Avalokiteshvara Sadhana Commentary
Tulku Thubten Rinpoche, September 16, 2000
First I want to say thank you everyone for being here in this mandala. I gave commentary on this Avalokiteshvara sadhana beginning two weeks ago and I'm going to continue.
I'm going to give this commentary based on the teachings of my teachers and also my own experience, although it is less, based on meditation and practice.
We are on bodhicitta: "By the merit of practicing generosity and the other paramitas may I achieve buddhahood for the benefit of beings."
Refuge and bodhicitta are like laying the proper foundation for a house. Refuge is about taking refuge in the true source of happiness and freedom, which is Buddhadharma. Bodhicitta is about developing universal mind and love. It won't be contaminated by greed and ego and selfish mentality.
What is true spirituality? Lama Tharchin used to say "Too much spiritual phenomena!!" True spirituality can take you to lasting happiness. Spiritual phenomena is just entertaining your mind.
As long as we are transcending ego it is true spirituality. It has nothing to do with what you know but has to do with bodhicitta, enlightened heart. It's possible we can get caught up unconsciously with our own ambitions and greed, even on the spiritual path. So it requires reflection to see whether one's mind is bound to inner obscurations.
What is the spiritual path? It's all self-reflection. You'll see your shadow, your negativities. You'll learn how to apply spiritual discipline to them, to the right target.
What are we looking for on the spiritual path? God? Or higher reality? Actually we are looking for ultimate love, the bodhicitta mind. Bodhicitta mind is the beginning and the destination of our spiritual journey.
As we are spiritual people, the essence of our journey is to meditate on love and apply love to our actions with other beings and to actualize love.
This is a crucial thought to remember. Maybe we think there are different goals on the spiritual path, like enlightenment or buddhahood, but there's only one - love. Bodhi, which means purified mind, means genuine love, which transcends hatred, hope, and fear. Enlightenment is an abstract theory - sometimes too abstract. So let's go back to love and compassion.
Everyone knows what love and compassion are, even if they haven't read spiritual texts. They've experienced it at least once in their lives.
HHDL was teaching one day and he held out his hand. We have smooth fingernails, not claws, he said.. Our nature is goodness. The nature of all sentient beings is goodness. Love and compassion are already inside yourself. But sometimes we can't feel them because of obscurations, because we think there's a source of happiness outside ourselves.
The true spiritual teachings are not about showing you some higher being separate from you. They are the ones that show you the deity in yourself. This is the embodiment of all sacred teachings throughout history. We say there are many rivers. Some are from snow mountains. Some are from other mountains. But they all flow to the great ocean.
Buddhism and Christianity talk about exploring the divinity in yourself. This is what Buddha, Christ, and Krishna all taught.
Knowledge depends on time, but wisdom is timeless.
When you read Buddha's early teachings, like Dharmapadda, their message is always fresh and you can apply them to your life. Even though we now live in a technical age those teachings can be applied as a solution to your daily life.
I came to the West eight years ago and had a tremendous experience of dealing with people and counseling them. And I thought maybe I would have to study western literature, Christianity, or perhaps psychology. But that was the wrong way. I realized I don't have to take course in psychology. I can use the teachings to help myself and to counsel others. They are timeless wisdom.
The true message of Buddha and all the sages is timeless and simple. It can be applied at all times and in all civilizations, because Buddha's teachings are wisdom, not knowledge.
Psychology is knowledge. All those -ism's are knowledge. I always ask people, "Are you studying Buddhism or buddha dharma?" There's Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and American Buddhisms, but there is one buddha dharma which reflects love, compassion and wisdom.
I remember an event three years ago. Very powerful ceremony led by Native American chief and had sufis and buddhists and everything. At the end of the teaching he asked us to hold hands and said inhale. Now exhale and imagine that all the -ism's go out. There are too many isms.
An -ism is knowledge, a concept. You forget about the true nature in yourself. Mipham R said the reason we do not recognize the nature of mind is that it is too close to us. Kabir said we are like thirsty fish living in water.
Sometimes we need support from outside -- someone who can reflect to us our true nature of love, compassion and wisdom. It is very difficult for us to have that experience of our true nature, our buddha nature. So we need support from outside so we can see directly that buddha nature inside of us.
