Affirming the Truths of the Heart
The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Copyright © 1997 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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A life-affirming Buddhism that teaches us to find happiness by opening to the richness of our everyday lives.
That's what we want -- or so we're told by the people who try to sell us a mainstreamlined Buddhism. But is it what we need? And is it Buddhism?
Think back for a moment on the story of the young Prince Siddhartha and his first encounters with aging, illness, death, and a wandering contemplative. It's one of the most accessible chapters in the Buddhist tradition, largely because of the direct, true-to-the-heart quality of the young prince's emotions. He saw aging, illness, and death as an absolute terror, and pinned all his hopes on the contemplative forest life as his only escape. As Asvaghosa, the great Buddhist poet, depicts the story, the young prince had no lack of friends and family members who tried to talk him out of those perceptions, and Asvaghosa was wise enough to show their life-affirming advice in a very appealing light. Still, the prince realized that if he were to give in to their advice, he would be betraying his heart. Only by remaining true to his honest emotions was he able to embark on the path that led away from the ordinary values of his society and toward an unsurpassed Awakening into the Deathless.
This is hardly a life-affirming story in the ordinary sense of the term, but it does affirm something more important than life: the truth of the heart when it aspires to a happiness absolutely pure. The power of this aspiration depends on two emotions, called in Pali samvega and pasada. Very few of us have heard of them, but they're the emotions most basic to the Buddhist tradition. Not only did they inspire the young prince in his quest for Awakening, but even after he became the Buddha he advised his followers to cultivate them on a daily basis. In fact, the way he handled these emotions is so distinctive that it may be one of the most important contributions his teachings have to offer to American culture today.
Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It's a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range -- at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. This is a cluster of feelings we've all experienced at one time or another in the process of growing up, but I don't know of a single English term that adequately covers all three. It would be useful to have such a term, and maybe that's reason enough for simply adopting the word samvega into our language.
But more than providing a useful term, Buddhism also offers an effective strategy for dealing with the feelings behind it -- feelings that our own culture finds threatening and handles very poorly. Ours, of course, is not the only culture threatened by feelings of samvega. In the Siddhartha story, the father's reaction to the young prince's discovery stands for the way most cultures try to deal with these feelings: He tried to convince the prince that his standards for happiness were impossibly high, at the same time trying to distract him with relationships and every sensual pleasure imaginable. To put it simply, the strategy was to get the prince to lower his aims and to find satisfaction in a happiness that was less than absolute and not especially pure.
If the young prince were living in America today, the father would have other tools for dealing with the prince's dissatisfaction, but the basic strategy would be essentially the same. We can easily imagine him taking the prince to a religious counselor who would teach him to believe that God's creation is basically good and not to focus on any aspects of life that would cast doubt on that belief. Or he might take him to a psychotherapist who would treat feelings of samvega as an inability to accept reality. If talking therapies didn't get results, the therapist would probably prescribe mood-altering drugs to dull the feeling out of the young man's system so that he could become a productive, well-adjusted member of society.
If the father were really up on current trends, he might find a Dharma teacher who would counsel the prince to find happiness in life's little miraculous pleasures -- a cup of tea, a walk in the woods, social activism, easing another person's pain. Never mind that these forms of happiness would still be cut short by aging, illness, and death, he would be told. The present moment is all we have, so we should try to appreciate the bittersweet opportunity of relishing but not holding on to brief joys as they pass.
It's unlikely that the lion-hearted prince we know from the story would take to any of this well-meant advice. He'd see it as propaganda for a life of quiet desperation, asking him to be a traitor to his heart. But if he found no solace from these sources, where in our society would he go? Unlike the India of his time, we don't have any well-established, socially accepted alternatives to being economically productive members of society. Even our contemplative religious orders are prized for their ability to provide bread, honey, and wine for the marketplace. So the prince would probably find no alternative but to join the drifters and dropouts, the radicals and revolutionaries, the subsistence hunters and survivalists consigned to the social fringe.
He'd discover many fine minds and sensitive spirits in these groups, but no accumulated body of proven and profound alternative wisdom to draw on. Someone might give him a book by Thoreau or Muir, but their writings would offer him no satisfactory analysis of aging, illness, and death, and no recommendations for how to go beyond them. And because there's hardly any safety net for people on the fringe, he'd find himself putting an inordinate amount of his energy into issues of basic survival, with little time or energy left over to find his own solution to the problem of samvega. He would end up disappearing, his Buddhahood aborted -- perhaps in the Utah canyon country, perhaps in a Yukon forest -- without trace.
Fortunately for us, however, the prince was born in a society that did provide support and respect for its dropouts. This was what gave him the opportunity to find a solution to the problem of samvega that did justice to the truths of his heart.
The first step in that solution is symbolized in the Siddhartha story by the prince's reaction to the fourth person he saw on his travels outside of the palace: the wandering forest contemplative. The emotion he felt at this point is termed pasada, another complex set of feelings usually translated as "clarity and serene confidence." It's what keeps samvega from turning into despair. In the prince's case, he gained a clear sense of his predicament and of the way out of it, leading to something beyond aging, illness, and death, at the same time feeling confident that the way would work.
As the early Buddhist teachings freely admit, the predicament is that the cycle of birth, aging, and death is meaningless. They don't try to deny this fact and so don't ask us to be dishonest with ourselves or to close our eyes to reality. As one teacher has put it, the Buddhist recognition of the reality of suffering -- so important that suffering is honored as the first noble truth -- is a gift, in that it confirms our most sensitive and direct experience of things, an experience that many other traditions try to deny.
From there, the early teachings ask us to become even more sensitive, to the point where we see that the true cause of suffering is not out there -- in society or some outside being -- but in here, in the craving present in each individual mind. They then confirm that there is an end to suffering, a release from the cycle. And they show the way to that release, through developing noble qualities already latent in the mind to the point where they cast craving aside and open onto Deathlessness. Thus the predicament has a practical solution, a solution within the powers of every human being.
It's also a solution open to critical scrutiny and testing -- an indication of how confident the Buddha was in the solution he found to the problem of samvega. This is one of the aspects of authentic Buddhism that most attracts people who are tired of being told that they should try to deny the insights that inspired their sense of samvega in the first place.
In fact, early Buddhism is not only confident that it can handle feelings of samvega but it's also one of the few religions that actively cultivates them to a radical extent. Its solution to the problems of life demand so much dedicated effort that only strong samvega will keep the practicing Buddhist from slipping back into his or her old ways. Hence the recommendation that all Buddhists, both men and women, lay or ordained, should reflect daily on the facts of aging, illness, separation, and death -- to develop feelings of samvega -- and on the power of one's own actions, to take samvega one step further, to pasada.
For people whose sense of samvega is so strong that they want to abandon any social ties that prevent them from following the path to the end of suffering, Buddhism offers both a long-proven body of wisdom for them to draw from, as well as a safety net: the monastic sangha, an institution that enables them to leave lay society without having to waste time worrying about basic survival. For those who can't leave their social ties, Buddhist teaching offers a way to live in the world without being overcome by the world, following a life of generosity, virtue, and meditation to strengthen the noble qualities of the mind that will lead to the end of suffering.
The symbiotic relationship designed for these two branches of the Buddhist parisa, or community, guarantees that each will benefit from contact with the other. The support of the laity guarantees that the monastics will not need to be overly concerned about food, clothing, and shelter; the gratitude that the monastics inevitably feel for the freely-offered generosity of the laity helps to keep them from turning into misfits and misanthropes. At the same time, contact with the monastics helps the laity foster the proper perspective on life that nurtures the energy of samvega and pasada they need to keep from becoming dulled and numbed by the materialistic propaganda of the mainstream economy.
So the Buddhist attitude toward life cultivates samvega -- a clear acceptance of the meaninglessness of the cycle of birth, aging, and death -- and develops it into pasada: a confident path to the Deathless. That path includes not only time-proven guidance, but also a social institution that nurtures it and keeps it alive. These are all things that our society desperately needs. It's a shame that, in our current efforts at mainstreaming Buddhism, they are aspects of the Buddhist tradition usually ignored. We keep forgetting that one source of Buddhism's strength is its ability to keep one foot out of the mainstream, and that the traditional metaphor for the practice is that it crosses over the stream to the further shore. My hope is that we will begin calling these things to mind and taking them to heart, so that in our drive to find a Buddhism that sells, we don't end up selling ourselves short.


A Buddhist Nun in High School
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

The high school students wrote and performed the play themselves. Their teacher had invited me to watch it and to give a talk at the school assembly. The plot goes thus: God is sitting in heaven, reading a newspaper while the angels peacefully play Chinese checkers. Devils sneak in, and mischievously incite the angels to quibble and accuse each other of cheating. Pandemonium breaks out in heaven.
"Stop this!!" shouts God. "I won't have any of this business in heaven! This conflict must be the work of the earthlings.
Angel Peace, go to Earth and see what's going on. Find out why the humans there aren't peaceful."Angel Peace flies to Earth where he organizes a World Peace Conference. The delegates, students from the U.K., Israel, India, Korea, U.S.A., Hong Kong and other countries, tell the woes of their nations - violence, poverty, human suffering.
"There must be something to do about this," exclaims Angel Peace. "Today we have a guest speaker to talk about peace."The teacher nudges me and whispers, "That's your cue." Getting up from my seat in the audience, I go on the stage. "Hello students cum delegates at the World Peace Conference. When I was in my teens, I began to ask questions that perhaps you have too: Why do people fight if everyone wants peace? Why is there racial discrimination?
"We always blame our problems on someone or something external - another person, a group of people, the society, the government, the "system." Other people and external situations may be a circumstance for our problems, but if we look closely, we can see that conflict really originates in the mind. It comes from anger, jealousy, selfishness, greed, pride, closed-mindedness and other disturbing attitudes. Our minds make the world unpeaceful, so if we want peace, we have to change our own attitudes, and dispel negative emotions such as anger, greed and so on. Governments can't legislate peace. It only comes when each of us takes the responsibility to control his or her own mind, making it tolerant and peaceful.
"We can develop patience and respect for others by understanding that on a deep level we are all the same. Everyone wants to be happy and no one wants to have problems. We have to look beyond people's superficial qualities - short, tall, handsome, ugly, black, white, rich, poor, educated, illiterate. When we do this, we recognize that in our hearts, we're all the same in that each of us wants happiness and doesn't want suffering, although different people find happiness in different ways. Thinking like this, we can develop respect for all living beings.
"Each of us feels 'My happiness is more important than anyone else's.' But if we ask ourselves, 'Why?' we can't find a good reason. Slowly, we can come to see that we aren't the most important person in the world, that it is the selfish attitude which propels us to aggressively seek our own happiness at the expense of others' well-being. If we develop the awareness that all beings are equal and therefore everyone's happiness is important, then automatically, we won't be so selfish. We'll see that it's not essential to always get our own way. We can happily give something up to make others happy, because their happiness is important. The happier others are, the less problems they'll cause us. So by cherishing others, our own lives will be free from outwards disturbances. In addition, we'll be happy knowing that others are happy.
"We say that we want peace in the world, in our families, but we often don't want to relinquish having our own way in order to have peace, and instead we blame the other party for the problem. Peace won't come that way. If will only come by genuinely wanting others to be happy and by respecting their points of view.
"This attitude of cherishing others is the root of world peace, and each of us has the ability and the responsibility to develop it within ourselves. This is part of our human potential; this is the beauty of being a human being. We can be wise and compassionate, but we must act to develop these qualities. First, we can try to be aware of what we say and do each day, and ask ourselves, 'Why am I doing this? Is it beneficial for myself and others? Is a kind attitude or a selfish one motivating what I'm saying and doing?' If we observe that our motivations or actions are destructive, then we can correct them."
The students were listening intently. Afterwards, many came to thank me. Several teachers asked me to come back and talk to their classes.
Sometimes I spoke to over a thousand students in a school assembly. But when I visited classrooms of twenty-five to thirty students, the format was question-and-answer. In that way, the students told me what they wanted to know. Many of their questions centered around my lifestyle as a Buddhist nun, and how and why I came to make the decision to be ordained. From my side, no question is too personal, because it's important that young people - and adults too - understand why a person chooses a life style dedicated to self-discovery and to helping others spiritually. Nor is any question stupid, for if a person sincerely wants to know something, that question is meaningful to him or her, and therefore is an important question.
They wanted to know what I do as a nun. What happens every day? Why did I take vows instead of being a lay Buddhist? What did my family and friends say? How have I changed since becoming a nun? Have I ever regretted this decision? What happens if I break a vow? Some teenage girls asked me what I do when I see a handsome man, and one nine-year old innocently asked if nuns got pregnant!
Many questions concerned meditation. What is it? Why do it? How does it help in? In some classes, the students wanted to meditate, so we did a short, simple, breathing meditation. In one school, I led a weekly meditation class. The teachers commented that they never saw their students so quiet.
They wondered who is Buddha? Do I believe in God? One child asked if God ever spoke to me (she was disappointed when I said "No.") They were very interested in rebirth and karma - how our present actions influence our future experiences.
We discussed selfishness and love. Is an action selfish if what a person does looks good on the outside but his motivation is to get something for himself? What if a person's motivation was altruistic but her actions didn't externally appear to be helping others at that very moment? Was my motivation for becoming a nun selfish?
Older students asked about the application of spiritual and ethical principles to politics and social injustice. If anger is to be avoided, what can the blacks in South Africa do to better their situation? What should be done with terrorists? What are the advantages of non-violence? They had to think when I said that sometimes we must act strongly, but with a mind free from anger. Being patient doesn't mean being passive. Also, we have to develop compassion not only for the victims but also for the aggressors.
They were surprised to hear that I appreciate other religions more since I learned the Buddha's teachings. They expected me to say that my religion is the best and everyone should be Buddhist. But I didn't. Instead I told them it is good that many religions exist because people have different inclinations and dispositions. With a plurality of religions in the world, people can find an approach suitable for them. Any teaching that encourages people not to harm others and to help and be kind to others - no matter what religious or philosophical tradition it comes from - is a good teaching and we should follow that advice. I continually stressed the need to respect other religions, and to look at the meaning of a religious teachings, not just to get stuck in the words and think, "I am this and you are that. Therefore, we can't get along." Such an attitude leads to conflict and war.
It is invigorating to discuss things with teenagers because they are direct and honest. They are examining new ideas and at the same time clinging to old ones. But they're open and inquisitive, and I was pleased just by the fact that my talks set them thinking. Inevitably, the bell rang and time was up before the students ran out of questions.
I was also impressed with the administrators and teachers of the English Schools Foundation, because they wanted the students to be exposed to people from various walks of life. They wanted people to talk to the students about world peace. This open-minded attitude in the school system was so refreshing, and of course, the students benefited from it.
How did the parents react to my visits to the schools? I met some parents and they were pleased. "Children learn so much information in school, but they aren't taught how to deal with their emotions or how to get along with others. The schools don't teach our children how to be kind human beings. They teach them how to make business and how to generate nuclear energy, but not how to use these things properly," they said. "Your talks made them think about how their actions influence others."
This raises a crucial question: what is important to learn in school? Personally, I have always felt (and I was a teacher before becoming a nun) that if children learn how to be good human beings and how to be happy and get along with others, they still will learn other subjects and will be happier to do so. Afterall, should we measure success in life by how much we know and how much money we have, or by how happy we are and how well we get along with others?
The nine-year olds wrote letters and drew pictures after my visit. Here are some excerpts:
"Dear Chodron, thank you for coming to talk about Buddhism. When you showed us how to meditate, my legs began to ache. You said that when you started to meditate your legs ached too. I thought you would be used to it because you do it most of the time. I really think you are a nice nun. Thank you very much."
"It was very interesting. It was the first time I ever saw a Buddhist nun. I thought you were the best nun I ever saw. I think it is best not to kill animals."
"The world of Buddhism is fascinating. I learned that if you are selfish and unkind, people will be unkind back to you. So it is best to be kind. I liked your robes. They are very colorful."
"You don't grow your hair or wear make-up because you don't have to look pretty on the outside, but you are nice on the inside."


