Tonglen Practice and the Bodhisattva Way of Life
One Goal, Many Methods
After we have explored the countless expressions of the different spiritual traditions and their meditative methods, even within the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana systems of the Buddha Dharma, we find that their essence is the same. If someone asked us, "Can you synthesize all these traditions and their practices into one essential practice or philosophy?," the answer would be Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the core essence of the teachings we are receiving, of all the teachings we have ever received. This is a very important point to recognize.
The great Kadampa masters, like Atisha, have already essentialized these practices for us, so we don't have to invent something new. The proven path to success already exists. It is right here for us, in this moment, but it's important to know how to essentialize the teachings, to look to their meaning, or dharma can be very confusing, like when we come to a fork in the road when driving a car and we don't know which way to go. We have to recognize that the essence of all the teachings is Bodhicitta, the awakened state of mind, which is compassion itself.
When Atisha came to Tibet, he met a famous teacher named Rinchen Zangpo, who invited Atisha to his monastery. There they had a wonderful Dharma discussion. Rinchen Zangpo was able to answer any question Atisha had. Atisha said to his attendants, "Why do I have to be in Tibet when they have Rinchen Zangpo?" Finally, Atisha asked, "How do you practice all these sutras and tantras together?" Rinchen Zangpo said, "When you practice sutra, you practice sutra, and when you practice tantra, you practice tantra." Then he took Atisha to his temple and there were many images of deities, each with its own cushion. "Now I know why I have come," Atisha said. Atisha saw that Rinchen Zangpo was relying on the superficial level of the Dharma, he was relying on the external form and not connecting with the essence, Bodhicitta. Because Atisha saw how this approach to Dharma was corrupting the teachings, he unified them in order to reveal their essence and to prevent people from practicing improperly.
For example, in Vajrayana Buddhism there are an incredible amount of teachings - ngondro, tsa lung, trekchod, mahayoga, atiyoga. But is there a separate purpose for all these teachings? No! There is a single goal and a single practice, although there are many methods. Bodhicitta, which is ultimate love, is the highest realization one can gain through all these methods.
Bodhicitta is not merely mundane love, it is the union of love and compassion, which is the actualization of wisdom. We can only understand the nature of reality through love, not through our small ideas, or concepts, or language or even knowledge. We can only understand the highest reality through understanding and realizing ultimate love, which is Bodhicitta mind. Bodhicitta mind is love, which is wisdom itself.
The Goal is the Practice Itself
We begin dharma practice by developing love and compassion. There's no end to dharma practice, but if there were, it would end with love and compassion. This is the core essence of dharma practice. Even if we do sadhana, a Vajrayana practice, there are still the aspects of refuge and Bodhicitta, which are the fundamental principles. Developing love and compassion is the essence of any dharma practice we can do. All the teachings have the same message, that of generating love and compassion. So it is crucial that we know how to essentialize all the dharma teachings, not thinking that all these dharma teachings have separate goals.
When we practice Bodhicitta, loving kindness, the goal is already here, right here in each of us, in this moment. It does not exist in the future, when we are better practitioners. The goal IS what we are doing right now. Practicing love and kindness is the goal of the practice. When we practice love and compassion for other beings, for ourselves, we are truly enlightened in that moment. There is no other definition of enlightenment apart from having love and compassion. The goal is already actualized in this moment. The goal is the practice itself.
This is a very Mahayana idea, because normally we think a goal is something we obtain in the future, as the result of the practice of meditation or yoga. But in this way our dharma practice is based on expectations and selfish motivations and lacks the authentic heart-connection needed to free ourselves of delusion. Ironically, the goal is not in the future. The ever-present goal is already here. The path itself is the goal. This paradox characterizes the teachings.
In many ways the teachings are paradoxical because we approach everything from a material point of view. We approach the teachings with a mentality of lack, which means we think the teachings are going to give us something. We think we are going to get something special from listening to teachings, practicing Dharma. But Dharma practice does not turn us into somebody special. Dharma practice only reveals what has always been present within each of us, but has been obscured by the pettiness of our desire, ambition and greed. This is why it is so important for us to always check our motivation. When we check our motivation, we can see what is false, and discard it through simply Seeing. The seeing itself is the energy of Bodhicitta mind, of love and compassion. Seeing does not come from our intellect. Awareness is unconfined, universal love, whereas the intellect, the ego is limited to selfishness and does not have the capacity to see itself. Such is the characteristic of our delusions: ignorance, not recognizing who we are.
Bodhicitta Love Never Excludes or Rejects Anybody
One of the powerful ways we can practice the principles of Bodhicitta is to know how to integrate the view and meditation into our practice in everyday life. Patrul Rinpoche was a great example of someone who integrated the view of reality with the ordinary aspects of everyday life. He was the Tibetan version of Shantideva. Patrul Rinpoche never rode a horse because he didn't want to torture animals. He slept in a ditch, covered only by a worn-out tarp. He wore the clothes of a beggar and had hardly any possessions. He was able to bring pure motivation into everyday life because he realized he was already fulfilled as he was and needed nothing from the outside world to make him complete.
One of the most difficult ways to practice Bodhicitta, practicing love, compassion and forgiveness, is towards ourselves. This can be very difficult for us, can't it? We can be very loving and compassionate and demonstrate honorable intentions toward others, but we can be very hard-hearted and closed-minded when it comes to relating to our own suffering. Oftentimes we need to be the object of our compassion, because we have a deeply ingrained hatred towards ourselves, which we don't completely understand, so we avoid dealing with it. This is why it is so easy to take someone else as the object of our love and compassion. We like to play the role of savior, trying to help others, so we can continue ignoring our own issues. This is why it is so important to practice self-tonglen regularly. This is the most powerful healing method we can incorporate into our lives. When we become capable of acknowledging our own suffering through tonglen practice, we can swiftly resolve our karmic issues. We can experience the amazing transformation of suffering into happiness.
It takes a lot of meditation and dharma practice to unfold love towards oneself and towards all other beings. When we practice Bodhicitta mind we should not practice it partially. We should include all sentient beings. This includes our co-workers and family members, people we pass by on the street everyday, homeless people we see laying in a doorway, politicians we disagree with, angry gas station attendants. Bodhicitta love never excludes or rejects anybody.
Ego has the tendency to reject and exclude certain people, but this Bodhicitta mind can include all other beings without reference point, including ourselves, because within this Bodhicitta mind there is no idea of a self to construct barriers, to establish boundaries that keeps others out of our hearts and prevents us from entering into theirs. In Bodhicitta mind, there is only one heart. To realize this we must start with ourselves. We have to journey into the unknown territory of our own hearts to uncover the love and compassion that is already there. This journey, its' uncovering, is one of acknowledgement, acceptance and letting go.
First we acknowledge our resistance to life, to the unconditioned experience of love that exists as what is in every moment. Then we accept this unresolved part of ourselves, the resistance. We accept simply by being aware, without judgement or hesitation. We face our unwillingness directly, without distraction, by asking ourselves "What is happening in my life right now?" We use this method of inquiry constantly to reveal our resistance to our lives, lives which are actually always prefect as they are.
When we begin to see ourselves directly, our constant struggle to do, to obtain in order to produce some sense of satisfaction in our lives, then we being to experience some space around the resistance, and this space is acceptance, a loosening of the tight grip of ego. And to accept is to let go, which happens automatically. However, this letting go might mean that we are bound to experience some unpleasantness, some discomfort, but this is merely the release of bound habitual energy. It has no substance. It is just like a deluded dream. But to experience ourselves in this way, we have to make some kind of sacrifice if we truly want to be free from the karmic weight of our ignorance, of not understanding who we are, because we are used to caving in on ourselves, disempowering ourselves by succumbing to our habitual tendencies created out of hope and fear that maintain the constant sense of struggle. There is no struggle, though, and there never has been.
