirvana. It is the union of the two kayas; that is how it is described.
What are the two kayas? One is the dharmakaya, and the other is the form kayas. There are kayas that have some limitation, and the kaya that doesn't have any limitation. Kaya means body. The limitless kaya is called dharmakaya, which is the mind of the Buddha, but the form kayas are limited, and they are called the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya. Sambhogakaya has lesser limitations than nirmanakaya, but the sambhogakaya still has limitations, because sambhogakaya is not the dharmakaya. Sambhogakaya means how Buddha will be perceived by those who are highly enlightened: those above the first bodhisattva level. How they perceive Buddha is called sambhogakaya. Nirmanakaya is how ordinary beings, who do not have the realisation up to the first level bodhisattva, or are below the first level bodhisattva, perceive Buddha. When they are in the presence of the Buddha, how they perceive the Buddha, how they see the Buddha, how they hear the Buddha, that is the nirmanakaya. So sambhogakaya has less limitations than the nirmanakaya, but it still has limitations. The unity of dharmakaya and the form kaya means that Buddha is limitless: he accomplished the dharmakaya and is the embodiment of the dharmakaya, but, for the benefit of sentient beings, he spontaneously manifests as the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya. In that way the fruition is the unity of the two kayas.
Now with this we have a little bit of elaboration of the ground, path and fruition I will try to get this right the ground is free from the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. It is the unity of the absolute truth and the relative truth. The path is free from assertion and denial, and that will be the unity of the merit and wisdom accumulation. The fruition is free from the extremes of samsaric end and nirvana end, and that will be the unity of the dharmakaya and the form kayas.
So that is some detail about this, but some parts are missing so I want to add those. The ground mahamudra is the basis of the mahamudra path, and mahamudra fruition is enlightenment itself. Then the path itself is the ways through which that potential will be fully developed. The fruition means the result of this path or the final fruition of the path, which is the fully maturing and fully matured potential, and the total liberation of the potential. That is the fruition. So that somehow makes the ground, path and fruition very personal, and related to each one of us individually.
For example, in the entire human realm you can also include animals, but let's say humans do you know anybody who achieved exactly what he or she wished to achieve, absolutely? Any king, any president, prime minister, rich man, poor man, soldier, general, scholar or artist; you know? Anybody who said "I achieved exactly what I wished to achieve, ultimately". Of course people make decisions like "Oh, I have done enough. Okay, now alright" you know? There is a lot of that. I also do that a lot. Many times; not only one time. Then I start something again. But anyway, there isn't anybody, really! If you travel all over the world: any place in the world. If you go to a high mountain not too high but manageable for human beings and you dig long enough, you will find some bricks there: some ruins of a house there, you know? People worked very hard to build those things. They brought all those stones all the way up there, sometimes using slaves, and they built there. They may have said "Oh yes, I will build what I want to build," but then what happened? Most of the time we don't even know who built those things; so it doesn't mean anything. In this way there is no end to the efforts and the desire of samsara. Really: there is no end.
But why does everybody think there is an end? Why does everybody work so hard, as if there were an end? In this world, everybody is busy doing something. Some people are doing something physically, some people are talking I think I am included there right now and why do they do all of that? Because they want to achieve something. And what makes them think that they want to achieve something? Because it is in them. They do not have any limitation, you know? Everyone does not have any limitation in their potential. So we say "Attachment is so much so that it can never be fulfilled." It's very true. You have to stop somewhere. You have to say to yourself "enough is enough," because if you don't you will go on forever. You might become the richest person in the neighbourhood, and then, from there, the most powerful person in the neighbourhood. Next you might become the most healthy person in the neighbourhood, and so on, and so forth. From there you want to achieve the same thing in the whole country, and then in the whole world, you know? You might even become the king of the world (I personally don't think I want to have that, because that will be lots of trouble, lots of problems: you have to take care of everybody). Anyway, if you become the king of the whole world, it is a guaranteed thing that within one week you will want to have something else. I guarantee it. The minute you own the whole world then you are looking for owning the moon, maybe, or mars. We have tried to conquer those things already, so it proves it. In that way, there is no end. That will never be fulfilled if we don't stop somewhere. Why is that? Because our potential has no limitations. Therefore, our desire, which is the light or the manifestation of our potential, has no limitation.
When will our limitless desire be fulfilled? Let's put it this way for a minute make the negative think positive .. So, how do we fulfil our limitless, un-fulfilable, impossible greed? When we become free, with no limitation then it is fulfilled. So enlightenment is our destination, and our impossible greed proves it, you know? Greed is negative; of course it is bad, but there must be a reason why it is there. It cannot be a "bad" accident. That greed cannot be fulfilled by saying "Instead of everybody else, I want to be happy. Instead of everybody else, I want to be free."
"I want to be free, with no limitation, for the benefit of all sentient beings to be free with no limitation": that is bodhichitta, that is compassion, and that is the ground mahamudra. That ground mahamudra, if nurtured and cultivated properly on the path, then, will be the fruition mahamudra. Our impossible greed can never be fulfilled by eating everything that we like to eat, or doing everything that we like to do. It will never be fulfilled. It will get worse. Defeating all our enemies; helping all our friends; it cannot be fulfilled. It is impossible. It can only be fulfilled if we become free for the sake of all sentient beings freedom. Then it is fulfilled. So this is the fruition mahamudra: one attains the dharmakaya so that the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya will manifest for the benefit of all sentient beings. That is the fruition. That is the destination.
What I am explaining here is that once we understand the ground, path, and fruition clearly clear enough that we can believe in it then we have mahamudra view, mahamudra attitude and mahamudra perception. We shouldn't have a perception, but as long as we have one we can't help then we must have a good one. So that's mahamudra perception, mahamudra view. Once we have mahamudra view, if we conduct ourselves according to the mahamudra view then that is mahamudra action. Then we meditate according to the mahamudra meditation instructions, and that is mahamudra meditation. So that is view, meditation and action. Without having clear understanding of ground, path and fruition, we cannot have the view. Without having the view, we cannot have the action and meditation, generally speaking. So, for that reason, it is quite important to understand.
But there is another side: if you have faith in the Buddha, if you have faith in the Buddha's teaching, and if you have faith in the practice of dharma then you don't have to know anything. If you practice with faith then everything works. You don't have to know ground, path and fruition. Whether you know it or not, it is there. When you know, nothing new appears, and when you don't know, nothing is disappearing. So you really don't have to know, but these days it is important to know. Why? Because this is a degenerating time.
I am not a negative person. I don't consider myself a pessimistic person. Actually I consider myself having some weakness of optimism [laughter], you know? So maybe my problem is optimism, not pessimism. But the fact of the matter is that this is a degenerating time; so, many things are getting worse, and many things are getting better. But it is those things that make us worse that are getting better, and those things that make us better that are getting worse. In that way, it's getting better for worse. That's true, I think. I could be wrong; I have the right to be wrong (right?), but I think that's true.
One thing that really proves this to me is that, these days, anything that is sacred and divine needs a lot of explanation, and people don't believe it, but anything that is not sacred and not divine doesn't need any explanation, and everybody believes it. For example, many wars are being fought right now, all over the world, and most of the people that are fighting there don't know why. Only the ones who instigated the wars know, but the other people don't know. They just believe; so they follow and get themselves killed, or they kill other people and destroy so many things. Then think about making money: it's good that people make money, but lots of the ways that people make money are really other people's plans, and other people's ideas that they just follow. Many people just follow, and sometimes they get lucky, and they make some money, but many people are actually just donating a lot of money to those people who plan those things. They lose money, but they just go on, one loss after another. So in that way, they really don't need a lot of explanation. Also, with taking drugs, and all these kind of things: even if somebody explains so hard they still don't believe that person. They can see themselves getting crazy. They see themselves dying, and they see their brain becoming like a scrambled egg: it's not working anymore, not connected anymore, all separate, you know? One part of the brain doesn't function with another part; so two and two doesn't make four anymore Two and two is maybe five or three or six. They see that they are confused, but still they go for it. They don't need explanation, and they don't need clarification. Then also with politics: many of the politicians, I think, don't even know what they are doing. They just believe, and they go for it. Of course all politicians are not bad; many of them are very good. If there was no policy, then of course, the world would be in chaos, but what I am saying is that nothing requires more explanation than dharma. So when it comes to dharma, everybody wants all the detailed explanations. Not only once, but two, three or four times, you know? But everything else doesn't need explanation, and people just follow. For example, with fashion: today you see a funny hat, which I think is a terrible hat, but tomorrow so many people are buying it and going crazy for it. So that way, everybody believes in things without having to know, except when it comes to something that is sacred and divine. This proves that this is a degenerating time. If it was not a degenerating time it would be the other way around, so that the things that are less meaningful, and even harmful, such as war, should need more explanation. People would find it very difficult to accept and very hard to participate. Something that is divine and profound, like dharma, would be easy for people to follow and easy to believe. If that happens then it shows that it is not a degenerating time but a generating time or a good time. So in this degenerating time, the clear understanding of ground, path and fruition will help us all, and will also equip us to help others. Because, after all, the basis of the mahamudra is Mahayana, and the purpose of mahayana is to help sentient beings. This is the foundation of all the highest teaching of Lord Buddha.
So, whatever we are learning here, we are learning so that we can benefit others. If we want to benefit others, there are many ways, but the easiest way is to make people understand something that is important and beneficial for them. If people come to us wanting to understand something about dharma, and we are able to explain to them, in a simple way, the ground, path and fruition then it will help them. It will change their life. So in this way, I think explaining these simple things is very important, and I hope my limited knowledge is beneficial for you. Because you all have primordial wisdom, whatever information or teaching you receive here might help you, so that your primordial wisdom can start to work.
Now, when we meditate and practice, what is really happening to us is that our primordial wisdom is awakening. That's what it is. When we meditate, what we are doing is allowing our primordial wisdom to awaken. Even in an ordinary, day to day situation, like when you are in a terrible dilemma; if you are able to ask your friends to leave the room, and then you say to yourself "I am going to sit down and be quiet." If you do that for half an hour, then no matter what kind of terrible dilemma that you are in, you will see the situation very clearly. You will have a perspective over your problem, and you might even find out, to your surprise, that there is no problem at all. Maybe what you were calling a problem half an hour ago is actually a very good thing. Maybe it is exactly what you need to get, for what you want to achieve. Otherwise, it might be something that is a problem indeed, but there is more solution than problem itself, and I can guarantee you one thing (this is my little experience through the blessing of the dharma): the solution for the problem is in the problem. I guarantee you. It's always there. It's just like a question: when somebody asks a question, if that person breaks down that question for themselves then that is the answer. The answer is in the question, you know? The solution is in the problem, but it's very hard to see especially if it is your problem. You can feel your problem from the tip of your hair into the middle of your bones, and therefore you cannot have the perspective easily, but if you can relax then you are able to see more clearly. That's the principle of meditation. When you meditate with sacred methods of meditation then, through the blessing of the lineage and so forth, that potential for seeing things clearly the primordial wisdom awakens. Even temporarily, it makes all the difference on earth, all the difference that you can think of. It will make a big difference, an enormous difference. So in that way, I think when people understand the ground, path and fruition, it will help. Why do people have all these problems, and why do they think that they want to be something? All of these things come from the ground or the potential. OK. So I hope this is beneficial for you all.
So far, I have been teaching about mahamudra in a very general sort of way. You may call it an introduction or summary of mahamudra. Now, I thought perhaps it will be beneficial for all of us to learn about mahamudra practice, not just a general introduction but about practice. It will also be very much an introduction to, or a summary of, the practice. In principle, all the teachings of Buddha are for practice; all the teachings of Buddha only give us the final or complete result if we practice them. Without practice, of course, we get benefits. For example, knowing something is much better that not knowing, and knowing correctly is much better than knowing incorrectly. So this way, knowing dharma is very, very beneficial. Just associating with dharma is also very, very beneficial. Associating with good things is much better than associating with bad things, and associating with the right thing is much better than associating with the wrong things. So association with the dharma and understanding of the dharma is all beneficial, but we only achieve the total benefit if we practice.
The definition of practice is that our body, our speech and our mind has to be functioning according to the teaching of the dharma. We have to integrate the dharma into our physical, verbal and mental activity. So we think according to dharma, we speak according to dharma and we act according to dharma. If we manage to do that well then we are a mature practitioner. If we are not able to do that well then we are not a mature dharma practitioner, but we are trying. So in this way, at least, we have to try our best. We have to put effort into implementing the dharma that we learn, in our physical, verbal and mental activity. Then we get the benefit.
Out of this, the most important is mind, because mind is the most important essence. For example, we might physically do all the good things, never doing anything wrong, and verbally, we might say all the good things and never say anything wrong, but in our mind, we think of all the negative things. If we have a vested interest in our mind, for our positive physical and verbal activity, then it is no good. It is like eating very good food, on a very good plate, with lots of very good eating tools (eating weapons I call them), like chopsticks, spoons, knives, forks and all kind of things: no matter whether we eat with gold, silver, or diamonds, if the food is poison then we are going to die right after the meal is completed. It will be our last meal. So it will be like that if we have a negative motivation in our mind. Even if, externally, we act positively, it is like poisoned food. So in this way, the most important thing is mind.
Now, the practice of meditation is actually directly involving the mind. You can pray with mind and body together through your speech. You can pray, but still your mind can be negative. For example, we have so many kinds of wildlife here, and one of them is the parrot: the green bird that speaks human language if they are taught. You can teach this bird a very special and sacred mantra, like OM MANI PEME HUNG for example, and this bird will say OM MANI PEME HUNG. If there is a worm crawling in front of him, he may say OM MANI PEME HUNG, and then eat the worm: the worm is moving and gets chopped into pieces, and the bird enjoys it. Then the bird goes for another one. So, in that way, you can be verbally saying good things, but mentally you are totally disconnected with what you are saying. That can happen. But with mind it cannot happen, because if your mind is purely aware and purely dedicated, and engaged with the practice of dharma, for example, with a good motivation such as devotion and compassion, then that wouldn't happen. In this way the mind is the most important.
At the same time, according to the mahamudra teaching, everything that we see, hear and interact with: nature and the universe, everything is the interdependent and interconnected manifestation of everything that has to do with our mind. So there is no difference between our mind and everything else. In essence, it is its reflection. Some reflections are very serious, so it's solid. Some reflections are not that serious, so they are not that solid. For example, some people like big hats, some people like small hats, some people like blue hats, some people like purple hats and most people like white hats. So there are different perceptions, you know? But some things are very, very, very serious, and very much in common with everybody else. In this way, the mind is the most important. It's like a king. Its like the heart or core of everything, and so practice with the mind is actually the most important.
Out of all the aspects of practice then, the most important is meditation, because without meditating one cannot attain buddhahood. It is impossible without meditating. This is because what has to be enlightened is our mind, and our mind has the perfect essence in it, as the embodiment of it, and we have to let it manifest. And how can it manifest if we don't let it manifest? So meditation is letting it manifest, and in this way, meditation is the most important aspect of practice.
In itself, mahamudra practice has a tremendous amount of methods. At the same time, mahamudra is about everything; so everything is mahamudra, in principle. I can't say we have the method, but, in principle, if you are able to do anything correctly and ultimately then you will become Buddha, you will attain realisation of mahamudra. I will give you a very, very simple example: we eat rice or bread every day, or we drink water or some form of liquid every day. So anybody who knows how to drink a glass of water 100% perfectly and ultimately, that person is Buddha. If we know or if we do anything perfectly, ultimately, then that is mahamudra practice. However, we don't have the methods for all of those things so I can't teach you. I can only talk about it, but I can't instruct you how to drink a glass of water properly, so that you become Buddha. We don't have that method, but it is our principle.
Our method, then, is those teachings that are transmitted by our masters, through the centuries, continued from master to disciple for over 2,500 years. These are the methods that we have. These methods were compiled by many of our great masters, and then it became a systematic, organised method that goes one after another, step by step. Out of all of them, as far as our lineage is concerned, the most complete, most sacred and most implemented text is 'Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty,' by the Gyalwa Karmapa.
This text starts with the contemplation of precious human life and ends with the recognition of the nature of mind. It has teaching chapters and practice chapters: a total of 98 (or you can say 97, because the last one is final, so that doesn't count). These 97 chapters lead us from appreciating what we are: the precious human life, to the realisation of who we really are, what we really are, and what we have always been. They lead us to the recognition or the realisation of the nature of mind. So this is the most comprehensive text, as far as the mahamudra practice is concerned, in our lineage.