Working with Emotions
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

People worldwide want to know how to work with their emotions - how to prevent being overwhelmed by painful ones and how to enrich the wholesome and loving ones. As a young person, I had no idea how to do this, and it was Buddhism's perspective on this that first attracted me. So I will begin with my journey leading to the Buddha's teachings, continue with the methods the Buddha recommended to work with emotions, and conclude with a few observations about the future of Buddhism.
I came to Buddhism rather unexpectedly, or so it may seem. As a child, I was curious about religion, and as a teenager, my mind teemed with spiritual questions: Why am I alive? What is the purpose of life? What happens after death? Why do people fight and kill each other if they want to live in peace? What does it mean to love others? Growing up in a reform Jewish family in a predominantly Christian suburb in the USA, I asked my teachers and the religious leaders around me. The answers that satisfied them nevertheless left me dry.
Studying history at university, I came to learn that almost every generation, for hundreds of years, wars were fought in Europe in the name of God. Disillusionment with organized religion overcame me, for wasn't religion supposed to make people more peaceful and harmonious? In reaction, as a young person in the sixties, I took part in some of the social protests of the times, as well as turned to the various distractions offered to my generation.
I graduated Phi Beta Khapa from UCLA and after working for a year, traveled in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. I wanted to learn about life through experiencing it instead of reading about it. After a year and a half, I had learned a lot, but still lacked understanding of the meaning of life. Nevertheless, feeling that the purpose of life must have to do with benefiting others, I returned to the USA, taught elementary school in Los Angeles, and graduate studies in Education at USC.
One summer vacation, I saw a flyer about a meditation course taught by two Tibetan monks, Lama Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. One of the first things they said at the course was, "You don't have to believe anything we say. You are intelligent people. Listen to the teachings; think about them logically; test them out in your own life experience. Use the teachings that help you in your life and leave those that don't make sense on the back burner."
"Whew," I thought. "Now I'll listen." If they had said they would tell us the Truth, I would have left. I liked Buddhism's open-minded approach and began to listen and to practice the teachings. As I did, I was surprised to find that what the Buddha taught over twenty-five centuries ago in ancient India applied to my modern American life. I wanted to learn more.
During a retreat after the course, I realized that if I neglected this opportunity to learn the Dharma - the Buddha's teachings - I would regret it at the end of my life, and dying with regret never appealed to me. Thus, instead of resuming my teaching post that autumn, I went to Kopan Monastery, Lama and Rinpoche's monastery outside Kathmandu, Nepal. My parents were hardly thrilled about their daughter once again putting on a backpack to visit a third world country. But for me, the spiritual urge was strong, and I had to follow it.
Once there I attended the teachings that the lamas gave in broken English to the variety of Western travelers passing through Nepal in the mid-seventies. In addition, I reflected on them, practiced them as best I could, and participated in the community life at Kopan. After some months, I decided I wanted to become a nun. Why? I wanted to focus my life on spiritual development and knew that to do this effectively, I needed to direct my energies. Living in vows provided that conducive lifestyle. In addition, as I reflected on the vows, I saw that I really didn't want to do the things they proscribed. Thus the vows were a protection against acting upon my attachment, anger, and ignorance - emotions and attitudes that Buddhism sees as the origin of our suffering and unsatisfactory state. In addition, the vows helped me to clarify my ethical values and to live by them.
I requested Lama Yeshe for permission to ordain. He said yes, but asked me to wait. This waiting period, which lasted nearly a year and a half, was wise, for it helped me become clear about my motivation. I also had to face the questions and challenges posed by my family and friends, which strengthened my motivation. In the spring of 1977, in Dharamsala, India, I was ordained by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, the senior tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Our Mind Is the Source of Happiness and Suffering
What attracted me to Buddhism? I was taken by its ideas perspectives, views, and practices. In particular, the Buddha's teachings on how to work with emotions - how to subdue disturbing emotions and enhance positive ones - provided both a logical framework and practical techniques with which I could work. What, then, is the Buddha's perspective on emotions?
Each of us wants to be happy and to avoid suffering. From a Buddhist viewpoint, our mind - specifically its attitudes, views, and emotions - are the primary factors contributing to our experience of happiness and pain. This view flies in the face of our usual perception of things. For example, most of us instinctively feel that happiness is "out there" in an external person, place, or object. We think, "If I only lived in this house…had this career…married that person…moved to that place…bought this car, I'd be happy." We are taught to be good consumers - not just of possessions, but of people, ideas, spirituality, and everything else as well - in our search for happiness. However, no matter what we have or how much we have, we are perpetually dissatisfied.
Similarly, we feel that our problems have been thrust upon us from outside. "I have difficulties because my parents yelled at me, my boss is inconsistent, my children don't listen to me, the government is corrupt, others are selfish." Thus we devise wonderful advice for others to follow and believe that if they only did what we suggested, not only would our problems cease, but also the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, when we tell other people how they should change so that we can be happy, they don't appreciate our sagious advice and instead tell us to mind our own business!
This innate world view that happiness and suffering come from external sources leads us to believe that if we could only make others and the world be what we wanted them to be, then we would be happy. Thus, we endeavor to rearrange the world and the people in it, gathering towards us those we consider happiness-producing and struggling to be free from those we think cause pain. Although we have tried to do this, no one has succeeded in making the external environment exactly what he or she wants it to be. Even in those occasional situations in which we are able to arrange external people and things to be what we want, they don't remain that way for long. Or, they aren't as good as we thought they would be and we are left feeling disappointed and disillusioned. In effect, the supposed path to happiness through external things and people is doomed from the start because no matter how powerful, wealthy, popular, or respected someone is, he or she is unable to control all external conditions.
This supposed path to happiness is also doomed because even if we could control external factors, we still would not be fulfilled and satisfied. Why? Because the source of true happiness lies in our mind and heart, not in possessions, others' actions, praise, reputation, and so forth. But we must examine this for ourselves, so the Buddha asked us to observe our own experiences to see what causes happiness and what causes misery.
For example, we have all had the experience of waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Nothing in particular happened to cause us to be in a bad mood; we simply feel lousy. But, interestingly, just on those days we feel grumpy, we encounter so many uncooperative and rude people. Just on the day we want to be left alone, so many obnoxious people descend upon us! Suddenly, the way our spouse smiles appears sarcastic, and our colleague's "Good morning" seems manipulative. Even our pet dog no longer seems to love us! When our boss remarks on our work, we take offense. When our friend reminds us to do something, we accuse him of being controlling. When someone turns in front of us on the road, it feels they are deliberately provoking us.
On the other hand, when we are in a good mood, even if our colleague gives us some negative criticism on a project, we can put it in perspective. When our professor asks us to redo a paper, we understand her reasons. When a friend tells us that he was offended by our words, we calmly explain ourselves and clear up the misunderstanding.
That our interpretations of events and responses to them change according to our mood says something important, doesn't it? It indicates that we are not innocent people experiencing an objectively real external world. Rather, our moods, perspectives, and views play a role in our experiences. The environment and the people in it aren't objective entities that exist from their own side as this or that. Instead, together with them, our mind co-creates our experiences. Thus, if we want to be happy and to avoid suffering, we need to subdue our unrealistic and non-beneficial emotions and perspectives and enhance our positive ones.
Working with Emotions
Let's look at some of the methods the Buddha prescribed to transform specific emotions. Reflection on impermanence and the unpleasant aspect of a person or thing counteracts attachment. Cultivating patience and love opposes anger, and wisdom demolishes ignorance. Thinking about a difficult topic or reflecting that all we know and have comes from others eliminates pride. Rejoicing prevents jealousy. Following the breath diminishes doubt. Contemplating our precious human life dispels depression, while meditating on compassion counteracts low self-esteem.
Reflection on Impermanence and Unpleasant Aspects Counteracts Attachment
When our mind is under the influence of attachment, we cling to people, things, or circumstances, thinking that they have the power to bring us happiness. However, since these things are transient - their very nature is to change moment by moment - they are not safe objects to rely on for long term happiness. When we remember that our possessions do not last forever and our money does not go on to the next life with us, then the false expectations we project upon them evaporate, and we are able to cultivate a healthy relationship with them. If we contemplate that we cannot always remain with our friends and relatives, we will appreciate them more while we are together and be more accepting of our eventual separation.
Contemplating the unpleasant aspect of things we are attached to also cuts false expectation and enables us to have a more balanced attitude towards them. For example, when we have a car, we will definitely have car trouble. Therefore, no benefit comes from getting too excited about having a new car, and no great catastrophe has occurred if we can't get a car. If we have a relationship, we will undoubtedly have relationship problems. When we first fall in love, we believe that the other person will be everything we want. This skewed view sets us up for suffering when we realize that he or she isn't. In fact, no one can be everything we want because we are not consistent in what we want! This simple process of being more realistic cuts attachment, enabling us to actually have more enjoyment.
Cultivating Patience and Love Opposes Anger
Having exaggerated certain negative aspects of a person, thing, idea, or place, we become angry and unable to bear it. We want either to harm what we think is causing our unhappiness or to escape from it. Patience is the ability to bear harm or suffering. With it, our mind is calm, and we have the mental clarity to figure out a reasonable solution to the difficulty. One way to cultivate patience is by seeing the disturbing circumstance as an opportunity to grow. In this way, instead of focusing on what we don't like, we look inside and develop our resources and talents to be able to deal with it.
Seeing the situation from the others' perspective also facilitates patience. We ask ourselves, "What are this person's needs and concerns? How does she see the situation?" In addition, we can ask ourselves what our buttons are. Instead of blaming the other person for pushing our buttons, we can work to free ourselves from those buttons and sensitive points so that they cannot be pushed again.
Cultivating love - the wish for sentient beings, including ourselves, to have happiness and its causes - prevents as well as counteracts anger. We may wonder, "Why should we wish those who have harmed us to be happy? Shouldn't they be punished for their wrongdoing?" People harm others because they are unhappy. If they were happy, they would not be doing whatever it is that we found objectionable, because people don't hurt others when they are content. Instead of seeking punishment or retaliation for harms done to us, let's wish others to be happy and thus free from whatever internal or external conditions precipitate their negative actions.
We cannot tell ourselves we must love someone; rather we must actively cultivate this emotion. For example, sitting quietly, we begin by thinking and then feeling, "May I be well and happy." We spread this thought and feeling to dear ones, then to strangers, and to people we find disagreeable, threatening, or disgusting, and say again and again to ourselves "May they be well and happy." Finally, we open our heart and wish happiness and its causes to all living beings everywhere.
Thinking about Complex Topics and Recognizing Our Indebtedness to Others Eliminates Pride.
When we are proud, we cannot learn or develop new good qualities because we falsely believe we have attained all there is. When a Buddhist student becomes arrogant about his scholarship or practice, his teacher often instructs him to meditate on the twelve sources and eighteen elements. "What are those?" people ask. That's the point - just hearing the names, let alone understanding their meaning, makes us realize we have a lot to learn and thus dispels arrogance.
When we are proud, we have a strong feeling of self, as if whatever qualities we are proud about are inherently ours. Reflecting that everything we know and have has come from others quickly dispels this arrogance. Any abilities due to genetics came from our ancestors; our knowledge came from our teachers. Even our artistic, musical, or athletic abilities would not have surfaced had it not been due to the kindness of parents and teachers who encouraged and taught us. Our socio-economic status is due to others who gave us money. Even if they gave it to us in the form of a paycheck, it was not ours to begin with. Our education came from others. Even our ability to tie our shoes came from those who taught us. Looking at our lives in this way, we are indebted to others' kindness. We have much to be grateful for and nothing to be arrogant about.
Rejoicing Dispels Jealousy
The jealous mind cannot endure the happiness of others and wishes that happiness for ourselves. Although we want to be happy, jealousy itself is a painful emotion, and we are miserable when we are under its influence. Rejoicing, on the other hand, celebrates goodness. We always say, "May everyone be happy," so when someone is, we might as well rejoice in it, especially if we didn't even have to make any effort to bring it about.
We may start by rejoicing in the happiness we already have, enabling us to realize that we are not completely bereft of joy even though we may not have what we want at the time. Then we focus on others' goodness and happiness and rejoice in them. While this initially may seem uncomfortable due to the force of the jealousy, if we persist in recounting the goodness and happiness of others, our mind will, in time, become joyful. "Isn't it wonderful that Susan excels in sports? How great that Peter was promoted and that Karen got a new car! Bill and Barbara have a caring relationship; I'm happy for them. Jane's meditations are going well, and Sam has a lot of contact with his spiritual mentor. That's great."
Thinking positive thoughts in this way automatically makes our mind happy. It shifts our perspective from focusing on what we don't have to the richness in the world.
Following the Breath Diminishes Doubt and Anxiety
When our mind is turbulent, spinning in doubt or anxiously imagining worse case scenarios, the Buddha recommended that we focus our attention on the breath. Sitting comfortably, we breath normally and naturally. We place our attention either at the nostrils, feeling the touch of the breath on our upper lip and in the nostrils as it passes in and out, or at the belly, being aware of the rise and fall of our abdomen as we inhale and exhale. Should our attention shift to the doubts and anxious thoughts, we recognize this and then patiently but firmly bring our focus back to the breath. By doing this continuously, the runaway thoughts begin to calm down, and the mind becomes clear and calm.
Contemplating Our Precious Human Life Dispels Depression
Often we take our opportunities and fortune for granted and focus on what we lack instead. This is tantamount to ignoring all the delicious food in a large buffet and complaining, "There is no spaghetti." Instead of becoming depressed because we are ill, we can remember that we are also fortunate to have others who help us when we don't feel well. Even if they don't help us as much as we would like, they still are there for us, and we would be hard put if they weren't. Something is always going well in our lives, and it's important to remember those things that are.
In addition, we have human intelligence and the opportunity to encounter a spiritual path. This opportunity in itself is cause for great rejoicing. No matter if we are sick, lonely, imprisoned, or going through hard times financially, we still can take refuge in the Three Jewels - the Buddhas, Dharma, and Sangha. We can practice our spiritual tradition no matter where we are, who we're with, or what the state of our physical body, for genuine spiritual practice does not depend on certain external implements or actions but involves redirecting our mind towards constructive emotions and realistic attitudes. Thus for as long as we are alive, we can be happy about what is going right in our lives and at the opportunities we have for spiritual practice. Even when it comes time to die, we can rejoice at a life well-spent and dedicate all the goodness we created for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Meditating on Compassion and on Our Buddha Nature Counteracts Guilt and Low Self-esteem
When we suffer from guilt and low self-esteem, we put all attention on ourselves. There is little space in our mind for thoughts of others, and everything related to ourselves is overblown. Guilt is an inverted feeling of self-importance: "I'm the worst one in the world, unforgivable," or "I'm so powerful that I can make all these things go wrong." This is totally unrealistic!
Compassion is the wish for sentient beings, including ourselves, to be free of suffering and its causes. Meditating on it works in two ways. First, we think, "I am a sentient being, worthy of happiness and freedom from pain, just like everyone else. I have the Buddha nature - the underlying purity of mind - just as all living beings do. Therefore, I can wish myself to be happy and to be free of suffering, and I know that these are achievable goals because the basic nature of my mind and heart are pure. The clouds that cover them can be dispelled." Thinking in this way helps overcome depression.
In addition, spreading our love and compassion out to others alleviates the pain of the self-preoccupation lying behind guilt and low self-esteem. By taking the focus off of ourselves, compassion enables us to realize that everyone is in the same position. Thinking of others and reaching out to them pulls us out of the isolation of guilt and low self-esteem.
Wisdom Demolishes Ignorance
From a Buddhist perspective the ignorance misapprehending the nature of reality is the root of all other disturbing attitudes and negative emotions. To dispel it, we cultivate wisdom, which is of three types: the wisdoms of learning, thinking, and meditating. First we must learn from qualified teachers, either by listening to talks or reading books. Then we think about what we have learned, examining it thoroughly to test it logically and to make sure we have understood it properly. Finally, we integrate the meanings of the teachings into our lives through meditation and continuous practice.
For example, we listen to teachings on profound reality, the emptiness of inherent existence. We read about and study these concepts, and then discuss them with our friends as well as think about them ourselves. When our understanding is correct and refined, we then familiarize ourselves with emptiness in meditation, first by investigating the nature of reality and then by focusing single-pointedly on it. When we arise from meditation, we try to hold this newfound meaning in mind as we go about our daily life's activities, so that this wisdom will be integrated into our mind and life.
Since all the other disturbing attitudes and negative emotions are rooted in the ignorance misapprehending reality, developing this wisdom is a general antidote to all of these. However, since cultivating the correct view is difficult, takes time, and requires effort, we practice the antidotes explained above, which are unique to each particular emotion. By pacifying these emotions even a little, our mind becomes clearer and more tranquil, which makes the development of wisdom easier. For this reason, we learn not only the specific methods to counteract each disturbing attitude, but also wisdom as the antidote to all of them.
Our Responsibility
Subduing and transforming our mind is a process we alone must do. While we can pay someone to clean our house or fix our car, hiring someone to get rid of our negative emotions doesn't work. I can't ask you to sleep late so that I'll feel refreshed or to eat so my hunger will go away. Just as we must sleep and eat ourselves to experience their benefits, we must practice ourselves in order to let go of our harmful emotions and to nourish our constructive ones.
The Buddha's teachings explain many techniques for subduing our disturbing emotions and for cultivating positive ones. Just learning these techniques does not transform us. Reading a book with instructions on how to type does not give us the ability to sit down at a computer and type perfectly. We need to practice and train ourselves. In the same way, we must reflect on the techniques taught by the Buddha and then practice them consistently over a long period of time. The Tibetan word for meditation, gom, has the same root as the word meaning "to familiarize." Familiarization takes place with effort and over time. Similarly, we say we "practice the Dharma," meaning we train ourselves in certain attitudes and emotions over and over again. In short, there is no shortcut for transforming our mind.
However, since the disturbing attitudes and negative emotions are not the very nature of our mind and because they are based on misconceptions, they can be eliminated through cultivating realistic views and constructive emotions. Our mind and heart are a stable base for this transformation, and if we cultivate wisdom and compassion over time, they will increase infinitely. It is our responsibility, for our own as well as for others' happiness, that we engage in the practice to do so.
Future Prospects for Buddhism
Over a period of many centuries Buddhism spread throughout Asia. Now, with modern transportation and communication facilities, it is quickly coming to Western nations. Nevertheless, it faces many challenges both in Asia and in the West.
In Asia, Buddhism is widely accepted, but not widely practiced among its adherents. In some places people have neglected to learn the meaning of the ceremonies and rituals. In others the religious hierarchy could be re-invigorated by broadening educational opportunities for nuns and laypeople. Buddhist institutions need to be more engaged in helping society.
In the West, Buddhism risks becoming another consumer good, tailored in order to suit the tastes of the public. The Buddha's teachings have always been a challenge to society and to our egos. We must be careful not to dilute their essential power in the name of spreading them to more people. In addition, we must abandon our hidden wishes for an "instant fix" and be prepared and happy to practice for a long time. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that one of the biggest hindrances for Westerners is the expectation to gain realizations quickly and easily. This attitude makes some people give up practice when their fanciful ideas are not actualized.
While Buddhism has much to offer in Asia and the rest of the world, the extent to which it is able to do so depends on the quality of its practitioners and teachers. Thus we must try to improve our own learning and practice as well as support others who are doing so. As individuals and as Buddhist institutions, we must take personal responsibility, create and maintain harmony, and look out for the common good.


The Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to the Dharma
Alexander Berzin
Morelia, Mexico, May 30, 2000

I like to begin classes with a set of preliminaries. These are various methods to help us quiet down and get into an appropriate state of mind for meditating or listening to teachings. In order to be able to get into something fully we need to enter into it slowly and appropriately. That is purpose of preliminaries.
There are many different ways to get into a state of mind conducive for meditating or for listening. I usually follow just one of many possibilities. This method starts with counting the breath. When we are very distracted emotionally or mentally, from our work, from traveling here or whatever, it is very important to first quiet down into a neutral state. This helps us to relax. The way that we do this is to breathe normally through the nose, which means not to quickly, not to slowly, not to deeply and not to shallowly. The cycle is to first breathe out, then allow a slight pause and because we have made a slight pause, we naturally breathe in more deeply. That is a much more relaxed way of breathing deeply than consciously taking a deep breath. As we breathe back in, we count it as one in our minds. Then, without holding the breath we breathe out. We repeat this cycle eleven times and then repeat the count of eleven two or three times, depending on our speed. The numbers don't really matter. We can count up to any number. We do not need to get superstitious about it. The point is to occupy the verbal energy of our mind with something so that we are not thinking something else while focusing on the breath. Let us do that please.
Once we have quieted down, we try to get our energies, our mind and emotions, going in a positive way. We do this by affirming our motivation. Why we are here? What do we want to gain or to accomplish by being here, or by meditating? We are here to learn more methods to apply to ourselves personally to help us in our lives. We are not just coming for entertainment or amusement or for intellectual knowledge. We are here to learn something practical. It is the same thing when meditating. It is not just for relaxation or a hobby or sport. We meditate to try to help ourselves to develop beneficial habits for use in our lives. We don't do it to please our teacher. We are doing it because we are convinced that it is beneficial. We want to listen to something practical because we would like to be able to deal with difficulties in our lives more skillfully, and not just make our lives a little bit better, but eventually go all the way and get free of all the difficulties we have. We would like to learn methods that will help us to become Buddhas so that we can really be of best help to everyone.
When we reaffirm our motivation, not only do we look at what we are doing here at a teaching, but it is important also to look at the final aim. Although we may aim for liberation and enlightenment it is not going to happen overnight and miracles normally do not happen. Dharma is not magic. We are not going to learn magic means that will suddenly free us from all our suffering. It is not that we learn some methods and day-by-day it is going to get better and better. We need to be realistic. Realistically speaking, as we know from our own life experience, the moods and events in our lives go up and down, and they will continue to go up and down. We can hope that things will get better in the long run; but from day to day, we are going to have difficult moments. It is not that all of a sudden we will never get upset again. If we approach learning Dharma methods and in practicing them in meditation and in daily life in a realistic, down to earth way, we will not get discouraged. Even when really difficult things come up in life and even if we still get upset we are not thrown off course. This is our motivation. This is our aim. This is our understanding of what we can gain from coming to teachings and meditating and practicing.
It is important to remind ourselves of this by reviewing and thinking about it. Let's say we are very upset before a meditation session. Instead of taking refuge in food, friends, sex, television or beer we take refuge in the Dharma and meditate to help us get over being upset. Even in that situation we need to be very careful not to expect that it will be like taking a shot of heroin, as if we could sit and meditate and feel high and joyous and all of our problems would be gone. If that does happen, be suspicious. If we do the meditation properly, sure we may feel better. But it might not make us feel a hundred percent better. Unless we are super-advanced, the unpleasant mood will likely come back. As I often repeat, "What do you expect from samsara?"
When we reaffirm our motivation we say, "Okay, I am going to do this because it will help me. I will try to apply these things properly to help me get free from this difficulty that I experience and to eventually be of help to others." Whether we feel better a half hour from now or not is not the point. That is not our main focus. We are going in a certain direction in life and this is what we are doing to go further in that direction. The direction is refuge. Each time we listen to teachings or meditate, we take another step in that direction. We keep going, despite the ups and downs. That is realistic. Let us reaffirm that for a moment.
Then we make the conscious decision to meditate with concentration. This means that if our attention wanders we will bring it back, if we get sleepy we will try to wake ourselves up. To help our minds to be clearer we sit up straight and to help our minds be clearer we can use the visualization of a camera coming into focus.
Then there is a fine adjustment that we can make. First, we try to lift the energies in our body if we are feeling a bit heavy and our energies are too low. For this, we focus on the point between our eyebrows with our heads looking upwards but our heads staying level.
Then to ground our energies if they are running a bit wild in our bodies and we are bit stressed, we focus on the navel with our eyes looking downwards but our heads staying level. We breathe in normally and hold our breath until we need to breathe out.
This evening I have been asked to speak about another aspect of preliminaries, namely the four thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma. Specifically, the four thoughts are:
1. thinking about appreciating the precious human life,
2. thinking about death and impermanence, that the opportunities that we have now with this precious opportunity are not going to last,
3. thinking about the laws of karma and cause and effect, in other words how our behavior affects what we experience,
4. thinking about the disadvantages of samsara, of uncontrollably recurring rebirth.
If we appreciate the opportunities that we have now with this precious human life and if we recognize and acknowledge the fact that this life is not going to last and that we are going to die sometime, if we recognize that our behavior is going to shape our experience in this life and also after we die in future lives, and if we realize that no matter what we experience in the future, because it will arise from behaving from confusion, will have be a lot of difficulties and troubles then we will turn our minds to the Dharma.
The Safe Direction of Refuge
What does it mean to turn our minds to the Dharma? It basically means taking refuge. It is quite clear that taking refuge is not something that you do after walking into a Dharma center for the first time. It is not to join a social club or a Dharma center. Taking refuge is something quite advanced and requires an appropriate state of mind. I find that the term "taking refuge" is inadequate and gives a misleading impression. In our languages, it implies something passive -- that we go a more powerful person or being and say save me, protect me and we are protected. Then we don't have to do so much from our side. This is not what Buddhism is talking about. Rather, what we are talking about is putting an active, safe, positive direction in our life. That is why I call it taking safe direction. We need to have these four attitudes or understandings before we can put this direction in our life with sincere conviction. This implies that we need to have some idea of what this direction is.
What is this direction? It is Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Three Jewels. What in the world does that mean? We often look at this in a very elementary way. We think of the Dharma as the teachings, the Buddha as the one who actually gave these teachings both verbally and in terms of his own realizations, and the Sangha refers to something like the congregation of a Buddhist church or Dharma center. That is not what Sangha means. We are talking about very advanced practitioners who already have straightforward perception of reality and are already well on the way to becoming liberated or enlightened. Even if we say, "I am going in the direction of the Dharma teachings as the Buddha taught them and as great practitioners are realizing them," this type of elementary understanding of the Three Jewels is not a very stable basis for putting this direction in our life.
What is the basis for being convinced that this is a positive direction? We need a slightly more sophisticated understanding of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The more sophisticated our understanding, the firmer our direction will be. This means that this whole topic of refuge is not something that we ought to trivialize. "I did that in the beginning when I first came to the center and now I have a red string to wear around my neck." It is a topic that we need to work on and deepen as we go further along the path. The deeper this direction in our lives is, the more stable we are on the spiritual path.
The actual direction is indicated by the Dharma Jewel, which must be understood within the context of the four noble truths. These are the four facts that any person who sees reality -- a highly realized being -- would see as true. They are called "noble" because that is how some people translate the Sanskrit word arya. When we see reality directly, we see these four facts. The first fact is the difficulties in life -- what are they really? Then we see the real causes of these difficulties. Then we see the stopping of the difficulties in life and their causes. Then we see that there is a pathway of mind, in other words a way of understanding, that will bring about that understanding of reality by removing the main cause of the problems: confusion. When we get rid of the cause of our problems, confusion, we get rid of the problems.
True direction is indicated by the third and fourth noble truths. That is the actual Dharma refuge. Without leaving it as jargon, what we are actually aiming at is this state in which all problems and their causes are removed in such a way that they never come back again, as well as the state of mind that not only brings that about but that results from this. When all difficulties and shortcomings are removed, we have a state of mind in which we are able to use all of our abilities.
What is our Dharma direction? It is the state of liberation and the state of enlightenment. Liberation is a state in which all of our suffering and its causes are finished. Enlightenment is a state in which we are able to help others as much as is possible and where the things that prevent us from being able to do that are removed forever. Buddhas are those who have achieved both of these fully and who have shown us how to do it. They have shown us how to do it in terms of their realizations as well as by giving step-by-step instructions. The Sangha are those who have achieved at least some liberation from some of the problems and their causes and are working further, so they are already incredibly advanced.
The Gateway to the Dharma
In order to be able to turn our minds and energies toward liberation and enlightenment, we have to know two things. We have to know what liberation and enlightenment actually mean. They are not just nice words. And, secondly, we need conviction that it really is possible to achieve these. If we are not convinced that it is possible to gain liberation and enlightenment, why would we want to work toward achieving them? How do we gain this conviction? What are the steps that will lead us toward this?
One great Sakya master, Sonam-tsemo, wrote a very helpful text called The Gateway to the Dharma. He addressed this very question. He said we need three things. First, we need to recognize and acknowledge the suffering and difficulties in our lives. In other words, we have to really look at ourselves honestly and evaluate what is going on in our lives. The second is having a very sincere wish to get out of this suffering, not just to "make the best of it," but really wanting to get out of this. The third thing is some knowledge of the Dharma so that we have some conviction that the Dharma is going to show us a way out. That conviction is not just based on the nice words of some charismatic person. We have to have some actual knowledge and understanding of the Dharma and of how it leads us out of suffering.
What is the way out? It is gaining liberation and gaining enlightenment. The Dharma shows us how to do this based on the first noble truth, that of suffering. That is what Sonam-tsemo said we have to start with, recognizing the problems. And there is a cause for those problems. They are coming from somewhere. To achieve an elimination of the cause of our problems, the third noble truth, we have to have a path of understanding; and that is the fourth noble truth, which gets rid of confusion.
It is not at all easy to gain conviction that it is possible to remove the causes of our difficulties. We need to persevere and work on it. We must try to understand what this is talking about. We can start to work with this in a logical way. We experience life now with confusion. For example, we imagine that we are the most important person in the world and the center of the universe. Based on that, we always feel we have to have our way and we become very greedy and pushy. We are the most important one, so everybody has to pay attention to us and love us. If people don't pay attention to us and don't love us, then we get very angry.
We may be loveable but that does not mean that the whole world needs to recognize it! With confusion, we think everyone should recognize it. Or we go the other way and think that if people don't love us or pay attention to us something must be wrong with us and we are no good and then we have low self-esteem. In either case, we suffer. We have mental anguish and it is all coming from the confusion that we are the center of the universe and everything should go the way that we want it to.
Buddha said that it is possible to get rid of all of the misery that we experience by getting rid of this attitude of confusion that causes it. What will get rid of the confusion? Understanding. If we understand how we and everyone in the world exists, we won't be confused about it. We cannot have both confusion and understanding in one moment of mind. Understanding is the exact opponent to confusion. Since we cannot have both at the same time, which is going to win? If we examine confusion, the more closely we examine, we see that it really does not stand up to analysis. Am I really the center of the universe? Well, no, because everyone else thinks that they are the center of the universe. On the other hand, if we examine understanding, it does hold up. No one is the center of the universe. What that means is that no one is more important than everyone else. Nobody is the center of everyone else's attention and loved by all. The more we examine this, the more we see that it makes sense. It is not only true based on logic, but also from experience and from seeing how life works.
Because understanding can be verified and confusion falls apart when we examine it, not only can understanding replace confusion temporarily, but it can get rid of it forever. When we understand that there is no center of the universe, we know that not everyone will pay attention to us and love us. Not everyone loved and paid attention to Buddha, so why to us? The result of this analysis is that we don't get upset. It doesn't matter if people don't pay attention to us. What do we expect from samsara? Because we are not upset, we are able to deal with each person in a way that is warm, loving, understanding and so on, without being worried about whether they will listen to us or like us. We try our best. In this way, we work on an initial level to become more convinced that liberation and enlightenment actually are possible. Then we are not crazy for working in the direction of achieving liberation and enlightenment.
The Four Thoughts in Reverse Sequence
The four thoughts that turn our mind to the Dharma show us on a slightly deeper level that this is possible. We have discussed how it is possible to gain conviction in the possibility of liberation and enlightenment in terms of the three basic thoughts needed to enter the Dharma: suffering, wanting to get out of suffering, and having the conviction that it is possible to get out of suffering. The four thoughts that turn our mind to the Dharma actually turn our minds toward these three thoughts, specifically to the first of these three steps, recognizing and acknowledge the difficulties and sufferings in life. The last of the four thoughts is of the unsatisfactoriness of samsara, which is the actual acknowledgement of difficulties and problems in life. We need to work backwards in order to appreciate the order and necessity of each step.
What are the difficulties and problems that we face? Buddha gave many lists, but the more concise one is a list of three. We can call them the three types of problems. The first is gross suffering: pain and unhappiness. It includes physical pain as well as mental pain. Most people can recognize this without much difficulty. Nobody likes to be unhappy, so most people would like to get out of it.
The second problem is the problem of change. This refers to our usual ordinary experiences of happiness, which are tainted with confusion. They change; they do not last. For instance, we eat and feel the happiness of our stomach being full but it does not last and we get hungry again. What is the problem? The problem is not that the happiness does not last. That is just the nature of this type of happiness. Having the most profound, direct understanding of voidness is not going to change the fact that this type of happiness is impermanent. Nothing is going to change that. We can get less upset by the fact that it changes, but that is not the point here. The real problem with this type of happiness is the uncertainty factor: when it ends, we do not know what will follow. We are with our friends, having a good time. The good time ends and we don't know if we are going to feel happy, tired, unhappy or what. That is the real problem here. Just going after this temporary happiness will not help us, even though we feel okay for a while. Not only does it not eliminate all our problems, but we are left in a state of real insecurity, not knowing what will come next.
The third type of true problem is the all-encompassing problem. This is that just the type of body and mind and emotions that we have will perpetuate all the other problems. They are self-perpetuating. We have this type of body. We have to feed it and take care of it all the time. And when we eat, the happiness does not last and we have to eat again and again. How boring. We go into one difficult relationship with someone and do not learn and get hurt and go into another and another. The confusion just goes on and on. This person did not turn out to be Prince or Princess Charming and so we look for another and another. The feelings of insecurity keep coming up. This is the real problem; it just keeps on recurring. Understanding these three sufferings is the fourth thought, the disadvantages of suffering. It is also the first noble truth, that of problems.
What is the basis for this understanding of the disadvantages of samsara? The third thought, the understanding of karma and cause and effect. This is the cause of the suffering of samsara. This is noble truth number two. Why do we experience the first type of true problem, gross suffering? From acting in destructive ways. We act destructively because of confusion. We don't understand the results of our actions or we think that our actions have no results.
The second type of problem is that of change and uncertainty. To understand the reason why we experience that, we need to understand karma. If we understand karma, we understand that what we experience is very complex. We have been doing so many things, both constructive and destructive mixed with confusion, without any beginning. We could think we are the center of the universe and be nice to everyone or mean to everyone. We have built up millions and millions of both positive and negative karmic potentials. So, we experience happiness for a moment. It comes from a positive potential. Then it is finished. Now what? There are countless karmic possibilities waiting to ripen. What ripens next? It is not simple. It depends on many different factors: our attitude, the circumstance, what other people do, our health and so on. No wonder there is no certainty, and no wonder that our experience in samsara goes up and down. The twelve links of dependent arising describes how karma and confusion perpetuate samsara. When we understand karma deeply, then we understand how the whole mechanism of karma goes up and down, perpetuating itself, which is the all-encompassing problem.
The third thought that turns our mind to the Dharma gets us into the state of mind of understanding why there is this uncertainty. What will turn our minds to thinking that way? Awareness of death and impermanence. Our lifespan is uncertain. This is the second thought that turns our mind to the Dharma. If we take death and impermanence seriously, realizing that situations do not last on a gross level, then we can start to appreciate the teachings on karma, which show us the uncertainty of what happens from moment to moment.
What is going to bring us to think about death? Appreciating the life and opportunities that we have now: this precious human life. So, thinking about the precious human life that we have now is the first thought that turns our mind to the Dharma.
By working backwards in this way, we can see how each attitude arises from the previous one. One can explain it going from one to four in a logical sequence. But, since most of you have studied this already, I wanted to present it in reverse order to show how each thought depends on the previous one. In forward order, we think of our precious human life, that it is not going to last forever and that what happens after death, in future lives, depends on karma. Even if we are born in a favorable situation, there will be many problems. Realizing this, we want to get out of suffering. For that, we need conviction that the Dharma actually does teach the way out and that it is actually possible to achieve liberation from problems and enlightenment. That leads us to take safe direction and to develop bodhichitta, with which we dedicate ourselves completely to achieving enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone.
In reverse, as we have seen, in order to put safe direction and bodhichitta in our lives, we need conviction that it is possible to get rid of suffering and its causes. For that, we need to understand the nature of confusion and how understanding gets rid of confusion. For that, we need to recognize the difficulties in our life, the difficulties of samsara: the recurrence of problems and uncertainty. That uncertainty is because of karma. To start thinking in terms of uncertainty, we need first to think about it on the gross level of death. We would not worry about death, if we didn't think about the life that we have now with its opportunities and did not want to lose it.
Whether we look at these four thoughts in a progressive or a reverse sequence, they are very essential for helping us to become stable on the path so that we can be of more help to ourselves and more help to others.
Questions and Answers
Question: How does uncertainty fit into mundane concerns and thinking that if I could only have this or that, I would be happy?
Answer: It depends on what we think will bring us happiness. If we think, "If I could only gain enlightenment, I would be happy" it is different from thinking, "If I could only have the perfect partner, I would be happy forever and never have any suffering." If we are looking for the total removal of suffering, such that it never returns again, from chocolate, a partner, sex or whatever, then we are always going to be frustrated. However, if we acknowledge the ordinary type of happiness for what it is, then we can aim for it as a provisional goal. If we have a certain level of happiness, we can use it as a circumstance to go further on the path. That is why the initial scope of the lamrim graded path is aiming for a fortunate rebirth. We need general worldly happiness as a circumstance for working toward liberation and enlightenment. It all depends on recognizing our usual type of happiness for what it is and not inflating it. We need to have our feet on the ground.
It is quite helpful to work with these four thoughts. They are called preliminaries in the sense that they get us into an appropriate state of mind to be on the path very firmly, just as the preliminaries before class get us into an appropriate state of mind to listen to teachings. What does it mean to get onto the path of Dharma? We can talk about it in technical terms, but let's not talk about it on that level. To be on the path means to really be convinced in what we are doing and to have our hearts in it fully. Otherwise, we are not very stable. We may do it a little while as a hobby or because other people are doing it, but we are not really into it.
To be really into it requires a change of attitude. It requires a certain way of looking at life. It requires really seeing our life situation and acknowledging that there are problems and difficulties. It is important to appreciate our precious human life and to know that it is not going to last forever. Our life has problems and these problems come about basically because of confusion and karma. Even though we experience happiness in our lives, it is not really satisfying because it does not last and we cannot guarantee that we will stay in a good mood. It is not good enough to just be happy some of the time.
We may know that we get into dysfunctional relationships, but because they are exciting and fun in the beginning, we get into another one knowing that we or the other person will mess it up. And then we get into another and another. Eventually, we get tired of that and say, "I really want to stop this!" We become convinced that it is possible to stop it. Based on that conviction, we can realistically work toward stopping it.
While on the way, we need to try to gain temporary happiness, because it will make it easier to go on the path. But our experience will go up and down. Instead of constantly going out to find Prince and Princess Charming, we can get in some sort of relationship that is not going to be perfect -- it is never going to be perfect on this level -- and we can use that as the basis for working further. It is the same thing with money. If our entire lives are spent searching for more and more money, it is never-ending.
We do need a certain amount of material comfort to be able to live and likewise we need a certain level of affection, love and partnership in order to have the conducive circumstances to work on ourselves. The relationship with a partner is never going to be perfect. The amount of money in the bank will never be perfect. The amount of comfort that we have in our home will never be perfect. This is the problem of change. Working to try to make those perfect is just banging our heads against the wall. When we have enough of these things to be able to get on with our spiritual life, we need to get on with our spiritual life! The point is to use the imperfect level that we have to work toward something that we can realistically attain: the ultimate state. We can remove the confusion from our minds, and that means that we can eliminate suffering. That is what it is all about. In this way, we will be happy and we will be able to make others happy. Will we be more able to help others by always trying to get the perfect partner, or by working to get rid of our anger?
Let us end with a dedication. May whatever understanding we might have gained go deeper and deeper so that it slowly starts to make an impression on us and adds to our positive potentials so that we gradually start to see things in terms of these four thoughts. May we gradually become more stable in our safe direction in life so that we can eventually attain liberation and enlightenment for the benefit of everyone.