In actuality, the unfolding of this process is the birthing of a complete willingness that evolves naturally into pure faith, which is the unlimited expression of our Buddha nature.
From this place of healing within ourselves, we can then expand ourselves within the sphere of awareness, extending love and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, healing that includes all of the people in our lives, especially the ones who are not the objects of our loving kindness and compassion.
We have to recognize that the practice of Bodhicitta is the essence of all other practice, whether we are practicing meditation or mantra or even the highest yoga, ati yoga; the essence never changes: it is Bodhicitta mind, the genuine heart of understanding that is suffused with boundless love and unbearable tenderness that expresses its concern for the welfare of others continuously. If we lack recognition of this Bodhicitta mind we stray from the path that leads to enlightenment. We only need to remind ourselves of this point constantly: that we already possess Bodhicitta mind. This is the essence of tonglen practice.
Bodhicitta is the Main Ingredient
What is true spirituality and who owns it? No one owns it. As long as there is the principle of Bodhicitta mind, then there is true spirituality. The moment there is no longer Bodhicitta mind, it is no longer the path to enlightenment. We always have to reexamine our heart and mind to see whether Bodhicitta is the main ingredient. In the dharma practice recipe, Bodhicitta is the main ingredient. All other practices are just spice on top of that. Bodhicitta mind is the main ingredient. We have to have that or the recipe isn't going to be very delicious or satisfying.
We prove it thus: when we do dharma practice and forget to take Bodhicitta as the core essence, no matter how much we put ourselves into retreat, we always go back to the same samsara, the same hope, fear and insecurity, because Bodhicitta has been lacking in our dharma recipe. By practicing Dharma without connecting to our own hearts our practice lacks the genuine flavor of a pure mind. So we have to always take refuge and generate Bodhicitta as the essence of our recipe.
We need to examine whether there is the Bodhicitta ingredient or not. We need to examine our own motivation. I've found the most helpful practice in Mahayana is to examine my own motivation. The essential message of the Mahayana teaching is to put Bodhicitta into practice by continuously examining one's motivation.
Examining motivation is not about being harsh or judgmental to ourselves by being spiritually or religiously restrictive. We don't have to give commentary to ourselves about whether we are a good or bad spiritual practitioner. But it's good to reexamine our mind without judgement. Examination is completely different. When we examine our minds and the underlying motivation of our dharma practice we may sense that there is a lack of love and compassion. That's fine. We only have to be aware of this and then we can cultivate the desire to generate genuine Bodhicitta mind. If we do have the Bodhicitta mind then we should be very joyous.
May the precious sacred Bodhicitta mind (universal love)
Which has not yet ripened, become ripened
May what has ripened not weaken but increase higher and higher
It is quite powerful to recite this prayer. What is the meaning of this prayer? It's about examining our minds. If there's no Bodhicitta substance then we have to develop it. If we do find Bodhicitta mind then we should rejoice and inspire ourselves to increase it.
From the beginning, when we practice Bodhicitta mind, the most important point is to acknowledge the suffering of all sentient beings, including ourselves. We acknowledge by asking ourselves, "What is the nature of the suffering we experience?" The nature of suffering is just the experience of our minds. It doesn't exist in physical circumstances. Suffering is the state of our minds that have been completely obscured by the delusions of hope and fear. Suffering is only a state of mind. Our experience of suffering is like experiencing mental hallucinations. By understanding the nature of reality through the realization that all suffering is a fabrication of the mind, we come to understand the suffering of all sentient beings. We develop this understanding by deeply contemplating the sufferings of ourselves and all sentient beings.
When Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma, the first thing he taught was the truth of suffering - the suffering of all sentient beings. What is the meaning of meditating on the suffering of all sentient beings? What's the use of it? We all have fear of suffering but we don't know exactly what it is. We don't find anyone who understands suffering, unless they understand the nature of suffering. Everyone in our society is afraid of suffering. People who look very powerful outwardly are as afraid of suffering as we are. It doesn't matter whether you are poor or rich, powerful or weak, we all have this fear of suffering.
Ironically, when we comprehend our life's activities, we discover that there is this secret activity going on: that we are trying to escape from suffering. We never have the chance to understand what suffering is because we are always avoiding it. But what is suffering? Does it truly exist or not?
In our mind we have this entrenched belief system that suffering truly exists in the form of outer circumstances like loss and sickness, which in turn creates the false idea that there is happiness [which is the opposite of suffering] that can be acquired through favorable circumstances, like being powerful or having lots of money. This deeply rooted belief system is our habitual cage that we have willfully imprisoned ourselves in for many lifetimes. We experience the suffering of suffering because we avoid it.
But what is suffering? Buddha's way to gain freedom from suffering is to not avoid it, since in reality there is nothing to avoid, because suffering doesn't exist as a physical or material entity. The way to liberate ourselves from suffering is to be willing experience the suffering that we think exists within ourselves completely. We have to journey down so to speak, to venture into this unknown and undisclosed area of ourselves. Then will understand freedom from suffering by understanding its nature.
When we meditate on suffering, there is no longer fear and resistance in our heart. The suffering dissolves into its' true nature, which is ironically love and compassion. If we really meditate on the suffering of another person, not just intellectually, but when we allow ourselves to experience someone's pain and confusion, our experience becomes love and compassion and genuine caring born of understanding, because we have completely understood ourselves, and there is no separation to cause limitless confusion.
When we're having a bad day, what do we do? There are lots of things we can do. Some of them are brilliant and some of them are not so brilliant. Sometimes they have a mysterious cause, being triggered by certain events, circumstances or personalities. But the seeds of those sufferings are already in each of us. When we experience suffering through emotion or a physical or mental state, our old habit is to run away by distracting our minds - by watching TV or listening to music or entertaining our minds by talking with people on the phone. Perhaps we take intoxicating substances. We employ many old tricks to run away from suffering.
This is the Mahayana and also the Dzogchen way to understand suffering. Meditation on suffering is new to us. We haven't done it. We may think we don't have to do it, because we think we've experienced so much suffering. But we've never truly allowed suffering to touch us before. In general - of course, all of you are already on the path and have done many practices - but in general this is very new to us to try to experience suffering.
At the same time all of us have the memory that we went through countless challenges in our lives, out of loss, sickness and misfortune. We may think we've had enough education on suffering. But if we think back, how have we actually encountered those circumstances? When we encounter fear, hope and anxiety, there's always struggle in each of us. We always try to push away the reality we are going to encounter. We may experience suffering but we experience it with a barrier, with conflict. What we are doing now is to encounter every circumstance that is happening in our lives and experience everything that arises in our mind, whether pain or hope or fear, it doesn't matter, and we are letting go of all our resistance - our distrust of death, of sickness, of loss, and of our own emotional experience too - pain and misery. We are going to meditate on their true nature. When we do this we begin see nakedly the reality that our resistance has been concealing. We begin to see what is the true nature of suffering. We see that suffering is no longer caused by outer circumstances. The moment we recognize that suffering is a mental state we no longer have to try to get rid of it. Suffering becomes a source love, kindness, compassion, joy and bliss, too.
Perhaps you've heard of turning suffering into bliss. There is no suffering to be rejected or from which we have to escape. Understanding the nature of suffering is already freedom from suffering. We cannot find freedom from suffering in future circumstances or Buddha heavens. The only time we can find freedom from suffering is in the present moment, in the suffering itself.