In this teaching there are two categories: the first is known as the preliminary practice, and the second category is the main practice. Preliminary means preliminary for the main practice. For instance, if you put up a building, you have to prepare the ground, and you have to make the foundations. You can still put up a very big building if you don't do this, but it will not work, because you might not get to live in it. So the foundation is very important. The deeper or more profound the foundation then the more your practice will be effective later, and there will also be less obstacles, less confusion and so forth. So the foundation, or the preliminary practice, is first.
The preliminary practices that are taught in the Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty are twelve: the first four are the four contemplations, the second four are purification and accumulation practices, called the four foundations, and the last four are the four conditions; four conditions because in order for your dharma practice to go well and to progress smoothly, effectively and deeply, you have to have all the conditions for it. So those four are about the conditions. So twelve foundations: four and four and four.
After that, the actual practice involved is: first, shinay or shamatha [tranquillity meditation], and then lhaktong or vipashyana [insight meditation]. The reason for this is that first our mind has to be as pure as possible and as calm as possible. Pure and calm in a sense that it is not influenced by all the things that occur in day-to-day life: the things outside and inside ourselves. We shouldn't be affected by those things, not negatively at least. So, for that, shinay is the best method, because shinay is letting yourself be calm from inside, and not trying to make yourself calm from outside. If you have good shinay you can be in the middle of a festival with singing, dancing, music, food, the smell of food, people, and all kinds of things can be happening around you, but you can still be calm. That can happen only from inside, not from outside.
To be calm from outside you have to isolate yourself. You have to go somewhere where nothing is happening, where there are no people, and there you can become externally calm. Then, inside, you can be alone on the whole planet but very much crowded inside. In that way, the means to make you externally calm does not help us in the long term; it does not help us deeply. I will give you some not very, how do you say, uplifting examples, some quite sad examples. Lots of people take alcohol, lots of people take drugs and lots and lots of people smoke to make themselves calm. However, that is external calm, and it doesn't help for that long, because you need more. First you smoke three cigarettes a day, then after that ten, then thirty and so on. Then you become a chain smoker, and you can get worse. If you take alcohol you can become an alcoholic. First you cannot go to sleep so you take a little before you go to bed. After that you have to increase it. Eventually, you have to take your drink right after you get up, and that's very bad; you are already an alcoholic. With drugs, first you take the lightest form of drugs, but then after that you need to take heavier drugs. You have to take drugs not only from smoking or eating, but you even have to inject them into your blood system, and that is bad. You are already doomed almost. If you are very strong, physically and mentally, you can come off it, but it's very difficult. So, in this way, external means of calmness are not the solution. Internal means are the solution, and that means shamatha or shinay meditation.
So next is the lhaktong practice, then introducing the nature of mind, and then dealing with every aspect of the mental and emotional states which delude the mind. For example, when we are angry we are deluded in such a way that we see everything as ugly and everything as bad. When we are deluded by attachment we are so deluded that everything becomes totally shining and all of that sort of thing: romanticising about everything. When we are jealous, everybody's happiness becomes our suffering what a terrible thing and when we are proud everybody's suffering becomes our happiness what a terrible thing. This is how the defilements delude us. They influence us and change everything.
The practice of mahamudra, step by step, is dealing with each one of those: going to the heart of each one of those and transforming them one by one. This makes the Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty a complete practice instruction for mahamudra.
The Four Contemplations
The first four preliminary practices are the four contemplations. I am not 100% sure in English language what is the difference between contemplation and meditation, but, by asking lots of questions of English speaking individuals, I came to a conclusion for myself. Still, I am not 100% sure, because I am not a linguist, but contemplation means you have something to think about or to analyse. That is contemplation. But in meditation you are not analysing anything. You are visualising, or you are just sitting, or you are following a particular text, but you are not analysing anything or trying to confirm anything. That is meditation, and that's what I understood is the difference. So I am using this terminology as if that were true, but I am not sure. Anyway, the first four I call contemplations. In Tibetan we call them chi gom. It's a gom, or a meditation, but it's a chi gom: chipa means thinking or analysing. These first four are very important, because it is described as lo duk. Lo duk means your mind, your motivation, your perception, your wish or aspiration which is not towards worldly things but towards enlightenment. Sometimes practitioners may misunderstand this and think that it means we have to become, or we are becoming, anti-social, or that we are against samsara. We are not against samsara. We are absolutely for samsara, you know? We try to attain buddhahood for the benefit of everybody in samsara; so we are not against samsara. We are deciding to take the journey towards enlightenment, which is a journey with goal, instead of continuing to journey in samsara, which is a journey without goal. We go, again and again, in a circle.
So that is the definition of lo duk. We are not saying samsara is bad or terrible, and that we are against it. Definitely not. We are saying that samsara is samsara: it is going in a circle, and samsaric activity will not get anywhere. We will keep on doing the same thing, again and again, forever. Therefore we decide not to do that. Instead, we want to journey towards enlightenment, which is not going in a circle. So every single practice and every single activity will take us one step further. It can be a baby step, or it can be a magnum step; it can be an elephant step, or it can be a tortoise step, but it is a step towards enlightenment. So we decide to do that. For that reason, these first four contemplations are extremely important.
The first contemplation is "precious human life." Precious human life we all have, but if we don't know it then we can't appreciate it. If we can't appreciate it then it is as good as, or as bad as, if we didn't have it. One of the Gyalwa Karmapas says in a teaching I think it is the first Karmapa, but I am not 100% sure "If you want to see this side of the mountain clearly, go to the other side of the mountain." If you are here and you try to see what this really looks like, you cannot see it clearly. If you go over there and turn around this way then you will see this place very clearly. So we have the precious human life, but if we don't look at it, by putting ourself over there, we cannot see what we have, and then we cannot appreciate it. If we don't appreciate ourself then all the problems happen, you know? All of us, one way or another, have something to complain about, or maybe a couple of things to complain about. We have a couple of things to moan about and a couple of things to worry about, but if we are able to see ourself clearly, we will know how fortunate and meritorious we are. For example, I consider myself very, very, very fortunate, you know? But if I don't think about it then I have ten thousand things to complain and worry about. Really! So, in this way, the contemplation on precious human life is extremely important. That's number one.
Once we are able to have that appreciation then death/impermanence is very important. If we don't have the understanding of death/impermanence then the understanding of precious human life doesn't really help. Death/impermanence we know very well. We don't have to use any special effort, and it doesn't take a genius to discover this. If we look around, who is 100 years old here? Nobody. And the newborn of today will also not be here after 100 years; that is almost guaranteed almost. So in that way, we will not last very long. I came here for the first time 25 years ago, and even this project [the construction of Sherab Ling] is not finished. Three times that will be 75 years, and four of that will be 100 years. It's nothing. Human life is so short; it's really nothing. So if we don't use this life meaningfully then we will lose this for sure. Therefore, after learning to appreciate our precious human life, our existence, we have to realise impermanence or death/impermanence.
After knowing death/impermanence, we have to understand karma or cause and condition. When we die it is not just like a candle ran out and the flame goes off; it's not like that. It's not like a glass dropped on the floor and broke; it's not like that either. We are here, and this is proof that we came from somewhere. Also, because we are here, this is the proof that we will go somewhere. How can we be here without coming from somewhere? Impossible. How can today exist without yesterday? How can today exist without tomorrow? So it is a very simple thing. This makes us aware that we are the result of our past, and our future will be the result of now. It will be. So karma, or cause and result, means that. If there is no karma then everybody will be equal. Everybody will look the same, sound the same and think the same. The state of education, state of power and state of economy will be precisely the same. As long as this is not so then it is the karma that makes everything so different.
I know all kinds of people: some people are very educated, and some people are uneducated; some people are rich, some are poor; some are healthy, and some are unhealthy. There are so many variations. I know people who are healthy, rich and powerful but very unhappy. I also know people who are poor, with bad health; they are sick and have no power, but they are very happy, and vice versa also. So many different things, why? Because each and every one has their own cause and condition: that's karma. Also, there's another proof for that, which is that when you become Buddha, you are above and beyond karma. Therefore all the Buddhas are equal. When you become Buddha and are beyond karma, you are liberated and purified of all karma: cause, conditions, everything. So all the Buddhas are equal. Until then nobody's going to be equal, 100%. Of course, equal opportunities and equal rights are one thing, but exercising the equal opportunity and equal rights is another thing, and achieving the equal opportunity and the equal rights is absolutely a different thing. So that is karma. We have to know that after we die it's not just finished. It is the same thing. It continues. Therefore, when we live we have to live, but we also have to appreciate our life. We have to use each moment as positively as possible, as meaningfully as possible. So that is the third contemplation.
The last contemplation is the suffering of samsara. After knowing the first three, the suffering of samsara is a very important thing to understand. If we don't understand that then we might be a very virtuous person, a very religious person, but we still end up in samsara. How? If we don't understand the suffering of samsara then we may say "Oh, I better not lie." Why? "Because in my future life nobody is going to believe me, even if I tell the truth, or I might be born as somebody who cannot speak." So for that purpose you speak the truth. Then we want to be generous and don't want to steal anything, because of the fear that in the next life we will become poor: that we will have nothing, if we steal in this life. Of course, those kinds of attitudes are good. You don't want to be sick next life, so in this life you don't cause any injury to anybody. You don't want to be poor in the next life, so this life you don't steal anything. In the next life you want to be respected by everybody for what you say, so in this life you don't tell lies. These things are very good, but that's still samsaric dharma: not for enlightenment, not for buddhahood. Therefore, one has to understand the shortcomings of samsara.
In this way, the four contemplations: precious human life, death/impermanence, karma, or cause and result and the suffering of samsara, all of these four contemplations, have their own very, very important reason for that step. Those four stages have to be practiced as they are. Okay.
Purification & Accumulation
Now the second foundation, which is known as the four foundations, is actually a practice which includes meditation, recitation and also physical practice. This begins with the refuge and prostration practice, then Vajrasattva visualisation and recitation practice, and after that the mandala offering and guru yoga. In principle, all of the practice of dharma is, in one way or another, a form or purification and accumulation. Purification, I think, is the correct terminology, but accumulation I have some problem with, because it also really means that what is negative has to be purified, but what is positive has to be accumulated or developed. So maybe this terminology of accumulation is not 100% correct, but let's use it as a working terminology. Purification and accumulation, in essence, are actually the same thing. You cannot say that this is purification only, and that is accumulation only. For example, if you have dirty clothes, they are dirty clean clothes. It has to be, because the clothes have to be clean first, so that when you wash out the dirt, they can become clean again. They were clean, and then something happened so that they became dirty: paint or dust or whatever. When you wash the clothes to make them clean again, what you are doing is purifying or cleaning the dirt, and accumulating, developing or revealing the cleanness which is there when it is still dirty. So that's exactly how dharma practice is: we are Buddha in our essence.
This is very interesting, because lots of people say "I want to become Buddhist," or "I am not Buddhist," or "I am Buddhist but they are not Buddhist." Well, officially and intentionally, whether you say you are Buddhist or not is one thing, but in essence everybody is Buddha. So actually, everybody is more than Buddhist: everybody is the embodiment of Buddha. Anyway, that is what is clean or what is perfect. Through our countless lifetimes of wrong doings or right doings and all of those things, we became obscured, so now we do not look like a Buddha, we do not sound like a Buddha, we do not think like a Buddha, and we definitely do not manifest like a Buddha. That is what we have to purify. When we say "purification" then as we are purifying the pureness has to be revealed. There's no such thing as just purifying without the pureness being revealed. It's not two efforts; it is one effort. We clean then cleanness appears. So purification and accumulation are the same thing, but these particular practices of the foundations are divided into two, with the first two being purification oriented practice, and the second two, accumulation oriented practice.
The descriptions of vajrayana teaching are so many, but one of them is that there are plenty of methods; never short of methods. In this way, all of these practices, such as the four foundations, are part of this variety, and these varieties are for a specific purpose. The first two are purification, so prostration practice comes first and Vajrasattva practice comes second, and the reason is very, very clear: prostration is first as a physically oriented practice, and Vajrasattva is second as a mental and, specifically, verbally oriented practice. You have to recite the Vajrasattva mantra, and then you have to visualise the purification. Now, with prostrations, you have to recite the text, and you have to visualise, but, at the same time, the main part of the effort here is the physical prostration. So, when you are prostrating, you know you are prostrating. It's not unnoticeable, you know. When you are doing Vajrasattva it can be unnoticed by you: whether you are reciting or not, or whether you are visualising or not. But when you do the prostrations, you will never have that problem. However, for a meditator or practitioner to sit down for hours and say mantras is very difficult, definitely for beginners. Of course, even for seasoned practitioners this can be a problem, because if you are doing well then you will fall asleep, you know? If you fall asleep as soon as you do the meditation and prayer that means you are doing well. You are able to relax; your practice doesn't cause you stress, and that's a very good sign. If it happens that after you do the practice you cannot sleep, and even at night you have problems sleeping, then you have a problem with your practice, because you are not doing it right. You're not able to relax; you're not able to calm down, and the practice causes you stress. That is not right. Something is wrong. So although falling asleep is a good sign, it is also an enormous obstacle. However, vajrayana methods are such that when you are doing prostrations it's very difficult to fall asleep [laughter]. In that way it is very good practice for the beginner; it is a very good practice for someone who starts.
Now what are we purifying? We are purifying our body, we are purifying our speech and we are purifying our mind. So, with the body, what are we purifying? This body is nothing more and nothing less than the fruit of our karma; this is what it is. All of our karma is physically manifest as however we manifest physically. Of course there is much more, but physically. Second is our speech. Our speech is expression; we communicate through our speech. Some people communicate with themselves through their speech, but most of us speak to other people. It is communication and expression of ourself, and that is actually the translation of our karmic cause and conditions, all translated and communicated through our speech. So that is karmic fruit as well. Next is our mind. Of course, when we say mind (we have so many Buddhist scholars and masters here so I have to be very careful), mind has so many levels. So here, when I say mind I mean the dualistic aspect of our mind. We call ourselves 'I' and everybody else 'others,' so this is the kind of mind I am talking about. This mind is the fruit of our karma as well. We think in a certain way, certain things affect us in a certain way, and we react to certain things in a certain way. All of this is the result of our karma. So when we say purify then there has got to be something pure in there, otherwise you cannot purify. For example, you cannot purify a bowl of ink. It's impossible. No matter how much you wash it, it's still black. It still comes out as ink. You wash, wash, wash, and you are finished with it. There's nothing in there that you can clean, because it's all ink, but if it is a diamond that is covered with dirt then you can purify it, or you can clean it. When you clean it, the dirt is gone, and the cleanness inside is revealed. So, like the clean clothes that became dirty, if you wash them then the cleanness is revealed. In that way, when we say purification, there has got to be something pure in there, and that is our mind: the essence of our mind. So we purify all of the temporary defilements, all of the temporary outcomes of our defilements, and all of the habits that are created through the defilements. These things are what we purify. Now, the essence of our mind is incorruptible. It can never be contaminated by anything, so it is always pure. Therefore the purification terminology becomes justified.
Prostrations are physical purification. I wouldn't say it is hard practice, physically, because when you look at the workers at the construction sites or in a coal mine then that is hard work. But, with prostrations, you are in a nice room, you have a clean floor and you are appropriately dressed. You have a little pad for your knees, a little pad for your hands, and you have a beautiful Buddha image up there. You sit quietly and meditate first, and then do your prostrations and counting, one by one. That's not such hard work. Out of all the other practices that is, how do you say, the most noticeable physical activity. In this way, it is physically oriented purification practice, but it also involves visualisation, which is mind, and recitation, which is speech. So that's first. In the tradition of our lineage we do 110,000 prostrations. 10,000 is to make up for any mistakes we make in the counting. When you do something good and set a certain number, less is not good, but more is no problem. So to make sure we do 100,000 prostrations we add 10,000.
After completing the prostration practice, next we do the Dorje Sempa practice, or in Sanskrit (which I am not very good at because I did not study) it will be something like Vajrasattva. Tibetans will pronounce it Benza Sato, so the Dorje Sempa or Benza Sato recitation. This recitation involves visualisation of a particular deity, and that's a very important part of it.
Buddha is two things: there is the historical Buddha of our time, Buddha Shakyamuni, and the lineage of dharma comes from him. Another Buddha is all the Buddhas: not just Prince Siddhartha but all the Buddhas. Earlier I said that all the Buddhas are equal, because they are above and beyond anything that is dualistic, which includes karma. The Buddha that represents that, the Buddha which represents all aspects of Buddha, is Buddha Vajradhara. Then we have the five Buddha families, and the king of all five Buddha families is represented by Buddha Vajrasattva or Dorje Sempa. We recite the hundred-syllable mantra of Dorje Sempa and visualise the purification, and in this way we purify all aspects of our karmic conditions, and the causes of all the karmic conditions: the defilements themselves. The five Buddha families represent the transformed aspects of the five defilements, and Dorje Sempa represents all of it. In this way, it is the highest kind of purification deity (if you like, you can call it a deity). Then we say the purification mantra of that deity 110,000 times. As you see very clearly, prostrations are physically oriented purification, and Dorje Sempa is verbally oriented purification, and both go with the mind, because both physically and verbally oriented purification practices involve your mind. Mind is the key, of course. With these two practices the purification oriented practices are complete. Then we start the accumulation oriented practice.