Transforming Problems
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

When talking about "Transforming Problems", I think you might prefer I talk more about rejecting problems, rather than transforming them. Our usual attitude is to reject problems, isn't it?
"I don't want problems! You can have them! It's not fair that I have problems. I shouldn't have problems. My life should be happy. The universe is unfair if I have problems. Something's wrong if I have problems. Everything should be perfect."
This is our usual attitude. Our usual attitude is one of rejecting problems, isn't it? "Problems should go away because the universe should treat me better."
Why? "Because I'm me! I'm important! I should be happy! The universe should treat me very well! Nobody should mistreat me. If I mistreat other people, it's because they deserved it. But nobody should mistreat me. Nobody should insult me. If I insult other people, it's because they were really creeps and made a mistake. Nobody should do that to me." My happiness is really important - much more important than anybody else's happiness. The universe should know that. Everybody should appreciate me - don't you think? Don't you think I'm the most important one in the universe?
Isn't this how we think? We're much too polite to admit it in public, but you know what I mean. This is really how we live our lives. So, our whole life we reject problems.
Something is wrong. When we have a problem, it's never our fault, is it? Have you ever started a fight? I mean, when there's a fight, it's always the other person's fault. Very clearly.
When there's a quarrel, it's never my fault; it's always the other person's fault. It's all these other people who are uncooperative, and obnoxious, domineering, bossy, and critical. Not me. "I was going through life minding my own business, completely kind-hearted, loving, compassionate to everybody. Then, all these mean people do all these awful things to me. It's unfair. It's terrible." Right?
I have a friend who teaches conflict management; dispute resolution. He often gives people a worksheet, to record a recent conflict they had, and to assess how they handled the conflict, and how the other person handled the conflict.
He said, "It's remarkable! All the people who were cooperative, kind, and harmonious, they all come to the conflict resolution workshop. But all the people who were disagreeable and quarrelsome - they never come."
According to the form - it's amazing, he said, all the people who come to him were those trying to solve the problems; who never start them. It's just remarkable.
This is kind of how we live our life, isn't it? Problems are never my doing, they're somebody else's doing. And you know - "That's because other people are idiots. They just don't know how to treat me properly."
Then we come to a Buddhist thing, and we hear, "Well, when you have problems; when you have suffering, it's due to your karma." And we go - "My karma?! I'm not doing anything wrong. Look at that guy! He's creating negative karma being mean to me. I didn't do anything wrong. This is unfair. I'm going to complain to the Chief of Karma, because I didn't create any negative karma. I mean, I'm just nice to everybody all the time." Right?
Me? "I never tell anybody off. I'm never judgmental. I'm never critical. I'm never hostile. I never lie to anybody. I never cheat anybody." Why is the world doing this to me?
And in my past lives, I'm sure I never did any of that. Never! "My past life, I was a Rinpoche. I was high. They just don't recognize who I am this lifetime. But I was very special in my previous life. Maybe not a Rinpoche, but I was very high, you know? I never created any bad karma. What are you talking about, 'it's my bad karma' when I have problems. Baloney!"
This is what we think, isn't it? We accept the Dharma when it's convenient for us. When we hear suffering comes from negative karma, we accept that so the person who's harming us gets it in their next lifetime! Then we believe in karma. But when we have a problem - to think it's because of what we did in our previous lifetime? Never! Never! And, certainly not this lifetime.
We're all right, aren't we? We're always right. When there's a conflict, we're always right. So there's no need to talk about 'Transforming Problems', because we're right. There's nothing to transform. "I'm right! You're wrong! You change!" Very easy. That's how we should solve problems.
We kind of go through our whole life with that attitude, don't we? When there's a problem: "I'm right, you're wrong. You should do something different. Me? I shouldn't. I'm just the innocent victim."
This attitude really compounds problems because every time we face some difficulty, first we reject the difficulty, and secondly, we blame it on the other person. Both of these typical behaviors and attitudes really increase problems. Because, when we reject a problem, then we're fighting the reality. The reality is - there's a problem. There's suffering. I have a problem. Something's not going right.
So, I think a lot of our mental suffering comes because we don't accept there is a problem, and we think the universe is being unfair and should be different. Our non-acceptance of the problem gives us more trouble than the problem itself. We get all tangled up in our thoughts about how it's unfair, it shouldn't happen, and blah, blah, blah, blah. Our non-acceptance makes it worse.
Blaming the problem on the other person increases the problem, too. Because, we can never control the other person, can we? The problem is the other person's fault - that means, I have no power. I have nothing to do, because I'm not involved in it at all. If the problem is entirely the other person's fault, then the only way to solve the problem is for the other person to change. But we can't make them change. And we try. We try very hard, don't we? It is very hard to make others change. We give them lots of advice. Especially our family members. So much advice - "You should do this, and you should do that; why don't you do this, and why don't you do that?" We give everybody advice, and they don't appreciate us. They tell us to mind our own business. We're just giving them advice about how they should improve and be happy… and they say, "Get off my case, I don't want to hear your advice!" And we reply, "Oh, but I was just trying to help you."
So this thing when we're always blaming the other person? When we have that attitude we very much give up our power and ability to do anything. We can't control the other person. We can't make them change.
We might be right. There might be a conflict, and we might be very right, and the other person might be wrong. But so what? Sometimes being right doesn't solve the conflict at all, does it? We can be very, very right and even the court system can agree that we're right and the other guy is wrong. But there's still conflict, and there's still unhappiness. Being right doesn't solve the conflict.
And rubbing it in to the other person, that we are right, doesn't solve the conflict either. And it doesn't make the other person change. Frequently, when we're right, we really rub it into the other person, don't we? Then, they feel hurt. They feel misunderstood. They feel rejected. And they become even more entrenched in their position than before. They're certainly not going to go out of their way to help us when we're rubbing it in that we're right and they're wrong.
So, often we have to give up this idea that just because we're right, everything should change, and the other person should do something differently. We might explain to them how their behavior is harmful and they should do things differently, and they have been doing it this way fifty or sixty years - fifty or sixty lifetimes, you know? They are not going to change right away. Sometimes we need to develop a little patience. Being right is not sufficient.
But it's hard, isn't it? When we can see very clearly what somebody's mistake is, and we know exactly how they should improve, and they don't do it, and we still have to live with them? We still have to live with them, don't we? We can't throw them in a garbage can. We try. But they're too big. They don't fit.
This is something hard about life. Especially when it happens in Buddhist centers, or at work, or in families - when there's conflict and we might be right, and we must accept that the other person is not going to change? Sometimes they don't know how to change. They don't know how to do something differently. They have this pattern, and that's the way it is. The only way for us to be happy is to accept them for what they are. What they are may not be what we want them to be. But surely, what we are isn't what they want us to be either. So we're kind of even, aren't we?
It's an interesting thing to play with - to think about conflicts in our own life; problems in our own life - to see how we always want the other person to change, because, "it's their fault." Then, to think, "Is it really realistic? Is that person going to change? Do they know how to change?"
If they're not going to change, then what can we do - spend the next ten years or the rest of our lives hating them? Quarrelling with them? Making everyone else in the family, or the Buddhist center, or on the job, miserable, because we're always arguing, because, "They don't change!"?
Whereas, if there is a way to accept the fact they aren't going to be who I want them to be… kind of an interesting thought, isn't it? Accepting people for what they are? Accepting they may not be what we want them to be?
It's hard, isn't it? Because, we feel, they really should be what we want them to be. They should! "How am I going to be happy if they aren't what I want them to be?" So, we go back and forth in this way. We truly have to work quite deeply with our mind, very hard with our mind, developing a kind of acceptance of people for what they are.
We also need to work very hard with looking at our own role in conflicts, acknowledging our own parts. This can often require accepting what we did in this lifetime to get involved in the conflict, and also considering what we did in previous lives may be involved.
When there is a conflict, there is more than one side, more than one person. How can we say it is always the other person's fault? If I was not there, there would not be a conflict. So, how did I get here? What am I doing? What did I do that bugged the other person so that they're acting like this? Maybe I did nothing. Maybe it's all coming from their side - in which case, then, it's due to my previous life's karma.
But, sometimes, looking in this lifetime we can see we haven't been the most considerate person to other people. They get angry and upset with something we've done, and we feel, well, "Why me? What did I do? I didn't do anything." Yet, if we look a bit closer, maybe we did.
Sometimes we did something without meaning to, and we were just careless, completely unaware. It's not that we're bad people. We're not careful, so we do something disturbing to somebody, and they get angry.
And at other times we do things and we kind of know it's going to bother the other person, don't we? It's the small things… we kind of do it, and try to slip by as if it were just an accident? But we know it's going to bug the other person. And we do this with the people we live with, the people we know very well. Because we know what bugs them, don't we? They know what bugs us; we know what bugs them.
Say, my husband's not paying enough attention to me… so I just do this little thing. It's very innocent. But he gets mad, and I go, "What did I do? You're always so irritable! Why are you behaving like this? You don't love me?"
But if we look closely, we know what we're doing. We know how to push their buttons. And, so sometimes, part of our mind deliberately pushes other people's buttons. Because then they pay attention to us. Finally my husband stops reading the newspaper and looks at me!
Thus, often it's worthwhile to think in a situation, "Did I do something carelessly, or maybe with my own rather manipulative mind wanting to irritate the other person?" In this case I should own up to it, and acknowledge my role in the conflict. Then, seeing how our own energy, in this lifetime, was involved in the conflict, that gives us some ability to actually transform the problem. We see what we could do differently. "If I were more careful, if I didn't deliberately push that person's button, then some of these conflicts wouldn't happen."
Now, especially in families, there are repeated conflicts. Have you ever noticed we fight about the same things all the time in the family? It's like, "Okay, we're going to have Fight Number Five. Put in that video!" Now, we have the five standard fights - we lack creativity. We can't think of something new to fight about. It's the same old thing… 25 years, we're fighting over the same stuff. And it's the same with our parents and our kids, isn't it? Same old spats, again and again, and again. It's real boring, isn't it? Boring. We know precisely what's going to happen - we're going to say this; they're going to say that - you could almost write a script for it. It's true, isn't it? We could write a script: "Okay… you're lying…"
It would be good to trade roles, then... "Okay, Fight Number Five. You play me and I'll play you, and then, let's go do it!" Because, the fight is so old hat. We've done it again and again. "So, let's switch roles this time, okay? You be the one who wants to spend the money, and I'll be the one who wants to save the money. Let's do it differently this time!"
This is why it's so interesting - seeing what our role is in this lifetime, how we get involved; then also, recognizing the karmic effects from our previous lifetime. There are many times we don't deliberately antagonize someone, we really are minding our own business, and someone gets all bent out of shape over something we do, and they really rip into us. And, it's like, "Wooo...what's happening here?"
Often, if we look closely, the other person is acting out of their own pain and unhappiness, and confusion. It doesn't really have so much to do with us.
But we take it personally anyway, don't we? Often, what the other person is doing when really dumping on us - when they're critical, speaking harshly, they're making a stronger statement about themselves than about us. They're actually saying, "I'm unhappy," or, "I'm confused," or, "I'm miserable." But, we don't hear that message. We only hear, "Get off my toes! What are you doing to me?!"
Then, it's often effective to step back and think, "Why is this person doing this? What are they really trying to say? What's motivating them?" And that approach helps us to develop some compassion towards them.
Considering our previous life's karma is involved can be very helpful, too. Especially when somebody criticizes us and we feel, "I really didn't do anything." It's helpful to think, "Well, maybe in previous lives, I criticized somebody."
Look at us! We've all hurt others' feelings. We've all criticized others. We've lied. We've stolen. Ten non-virtuous acts? We've all done them! We know everything about each other. We've all done this - in previous lives especially, we've had lots of time for training in non-virtue. No, not so much training for virtue in previous lives… otherwise, we wouldn't be here. You know? Very good practice in non-virtue. So, of course, this lifetime we have some problems. It's no big surprise. Is it? It's really no big surprise.
I find this way of thinking very, very helpful for situations when I feel I had no intention of starting a conflict, and yet here's this whole horrible thing happening. If I think, obviously, in previous lives I did something, and here it is, and it's ripening, then I accept it.
I accept it. It's ripening. I got myself into this situation. Now, my job is to ensure I don't create more negative karma. Because clearly the problem now is due to a previous life's karma. So, at least let's not create more negative karma, and we can avoid perpetuating the same thing again.
But, what often happens, how do we react when we have a problem? We get angry, don't we? Or, we get very attached. We have a problem, so we cling to something because we feel insecure. Or, we want to strike back at whatever is causing our problem. Yet, when we react to problems with clinging, or anger, what we do is create karmic imprints for problems in future lives. And we continue the cycle.
Personally, I find it helpful to think, "Okay. This is a result of my previous life karma. No sense getting attached. No sense getting angry. Here it is. It's happening, folks. I just have to live through it. I must do as best I can to make the best of this situation."
It's often quite helpful when recognizing the problem as due to karma, to transform that problem, saying, "Okay. This is the challenge." Instead of rejecting the problem, say, "This situation is a challenge for me to grow." Our problems are challenges for us to grow, aren't they? They really are. Often, if we look back over our life, we see the times when we've grown the most are those times we've had lots of problems. Can you look back at times when you've had problems, really painful times in your life, and look at yourself now, seeing how you are as a result of having had that experience?
And sure, it was painful. It was awful. But it's over now. It doesn't exist anymore. We lived through it. And, we actually grew in some ways. Because, in particular, when things are really a challenge, when everything seems to be falling apart around us, then, that's an excellent opportunity to find our own inner resources, and the support of our community, or within our Dharma friends in the broader society.
So, when we have problems, there really is a lot of opportunity for growth. If we take that opportunity. If we avoid retreating into our old patterns, like getting angry, or feeling sorry for ourselves.
We fall so easily into our old patterns of self-pity, or lashing out and dumping on the other person. But when we do, we never grow. We completely ignore the whole opportunity for growth that this problem is presenting. We just do the same old thing again and again. And the curious thing is, the same old thing never makes us happy, does it? We have these old behaviors for handling problems, and they never work. Say there's a conflict, and I'm so mad; and what's my typical behavior? "I'm so mad at you that I'm not going to talk to you! Chao!" I shut down, completely. I will not talk to you. I walk out of the room when you come in. I look away. I go to my room feeling sorry for myself, and angry at you.
And we think this is going to make us happy. So we keep doing it. And, we feel miserable.
So, I believe it's very important for us to identify our old habits, our old patterns, do some serious reflection, while asking, "Do these old patterns and habits make me happy? Do they actually resolve the conflict?"
Or, do we get unhappier because of the way we're handling the conflict? I say, "I'm so mad, so I won't talk to you!" Then, I complain how we're not communicating. Isn't that it? They respond, "Well how can I communicate when you won't talk to me?" And we bark, "Well, you should find a way, because it's all your fault, anyway!"
Consequently, it's extremely helpful to try a new way of looking at a situation, and to try a new kind of behavior.
My friend who teaches conflict management says, sometimes when you feel really stuck in a problem, do exactly what you don't want to do. He says, sometimes you need to break that pattern, break that cycle. Do the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. So, if you're so angry you don't want to talk to the other person, then maybe the challenge is to go and talk to them. Or, if we're so mad that we want to talk and never want to listen, then perhaps the thing to do is be quiet and listen.
Often, it's quite helpful to realize, "Hey, here's my old pattern, this is how I usually handle it. I've tried that before, and it doesn't work. How could I think differently? How could I behave differently?" Then we can develop some creativity with the situation. Play with it. "Well, what would happen if I did this? What would result if I looked at it this way?" So, instead of the situation seeming so solid, so concrete, so terrible, we develop some creativity to handle it in a new way.
Now, someone might say, "But some situations are so awful, how can we see them in a new way?" Or, "Someone in my family is dying, and you talk about an opportunity to see problems in a new way? What do you mean? There's only one possible way for me to behave, and that is to go crazy! I have to go crazy with grief because this person I love is dying… there is no alternative!"
This is how we think at times. We get all wrapped up in our grief, totally bogged down and tied up. But, when we think there is but one way to handle it, we miss out on everything the situation has to offer. If it's true someone we love is dying, it may be we can do nothing to prevent it. That is the reality. But, they have not died yet. And maybe during the time we still have, we can really communicate. Maybe we can say a lot of the things we have failed to say to each other before. Perhaps we can share something very deep and meaningful. As long as there is life, there is still a lot of potential and richness in how you can relate, and what you can share with another.
Thus, it is significant to stop and question ourselves, to see the potential in situations, and get away from locking ourselves into the belief that there is but one way to feel, one way to act. There is always a choice. The thing is, you know, do we take this choice?
Think about how to apply these approaches to problems in your own life. Because if you do this, then the Dharma will become really tasty, very meaningful. But if you simply listen to the Dharma and think of it abstractly… "Oh, she's talking about problems 'out there'; other people's problems," then, you never taste it. We must look at the Dharma in terms of our own life; bringing it to bear on our own actions.
There are situations where we have a problem, and, perhaps, we blame ourselves. We are very good at that, too, aren't we? We can really get into that one…"It's all my fault. Something is wrong with me. I'm terrible. I'm this awful person! Look at me! Oh, nobody can love me. I'm horrible. I did it again!"
It's called the "Beat-myself-up" syndrome. And we do it very, very well. Very well. But this is that same faulty way of thinking, that when there's a problem it comes only from one cause. It's like blaming the other person, but in this case the 'other person' is yourself. It's the same narrow way of thinking. Except, it's fascinating, in that it's really a way of making ourselves extremely important. "The whole thing collapsed because of me. I'm such an idiot; I'm so incompetent, I make the entire project a disaster." Or, "The whole family is in turmoil, all because of me."
We're very important, then, aren't we? Extremely important. So it's very curious how, when we get into this performance of blaming ourselves, and feeling guilty, and self-hatred. It's actually a rather contorted way our self-cherishing mind has of making us extremely important.
It's so strange. I find we often fail to do things that are our responsibility, thinking they are someone else's responsibility. And things that are not our responsibility, we accept responsibility for, and blame ourselves. It's very, very interesting. Very curious. And, I think, parents do this a lot.
When your child has a problem, you think, "It's my fault. I should protect my child from every single problem in this universe. " Parents love their children. Their children are helpless. So, it's, "I should protect my child from every problem." The kid is 25 years old, and he stubs his toe - "It's my fault!" Or, my boy's 35 and fighting with his colleague - "It's my fault." We blame ourselves for all sorts of things that are not our fault at all. They're someone else's responsibility.
This is quite thought-provoking. I think we need to go back and do a lot of meditation on this, reflecting on what it means to be responsible, and what things are our responsibility, and what are not? And, when things are my responsibility, am I the only person playing a role in this, or does it have something to do with another person? This concept of blaming ourselves is very lop-sided. We are not the only one making this whole world go wrong. There are other factors in the situation.
Now sometimes, it's true, people have had a negative experience in the past, and we do something similar to what occurred to them before. So they get really, really defensive. We can't understand why. So it's often wise just to cool down, and recognize you need not take this so personally. This person isn't really attacking you. They are attacking the past experience. That isn't your responsibility. You are only responsible for what you said, or did, to trigger the problem. If their reaction is way out of proportion, if they are unhappy and something else is going on with them, then maybe you need to ask some questions. Give them a chance to express themselves. Help them discover what's really at the root of the situation, and what is really bugging them.
I have had that happen to me. Once I did something, not intending to start a conflict, and this other person was so angry they told me off for, like, 45 minutes over the phone. I mean, I'm glad they were paying for it. No… it's a local call. Maybe that's why it lasted so long? If it was long distance, maybe they wouldn't have talked that long?
Anyway, they totally dumped on me. It was incredible, and over this small thing. But, seeing this person's reaction was well out of proportion to what was going on, I just kind of sat there, listening. I didn't need to take it personally. Something was going on with this person and they really needed to unload. And now, when I see this person, everything is fine. There was no residual hangover from that conflict.
Perhaps we might see somebody doing something negative, say, catching fish, or something like that. How can we convince them? Well, frequently we aren't in a position to convince them. Sometimes it's better to say nothing. As long as sentient beings have a garbage mind, they are going to kill. I mean, when you get angry, is it the lama's fault he can't control your mind?
When you get angry, if someone comes along and says, "Jangchub, don't get angry," do you say, "Oh yes, I'll listen to you. You're right."? No. You say, "No, I'm angry for a reason! You be quiet!" Look at us. Other people offer us advice. We don't listen, do we? Not very carefully.
But sometimes when somebody's doing something negative, we can want to intervene out of compassion. And sometimes we want to intervene out of a sense of being self-righteous. These are two very different motivations. We really must distinguish between the two. It's very easy, when we're self-righteous, to think we're being compassionate. But we aren't compassionate, we're all puffed up with ourselves. Then it's, "I know good ethics. I know good karma. You're doing it wrong! You should listen to me because I'm morally superior. I know more about Dharma. You should listen to me and follow my example!"
We don't actually say it like that, because we would look bad. But that is what we're thinking. We're being very proud and self-righteous. We're not helping anyone. We're just acting out of our own garbage mind.
That's very different than seeing somebody doing something negative, and having true compassion for them, as well as for whoever they're harming - two completely different motivations, even though the action may seem the same.
We must look beyond the action and at the motivation.
In the place I live in the States, there is a lake nearby. I sometimes walk around, and I'll see people fishing. When I see them pull up a fish, it's very painful for me. I want to go to that person and say, "Please, put the fish back and don't do this." But, I know that's not a skilful way to handle the situation. They're not going to listen. They're more likely to get angry and probably think negatively of me and about Buddhism. And they're still going to kill the fish.
I'm not the right person in that situation to help them, and it's not a situation where I can really help.
I can do nothing directly, so in my heart I make prayers. When I see the fishermen out there, I pray they don't catch any fish. I do! I don't tell them I'm praying this. And, when they do catch a fish, I do the taking and giving meditation. I really pray, "Can this person in some future time meet the Dharma and begin to see the error in what they are doing, and correct it."
But, you see, it's significant, when we see people doing negative things, occasionally we are the right person and it's the right situation, and we can intervene. And sometimes we should not.
It's also important to remember to check our own behavior; look at our own mind, checking our motivation, ensuring we are acting out of a true heart of kindness.
Now let's consider someone who's blaming themselves for having done something wrong. Again, what we can do depends on the situation and our relationship with that person. Sometimes the best we can do is to listen to them. Let them talk. Help them by asking questions. Help them realize all the responsibility does not fall on their shoulders.
Sometimes that's not the best way to handle it. Sometimes if the person feels very bad for having done something, then it's helpful to encourage them to do some purification practice. Then, either teach them some purification practice or introduce them to a teacher who can. So, it depends much on the situation.
Question & Answer Session
Q: Can the masters take away the bad karma of their disciples?
If they could, they would have already. Isn't it true? The Buddha is so compassionate, if the Buddha could have taken away all of our bad karma, the Buddha would have done it already. Our teachers are very compassionate. If they could take away our bad karma, they would have done it.
The way our teachers intercede and help us is by teaching us the Dharma. They can't take away our bad karma, like washing the dirt off our hands. They can't do that. But they can teach us how to wash the dirt off our own hands. Our teachers help us to take away our negative karma by teaching us the Dharma. Then, by practicing the Dharma, we are able to purify our own mind. No one else can purify our mind for us. We must do that for ourselves. Nobody can generate realizations on the path for us. We have to do that for ourselves. But our teachers can help us, and that is why we need teachers.
Q: How do we apply the notion of emptiness to transforming problems?
It is very interesting, this potential of applying emptiness to a problem. There are many ways to do this.
Often when we think, "I have a problem," we think, "Oh, everything is so heavy! The whole notion of my problem is heavy. My problem is very concrete. It's very real. It's so real I can almost touch it. I mean, "This is my problem! It's there!"
It's very helpful at that point, to ask ourselves, "What is this problem? Where is this problem?" Because our idea is, "I have this problem," as if it's this real thing, almost physical. So where is it? Is the problem inside me? Is the problem inside you? Is it in the space between us? Is the problem the sound waves that are going back and forth between us? Is the problem my ideas? Your ideas? Where are my ideas? Where are your ideas? Where is the problem, really?
It's very interesting when we start analyzing and ask, "What really is a problem; where is this problem?" All of a sudden this problem that seemed so real, so concrete, somehow disintegrates a little. We can't find it. It doesn't seem so concrete anymore, because we can't find where it is. So, that is one way of applying the idea of emptiness to transforming problems.
And when we have a problem, we also have a strong sense of "I", don't we? "I hurt. I have a problem." When we have a problem, the "I", the sense of self is extremely strong. "This is my problem!"
The self is very real. Anything happening to the self is much more important than what happens to others. So there's a very strong sense of a self that is suffering at this point. Then, it's a very interesting experiment, too, to hold onto that strong sense of self that is being treated so unjustly, and that is suffering, and with another part of the mind, ask ourselves, "Who's suffering? Who's the one who has the problem?"
The self with the problem seemed really solid. So if there were really a solid self with a problem, we should be able to find that person. "Who is it? Who has the problem? Who is in pain? Is it my body? Is it my mind? Which thought? Which part of my body? Which part of my mind?" And again, this seemingly very solid self with a problem, can't be found. The idea of this tangible self starts to evaporate. This is another way to apply the meditation on emptiness.
Q: When we have a problem, it has been said we can pray to our Guru and receive some blessings. Where do these blessings come from?
So…I have a problem, and I pray, "Lama, help me!", then my lama comes with a magic wand, waves it, and "Boing!" Then it's, "Ah…bliss!" Is that what happens?
When I pray, "Lama, help me!", and I don't get bliss afterwards, does that mean something's wrong with my lama? He's off duty?
No. When they say "receiving the blessing" or "receiving the inspiration", what this means is that our mind is transformed. It's not some real, solid, concrete thing coming from the lama and going "boing" and we got it, okay? What is very often happening, I think, is very different, and it depends on how we pray to the Buddha, or to our lamas.
We might pray, "Buddha, please make this problem go away." And, that is not the right way to pray. We should pray, "Buddha, please help me to find my inner strength and resources to deal with this problem, and transform it into the path to enlightenment."
Now, when we transform a problem, it ceases to be a problem. And we transform it by changing our attitude. So depending on how we pray, and depending on our attitude when our mind is transformed, that is called receiving the blessings. Sometimes maybe, some energy from the lama is happening at that time. But often, because we've previously heard teachings, when we pray, "Please help me find my internal strengths and resources…," this opens our mind to recalling what our lama has taught. And when we remember, we begin applying them, and our mind gets transformed. But sometimes, unless we pray properly, we don't remember the teachings, so we don't use them.
You might need to observe your own mind, and what occurs when you pray, and as a result of it - and how that helps your mind. Think about what receiving the blessing means from your own experience.
But receiving the blessing is not something the lama does - it's not like, "Oh here, have a blessing." Because sometimes our minds are very fertile and are easily transformed. And sometimes our minds are like a rock. At times we could sit in front of Shakyamuni Buddha himself, and if our mind is like a rock, nothing is going in. We're going to be cynical, bitter, and sarcastic, even sitting in front of Shakyamuni Buddha.
That isn't the Buddha's fault. Our not receiving the inspiration isn't the Buddha's problem. It's because our mind is so obscured by negative karma, there is no space. So we need to do some purification. Purification is very important.