It's not enough to read books and scripture. We have to consult spiritual guides and sangha. If I speak about my own life, the most powerful support for me is to have the spiritual community. If I had not met those spiritual masters I couldn't say what I'm saying today. It's importance to have guidance, community, and to cultivate some kid of discipline.
Even when we do have this incredible wealth and preciousness in each of us, what we call buddha nature in buddhist language, we have to know how to take care of it. It's like a tree or flower. You have to care for and cultivate it. In order to experience buddha nature you have to cultivate a spiritual path because our mind has been obscured by hope and fear over many lifetimes. We have to cultivate the path of meditation and practice in order to purify those veils.
I notice that some people have trouble understanding why you have to practice, do retreat... it could be Tibetan tradition or another... Those traditions help us break down our obscurations of hope, fear and delusion. Just trying to have bodhicitta mind would not help us break down those habitual tendencies.
When generating bodhicitta mind you are making a commitment that you are going to practice meditation and spiritual disciplines in order to be enlightened and in order to show others their buddha nature too. This is the second step. We have two steps. The first is refuge. The second is bodhicitta. We need to make the path a priority in our life -- like practicing the six paramitas of generosity, wisdom, and so on -- in order to discover our own buddha nature and in order to show others their buddha nature, too.
"When someone thinks about the suffering of other beings and thinks about their capacity to be free and cries a tear, in the time the tear reaches their jaw, that momentary bodhicitta mind can purify the negative karma of infinite lifetimes."
In mahayana sutras, the buddha always speaks about the power of bodhicitta mind. You put all the merit together of generosity, meditation, truthful words, prayer, and feeding others. All that merit of infinite lifetimes isn't even close to the power of bodhicitta mind.
Without bodhicitta mind, universal love, none of those activities can lead us to the state of enlightenment.
Shantideva says the moment one experiences bodhicitta mind, one is already free from the jail of samsara. One is renowned as a bodhisattva at that moment.
We experience samsara, the vicious circle, because we don't allow ourselves to experience bodhicitta mind. Samsara is in your mind. I like this translation, "vicious circle." Physically outwardly we change in our life. But inwardly we stay the same until we realize our bodhicitta mind. We repeat the same kind of suffering and delusion over and over. We experience suffering either consciously or unconsciously. And we believe that we can find happiness outside ourselves in the material world by getting what we want to have.
We can move or change jobs or buy a nicer car and we have the conviction that we are going to be happy if we can get it. But no matter how much we change outwardly, inwardly we have the same wheel spinning over and over. A vicious circle.
I was joking a few years ago. I came from Tibet across the ocean. I left my family, my monastery and even my prayer books. People say you must be lonely without any companions. But I say I have my old companions of confusion and afflictive emotion. They are always with me.
We change outward things and think it will make our lives better. But if we don't change inwardly we will just repeat the vicious circle and experience hope, fear, doubt, confusion.
So the only way we can free ourselves from the vicious circle is to see our true nature, which is buddha nature, and by purifying our inner obscurations, our habitual tendencies which veil our buddha nature. They veil who we are and veil our inherent qualities, like love and compassion.
The most powerful insight or meditation to break down this vicious circle is to practice bodhicitta mind. When we say we practice meditation we may not know what we're doing. It could be quite selfish.
It is important to know how to simplify our dharma practice. There's only one practice, one principle, in buddha dharma, even though there are different forms and disciplines and events, the goal is the same. The principle is the same. The goal is to practice bodhicitta mind.
There's this story of Acharya Asangha, a great master and pandita from India. Once upon a time he wanted to practice Buddha Arya Maitreya, who is the future buddha. He went to the mountain and did retreat for nine years, but got no signs of accomplishment. No realization, no visions. He was dissapointed and decided not to continue. On the way to his home from the mountain, he saw a sick dog by the side of the road, with open wounds full of maggots. He was filled with compassion. He thought that if he moved the insects with his fingers he would kill them, so he used his tongue. It was so disgusting he shut his eyes and stuck out his tongue, but it didn't contact anything. When he opened his eyes he saw Buddha Maitreya and rainbows. He was angry. "I practiced for nine years and never saw you. Why?" Maitreya said it was because you had too many habitual tendencies and not enough love and compassion.
One thing we always have to remember is to practice bodhicitta mind. I know sometimes it is difficult to feel it genuinely. But do not allow yourself to fail. Remember to keep that thought, practicing bodhicitta mind, and keep that thought moment to moment in your daily life. It will change you.