When we say accumulate, as I mentioned earlier, it means when we are accumulating merit and when we are accumulating wisdom. Merit is necessary, because wisdom can only be contained if we have merit. Wisdom cannot be contained if we don't have merit. I will give you a very stupid example: not a wise one, not a divine one and not a spiritual one but a worldly one. So, everybody knows that everyone wants to be rich not everyone but most people. Rich means you have a lot of money, but even for that one has to have merit. If a person who does not have much merit is given a big amount of money, what will that person do? That person will not be able to handle it. Instead, that person will get into so much trouble, and that money will destroy them, but if that person has merit then they are able to use it and enjoy it; they are able to do good things with it. In this way, even for worldly things we need merit, and for spiritual things, of course. So we cannot contain wisdom if we don't have merit. In order to develop wisdom we need merit, and for that we practise the accumulation of merit. Merit accumulation means doing good things: physically, mentally and verbally good things, beneficial things that are meritorious. Accumulation means you do lots of good things or lots of positive things, so that after some time it becomes natural for you to do good things. When it becomes un-natural for you to do bad things, that is a sign of merit. When it becomes easier for you to do positive, helpful and good things, rather than to be negative and harmful and all of that, then that means you have developed some merit.
These days I have sensed (but I could be wrong) that many people think, when somebody is doing something not so good, they will say "Oh, its human nature." It is a widespread popular concept that it is easier to do bad things than good things. It is kind of a natural concept. That's what many people experience, which means a time of degeneration, or that we are not so meritorious, if that is the case.
Through doing good things we accumulate merit, so here, in the practice of mandala offering, the means of accumulating merit that we are using, or are taught, is the offering of the universe. Giving to the poor, disadvantaged or needy, offering to Buddha or bodhisattvas, or for a good cause are all giving. Here we are following the path of devotion to all the Buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities, and we are offering the universe. Of course our real offering here represents one solar system: the sun, the moon and the continent etc., but then that is followed by an aspiration of the whole universe.
The Buddha taught that our solar system is part of a "third thousand" universe system. That means 1000 times 1000 times 1000, or one billion solar systems functioning together, and we are part of it. So we are envisioning the offering of all of the universe. Of course Buddha also says that this third thousand universe system is just like one grain of sand in the river Ganges, and that there are countless third thousand universes in endless space. They cannot be counted. When we are offering this, we are offering the whole universe represented by one solar system each time. If we believe in it, and if we mean it then we are really offering the whole universe. The whole universe belongs to us, because the whole universe is the manifestation of our karma. The universe, as we perceive it, is the manifestation of our own karma, and so it belongs to us; we belong to it; we are part of it. In this way, we are truly offering one solar system representing the whole universe each time we make one mandala offering. One mandala offering, once you are really practicing it, takes maybe 20 or 30 seconds. So each 20 or 30 seconds you are offering one whole solar system representing all the universe. That can, and will, be meritorious. Giving one apple to a beggar is meritorious; donating money to a good charitable organisation is meritorious; helping somebody sick is meritorious, but offering the whole universe has to be meritorious, because it will be so much of what we consider meritorious. In this way, it is a tremendous vajrayana sacred method, that really gives the opportunity for everybody, rich or poor, fortunate or unfortunate. Anybody can afford to do the mandala offering. Of course, if we don't believe in it then that's another thing, but if you truly, truly mean to offer the whole universe each time then it is meritorious. If you just follow the ritual and are not really feeling it or believing in it then it will be meritorious, but that's not exactly what it's meant for. So that is one thing. Another thing is that when we are doing some small things, we can be quite non-dualistic about it, but when we are doing a little bit bigger things then we are very dualistic about it, and we hold onto it. For example, when you give 5 rupees to a beggar, you will not think about it, and you will be quite non-dualistic about it, but if you do a little bit more than that, it comes into your mind, and you will think of it for several days "Oh my goodness, I gave such and such to that fellow, and I'm a good person": that sort of self gratification. In the same way, if we offer something to a Buddha image or something then whenever we see the Buddha, we will also remember what we have done before. Here we are offering such an enormous amount, but it doesn't even occur to us that we have done it. Of course, for most of us, that may happen because we don't believe that we are offering a universe [laughter]. We think that we are just offering a few grains of rice on a plate, you know? So that's why. However, if we really mean it, it's a tremendous way of accumulating merit. We practice this 110,000 times, and after that we do the guru yoga.
The guru yoga is the accumulation of wisdom. Wisdom, of course, many of you know, and I think I also mentioned something about it earlier, but I will try to make it more clear. Here, wisdom actually means the awakening of primordial wisdom. It's the same thing as purification: we have wisdom; we are all Buddha in our essence right now; we all have primordial wisdom right now, but that primordial wisdom has to manifest. That primordial wisdom has to shine forth. So, for that, we do the guru yoga.
Terminology wise, Guru yoga means the practice of the guru. But really, the meaning of guru yoga is that from Buddha until now, for over 2500 years of the lineage, the transmission has taken place from the guru, or master, to the disciple. In that way, the living blessing, the living presence of Buddha's primordial wisdom, has continued, so that we can receive it. Then our primordial wisdom can start to manifest. It is like if you have a seed: you put water on it, and it slowly starts to grow. So that is what blessing is; that is what guru yoga is.
As an example, you know that I am a guru, or everybody thinks that I am a guru. That's fine, but when I talked about guru yoga I used to feel a little bit paranoid. It sounded like I was telling others how important I am, and how everybody should worship me, you know? That kind of fear was there, sometime back. But that happened because I really didn't understand 100% (then I would be Buddha). I didn't understand then as much as I understand now about what guru yoga and guru devotion are, and what all of these things mean. So there's no reason for me to get paranoid, because it is the blessing of the lineage. It is not my blessing, alright? It is the blessing of the lineage. If it is my blessing that I have to give you then you would have to wait for quite some time [laughter]. If I said that I am very ambitious, maybe 100 lifetimes, because if I improve by 1% each lifetime, I will be Buddha after 100 lifetimes, and so then you will have a blessing: you will have my blessing, you know. But it is not like that. It is the blessing of the Buddha that you are getting through the guru. It is like this light: the bulb is not giving the light, the wire is not giving the light and the switch is not giving the light, but the powerhouse which gives the current is way over there. You don't see it, and you don't hear it, but it's over there. So it is the Buddha's enlightenment, which is ever present, beyond time or any limitation, that continues through the gurus of the lineage, but it can only continue if the samaya is not broken. If the wire is broken the light won't come. The powerhouse can be a very big one, but the light won't be here. Also, if the bulb is burned, no light will come. Similarly, if the lineage is not broken somewhere, because of the broken samaya, then the blessing continues from Buddha to the guru, and from the guru to the disciple. So that's how it works. It's very clear, I think.
Now, the mahamudra lineage guru yoga of the four foundations is such that you receive abhisheka or empowerment. You receive the body empowerment, speech empowerment and mind empowerment, in the form of absorption of the mandala of the refuge: the mandala of the guru, deity, Buddha, dharma, sangha and protector. From this mandala you are receiving the blessing, you are receiving the abhisheka. In this way, we do the first two practices as the purification, then we accumulate merit so that we can contain the wisdom, and then we receive the abhisheka. We do the guru yoga so that we receive the transmission of the blessing of the Buddha, the blessing of the lineage. So that is how the four foundation practices are taught: with that particular purpose.
Many times I have met with individuals who say that they have done this practice and that practice, but they haven't done that one or that one. Sometimes it appears that people did mandala offering but not Vajrasattva and not prostrations. Sometimes they did the Vajrasattva first and prostration second, because it was more convenient or less convenient, and so on like that. Nothing's wrong with that, of course, but that is not really how it should be done. First should be prostrations then Dorje Sempa, mandala offering and then guru yoga. Then it is in order. Otherwise, it is little bit like eating dessert first, and then you eat the main course. Nothing wrong with that it won't explode but that's not the purpose of each thing. For each thing the purpose has to be served.
Now one last thing: with many new practitioners there is a sense of a little bit of a complex, or a feeling, about doing foundation practice. It sounds like the person is somewhat immature and something like at kindergarten or a beginner somewhere. They think that foundation practice is almost like a punishment, or a test for the practitioner, as to whether you can really make it or not. This is really wrong, because each one of these practices, if you do it as a main practice, can lead you all the way to enlightenment. So if you just do prostrations as your main practice, it can lead you to buddhahood. If you do Dorje Sempa only, it can lead you to buddhahood. Each one is a complete practice in itself. So that is briefly about Ngondro or preliminary practice, and with all the general things about mahamudra, I think these are now somewhat addressed.
Then, in mahamudra practice, after the ngondro, shinay meditation is taught. Shinay is extremely important, because it is allowing us to rest, in peace, so that our true essence can manifest and function. When you practice shinay, the sign of whether your shinay is doing well or not is very simple: if your defilements become less then it is a good sign that your shinay is going well. It is due to our ignorance that we develop dualistic perception, and through that we reinforce our defilements. As long as there is 'I' and 'other,' there will be attachment, anger, jealousy and pride: naturally. You cannot have 'I' and 'other', these dualistic concepts, without having attachment, jealousy, anger, ignorance, pride and all these things. It's impossible. As long as there is 'I' there will be some choice: "I like this very much; I like this quite okay, but this I definitely don't like," you know? So if there is something that I don't like (this happens to me a lot) then I will be angry. If there is something that I like very much, and if somebody else has achieved that, but I don't, then I will be jealous. If I achieve what I like very quickly, but others have to work very hard, then I will be proud. I will think, "I must be good. I must be better than everybody else." So these things are a production of one another. Shinay practice is to overcome the influence of those defilements, by overcoming the hindrances of thoughts, perceptions and those things. So then we become calm, and our true clearness is somehow allowed to function. That's shinay.
Lhaktong is clarity. Calmness is one thing, but clarity is another thing. So, calm but clear. When I see some person who has drunk lots of whiskey and is just lying there looking very calm, not doing anything and not saying anything, that is not clear. Definitely not [laughter]. So shinay is the calmness, but lhaktong is clarity. The calmness that one achieves through shinay is maintained with awareness, and that is lhaktong. There are a tremendous number of methods in that.
After good shinay and good lhaktong, the union of shinay and lhaktong is addressed. If we don't have the unity of shinay and lhaktong, we might be very a good practitioner in the shrine, and a very good practitioner on the meditation cushion, but as soon as we are off the cushion and out of the shrine, we will be just like everybody else (when I say everybody else, I am presuming that everybody is not Buddha yet). So in order to have true maturity, and maintain the state of mind which we achieved through good shinay and lhaktong, then the unity of shinay and lhaktong is emphasised.
Once we are able to develop a good state of meditation there, then introduction to the nature of mind is addressed. Introduction to the nature of mind is something that happens as the result of our own inner progress, our own awakening of primordial wisdom. It cannot be done just because we want it to happen. It cannot be done by force or wanting. It can only happen when it happens. Once we have good shinay, and we are calm and stable, then we try to generate pure devotion: devotion to the Buddhas, the bodhisattvas, the lineage of the masters of mahamudra and our guru. In this way the most sincere, pure, state of mind manifests, as result of our pure devotion. Once that is achieved, we maintain the awareness of that pure devotion. That is one way to have a glimpse of the nature of mind.
Another way is to generate compassion for all sentient beings. All sentient beings are suffering in samsara, and all sentient beings are our mother sentient beings. They are suffering, and we have sincere and pure compassion towards them all. Once we generate that then we do the same thing: we maintain the awareness of that compassion, that pure compassionate state of mind, and that way we have the chance to have glimpses of the nature of mind.
But of course, both of these are not 100% pure and naked recognition of the nature of mind, because both of them are tainted by devotion and compassion. For us, we don't have any choice. It has to be that way, to begin with. It is like somebody who has hepatitis: they look at a conch shell which is white, and they will see it as yellow. They can't help , because they have hepatitis, but the good thing is that they see a conch shell which is whiter than everything else. Everything is yellow, but out of that, the conch shell is more white. It is not the real conch shell that they see, but still they see it. So as long as we are dualistic, we cannot force ourself to be non-dualistic; it is impossible. Therefore, as long as we are dualistic, we have to go through such methods as devotion and compassion. Through that we recognise the nature of mind. Then, as the practice progresses, we will be able to truly realise the nature of mind, which is not influenced by any dualistic perception whatsoever. Those are the particulars of the step by step practice of mahamudra.
As you develop, there are four stages of mahamudra progress. The first is one-pointedness, the second is simplicity, the third is one-taste and the fourth is non-meditation. Each one of them has three steps, so altogether there are twelve stages of mahamudra progress, or mahamudra realisation. For example, when you reach the third step of the fourth level of maturity, that is known as one-taste. It means "mind and matter," and there is very little duality. As a result of that, a practitioner may manifest miracles.
When I go to the west, people somehow try to pretend that they are not interested in miracles. I don't believe it; it's not true. They say that because they are interested. Then of course, when I am in the east everybody is thrilled by miracles. So anyway, why do miracles happen? What is the difference between miracles and magic? Magic is a dualistic outcome, whereas miracles are the manifestation of non-dualism. Milarepa could fly in the sky, just like birds. Why? Not because he learned how to fly, but because, for him, walking on the ground or flying in the sky is the same thing. There is no difference. That's why he can fly.
One time Milarepa was with one of his disciples, and there was a big storm coming. Milarepa disappeared, and so the disciple was in big trouble. Then he heard his master sing a song; so he was looking around in the pouring rain and storm, but he couldn't find him. Finally he listened to where the sound came from, and he saw a horn on the ground: the horn of a dead animal. So he went there, and heard his masters voice coming from the horn. He looked inside, and Milarepa was inside the horn, but Milarepa hadn't become smaller. Then the disciple looked outside, and the horn had not got bigger. So, I think he was a little bit puzzled, and then Milarepa said "If you are as good as me then come inside" [laughter]. So that is another one of his miracles, but it doesn't mean Milarepa knows only those two things.
A miracle, by definition, is not playing tricks or playing games, but it means that one has reached the state of realisation where mind and matter are non-dual. From that state, the great masters, like Milarepa, can manifest miracles. We may say perform miracles, but I think that's very misleading. Anyway, that is one example of the particular steps of mahamudra practice. Then comes the twelfth stage, and beyond that is the realisation of mahamudra. That's the realisation of buddhahood, which is absolute freedom and liberation, with no limitation whatsoever, for the sake of all sentient beings: for their liberation and realisation, without any limitation. So that is the final part of the mahamudra teaching and practice. Now I am saying all of this and teaching this according to the Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty. That is how Mahamudra Ocean of Certainty is introduced by the Gyalwa Karmapa.
A final thing for our mahamudra teaching here that I would like to share with you, is a few words which have been very, very beneficial for me. I am not a great practitioner I think everybody knows that and I am not a Buddha for sure, you know. Very, very far away from it, but I have received lots of blessing from many, many great masters, especially my Vajradhara, His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. Through their blessings I received a tremendous amount of transmission, and, as a result, I think I have some blessing in me from them, which is still alive and functioning. As a practitioner, or as a trying practitioner, of mahamudra, the particular terminology or the particular words written by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, in his Mahamudra Prayer, have been a tremendous help for me, to say the least. So therefore I would like to share some of these verses with you.
The first is about shinay. There are four sentences that Gyalwa Karmapa writes about shinay. He says:
Let the waves of subtle and coarse thoughts subside into
their own place
And the waters of mind, without movement come
spontaneously to rest,
Free from the contaminations of discursiveness and sloth,
May I establish a still ocean of shamatha
He gives the example of mind as an ocean, and a stable calm ocean as a calm mind. So it tells us, very clearly, that the biggest obstacle to shinay is thoughts. Thoughts are caused by emotions, and they are caused by defilements, of course, and vice versa.
Now, he did not say that we should stop thinking, but he said subside: the waves subside in the ocean. That's very important. Lots of the time, people think that when you meditate, especially in shinay meditation, you should not be thinking. That is very strange actually, because everybody has thoughts, but when you say "I should stop thinking" then that thought, which you create purposely, has to be stronger than the thought that is already there naturally. So you are not overcoming thought, you are actually creating more thoughts.