What is the role of prayer? Can prayers be answered?

There are many kinds of prayers. Some are designed to direct our minds toward a certain spiritual quality or aim, inspiring our mind to work to develop it and thus creating the cause for us to attain this. An example is praying to be more
tolerant and compassionate toward others. Other prayers are for specific people or situations, for example praying for a person's illness to be cured or for that person's mind to be peaceful and his life meaningful in spite of the illness.
For any prayer to be fulfilled, prayer alone isn't sufficient. The appropriate causes must also be created. We can't simply think, "Please, Buddha, make this and that happen. I'll relax and have tea while you do the work!" For example, if we pray to be more loving and compassionate and yet make no effort to control our anger, we aren't creating the cause for that prayer to be fulfilled. The transformation of our minds comes from our own effort, but we can pray for the Buddhas' inspiration to do so.
Receiving the blessings of the Buddhas doesn't mean that something tangible comes from the Buddha and goes into us. It means that our minds are transformed through the combined effort of the teachings, the guidance of the
Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and our own practice. "Requesting the Buddhas'blessings" has the connotation of requesting to be inspired by them so that our minds and actions are transformed and become more beneficial.
Some Buddhist practitioners seek to be born in a pure land in their next life because all the conditions there are conducive for Dharma practice and developing wisdom and compassion are comparatively easy. But we cannot pray to be born in a pure land and expect the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to
make it happen! We must also make effort to actualize the teachings by not selfishly clinging to worldly pleasures and by generating compassion and an understanding of emptiness. If we do our part, then praying will have a profound effect on our minds. On the other hand, if we make no attempt to
correct our harmful habits and if our minds are distracted while we pray, the effect is minimal.
Some people pray for another's sickness to be cured, for the family finances to improve, or for a deceased relative to have a good rebirth. For these things to occur, the other people involved must have created the necessary causes. If they have, our prayers provide the condition for the seed of constructive actions they did in the past to ripen into that result. However, if they haven't created the causal seeds through their own positive past actions, it's difficult for
our prayers to be fulfilled. We can put fertilizer and water on the ground, but if the farmer hasn't planted the seed, nothing will grow.
When the Buddha described the working of cause and effect in our mindstreams, he said that killing causes us to have short lives or much illness. Abandoning killing and saving the lives of others causes us to have a long life, free from illness. If we neglect to follow this basic advice and yet pray for a long
and healthy life, we have missed the point! On the other hand, if we abandon killing and save lives, prayers can help those positive seeds to ripen.
In addition, the Buddha said generosity is the cause of wealth. If we have been generous in a past life and now pray for our wealth to increase, our finances could improve. Yet, if we are miserly now, we are creating the cause for poverty,
not wealth, in the future. In this case, no matter how much we pray to be financially comfortable, our actions are creating the cause for the opposite result. Instead we need to cultivate generosity helping those in need and sharing what we have.


The Wheel of Sharp Weapons:
A Mahayana Cleansing of Attitudes

(Theg-pa chen-po'i blo-sbyong mtshon-cha 'khor-lo) by Dharmarakshita
translated by Alexander Berzin and Sharpa Tulku,
together with Jonathan Landaw and Khamlung Tulku,
based on an oral explanation by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, 1973

Reprint edition, with commentary by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, published as:
Dharmarakshita. The Wheel of Sharp Weapons. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 1981.

The name of this work is The Wheel of Sharp Weapons Effectively Striking the Heart of the Foe.
I pay heartfelt homage to you, Yamantaka;
Your wrath is opposed to the Great Lord of Death.[1]

(1) In jungles of poisonous plants strut the peacocks,
Though medicine gardens of beauty lie near.
The masses of peacocks don't find gardens pleasant,
But thrive on the essence of poisonous plants.