This is an important view we will have to talk about again. Many people think Buddhism is pessimistic because it focuses so much on suffering. But the Buddhist way to acquire freedom from suffering is in understanding its' nature and cause. Understanding the nature of suffering is going to bring us absolute happiness too. This whole Mahayana practice is focusing on the simple discipline of feeling suffering. Sometimes it's very difficult to feel suffering. We have been so resistant to pain, crisis and misery, it's very difficult to open one's heart to one's own suffering and the suffering of all beings. We sometimes don't want to see that other people are suffering. Its not a beautiful image to see other people suffering.
One powerful way to do practice, a most heart-felt
way is to reach your hand into someone's heart, to extend your heart into someone's
life. Sometimes it is good to talk to beings who are suffering, to listen to beings
who are suffering, to be in the space of suffering beings' passion unreservedly.
In the sutras, Bodhisattvas always make promises to come back to samsara and guide
sentient beings who are lost. We have to practice these same Bodhisattvas vows,
to work tirelessly for the welfare of others. We must
follow in the footsteps of Manjushri and Avalokiteshvara if we are to truly understand and live with genuine compassion. The footsteps of those great Bodhisattvas, and for ourselves, as we are also great Bodhisattvas, is to always come back to samsara without running away from the situations that challenge us, that bring fear and pain into our lives. The main philosophy of Bodhisattvas is to face phenomena that we are afraid of. This is a big shift in our belief system and spiritual practice. It seems that all we are ever doing is running away from samsara, from the sufferings of sickness, old age and death. But the Bodhisattvas way is to run into the landfill, into the garbage place, where the stink is consuming, where our senses are completely affronted. We have to run into the place that most people are afraid of facing. This is a reverse process. We are going where everyone is running away from, the place that everyone is pretending does not exist. We are diving headlong into this resistance to authentic living and it's flames of aversion and razors of guilt. We are marching into this cosmic landfill with ultimate courage, which is devotion to our Buddha nature, that sees Buddha nature in all things, in every being. It is there, in here, the cosmic landfill, that we shall face and find ourselves directly. This is the unmistaken path of compassion, the way of the Bodhisattva.
What we are working on is ourselves, transcending the dualism of our own fear, aversion and guilt. We cannot really find anything outside ourselves that is really the cause of suffering, aversion and pain. By facing and encountering all these unwanted circumstances this will give us a very challenging and risky encounter on the spiritual path. We understand that all suffering, aversion and guilt we are trying to get rid of in ourselves - we realize it does not exist outside of ourselves. Then there's immediate unveiling of freedom. There's immediate relief because we realize that all the sufferings are our own creation. We experience relief from suffering's torment and exhaustion because we no longer rely on outer conditions to satisfy or lives and to give them meaning. We find total satisfaction and meaning within ourselves, as we are.
View of Practice
Buddhist practice is always based on view, meditation and action. I want to talk about Bodhicitta teachings within this context. According to the Mahayana perspective, the View is the understanding of the nature of reality through suffering. Meditation is like our tonglen practice or daily sadhanas we do, that are based on love and compassion. Then we have action. What is the significance of Bodhicitta practice in action? Bodhicitta in action is going to bring up all of our limitations in an experiential way, and from this experience we can acquire true actualization of Bodhicitta mind, not as a temporary spiritual experience but one that takes place deep in our hearts, one that we can feel in our bones.
Maybe we are in a place where there is much suffering. Our compassion will not be lost when we have true realization in our hearts. To do that we have to go beyond our fear and hope, which arises from resistance to reality. To be a living Bodhisattva in this lifetime we need to defeat or conquer those. We should be encouraging ourselves to go into that cosmic landfill and bring up all of our limitations to the surface. Then we will have a chance to study them. We can study them and then go beyond them when we see their true nature. This is the Bodhisattva's path.
There is a beautiful prayer in the Bodhisattva's teachings. It says,
"May I encounter all unwanted circumstances."
This is a revolutionary prayer, because we usually pray to not have misfortune and, "Please, God, give me a Mercedes." Christians are not the only ones who grovel in this way. Buddhists do, too.
I was in Lhasa ten years ago before I came to the United States. I went to the temple of Jowo Rinpoche, the famous statue. I stopped and eavesdropped and heard all kinds of prayers - for many yaks, success, longevity. But this Bodhisattva prayer is a very different prayer, a reversal prayer. We are asking God or Buddha or Avalokiteshvara to send us things we don't want. Of course, we don't need any unwanted circumstances. All we have to do is face reality. Reality shatters our mind completely, pushes our buttons, and brings up all the limitations of hope, fear, doubt, and laziness. Then we can go beyond them, because they are seen to be as insubstantial as the clouds passing in the sky.
Like when I tell the Acharya Asanga story: because he was willing to sacrifice his ego, Asanga licked the maggots out of the dog's wound and had a direct experience of the Buddha Maitreya. By truly seeing someone's suffering, in his case the dog that was suffering with a horrible wound, and the maggots that were eating its' flesh, he was able to completely experience love and compassion. Similarly, sometimes all we need is to face unwanted circumstances in order to completely wake up to reality. When we do this, compassion and love arises in us spontaneously. This is the courageous Bodhisattva action.
For instance, when we hate somebody there is a part of ourselves that is not perceiving the pain and suffering of that person. We are perceiving the person mechanically, in a material way. This is the ultimate blindness, when we don't perceive fundamental components of other beings, when we don't see their own enlightened potential and thus mistake appearances for reality.
Let's say you don't like somebody. There's a part of us that has rejected that person because we have perceived that person as a mechanical entity, meaning we don't perceive them as having thoughts and feelings and deeply ingrained tendencies, the same as ourselves, we see that person as separate and different, not recognizing the fear and existential pain manifesting in them because we have not addressed these elements within our own being. But when we recognize those components - fear, pain, suffering, the rich emotional vitality of life - love and compassion arise naturally, without intention. Bodhicitta mind springs forth from oneself without any effort. When we don't recognize those fertile qualities of beings that contain the awakened potential, we may try to have more love and compassion, but these vain efforts only turn our hearts into rock. Our mind becomes more untamed because it continues to rely on fabrications about how we think others should be, because we persist through unchecked notions about ourselves, about how we think we should be. But the Bodhisattva's way of developing love and compassion is to visit the cosmic landfill, which means going beyond our habitual inclinations that perceive everything as separate and digging into the rich soil of our minds to discover our naked awakened state.
The essential method of Mahayana Buddhism is transformation: the Bodhisattva transforms what is negative into positive, what is bad luck into good luck, the unfavorable into favorable. Transforming all negativities into positive conditions is called gyurwa - transformation. What does this mean? The Bodhisattva takes every situation as a chance to see one's limitations and go beyond them, to discover the ultimate enlightenment in oneself by bringing out one's innate love and compassion. Every situation, every chance encounter, every heartbreak, every thought is a precious opportunity to awaken completely if we have the courage to remain beholden to the open heart, Bodhicitta mind.
This is the Bodhisattva's view as well as meditation and action. When we practice this path we have to transform our fundamental attitude towards life - towards what is happiness, what is suffering, what are values. We have to let go of our old, karmic belief systems that are based on not understanding who we are. Those persistent views are our habitual tendencies.
Life itself is not samsara. Samsara can never be found as an outer circumstance. It's not in the elements or in the past, present, or future. It's in our mind, based on fundamental ignorance about reality. We have to see the falsehood of those belief systems that we have held in our minds. By awakening to the false, we awaken to who we are and what is reality. In this awakened state we begin to see that there is no suffering, no negativity, no circumstance that can cause hope and fear within. Our struggle is the creation of our own mind, our own resistance to reality. We are not running away from any circumstances - what we are facing right now or will have to face tomorrow morning. We are simply opening our heart and flowing with life's natural direction without fighting the flow. When there is no resistance, there is a sense that everything is a blessing, whatever happens. Whether there is good fortune or bad fortune, a Bodhisattva perceives everything as a spiritual lesson in how to be content, thus exuding without effort inexhaustible generosity, love, and compassion toward all beings. Everything is Buddha's voice, a living teaching, thus there is a sense of a reverence that treats every circumstance as some kind of sacred phenomena, a sacred entity.