How to remedy this is very simple: don't try to recollect the past; don't try to generate thoughts of the future; just let things come and let things go. Everything is perfect as it is, if we don't do anything. So if we just sit there quietly, and decide not to have anything to do with planning and all of these things for this one hour of our meditation, then, first there will be lots of thought, but if we don't do anything then it will be less and less, and we will have a quite calm state of mind. Of course, we will not have a totally thoughtless mind. A thoughtless mind is impossible. If we have a thoughtless mind we will not even notice it. So if anybody says "I have a thoughtless mind" then that is already a thought [laughter]. So noticing, itself, is a thought. Next the Gyalwa Karmapa writes about lhaktong, and here he says:
Looking again and again at the mind which cannot be
Seeing vividly, just as it is, the meaning which cannot be seen,
May the 'yes' and 'no' of doubt be cut
And the genuine self-nature understood.
This is about lhaktong. Once we have a good state of shinay then, not looking for anything, not looking at anything, just maintain the awareness of that state of calmness. Just maintain the awareness. Just maintain it, and maintain it with awareness. That is lhaktong; that we can comprehend. Of course lhaktong has many levels.
Now the Karmapa's words about compassion. He says:
The nature of all beings is buddha;
Not realizing that, we wander in endless samsara.
For the boundless suffering of sentient beings
May unbearable compassion be conceived in my being.
So the purpose and definition of compassion are very clearly stated here. True compassion is really true respect for all sentient beings. When you see somebody doing terrible things and suffering terrible consequences, you are not feeling compassionate towards that person just out of pity, but that person is Buddha, and so they do not deserve to suffer; they do not have to do all of that, and that is not what they want to do. Even the worst person, the most evil being, definitely doesn't want to be evil. It's guaranteed. So therefore, once you know all of that clearly, then what you feel for that person is compassion. That's called compassion. Unbearable compassion does not mean you have to become desperate, and will do all sorts of things, you know? That's not correct. If you do all sorts of things because you have unbearable compassion, desperately, then you might make things worse, and that's not what it means. It means that you will do everything that you can to awaken your Buddha essence, so that you will be able to awaken each one of those sentient being's Buddha essence.
One of my very good friends asked me a very interesting question. I was talking about enlightenment, and this person asked me "What is the benefit of enlightenment? What is the benefit of becoming Buddha? What it will do for society?" That person is a very hard working and very good person: interested in helping people. Not only interested, but doing lots of things for people. Then I said (and I really mean this), "It will do exactly what Buddha Shakyamuni did for all of us. If I become Buddha, it will bring benefit to all sentient beings, just as Buddha Shakyamuni brings benefit to all of us. If you become Buddha, it will bring benefit to all sentient beings, just as Buddha Shakyamuni brings benefits to all of us. That's how it will benefit." So unbearable compassion means this.
Then, the unity of compassion and emptiness is extremely important. For that Gyalwa Karmapa wrote four sentences. He said:
Although such compassion be skilful and unceasing,
In the moment of compassion, may the truth of its
essential emptiness be nakedly clear.
This unity is the supreme unerring path;
Inseparable from it, may I meditate day and night
So the Gyalwa Karmapa describes the unity of compassion and emptiness this way. Now, what does this mean? When we practice compassion for all sentient beings, we don't get dualistic about it. We are as non-dualistic as possible. We know that all sentient beings are not suffering ultimately, and all sentient beings are not ignorant ultimately. All sentient beings are suffering relatively, and all sentient beings are ignorant relatively. So it is emptiness: it's all interdependent. All sentient beings appear to be ignorant and suffering because of all of the karma, and that is because of the ignorance, and that is because of and so on and so forth. So everything is interdependent. Nothing is independent; nothing is ultimate. Therefore, as you generate your compassion, the non-attachment or non-grasping in your compassion is constant. Then your compassion will never go wrong. Otherwise your compassion might turn into "idiot compassion." That means having compassion for one person, because somebody is causing that person suffering, and so you hate that other person. That is idiot compassion, you know? You help one to hurt another, or you hurt one to help another. That's back to square one. That's nothing more or nothing less than going around in samsara. There is a very old Tibetan saying: 'kill the fish and feed the dog' [laughter]. So that is idiot compassion, you know? We should be able to have impartial compassion, limitless compassion, for the benefit of all sentient beings. That will happen with the unity, or the union of, compassion and emptiness.
There is one last verse from the Gyalwa Karmapa that I would like to share with you. He says:
Self-appearance, which never existed, has confused itself
Spontaneous intelligence, because of ignorance, has confused
itself into a self;
By the power of dualistic fixation one wanders in the realm
May ignorance and confusion be resolved.
This means that all the objects, those we like and those we hate, all of them, are our own our own karmic manifestation. If we don't have this particular 'eye,' we will not see this particular colour and this particular shape. If we don't have this particular 'body,' we cannot touch and feel these particular things. If we don't have this particular 'ear,' we cannot hear these particular sounds. We might have the same mind, and we can be equally neurotic, but that wouldn't have anything to do with this; that's something else. In this way, everything is our own manifestation. So, constantly mistaken as an object, the seed of dualism is planted constantly. When we call ourself 'I' like I notice I am here; you notice you are there; you notice how you feel; you notice what you want that is constantly recognising yourself, but that is mistaken as 'I'. In that way the dualism is further established, so that object and subject are maintained, and the outcome of that is samsara. Gyalwa Karmapa says "may I recognise everything as my own manifestation, and may I recognise 'I' as the non-dualistic recognition of my essence, and may that transformation take place." So these words are a tremendous blessing for me. It helped me so much, and I hope it will do the same thing for you. Okay.
One last thing (I always like to say this, and I really mean it): in our lineage there is the saying that "Just like the Garudas, and just like the snow lion, the offspring is better than the parents". So in that way, I sincerely pray that you, as the offspring of mahamudra lineage, all attain buddhahood before I do, and then I will have the privilege to be your first disciple. I sincerely pray and dedicate for that, okay? Alright.
edited and supplied courtesy of Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal
in a Dharma center"
Teaching given at Dhagpo Kagyu Ling
March 1, 2003
With respect to living in a Dharma Centre, I will try to explain some important points to keep in mind and how to apply them.
a good opportunity
Your environment here offers you an opportunity to do practice, and to help others. Both of these occupations will develop you and enable you to reach realization of mind, a far better alternative to being caught up in samsara. In the Vajrayana, much emphasis is given to the "precious human body". You are therefore encouraged to use this opportunity by choosing not to continue in the samsaric ways. In samsara, it is characteristic of living beings to be influenced, or conditioned by the results of our past actions and our habitual tendencies. We cannot really see very clearly due to these conditions and tendencies. In this way, how we see ourselves and the world around us is thus limited. Despite that, your knowing how difficult your present conditions are in samsara, and that you are somewhat at risk, has brought you here. So you must take advantage of this precious opportunity.
The Buddha's teachings tell us that the suffering of samsara is indeed strong. And the very great and experienced Lamas also attest to this fact. They compare our precious human life and ability to practise the Dharma to the near impossibility of seeing a star in the daytime. We can easily see the stars in the night sky but how difficult it is to see a daytime star! This is one way to express the rarity of our opportunity now. We are human and at the same time, we have a lot of good conditions. These will not last forever. Our opportunity in the here and now is very exceptional. If you believe this, then you know that you must use it properly without wasting any time. You should work to achieve "better" conditions by using the Dharma as your reference and continue to do so until you reach the results - until you are enlightened. Of course, the worldly meaning of "better" refers to many things, but in the Dharma, "better" points ultimately to a state of freedom from suffering; and relatively, it speaks of the availability and accessibility of the Dharma teachings. More importantly, it means to have the connection to the Dharma teachers, not only the ordinary teachers, but also the very highly realized Bodhisattvas, and the opportunity to receive teachings from them.
precious human body
The "precious human body" means a life where everything is available. It is especially applicable to all of you here, following the Vajrayana teachings, and are able to do the practice. If you look at your surroundings and at other parts of the world, many people have good capacities, and good circumstances. But at the same time, they lack the understanding of the meaning of the Dharma so they cannot choose to pursue the special qualities, which could liberate them. Then there are others who simply do not have the time to practise. Therefore, people who actually have the chance to really engage in practice are quite rare. In our tradition, the Lamas always emphasize to the disciples how extremely precious their conditions are and so they should not waste time. You know your good conditions, you know your time is precious, and mindful of this, you use your time properly. Furthermore, every lama, and every disciple can pass on this understanding to others around them. Through this sharing, more people will come to also appreciate their good conditions. They too can resolve to follow, to listen, to reflect, to keep in mind, and to act in the right direction. This is important.
cannot yet see clearly
Naturally, we always feel that it is easy to practise. We find that the Dharma is easy to understand. We all have this kind of notion. For example, if you want to learn to use a computer, you might think,
" I can learn easily enough. It is a matter of finding a teacher. I just need to get the methods then I can learn to do it."
same can be said of learning how to drive. But when it comes to the realization
of enlightened mind, it is different. If you have, for example, a cataract in
your eye, wiping or washing your eye with water cannot clear it up. Our "blindness"
due to the ignorance in the mind is similar in this way. Otherwise, by reading
and studying the Buddhist texts, a person should be able to become enlightened,
why not? The meaning of the Dharma is very difficult to see. Your obscurations
of mind are very strong. They veil you like the cataract in the eye. You cannot
clean the cataract, and wearing glasses won't remedy it. You need an operation
to remove it. The ignorance in our mind now is the same. We don't know when the
ignorance started or where it came from, but we have it. Even if you think that
you are very clever, for you to be enlightened still proves difficult. The process
is entirely different. This is why we need to follow the methods and the teachings
in order to harness some special conditions. Through them, we will be able to
see more clearly.
a natural change through practise and application
a way, the practice is not so hard - it is easy to do. But to actually achieve
the results is quite difficult. We have the ability to learn many things, but
the understanding of Enlightenment is somehow very challenging. It is possible,
and it can be simple if the right conditions are present. For example, if your
plant is drooping and it needs watering, putting some water on its leaves just
won't work. You have to water the soil. Then slowly, the plant will be revitalized.
The same applies to your learning of the Dharma. You know that samsara is difficult
to deal with from your observations of others around you, and of your own situation,
and the teachings validate your observations. Even if right now things are going
fine for you, there is no guarantee what the next moment will bring. So you feel
anxious. This is why the Dharma teaches you so that you can really understand
yourself. Only then can you clear the ignorance and start to see clearly and so
follow the Path. Seeing clearly, you can solve any problem. For this reason, you
must learn and practise until the Dharma becomes a natural part of you, like watering
the plant at its roots. And if you also place the plant in a suitable spot where
it will get plenty of sun, then in time, it will grow very naturally by itself.
The growth will take place slowly but surely. Likewise, you take care day by day
- you practise and apply the Dharma. Gradually, your conditions will change for
the better, and the result will come very spontaneously, and very naturally. You
cannot force your own progress no more than you can make the plant grow quicker
by pulling at it everyday. The right conditions will bring about a natural growth.
When you practise and apply appropriately all the conditions as taught, the result
A fundamental principle always emphasized in the Mahayana, and the Vajrayana is the quality of generosity, how to maintain this attitude and not let it drop from our mind. Generosity is one special condition of mind that we wish to develop. It leads us in a positive direction and will naturally develop our clarity. The reason why it is explained in great lengths in the Buddhist texts is because it is not so easy to do. When things are going well, we don't need so much reminding. As well, it is relatively easier to avoid the very obvious transgressions such as killing somebody, or committing a serious theft. You have taken the basic vows so these negatives you are already careful to guard against. But little things are also very important, and they are often overlooked. Talking about "ethic", and "generosity", is easy. But you must care enough to be vigilant so that you can apply them as you go about your day. Only through conscious and regular application will you be able to affect a change in your tendencies and habits.
The problem is you have very strong habits and tendencies formed already from childhood, and in some cases, from your past lives. On top of that, you are surrounded also by people with these same conditions as you. So all these tendencies are then regarded as natural. You think therefore that it is part and parcel of being human. All the influences, information, exchanges, and ways of behavior between people you accept as normal. They are a part of samsara difficult to change. If you reflect, if you try to think a little deeper, you will realize that it is possible to change. In order to change, you can gather together in a group, which is what we call a "sangha" as you do here. You can then work together, practice together, listen to the teachings together. And this is a good setting for change.
you actually try to be generous, you will find it difficult. You will see that
there are many conditions so it is very important to be aware. You try by going
step by step conscious of what you are doing and what you would like to apply
and accomplish. For example, you are living here, working and sharing many things
together. You are part of a sangha. The sangha is important but each of you as
an individual is also very important. Subconsciously you are here and you try
to stay, to learn, and to achieve something. You try to learn the Dharma and work
to get some results. This is your main objective. If you are aware of this, then
you it becomes really necessary for you to support and help one another. As you
participate, at the same time try to listen, try to reflect, try to accept, and
try to understand.
to help is actually very simple
To really take full advantage of living in a sangha, you prepare yourself. You listen, reflect and apply the teachings as best you can. The first step is to be in a very "simple" way. Everything can be very simple, and you don't need to complicate things. "Simple" means to try to support each other. It's not so easy. We can say the words. We feel that the concept sounds very positive. It almost sounds too easy except when you really try to apply its meaning in action. Of course, when everything is smooth, it is easy to be simple. But when a little disagreement appears, not even a major one at that, already things start to appear complicated. It could be about an opinion as to whether something is interesting or not, or whether someone can be available or not, these kinds of trivia can create friction, and the difficulty then sets in. The practice of generosity means "to support and to offer a chance". You already know the popular meaning of generosity is to give a lot of things, and help to others. Therefore, try to connect to the meaning, and the application of generosity by sharing with others in lieu of looking out for your self-interest.
you wish to change so you help others
Why I say this is because somehow the emotions are quite strong in every one of us. There are a lot of judgment, a lot of anger, and a lot of distractions. We say these feelings are normal while we are here in samsara. We all live like this. Of course, it is normal if you don't change anything. But being a practitioner and living together with other practitioners afford you a chance to "change". This means a chance to solve the problems, to stop the mistakes, to clear away the misunderstandings - in short, to change all the faults associated with not seeing properly. Ultimately, being here affords you a chance to clear your ignorance.
you know that you wish to change, then the next step is to realize that in order
to change, it is necessary to help one another. When you help, you also need to
accept, and you have to learn at the same time. Your attitude is important. Being
open is important. Being sincere is important. Especially for Vajrayana-practitioners,
these positive mental attributes will develop in you the ability to understand
and to actually get the meaning of the teachings. When you hear the teaching,
you can get the meaning, only then will you be able to apply them to your own
situation. This is very important to know. The main reason why you cannot really
apply the teachings is because you have not understood properly.
emotions we feel we need actually create more problems for us
In the Vajrayana, we talk about devotion, samaya, and many other important conditions. But in order for these conditions to appear in our mind, our current state of mind, to which we are so accustomed, must be entirely changed. You have a lot of emotions, and if you reflect, little by little, you will see for yourself. Each condition is sustained in order for you to achieve something. Each condition comes from attachment. In this respect, you rely on the disturbing emotions. For example, I want to be good, I want to win. In order to win, I need jealousy, I need pride, etc. to prop myself up. Without these emotional states, somehow I cannot do it. I feel that I am a loser. I am a failure. Like this, we hold on to the emotions to protect ourselves all the time. In the Vajrayana, there is a saying that tells us to go beyond this kind of self-preservation. It does not mean to just let go completely and not care about being proper. We have to be proper. At the same time, we should not let our habits, tendencies, and emotional influences disturb us and make us off-balance. We have to be aware of them. When we are with other people, we try to be open and we listen with a genuine concern for their well-being. In the Vajrayana, we are always reminded to keep in mind this expression, "we have to be perfect".
to be perfect
In order to be perfect, we have to take everything very "precisely". "To be precise" does not mean to be fanatical, or overly grasping. It means that everything should be correct. Again it hinges on a mind not obscured by the disturbing emotions. If we could do this, then we would be able to keep everything pure, and that includes all our relationships within the sangha. Through our pure associations, we also maintain our pure relationship with our Lama and all the Yidams. This is essential for our practice because it is through this purity that we are able to clear the obscurations of mind. And so our practice and its application in helping others go hand in hand. One reinforces the other and we will be able to make progress step by step, little by little.
not only in a dharma centre but in every day society
These instructions are not exclusively applicable to living in a temple or a monastery. They are equally effective in application within our society at large, with the general populace. Whether we are in a Dharma centre, in a lay community, or living at home, an essential quality we must have is love. We need to have love and compassion, kindness towards all living beings. Without love and compassion, we cannot support others. All Buddhist teachings connect us to these basic qualities. In order to understand and embrace love and compassion, we must recognize that the cause that creates suffering is ego-clinging rooted in attachment and desire. Therefore where there is attachment or desire, there can never be room for selfless love and compassion.