(2) In similar fashion, [2] the brave bodhisattvas
Remain in the jungle of worldly concern.
No matter how joyful this world's pleasure gardens,
These brave ones are never attracted to pleasures,
But thrive in the jungle of suffering and pain.
(3) We spend our whole lives in the search for enjoyment,
Yet tremble with fear at the mere thought of pain;
Thus since we are cowards, we are miserable still.
But the brave bodhisattvas accept suffering gladly
And gain from their courage a true lasting joy.
(4) Now, [3] desire is the jungle of poisonous plants here.[4]
Only brave ones, like peacocks, can thrive on such fare.
If cowardly beings, like crows, were to try it,
Because they are greedy, they might lose their lives.[5]
(5) How can someone who cherishes self more than others
Take lust and such dangerous poisons for food?
If he tried like a crow to use other delusions, [6]
He would probably forfeit his chance for release.
(6) And thus bodhisattvas are likened to peacocks:
They live on delusions - those poisonous plants.
Transforming them into the essence of practice,
They thrive in the jungle of everyday life.
Whatever is presented, they always accept,
While destroying the poison of clinging desire.
(7) Uncontrollable wandering through rounds of existence
Is caused by our grasping at egos as real.
This ignorant attitude heralds the demon
Of selfish concern for our welfare alone:
We seek some security for our own egos;
We want only pleasure and shun any pain.
But now, we must banish all selfish compulsion
And gladly take hardship for all others' sake.
(8) All of our sufferings derive from our habits
Of selfish delusions we heed and act out.
As all of us share in this tragic misfortune,
Which stems from our narrow and self-centered ways,
We must take all our sufferings and the miseries of others
And smother our wishes of selfish concern.
(9) Should the impulse arise now to seek our own pleasure,
We must turn it aside to please others instead;
For even if loved ones should rise up against us,
We must blame our self-interest and feel it's our due.
(10) When our bodies are aching and racked with great torment
Of dreadful diseases we cannot endure,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have injured the bodies of others;
Hereafter let's take on what sickness is theirs.
(11) Depressed and forlorn, when we feel mental anguish,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have deeply disturbed minds of others;
Hereafter let's take on this suffering ourselves.
(12) When hunger or violent thirst overwhelms us,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have kept what we had without sharing;
We have plundered and stolen and lured people on.
Hereafter let's take from them hunger and thirst.
(13) When we lack any freedom, but must obey others,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have looked down on those who were lowly
And used them as servants for our own selfish needs;
Hereafter let's offer our service to others
With humble devotion of body and life.
(14) When we hear only language that is foul and abusive,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have said many things without thinking;
We have slandered and caused many friendships to end.
Hereafter let's censure all thoughtless remarks.
(15) When we are born in oppressive and wretched conditions,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have always had negative outlooks;
We have criticized others, seeing only their flaws.
Hereafter let's cultivate positive feelings
And view our surroundings as stainless and pure.
(16) When we are parted from friends and from those who can help us,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have taken the friends and good servants
Of others away, wanting them for ourselves;
Hereafter let's never cause close friends to part.
(17) When supreme holy gurus find us displeasing,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have turned from the gurus and teachings,
Preferring the counsel of misleading friends;
Hereafter let's end our dependent relations
With those who would turn us away from the path.
(18) When unjustly we are blamed for the misdeeds of others,
And are falsely accused of flaws that we lack,
And are always the object of verbal abuse,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've despised and belittled our gurus;
Hereafter let's never accuse others falsely,
But give them full credit for virtues they have.
(19) When the things we require for daily consumption
And use, fall apart or are wasted or spoilt,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've been careless with others' possessions;
Hereafter let's give them whatever they need.
(20) When our minds are unclear and our hearts are unhappy,
We are bored doing virtue but excited by vice,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've led others to acts of nonvirtue;
Hereafter let's never provide the conditions
That rouse them to follow their negative traits.
(21) When our minds are disturbed and we feel great frustration
That things never happen the way that we wish,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have caused interfering disturbance
When others were focused on virtuous acts;
Hereafter let's stop causing such interruption.
(22) When nothing we do ever pleases our gurus,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now with our gurus we have feigned pious manners,
But out of their presence have reverted to sin.
Hereafter let's try to be less hypocritical
And take all the teachings sincerely to heart.
(23) When others find fault with whatever we're doing
And people seem eager to blame only us,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've been shameless, not caring about others,
We have thought that our deeds didn't matter at all,
Hereafter let's stop our offensive behavior.
(24) When our servants and friends are annoyed by our habits,
And after a while cannot stay in our homes,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've imposed our bad habits on others;
Hereafter let's change and show only kind ways.
(25) When all who are close turn against us as enemies,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've held grudges inside us with anger
With thoughts of sly methods to cause others pain;
Hereafter let's try to have less affectation,
Nor pretend to be kind while we harbor base aims.
(26) When we suffer from sickness and such interference,
Especially when gout has swollen our legs,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now without shame and with no self-control
We have stolen or misused what others have given;
Hereafter let's never take anything offered
To the Three Jewels of Refuge [7] as if it were ours.
(27) When strokes and diseases strike without warning,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have broken our vowed words of honor; [8]
Hereafter, let's shun such nonvirtuous deeds.
(28) When our mind becomes clouded whenever we study,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have thought that the study of Dharma
Lacked prime importance and could be ignored;
Hereafter let's build up the habits of wisdom
To listen and think about what Buddha taught.
(29) When sleep overwhelms us while practicing virtue,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have gathered the causes for obstacles
Hindering our practice of virtuous acts.
(We have lacked all respect for the scriptural teachings;
We have sat on our books and left texts on the ground.
We have also looked down upon those with deep insight.)
Hereafter for the sake of our practice of Dharma
Let's gladly endure all the hardships we meet.
(30) When our mind wanders greatly and runs towards delusion,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have neglected to meditate fully
On defects pervading this transient world;
Hereafter let's work to renounce this existence
(And see the impermanent nature of things).
(31) When all our affairs, both religious and worldly,
Run into trouble and fall into ruin,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have felt cause and effect [9] could be slighted;
Hereafter let's practice with patience and strength.
(32) When rites we perform never seem to be fruitful,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have relied on the gods of this world
Or on unskillful actions to bring us relief;
Hereafter let's turn in another direction
And leave our nonvirtuous actions behind.
(33) When none of the wishes we make reach fulfillment,
Although we've made prayers to the Three Precious Gems,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have had an imperfect commitment
To Buddha whose teachings deserve complete trust;
Hereafter let's place our exclusive reliance
On Buddha, his teachings and those in his fold.
(34) When prejudice, polio or strokes have us crippled
And external forces or harm rise against us,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have collected vast stores of nonvirtue
By breaking our vows and offending protectors
In our practice from guru-devotion to tantra; [10]
Hereafter let's banish all prejudiced views.
(35) When we lack all control over where we must travel
And always must wander like waifs with no home,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've disturbed holy gurus and others
And forced them to move from their homes or their seats;
Hereafter let's never cause others disturbance
By evicting them cruelly from where they reside.
(36) When the crops in our fields are continually plagued
By drought, floods and hailstones, insects and frost,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have failed to honor our pledges;
Hereafter let's keep all our moral vows pure.
(37) When we're poor, yet are filled with much greed and desire,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've been misers, reluctant to share.
The offerings we've made to the Three Jewels were meager;
Hereafter let's give with a generous heart.
(38) When our bodies are ugly and others torment us
By mocking our flaws, never showing respect,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've made images [11] lacking in beauty,
By venting our anger, we've made ugly scenes;
Hereafter let's print books and make pleasing statues,
And not be short-tempered, but be of good cheer.
(39) When attachment and anger disturb and upset us
No matter how much we may try to suppress them,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've held on to the improper outlook,
Stubbornly cherishing only ourselves;
Hereafter let's uproot self-interest completely.
(40) When success in our practices always eludes us,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now, deep within, we have clung to our ego,
Fully immersed in self-cherishing ways;
Hereafter let's dedicate all of the virtuous
Actions we do, so that others may thrive.
(41) When our mind is untamed though we act with great virtue,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have engaged in those worldly ambitions
That aim at success for ourselves in this life;
Hereafter let's work with pure one-pointed effort
To nourish the wish to gain freedom's far shore.
(42) When after we do any virtuous action
We feel deep regret or we doubt its effect,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've been fickle and, stirred by base motives,
Have courted just those who have power or wealth;
Hereafter let's act with complete self-awareness,
Exerting great care in the way we make friends.
(43) When those with ambition repay trusting friendship
By luring us on with their devious schemes,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now from ambition we have acted with arrogance,
Hereafter let's dampen our self-centered pride.
(44) When the force of attraction or that of repulsion
Colors whatever we hear or we say,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've ignored what has caused all our troubles:
The mass of delusion that dwells in our heart;
Hereafter let's try to abandon all hindrances:
Note their arising, examine them well.
(45) When no matter how well-meant our actions toward others,
They always elicit a hostile response,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we've repaid loving-kindness with malice;
Hereafter let's always accept others' favors
Both graciously and with most humble respect.
(46) In short then, whenever unfortunate sufferings
We haven't desired crash upon us like thunder,
This is the same as the smith who had taken
His life with a sword he had fashioned himself.
Our suffering's the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done. [12]
Hereafter let's always have care and awareness
Never to act in nonvirtuous ways.
(47) All of the sufferings that we have endured
In the lives we have led in the three lower states, [13]
As well as our pains of the present and future,
Are the same as the case of the forger of arrows
Who later was killed by an arrow he'd made.
Our suffering's the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Hereafter let's always have care and awareness
Never to act in nonvirtuous ways.
(48) When the troubles and worries of family life grieve us,
This is the same as the case of a child,
Who was cared for with love, later killing his parents.
Our suffering's the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Hereafter it's fitting in all of our lifetimes
For us to live purely as monks or as nuns.
(49) As it's true what I've said about self-centered interest,
I recognize clearly my enemy now.
I recognize clearly the bandit who plunders,
The liar who lures by pretending he's part of me;
Oh what relief that I've conquered this doubt!
(50) And so Yamantaka, spin round with great power
The wheel of sharp weapons of good actions now.
Three times turn it round, [14] in your wrathful-like aspect
Your legs set apart for the two grades of truth,
With your eyes blazing open for wisdom and means.
(51) Baring your fangs of the four great opponents, [15]
Devour the foe - our cruel selfish concern!
With your powerful mantra [16] of cherishing others,
Demolish this enemy lurking within!
(52) Frantically running through life's tangled jungle,
We are chased by sharp weapons of wrongs we have done
Returning upon us; we are out of control.
This sly, deadly villain - the selfishness in us,
Deceiving ourselves and all others as well
Capture him, capture him, fierce Yamantaka,
Summon this enemy, bring him forth now!
(53) Batter him, batter him, rip out the heart
Of our grasping for ego, our love for ourselves!
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern!
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release!
(54) Hum! Hum! Show all your powers, O mighty protector.
Dza! Dza! Tie up this enemy; do not let him loose.
P'at! P'at! [17] Set us free by your might, O great Lord over Death.
Cut! Cut! Break the knot of self-interest that binds us inside.
(55) Appear Yamantaka, O wrathful protector;
I have further entreaties to make of you still.
This sack of five poisons, [18] mistakes and delusion
Drags us down in the quicksand of life's daily toil
Cut it off, cut it off, rip it to shreds!
(56) We are drawn to the sufferings of miserable rebirths,
Yet mindless of pain, we go after its cause.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(57) We have high expectations of speedy attainments,
Yet do not wish to work at the practice involved.
We have many fine projects we plan to accomplish,
Yet none of them ever are done in the end.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(58) Our wish to be happy is strong at all times,
Yet we don't gather merit to yield this result.
We have little endurance for hardship and suffering,
Yet ruthlessly push for the things we desire.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(59) With comparative ease, we develop new friendships,
Yet since we are callous, not one of them lasts.
We are filled with desire for food and fine clothing,
Yet failing to earn them, we steal and we scheme.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(60) We are experts at flattering others for favors,
Yet always complaining, we are sad and depressed.
The money we have gathered we cannot bear to part with;
Like misers we hoard it and feel we are poor.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(61) We have done very little to benefit someone,
Yet always remind him how much we have done.
We have never accomplished a thing in our lifetime
Yet, boasting and bragging, we are filled with conceit.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(62) We have many great masters and teachers to guide us,
Yet, shirking our duty, ignore what they teach.
We have many disciples, yet don't ever help them;
We cannot be bothered to give them advice.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(63) We promise to do many glorious deeds,
Yet in practice we give others minimal help.
Our spiritual fame has been spread far and wide,
Yet inwardly all of our thoughts are repulsive
Not only to gods, but to demons and ghosts.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(64) We have read very little, heard only a few teachings,
Yet talk with authority expertly on voidness.
Our knowledge of scriptures is pitifully lacking,
Yet glibly we make up and say what we like.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(65) We have many attendants and people around us,
Yet no one obeys us nor heeds what we say.
We feel we have friends in positions of power,
Yet should we need help, we are left on our own.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(66) We have gained lofty status and ranks of prestige.
Yet our knowledge is poorer than that of a ghost.
We are considered great gurus, yet even the demons
Don't harbor such hatred or clinging desire
Or as closed-minded an outlook as we seem to have.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(67) We talk about theories and the most advanced teachings,
Yet our everyday conduct is worse than a dog's.
We are learned, intelligent, versed in great knowledge,
Yet cast to the wind wisdom's ethical base.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(68) We have selfish desires and horrible anger
Which fester inside us, we would never admit;
Yet without provocation we criticize others
And self-righteously charge them with faults we possess.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(69) We wear robes of saffron, yet seek our protection
And refuge in spirits and gods of this world.
We have promised to keep solemn vows of strict morals,
Yet our actions accord with the demons' foul ways.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(70) Our pleasure and happiness come from the Buddhas,
The gurus, the teachings, and those who live by them,
Yet still we make offerings to ghosts and the spirits.
All of our guidance derives from the teachings,
And yet we deceive those who give this advice.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(71) We seek to have homes in monastic seclusion
Yet, drawn by distractions, we venture to town.
Discourses we hear teach us most noble practice,
Yet we spend all our time telling fortunes with dice.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(72) We give up monks' vows, the true path to gain freedom;
We would rather be married, have children and homes.
We cast to the wind this rare chance to be happy,
And pursue further suffering, more problems and woes.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(73) Discarding our practice to reach liberation,
We drift about searching for pleasure or trade.
We've obtained human bodies with precious endowments,
Yet use them to gain only hellish rebirths.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(74) Ignoring effects that the teachings can bring us,
We travel on business for profit and gain.
Leaving behind all our gurus' wise lectures,
We tour different places in search of some fun.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(75) We hoard what we have, never willing to use it,
And leech all our food and our clothing from friends.
We leave aside wealth from our father's inheritance,
Taking from others as much as we can.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(76) It's amazing how little endurance we have
To do meditation, and yet we pretend
To have gained special powers so others are fooled.
We never catch up with the paths of deep wisdom,
Yet run here and there in needless great haste.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(77) Someone gives us advice from the depths of his heart,
Which is for our own good, but is harsh to our ears,
And with anger we view him as if he's our foe.
Yet when someone without any true feelings for us
Deceitfully tells us what we like to hear,
With no taste or discernment we're kind in return.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(78) When others consider us close and dear friends
And relate in strict confidence all they know,
We disclose their deep secrets especially to their foes.
When we have a good friend who is constantly with us,
We locate his weak points so we can torment him.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(79) Our jealousy is strong and whatever is said
We are always the skeptic, we doubt what is meant.
We are fussy, bad-tempered and hard to get on with,
Inflicting obnoxious behavior on others.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(80) When someone requests us to do something for him,
We are never obliging, but think up instead
Clever devious methods to do him some harm.
When others concede and agree with our viewpoint,
We do not acquiesce - we argue still more.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(81) We don't pay attention to what others tell us;
We're a trial to be with; we strain others' nerves.
Our feelings are hurt at the slightest remark,
And we hold grudges strongly - we never forgive.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(82) We always are jealous of those of great status;
We feel holy gurus are threats to avoid.
Overwhelmed by attachment and ruled by our passions,
We spend all our time lusting after young loves.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(83) We don't think of friendships as long-term commitments,
We treat old companions with thoughtless neglect.
And when we are making new friends with a stranger,
We try to impress him in grandiose ways.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(84) We lack clairvoyance, yet lie, feigning powers,
And then when proved wrong, we must bear all complaints.
We have little compassion for those who are near us;
Whenever they blunder, we are quick to lash out.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(85) We have poor education and limited knowledge;
Whenever we speak we're unsure of ourselves.
Our learning in scriptural texts is so meager,
When hearing new teachings we doubt they are true.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(86) By making a habit of anger and passion,
We come to despise everyone that we meet;
And by making a habit of jealous resentment,
We ascribe fruits to others, disclaiming their worth.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(87) We don't follow proper procedures of study;
We say it is needless to read the vast texts.
We feel there's no value in learning from gurus;
We slight oral teachings and think we know best.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(88) We fail to explain what the Three Baskets [19] teach,
But instead dwell on theories we've made up ourselves.
We lack deep conviction and faith in the teachings,
Whatever we say leaves disciples confused.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(89) We do not despise actions unwise and immoral,
Instead we dispute and attempt to pick flaws
In the excellent teachings and great masters' works.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(90) We are never embarrassed when acting disgracefully,
Only respectable deeds cause us shame.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(91) All the things we should do, we don't do even once,
For improper behavior takes up all our time.
Trample him, trample him, dance on the head
Of this treacherous concept of selfish concern.
Tear out the heart of this self-centered butcher
Who slaughters our chance to gain final release.
(92) O mighty destroyer of selfishness-demons.
With body of wisdom unchained from all bonds,
Yamantaka, come brandish your skull-headed bludgeon
Of egoless wisdom of voidness and bliss.
Without any misgivings, now wield your fierce weapon
And wrathfully swing it three times [20] round your head.
(93) With all of your fierceness, come smash this foul enemy!
Burst ego-concepts with your wisdom's great might!
With your boundless compassion, protect us from suffering
The miseries caused by our self-centered actions;
Destroy our self-cherishing once and for all!
(94) With all of the sufferings that others experience,
Smother completely our selfish concern.
The sufferings of others arise from five poisons;
Thus whichever delusion afflicts other beings
Take it to smother delusions of self.
(95) Though we have not a doubt, for we recognize fully
The cause and the root of mistakes we all make,
If there is still left a part of our minds that would tend
To support this delusion of self that we have,
Then destroy the firm hold of this part of our minds
That, against our true wishes, makes fools of us still.
(96) As all that is wrong can be traced to one source
Our concern for ourselves whom we cherish the most,
We must meditate now on the kindness of others.
Accepting the suffering that they never wished for,
We must dedicate fully our virtues to all.
(97) Thus accepting ourselves all deluded nonvirtuous
Actions that others have done in the past,
In the present and future with mind, speech and body,
May delusions of others as well as our own
Be the favored conditions to gain our enlightenment,
Just as the peacocks eat poison and thrive.
(98) As crows may be cured after swallowing poison
By a powerful antidote given in time,
Let's direct to all others our virtuous merit,
That this may replenish their chances for freedom.
May all sentient beings reach Buddhahood soon!
(99) Till the time when all motherly beings and I
Gain the perfect conditions for us to be Buddhas,
Though the force of our actions may cause us to wander
Through various realms in the six rebirth states,
May we always be able to help one another
To keep our aim fixed on enlightenment's shore.
(100) Then for even the sake of but one sentient being
May we gladly take birth in the three lower states.
With enlightening conduct that never grows weak
May we lead all the beings in miserable rebirths
Out of their sufferings and causes for pain.
(101) As soon as we've placed ourselves into their realm
May the guards of the hells come to see us as gurus.
May the weapons of torture they hold turn to flowers;
May all harm be stilled, peace and happiness grow.
(102) Then may even hell beings develop clairvoyance
And take higher rebirths as men or as gods.
By developing strongly the wish to be Buddhas,
May they pay back our kindness through heeding the teachings
And regard us as gurus with confident trust.
(103) Then may all sentient beings of the three higher rebirths
Perfect meditation on egolessness.
In this way, may they realize the non-self-existence
Of worldly involvement and freedom as well.
May they place concentration on both of these equally,
Seeing their natures as equally void.
(104) If we practice these methods, we shall soon overcome
Our true enemies: selfish concern and self-love.
If we practice these methods, we shall overcome also
False concepts of ego we hold to be real.
Thus by joint meditation on egolessness
And on nondual wisdom of voidness and bliss,
How can anyone not gain the causes to win
A Buddha's physical body and its fruit, Buddhahood?
(105) O mind, understand that the topics discussed here
Are interdependent phenomena all;
For things must rely on dependent arising
To have an existence: they cannot stand alone.
The process of change is alluring like magic,
For physical form is but mental appearance,
As a torch whirling round seems a circle of flame.
(106) There is nothing substantial to anyone's life-force:
It crumbles apart like a water-soaked log;
And there is nothing substantial to anyone's life span:
It bursts in an instant like bubbles of foam.
All the things of this world are but fog-like appearance:
When closely examined, they fade out of sight.
Like mirages these things at a distance seem lovely,
But when we come closer, they are not to be found.
(107) All things are like images found in a mirror,
And yet we imagine they are real, very real;
All things are like mist or like clouds on a mountain,
And yet we imagine they are stable and firm.
Our foe: our insistence on ego-identities
Truly our own, which we wish were secure,
And our butcher: the selfish concern for ourselves -
Like all things these appear to be truly existent,
Though they never have been truly existent at all.
(108) Although they appear to be concrete and real,
They have never been real, anytime, anywhere.
They're not things we should burden with ultimate value,
Nor should we deny them their relative truth.
As our grasping for egos and love for ourselves
Lack substantial foundations with true independence,
How can they yield acts that exist by themselves?
And then how can this cruel vicious circle of suffering,
The fruit of these actions, be real from its core?
(109) Although all things thus lack inherent existence,
Yet just as the face of the moon can be seen
In a cup of clear water reflecting its image,
The various aspects of cause and effect
Appear in this relative world as reflections.
So please, in this world of appearances only,
Let's always be sure what we do is of virtue
And shun all those acts that would cause us great pain.
(110) When our bodies are charred in a horrible nightmare
By the world-ending flames of a stellar explosion,
Although this ordeal is not actually happening,
We nevertheless feel great terror and scream.
In similar fashion, unfortunate rebirths
In hells or as ghosts are not actually real,
And yet we can fully experience their pain.
Thus fearing such suffering as burning alive,
We must cease all these actions that yield this result.
(111) When our minds are delirious, burning with fever,
Although there's no darkness, we feel we are plummeting
Further and further into a black pit
With the walls pressing closer the deeper we fall.
In similar fashion, although our dark ignorance
Lacks self-existence, we nevertheless
Must by all means break out of its strangling constriction
By putting the three kinds of wisdom [21] to use.
(112) When musicians are playing a beautiful melody,
Should we examine the sound they are making
We would see that it does not exist by itself.
But when we're not making our formal analysis,
Still there's a beautiful tune to be heard,
Which is merely a label on notes and on players
That's why lovely music can lighten sad hearts.
(113) When we closely examine effects and their causes,
We see that they both lack inherent existence:
They can't stand alone, either whole or apart,
Yet there seem to exist independently rising
And falling events, which, in fact, are conditioned
By various forces, components and parts.
It is this very level on which we experience
Birth and our death and whatever life brings.
So please, in this world of appearances only,
Let's always be sure what we do is of virtue
And shun all those acts that would cause us great pain.
(114) When a vase has been filled by the dripping of water,
The first drops themselves did not fill it alone;
Nor was it made full by the last several drops.
It was filled by an interdependent collection
Of causes and forces that came all together -
The water, the pourer, the vase and such things.
(115) It's precisely the same when we come to experience
Pleasure and pain: the results of our past.
Effects never come from the first causal actions,
Nor do they arise from the last several acts.
Both pleasure and pain come from interdependent
Collections of forces and causes combined.
So please, in this world of appearances only,
Let's always be sure what we do is of virtue
And shun all those acts that would cause us great pain.
(116) When not making formal dissections with logic,
Merely letting life's happenings flow freely on,
Although we experience feelings of pleasure,
In ultimate truth, this appearance of happiness
Lacks self-existence inherently real.
And yet on the everyday operative level
This seeming appearance has relative truth.
To understand fully this deep profound meaning
For slow-minded persons, alas, will be hard.
(117) And now, when we try to do close contemplation
On voidness, how can we have even a feeling
Of conventional truth at the very same time?
Yet what can there be that has true self-existence?
And what can there be that lacks relative truth?
How can anyone anywhere believe in such things?
(118) Just as objects of voidness are non-self-existent,
The voidness of objects itself is the same.
The shunning of vice and the practice of virtue
Are likewise devoid of all mental constructions
That they're independent, self-contained acts.
In fact, on the whole, they are lacking completely
All mental projections and all preconceptions.
Thus, if we can focus our clear concentration
On voidness without our mind wandering astray,
Then truly we'll come to be wondrous beings
With a deep understanding of the most profound void.
(119) By practicing this way the two bodhichittas
Of the ultimate and the conventional truth,
And thus by completing without interference
Collections of insight and merit as well,
May all of us quickly attain full enlightenment
Granting what we and all others have wished.
The Wheel of Sharp Weapons Effectively Striking the Heart of the Foe
Was composed by the great Yogi Dharmarakshita
In his retreat in the jungle where many fierce animals prey.
What this great yogi, the possessor of vast scriptural knowledge,
The full powers of logic and deep profound insight has written here
Is the essence of the teachings of all his holy gurus.
He always practiced in accordance with this essence
In his fearsome jungle retreat
During the degenerate age in which he lived.
From among his many disciples, Dharmarakshita transmitted these teachings
To Atisha; and Atisha practiced them wherever he traveled
In order to tame those who were most wild.
When Atisha developed true insight
Into the two bodhichittas through these teachings,
He composed the following:
I went through much hardship abandoning royalty,
But, by collecting much virtuous merit,
I met my true guru, Dharmarakshita.
By showing me these supreme nectar-like teachings,
He has granted me sovereignty over my mind;
So that now I have attained all the forceful opponents,
Having memorized fully these words he has taught.
Although I don't favor a partisan viewpoint:
Whenever I study the various teachings
I always make efforts to broaden my wisdom
To see boundless wonders in every tradition;
Yet I have to admit that these teachings especially
Have been of great help in this age of decay.
From among his many unimaginably great disciples
In both India and Tibet, Atisha transmitted these teachings
To Upasaka Dromtonpa, who had been prophesied to be
His most fitting disciple by many of Atisha's
Meditational deities such as Tara.
Atisha transmitted these teachings to Dromtonpa
In order to pacify the minds of the disciples
Of remote Tibet who were difficult to tame.
This work has been translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan
By the fatherly Atisha himself and his spiritual son Dromtonpa.

1. Yamantaka is the wrathful or forceful aspect of Manjushri, the emanation of the wisdom of the Buddhas. Yamantaka's wrath is directed against selfishness, self-cherishing attitudes, ego-grasping and grasping for true independent existence. These ignorant attitudes take the life of our chance to gain enlightenment, and thus Yamantaka's wrath is opposed to the great Lord of Death.
2. Bodhisattvas, or brave ones, the spiritual offspring of the Buddhas, are those beings who have the enlightening attitude (bodhichitta) to work toward the attainment of Buddhahood, that is enlightenment, for the sake of all beings. There are five points of similarity between bodhisattvas and peacocks. Just as the colors of the peacocks' feathers grow more radiantly brilliant when they eat plants that are poisonous to other animals, bodhisattvas shine with blissful happiness by making use of such poisonous delusions as desire and attachment for the benefit of others. Just as peacocks have five crown feathers, bodhisattvas have the attainment of the five graded paths for enlightenment. Just as the sight of a peacock's colorful display gives us great pleasure, the sight of a bodhisattva uplifts our mind because of his bodhichitta. Just as peacocks live mostly on poisonous plants and never eat insects or cause others harm, bodhisattvas never cause even the slightest harm to other sentient beings. Just as peacocks eat poisonous plants with pleasure, when bodhisattvas are offered sensory objects, although they have no attachment to these objects, they accept them with pleasure to allow the donor to gain merit from his offering.
3. There are three levels of training the mind according to the three scopes of motivation outlined in the lam-rim teaching of the graded course to enlightenment. With an initial scope motivation, we work to attain a better future rebirth. With an intermediate scope, we work to attain liberation (nirvana) from the vicious circle of rebirth (samsara) for ourselves alone. With an advance scope, as a follower of the Mahayana path with bodhichitta motivation, we work to attain the full enlightenment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings. The word now in the text indicates the importance of practicing the teachings with an advanced scope of motivation, having previously trained our mind along the lam-rim graded course.
4. With an advanced scope motivation, there are two ways in which we can follow the Mahayana path. By following the Perfection Vehicle (Paramitayana), it may take many lifetimes before we reach our goal of enlightenment. By following the Tantra Vehicle ( Vajrayana), however, we may attain enlightenment within one human lifetime. The word here in the text indicates the immediacy of practicing the tantra path with an especially strong bodhichitta motivation.
5. The tantra system teaches many methods for the speedy attainment of enlightenment. Included among them is the use as a path the normally poisonous delusions. In order to use delusions, such as lustful desire, as a path, however, we must first be devoid of the self-cherishing attitude, that is the greedy attachment to our own self-interest. In addition, we must have a sound understanding of voidness - the fact that all things, including ourselves, lack a truly independent manner of existence. To use delusions as a path without these two prerequisites is extremely dangerous and, far from achieving our intended goal, we may completely destroy our chance for attaining enlightenment.
6. Any of the delusions may be used in the tantra system as an actual path to enlightenment. In the Perfection Vehicle, the delusions may only be used as a method for directly benefiting others when the circumstances demand it. They may not, however, be practiced as an actual path.
7. The Three Jewels of Refuge are Buddha, his teachings (Dharma), and the monastic community (Sangha) of those who understand and practice these teachings. The Three Jewels of Refuge are also referred to in English as the Three Precious Gems, the Three Supreme Gems, or the Triple Gem.
8. The practice of tantra requires receiving initiations. These entail the taking of vows concerning moral conduct and the giving of your sacred word of honor to follow the tantric practices in the prescribed manner.
9. Cause and effect describes the universal law of karma whereby virtuous actions result in happiness and nonvirtuous actions in suffering.
10. The practice from guru-devotion to tantra defines the range of the graded course to Enlightenment; see note [3], above.
11. Images of Buddha and the various meditational deities representing different aspects of a Buddha's enlightenment have an important use in both the Perfection and Tantra Vehicles. They are used as meditative aids for developing single-minded concentration (samadhi). By using such images as objects of devotion, we collect the merit to attain the physical body of a Buddha.
12. It is never possible for us to experience the consequences of the nonvirtuous actions of others. Whatever suffering we have must be the result of nonvirtuous actions we ourselves have committed in the past.
13. The six realms of existence are divided into the three higher and the three lower states. The three lower unfortunate states of rebirth are those of the hell creatures, hungry ghosts (pretas), and animals. The three higher fortunate states of rebirth are those of the gods, anti-gods (asuras), and humans.
14. We request Yamantaka to turn the wheel of sharp weapons three times. These three refer to (1) the conventional or relative level of truth on which conventional bodhichitta operates as the means for leading both self and others to enlightenment; (2) the ultimate level of truth on which ultimate bodhichitta functions as the wisdom understanding voidness, and (3) these two levels or grades of truth realized together.
15. The four great opponents eliminate the necessity for us to experience the unfortunate consequences of our previously committed nonvirtuous actions. These four are (1) feeling regret and disgust with our nonvirtue; (2) taking refuge in the Three Jewels of Refuge and meditating on bodhichitta; (3) offering our promise never to commit such nonvirtue again, and (4) performing and dedicating the merit of virtuous actions for the benefit of all sentient beings.
16. Mantras are words of power, combinations of Sanskrit syllables used as invocations.
17. Hum, dza and p'at are mantric seed syllables. The first repetition of each is for conventional bodhichitta, the opponent for our self-cherishing attitude. The second repetition is for ultimate bodhichitta, which destroys our ego-grasping.
18. The sack of our body is filled with the five poisonous delusions of longing desire, fearful and angered repulsion, closed-minded ignorance, arrogant pride, and jealousy.

