Translated by Ken McLeod
The principal reason for my visiting
Toronto at this time is to present what is known as the empowerment of Kalachakra,
Wheel of Time. This is a preliminary talk on Buddhism, about the Dharma, the teachings
of Buddha. What I wish to talk about this evening is a very important teaching
from the final cycle of teachings, which come from Buddha Shakyamuni. The principal
theme of this cycle of teachings is Buddha Nature.
Generally the teachings
of Buddhism, teachings which come down to us from the Buddha Shakyamuni, are extraordinarily
profound and extensive. The reason for this spread in both profundity and extent
is basically the very varied motivations, temperaments and capabilities of individual
people. Some of the teachings, which Buddha presented, were directed towards people
very much in the midst of their lay lives, ordinary lives and daily lives. Some
were provisional teachings, which were intended to lead a person into a deeper
appreciation. Some of the teachings were about how things actually are what we
call the definitive or certain sections of the teachings.
This vast body of
teachings is generally known these days as the Three Cycles. The first cycle is
concerned with the Four Noble Truths. The second cycle is known as Teachings of
No Characteristics. The third cycle, which will be our principal focus this evening,
is known alternatively as Complete Differentiation or Delineation or perhaps more
familiarly as Teachings on Buddha Nature.
The first cycle of teachings which
concern themselves with the Four Noble Truths, were basically concerned with an
exposition of the suffering and frustration we experience in our lives, a very
clear understanding of the frustration and unsatisfactory nature of ordinary experience,
existence. Then the Buddha explained more at greater length the basis or source
of this dissatisfaction, the causes, basically the emotional motivations which
arise in all of us. The process by which those motivations become suffering actually
comes to the delineation of the workings of karma, how an action becomes a seed
and produces a certain result. From that he demonstrated a way, a path or a way
of life which will lead one to become free of suffering, basically how to live
in a way which will dissolve the un-satisfactoriness of existence. He showed very
clearly how this way would lead to such dissolution of suffering, which became
known as nirvana or the transcendence of misery. You see from this that the principal
focus of this cycle of teachings is on suffering; its cause, manifestation and
its resolution. Because the focus was on suffering, the natural inclination and
main message of this teaching was how do we become free of suffering itself.
do we actually make use of that perspective? What do we actually do to clear away
the suffering, frustration and unsatisfactory nature of our lives? Buddha was
very careful to distinguish between the experience we have of the world around
us and the suffering or frustration in our lives which comes from the way we interpret
that experience. It isn't simply the world and what we see, hear, touch and feel
that is the actual cause of the lack of satisfaction in our lives, it is much
more the way we approach and interact with our experience that is the cause of
a lack of satisfaction. The lack of satisfaction comes from a supposition that
we always see ourselves as experiencing something. Here we see ourselves as some-thing,
which exists in opposition to the world. From this perspective the presence of
that sense of ourselves in opposition to the world is the basis of an unsatisfactory
experience of life. Buddhism, in its first cycle of teaching, is concerned with
examining that sense we have of ourselves as existing in opposition to the world
and when we look at it, see that experience can arise without any need for such
a sense of self.
Through calming the mind, morality, training the mind, learning
how to restrain the mind so that it isn't reacting emotionally and from developing
a calmness which allows for the development of insight into actually how the mind
works, from all of these we come to an appreciation that the sense of self we
feel so strongly that we are, is actually false. An intellectual understanding
of this is not by itself sufficient. It is something which must be developed and
grow within us until it becomes a functional and operative understanding. This
is essentially the method by which one comes to be free from suffering according
to this first cycle of teachings.
Generally speaking most people have the impression
that religious life or in our context Buddhism, and worldly life or ordinary life
are mutually exclusive, they don't have very much to say to each other or very
much influence on each other. Furthermore with respect to the teachings of Buddhism,
there is the unfortunate impression that Buddhism teaches a way which is to stop
all experience so that we cease to experience the world, we block everything.
Both of these are quite erroneous, mistaken impressions of Buddhism. In fact the
very opposite is much more the case. Buddhism is solely concerned with how to
live in a way in which we do not experience life as unsatisfactory or meaningless.
It is absolutely focused on how we live not about getting away from life.
instance as I mentioned before, the first of the Four Noble Truths is the truth
of suffering, that life is unsatisfactory. We do experience frustration. This
is something, which is relevant to all of us here. This isn't a teaching to get
away from things but to pay attention to exactly what our life is made up of and
how it is experienced. Rather than thinking of Buddhism as a way in which one
leaves or escapes the suffering, the approach in Buddhism is much more to understand
suffering and what it means to be unsatisfactory. When we really understand what
it means to be unsatisfactory, where this un-satisfactoriness comes from and what
the source is, then we know what to focus our attention on. This is to remove
the source of the un-satisfactoriness from our experience. The source of this
un-satisfactoriness according to Buddha's teaching is in the negative emotions
One of the principal ways that we remove these is through the development
of a very clear ethical approach to life. We take into account what we refer to
as the workings of karma, which means that we appreciate how all of our actions
are seed and the actions themselves condition us to experience a certain result.