York to Lhasa: The Message is the Same
A very wealthy businessman from New York had a lot of money and a great place to live, but he was very unhappy. He went to Tibet and asked a lama at the top of a mountain - I guess everyplace in Tibet is at the top of a mountain - he asked, "How do you know what is the meaning of life?"
The lama said, "You'll know what it is through wisdom."
"How do you have wisdom?" the businessman asked.
The lama said, "Through having good experiences."
"How do you have good experiences?"
"By having bad experiences!"
So bad experiences, or our perception of suffering, are the source of wisdom, which in the Mahayana tradition, unfolds as the six perfections of patience, generosity, discipline, perseverance, meditation and wisdom. This is a revolutionary approach for us. We have never thought this way. We are conditioned by our of samsaric education to perceive suffering as unwanted and therefore bad, so we have never experienced liberation, which is actually quite easy to do. But now we are receiving Buddha education. We may have read many books, but to put those teachings into our mind and heart and live with this philosophy is a very new way of life for us. We aren't really accustomed to this, going against the grain of our habitual tendencies. It's a bit upside-down compared to the samsaric way of understanding what is of value and what is considered worthwhile.
is a Blessing
A Bodhisattva sees everything as a blessing, as joy, because a Bodhisattva doesn't see any stain in any person any circumstances. A Bodhisattva sees all of life as being an education, therefore a blessing. Shantideva says, "If we can learn the dharma teachings, the six paramitas, from sentient beings, as we can learn from the enlightened ones, why don't we pay homage to sentient beings like we do to the Buddhas?"
Everybody is a teacher, and everything they throw on us is a teaching. People may abuse us, be mean to us, be judgmental, but everything is a teaching to the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva doesn't have to fight for his own well being. The tougher life is for the Bodhisattva, the stronger he or she becomes. When a sentient being goes through tough times, however, he or she becomes weaker and weaker, protecting the wounds incurred by the delusion of the sense of separation.
Why does the Bodhisattva become so happy and so mature when going through hardships, and why do sentient beings become so injured? Obviously the difference in experience has to do with the difference in perception. Sentient beings look at things in a dualistic way, in terms of good and bad, fortune and misfortune, what can be had versus what one isn't getting. A Bodhisattva doesn't look at things in this dualistic way. Everything is good weather. There is no bad weather. If the sun shines, it's good. If it rains, it's good. There's only one circumstance, there's only good luck, because everything is a blessing. Everything can be used to bring up one's own limitations and be a teaching, to help us learn to be happy, to acquire freedom in natural unfoldment. What could be better than this, if it is the cause of enlightenment? Every circumstance is the cause to be enlightened.
We say going to school is good fortune, or winning lottery is good fortune. But that is understanding in a very mundane way. If we look life from a Bodhisattva's perspective, everything is good fortune, because a Bodhisattva is life. His or her heart becomes bigger and bigger, infused with more and more happiness, greater and greater love, because there is no distinction between what is thought and felt, seen and heard, tasted and touched, even smelled. Everything is the display of the Bodhisattva's pure heart. A Bodhisattva can go anywhere, do anything, even act outrageous at times, because the Bodhisattva only experiences love and compassion.
The Bodhisattva's heart wish is for all the sentient beings who are connected with him or her, in a positive or negative way, to be liberated through his or her path, through his or her activities. People who love the Bodhisattva, or on the contrary, people who torture or try to hurt him or her, there's no difference. Both are seen as teachers. When encountering the challenges of life, Bodhisattvas develop and practice more compassion, more love and more joy because their sole intention is to awaken completely for the benefit of all beings.
Adversaries are the Greatest Teachers
Enemies may be a greater teacher than anyone else in our life, because the enemy can really push our buttons and bring out all our limitations. It's very easy to love our dog or our friends or our relatives - sometimes - and easy to love people who love us. But its difficult to love people who don't mean anything to us, especially people who are negative toward us. Especially if you are in contact with them, it is hard to have true, genuine compassion to them.
Let's say you loved all sentient beings except one. That would be enough to keep you from enlightenment. Just by hating that one single being would keep you in samsara. So we have to rely on the enemy as a powerful object and teacher and go beyond our conceptual hang-ups to be truly Buddha, truly Bodhisattva. These Bodhisattva teachings are quite amazing. We are comprehending the view and now we have to keep the commitment.
How do we develop this Bodhisattva practice in our everyday life? We have to understand the power of the Bodhisattva's path, which resides in the fundamental Mahayana view that all suffering is the cause of happiness in actuality, because actuality is emptiness realizing itself. Where do we begin with this view? How can we cultivate its path?
Last night the vows I gave were a symbolic commitment, but true commitment comes from your own heart. And we have to have inner discipline, which is a sense of responsibility towards ourselves, and the commitment everyday in each moment to examine our minds. We have to respond to reality, which is whatever comes into our lives, from this perspective: all occurrences occur within empty space and are thus available to us as opportunities to awaken. In every moment we have to respond to situations, not with hope and fear, but from this completely new dimension of understanding.
If someone loves you how do you respond? Love. If someone hates you? Love. If situations are good? Love. If they are bad? Do you migrate or change your lifestyle? Just love. Love is the only solution. The way of the Bodhisattva is the wish-fulfilling jewel that can provide us with all the happiness we wish for.
We are unconditionally Buddhas, without need of meditation or Dharma practice. At the same time, we are trapped by afflicted emotions, duality, which is some kind of mental hallucination, even though it has no substantiality. So we need to ask, "What is the main hindrance that prevents us from unfolding our primordial essence?" It is the sense of I that prevents us from actualizing who we in this moment, the mind of love and wisdom.
Ego is a very powerful habit that continuously obstructs us because it is the most entrenched, deeply rooted habit that has occupied our lives. Therefore, it requires some kind of path, which is the work of purification. At the same time we must recognize our own Buddha essence, otherwise the practice becomes stale and lifeless because we have no target, no real understanding of why we are practicing because we don't know what we are really aspiring towards. All beings have Buddha essence, therefore sentient beings and Buddhas are the same.
We are not trying to be anybody else, not a saint, not a spiritual person, we are not trying to become anyone in particular, because we are already Buddha as we are. Who we are in this very moment is completely divine.
But we don't recognize who we are, especially if we are having a bad hair day! Do you understand this tendency? If we have not recognized our Buddha essence, then no matter what we try to acquire from the outside, we will be ridden with the same lingering sense of dissatisfaction, coupled with its' guilt, shame and regret, because we have this intuitive knowledge that we are somehow cheating ourselves out of real happiness. There is no lasting happiness in acquisition. True happiness arises from the contemplation and recognition of our Buddha essence, which is a surrendering, regardless of what we are experiencing, whether we are joyous or sad.
The great Tibetan lamas I have known never experienced any sense of judgement towards themselves. They really live in each moment because they do not want anything. We never live in this moment because we get stuck with memories of the past concerning unfortunate events, creating obscurations in the moment. We subsequently think about future, projecting our insecurity and uncertainty as obsessions about fear of death, which makes us strive to achieve that we may continue our petty evasions of the real. But living in this moment is the most amazing spiritual achievement, and the practice of compassion is about living in this moment.
Do we live in the past, in the future, or do we live now? We only live now! But where is this now, and who is living it?