The Three Baskets (Tripitaka) of Buddha's teachings concern disciplined morality (vinaya), discourses on meditation (sutra), and philosophy and metaphysics (abhidharma).
20. We request Yamantaka to swing three times round his head his skull- headed bludgeon representing both the wisdom of egolessness, common to both the Perfection and Tantra Vehicles, as well as the nondual wisdom of voidness and bliss. The three times he swings this bludgeon destroy (1) ego-grasping, (2) our self-cherishing attitude, and (3) our defiled bodies of delusion produced by these two types of ignorance.
21. The three kinds of wisdom can refer either to the wisdoms of listening, thinking, meditating, or to intellectual, conceptual, and nonconceptual wisdoms.


A New Friendship
by Wynn Martin©

I shared the most remarkable experience yesterday, and thought right away that I should write about it for the sangha. Some weeks ago, my clothes and other things were stolen from my car some weeks ago. That was hard on me because I'm still in school and have little money to replace them.
Yesterday, my upstairs neighbor, a lifetime friend of mine, went with me to the store, because Viet and I sometimes cook together. We made a trip from my car to our apartments with groceries, and I took a few minutes to put them away before returning to my car for the rest.
...And there in my car was the man who had stolen my things, and things from Viet's car as well. I rounded the corner into our driveway, and stood staring just a few feet away from this middle-aged man in stinking, reeking clothes, who was sitting in the front seat of my car and digging through its almost-worthless contents. He looked up with HUGE, wide eyes, and stopped cold. He was in shock. He was BUSTED.
Remarkably, I didn't feel fear, or anger-- things I would have expected to feel. If he'd moved suddenly to run, maybe the adrenaline would have gone off in my body, but we stared at each other, and I moved directly to him with my hands out in a "Why?" gesture. I wasn't thinking; just reacting, in the way that came naturally to me.
He quickly started to apologize, saying that he has nothing and feels badly and knows that stealing is wrong, and I said it was okay, that I understood. I felt his sincerity. He was drunk, and even had a beer still in his hand, but he was sincere in his remorse, and humility. After those mumbled apologies and "okays," I asked with a cracking voice, "Do you still have my clothes?" I wanted to say, "I need those clothes-- I am a student, and my job has almost failed, and I am interviewing for new jobs, and have no money for clothes," but I couldn't say all that; and I was teary-eyed, and reaching out for HIS kindness, as I offered him my own.
He tearfully asked if I could forgive him, and I said that I did, that I understood. And I DID understand. He said he would bring my clothes back and leave them in a bag outside in the morning. My clothes didn't come back, of course, and I didn't expect them to, but I knew that in that moment last night, when he made that promise, the promise was genuine. He meant to return my clothes. He was drunk, and maybe he forgot, or changed his mind today, or just didn't want to bother, or maybe had already discarded these clothes that didn't fit, but at least last night he felt remorse, and he felt something more than that: forgiven. Connected. It was a moment of warm humanity.
Before last night, I had schemed to catch the awful man who broke into our cars and stole our things. I'd relished the thought of turning him in to the police, and prosecuting him. Viet was moved by my compassion, but still wished I'd turned the man in. What would the consequence have been, had I done that? Louis would have gone to jail, maybe for the night-- he told me his name. I'm sure he's been there before, and they'd know him by name at the station. He'd be on the street again in a day or a week or a year, or whenever, and go back to breaking into cars, and he'd understand that the consequence of doing that is that the police pick you up and feed you and give you a place to stay for a while. I would be his enemy. Men with cars are to be robbed, and that is how it is. You get away with it most of the time, and when you don't, that's not so bad. We'd not have gotten our stuff back, if we'd prosecuted. If Louis has any of it, it's in a shopping cart somewhere, under a bridge or an overpass. What would we have gotten, by turning him in? Pride. Revenge. A new enemy. ...That's about it.
What did I get by reaching out to him, asking him for HIS help, and giving him a few dollars for some food? Well, I got a friend-- a drunking, thieving, stinking, homeless friend, sure, but a friend nonetheless. I might have gotten my clothes back. <shrug> I've probably gotten protection for my car-- I don't think he'll target me again.
But that's all "me" stuff-- what did "I" get. Someone else got something, too. Louis got a moment of compassion. He got a moment of his own remorse, which is a liberating feeling. Maybe he got a sense that by stealing, he hurts other people. It probably won't stop him from steeling, but maybe he'll be more mindful of the consequences of what he does.
A few weeks later….Well, Louis appears to be on the prowl still, which isn't any sort of surprise, and of course he didn't bring my clothes back, but at least he's not targeting my car or my neighbors'. That's not objectively good news in itself-- the crime has just moved a few blocks away-- but it does mean that the guy at least remembers our good moment, and has some measure of respect. Or fear, perhaps; I'm hopeful for the former, though.
I'd give him food, if he'll accept it. I'd really like to get him to visit a shelter that might help him more meaningfully, but I think he's probably among those who would refuse such assistance. It's difficult to know how to be compassionate and helpful for someone like Louis. We did, though, have a sincerely meaningful moment, and I think that instance was probably as helpful and compassionate as any he ever has.


Dharma in daily life
Alexander Berzin
Morelia, Mexico, June 6, 2000

Dharma as Preventive Measures
I have been asked to speak about the practice of Dharma in daily life. We need to know what we mean by Dharma. Dharma is a Sanskrit word that literally means "a preventive measure." It is something that we do in order to avoid problems. To have any interest in practicing the Dharma, we need to see that there are problems in life. That actually takes a lot of courage. Many people do not take themselves or their lives seriously. They work very hard all day long and then distract themselves with entertainment and so on in the evenings because they are tired. They don't really look inwardly to the problems in their lives. Even if they do look at their problems, they do not really want to acknowledge that their lives are not satisfactory because it would be too depressing. It takes courage to really check the quality of our lives and to admit honestly when we find it unsatisfactory.
Unsatisfactory Situations and Their Causes
Of course, there are levels of unsatisfactoriness. We could say, "Sometimes I have bad moods and sometimes things go well, but that's okay. That's life." If we are content with that, fine. If we have some hope that we can make things a little bit better, it leads us to look for a way to do so. In order to find methods to improve the quality of our lives we need to identify the source of our problems. Most people look externally for the source of their problems. "I am having difficulty in my relationship with you because of you! You are not acting the way I would like you to act." We may also blame our difficulties on the political or economic situation. According to some schools of psychology, we can look to traumatic events in our childhood as what led us to have the problems that we have. It is very easy to blame our unhappiness on others. Placing the blame on other people or social or economic factors does not really lead to a solution. If we have this conceptual framework, we might be forgiving and it may have some benefit, but most people find that only doing this much has not relieved them of their psychological problems and unhappiness.
Buddhism says that although other people, society, and so on contribute to our problems, they are not really the deepest source of them. To discover the deepest source of our difficulties we need to look within. After all, if we feel unhappy in life, it is a response to our situation. Different people respond to the same situation differently. Even if we just look at ourselves, we find that we respond differently to difficulties from one day to the next. If the source of the problem were just the external situation, we should respond in the same way all the time, but we do not. There are factors that affect how we respond, such as having a good day at work, but these are only superficial contributing factors. They do not go deeply enough.
If we look, we start to see that our attitudes toward life, ourselves, and our situations contribute very much to how we feel. For example, we don't feel sorry for ourselves all the time, like when we are having a good day; but when we are not having a good day, the feeling of self-pity recurs. The basic attitudes that we have toward life very much shape how we experience life. If we examine more deeply, we find that our attitudes are based on confusion.
Confusion as the Source of Problems
If we explore confusion, we see that one aspect of it is confusion about behavioral cause and effect. We are confused about what to do or say and about what will happen as a result. We can be very confused about what type of job to get, whether to get married, whether to have children, etc. If we get into a relationship with a person, what will the result be? We do not know. Our ideas of what will follow from our choices are really just fantasies. We might think that if we get into a deep relationship with a certain person, we will live happily ever after, like in a fairy tale. If we are upset in a situation, we think that yelling will make it better. We have a very confused idea about how the other person is going to respond to what we do. We think that if we yell and speak our minds, we will feel better and everything will be all right, but everything will not be all right. We want to know what will happen. We desperately look at astrology or throw coins for The Book of Changes, the I Ching. Why do we do things like that? We want to be in control of what happens.
Buddhism says that a deeper level of confusion is confusion about how we and others exist and about how the world exists. We are confused about the whole issue of control. We think that it is possible to be totally in control of what happens to us. Because of that, we get frustrated. It is not possible to always be in control. That is not reality. Reality is very complex. Many things influence what happens, not just what we do. It is not that we are totally out of control or manipulated by external forces either. We contribute to what happens, but we are not the sole factor that determines what happens.
Because of our confusion and insecurity, we often act destructively without even knowing that it is destructive behavior. This is because we are under the influence of disturbing emotions, disturbing attitudes, and the compulsive impulses that come up from our habits. Not only do we act destructively toward others; we primarily act in self-destructive ways. In other words, we create more problems for ourselves. If we want fewer problems or liberation from our problems, or even further, the ability to help others to get out of their problems as well, we need to acknowledge the source of our limitations.
Ridding Ourselves of Confusion
Let us say that we can recognize that the source of our problems is confusion. This is not too difficult. Many people reach the point of saying, "I am really confused. I am messed up." Then what? Before we go and spend money on this course or that retreat, we need to consider very seriously whether we really are convinced that it is possible to get rid of our confusion. If we don't think it is possible to get of confusion, what are we trying to do? If we go only with the hope that it may be possible to get rid of our confusion, it is not very stable. It is wishful thinking.
We might think that freedom could come about in several ways. We might think that somebody will save us. It could be a higher, divine figure, such as God, and so we become born-again believers. Alternatively, we may look to a spiritual teacher, a partner, or someone else to save us from our confusion. In such situations, it is easy to become dependent on the other person and to behave immaturely. We are often so desperate to find someone to save us that we are indiscriminate in whom we turn to. We might choose someone who is not free from confusion himself or herself and who, because of his or her own disturbing emotions and attitudes, takes advantage of our naïve dependence. This is not a stable way to proceed. We cannot look to a spiritual teacher or a relationship to clear up all our confusion. We have to clear up our own confusion.
A relationship with a spiritual teacher or with a partner can provide helpful circumstances, but only when the relationship is a healthy one. When it is unhealthy, it just makes it worse. It leads to more confusion. In the beginning, we can be in a deep state of denial, thinking that the teacher is perfect, the partner is perfect, but eventually our naiveté wears off. When we start to see the weaknesses in the other person and that the other person is not going to save us from all our confusion, we crash. We feel betrayed. Our faith and our trust have been betrayed. That is a terrible feeling! It is very important to try to avoid that from the beginning. We need to practice the Dharma, preventive measures. We need to understand what is possible and what is not. What can a spiritual teacher do and what can a spiritual teacher not do? We take preventive measures to avoid crashing.
We need to develop a state of mind that is free of confusion. The opposite of confusion, understanding, will prevent confusion from arising. Our work in the Dharma is to be introspective and attentive to our attitudes, our disturbing emotions, and our impulsive, compulsive, or neurotic behavior. That means being willing to see things in ourselves that are not so nice, things we would rather deny. When we notice things that are causing our problems or are symptoms of our problems, we need to apply opponents to overcome them. All of this is based on study and meditation. We have to learn to identify disturbing emotions and attitudes and where they come from.
Meditation means that we practice applying the various opponents in a controlled situation so that we become familiar with how to apply them and can then do so in real life. For example, if we get angry with others when they don't act the way we would like them to, in meditation we think of these situations and try to look at them from a different point of view. The other person is acting in disagreeable ways for many different reasons. He or she is not necessarily acting out of spite because he or she doesn't love us. In meditation, we try to dissolve such attitudes: "My friend doesn't love me anymore because he or she didn't call me."
If we can practice going through this type of situation with a state of mind that is more relaxed, understanding, and patient, then if the person doesn't call us for a week we don't get so upset. When we start to get upset, we remember that this person is probably very busy and it is egocentric to think that we are the most important person in his or her life. This helps us to cool our emotional upset.
Dharma Is a Full-time Occupation
Dharma practice is not a hobby. It is not something that we do as a sport or for relaxation. We do not just go to a Dharma center to be part of a group or to be in a social atmosphere. It may be very nice to go there, but that is not the purpose. Also, we don't go to a Dharma center like a addict getting a fix - a fix of inspiration from a charismatic, entertaining teacher who makes us feel good. If we do, we go home, soon feel blah, and then we need another fix. Dharma is not a drug. Teachers are not drugs. Dharma practice is a full-time job. We are talking about working on our attitudes toward everything in our lives. If we are working on developing love for all sentient beings, for example, we need to apply it in our families. Many people sit in their rooms meditating on love, but cannot get along with their parents or their partners. This is sad.
Avoiding Extremes
In trying to apply the Dharma to our real life situations at home and at work, we need to avoid extremes. One pole of the extreme is putting the whole blame on others. The other extreme is putting the entire blame on ourselves. What happens in life is very complex. Both sides contribute: others contribute; we contribute. We can try to get others to change their behavior and attitudes, but I am sure we all know from personal experience it is not very easy - especially if we come on in a self-righteous, holy way and accuse the other of being a sinner. It is much easier to try to change ourselves. Although we can make suggestions to others, if they are receptive and if they will not become more aggressive because of our suggestions, but the major work is on ourselves.
In working on ourselves, we have to watch for another pair of extremes: being totally preoccupied with our feelings and not being aware of them at all. The first is narcissistic preoccupation. We are only concerned about what we feel. We tend to ignore what others are feeling. We tend to think that what we feel is far more important than what other people are feeling. On the other hand, we may be totally out of touch with our feelings or feel nothing at all, as if our emotions were shot with Novocain. Avoiding these extremes requires a delicate balance. It is not so easy.
If we are always watching ourselves it creates an imagined duality - ourselves and what we are feeling or doing - and so we are not really into relating to someone or being with somebody. The real art is to relate and act in a natural and sincere way, while part of our attention is on our motivation and so on. We need to try to do this, however, without having it be such a fractured way of acting that we are not present with the other person. I should also point out that if we are checking our motivation and feelings during the process of relating to someone, sometimes it is helpful to tell the person. However, it is very narcissistic to feel that we have to tell the person. Often, other people are not interested in what we are feeling. It is very self-important to feel that they want to know. When we notice that we are starting to act selfishly, we can just stop it. We don't have to announce it.
Another set of two extremes is that we are all bad or all good. If we put too much emphasis on our difficulties, our problems, and our disturbing emotions, we could start to feel that we are bad persons. That very easily degenerates into guilt. "I should practice. If I don't, I am a bad person." This is a very neurotic basis for practice.
We also need to avoid the other extreme, which is putting too much emphasis on our positive sides. "We are all perfect. Just see your Buddha-natures. Everything is wonderful." This is very dangerous, because it can imply that we don't need to give up anything, we don't need to stop any negativities because all we need to do is see our Buddha-natures. "I am wonderful. I am perfect. I do not have to stop my negative behavior." We need a balance. If we are feeling too down on ourselves, we need to remind ourselves of our Buddha-natures; if we are feeling a little bit too blasé, we need to emphasize our negative sides.
Taking Responsibility
Basically, we need to take responsibility ourselves: for our development and for getting rid of our problems. Of course, we need help. It is not easy to do this by ourselves. We can get help from spiritual teachers or from our spiritual community, people who are like-minded and who are working on themselves and not blaming each other for their problems. That is why in a partnership, it is important to share the same type of attitude, particularly that of not blaming the other for any problems that arise. If both partners are blaming each other, it does not work at all. If only one partner is working on himself or herself and the other is just blaming, it doesn't work either. If we are already in a relationship in which the other person is accusing, but we are looking into what we might be contributing, it does not mean that we need break off the relationship, but it is more difficult. We have to try to avoid being the martyr in this relationship. "I am enduring all of this! It is difficult!" The whole thing can be very neurotic.
Receiving Inspiration
The form of support that we can get from a spiritual teacher, from a like-minded spiritual community and friends is sometimes called "inspiration." The Buddhist teachings place a lot of emphasis on receiving inspiration from the Triple Gem, from teachers, and so on. The Tibetan word is "jinlab" (byin-rlabs), usually translated as "blessings," which is an inappropriate translation. We need inspiration. We need some sort of strength to go on.
The Dharma path is not an easy one. It is dealing with the ugliness of life. We need stable sources of inspiration. If the source of our inspiration is teachers telling fantastic stories of miracles and all these sorts of things - about themselves or about others in Buddhist history - it will not be a very stable source of inspiration. It certainly can be very exciting, but we have to examine how this is affecting us. In many people, it reinforces a fantasy world in which we are wishing for salvation through miracles. We imagine that some grand magician is going to save us with his or her miracle powers, or that we will suddenly be able to develop these miraculous things ourselves. We have to be very cautious with respect to these fantastic stories. They may inspire our faith and so on, and that can be helpful, but it is not a stable basis of inspiration. We need a stable basis.
A perfect example is that of the Buddha. Buddha did not try to "inspire" people or impress them by telling fantastic stories. He did not put on airs by going around and blessing people and stuff like that. The analogy that Buddha used, repeated throughout the Buddhist teachings, is that a Buddha is like the sun. The sun does not try to warm people. Naturally, from the way the sun is, it spontaneously brings warmth to everyone. Although we may get high from hearing a fantastic story or by being touched on the head with a statue or getting a red string to tie around our necks, it is not stable. A stable source of inspiration is the way the teacher spontaneously and naturally is as a person - his or her character, the way he or she is as a result of practicing the Dharma. This is what is inspiring, not some act that the person puts on to entertain us. Although this may not be as exciting as a fantastic story, it will give us a stable sense of inspiration.
As we progress, we can get inspiration ourselves from our own progress - not from gaining miraculous powers, but from how our characters slow change. The teachings always emphasize rejoicing in our own positive acts. It is very important to remember that progress is never linear. It does not just get better everyday. One of the characteristics of samsara is that our moods go up and down until we are completely free from samsara, which is an unbelievably advanced state. We must expect that we will sometimes feel happy and sometimes unhappy. We will sometimes be able to act in positive ways and other times our neurotic habits will be overpowering. It is going to be up and down. Miracles do not happen, usually.
The teachings on avoiding the eight worldly concerns emphasize not getting a swollen head if things go well and not becoming depressed if they do go well. That is life. We need to look at the long-term effects, not the short-term effects. If we have been practicing for five years, for example, compared to five years ago there is a lot of progress. Even though we sometimes get upset, if we find that we are able to handle situations with calmer, clearer minds and hearts, that indicates that we have made some progress. This is inspiring. It is not dramatic, although we would like it to be dramatic and we get high on dramatic shows. It is stable inspiration.
Being Practical
We need to be quite practical and down to earth. When we do purification practices, like Vajrasattva practice, it is important not to think of it as Saint Vajrasattva purifying us. It is not some external figure, a great saint who will save us and bless us with purification. That is not the process at all. Vajrasattva stands for the natural purity of the clear light mind, which is not inherently stained by confusion. Confusion can be removed. It is by recognizing the natural purity of the mind through our own efforts that we can let go of guilt, negative potentials, and so on. That enables the purification process to work.
Further, in doing all these practices and trying to put Dharma into our daily lives, we need to recognize and acknowledge the level we are on. It is crucial not to be pretentious or to feel that we must be at a higher level than we are on now.
Approaching Dharma from a Catholic Background
Most of us here come from a Catholic background. As we approach the Dharma and start to study, we do not need to feel that we need to give up Catholicism and convert to Buddhism. However, it is important not to mix the two practices. We don't do three prostrations to the altar before sitting down in a church. Likewise, when we do a Buddhist practice, we don't visualize the Virgin Mary, we visualize Buddha-figures. We practice each individually. When we go to church, we just go to church; when we do a Buddhist meditation, we do a Buddhist meditation. There are many common features, such as the emphasis on love, helping others, and so on. There is no conflict on the basic level. If we practice love, charity, and helping others, we are both a good Catholic and a good Buddhist. Eventually, however, we will have to make a choice, but that is only when we are ready to put our full effort into making tremendous spiritual progress. If we are going to go to the top story of a building, we cannot go up two staircases at the same time. I think that is a very helpful image. If we are just functioning on the basic ground level, in the lobby, fine. We don't have to worry about it. We can benefit from both.
Avoiding Misplaced Loyalty
In applying Dharma to our lives, we have to be careful not to reject our native religions as bad or inferior. That is a big mistake. Then we could become a fanatic Buddhist and a fanatic anti-Catholic, for example. People do that with communism and democracy too. A psychological mechanism called misplaced loyalty takes over. There is a tendency to want to be loyal to our families, our backgrounds, and so on, so we want to be loyal to Catholicism although we have rejected it. If we are not loyal to our backgrounds and totally reject them as bad, we feel we are completely bad. Because this is extremely uncomfortable, we unconsciously feel the need to find something in our backgrounds to which we can be loyal.
The tendency is unconsciously to be loyal to certain less-beneficial aspects of our backgrounds. For example, we may reject Catholicism, but we bring a strong fear of hells into Buddhism. A friend of mine was very strongly Catholic, turned strongly to Buddhism, and then had an existential crisis. "I gave up Catholicism so now I will go to Catholic hell; but if I give up Buddhism and go back to Catholicism, I will go to Buddhist hell!" Although it might sound funny, it was really quite a serious problem to her.
We often unconsciously bring certain attitudes from Catholicism into our Buddhist practice. The most common ones are guilt and looking for miracles and for others to save us. If we don't practice, we feel that we should practice, and if we don't, we are guilty. These ideas are not at all helpful. We need to recognize when we are doing this. We need to look at our backgrounds and acknowledge the positive aspects so that we can be loyal to the positive rather than to the negative features. Rather than thinking, "I have inherited guilt and miracle-seeking," we can think, "I have inherited the Catholic tradition of love, charity, and helping the unfortunate."
We can do the same thing regarding our families. We might reject them and then be unconsciously loyal to their negative traditions, rather than consciously loyal to their positive ones. If we acknowledge, for example, that we are very grateful for the Catholic backgrounds they have given us, then we can go on our own paths without conflict about our past and without negative feelings constantly jeopardizing our progress.
It is important to try to understand the psychological validity of this. If we think of our past - our families, our religions of birth, or whatever - as negative, we tend to have negative attitudes toward ourselves. On the other hand, if we can acknowledge the positive things in our backgrounds and our past, we tend more to have positive attitudes toward ourselves. That helps us to be much more stable in our spiritual paths.
Concluding Remarks
We need to proceed slowly, step-by-step. When we hear very advanced teachings, go to tantric empowerments, and so forth, although great masters of the past have said, "As soon as you hear a teaching, immediately put it into practice," we need to determine whether something is too advanced for us or if it is something that we can put into practice now. If it is too advanced, we have to discern the steps we will need to take to prepare ourselves to be able to put it into practice, and then follow those steps. In short, as one of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, said, "If we practice fantasy methods, we get imaginary results; if we practice practical methods, we will get practical results."