If the actions are negative, the result we experience will be painful. Buddhism,
far from teaching us to flee from life or to escape life, actually is much more
concerned with leading us to understand of what our life consists, of what suffering
consists; where it comes from and what we can actually do about it. This first
cycle of teachings is really concerned with understanding the un-satisfactoriness
of our life and how to resolve this.
The second cycle of teachings is known
as Being Without Signs or Characteristics. It is concerned with what our experience
is actually made of, what are all these things we experience, how are they in
themselves? When we look at how they are, we see that the way they are is fundamentally
different from the way in which we conceive of them being. That is, if we look
at any particular phenomena that we experience, even the smallest most insignificant
thing, we see that it is made up of many other factors which have come together
to make that particular object a possibility to experience. This suggests very
strongly that there is no object there, it is simply the product of many different
However we do not see it as a product of many different factors
and conditions, we simply see it as an independent object. We are particularly
predisposed to seeing it as an independent object because we feel that we ourselves
have some substantial existence. This is what is known in Buddhism as the clinging
to a sense of an individual self. We see ourselves in opposition to the world
and having made ourselves into some-thing, we then proceed to make everything
that makes up the world into other things. This is what is known as the self of
phenomena or the self, which we impute to all experience.
When we look at what
we actually experience, we see that we simply experience the coming together of
many different factors, many different conditions. Nothing has any existence in
its own right. This is the essential teaching of the second cycle of the teachings
Now we have to be very careful here because many misconceptions
arise at this point. One might feel in saying that there is no actual object means
that nothing exists. This would be quite a serious mistake because these teachings
do not say that nothing exists and they do not say that something exists. In Buddhism
we call the view that nothing exists nihilism and the view that something exists
as substantiation or in a slightly different context Eternalism, something really
exists forever. The view here according to the second cycle of the teachings is
neither Eternalism nor nihilism. That is, we feel from our subjective experience
that something really exists but when we look, see that all we experience is merely
the result of many different factors. It can't be the case that something really
exists. On the other hand if we say nothing exists, we are confronted immediately
by our own experience, something is going on. We can't say that nothing exists.
point here is to come to an understanding that neither existence nor non- existence
is an accurate description of our world. This is why it is termed the Great Middle
Way because it goes between all philosophically extreme positions. The way in
which we practice this is by developing what is known as awakening mind; awakening
to our relationship to the world and awakening to the way the world is. Emptiness
is awakening to the way the world is and awakening to our relationship to the
world is compassion. So we have loving kindness, compassion and awakening mind
being key principals in the second cycle of teachings.
Many of you may have
heard of the term emptiness and wondered what this referred to. It is a key principal
but it needs to be understood in exactly how it works and its role in this cycle
of teaching. We can not understand a concept such as emptiness simply through
intellectual reasoning or application of our intellect in any way. No matter how
much we may reason philosophically, no matter what logic we may be able to apply,
the way we see and experience the world will still be in terms of existence. This
is contrary to the way the world actually is. On the other hand we might feel
that emptiness refers to nothing, there being nothing. The emptiness in a box
for instance, nothing in the box. In this way we feel that nothing is going on
and we try to understand that, try to understand the world this way. This would
even be a greater mistake for it is directly contradicted by our own experience.
point here is that emptiness refers to a middle way. Emptiness doesn't simply
mean absence or nothing. There is a very wonderful capability or quality, which
arises with the understanding of emptiness. This is what we know as Bodhicitta
or awakening mind. This is the natural manifestation of the compassion and concern
for others, which comes with the appreciation of the ineffable nature of phenomena.
The main theme of this second cycle of the teaching is not that nothing exists,
not that something exists, it's that our experience is beyond any conceptualization.
When we actually begin to experience the world and ourselves from that point of
view, we find ourselves awakening to a very rich and wonderful engagement with
the world which is characterized by compassion and gentleness.
In the first
cycle of teachings it was taught that life is unsatisfactory and the Four Noble
Truths which help us understand the nature of that un-satisfactoriness and how
to resolve it. In the second cycle of teachings we are taught that our experience
can not be characterized by the extremes of Eternalism and nihilism.
third cycle of teachings we are concerned with Buddha Nature. We find a very important
and wonderful teaching being presented. Every sentient being is not fundamentally
different from an awakened Buddha. Every sentient being has what we term Buddha
Nature. Now this does not mean that there is some thing inside each of us, which
is what we might call Buddha Nature and could grow into a Buddha. The idea that
there might be some thing inside us of this kind was eliminated according to the
teachings of the second cycle.