With respect to practical everyday things, it is very important to share everything - the teachings, the work, etc. Everybody is here almost every day, so there are many opportunities to share. Naturally, you will feel emotional, judgmental, and distracted. But in the beginning, try to apply a little effort, and then eventually, you will be able to share spontaneously. This means that every time you are disturbed, every time you are judging, try to pull back and look at yourself. In this way, you will see. You might, at first, get a little confused. Remember to always refer back to what the teachings tell you, then you will begin to understand your own problems.
do not expect
Just as we are not perfect, we should not expect others to be perfect. We can see our own problems. We realize that we need to change. Therefore, when confronted with others whom you view as imperfect and not pure, rather than feeling distressed, try to see why you feel the way you do. The teachings tell us that the cause is our own conditions rooted in ignorance. Therefore, try to look within and see your own conditions. Be aware and continue to support others. Don't expect to change immediately. As much as you can, try to engender love and compassion. Continue to work on yourself and at the same time, help others as well. Through this, step by step, you will improve.
you need to change because of karma
alternative to change is to continue to be caught up in samsara, to continue in
the same old ways. You may think to yourself, "Ah, never mind." You
think it is easier to just let go. You also understand that you will not attain
any realization. But no matter what you decide to do, karma continues, too. There
is always cause and effect. Whatever causes we have created, they will surely
ripen into their corresponding effects. These will most likely distract you even
more, robbing you of your capacities and qualities. Therefore, it is worth your
while now to try to share. We are not talking about sharing the "big"
things, but just the very small things. Every day you live, you see and you feel
the opportunities are there. Sometimes we try to ignore them. Instead of covering
them up, pay a little more attention, think a bit deeper.
" Yes, it is important for me to change and it is important to help others."
Then if you apply this kind of idea, you are improving your conditions. These improved conditions will in turn connect you closer to the Dharma. You find yourself able to understand the meaning and to follow them by yourself.
to really feel that you need help
When we actually put effort into trying to help, we will see the difficulties - how we are not able to do certain things, how we cannot see clearly. Even when you want to see, you cannot see. It's not so easy; it's very hard, same as having a cataract. This kind of difficulty you will see. Then you really feel that you have to apply what the teachings say. You will then focus and try to genuinely embrace a kind mind. For example, you are falling from a tree, your mind is fully concentrated, "I need help!" You will cry out, "help, help!" This sense of immediate urgency will appear in the moment when you fully recognize that "help" is crucial. Otherwise, you would not feel that you need help.
In the practice of Guru Yoga of Milarepa, or of Karmapa, in general, we are just saying and following the words in the traditional prayer text. But there are times when we feel that we definitely need help, "I really need some help here." At that moment, it is good to reflect, and to apply the real meaning of the words. It is good to verbalize your sincere plea for help. That is the meaning and purpose of the phrase, "Karmapa tchenno". It is a plea to Karmapa, "Karmapa, you are the one who knows. I see my difficulty so please help me." There is no other reason to say it outside of this one meaning. But for some people who have never yet met Karmapa, praying to him might be difficult for them. They might be just following an idea. But it is good that all of you here have met Karmapa many times now, so it makes it so much easier for you to concentrate in your prayer. In the absolute sense, whether a person has met Karmapa or not should make no difference. But relatively speaking, it is easier when you have made contact at the relative level. Every time you pray, you always remind yourself of the real meaning behind the words. This is the proper way to pray. It really helps. It is really effective. We can pray like this all the time. We don't have to wait for big problems before we pray. Even for the small problems we encounter, if we really reflect, they can be quite significant, too. In this way, we use every chance to reflect, and to apply the meaning of prayer.
don't get upset so quickly
In every day
situations, often we find ourselves unable to apply the teachings because we get
upset. Let's suppose you asked someone to do something, and the person didn't
do it. You would feel upset. Without proper reflection, you think your irritation
normal. But if you really try to think,
" What is the cause of my disturbance? What is the effect on me, is it in accordance with what the Dharma tells me? I should try to refer back to the teachings to see how they relate to my own situation."
Somehow, you think that the other
person's not doing as you wish is a big deal. If you continue to hold on to this
type of thinking and feeling, then your judgment, aggression, and pride will all
be elevated, too. These negative emotions will also continue. We say that your
feeling upset obscure your mind. The result is you cannot see your own inner conditions
Of course, you always tend to think that it is only the big things that you need help with. And when that happens you will remember to get help, or to pray for help. In fact, day to day, if you really take the time to look, you will see that all kinds of judgments, desires and aggression are constantly present in your mind. This is what is meant by "always in the conditions of samsara." It is not the big problems that block you. If you look, the very small things are already creating a lot of "big" problems. This is the ways things are, and it is good to know this.
Question (Q) and answer (A) period
Q: I realize that in dealing with frustrations in daily life, my only motivation is to satisfy my desires. I don't know what else I could do?
You know it's difficult. There are always the very little things. For example, today the food was very salty, and you were angry with the cook.
" Oh, the food is not good why was he not more careful?" you might think.
This is one kind of judgment. From one perspective, one could even argue that it is right to be angry because the cook did not do his job properly. But from the Dharma's point of view, being angry is not so useful. Because of the presence of anger, many conditions crop up producing a lot of negative results. This holds true regardless of whether you act on your anger or not.
This is why every night we practise the Chenrezig-Puja. The meaning of the practice is to pray for all beings. We wish that all beings should not have to suffer bad rebirths due to their anger and negative causes. We pray that the blessings from the Buddhas could free us all. Note that the prayer does not state that "due to their anger, beings will obtain bad results", which is actually a logical assertion. Instead, the prayer turns our attention to the Buddhas for their help. This is for a good reason and simple to understand. You get angry due to your inability to see clearly. As a result, you think there are many good reasons for you to be angry. When one of them appears, even if you don't want to be angry, anger still arises. You cannot stop it. You know you are creating a bad cause and you will get a bad result later. Thus, your only solution is "Karmapa tchenno!" You pray that the Karmapa's blessings will free you just like you pray for blessings for all beings in samsara during the Chenrezig practice.
When you pray for help, it does not mean that an answer will always show up immediately. Rather, the blessings will come to you so that step by step your mind will not use the anger or act it out. Then eventually, you will not react with anger in the face of the various circumstances. Practically, due to the practice, you have less anger. Why? Normally you always have a reason to be angry. The blessings help to clear the "obscurations" that block you from seeing clearly. Then you will see that there is really no reason to be angry. You will no longer feel the need to be angry. And until you do, and to help you get there, you ask for help, "Karmapa tchenno!" This is not a logical process that you can discern; nevertheless, it does happen like that. It is difficult to understand. We all know that even the little things are very difficult to change, never mind the big things. Sometimes we suppress our feelings, we don't say anything, but the tension is still there inside us. Our practice and prayers are precisely aimed to counter these kinds of disturbances. They are effective against the negative conditions. If you go step by step, the method works.
As well, the same can apply when we can't understand the meaning of the Dharma. And there are times when we understand the teachings in theory yet we cannot apply them to our daily situations - this also means we really don't understand. Often we resort to thinking, "I am stupid, I don't understand." But it is not that at all because we are intelligent enough to learn many things quite easily. So we go back to the inner conditions and veils in our mind.
This brings to mind a man I met who is quite intelligent. He took two years to understand the meaning of Refuge. He always attended the teachings until he understood the meaning of Refuge. He put a lot of effort in order to understand. This shows that sometimes we know theoretically, but practically, we are still unclear. These conditions are common in everyone. We don't fully understand certain teachings, certain practices. This is why the meaning of "Karmapa tchenno" has to be understood. It is also why in the Milarepa practice, there are a lot of repetitions to help us get the real meaning. If you just listen, then everything sounds simple. But if you try to go a little deeper into its meaning, then it becomes very difficult. Sometimes we feel we know, but we don't know. Sometimes we don't understand, and we decide to wait and see. It's really important to know that these conditions are taking place in us.
Prayer is used not only to remedy the emotions but also when we don't understand something. In that moment, we could connect through the prayer, step by step, we will understand. This is very important. Concepts such as karma, suffering, and compassion are easy to describe in words. But when it comes to really appreciating their significance and application in daily life, then somehow it is difficult. This indicates that our understanding is not yet complete, or real.
is the reason why in the Guru-Yoga of Ngöndro, we pray that we could see
our own ego clinging.
" dag dzin lo yi thong war dsdin gji lob"
In general, we can understand the problem of "dag dzin" or ego-clinging. But because we cannot see our own clinging, we cannot really work with it. So we pray that we would be able to see our own self-grasping in order that we could start to change by ourselves.
Question (Q) and answer (A) period
Q: Sometimes in interacting with others, I can see my emotions appearing. I know that the emotions belong to me. They are not the fault of others. Also, I can have a little bit distance. But I cannot let go of my emotions because I feel that something of me is at stake. In fact, I feel that this is my ego-clinging.
A: Yes, because you don't see the ego-clinging. When somebody does not act properly, of course, your mind is disturbed. But if you could see both sides you will not get angry. At first, there is tension. It escalates into anger. But then the anger calms down and you want to support the other person because you recognize that the other person is also not able to see properly, or ignorant. The other person is also blocked by ego-clinging and therefore from his/her perspective, there is some reason for him/her to behave in that way.
But if you don't see clearly yourself then the normal process of getting angry will take over. Normal is all right - it is the way of samsara. But from your practice, you expect to be able to get over it, to go beyond the samsaric way. However, if you expect yourself to be proper, or you think that you "have to be" proper, it doesn't work. You will get angry and you will act accordingly with how you feel. The point is to be able to see what the teachings are telling you then your vision will be different. "I should not be like this," you have to see the reason "why" by yourself. You should not suppress the anger either. Just try not to let go completely and don't express your anger. Try to see the meaning then there will be no reason to be angry. The anger will not appear. It is not easy; on the contrary, it's very difficult.
example, in lodjong and also in the "37 practices of a Bodhisattva",
it is said,
" If somebody disturbs you, then consider him your teacher or your Lama."
The actual meaning
is this: it is due to the distraction this person caused you that you can see
yourself. And your Lama does exactly this: he makes it possible for you to see
the true conditions. The Lama gives you the Dharma teachings and the methods in
order that you could understand the meaning and therefore begin to see more clearly.
Then you can learn on your own and understand the conditions of samsara and the
path of Dharma. His instructions enable you to see the truth. So to perceive the
other person as your teacher is not just a fabrication on your part. It points
out that due to the irritation, you could really see, for example, your anger,
or your ignorance.
We try to tell you the concepts, and the terms to help you to start to learn how to calm down by yourself. If you really see then you can design your own "story" or "projection" referencing the Dharma that is appropriate for you.
There are two possible ways that you could perceive the Dharma, or refer to the Dharma.
For instance, somebody disturbs you. One way to refer to the Dharma is to think like this,
" Okay. The Dharma says this, so I must be like this."
You know in this way you have changed the Dharma somewhat.
" This is this, this is right, and so on .", then it is artificial, your own belief.
" The teachings explain it like this, so it must be like this".
You think like that because you don't really see. So it's very important to reflect rather than imposing your own ideas on things.
The other way is to question why the teachings state as they do. You could choose to reflect and probe like this,
" The Dharma says this. So I have to look at what it means exactly?"
when you really look, "Ah yes, I am a little aware that my anger is due to
Maybe to you, things do not seem to be matching what the teachings tell of them. Then you will question, and reflect, and think some more about the meaning behind the words. In this way, you will get clearer.
What has just been described are two different states of mind with respect to how you refer to the Dharma and it is very important to keep them in mind. Try to be aware of the difference.
For example, though we have not encountered it here, or maybe sometimes, but in Asia, when there is a ghost in your house, we say that you should not be afraid. Instead, you should feel compassion for it. Immediately you will be afraid when you encounter it, but still try to be compassionate. It doesn't work so much as far as you're concerned.
" Why should I have compassion towards a ghost?"
At the same time that you are afraid you should have compassion. If you get the meaning, then your whole notion will be different. Compassion means to appreciate the ghost is kind of like a rebirth in another format .not really rebirth, but that the person has become a state of suffering. If you really try to see the actual conditions of the ghost's suffering, and if you are aware of them, then you will really feel compassion. All your attitudes and feelings will likewise be compassionate. As a result, you will have no reason to be afraid anymore! But if you just try to prevent the fear, it does not work.
the same way that we try to understand the state of a ghost, we should try to
understand the emotions, ignorance, and compassion. I think that the way to perceive
all of them is the same. When you are already a little emotional, you try to calm
down yourself and so you apply compassion - it doesn't work. Sometimes it works
a little, but again it is not so effective. If you have understood really where
the mistake lies, then everything becomes very simple. The mistake is due in part
to the ignorance of the other person, partly your own self-grasping which makes
you reject and not accept the situation, and partly due to the habitual tendencies.
" It should be like this. Why didn't he do it? This should not be happening!"
react with these kinds of tendencies. As explained already, try to catch the meaning
properly first, then your part becomes simple.
You often hear that you need certain realizations when you come to do the practice. They refer to the step-by-step introspection and understanding of the meaning of the Dharma as explained to you here. When you have understood the meanings, then you will be able to apply them. Realization does not mean seeing lights or forms-that is not realization. Realization means: you see the meaning of the Dharma. We are not talking about the realization of Buddhahood. Rather it is a real understanding of the "the going on's" in your experience now. When this understanding no longer comes and goes, and it is here to stay, then you will be able to stay with yourself. The understanding will not disappear any more. If the understanding appears and disappears, then it is not realized yet. It is not realization. It's just a glimpse. You see something, but again it dissolves. Then it is not from your understanding. But step by step, you will be able to see more and you will be able to work with it. This is a result of the Dharma. So it's very important.
result of the Dharma affords you your mind available in the face of difficulties,
pleasantness, or whatever the situation. Your mind is always available. And also,
through these kinds of conditions, we will continue to improve ourselves. At the
same time, we could support others without distraction. We could really help.
When you say,
"I practise the Dharma to try to help other beings", you cannot immediately be like Karmapa.
you have to take many steps before becoming free from the ignorance. If you want
to reach the top of the hill, each step is important. One step at a time is the
only way to reach to the top. You cannot be pulled up. Even if someone pulls you
up, you will still have to cover the distance, perhaps one meter at a time, in
this instance. It will be faster but the point is the distance still has to be
taken, one step at a time, big or small. This is why it is so important to go
step by step. As well, you mustn't reject all the facilities along the way. By
that, I mean not to have an attitude of exclusions whereby all the conditions
deemed undesirable are rejected.
" I want to be free, I want to be peaceful, and I want to be quiet."
Rather, we should fully engage ourselves.
" I want to be here. I want to be supportive. I am willing to accept my sufferings. I want to do practise."
This is the kind of spirited engagement we need while we are on the Path of the Bodhisattva. This is the way of Bodhicitta.
Question (Q) and answer (A) period
Q: Karmapa and yourself said many times that we have to communicate more; and now our group is increasing in size. Some are back from India having been away for two months. Many things have changed and I wonder how to develop communication when there are so many of us. We have to be more organized. Could you speak about the state of mind for communication?
communicate" means not to be always judging from your own point of view,
and not to reject everything. It's very difficult to understand. Try to be aware
of these two types of thinking. Whenever you encounter difficulties, try to see,
" What is it that I am rejecting? What is it that I am judging, and what do I expect?"
Step by step, your mind will actually become freer from these views. If you don't get drawn in by such thoughts, then whatever you say, will be right. Whatever you hear will be right. Then accordingly, you will give a proper response.
As far as I understand communication from the point of view of the Dharma, seeing that I didn't listen to the tape of Karmapa, it is to be able to give benefit to more people individually. The Dharma is linked and applicable to many things. The Dharma can be very helpful and useful in many situations in life. As was discussed the last time we gathered, we cannot force people. However, when people are searching for some answers, we try always to support them. And in order to support them, the Dharma is very important because it can reduce the sufferings. This then will lead to a reduction in negative actions, which means less negative karma for the people involved. For example, a "negative action" may be the killing of one mosquito or an ant. Due to the lack of proper understanding, some people become uncaring towards these tiny lives. But since we understand the Dharma we don't commit this kind of error, and so negative karma is being averted.
From the Dharma's perspective, when we communicate, we apply generosity, and understanding between one another. We try to help, which means to support others. Try to listen to yourself. This will prevent you from falling into your disturbing emotions, ignorance, and negative actions. Try to listen to others. This will enable you to see their conditions so we could help them.
Communication happens at many levels. The people coming back from India, maybe at first, there is a slight disruption. But that is normal. After a little while, you would continue with the regular functions of every day. The reason why you have difficulties upon returning is because you have returned from doing very important things, and it is always difficult to separate from them. You have met and spent time with many great Lamas and Karmapa. You have participated in all the activities there. You have made special pilgrimages while you were there. They are all very important. But it is also very important for you to use the opportunity here to carry on in the same direction as those activities, which will again prove useful to you.