"Dharma-Lite" Versus "The Real Thing" Dharma
Alexander Berzin
March 2002

The Importance of Rebirth
Tibetan Buddhism follows the Indian tradition and all Indian traditions take for granted belief in rebirth. Even if traditional Buddhist seekers do not have a deep understanding of what takes rebirth or how rebirth works, still they have grown up with the idea of rebirth as a cultural given. They need merely to have their understandings refined, but do not need to become convinced in the existence of rebirth. Therefore, texts on the graded stages of the path (lam-rim) do not even mention the topic of gaining conviction in the existence of rebirth.
Without rebirth, the discussion of mind having no beginning and no end becomes meaningless. Without beginningless and endless mind, the entire presentation of karma falls apart. This is because the karmic results of our actions most frequently do not ripen in the same lifetime in which we commit the actions. Without the presentation of karmic cause and effect over the span of many lifetimes, the discussion of the voidness of cause and effect and of dependent arising likewise falls apart.
Moreover, in terms of the three scopes of lam-rim motivation, how can we sincerely aim for benefiting future lives without belief in the existence of future lives? How can we sincerely aim for gaining liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth (samsara) without belief in rebirth? How can we sincerely aim for enlightenment and the ability to help others gain liberation from rebirth without belief that rebirth is a fact?
In terms of bodhichitta meditation, how can we sincerely recognize all beings as having been our mothers in previous lives without believing in previous lives? In terms of anuttarayoga tantra, how can we sincerely meditate in analogy with death, bardo, and rebirth to purify ourselves of uncontrollably experiencing them if we do not believe that bardo and rebirth occur?
Thus, it is clearly evident that rebirth is a cornerstone for a large and crucial portion of the Dharma teachings.
"Dharma-Lite" and "The Real Thing" Dharma
Most Westerners come to Dharma without prior belief in rebirth. Many approach the study and practice of Dharma as a method for improving the quality of this lifetime, especially in terms of overcoming psychological and emotional problems. This attitude reduces Dharma to an Asian form of psychotherapy.
I have coined the term Dharma-Lite for this approach to Buddhist Dharma, analogous to "CocaCola-Lite." It is a weakened version, not as strong as "The Real Thing." The traditional approach to Dharma - which includes not only discussion of rebirth, but also the presentation of the hells and the rest of the six realms of existence - I have termed The Real Thing Dharma.
Two Ways to Practice Dharma-Lite
There are two ways to practice Dharma-Lite.
1. We may practice it with acknowledgment of the importance of rebirth in Buddhism and the sincere intention to study the accurate teachings on it. Thus, we aim to improve this lifetime with the Dharma methods merely as a steppingstone on the way to working to improve our future rebirths and to gain liberation and enlightenment. Thus, Dharma-Lite becomes a preliminary step on the graded path to enlightenment, a step prior to the initial scope. Such an approach is completely fair to the Buddhist tradition. It does not call Dharma-Lite "The Real Thing."
2. We may practice it with the recognition that Dharma-Lite is not only the actual Dharma, but also the most appropriate and skillful form for Western Buddhism to take. Such an approach shortchanges and is grossly unfair to the Buddhist tradition. It easily leads to an attitude of cultural arrogance.
Therefore, we need to proceed with great care if we find that, at our present level of spiritual development and understanding, Dharma-Lite is the drink for us.
Schematic Summary of Dharma-Lite
Buddhism becomes Dharma-Lite when
" the aim is to improve only in this life;
" the student has little or no understanding of the Buddhist teachings on rebirth;
" consequently, the student has neither belief nor interest in future lives;
" even if the student believes in rebirth, he or she does not accept the existence of the six realms of rebirth;
" the Dharma teacher avoids discussion of rebirth or, even if he or she discusses rebirth, avoids discussion of the hells. The teacher reduces the six realms to human psychological experiences.
Schematic Summary of The Real Thing Dharma
The Real Thing Dharma is the authentic traditional practice of Buddhism, in which
" the student at least acknowledges the importance of rebirth on the spiritual path and has the sincere wish to gain a correct understanding of it;
" the student aims either for liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth or for enlightenment and the ability to help all others gain liberation;
" even if the student aims for improving future lives, this is merely as a provisional step on the path to gaining liberation or enlightenment;
" even if the student aims for improving this life, this is merely as a provisional step on the path to improving future lives and gaining liberation or enlightenment.


by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron©

We often say, "That made me angry!" or "That person really irks me!" thinking that our anger and irritation were caused by the other person and we had no choice in our emotional response to them. However, when we examine our experience, it becomes evident that choice always exists, but we seldom take it and instead follow our habitual tendencies.
These mental, verbal, and physical habits are conditioned; they are not an innate or inseparable part of us. But we seldom realize this and thus rarely examine if these habitual responses are realistic and beneficial. However, when we recognize that some of these are detrimental to ourselves and others, we'll be motivated to apply the counter-forces to them. Recognizing them as previous conditioning, we'll understand that we can re-condition our mind, speech, and body and thus let go of harmful habits and perspectives and cultivate beneficial ones.
When we examine our anger to see if it's realistic, we find that beneath it are many presuppositions and expectations about the way things should be, how people should treat us, and who we are. These expectations and preconceptions are our "buttons"-the things we're sensitive to that set us off. Because they are unconscious and unrecognized, they color the way we see situations and how we interact with others without our even knowing it.
For example, we may feel that our dear ones are "part of us," so much so that we cease treating them with the respect and common courtesy we give to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. Assuming that our dear ones will always love us, we neglect to nurture and care for these relationships and instead complain that our needs are not being met. We expect them to always be there for us and to understand us. Sometimes we assume that they know us so well that they should know what we feel and what we want.
To help people identify their expectations, I suggest some homework: For the next week, every time you are irritated or angry with someone you're close to, look at what your external and internal buttons are. An external button is a situation in which you typically get upset. For example, a family member leaves their dirty socks on the floor, does the grocery shopping a day later than you asked, or talks about how much better you'd feel if you lost weight. An internal button is your expectation. An external situation only becomes a button for us if we have internal expectations, attachments, and sensitivities. As part of this homework, write down the situation as well as your expectations in it. Then, check to see if your expectation fits the situation or not.
Ordella did the homework assignment. She reported the following:
I have discovered some very interesting things about myself while doing the Button Homework Assignment. I'd asked you if there was a common denominator among the underlying expectations that make us mad. Well, I realized that, at the very least, all my expectations are unrealistic.
In addition, after you talked about how we tend to think of our spouse and dear ones as a part of us and therefore take them for granted and don't treat them very well, I wondered, "How do I think my husband, Alan, is part of me? Obviously he is his own person. I just don't get it." In an attempt to understand, I wrote out some situations that are my buttons and then asked myself, "What was my expectation of him in this situation?" As I did, I wound up laughing out loud at myself!

Button: He doesn't know something and asks too many questions.
Expectation: He should know everything that I know.

Button: He is doing something wrong, inefficiently, too slowly, etc.
Expectation: He should do everything exactly how I would do it.

Button: He is not supporting me. He is doing his own thing while I am struggling to get things done (This is a big one, especially when I am busy).
Expectation: My agenda should be his number one priority.

So here I am, expecting my husband to have the same knowledge as me, to do everything like I do, and to have the same agenda and priorities as I have. If that doesn't sound like thinking that he is an extension of me, I don't know what is! I can't believe how absurd it is to think like this, yet for years that's been what I've assumed was right and true. Let's hope that now, since I have exposed my underlying delusional thought, these three buttons will disappear.
When I did the same exercise regarding my buttons with my kids, I discovered more unrealistic expectations. For example, I hold my children to a higher standard than I do myself. They should have, do, and be everything I don't have, can't do, and am not. That's what will make them happy. (Actually, that's what will make me happy. It may not make them happy.) Nevertheless, it's trickier for me not to get mad at them. I use my anger as a discipline tool-a poor one, granted-like my mother did. I use anger to force them into shape, so it is harder to let it go. I think that if I let go, I will be a bad parent! Isn't that a funny preconception?
Another person, Lloyd, reported:
Button: Someone in a position of authority asks me questions about what I'm doing.
Assumption: I am accountable to no one; I always understand instructions correctly. She is micro-managing me and doesn't respect me.
Expectation: Others should see my superior qualities and not challenge my need for control.
Button: I'm in a bad mood and get upset, and others notice it.
Expectation: I should be able to control my afflictive emotions and maintain an air of calm composure and self-control without much effort on my part.
Button: Someone does not follow agreed upon rules.
Expectation: People should follow all agreed upon rules so that I am not inconvenienced or irritated by their lack of discipline. However, if I choose not to follow a rule, others should cut me slack and not get angry.
Identifying our buttons and our false expectations requires a degree of honesty with ourselves that may initially be uncomfortable. However, their one redeeming quality is that they can be eliminated using the antidotes of mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion. With mindfulness, we acknowledge that our buttons are our responsibility. As long as we have buttons, they will get pushed, even if others have no intention to do so. The only way to remedy this difficulty is to stop holding onto our buttons.
With wisdom we see that those preconceptions are neither realistic nor beneficial and we let them go. Wisdom also enables us to have more "realistic" expectations. But no matter how realistic our expectations are, they are never hard and fast rules that govern others' behavior. We'll be miserable if we try to enforce them as if they were.
For this reason, compassion and cherishing others are important. Holding them in mind, we are able to be patient when others don't meet even our modified and more realistic expectations. Other people are sometimes overwhelmed by disturbing attitudes and emotions, just as we are. They, like us, make mistakes. Some acceptance on our part is needed.
A sense of humor is also important in working with our expectations. It's helpful to be able to laugh at the foolishness of our expectations, assumptions, and preconceptions. Some of the thoughts and beliefs our minds dream up are truly hilarious. When we can laugh at ourselves, our foibles lose their charge and we avoid falling into the trap of self-hatred when we recognize them. In addition, it's fun to laugh and Dharma practice should be fun!


Handling Fear
Alexander Berzin
March 2002

Emergency Methods for Dealing with Fear
In Tibetan Buddhism, the female Buddha-figure Tara represents the aspect of a Buddha that protects us from fear. Tara actually represents the energy-winds of the body and the breath. When purified, she also represents the ability to act and to accomplish our aims. This symbolism suggests several emergency methods of working with the breath and with the subtle energies for handling fear.
The emergency methods derive from preparatory practices (preliminaries) that we do before meditating, studying, or listening to teachings. In and of themselves, these practices help to calm us down in emergencies, when we are extremely frightened or begin to panic. They also serve as the first steps to take before applying deeper methods.
1. Counting the cycles of breathing with eyes closed, taking as the cycle the in and out-breaths, and focusing on the sensation of the breath coming in, going down, the lower abdomen rising, then falling, and the breath going out.
2. Counting the cycles of breathing with eyes half-opened, loosely focused, looking down at the floor, taking as the cycle the out-breath, a pause, and the in-breath, with the same focus as above, and after a while, adding awareness of the sensation of our bottoms touching the chair or floor.
3. Reaffirming the motivation or goal of what we wish to achieve (becoming more calm) and why.
4. Imagining that the mind and energy come into focus like the lens of a camera.
5. Without counting the breath, focusing on the lower abdomen rising and falling while breathing and feeling that all the energies of the body are flowing harmoniously.

What Is Fear?
Fear is a physical and emotional uneasiness felt about something known or unknown, over which we feel we have no ability to control, handle, or bring to the result that we wish. We want to be rid of what we fear, and thus there is a strong repulsion. Even if the fear is a general anxiety, without a specific object that we fear, still there is a strong wish to be rid of an undefined "something."
Fear is not simply anger. Nevertheless, similar to anger, it entails an inflation of the negative qualities of the object we fear and an inflation of "me." Fear adds to anger the mental factor of distinguishing ('du-shes, recognition) that we cannot control or handle the situation. We then pay attention (yid-la byed-pa) to what we fear and to ourselves in terms of that way of distinguishing. That way of distinguishing and paying attention may be accurate or inaccurate.
Fear Is Accompanied by Unawareness
Fear is always accompanied by unawareness (ignorance, confusion) of some fact of reality - either not knowing it or knowing it in a manner that contradicts reality. Let us consider six possible variations.
(1) When we fear that we cannot control or handle a situation, our fear may be accompanied by unawareness of cause and effect and how things exist. The conceptualized objects (zhen-yul, implied object) of our fearful way of paying attention to ourselves and what we fear are
" a solidly existing "me" who, by its own power alone, should be able to control everything, such as our child not getting hurt,
" a solidly existing thing, existing on its own and not influenced by anything else, that we should be able to control by our own efforts alone, but we are unable to do so because of some personal inadequacy.
These are impossible ways of existing and impossible ways in which cause and effect work.
(2) When we are afraid that we cannot handle a situation, the accompanying unawareness may be of the nature of the mind and impermanence. We fear that we cannot handle our emotions or the loss of a loved one, we are unaware that our experiences of pain and sadness are merely the arising and cognizing of appearances. They are impermanent and will pass, like the pain of a dentist drilling out teeth.
(3) Our fear of being unable to handle a situation may be fear that we cannot handle it by ourselves. It may also entail the fear of being alone and loneliness. We think that we can find someone else who can alleviate the situation. The conceptualized objects here are
" a solidly existing "me" who is incompetent, inadequate, not good enough, and who can never learn,
" a solidly existent "someone else" who is better than me and who can save me.
This is another form of unawareness of how others and we exist and unawareness of cause and effect. It may be accurate that we do not have sufficient knowledge now to be able to handle something, such as our car breaking down, and someone else may have that knowledge and be able to help us. However, that does not mean that, through the workings of cause and effect, we cannot learn.
(4) When we are afraid of someone, for instance our employers, we are unaware of their conventional natures. Our employers are human beings, with feelings just as we have. They want to be happy, not unhappy, and want to be liked and not disliked. They have lives outside the office and these affect their moods. If we can relate to our employers in human terms, while remaining mindful of our respective positions, we will have less fear.
(5) Similarly, when we are afraid of snakes or insects, we are also unaware that they are sentient beings, just like ourselves, and want to be happy and not be unhappy. From a Buddhist point of view, we may be unaware of them as the current manifestation of an individual mental continuum that does not have an inherent identity as one species or another. We are unaware that they could even have been our mothers in previous lives.
(6) When we are afraid of failure or sickness, we are unaware of our conventional natures as limited samsaric beings. We are not perfect and of course we will make mistakes and sometimes fail or fall sick. "What do you expect from samsara?"
Feeling Safe
From a Buddhist perspective, to feel safe does not entail
" turning to an omnipotent being who will protect us, since omnipotence is impossible;
" even if a powerful being could help us in some way, needing to please that being or make an offering or sacrifice in order to receive protection or help;
" becoming omnipotent ourselves.
To feel safe, we need
1. to know what we fear and to recognize the confusion and unawareness underlying it;
2. to have a realistic idea of what it means to handle what we fear, especially in terms of ridding ourselves of the underlying confusion;
3. to evaluate our abilities to handle what we fear, both at the moment and in the long-run, without under or overestimating ourselves, and accepting the present stage of our development;
4. to implement what we can do now - if we are doing it, rejoice; and if we are not doing it, resolve to do it to the best of our present abilities and then actually try to do it;
5. if we cannot handle it completely now, to know how to develop to the point at which we can handle it completely;
6. to aim and work for reaching that stage of development;
7. to feel that we are going in a safe direction.
The above seven steps describe what Buddhism calls "taking safe direction" (taking refuge). It is not a passive state, but an active one of putting a safe direction in our lives - the direction of working, in a realistic manner, on ridding ourselves of our fears. Consequently, we feel safe and protected because we know that we are going in the positive and correct direction in life that will enable us eventually to be rid of all problems and difficulties.
A Realistic View of How to Handle Frightening Situations
We need to remember
" Whatever happens to our loved ones or us is the ripening of a huge network of individual karmic forces, as well as historical, social, and economic forces. Accidents and other unwished for things will happen and we cannot protect our loved ones from them, no matter how careful we may be and how much we advise them to be careful. All we can do is try to give sound advice and wish them well.
" To overcome accidents and fear, we need to gain nonconceptual cognition of voidness. Remaining totally absorbed in voidness, however, is not like sticking our heads in a hole in the ground. It is not running away from fear, but is a method for eliminating the unawareness and confusion that cause our karma to ripen into unwished for things and that cause us to have fear.
" In working with the nonconceptual cognition of voidness to purify ourselves of our karma, we will still experience accidents and fear all the way up to the stage of liberation from samsara (arhatship). This is because the nature of samsara is that it goes up and down. Progress is not linear; sometimes things go well and sometimes they do not.
" Even once we attain liberation as an arhat, we will still experience accidents and things that we do not want to happen. However, we will experience them without pain or suffering and, because we are free from all disturbing emotions and attitudes, without fear. It is only at the stage of arhatship that we can fully handle all our fears in the deepest manner.
" Only when we reach enlightenment do we no longer experience accidents or anything unwished for happening. Only a Buddha is fearless in proclaiming
" his or her own realizations, of all good qualities and skills,
" his or her own true stoppings of all obscurations preventing liberation and enlightenment,
" the obscurations that others need to rid themselves of to attain liberation and enlightenment,
" the opponent forces that others need to rely upon to rid themselves of them.
Provisional Methods for Dealing with Fear
1. Reaffirm going in a safe direction of life, through the seven steps outlined above.
2. When facing a frightening situation, such as a test for cancer, imagine the worst scene happening and imagine what would happen then and how we would handle it. This helps to dispel the fear of the unknown.
3. Before undertaking something, such as reaching the airport on time to catch a plane, have several solutions prepared so that if one fails, we are not left with the frightening scenario of having no other way to achieve our goal.
4. As Shantideva taught, if there is a frightening situation and we can do something about it, why worry, just do it. If there is nothing we can do, then why worry, it won't help.
5. Since we will experience fear and unhappiness all the way to liberation, we need to focus on our minds as being as deep and vast as the ocean and, when fear or unhappiness arises, let it pass like a swell on the ocean. The swell does not disturb the calm and quiet depths of the ocean.
6. If we have built up sufficient positive karmic force (merit) from our constructive actions, we can be confident of continuing with a precious human body in future lives. The best protection from fear is our own positive karma, although we need to bear in mind that the nature of samsara is that it goes up and down.
7. In the face of a frightening situation, we may commission or perform ourselves a ritual requesting the aid of a Dharma-protector or a Buddha-figure such as Tara or the Medicine Buddha. Such figures are not omnipotent beings who can save us. We request and open ourselves to their enlightening influence ('phrin-las), so that it may act as a circumstance to ripen the karmic forces from our previously committed constructive actions that might not otherwise have ripened. A more secure effect is for their enlightening influence to act as a circumstance to ripen into trivial inconveniences the karmic forces from our previously committed destructive actions that might otherwise have ripened into serious obstacles preventing success. Thus, instead of being frightened of difficulties, we welcome them as "burning off" negative karmic forces.
8. Reaffirm our Buddha-natures. We have the basis levels of deep awareness to understand difficult and frightening situations (mirror-like deep awareness), to recognize the patterns (equalizing deep awareness), to appreciate the individuality of the situation (individualizing deep awareness), and to know how to act (which may include realizing there is nothing we can do) (accomplishing deep awareness). We also have the basis level of energy actually to act.
9. Reaffirm that having Buddha-nature means that we have the basis for all good qualities complete within us. In Western psychological terms, these qualities may be conscious or unconscious (we may be mindful of them or not, and they may be developed to different degrees). Often, we project the unconscious qualities as a "shadow." Because the unconscious is the unknown, the tension of being unaware of it manifests as fear of the unknown and thus fear of our unknown unconscious qualities. Thus, we may identify with our conscious intellectual side and ignore or deny our unknown, unconscious, emotional feeling side. We may project the emotional feeling side as a shadow and be frightened of others who are very emotional. We may be afraid of our own emotional side and have anxiety about being out of touch with our feelings. If we identify with our conscious emotional feeling side and deny our unconscious intellectual side, we may project the intellectual side as a shadow and be intimidated by those who are intellectual. We may be afraid to try to understand anything and feel anxiety about being intellectually dull. Thus, we need to reaffirm both sides as complete within us, as aspects of our Buddha-natures. We may visualize the two sides embracing each other in the form of a couple, as in a tantra visualization, and feel that we are the complete couple ourselves, not just one member of the pair.
10. Reaffirm another aspect of our Buddha-natures, namely that the nature of the mind is naturally free of all fears and so experiencing fear is merely a fleeting superficial event.
11. Reaffirm yet another aspect of Buddha-nature, namely that we can be inspired by others to have the courage to face frightening situations.


Organ Donation
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

In this age of medical technology, many people ask about donating their organs at death. Is it recommended from the Buddhist point of view?
First, it's important to note that this is an individual choice. Each person must decide this for him or herself, and people may make different decisions, without one choice being right and the other wrong.
Two factors to consider when making this decision are 1) will organ donation harm the dying person? 2) what is the role of compassion in making this decision?
In response to the first, unlike in some religions, in Buddhism preserving the integrity of a dead body is not important. Buddhism does not believe in the coming of a messiah or a bodily resurrection at that time. Thus, removing organs is not an issue from that point of view.
Nevertheless, the question remains if the consciousness of the dying person could be adversely affected by organ transplant, since the surgery must take place immediately upon the cessation of the breath. According to Tibetan Buddhism, the consciousness may remain in the body for hours or occasionally days after the breath has stopped. During the time between the cessation of the breath and the departure of the subtlest consciousness from the body - which is the actual moment of death - it is important for the body to be undisturbed so that the consciousness can naturally absorb into subtler states. If the body is operated upon, the consciousness may be disturbed and this could adversely affect the person's next rebirth.
On the other hand, some people have very powerful compassion and wish to donate their organs even if it could disturb their consciousness at the time of death. Such compassion for others who could use the organs is certainly admirable.
Thus, it is up to each person to decide, because each person has different concerns and capabilities. Someone who feels that his or her mind or meditation practice may be weak at death may prefer to not give their organs in order to avoid possible harm to their future lives. Others who have a strong meditation practice may not be concerned with this. Those with strong compassion may be willing to risk possible danger to themselves in order to benefit others. Each of us must look inside honestly and choose what we consider best according to our capabilities and level of practice.