However, what this idea of Buddha Nature refers
to is nothing else than what we actually are. At this point we exist with a great
deal of confusion. The teachings on Buddha Nature suggest that confusion, the
emotional disturbances, the pain and distortion of our experience are all incidental
impurities and are not fundamentally what we are. What Buddha Nature refers to
specifically is what is left over when all the confusion of ordinary experience
is cleared away; the clear, empty, open mind, which is no thing in itself. This
clear, empty, open mind is in no way different from the mind of the Buddha, of
a fully awakened individual and means that we ourselves are no different from
Buddha except due to the presence of incidental impurities.
According to these
teachings there is no difference between Buddha Nature and awakening mind, which
was mentioned in association with the second cycle of the teachings. Awakening
mind, which is awakening to how the world is, and Buddha Nature, which is the
potential for awakening, are not two different things. They are very closely related.
One of the principals of awakening mind is a compassionate attitude towards the
world. You will notice that some people are naturally compassionate and it doesn't
matter who approaches them, everyone likes them and feels comfortable with them
and trusts them. This kind of spontaneous trust, inspiration and calming of emotions
indicates in the person we are talking about, the presence of Buddha Nature or
awakening mind, whichever way we wish to look at it. If we now consider a person
who is naturally angry by nature, what these teachings say is that the anger isn't
the fundamental nature of the individual, that the anger is the product of incidental
impurities. These can be cleared away.
According to the third cycle of the
teachings everybody has the Buddha Nature. Everybody has this potential to awaken.
As individuals there is no fundamental distinction, difference or basis of discrimination
present in any of us. There is no basis to discriminate between one person and
another since we all fundamentally have this same nature, Buddha Nature. The only
difference among us is the extent to which that nature is manifest or not. The
more impurities or confusion that we have, the less that nature manifests. The
task then becomes one of enabling that Buddha Nature to manifest fully in our
lives. The way in which we do this is go back to the first cycle of the teachings
where it talks about karma, how we act, what we actually do on a day-to-day basis.
Learning ethical restraint, how to do good and how to avoid evil helps this Buddha
Nature to manifest. We can also look to the second cycle of the teachings which
is concerned principally with the development of love, compassion and the two
aspects of awakening mind; awakening to our relationship to the world and to how
the world is. It is through the practices of these that we come to clear away
our own confusion so that our own true nature is actually present in the world.
The point here is not an explanation of why there are
the incidental impurities but an explanation of how we experience things now.
The incidental impurities are an expression of ignorance, of not knowing. Ignorance
or not knowing refers to the lack of experiential understanding, direct understanding,
of how we are. Due to this lack of understanding being present, we do not perceive
the world or ourselves accurately. While our essential nature is empty and clear,
this lack of understanding causes us to perceive emptiness as some thing, which
we take to be a self. It sees the clarity, which arises in the mind as something
else, which causes us to experience other. This gives rise to duality and it is
this lack of understanding and this propensity towards duality, which are the
stuff of which the incidental impurities arise.
We learn how to practice and
may spend considerable time in retreat. How do we join what we practice with how
we actually live? Our practice is best when it permeates every aspect of our lives
and everything that we do. Everything, which we experience, becomes an opportunity.
Every interaction we have with another individual is an opportunity to practice
not being self-centered or regarding the world as originating with oneself, able
to acknowledge the needs and feelings of another person. Of everything we learn
how to practice, this is what it is intended to be used for.
By study and reflection
on the teachings, one will come to some understanding of emptiness. A direct understanding
arises when there is no longer an experience of something being understood apart
from what is understood. The whole topic of emptiness needs to be approached with
a great deal of caution because there are so many misunderstandings. People take
emptiness and make it into something, which is one form of misunderstanding. Emptiness
can be conceptualized and applied to everything, which is another misunderstanding.
This requires careful study and training in order to be able to use. It is very
important that one has access to and relies upon an actual teacher who can guide
you in this area.
Many people feel that if one dispenses with clinging then
one won't have any relationships. This is not what happens. The clinging which
is present in a relationship is the basis for the problems, which may arise in
the relationship. As one becomes clearer and freer from clinging, the relationship
becomes deeper and closer and less problematic.
At the time of death when the
structures of consciousness begin to disintegrate, we experience what we actually
are which is Buddha Nature. This is in the first intermediary state following
the death process. If an individual has trained during their life and had some
experience of this, then at that time they become completely free as they realize
their own nature.
This text was transcribed by Phil Lesco, using
tapes from Karma Kargyu Center in Toronto.