Living in the moment is the most authentic spiritual discipline we can cultivate, connecting with every moment of reality, aware of what is happening around us in an open-hearted way, open to the suffering and the beauty of all beings. Living in this moment is the only place we can practice compassion, the only time we can be genuinely concerned with the welfare of others.
By being caught up in the past, identified with memory, or projecting into the future, identifying with our fantasies, we are unable to live and connect with other beings, naturally unfolding our innate love and compassion. This present moment is called the meditative moment. In this moment there is meditation. We don't have to practice love and compassion. It already exists. So tonglen practice is actually the natural state of things.
When the sun shines, the flower opens automatically. So meditation is non-doing, it does not require any effort or discipline to a certain degree. Realization is just a matter of being here, letting go. Then rigpa arises naturally, Bodhicitta mind arises naturally.
Patrul Rinpoche said, "When we are able to relax, meditation grabs us, but when we can't relax, we constantly chase meditation, and experience no joy, no peace. This is the wrong understanding of meditation."
Wrong meditation is like the hunter chasing deer, but real mediation is alike a puppy dog following you around. We like to stuff our minds with advice and spiritual literature because we have not recognized our natural state, which automatically inspires confidence and trust, so we continue to do in order to be. But real meditation is a non-doing art. All we have to do is be in this moment, then meditation arises naturally. We only have to open our hearts to all phenomenon happening in this moment, as this moment. When we are open in this way, the gateway to Buddha essence opens and Buddha essence reveals itself as the all-pervasive, natural vibrancy of this moment, where everything is seen and understood, the suffering as well as the happiness. We see the Buddha essence inherent in all beings.
But we practice idiot compassion, which is limited, because it is mixed with judgement, because our latent tendency is to hide from the complete enjoyment of this moment, which entails a frightening sense of abandonment to our egos. Idiot compassion is based on duality. We feel bad or sorry for those people on the streets, for those who are less fortunate, for those whom we perceive have problems, but this is not genuine because we are not recognizing Buddha essence. This is because we are not seeing our own Buddha essence! Without recognizing the inner divinity we do not experience Bodhicitta; we experience idiot compassion which has no wisdom. Authentic compassion, which is Bodhicitta mind, is the union of emptiness and awareness, which is the natural extension of wisdom and love.
Bodhi means awakening, citta means heart. So we are talking about the awakened heart that is the realization of the Buddha essence of one's self and all sentient beings. Bodhicatta recognizes the inner divinity as well as the illusion of suffering.
As Bodhisattvas we have to live with the boundless qualities of love and compassion that is wisdom extended towards all beings. But we have to start somewhere. What is the first step?
We start with one person. Recognize one person's Buddha essence. For instance, it is easy to recognize the Buddha essence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but not Hitler or Chairman Mao. It is easy to have compassion for those who are oppressed, but what about the oppressors? We must include all beings in our compassion. From the essential Dharma perspective, we cannot judge anybody, including ourselves. We must always have good will and understanding. It is so important to distinguish between social convention and conversation, the relative truth and Dharma truth, which is ultimate and does not exclude anybody. If we are not mindful, it is very easy to judge, to condemn because the tendency is very subtle.
From perspective of Bodhisattva, we practice love and compassion towards everybody, recognizing their Buddha essence. We practice love and compassion to recognize our own essence. Love and compassion are the natural expressions of this essence. This understanding should transform our perception radically.
Compassion is beyond our ordinary samsaric perception that addresses phenomenon with reactions to appearances, and reaction's judgements of good and bad. Compassion does not exclude anybody. But we have dualistic radar that is constantly assessing, interpreting, scrutinizing inner and outer environments, which is based on a sense of I. This activity, the material busyness is actually true spiritual laziness. But pure vision, which transcend the sense of I by seeing it as merely a fabrication, embraces all beings, all situations, all experiences as reflections of itself as love and compassion. This is the pure land of Akanistha, which is our pure perception. So when we make aspirations to be reborn there, we are aspiring to have pure perception towards all beings, not separating, excluding, judging. All beings are ourselves. Everyone becomes us and we become them. There is no separation between anyone. There is no self and other. There is one enlightened field, a unified field of awareness-being. This is the state of liberation.
Happiness has nothing to do with anything external. We can be in the most dreadful situation, but with pure perception, everything is the pure land. Within the state of rigpa, everything is pure. There is the fearlessness of quietude because our minds are purified, which is liberation, enlightenment, and cannot be altered.
Happiness and suffering do not come from outside, which is contrary to our present philosophy. We are always trying to invite positive, favorable circumstances, avoiding negative circumstances. However, when we adopt spiritual disciplines, we must experience a shift in our view of reality. The right view is most important, having the right view of the nature of reality.
For example, I can change the external details of my life, like diet, exercise, lifestyle, but to change the inner view requires tremendous sacrifice of the tiny little ego. However these external changes can be worthwhile because they are symbolic: they remind us about the inner view, and encourage us to continue unfolding our natural spiritual qualities.
My teacher, lama Tsultrim Gyamsto, always asked whomever came to him to make a commitment to practice, upholding at least one vow. This was to hold a symbolic reminder in one's mind about the commitment to transformation, which is very auspicious for us because it helps us to follow through with the true change, which comes within one's self, purifying habitual tendencies and unfolding natural Buddha qualities.
Dharma in Tibetan means change. The essence of Dharma is personal change, transformation of habitual tendencies into wisdom qualities. We are not changing who we are, but rather we are letting go of that which obscures our true nature.
In The Moment
This moment holds everything we need. This moment is the perfect opportunity to uphold and maintain our commitment to unfolding this inherent love and compassion. The object in need of love and compassion exists with us right here in this moment, sitting next to us, in our family, in our community, within ourselves. The contents of our lives are all that we need to awaken and to sustain through practicing love and compassion.
The open heart always knows what is needed, because awareness of this moment is this moment itself, and sometimes this requires very specific actions, our time, effort, finances, all of which aid us in overcoming our selfishness, insecurity, fear and hope.
We have made this commitment, which is aspiration and action, to be loving to all beings, free from any anger or hatred. We must put this great aspiration of Bodhicitta into action constantly, ceaselessly. We can feed ants, rescue animals that will be killed or slaughtered, go to hospitals where there are sick people, help homeless people by giving time, acknowledgement, perhaps money. There are so many things we can do to serve beings, and this loving energy is contagious.
One time I freed lobsters that were going to be cooked, boiled alive. The Chinese man I bought them from explained to me how to cook them, but I told him I was going to free them in the ocean. He called me "good man" after that, and began giving me lobsters for free. So his own sensitivity was sparked by this simple action, and it inspired him to extend love and generosity. These kinds of acts help to invoke the ultimate mind of love and compassion, which is the realization of our Buddha nature.
When we hold in mind that every action is dedicated to the enlightenment of all beings, are hearts become tenderized, and we open to our essence and to the essence of all beings. We live for the benefit of all beings. This attitude is revolutionary.
When we eat, sit, walk, sleep we can always hold in our minds the welfare of all beings. This is the teaching of the authentic Bodhisattva way of life.
How we can engage in the Bodhisattva's practice, like the six paramitas, in our everyday life? We talked a lot about the view of Mahayana in the last few days, and now we are going to talk about how we can apply those principles in our life. Application is the key point of this practice.
This morning I talked about changing one's attitude towards one's own activities. We have to have dedication - that is the essential practice of Bodhisattvas. There are three essential principles of Bodhisattvas:
- noble motivation
- noble wisdom (wisdom of emptiness)
- noble dedication
They aren't really separate principles. Dedication means one dedicates all of one's activities, one's life, one's possessions, as the cause of bringing liberation to yourself and humanity, to all sentient beings without exception.