For example, we always make wishes, and we always pray. We pray for many things. We pray, for instance, to be useful to many other beings. In order to have this capacity to be useful, we pray and wish to be able to link with the great Bodhisattvas and especially with Karmapa. Part and parcel of this wish to be helpful to others is that we would become free from all the conditions of suffering. There are many words, and terms in all the different prayers that we say. The important meaning in all of them is, whatever it is we are engaged in from now on and in the future, we want it to be a cause for positive results. The very strong wishes in our prayers, the words themselves actually say that you wish to continue to be near the Karmapa just as you were in the past, and not only now, but also in the future. You wish to be always connected to him. This does not mean literally to stay near him physically. The prayer actually says that by your own choice, whether you are near or far from him, you wish to be able to carry on with the positive activities; and in doing so may you be able to fulfill your usefulness as a precious human being. If you could understand this, then you will continue your life developing yourself in a positive direction.
Therefore, in order to go in this direction, you have to come back and you are here to continue by your choice. Your trip was one important experience. Now you try to work by yourself with the different conditions, not only for two months but for many years and many lives to come. If you could apply the meaning of your prayers, then you will continue to work, and to make strong wishes through daily practice. In this way, your activities are then linked with Karmapa's activities. Through this, when your capacity is better and stronger, then you could be everywhere, and it would be the same for you. Therefore, try to continue with this kind of wish. Otherwise, what you would like is just another form of desire.
course when you really want to, when you really put in the effort, there is no
doubt that it is possible to fulfill your wish. You are preparing now, you can
choose to do retreat or to continue in this way. It is your choice. Preparation
is very important. Through the preparation, and through your effort, try to focus
and continue with your path. Then you can do it.
The most difficult part has passed. It is that you have got over all the "big things", and you are now here. There are always the many "big things". For example, many people really want to be free, they want to be here, but for many reasons, they cannot be here. If you ask the many people who come to the center here whether they really want to be free, or whether they want to be here, everybody will say,
" Yes, but for one reason or another, I cannot be here."
reason is usually a personal reason particular to that person. It is really not
a "big thing". Much like when you buy a pair of shoes that are very
painful to wear. You don't want to put them away because they are very good looking.
Even when they hurt your feet a lot, you try to walk in them. To change them is
actually very simple, but you don't want to because you want the "good looks".
If you try to look, many people want to be free, and they want to practise. But
because of their jobs, their position in life, which hold relative importance
for people, they cannot go beyond them. In fact, these things are not really that
important. So I think it is very important to get over them. This is the most
difficult part. Because once you are able to get over these kinds of relative
things, then everything is very easy. If you are not caught by one reason or another,
everything is easy. One example is if you want to be a certain professional, it
is very difficult work until you finish the required university degrees, which
takes a long time. But afterwards, it becomes much easier. This shows one thing.
Whatever it is you want, you have to put in the effort, and you can do it.
You have already stepped past "one big thing" so from here on, it will be much easier. People who go to India, they have one experience. But people here also have one experience. They are the same. (Rinpoche smiling)
By L a m a . J i g m e . R i n p o c h e
Maitreya Institute, San Francisco, May 1989
It is good to speak with you after some time. After several months, I was requested by many individuals, and by Maitreya Institute, to be here and share the teachings of Buddha. My staff and monks worked hard and were able to arrange this time for us. I'm very happy about it. Since our time is valuable, I'd like to try to present the precious teachings of Lord Buddha in the most simple and comprehensive way possible within my limited capabilities.
As you know, the teaching of Lord Buddha is very vast, deep and profound. The primary reason for this is that Buddha taught after his enlightenment. Therefore, his teaching is the manifestation of an enlightened person, a Buddha.
A second reason Buddha's teaching is so vast is that he taught for approximately 45 years after his enlightenment. In that time, many individuals came forward to receive his guidance, and he taught each of them according to their level of understanding. That is why there is a tremendous amount of material.
A third reason why Buddha's teaching is very vast is that, throughout the past 2,500 years of Buddhist history, the great Buddhist masters continued the unbroken profound lineage. This continuation involved academic development, practice and practical application. Therefore the material on Buddhism is voluminous, and is presented with the greatest detail and clarity.
My own knowledge and wisdom is very limited, but whatever is there is totally due to the Buddha, who taught 25 centuries ago, and to the lineage that continued it all the way through to the great masters who taught me. Whatever I am sharing with you was given to me by them, to be shared. There is no other reason. So, in these next eight talks [Tigers Fall Asleep series], I'll do my best to share the teachings of Buddha as I received them.
It is very difficult to have any teaching on dharma without exploring the entire subject roughly, but these particular eight talks each concentrate on a particular subject. Today's subject is Mahamudra.
What does Mahamudra really mean? This word is not in your language; it is not even in my language. Mahamudra is a Sanskrit word. As many of you know, Sanskrit is the language in which Buddha taught and instructed his disciples. Maha means great, or grand, and mudra means gesture, or symbol. So, Mahamudra means great gesture or great symbol. Understanding the meaning of this word is fundamental to having a clear understanding of what it represents.
We can understand Mahamudra as every relative manifestation is a gesture of the unchanging and unlimited ultimate. This simply means that our wisdom and our defilements are the manifestation of what we are. Ultimately we are Buddha. We are perfectly totally Buddha. Our potential is total perfection, total pureness. When the manifestation is positive, that pureness manifests through our activities. When it is negative, this pureness is obscured and our obscurations get in the way.
I'm quite certain I've said this many times in the past, but I'll say it one more time (actually, I'll say it many more times, but I'll say it one more time right now)--if you ask me directly: "Is the ultimate positive or negative?" I would say positive. If you ask this question from a slightly different angle: "Is the ultimate perfection or imperfection?" certainly it is perfection. If you ask me: "Is the ultimate evil or is it profound and kind?" definitely I would say it is profound and kind. You can ask millions of questions regarding the nature of the ultimate and, in Buddhism, you'll never find any negative quality or limitation. There is no such thing. So, the positive and negative are not at war ultimately. For me that is very good news.
In this room, some of us are men and some of us are women, some of us are happy, some of us are not happy. This is relative manifestation. None of it is ultimate. But it is the relative manifestation of the ultimate essence. We'll go into more detail later regarding this manifestation principle.
Now that we know the meaning of the title Mahamudra, we should know how the teaching came about. If we look into the subject deeply, there is no other source but the ultimate essence. But if we look at it from a limited or dualistic point of view, we have to go into the history, and that history goes back to Buddha.
If you ask, "Is every teaching of Buddha considered Mahamudra?" the answer is certainly, if that teaching comes from the deepest and highest level of the understanding of Buddhism. But if we are looking for an answer from the more practical, fundamental way of understanding Buddhism, then we have to say no.
Buddha taught Mahamudra as a series of teachings--called gyu in Tibetan and tantra in Sanskrit. Mahamudra is the essence of the tantric aspect of Buddha's teachings. For those of you who are new to this subject, I'd like to give you some idea of what tantra is.
Buddha never wrote down any of his teachings. And he didn't say, "Now I'm teaching this, and now I'm teaching that," in order to give out a university degree. Buddha taught according to the level of understanding of the people who came to listen. His teachings were given primarily at the request of people. Someone would feel confusion about a certain subject, would go ask Buddha about it, and Buddha would answer. Most of the teachings were given in that manner. Later, Buddha's disciples compiled his teachings in four categories: vinaya, abhidharma, sutra, and tantra.
If we look at Mahamudra fundamentally, it is quite a low level of looking at things. But that is the most common way to look at things. Therefore, this becomes the essence of the tantric teachings of the Buddha.
Source of Mahamudra
There are three sources of Mahamudra teaching:
o Gyu, the words of the Buddha, the tantra.
o Chö jagyu. Jagyu means the Sanskrit text. These weren't the precise words of the Buddha, but an elaboration of the teachings of the Buddha by his disciples and, later, the learned and enlightened masters. Sometimes they were not only an elaboration, but the compilation of many texts into one. That is called jagyu, the texts that are translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan. All the jagyus are translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan.
o The last one is called mnog, which means oral instruction. The mnogs are usually in the minds of the teachers, who, then, give mnog instructions to their disciples. Some of the mnogs are also written down.
Since I've been involved with Tibetan Buddhism from the beginning, all of the mnogs that I can share are Tibetan. They were not translated from Sanskrit. If we again want to be more superficial, we can say, gyu is the words of the Buddha, jagyu are the texts that were translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan, and mnog are the Tibetan texts. If we understand that it is not one-hundred percent true, we can say that, because most mnogs were taught to Tibetan masters by the great Indian masters, but because they were never written down, there was nothing to translate. These Tibetan masters continued to teach it to their disciples, so it is only in Tibetan. We should have no problem with that since we know that Tibetan Buddhism has a history of one-thousand years and more.
Now, I want explain gyu and jagyu very briefly, because it involves introducing you to the names and authors of a number of texts. This would be quite taxing if you weren't interested in them. Gyu, remember, are the words of the Buddha which were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. The Mahamudra teaching is the essence of such tantras as Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, Mahamaya, and Kalachakra. One particular tantra, entitled "_______________ gyu" in Tibetan (in English it might be entitled "free from thought" tantra), is considered to be one of the highest tantras. These are some of the titles associated with Mahamudra.
Now about the jagyu, the Sanskrit texts-not the direct words of Buddha, but the commentaries of the great masters translated into Tibetan. There are many jagyu but I'll just briefly name a few of them. One text was written by several great masters, such as Indrabhuti, Dombe Heruka, and Naljor Nalpalmo. It contains the teachings of both male and female enlightened masters. This is seven groups of texts together, entitled trupa de dün. This means "seven great accomplishment texts." These are all aspects of teachings on Mahamudra.
One of them is Mahamudra as "born together perfect wisdom." That simply means it is always here. It is nowhere else. The perfect quality is here within us. In ordinary Buddhist terms, we might call it buddha nature. In Mahamudra terms, it is usually called "perfect born together wisdom," or ________________yeshe, " it was born with you." So these particular seven texts are one source of Mahamudra.
Another six texts are called the snyin-po-go thrug, or six essences, like the heart. Snyin means heart, but snyin-po means essence-snyin-po of ginseng, or snyin-po of flute. When we say snyin without the po, it simply means the heart, which is the most important part of the body.
These six texts, which contain both instructions and tohas, were written by great masters such as Nagarjuna and Aryadeva. Tohas are similar to poetry. They are a very high level of expression in verse form, very much like the haiku of the Japanese. But unlike haiku, most tohas cover a subject from beginning to end. It is not just a couple of lines of poetry on one subject and a few more on another unrelated subject. It involves a continuation.
Other texts involve the life stories of the great masters. One particular collection contains the life stories of the eighty-four Mahasiddhas, or enlightened masters. Another is called "______________." This contains the life stories of forty enlightened men and women masters. Another contains the life stories of thirty enlightened female masters. These are examples of Mahamudra texts that are not just teachings, but life stories.
With regard to the mnog, everything I say here this evening is part of the mnog, because it is from the words of my teachers, and I'm talking about it from my personal experience, using my own words. I think that is the only way we can say anything-otherwise it wouldn't make any sense.
Framework of Mahamudra
In order to make this subject manageable, we need a framework; otherwise we might get lost. A framework that is very common in the teachings of Mahamudra is ground Mahamudra, path Mahamudra, and fruition (or result) Mahamudra. We can look at each of these three principles from several points of view.
First, what is it that enables us to believe that we can do things to improve ourselves? What makes us think that when we say "I want to liberate all sentient beings?" it is really possible? Perhaps we're totally out of our minds. When we say, "May I attain enlightenment," how do we know there is such a thing as enlightenment? And can we really achieve it? So, first we have to answer these kinds of questions. Otherwise, it is very nice that we can be together, and study interesting things, but then, what next? So, the ground is the potential, the possibility, where we can go.
It says, "Ultimately we have no limitation; ultimately we have no weakness; ultimately we have no negativity." That is what makes us think that all sentient beings can attain enlightenment, because we have no negativity. Not only do we have no ultimate negativity, but all sentient beings have no negativity ultimately. They have no defilement ultimately. But we shouldn't say "They have no negativity and I have no negativity," "I am perfect and they are perfect." That is wrong unless we add "ultimately." Then it starts to make sense. Otherwise we might become quite dreadful, actually-just between you and me!
Let us say that we know that our ultimate potential is limitless, but we find that it is not working. When something unpleasant takes place, we become negative; we feel sad, angry, resentful. When something pleasant happens, we become proud, and that makes us greedy. It is rare that we don't manifest those attitudes. We feel stupid. We don't know what to do. We don't know how to take advantage of when everything is going quite well and nothing is affecting us in the wrong way. We don't know how to handle it. We still suffer from it.
This should be answered by saying that these defilements, these obscurations, these limitations that I'm experiencing right now, always change; therefore I know this isn't ultimate. But what is it? We use the principle of synonyms and antonyms. If it is not ultimate, it has to be relative. All defilements, all negativities are relative. But we shouldn't get too excited, because when we say relative, it doesn't mean one hour relative, or even one lifetime relative. It means quite a long time.
We have to overcome those relative obstacles, and the path is the answer. We have a living path. It is not just history. It is not just in books. It is there as an experience, as a practice, as an instruction. And certainly we should be grateful for it. But it doesn't mean this is the only path. If we think this is the only path, we don't understand our path deeply enough. The path is doing anything perfectly, doing anything right.
As a Mahamudra practitioner who has been trying to practice-sometimes failing, sometimes with success, but never giving up-my path is the Mahamudra instruction: how to deal with my anger, how to deal with my desire, how to deal with my jealousy, how to deal with my envy, how to deal with my pride, how to deal with any negative situation, how to meditate, how to instill in others some sense of their own essence. That is the path. And, ultimately, what am I? I know who I am when I see my photo. I do recognize myself. I have no problem with that. But then, behind this Tibetan face, what am I? Behind this historical name, what am I? How do I recognize that aspect of myself and then go beyond? That is also the path.
The fruition is the result, the destination, the purpose of the path. As such, it can be quite easy for us to see. When we recognize what we are, that is the beginning of the fruition. But that is not the real fruition. Just to recognize ourselves isn't good enough. The realization of that recognition is enlightenment, the real fruition. That is one way to look at it.
Ground, Path, Fruition in Greater Detail
If we go into this ground, path and fruition in greater detail, we have to slightly alter our way of looking at it. Here I would like to share four sentences of text written by one of the great masters. He said: "There is nothing to take away, and there is nothing to add. When we look at the profound meaning profoundly, we see the profound meaning profoundly. Then we are liberated."
Just a moment ago I explained the ground in here, but now let's explain it out there. Out there all these phenomena are happening. They are happening, indeed. Regarding this, I would like to share with you an experience I had as a young boy. At that time I was studying the text called prajna-paramita-abhisamaya-alankara, taught by Lord Maitreya to the great master Asanga. In that text, he talked about emptiness. As I studied this text, I became really convinced that everything is emptiness. But my conviction was still incomplete. So I used to bang my hand on the table, and it was still there. It hurt my fingers when I hit really hard, and it was still there. So the Mahamudra teaching helped me not to hit my finger on the table. It says, "Everything is out there indeed, but it is out there in interdependent interrelation to us, to our mind and our body." There is no solid, permanent essence in this mind, or this thought, or this emotion. I might like spaghetti so much today that I can eat three plates, but I might not be able to finish one plate of spaghetti tomorrow. Today somebody might say something that might hurt or embarrass me, but tomorrow maybe one-hundred people could say the same thing and it might not affect me at all.
Emotions, attitudes and thoughts aren't permanent. They come and go. Therefore, the mind, the dualistic aspect through which all of these things manifest, with which all of these things function, is without permanent essence. But beyond and behind these impermanent thoughts, emotions and attitudes is the essence. There is the essence of all of those things out there as well as in here. That is the limitless, changeless, ever-present potential of enlightenment, the buddha nature. That is how to look at this ground Mahamudra from another angle, although it comes to the same conclusion, certainly.
The path is limitless. According to our relative obscurations, shortcomings, habits-both serious and not so serious-the path is there. Path is a remedy, a way through which we can deal with ourselves, with our situations, and with other human beings. The interrelation is the same as before-I like him or I don't like him; we get along or we don't get along; he is my friend or he is my enemy; I don't know him or I know him. All of these things are just interdependent co-existing manifestations of everyone else.