There are beautiful prayers like the four immeasurables:
May all sentient beings possess happiness and the cause of happiness.
May all sentient beings be separated from suffering and the cause of suffering.
May all sentient beings dwell in equanimity which is free from the cause of suffering.
May all sentient beings dwell in equanimity which free from attachment and hatred.
Or just remember, "I love sentient beings." It can be very simple.
Sometimes it's good to keep a spiritual diary. How many times do you practice meditation, prayers, go to temple, listen to teachings. Perhaps a lot.
When I was in Texas I was talking about dharma bums, a term from the 60's. These are people who do retreat a lot and live in community and wear spiritual clothes. Someone asked the definition in Texas. What's a dharma bum? Someone who drives an old Volvo and goes to lots of teachings. We spend lots of time doing practice. I know people in my community who gave up marriage, education, and career to discover enlightenment in their lifetime.
But I ask this question. How often do we keep the thought of loving all sentient beings? Promise yourself that you are going to practice love and compassion as the essence of your spiritual development and keep it from moment to moment in your everyday life.
First we can practice loving all sentient beings throughout space. Buddha said space is infinite. Wherever there is space there are sentient beings. And wherever there are sentient beings there is suffering.
In our prayer we can practice having love to all beings. Don't speculate about what is bodhicitta intellectually or what is love. Bodhicitta mind cannot be understood by conceptualizing it. You have to let go of your knowledge about buddha and bodhicitta and trust in your ability to experience higher reality. And then you can practice loving all sentient beings every moment.
After that you can practice for specific people, like those starving in Africa or being killed in war. More specifically, you can practice for your neighbors, parents, children, wife or husband.
Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to have a retreat about loving your parents. In America I find many people are caught up in issues with one or both of their parents. They end up solidifying and concretizing it. If you exclude your parents or your enemies, you cannot experience bodhicitta or universal love. To experience it you have to deal with disharmony and resentment, with all beings. With your boss who fired you five years ago or your ex who rejected you or your neighbor who annoyed you.
Try to include all sentient beings without any discrimination. I met Dzogchen practitioners who are supposed to be great yogis, but I realized that many of them have issues with their parents. In the future we should do a specific ceremony to forgive our parents.
This is a new experience for me, as a Tibetan. We have issues with other people, but not our parents. We have issues with Chinese. That's my spiritual homework. Try to remember people with whom you have issues, resentment. And learn how to forgive them, to love them.
I heard something powerful from HHDL. He said he has so much gratitude to Chinese people. It was hot and under a tree and he was wearing light clothing. When I had meetings with the upper class in Tibet, he said, they used to make me wear heavy clothes that gave me a rash. Without the Chinese people I couldn't wear these light clothes and travel the world and meet all these people.
We need to learn how to express gratitude to the people that we have issues with. Bodhicitta mind is universal and specific, too. It's universal because it loves all beings, all existence. But it's also specific because it includes everyone in your life, even your enemy.
When we say meditate, we are meditating on bodhicitta mind. When we pray, what are we praying to? Bodhicitta mind. When we keep discipline, what are we keeping? Bodhicitta mind.
That way there can be real transformation. We can break down our habitual tendencies of hope and fear and demonstrate love to all beings who come into our lives.
Before I stop this talk, I want to have a few moments to meditate on bodhicitta mind. It's a very simple practice. You don't have to be educated, a scholar, a pandita. It's all about learning love and forgiveness to others. We know this reality, this entity by birth. It's an inborn education. But sometimes we forget about it because we get caught up with worldly issues. It's in each of us. More than that it's our true nature. when we say, "I'm going to let go of my hope, fear, delusion" We sometimes get attached to our mental delusions of jealousy and pride. We need to let go of our clinging to suffering, misery, and confusion. That way we can experience bodhicitta mind.
Think about generating love to all beings throughout space. Then think about people we have issues with and forgive them. We can be free and so can they.
About freedom. Who do we believe took away freedom from us? Our enemy or our abusive parents? But it's really we who take freedom away from ourselves. When you're attached to your own memory of resentment, hatred, and envy you can't experience bodhicitta mind. When we forgive them we will be free from our own ego, our own concepts.
We are going to do bodhicitta practice for two or three minutes. Think of people like your teacher or your parents. And forgive them. Realize that it is all delusion.