Whether you're Christian, Muslim or Buddhist Bodhisattva, the principles are the same: To be a Bodhisattva is to be a living saint. I met Joanna Macy, who is a very good woman. She was having a retreat at Pema Osel Ling. She practices Mahayana Buddhism, basically. She came to my cabin to have tea. I asked her what she was teaching? She said, "How to be Bodhisattvas - not to be Christian or Buddhist, in particular, but to be Bodhisattvas." There are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and even New Age Bodhisattvas - they liberate with crystals. And even taxi cab driver Bodhisattvas.
There's a prayer,
"May I be born as whatever is needed by sentient beings,
as leader, as minister, even a prostitute."
A Bodhisattva is one who unfolds all his loving compassion towards all beings. You can't really say that someone isn't a Bodhisattva because of his actions or lifestyle.
Lately I received the news that an old friend of mine is being recognized as a reincarnation of Dzogchen Patrul Rinpoche. But when we together in the same monastery I didn't know he was a Bodhisattva. We nicknamed him "stretched ear" because he had big ears. And when I heard he was recognized, I said, "Wow, I have to keep my mouth shut!" We never know who is going to be a Bodhisattva.
The wonderful thing is that Bodhisattva principles can be blended into our lives. When we get deeper and deeper into the essence of Dharma practice, we reach a landmark - there's no longer a distinction between life and dharma. It seems life is dharma and dharma is life. But when we are first scratching the surface of practice, there seems to be a difference between them. Like we have to reject life or be somebody in order to practice dharma. This is what we call the Hinayana path. I think this is very good for awhile. But once we become a more evolved practitioner, we see that life and dharma can be blended together. It depends on what kind of life we are going to choose. Life itself can be a powerful vehicle to practice love, wisdom, and the six paramitas.
Remember that the main Bodhisattva's commitment is always to come back to samsara and benefit other beings. The meaning of coming back to samsara is to embrace your life - not to run away from your duties. This requires some sense of courage. The sattva in Bodhisattva means hero or heroine. It requires tremendous spiritual courage to embrace your life no matter how challenging it is. The moment you decide to embrace your life, all the conflict and suffering and detrimental situations come to an end.
Each of us has a different life, different ways of being human and experiencing our life, too. Let's talk about what life is. Whatever is happening is your life. It's not past or future. It's the present. Whatever you are experiencing right now is your life. Being married, not married, being monk, being nun, is life. Maybe you could be one of the people who win the lottery - that's your life. Or maybe you're one of the people who doesn't win. That's your life. Regardless, whether good condition or bad condition, that's your life. The question is: Are you enjoying being in your life in this moment? We need to ask this question to ourselves. Am I enjoying this moment, being who I am, and embracing whatever is happening around me?
It's possible that somebody may be dying. That is his or her life. Or maybe somebody is becoming enlightened right now. That's his or her life. Life is the present. When we ask this fundamental spiritual as well as philosophical inquiry, "Am I enjoying this life?" This is a very profound inquiry. Am I enjoying this moment? We may discover that we are not enjoying this life in this very moment. What is the pattern behind that? We are being attached to the past, about pleasant memories, or projecting those grand illusory fantasies into the future. Maybe we are afraid or there is resistance to experiencing what is happening right now. Maybe we are resisting the thoughts, feelings, or sensations that are arising right now. Maybe they seem too detrimental or unpleasant to us. So we are going to the past or the future, not being in the moment, embracing the inner and outer life. However, embracing life means surrendering to all conditions, outside and inside, whatever arises. Escapism, it is the opposite of the sattva, the spiritual courage, because we are running away from samsara, we are running away from reality. Bodhisattva is walking towards reality with great courage and appreciation and joy. Bodhisattva is somebody who has true spiritual courage, who is completely free from fear and hope.
Bodhisattvas are unique heroes. Worldly heroes may have courage, but they always have hope and fear. Bodhisattvas always transcend hope and fear because Bodhisattvas perceive everything as a blessing. Everything is an amazing source of wisdom and knowledge.
Bodhisattvas don't have fear of life because they realize fear is only a mental projection. Bodhisattvas have already awakened to the nature of everything in reality, they don't have a sense of fear and are ready to embrace everything. Also, every time a Bodhisattva goes through life's challenges, it makes him or her even more compassionate. Situations enhance one's commitment and practice.
Now you see that the fact that we are always running away from life is comes from being unable to transcend our own fear or resistance. This is the reason. So the Bodhisattva's main commitment practice is to promise to embrace your life. All the principles and precepts of Mahayana can be included in this simple statement - embracing life, whatever comes. If you are dying, embrace it. If you are winning the lottery, perhaps that would be easier to embrace. Or if you were enlightened in this moment, perhaps it would be easy to embrace. If somebody is being unfriendly to you right now, embrace that, without any action, without trying to defend yourself. If somebody is really kind to you, embrace that. Embrace every moment. Whatever is happening to us is unavoidable reality. We can deny it, we can distract ourselves, but we can't avoid it. When we are sick, we have to face reality in order to get well.
In India, people can pay baksheesh (bribe) for anything, but not for impermanence and reality. We have to go through an amazing change, the way we look at what is happiness, what is good, what is beauty, we have to change completely because our old perception is based on dualistic mind or belief system, the ego. The ego is the prime factor in samsara, all the tragedies and sorrow we go through. We have to sue ego, bring it into court, as the culprit for all our suffering. There is no culprit outside of ourselves that we can blame for this suffering. The ego, this one misperception, causes all samsara. Ego is the Pandora's box. The main practice of the Bodhisattva is conquering the ego. Shantideva says if you conquer the enemy from outside, there will always be more enemies. But if you conquer the ego inside, you will be completely victorious.
Imagine the earth is covered with thorns and we can't walk it because it damages our feet. Then imagine trying to cover the whole earth with leather so we could travel in comfort. How absurd! It would be impossible! Instead, we only need to wear just enough leather on our own feet, then we can walk the entire earth without mishap. Dealing with ourselves, making our own issues the priority eliminates so much unnecessary-ness.
If we try to defeat death, misfortune, sickness, enemies, our perception of bad luck, we will die tired and broken and totally unsuccessful. We can never defeat them all. We may defeat one but there will always be more. But if we look inwardly and find the root of our resistance to reality, we can defeat the ultimate enemy. Then we will be the victorious one. That's what we call arhat - conqueror, the one who conquered not outer enemies but inner enemies, the ego. This whole process is about subduing one's own ego, which is the source of samsara.
When we identify ourselves with this ego, we cannot recognize our Buddha essence, the nature of our minds, rigpa. We cannot unfold love and compassion for other beings. As much as we are able to eradicate our identification with ego, we come closer and closer to who we are, which is the authentic realization of love and compassion.
Ego consists of various misconceptions, attachment to name, body, possessions, and our life stories. It is all hallucination, a dark phantom. It seems so concrete to us because we have habitually believed in this sense of "I." This ego is deeply rooted in each of us. The moment we are born we have innate ego. It's the most ancient habit we have. It's the fundamental tendency.
Right now we are not doing so much dedication. Our life is mostly lived under ego's influence. We have to change and dedicate our life to the cause of liberation of all beings, not to the strengthening of ego. Our ego and attachment become stronger and stronger until we really undertake the Bodhisattva's path and purify that false belief system. Tonglen is a very good practice to do this. Tonglen is a very powerful method that allows us to directly attack our egos. Bodhisattva life is war - heroes must engage in some kind of battle. Bodhisattva is in battle, not with outer circumstances, but with ego, not fighting with death, poverty, or conditions from outside. Bodhisattvas do not use weapons or guns or spears or anger or hatred. He or she uses wisdom weapon - the realization of emptiness, or Buddha mind. This is the Bodhisattva's secret weapon.