According to what is there to work out, and work with, the path is there; therefore, it is impossible to talk about the entire path. Even to just talk about one person's path is impossible. But as the available method of the teaching of the Buddha, the path is something we can relate to. The direct words of the Buddha in our language take up over one-hundred huge volumes. That is the source of the method, roughly speaking. Of course, the direct translation by his disciples translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan is over two-hundred volumes, and then thousands of volumes of texts by other great masters of both India and Tibet, and then Japanese and Chinese and all the others. So, there are many thousands of texts.
Applying the Teachings of Buddha
All the existing teachings of the Buddha follow a systematic method. First we have to have a clear understanding of Buddha and his teachings. Then we have to apply the teachings of Buddha. There are many ways to go about that, such as listening, questioning, contemplating, praying, meditating, doing things for other people, and doing things for the dharma.
When it comes to meditation method, we first have to develop the ability to meditate effectively. We all have the potential, but the ability has to be developed. For that, our mind must be clear. Ordinarily speaking, when our mind is clear, we manage our lives much better than when we're in a state of confusion. To practice dharma, we definitely need a clear mind.
We can clear our mind by practicing a particular meditation method to calm the emotions through settling down our physical, oral and mental activity. First we learn how to sit properly and bring our mind into a calm, quiet and gentle concentration capability. Many people think we're not supposed to think when we meditate. That is absolutely wrong. It is impossible not to think. At the very least, we have to think we are meditating, and that we should meditate. If we don't have that thought, then how can we meditate? So, thinking is involved. But we want to cultivate the ability to think gently and quietly about something, and think it through from beginning to end. In Tibetan, this meditation method is called shinay. It is considered to be the most simple and most effective method. It involves the breath, and concentration on particular visualizations, etc. There are hundreds of methods of shinay.
Once we have developed our practice of shinay, the next step is lha tong. When our mind is calm and quiet, there has to be clarity; otherwise it is just like sleeping. It is not enough. Of course, if we're able to just calm down, that's the best way to rest. But then, so what? We practice lha tong to make this restfulness, this quietness, this calmness, more than just quiet and calm. This quiet mind, the sharpness and the clearness, has to be recognized. So, once we develop the calmness, we develop the clarity of that calmness, or lha tong. There are a number of ways to practice lha tong.
As we develop shinay and lha tong, naturally we're supposed to develop compassion and devotion. I don't think the words compassion and devotion really cover the full meaning, but they give us an idea.
Devotion and Compassion
Devotion and compassion are very important. First, we have to know that ultimately we are perfect. But we also have to know that relatively we are not. To see and understand the boundary between how much our perfect quality and essence is already developed and how much of it is yet to be developed is quite important. If we do it through just an intellectual analysis, we'll get confused. After all, none of us wants to underestimate ourselves if we have a choice. We always want to think we're better than we are.
All of this is very effectively and appropriately handled through devotion and compassion. We can have pure compassion for all the sentient beings who are less happy than us, who have less wisdom than us, who are suffering more than us. We develop that compassion, we accept that compassion. And we have devotion to those who know more than us, who are more pure than us, who are more enlightened than us, who are kinder than us. Compassion and devotion allow us to see ourselves clearly, in a most appropriate way.
Through the development of pure compassion and pure devotion, our practice progresses. How should we go about it? If we follow the traditional teaching of Buddha, we have no problem. But if we try to make it a little bit untraditional, we have some problem, because we might make mistakes. It's like cooking. If you follow the recipe, it's likely to come out okay. But if you experiment too much, you'd better have a first-aid kit right next to you because you don't know what will happen. So, if we follow the teachings appropriately, traditionally, there is less possibility of wasting time. But if we have pure motivation, even if we make mistakes, that is also the practice. We learn from our mistakes. Buddha learned from his mistakes and he became Buddha. So, through the practice of shinay, calmness, and lha tong, clearness, we're able to develop this compassion and devotion deeply, profoundly and genuinely. And through this practice method, we can eventually apply deeper levels of instruction, such as practicing a particular mandala, practicing a particular mantra, practicing a particular exercise, practicing all aspects of profound dharma. Under the guidance of a profound and capable teacher, a disciple who is intelligent and diligent can progress on the path smoothly. A profound teacher means a teacher who practiced that teaching in the past and who has the ability to teach it to others. That is the definition of a teacher.
In this progress on the path, two things happen constantly. Actually, millions of things are happening constantly, but each happens in two steps all the time. This is rnyam and tok-pa. Rnyam is a sense of accomplishment. But we cannot rely on rnyams. Rnyam is related with anxiety, and more precisely with greed, desire and ego. We want something to happen. Because of that, something is happening. That is rnyam, or a kind of rnyams.
Our great masters gave very clear descriptions of rnyam. For example, one text says: "Rnyam is like a cloud, like a mist. It comes and it goes. Don't rely on it." The tok-pa is the actual true step. Rnyam and tok-pa can go on and on, until a certain level of realization, a certain level of tok-pa, and until that level, our rnyam and tok-pa can both go back. It is very clearly described in both the sutras and tantras that until we reach a certain level of realization, we can lose any realization we attain. But after a particular stage of realization, we cannot lose it. The closest way to describe it is one step before the first-level bodhisattva realization. At that particular stage, there can be no more falling back into samsara. But until then, no matter how learned we become, no matter how enlightened we are, we can fall back into samsara, even to the lowest of the samsara. That is possible.
So we apply ourselves to deal with rnyam and tok-pa properly. We don't get attached the rnyam and we don't get proud of the tok-pa. Then we will attain the final recognition of our buddha nature-not just a philosophical, theoretical recognition, not just an intellectual recognition, not just a rnyam recognition. For example, "When I went on the top of the mountain, I felt I was enlightened, but when I came back to my apartment, I was just the same person, but with something extra-some sense of loss." So, that level of the recognition of buddha nature is entitled first-level bodhisattva. In Mahayana, in the practice of sutra, first-level bodhisattva is equivalent to the recognition of buddha nature-not as in rnyam, not as an experience, but as a final realization.
This can go on and on until we reach the final stage of realization, or enlightenment. That is the path. Enlightenment is the fruition. Enlightenment isn't just recognizing our buddha nature, it is total liberation from all possible dualistic defilements, and from even the most subtle obscurations and limitations. But I'll leave our discussion of enlightenment for our last discussion.
Thank you for listening. I feel we have communicated quite well. I'm grateful for all of my teachers and the lineage. And now, if you have any questions, I'd like to try to answer them.
Rinpoche, there seems to be a strong relationship between discipline and devotion. Can you say more about that?
First let me say that it is such a relief that we don't have to use translators. I had wonderful translators in my Southeast Asian tour, but it takes twice as long and makes everything twice as complicated. So, although my English is bad, I feel that I shouldn't be worried about it. I should look at the positive side of it.
Now, concerning devotion, devotion in itself is not enough. If we don't have discipline as well, it is unlikely we can get anything done. Even if something pleasant happens, it is just an accident. In Buddhism, as a principle, there are no accidents-everything has a cause and condition. But if there is no discipline, it is more like an accident. There is no value. Something just happens-it's pleasant and that's it. If we have discipline, there is constant progress. Discipline itself is progress, and everything goes better. It doesn't go worse.
And the appreciation of discipline is very important. Following a discipline means that we acknowledge and accept our weakness. If we don't like to be disciplined, it means, one way or another, we don't accept our relative imperfection. It also means we don't believe in our potential, we don't believe in our future, we don't believe in possibilities. On the other hand, when we follow a discipline, it means we accept that we make mistakes, we accept that we can improve, and we want to improve. Taking on a discipline means we believe, we hope and we progress. We accept our potential.
We will make mistakes, that is for sure. I make mistakes, you make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. Everybody in the world makes mistakes. But many learn and develop from their mistakes, while others are destroyed by theirs (relatively, of course). So, discipline is very important, and not only for developing devotion.
In response to your question, we should consider that doing things properly is the definition of discipline, and following those necessary steps is a key for the accomplishment-making devotion more pure, making compassion more pure. Compassion and devotion are always related. If we have real devotion, we naturally have compassion. We cannot have real devotion without compassion If we have tremendous so-called devotion without compassion, something is wrong. It means we don't really have devotion. If we have true compassion, we naturally have devotion. It is impossible to have tremendous compassion but no devotion. They're interrelated.
Rinpoche, could you talk about where belief fits in to realization, and how it relates to Mahamudra?
Of course I cannot really grasp this term "belief" because my usage of English, in itself, is very much based upon the belief. I heard those words and I have a feeling for each of those words and when I think about a subject, particular words come up. Then I developed trust in it and it just comes out, like a recording.
We have several terms for this subject. We say tepa and yidchi. These are the most basic two words. Yidchi means no doubt, doubtless. Yid means mind. Chi is like knowing something without having to think about it. For example, if something is falling towards us from the twentieth floor, we don't have to wonder if it will hurt us or not. Or if we're falling from a staircase that is very steep and very high, we have yidchi that we'll get hurt for sure. We have yidchi that our friend won't cheat us. We have yidchi that our boss will be fair to us. And we have yidchi that our doctor will give us medicine, not poison.
Tepa is totally spiritual. It is not related with anything mundane. There are three types of tepa-tang wa, dödpa, yidchepa. When we see a compassionate person, we can feel it, we can see the whole situation in a different way. We can feel the pureness. So we call that tang wi tepa, tang wi devotion.
Then dödpa is when we see something perfect, like the activity of a bodhisattva who does nothing but help sentient beings, we also want to be that way. When we learn about Buddha, when we know what Buddha is, we want to be Buddha.
The last one, yidchi, goes together with yidchipa tepa, because we know this teacher won't cheat us. We know this teaching will definitely benefit us. We know enlightenment can be achieved. No doubt. So, now yidchi is only used for worldly things. Yidchipi tepa becomes the way to describe a particular aspect of tepa. So tepa and yidchi are two things.
Rinpoche, can you talk a little about self-pity?
I think in our language this is jilug. Jilug is a funny word. It really doesn't make any sense when we don't add something to it. Ji is like the calf of the leg, the muscle that allows us to walk and climb. That is jipa. Lug is like its finished. It has grown big, or come out, or there is nothing there. It means we cannot climb. When this is explained in our language, another term is added. Jilug-danyeyepa-lelo. It is three words. Da means you, danye means yourself and nyepa is like if you're not a nice person, if you're an arrogant person, when you see somebody weak, you nyepa, or you nye that person. You don't look at him, don't listen to him. You even push that person away. Nye means no respect. It is a little like pity, but I think pity is a bit too kind. When we say self-pity in our language, it is very much like that-nyepa. We put ourselves down. Lelo means lazy. Self-pity is actually described as a kind of lelo, a laziness. It is definitely not good for progress and for overcoming something.
How do we overcome it? I'm sure there are hundreds and thousands of ways to overcome it. The way I deal with it personally is that if we know we're ultimately perfect, if we know we're ultimately Buddha, we cannot really put ourselves down. If we just see enough of our weakness, and we're able to accept it, and at the same time we know our ultimate potential, this is quite good.
So, I think we should excuse ourselves now. All of your questions are wonderful, and I'm very happy that I could say a few words to answer them.
I would now like to request the venerable lamas and nuns to help us dedicate this merit.
[Transcribed and edited by Stephanie Harolde]
from the book Living, Dreaming, Dying
by Rob Nairn
Available from Samye Ling Shop
"I have never experienced death. I know nothing about dying. Now my mother is ill and dying and I have no idea what to do."
I think this is how most of us would feel. We have such a culture of fear and denial of death that we feel hopelessly inadequate in the face of it.
'Death is a subject that is evaded, ignored, and denied by our youth-worshipping, progress-oriented society,' says Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in Death: The Final Stage of Growth. Yet death fills television screens and other media. Somehow there is a split in our psyche: death is part of our violent world out there. But we don't accept it in here, by coming to terms with our own mortality, by preparing in life to meet death.
The mysteries around death and dying are unnecessary. There is no reason for us not to learn to care for the dying. In fact, there is every reason we should, because caring for those we love, or for any person during their final days, is the last and greatest gift we can offer them. The vast area relating to death and dying is covered in some excellent books by among others, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Robert Buckmann.
Here are some principles we can follow:
We are all going to die. It's not a failure or a disaster. We will be sad to see someone move on and we will miss them, but that's samsara, the way of the world, isn't it?
Modern medicine has made such advances in recent years that many people feel that virtually everything should be curable. Doctors may regard a patient's death as a failure, and this feeling rubs off onto relatives and friends, resulting in an atmosphere of helplessness and failure around the dying person.
So the first thing we need to do is check our attitude towards death in general, our own death and then the dying person. Learn to accept the situation, come to terms with mortality and let go of sentimental or unrealistic notions that lead us to pretend it isn't happening. Becoming realistic about death and relaxing our attitude is very liberating, and will result in us naturally finding the strength we need to deal with it. It will also enormously help the dying person.
Perhaps people feel that accepting and coming to terms with death indicate an insensitive and uncaring attitude. It's as though we should pretend right up to the end, avoid giving the impression that we somehow want the person to die.
We begin with attitude. We check our attitude to death:
At the end of a day sit quietly and watch the setting sun. As day fades to night and the light leaves the sky, observe the ending.
'The day is done; it has ended. The bright promise of dawn blossomed into midday then faded beyond noon. Silently evening crept upon us and now there is an ending. The day has passed.'
Reflect on this. Reflect on the impermanence of it all so that you slowly soften the edges of your mind with reality: nothing lasts. Everything is impermanent. This too will pass.
These reflections may disturb you at first, but slowly they will bring you to accept reality. This is reality; we are impermanent, all of us. Don't make it into something morbid, or turn your world into a place of grey despair. Rather use it to liberate your intelligence so that you feel freer, able to flow with the great tide of change instead of thinking you should resist and hold everything immovably in place. Watch the clouds; great towering masses that are there, then gone. See the leaves on the trees; green and vibrant in summer, red and gold in autumn, then blown by winter's wind and gone, leaving the branches bare.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, allow your mind to attune itself to the all-pervading impermanence that surrounds us. Your mind will relax a little, loosen its urgent sense of grasping and, as the Buddha said, sit a little more loosely to life.
If you want to, you can help this process along by listing all the people you knew who have died. As you do this, keep reflecting 'I knew so-and-so, now they have died, gone. Yes, we die. We pass away. It is part of the human condition.'
You will free your own mind from a lot of unnecessary confusion and morbidity that you would otherwise most likely project onto the dying person. You will be freer to be with that person physically and psychologically in a clear way, able to meet their needs; be there for them in their final hour in a real, human way.
OPENNESS AND HONESTY
Now is the time to be honest; with yourself and with the dying person.
Many people become confused when someone close is diagnosed with a terminal condition. A frequent response is, 'Don't tell them.' And so a web of conspiracy is spun, with all the friends and relatives being told, while the dying person is treated to a barrage of well-meaning but transparent lies and pretence, 'A few more tests. We don't really know what's wrong. Don't worry, you will soon be up and about. We will have you well and home in no time ...' and so it goes on.
This is cruel and unnecessary. It springs from our culture of denial, which prompts us to deny reality right up to the end.
Supposedly this is for the benefit of the dying person, but in fact it's rarely so. We are the ones who can't bear to face the suffering; in this case the suffering of the dying person. Most people don't realise that we often can't face other people's suffering, particularly if they are close to us. It hurts us to see them suffer so we don't want to allow them their suffering. How do we do this? By shielding them from the truth. So we settle into an uneasy charade, smiling, putting on a brave face, and avoiding the obvious.
The effect of this is to isolate the dying person; that's why it's cruel. They usually know they are dying, and will definitely detect the pretence. All those who should be there for them, comforting them, helping them face and come to terms with death, abandon them at the crucial moment. They are thrown into limbo and may not be able to define or articulate exactly what it is that is happening. All they may know is that they are increasingly lonely rejected, confused and frightened.
So tell them the truth if you can. You may need help at this point, and perhaps an experienced counsellor could advise you how best to broach and deal with the subject. Nowadays there an many excellent hospices around the world, with people who are trained to help the dying.
If you have difficulty coming to terms with the situation, you may need to spend a little time reflecting on it and allowing yourself to assimilate and adjust to all the implications. Take the time to do it, but don't forget the dying person. They don't cease to be human simply because they are facing death, and who knows? Maybe the best course would be to share your confusion with them if they are mentally and emotionally strong enough to talk about it. If the person is close to you, they might well be distressed at the thought of leaving you, so would welcome the opportunity to talk about it and create the situation where you can help each other.
Some people cannot bring themselves to face death. If this is the case, you don't force the issue. The best you can do is create a atmosphere of caring and support, so that they feel they are still in contact with the human race.