In tonglen, we have to face with our ego right on the spot. Especially if we are practicing the visualization of giving away everything to others and taking their suffering into ourselves: our egos wake up right there, saying, "No, No, I can't do that!" It's a reversal practice. We see that ego pop up, wrapped in fire with lots of teeth. Perhaps you could visualize it like the Grinch. Maybe like Darth Vader. In Tibetan Buddhism, the demons are a symbol of ego, the wrathful deities, like Vajrakilaya, and they are trampling on demons. We can visualize your ego as very angry, insecure, and feisty, obnoxious, demanding. We can feel that ego. We don't have to really try to do analytical meditation. We can feel it immediately when we practice tonglen. I think tonglen is one of the most transformative practices.
Ego is a misperception of who we are. It's an "I" that is perceived as a separate entity from everything else. But if we want to FEEL it, perhaps the best technique is not to go through intellectual inquiry, but to do tonglen. We feel ego right there in the form of fear and aversion. We immediately feel fear of suffering, stinginess of not being able to let go our happiness and possessions. Even though there's no form or color, we can feel the ego in our flesh and in our bones. Ego just pops up.
There's a method by Kadampa masters called a hunter's expression - they hunt an animal and put smoke on the other side because they animal is very smart. It is the same with facing ego. When attacking ego and the kleshas, we don't delay or procrastinate. We immediately attack, right there, by meditating on the nature of reality. We subdue ego right there, right here, in this moment, by realizing it's nature, but we have to be mindful in every moment, otherwise one spark, which is thought, sets the whole forest, which is consciousness, on fire.
We have to be mindful at a very deep level. Not just seeing that cars are coming and going, whether people are walking around, whether it's raining, how the flesh feels. Mindfulness is about observing one's own emotions arising and catching them on the spot. When we are mindful and witnessing whatever is arising in our consciousness', if love and compassion arises, rejoice. If we are experiencing kleshas, like hope and fear and identification with ego, witness that and be mindful without changing or altering anything.
My teacher said, "Be selfish mindfully." Mindfulness is all that matters. It's the catalyst. Mindfulness is the ground of all development. We have to be like the Tibetan hunter who is waiting to see if kleshas come up, without any procrastination, and we use the method, whether tonglen or deity yoga, and we allow ourselves to experience instant liberation. This is being taught a great deal in both Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings.
What does instant liberation mean? From the Hinayana perspective, liberation is a result that one will acquire in the future, like in the next life. In both Mahayana and Vajrayana, especially in Dzogchen, liberation is instant. It's not a future achievement. It's the experience of being awakened to reality, being liberated from attachment to suffering, hope and fear. It's the experience of great bliss and ultimate freedom we find in the moment that we let go of the grasping to the kleshas and ego's identity. With the letting go, which is simply clear seeing, there is always a sense of instant liberation.
In this case, the spiritual path is not a gradual path. It is an instant path. What does this mean? We are not having the thought that Dharma is a gradual process. It's not like going to the gym to build muscle, which is a gradual process, or engaging in a long project. Liberation is always what we experience right now, being liberated from the chains of our own kleshas. Liberations should be arising the moment we use these techniques. Liberation itself is the technique.
If one becomes attached to the kleshas of anger or hope or fear, we don't need to take a secondary method to free ourselves. We only need to look at the very source of that klesha, the seeing itself cuts through attachment instantly without spinning off in different directions. If we do spin off in different directions, it's like putting target to the East and shooting the arrow to the West. We have to use our dharma practice as the direct immediate antidote. Then we can experience instant liberation. That is the ultimate liberation. There is no liberation that is higher when we experience being liberated towards our own inclinations of ego.
Enlightenment Is Not A Gradual Path
Enlightenment is not a gradual path. We practice meditation and detachment toward kleshas in each moment. We can experience liberation in each moment. This is what Dzogchen practice is all about. If we meditate on Dzogchen in the morning, we are enlightened in the morning. If we meditate on Dzogchen in the evening, we are enlightened in the evening, because what we experience with Dzogchen is instant liberation. If we are seeking for liberation somewhere else, we are missing the vital point.
In the Mahayana and Dzogchen teachings there is great emphasis on understanding what is liberation, otherwise we look for conceptual liberation, one based on time or space or conditions.
What is liberation? Are we expecting liberation from another source, or from a pure land, or an achievement we can acquire in the future or the next life? If so, then we are missing the point. Liberation is a momentary inner experience, being emancipated from one's own inner kleshas. Liberation happens spontaneously in this very moment. There's no need to wait. No gradual process. It happens spontaneously when we do the meditation, which is an utter relaxation of our mental fixations.
And after we are liberated we go back again and are attached to our emotions and kleshas. In Dzogchen liberation isn't a static or permanent state. Of course there's ultimate Buddhahood, which is permanent, but the liberation we talk about happens in the present moment. We do more practice, more practice, and we have a more continuous experience of liberation. But in the beginning we experience liberation, then go back to our old habit. Then we experience liberation again and go back again. Liberation is a momentary experience. That is what we call the mukya. It's an instant, spontaneous experience. It's not a reward or a nirvana experienced in a distant heaven. It's in each of us. We can experience it spontaneously. We don't have to wait for it. There's no cause or condition to liberation. We don't have to cultivate causes for liberation. We don't have to journey or accumulate. The moment we are willing to cut through our own attachments to kleshas we are liberated.
For example, let's say we have very powerful karmic tendencies. We may have all these negative karmas we have accumulated through many lifetimes. But when we meditate on Bodhicitta mind in that moment we experience liberation. It may be long or short but in that moment we experience liberation.
The great yogi Shabkar gave this powerful analogy: a cave has been dark for countless ages, but the moment someone brings light into the cave, the darkness vanishes. In the same way, no matter how many karmic conditions we have, if we just meditate in the nature of mind and experience ultimate Bodhicitta, it doesn't have anything to do with our previous karma or conditions - we experience liberation. We need not look for a greater more advanced form of liberation. There is no such thing. If we are experiencing hatred or judgement and we are seeking for liberation in the future, that desire doesn't help us liberate from judgement. But if we practice meditation on love and compassion then we are instantly liberated. That is nirvana, too. It's a direct spontaneous experience.
When we are able to recognize the nature of mind, that experience is liberation. When we are able to have unconditional love towards all beings, even one moment, that experience is what we call liberation. When we are able to let go of grasping toward a certain state of our klesha, that is liberation, too. Liberation always happens in each of us. When we are able to transcend our fear of death and impermanence, that state of our mind is what we call liberation. When we are attached to something, any object or phenomena, in one moment we say, "I'm going to let go of that attachment." In that moment we experience nirvana. When we are able to open our heart and embrace our lives and all beings without limitation, in a vast and spacious way, that is liberation.
Liberation does not come without challenges. It is all right if we fall back into our old habits of hope and fear. Every time we cut through attachment there is liberation. The perfect meditation does not have to be always completely perfect. We may think it is a static state of our minds without any more challenges, but actually the perfect meditation can be associated with passions and habits and so on, because we can apply meditation as a way to cut through attachment. So meditation is the act or practice of liberating oneself by cutting through our grasping to kleshas as being real.
The path of the Bodhisattva is known as the immeasurable path. Immeasurable means that on that journey everything is immeasurable. The number of sentient beings is immeasurable. So is the love and compassion of the Bodhisattva and the altruistic activity, and so is the freedom and liberation of the Bodhisattva. So how are we going to experience this?
There's no doubt that there are immeasurable sentient beings. How can we have immeasurable love, compassion, and altruistic enlightened activities when we are so much troubled by our own habitual tendencies of hope and fear? How can we generate ocean-like activities when we have a difficult time helping just one person?
If we understand that there is intrinsic Bodhicitta in ourselves, then we don't need to try to develop love and compassion. We only need to awaken to this natural state of our minds, the very depth of our minds. When we open and unfold, that is immeasurable love. It is bigger than us, bigger than our individual abilities, bigger than our own ego. It's bigger than anything is because it is the actualization that everything is.
On the ordinary level, we perceive ourselves as finite and fragile, as very limited individuals, subject to doubt, fear, insecurity, death, and impermanence. We see ourselves as very fragile because we haven't discovered the vastness of each of us because we have identified with this false identity of ego. We perceive ourselves as being separate from everything, so we perceive ourselves as dominated by fear that is inherent in dualism's view of the world.
When we go beyond that ego, ego's fragile identity, and open to our true character then we are quite amazing beings capable of manifesting immeasurable enlightened qualities. We are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. When we realize this, then there is this ever-accessible, unfathomable divinity that lies within. But to actualize this often hidden potential, we sometimes have to do prayer and meditation.
Faith and Devotion
Maybe when we encounter a very challenging situation, it may provoke us to contact that love within ourselves. Do not run away from the suffering of other people. If people need us, we have to be the witness of their suffering. We can talk to people who are sick, lonely, and insecure. We can have direct connection with people who are hungry and thirsty, tormented by the causes and conditions of their lives. Just by being the loving eyewitness to others, it opens our immeasurable intrinsic wisdom and compassion. Or we can recite prayers to the Buddhas or spiritual teachers or whatever is the object of our faith. Sometimes when we recite a prayer it can serve as a very powerful catalyst to bring up that intrinsic love and compassion.
In Mahayana Buddhism we visualize a deity during post-meditation, because it is easy to lose our grip on meditation in post-meditation. So after meditation we always visualize Avalokiteshvara, because it's the archetype or logo of compassion and love. We visualize it on our shoulder when we walk. When we sit we visualize him on our head. When we go to bed, we visualize him in our heart. When we eat food we visualize him in our throat. This is complete, simple yoga. Dream yoga, sleeping yoga, working yoga, walking yoga, sitting yoga. Totally complete. It makes sense, actually.
For me, the most powerful visualization was to visualize some of my teachers, like Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok. When I visualize him it's impossible to do something really bad, or to get really angry, because I have such positive association with him. I would never steal or lie with him in my mind. It's impossible. When I'm going through emotional upheaval, I think about him or my teacher and liberation is right there. There are many methods we can use, and we have to choose which one is best for us. Recitation of mantra can be very powerful, too. Or the notion of dedicating every single activity to the liberation of all sentient beings is very powerful, too.
Immeasurable compassion is in each of us, but it is just dormant at the moment. We have so much doubt in our mind. We have so much doubt about our own life, whether we can help ourselves and survive or not. But now in Mahayana Buddhism we are talking about whether we can save all beings, not just help ourselves. So we have to develop this immeasurable love and compassion.
Revealing the Nature of Doubt
When we meditate on ourselves, we will actually discover that there is this immense amount of self-doubt and insecurity. It's everywhere. Doubt in relationship to our survival, to our spiritual practice, our connection to people, health, mortality. Our mind is run by these doubts which are created by hope and fear. Why do we have so many kleshas? Because we are identified with ego. But we are going to identify with vast spacious place where there is no longer any doubt or hope or fear. That's called immeasurable love. When we have this immeasurable love we are able to engage in immeasurable activity.
We may ask, "Since I can barely manage my own life, how can I help infinite beings?" It seems that there isn't time or energy to do our own stuff, our personal stuff. Do we have that doubt?
We have this belief that our ability and capability is not enough to even benefit ourselves. But the very idea of immeasurable action is that the Bodhisattva does not have any doubt about his own actions. Bodhisattva has complete faith in his or her own actions as a single cause to benefit beings. When we are beyond that doubt, then even very small things like releasing animals or giving lunch to one person, these kinds of actions become immeasurable activities.
When we go beyond doubt every past act becomes an immeasurable act. When we get rid of that doubt toward ourselves and believe in our intrinsic love and compassion, then every act becomes an immeasurable act. In the absence of doubt there is immeasurable joy and happiness in each of us. And the joy and happiness is freedom's natural expression that the Bodhisattva experiences beyond the mundane. It's beyond words. There's no comparison with ordinary joy and happiness. Ordinary joy and happiness are impermanent and dependent on causes and condition. It can be injured and disturbed. It never lasts forever. And it's always based on klesha, on selfish mind. There's always insecurity about our own happiness or freedom. There isn't really happiness in ordinary happiness. The Buddha said it's like sitting on the top of a needle. There's no happiness sitting on that.
True happiness comes from immeasurable love. Nothing can destroy it or take it away. We may die but we will not lose our joy, happiness, and freedom. We may be sick or poor or the object of hatred for other people. But our joy and happiness has nothing to do with those conditions. Because of that we become the source of joy and love and generosity to other beings. This is everlasting freedom and happiness. It is pure, authentic, and absolute. Bodhicitta mind is the Buddha, because it is the guide to us. It is dharma, because it is the path to us. And it is the sangha, because it accompanies us. It is the deity. It is the wish-fulfilling jewel.
If he walked in front of us right now, even Buddha could not grant us happiness. But Bodhicitta mind can, so it is ultimate Buddha. The Dzogchen teachings say that we are Samantabhadra because Bodhicitta mind resides inside of us.
In some way, nothing matters to us anymore in this lifetime. Once we become Bodhisattva, we become fearless, ultimately confident. Whether we become successful or a loser, whether we are sick or dying, it doesn't matter, because the mind steeped in the ultimate reality of love and compassion is unshakable. Our happiness springs from inner richness, which is love and compassion. We begin to experience the state of great equanimity - where there is no longer the sense of separation between self and others, friend and enemy. For a Bodhisattva, this insect is as important as a human being. Everyone is as important as himself. There is no longer hatred or partiality. There is all-embracing love and compassion. But remember that we already have that intrinsic love and compassion. Remember to evoke it. That's all that matters to the end.
Thank you for attending this retreat. We did a great deal of teaching and contemplation, and now we are going to go back to the so-called real life, and we are going to have more opportunity to take those teachings in our heart and soul. And remember the meditation instructions we talked about, and remember to practice tonglen every day of our lives. There's no doubt about the profound transformation of the dharma practice. I'm sure the retreat was very transformative for us all. It can kind of be like spiritual surgery. We all got something. We all lost something, too. The old baggage, karmic issues, unfinished business. We don't need them. They are blocks on our road to enlightenment. We gain a new understanding of dharma and who we are. We go through a big change. I want all of you to know how grateful I am for our practice together, so let's make sure we dedicate it for the benefit of ourselves and all sentient beings.
We have heard the message of Buddha nature. Now we are no longer spiritually blind. We understand our capability and potentiality. We put our heart and effort together to cultivate this path as ultimate priority in our lives. In this way we are going to achieve the highest goal in life, enlightenment, and in this way our life is meaningful because we can benefit beings in our life.
I hope we are going to practice tonglen. Life can be very challenging. Especially when we practice dharma, because we no longer take refuge in illusions. In that way we have a chance to exercise and strengthen our dharma practice, to use dharma as a way to overcome our personal obstacles. Dharma is not intellectual knowledge. It is direct experience of personal purification. When we know how to apply dharma directly we begin to experience liberation. We experience the profound effect of dharma. Please continue with dharma practice every day. There are many areas which have to be improved, but do not judge dharma practice. Maybe we can put more effort, more determination, more time to cultivate dharma practice. We understand that the dharma practice is the only source of happiness we have. It's the most precious guide we have.
And now we can do dedication. Our dedication is that we dedication virtue and merit in the past, present and future to liberate sentient beings from samsara to perfect Buddhahood.