I remember so clearly my father's death. He was in hospital dying of cancer, and had lingered on for many weeks. I used to go and see him every evening, and day after day he became weaker and more frail. I tried to raise the subject of dying but he became afraid and flatly refused to talk about it, so I dropped it and turned instead to topics he felt comfortable with. He was in the process of selling a limestone mine and was planning to use the proceeds to build the dream-extension to his house: a billiards room. So we talked about that. He had great difficulty speaking because the cancer had attacked his throat and his vocal cords. But he had a mechanical device my brother had made for him and he could whisper some words. We discussed the place and the size of the room. There was the issue of lighting and the placing of windows. I contacted an agent in town who gave me information on suitable tables and sizes. Every day I would come with some new piece of information, so he would have something to look forward to and occupy his mind. And thus the days and weeks passed.
Finally one evening I went in quite late and the hospital was quiet. I entered his room and he was dozing, propped up on pillows. Something had changed. His breathing seemed precarious and I knew he was losing his grip on life. I found the ward sister and shared my thought with her. She was one of those forthright English matrons not given to mincing matters. "Yes Mr Nairn,' she said, your father is going to die tonight.' I returned to his room. He was awake, and the night nurse was talking to him, plumping up his pillows and fussing around doing reassuring little jobs. I stayed a few minutes. We didn't talk about billiard tables that night and soon I said I would leave. I said goodbye, knowing in my mind that it was final. He glanced up at the nurse who had said something to him, and waved casually to me, as you would to someone you know you are going to see again in a few hours. I left. He died four hours later.
I have often reflected on that ending and strangely enough always felt OK about it. I think the reason is that I understood that his death was his deal. I had to respect the way he wanted it. Maybe it was the only way he could do it, pretending right to the end. It certainly wasn't my way of doing things, but that wasn't the point. I had done what I could to help him on his terms and that was what it was all about.
This is perhaps what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross refers to as allowing someone to 'die in character'.
So although we can identify the best way of doing things, it may not always be possible. We should bear this in mind and not try to force matters.
Akong Rinpoche was once talking about compassion. He said, 'Accept others as they are. Help beings according to the way they want to be helped.' So often we want to help others on our terms.
COMMUNICATION: LISTENING, TALKING, TOUCHING
Human psychology is a peculiar business. Mostly it's about energy, energy flow. If we have problems or difficulties we sometimes seize up and go all quiet, tense, withdrawn. Psychologically this is dangerous because it stops the normal healthy flow of energy, like building a dam across a river. As the dam within us fills, tension and stress increase, causing great suffering. We know about this and instinctively know that it is necessary to let it out. The commonest way of doing this is talking.
People who are approaching death usually need to talk, be spoken to, and be heard in a real and sensitive way. They also respond to touch, the holding of a hand, wiping of a brow. This helps them remain in touch with their life, begin to come to terms with what lies ahead of them, and accept the process as something normal that happens to all of us. Otherwise there could be a growing sense of foreboding, as though some disaster is about to befall them.
When listening, try not to focus on the words only. Try to hear why the person is voicing the words, to understand the feeling behind the words.
Reading selected passages from favourite books - selected by someone who knows the person's inner life and who is sensitive to where they are at - could contribute to a profound understanding and acceptance of the process.
Often people have unresolved issues in themselves and with others. Help them deal with these. Now may be a good time to help the person deal with issues such as grasping and resentment. Do the resentment exercise with them if they are open to it. (See Chapter 9) If you have unresolved issues with the person, this could be the time to resolve them with sensitivity and compassion. The interesting thing is that doing this will help you as well as the dying person. So a death can be a gift to you as well, helping you to face yourself in a more real way.
Sometimes it is touch that is the communication. Recently an elderly friend of mine was dying. He and his wife never touched although they really cared for one another. Yet somehow his wife couldn't resist stroking him as he was lying in his hospital bed. Your hand is too cold!' he protested. And she intuitively, like a little animal, bent down and stroked his forehead with her warm cheek.
SAVOUR THE PAST
Rejoicing is a healing and enriching emotion that we often neglect in life. As death approaches we sometimes allow problematic issues to overshadow us and our relationships. We can reverse this tendency in a beneficial way by reminiscing, by revisiting happy and positive periods with old friends. Talk about old times, acknowledge past happiness, joy, richness. Reawaken the sunny days and balance or banish any present tendency to doom and gloom. This is not to deny and suppress past unhappiness, but to bring balance and happiness into the present. The happy mind is more relaxed, more at peace. The heart can know some gladness in the face of death.
Interestingly, this will echo a spontaneous process that is triggered when we die: the mind re-runs the entire lifetime like a fast-wind movie. So there is value in the principle of re-visiting the past to bring balance to the present. There are many touching stories of old friends doing this, and in the process freeing each other of apparently minor but significant issues from the past. Not infrequently this results in the dying person finally being able to relax, let go and die with their minds at peace.
Many people lie in a coma for long periods. Not all regain consciousness before they die. The question is: can we communicate with them? The answer is yes. There is a great deal of evidence proving that the person is 'there', often hanging onto life for strange and unnecessary reasons. Talk to them. Tell them what you think they need to know, make your peace, help them make their peace.
If there is no chance of recovery and the person is still not dying, it may be that they are hanging on out of concern for someone who is still alive. If this is the case and you are the person, you need to talk. Tell them that you are OK, that they don't have to feel responsible for you. Allow them to go on and face their new future. Tell them you love them and will miss them, but that their passing is not the end of the world. You will survive and they must go on their way.
There are many accounts of this being done, of the dying person giving a sigh of relief and dying peacefully. This was illustrated in an old Tibetan story of Gampopa's wife.
Gampopa was a famous Tibetan meditator in the 11th century. Before becoming a monk he was a physician; such a good one that his fame spread throughout Tibet. He was, in fact, often known as The Physician. He was also extremely handsome.
When he was relatively young his wife became ill and took to her bed. Gampopa employed all his healing skills to no avail. Her condition deteriorated until it was obvious that she could not recover. She lay, week after week, on her deathbed, in great pain.
Gampopa puzzled over this. 'I have done all within my power to help her, but her condition is hopeless. She should have died months ago yet she lingers on in pain and great suffering. What can be the cause of this?' He decided to speak to her about it.
'Dear wife, you know I have done everything possible to heal your sickness, but have failed. Your malady is incurable. You should have died months ago, yet you cling to life and prolong your pain and suffering. This is causing great anguish to both of us. What can be the cause?'
'Dear husband, the cause is simple. I love you so much that I cannot bear the thought of some other woman becoming your wife. I will not die and allow that to happen.'
The astounded Gampopa thought about this for a while. 'My dear wife, this cannot go on. I will make a promise to you. Upon your death I will become a monk and be celibate to the end of my days. No woman will ever take your place.'
His wife gave a great sigh of happiness and died peacefully.
DON'T PLAY GAMES
We often say things like 'everything is going to be alright'. This is usually not true in life and certainly will be a lie in death if it is suggesting that the dying person is heading into some wonderful state. We don't know what state their minds are in. We can do our best to create a peaceful environment for them and help them resolve issues, but it is not for us to tell them that wonderful experiences with rainbows and angels lie ahead. Honesty and practicality will help the dying person. If they have some knowledge of the bardo teachings, or if they are meditators, you can remind them to focus and recognise. Discuss what is to come so that they can be clear in their minds. But don't spin fanciful stories that are of short-term comfort only.
NEGATIVE AND PAINFUL
Sometimes we can help people to deal with negative and painful emotions that well up as death approaches.
The classic process of dying involves some of the following stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Many other reactions are mixed into this: fear, anxiety, hope and guilt.
This example is from a little book entitled Tuesdays with Morrie, by a young man named Mitch who began visiting an older man who was dying. It illustrates how one might deal with a negative emotion. The meetings were clearly a rich experience for both of them. The author comments on self-pity.
I asked Morrie if he felt sorry for himself.
'Sometimes in the mornings,' he said. 'That's when I mourn. I feel around my body, I move my fingers and my hands - whatever I can still move - and I mourn what I have lost. I mourn the slow, insidious way in which I am dying. But then I stop mourning.'
' Just like that?'
'I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life ... Mitch, I don't allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that's all.'
A dying person is experiencing the death of the body, not the mind. So we can help them right to the end, to strengthen and liberate their minds.
Years ago when I was studying various methods and theories of psychotherapy, I asked Akong Rinpoche what he thought was thel best method of therapy.
'Compassion,' he said without a moment's pause.
I think it's the same here. It's good and useful to know theories and techniques that can hone our skills in helping the dying, but it's worth nothing if we lack compassion and the desire to help. If you have the desire to help and care for others, you will instinctively do what is needed. Even if you feel inadequate, your caring and loving will communicate itself to the dying person as a great comfort and a blessing.
the fear of dying
His Eminence gave this teaching at KTD in 1997.
Edited by Laura Roth.
The physical definition of death
I am continuing to talk about death and the bardo. As we have learned earlier, the basic, fundamental advice about the fear of death and also for living people is to do one's best, so that when the inevitable death occurs, we will be prepared positively for it. Now I will talk briefly about the physical definition of death as related to the basic definition of the body.
The life span of a human being like us on this planet in this solar system of this universe is somehow fixed. It is almost a miracle if we see someone live beyond one hundred years. I cannot say there are more than a few thousand people living on this planet right now who are over a hundred. It is very difficult to live that long, but it is possible. If we think of a few more years, if we think of someone who has lived two hundred years, I would say that we cannot even count one person with such a life span. So while a human being as such might live billions of years, a human being on planet earth of this solar system definitely does not live beyond two hundred years. I say this to make us a little happier. We cannot live above two hundred years, and that says to us that the relative interdependent manifestation of our body has its own fixed mechanism. I think in scientific or mechanical terminology this would be called the genetic or cell structure. You may know more about this than I do, actually. There is something fixed; the physical definition of death as a human being on the planet earth is according to the life span of the body. Of course, we should know that this is relative reality, and it is always possible that one can transcend this relative reality. It is not an ultimate truth that we cannot live more than two hundred years. It is a relative truth.
In order to transcend physical relative reality, one has to have a deep level of realisation. Living without dying is in the same physical entity as we call immortality. In Buddhist history quite a few masters have achieved this, and the master who is most well known for this achievement is Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche lives today.
Of course some western scholars have said that is not the case, and quite a few have written about Guru Rinpoches' not being immortal. But we all believe that Guru Rinpoche lives even today. He attained realisation. I have had discussions about this with quite a few people who do not want to agree with me. That is all right, we have freedom of speech and freedom of belief. Some people like to say that for Guru Rinpoche and other great masters who have attained immortality, it is their mind that is immortal. That I do not agree with because our mind is immortal all the time. We do not have to be Guru Rinpoche, we do not have to be enlightened, and as we are our minds are immortal. The mind reincarnates from one life to another; it never dies. Guru Rinpoche's realisation of immortality is not talking about the immortality of his mind. Guru Rinpoche has realised that the body is manifestation of the mind.
That is how Guru Rinpoche transcended the laws of nature, because nature is part of the mind, part of the ultimate. So once that realisation happened, then Guru Rinpoche became immortal.
Immortality is something achievable, but unless we reach that kind of realisation and transcend relative reality, our body is mortal, and a mortal body has a life span. Sometimes we like to say that human beings live only about one hundred years. This is inadequate, because a human being means a being in the human realm, which is one of the six realms. A human being is not limited to the human being of planet earth. A human being might live on another planet. The human realm as one of the six realms extends throughout the existence of sentient beings, so some human beings might not look like people that we know. They might look like a carpet, which would seem very weird to us, but definitely it is possible. We look like a tree trunk. So somebody who looks like a carpet may look at us and say "What strange beings, they look like tree trunk." The human realm is a state of mind and the human body has no real definition; it can be anything. We are the human beings of the planet earth. Looking up, we have something on our head called hair. A being that had never seen us would find this hair very funny, because some people tie it up, some have it down, some cut this way or that way, and some shave it totally. It would seem strange to them, but for us it is one of the ways to beautify ourselves and we take good care of it. Some of us who have lost it polish the pate to keep it clean and shiny and beautiful.
The human realm is such that some human beings on another planet, not because of their greater or lesser merit but because of their karma, might live ten million years according to our calculations of years. Others might live only ten years or three years according to our calculations. It depends very much on the mechanism of the planet, such as how fast the planet rotates and moves, how thick or thin the air, how heavy or light the atmosphere. According to that there may be a bigger body, a taller body, a flatter body, looking like a carpet, looking like a tree, all kinds of possibilities.
The way of appearance can be absolutely uniform, but the level of maturity of consciousness, the mental and physical ability will be human. So that is the human realm. Long life or short life is irrelevant when we look at it from this perspective. Some human beings, if they see that we are living a maximum of two hundred years, will think that this is awfully short. If they live for millions of years, for them it might be something like saying we only live ten years, our two hundred years is equivalent to two thousand years, so that would be very long. It depends on the physical reality. Then for beings in all other realms, as long as they have a dualistic entity, whether it is what we call physical or what we call non physical, as long as it is a dualistic entity that has past, present and future, they will also have death. Time starts, continues, and ends, so there will be a beginning and ending as long as there is time, but physical death as such is very closely associated with body.
For beings who are in the bardo stage, we do not say they are born in the bardo. When I say bardo here, I am talking about the after-death bardo, the bardo from death until we are conceived. The bardo has many levels; right now we are in a bardo too, because from birth to death is one aspect of the bardo. We do not say that when we die we are reborn in the bardo, and then when we were conceived into another life we do not say we died in the bardo. But as far as the time, the past, the present, and the future, is concerned, death is the beginning of the bardo, the stages of death, and when we go a little further that becomes the bardo, and we will remain in the bardo for a period of time. Since we are human beings of the planet earth, we will be there for a maximum of 49 days. The minimum can be any amount of time, but the maximum is 49 days. That is what we call remaining in the bardo, and when that 49 days maximum or whatever shorter period is over and we are conceived into the next life, we call that the end of the bardo. So there is the past, present, future, or the beginning, remaining, and end of the bardo period, but we do not say that the person dies in the bardo and is born into the next life. In principle, however, it is the same thing, because when someone is born, for that person the bardo becomes past. The person passes away from the bardo into the next life. The bardo people, if they still speak the English language and if they still like to say the same things we do may say, " My friend passed out of the bardo." It is quite simple, but sometimes we need to talk about it in that order to get it right.
In that way the use of the term death is related to the physical body. I have said these few things about the physical definition of death and also the past, present, and future aspect of the same thing. Now within this context of the physical body and the limitation of a life span, we have teachings as part of the bardo teaching. We also have quite a large number of teachings related to the signs of death. There are many signs of death and there is much detailed teaching on them. I am not going to say a lot about that because it might become very complicated. Also, to tell you the truth, right now I do not remember all the details about the signs of death from the texts. I would have to look them up in the texts and my notebooks, so for that reason and because it would take too much time, I will not go into all the details.
But besides this there is quite a serious reason for not trying to address this topic too much, ant that is because you might really become obsessed about it. Some people always like to know about dreams. They writer them down and then dreams become like a hobby. They invest too much time and energy in it, and sometimes become quite obsessed about it. Likewise, if you learn a lot about the signs of death, you might worry too much, and sometimes you might get false warnings. You might see these in other people also, so you might upset a lot of people, and this would not be very pleasant or nice or helpful. I think, to say the least, that I should be responsible for whatever kind of confusion that I might create in you from a Dharmic point of view. Legally you cannot touch me, but even so, spiritually I am responsible for your welfare, so I must be very careful about this.
But there is one thing I would like to share with you, and this will give you the overall picture of what signs of death mean in the bardo teaching. For that reason I tell you this and also I do not see much risk in telling you this, because if you try this technique it will be very good for your practice. If you try very very hard to keep a record of this thing, it is going to make you better, more organised practitioner. I do not see that it will give you a lot of unnecessary worries and problems. There are many factors involved, which might also mean that to get this really straight will take many, many years of practice. So I really would not worry so much that you will get obsessed about it. I will tell you this so that you can get at least some perspective to know what possibly the signs of death could mean.
Now everything about us and around us is equally real, whatever we think is real solid reality and whatever we think is not so important reality. It is like the definition of superstition. People like to make very clear and appropriate definition, that this is superstition and that is not, but in the general context of the interdependence of everything, it is impossible to make such a distinction. In that way everything around us is equally relevant to us. So in these you should know that there are signs for everything around us. Not only signs of death, but signs of good health, signs of bad health, signs for all kinds of things around us.
Some people learn about certain aspects of it mathematically; we call them mathematicians. Some people learn about it through the principle of zodiac and planets and stars and so forth, we call them astrologers. Other people learn about it through pulses and different parts of the body and blood and so forth, and we call them medical doctors. Some people learn about people's reaction to things, how they react to emotional patterns and so forth; we call them psychologists. All of these are just magnifying one aspect of it and learning bit by bit about it, becoming an expert in it, and then one can somehow see what is happening and why, and then many times we find out how to improve it.