Mind and Mental Factors:
The Fifty-one Types of Subsidiary Awareness
Alexander Berzin, June 2002

Mind as Mental Activity
According to the Buddhist definition, mind (sems) is mere clarity and awareness (gsal-rig-tsam) and refers to the individual, subjective mental activity of experiencing things (myong-ba). Clarity means giving rise to cognitive appearances of things ('char-ba) and awareness refers to cognitively engaging with them ('jug-pa). Mere implies that this occurs without a separate unaffected, monolithic "me" that is either controlling or observing this activity. The "I" exists, but merely as an imputation based on a continuity of everchanging moments of experiencing everchanging things.
See: An Introduction to Mahamudra and Its Practical Application to Life, 4 The Initial Level of Mahamudra Meditation.]
Ways of Being Aware of Something
Ways of being aware of something (shes-pa) include all the types of mental activity. They include:
" principal awarenesses (gtso-sems),
" subsidiary awarenesses (sems-byung, mental factors).
The Sautrantika and Chittamatra systems of tenets add a third type,
" reflexive awareness (rang-rig).
Reflexive awareness accompanies every moment of nonconceptual and conceptual cognition of an object, although it itself remains always nonconceptual. It focuses on and cognizes only the other awarenesses of the cognition - namely, the principal and subsidiary awarenesses. It does not cognize the objects of the principal and subsidiary awarenesses on which it focuses. It plants the nonstatic abstraction (ldan-min 'du-byed, concomitant affecting variable) of a mental impression (bag-chags) of the cognition it cognizes, which then allows for subsequently remembering the cognition (dran-pa, mindfulness). Remembering it occurs through conceptual cognition of a semblance of it (snang-ba), a static abstraction (idea) that represents the former cognition.
According to the Gelug tradition, within the Madhyamaka system, only the Yogachara Svatantrika-Madhyamaka subdivision accepts reflexive awareness. Sautrantika-Svatantrika Madhyamaka and Prasangika-Madhyamaka reject even its conventional existence (tha-snyad-du yod-pa). According to the non-Gelug schools, all divisions of Madhyamaka accept the conventional existence of reflexive awareness.
Principal Awarenesses
Principal awarenesses include the six types of primary consciousness (rnam-shes):
1. eye consciousness (mig-gi rnam-shes),
2. ear consciousness (rna'i rnam-shes),
3. nose consciousness (sna'i rnam-shes),
4. tongue consciousness (lce'i rnam-shes),
5. body consciousness (lus-kyi rnam-shes),
6. mental consciousness (yid-kyi rnam-shes).
Unlike the Western view of consciousness as a general faculty that can be aware of all sensory and mental objects, Buddhism differentiates six types of consciousness, each of which is specific to one sensory field or to the mental field.
A principal awareness cognizes merely the essential nature (ngo-bo) of an object, which means the category of phenomenon to which something belongs. For example, eye consciousness cognizes a sight as merely a sight.
Bodhichitta (byang-sems) is also a type of principal awareness, since it focuses on enlightenment and cognizes merely the category of phenomenon that enlightenment is. Bodhichitta, however, is not included in the usual lists of types of principal awareness.
The Chittamatra schools add two more types of principal awareness to make their list of an eightfold network of primary consciousnesses (rnam-shes tshogs-brgyad):
7. deluded awareness (nyon-yid),
8. alayavijnana (kun-gzhi rnam-shes, all-encompassing foundation consciousness, storehouse consciousness).
Alayavijnana is an individual consciousness, not a universal one, underlying all moments of cognition. It cognizes the same objects as the cognitions it underlies, but is a nondetermining cognition of what appears to it (snang-la ma-nges-pa, inattentive awareness) and lacks clarity of its objects. It carries karmic legacies (sa-bon) and the mental impressions of memories, in the sense that both are nonstatic abstractions imputed on the alayavijnana. The continuity of an individual alayavijnana ceases with the attainment of enlightenment.
Deluded awareness aims at the alayavijnana and cognizes its ripening factor (rnam-smin-gi cha) as a false "me." On a gross level, it cognizes it as a "me" that exists as a static, monolithic entity independent from its aggregates (rtag gcig rang-dbang-can). The aggregates refer to the five aggregate factors (phung-po, Skt. skandha) that comprise each moment of our experience. The five are forms of physical phenomena (including the body), feeling a level of happiness, distinguishing, other affecting variables (emotions and so on), and primary consciousness.
[See: Basic Scheme of the Five Aggregate Factors of Experience.]
On a subtler level, deluded awareness cognizes the ripening factor of the alayavijnana as a "me" that is a substantially, self-sufficiently knowable entity that can hold its own position (rang-rkya 'dzin-thub-pa'i rdzas-yod), lording over its aggregates.
According to the non-Gelug schools, all Madhyamaka systems accept the conventional existence of the alayavijnana and deluded awareness. According to the Gelug school, none of the Madhyamaka systems accept even the conventional existence of them.
[See: Basic Features of the Gelug-Chittamatra System: 2 Specific Points Concerning the Three Types of Phenomenon.]
General Discussion of Subsidiary Awarenesses
Like principal awarenesses, subsidiary awarenesses are also merely ways of being aware of something. They are aware of their objects in special ways, but without interpolating (sgro-'dogs, adding something that is not there) or repudiating (skur-'debs, denying something that is there). Some perform functions that help principal awareness to cognitively take ('dzin-pa) an object. Others add an emotional flavor to the taking of the object.
A network of subsidiary awarenesses accompanies each moment of primary awareness and each shares five concomitant features (mtshungs-ldan lnga) with the primary awareness it accompanies.
According to the Vaibhashika view of Vasubandhu's Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa'i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha) - accepted by the Prasangika-Madhyamaka as well - the five concomitant features are:
1. reliance (rten) - relying on the same cognitive sensor (dbang-po),
2. object (yul) - cognitively aiming at the same focal object (dmigs-yul),
3. aspect (rnam-pa) - giving rise to the same cognitive appearance or mental representation,
4. time (dus) - arising, abiding, and ceasing simultaneously,
5. natal source (rdzas, natal substance) - although coming from their own individual natal sources - referring to individual karmic legacies (sa-bon, karmic seeds) - coming from natal sources that have the same slant (ris-mthun). Thus, they work harmoniously together without clashing.
According to the Chittamatra view of Asanga's Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya), the five concomitant features are:
1. natal source (rdzas) - all arising from a single natal source (a single karmic legacy) that has the same slant as that of the primary consciousness they accompany,
2. object (yul) and aspect (rnam-pa) - having the same appearing object (snang-yul), as what they cognitively aim at,
3. essential nature (ngo-bo) - being the same type of phenomenon; namely, destructive (mi-dge-ba, "nonvirtuous"), constructive (dge-ba, "virtuous"), or unspecified as either (lung ma-bstan),
4. time (dus) - arising, abiding, and ceasing simultaneously,
5. realm (khams) and level of mind (sa) - being items within the same realm of samsaric existence or within the same bodhisattva level of mind (Skt. bhumi).
[See: Concomitant and Nonconcomitant Affecting Variables. See also: Introductory Survey of Objects of Cognition: Gelug Presentation.]
Count of the Subsidiary Awarenesses
There are many different systems of abhidharma (chos-mngon-pa, topics of knowledge), each with its individual count and list of subsidiary awarenesses. Often, the definitions of the awarenesses they assert in common differ as well.
For example, the Theravada system presented in An All-Inclusive Text on Points from Topics of Knowledge (Pali: Abhidhammattha-sangaha) by Anuraddha outlines fifty-two subsidiary awarenesses. The standard Bon treatment of the topic, found in Innermost Core of Topics of Knowledge (mDzod-phug) by Shenrab Miwo (gShen-rab mi-bo), unearthed as a treasure-text (gter-ma, terma) by Shenchen Luga (gShen-chen Klu-dga'), lists fifty-one.
In Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge, Vasubandhu specified forty-six subsidiary awarenesses; while in his Treatment of the Five Aggregate Factors (Phung-po lnga rab-tu byed-pa, Skt. Panchaskandha-prakarana), he listed fifty-one. Vasubandhu's list of fifty-one differs significantly from the Bon version with the same number. Asanga also presented fifty-one subsidiary awarenesses in his Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge. This list repeats Vasubandhu's list of fifty-one, but with different definitions of many of the awarenesses and, in a few places, a slight change in their order.
The Madhyamaka schools follow Asanga's version. Here, we shall present his system, based on the explanations the seventeenth-century Gelug master Yeshey-gyeltsen (Kha-chen Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan) gave in Clearly Indicating the Manner of Primary and Subsidiary Awarenesses (Sems-dang sems-byung-gi tshul gsal-bar bsten-pa). We shall indicate some of the basic variations only from Vasubandhu's Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge, since the Tibetans commonly study this text as well.
Asanga listed:
" five ever-functioning subsidiary awarenesses (kun-'gro lnga),
" five ascertaining ones (yul-nges lnga),
" eleven constructive emotions (dge-ba bcu-gcig),
" six root disturbing emotions and attitudes (rtsa-nyon drug),
" twenty auxiliary disturbing emotions (nye-nyon nyi-shu),
" four changeable subsidiary awarenesses (gzhan-'gyur bzhi).
These lists of subsidiary awarenesses are not exhaustive. There are many more than just fifty-one. Many good qualities (yon-tan) cultivated on the Buddhist path are not listed separately - for example, generosity (sbyin-pa), ethical discipline (tshul-khrims), patience (bzod-pa), love (byams-pa), and compassion (snying-rje). According to the Gelug presentation, the five types of deep awareness (ye-shes) - mirror-like, equalizing, individualizing, accomplishing, and sphere of reality (Skt. dharmadhatu) - are also subsidiary awarenesses. The various lists are just of certain significant categories of subsidiary awarenesses.
The Five Ever-Functioning Subsidiary Awarenesses
The five ever-functioning subsidiary awarenesses accompany every moment of cognition.
(1) Feeling a level of happiness (tshor-ba, feeling) is how we experience the ripenings of our karma. The ripenings include
" the aggregate factors with which we are born,
" the environment in which we live,
" the events that happen to us similar to what we have done in the past,
" our feelings to repeat our past patterns of behavior.
A level of happiness is what we experience as the ripening of constructive karma, and a level of unhappiness is what we experience as the ripening of destructive karma. Happiness, neutral, and unhappiness form an unbroken spectrum. Each may be either physical or mental.
Happiness is that feeling which, when it stops, we wish to meet with it again. Unhappiness or suffering is that feeling which, when it arises, we want to be parted from it. A neutral feeling is one that is neither of the former two.
Feelings of levels of happiness may or may not be upsetting. They are upsetting (zang-zing) when they share five concomitant features with craving (sred-pa) for the aggregate factors of our experience when they are tainted (zag-bcas) - meaning mixed with confusion - and perpetuating (nyer-len) of samsara. They are nonupsetting (zang-zing med-pa) when they share five concomitant features with an arya's total absorption on voidness (mnyam-bzhag, "meditative equipoise"). Only nonupsetting happiness or a nonupsetting neutral feeling may accompany an arya's total absorption.
(2) Distinguishing ('du-shes, recognition) takes an uncommon characteristic feature (mtshan-nyid) of the appearing object (snang-yul) of a nonconceptual cognition or an outstanding feature (bkra-ba) of the appearing object of a conceptual cognition, and ascribes a conventional significance (tha-snyad 'dogs-pa) to it. It does not, however, necessarily ascribe a name or mental label to its object, nor does it compare it with previously cognized objects. The mental labeling of words and names is an extremely complex conceptual process. Thus, distinguishing differs greatly from "recognition."
For example, with nonconceptual visual cognition, we can distinguish colored shapes within the visual sense field, for instance a yellow shape. According to Gelug, we can also distinguish commonsense objects with nonconceptual visual cognition, such as a spoon. In such cases, the distinguishing does not ascribe the name yellow or spoon. In fact, distinguishing here does not even know that the color is yellow or that the object is a spoon. It merely distinguishes it as a conventional item. Thus, even a newborn infant can distinguish light or dark, hot or cold. This is known as the distinguishing that takes a characteristic feature concerning an item (don-la mtshan-par 'dzin-pa'i 'du-shes).
In conceptual cognition, distinguishing ascribes a conventional term or meaning (sgra-don) to its object as the elimination of what it is not (gzhan-sel), although this is not a process of eliminating alternative possibilities one by one. Nor do the alternative possibilities need to be present in order to eliminate them. Thus, in ascribing a name to its object, such as "yellow" or "spoon," it distinguishes yellow from everything that is not yellow, such as black, or a spoon from everything that is not a spoon, such as a fork. This is known as the distinguishing that takes a characteristic feature concerning a convention (tha-snyad-la mtshan-mar 'dzin-pa'i 'du-shes). Nonconceptual cognition lacks this type of distinguishing.
(3) An urge (sems-pa) causes the mental activity to face an object or to go in its direction. In general, it moves a mental continuum to cognitively take an object. A mental continuum (sems-rgyud, mind-stream) is an individual everlasting sequence of moments of mental activity.
Mental karma (yid-kyi las) is equivalent to a mental urge. According to the Sautrantika, Chittamatra, Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, and the non-Gelug Prasangika-Madhyamaka schools, physical and verbal karmas are also mental urges.
[See: The Mechanism of Karma.]
(4) Contacting awareness (reg-pa) differentiates (yongs-su gcod-pa) that the object of a cognition is pleasant (yid-du 'ong-ba), unpleasant, or neutral, and thus serves as the foundation for experiencing it with a feeling of happiness, unhappiness, or a neutral feeling.
(5) Paying attention or taking to mind (yid-la byed-pa) engages ('jug-pa) the mental activity with the object. The cognitive engagement may be merely to pay some level of attention to the object, from very little attention to very much. It may also be to focus on the object in a certain way. For example, attention may focus on an object painstakingly, in a resetting manner, uninterruptedly, or effortlessly.
[See: Achieving Shamatha.]
Alternatively, or additionally, attention may consider an object in a certain manner. It may consider its object concordantly (tshul-bcas yid-byed) as what it actually is or discordantly (tshul-min yid-byed) as what it is not. The four types of paying attention discordantly to the five aggregate factors of our experience is to consider them static rather than nonstatic, happiness rather than problematic (suffering), clean rather than unclean, and having a truly existent self rather than lacking such a self. The four types of paying attention to them concordantly are the opposite of these.
All five ever-functioning subsidiary awarenesses are necessarily present in each moment of cognition of anything. Otherwise, our using the object (longs-su spyod-pa) as an object of cognition would be incomplete.
Asanga explained,
" We do not actually experience an object, unless we feel some level of happiness on the spectrum from happiness through neutral to unhappiness.
" We do not cognitively take something within a sense field as an object of cognition, unless we distinguish some characteristic feature of it.
" We do not even face or go in the direction of an object of cognition, unless we have an urge toward it.
" We do not have any basis for experiencing the object with a feeling, unless we have contacting awareness to differentiate it as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
" We do not actually engage with the specific object, unless we pay some level of attention to it, even if that level is extremely low.
The Five Ascertaining Subsidiary Awarenesses
Vasubandhu defined the following five in a general manner and asserted that they also accompany every moment of cognition. Asanga called them ascertaining subsidiary awarenesses and gave them definitions that are more specialized. For Asanga, they accompany only constructive cognitions that apprehend (rtogs-pa, understand) their objects and thus they are subcategories of what Vasubandhu defined. They enable mental activity to ascertain (nges-pa) its object, which means to take it with certainty.
(1) Positive intention ('dun-pa) is not merely the motivation (kun-slong) to obtain any object, to achieve any goal, or to do something with the object or goal once obtained or achieved. It is the wish to have a desired constructive object, to do something with it, or to achieve a desired constructive goal. The intention may be the wish to meet with a constructive object previously cognized, the wish not to be parted from a constructive object presently cognized, or keen interest (don-gnyer) in a constructive object to be attained in the future. Positive intention leads to joyful perseverance (brtson-grus) in obtaining the desired object or attaining the desired goal.
(2) Firm conviction (mos-pa) focuses on a fact that we have validly ascertained to be like this and not like that. Its function is to make our belief that a fact is true (dad-pa) so firm that others' arguments or opinions will not dissuade us. For Vasubandhu, this subsidiary awareness means regard. It merely takes its object to have some level of good qualities - on the spectrum from no good qualities to all good qualities - and may be either accurate or distorted.
(3) Recollecting mindfulness (dran-pa) is not merely holding on to any cognized object without losing it as an object of focus. Here, it prevents mental activity from forgetting or losing a constructive object with which it is familiar. It has three characteristics:
" the object must be something constructive with which we are familiar ('dris-pa),
" the aspect (rnam-pa) must be that it is focused on this object and does not forget or lose it,
" the function must be that it prevents mental wandering.
Thus, mindfulness is equivalent to a type of "mental glue" ('dzin-cha) that holds on to the object of focus without letting go. Its strength spans the spectrum from weak to strong.
(4) Mentally fixating (ting-nge-'dzin, concentration) is not merely keeping fixed on any object of cognition taken by any type of cognition, including sensory cognition. Here, it makes the mental activity stay single-pointedly engaged, with continuity, focused on a labeled constructive object (btags-pa'i dngos-po). In other words, the object of fixation needs to be something specified by Buddha as constructive. Additionally, the object needs to be taken with mental consciousness. This is because mental labeling is a function restricted to conceptual cognition, which is exclusively mental. Fixation is the mental abiding (gnas-cha) on an object and may vary in strength from weak to strong. It serves as a basis for discriminating awareness.
The Karma Kagyu and Sakya traditions teach focusing on a visual object, such as a Buddha statue, as a method for gaining shamatha (a stilled and settled state of mind). This instruction does not contradict Asanga's definition of mentally fixating. This is because these traditions mean focusing on the Buddha statue as a commonsense object. According to their assertions, the objects of visual cognition are merely moments of colored shapes. Commonsense objects, such as a Buddha statue, are cognized only by conceptual mental cognition. This is because commonsense objects that extend over time and that extend over the sensibilia cognized by other senses are mentally labeled here on the basis of a sequence of visually cognized moments of colored shapes.
[See: Fine Analysis of Objects of Cognition: Non-Gelug Presentation.]
(5) Discriminating awareness (shes-rab, "wisdom") focuses on an object for analysis and differentiates its strong points from its weaknesses or its good qualities from its faults. It differentiates these on the basis of the four axioms (rigs-pa bzhi): dependency, functionality, establishment by reason, and the nature of things. Thus, as with the other ascertaining subsidiary awarenesses, discriminating awareness understands (rtogs-pa) its object - for instance, whether it is constructive, destructive, or unspecified by Buddha to be either. It functions to turn away indecisive wavering about it.
[See: The Four Axioms for Examining a Dharma Teaching.]
Vasubandhu called this subsidiary awareness intelligent awareness (blo-gros) and defined it as the subsidiary awareness that decisively discriminates that something is correct or incorrect, constructive or destructive, and so on. It adds some level of decisiveness to distinguishing an object of cognition - even if that level is extremely weak - and may be either accurate or inaccurate. Thus, intelligent awareness does not necessarily understand its object correctly.
The Eleven Constructive Emotions
(1) Believing a fact to be true (dad-pa) focuses on something existent and knowable, something with good qualities, or an actual potential, and considers it either existent or true, or considers a fact about it as true. Thus, it implies accepting reality.
There are three types:
" Clearheadedly believing a fact about something (dang-ba'i dad-pa) is clear about a fact and, like a water purifier, clears the mind. Vasubandhu specified that it clears the mind of disturbing emotions and attitudes about the object.
" Believing a fact based on reason (yid-ches-kyi dad-pa) considers a fact about something to be true based on thinking about reasons that prove it.
" Believing a fact with an aspiration concerning it (mngon-'dod-kyi dad-pa) considers true both a fact about something and an aspiration we consequently hold about the object, such as that we can attain a positive goal and that we shall attain it.
(2) A sense of moral self-dignity (ngo-tsha, a sense of saving face) is the sense to refrain from negative behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on ourselves. According to Vasubandhu, this subsidiary awareness means having a sense of values. It is respect for positive qualities or persons possessing them.
(3) A sense of saving the honor of others (khrel-yod) is the sense to refrain from negative behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on those connected with us. Those connected with us may be, for instance, our family, teachers, social group, ethnic group, religious order, or countrymen. For Vasubandhu, this subsidiary awareness means having scruples, and is a restraint from being brazenly negative. This and the previous subsidiary awareness accompany all constructive states of mind.
(4) Detachment (ma-chags-pa) is a bored disgust with (yid-'byung) and thus lack of longing desire for compulsive existence (srid-pa) and objects of compulsive existence (srid-pa'i yo-byad). It does not necessarily imply, however, total freedom from all longing desire, but just a degree of freedom from it. Detachment may be from the compulsive pursuits of this life, from compulsive pursuits in any lifetime in general, or from the serenity of a release (Skt. nirvana) from compulsive existence. It serves as a basis for not engaging in faulty behavior (nyes-spyod).
(5) Imperturbability (zhe-sdang med-pa) is not wishing to cause harm (mnar-sems) in response to sentient beings, our own suffering, or situations entailing suffering that may arise from either of the two or which may simply be the situations in which the suffering occurs. It does not imply total freedom from anger, and it too serves as a basis for not engaging in faulty behavior.
(6) Lack of naivety (gti-mug med-pa) is the discriminating awareness that is aware of the individual details (so-sor rtog-pa) concerning behavioral cause and effect or concerning reality, and which acts as the opponent for naivety about them. The lack of naivety may arise as something acquired at birth (skyes-thob) from the ripening of karma. Alternatively, it may arise from applying ourselves (sbyor-byung) to listening to or reading scriptural texts, pondering their meaning, or meditating on their correctly comprehended meaning. It does not imply total freedom from naivety, and it too serves as a basis for not engaging in faulty behavior.
(7) Joyful perseverance (brtson-'grus) is taking joy in doing something constructive. Asanga explained five aspects or divisions:
" armor-like courage (go-cha'i brtson-'grus), to endure difficulties, gained from reminding ourselves of the joy with which we undertook what we did,
" constant and respectful application of ourselves to the task (sbyor-ba'i brtson-'grus),
" never becoming disheartened or shrinking back (mi-'god-ba'i brston-'grus),
" never withdrawing (mi-ldog-pa'i brtson-'grus),
" never becoming complacent (mi-chog-bar mi-'dzin-pa'i brtson-'grus).
(8) A sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs, flexibility) is a sense of suppleness or serviceablity (las-su rung-ba) of body and mind that allows the mental activity to remain engaged with a constructive object for as long as we wish. It is attained from having cut the continuity of the body and mind from taking detrimental stances, such as mentally wandering or fidgeting. A sense of fitness induces a nondisturbing exhilarating feeling of physical and mental bliss.
(9) A caring attitude (bag-yod, carefulness) is a subsidiary awareness that, while remaining in a state of detachment, imperturbability, lack of naivety, and joyful perseverance, causes us to meditate on constructive things and safeguards against leaning toward tainted (negative) things. In other words, being disgusted with and not longing for compulsive existence, not wanting to cause harm in response to its suffering, not being naive about the effects of our behavior, and taking joy in acting constructively, a caring attitude brings us to act constructively and to refrain from destructive behavior. This is because we care about the situations of others and ourselves and about the effects of our actions on both; we take them seriously.
(10) Equilibrium (btang-snyoms) is a subsidiary awareness that, while remaining in a state of detachment, imperturbability, lack of naivety, and joyful perseverance, allows the mental activity to remain effortlessly undisturbed, without flightiness or dullness, in a natural state of spontaneity and openness.
(11) Not being cruel (rnam-par mi-'tshe-ba) is not merely the imperturbability of not wishing to cause harm to sentient beings who are suffering or to irritate or to annoy them. It has, in addition, compassion (snying-rje), the wish for them to be free of their suffering and its causes.
The Six Root Disturbing Emotions and Attitudes
A disturbing emotion or attitude (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha, "afflictive emotion") is one that when it arises, causes us to lose our peace of mind (rab-tu mi-zhi-ba) and incapacitates us so that we lose self-control. There are six root ones, which act as the roots of the auxiliary disturbing emotions and attitudes. Vasubandhu classified five of the six as being without an outlook on life (lta-min nyon-mongs). Thus, they are disturbing emotions or mental states. The sixth is a set of five with an outlook on life (nyon-mongs lta-ba can) and thus comprises five disturbing attitudes. Asanga called this set of five "disturbing deluded outlooks on life" (lta-ba nyon-mongs-can). Let us call them "deluded outlooks" for short.
Except for the Vaibhashika school of tenets, all other Indian Buddhist tenet systems (grub-mtha') assert that, other than a few exceptions, all disturbing emotions and attitudes have two levels: conceptually based (kun-btags) and automatically arising (lhan-skyes). Conceptually based disturbing emotions and attitudes arise based on the conceptual framework of a distorted outlook on life. Automatically arising ones occur without such a basis.
Among the disturbing emotions without an outlook, the exception is indecisive wavering and, among those without an outlook, the exceptions are holding a deluded outlook as supreme, an outlook of holding deluded morality or conduct as supreme, and a distorted outlook. These exceptions have no automatically arising form and occur only conceptually based. The Vaibhashika tenet system does not assert an automatically arising form of any disturbing emotion or attitude. According to its assertions, all disturbing emotions and attitudes are exclusively conceptually-based.
(1) Longing desire ('dod-chags) aims at any external or internal tainted object (associated with confusion) - either animate or inanimate - and wishes to acquire it based on regarding the object as attractive by its very nature. It functions to bring us suffering. Although longing desire or greed may occur with either sensory or mental cognition, it is based on a conceptual interpolation beforehand. Note that sensory cognition is always nonconceptual, while mental cognition may be either nonconceptual or conceptual. The preceding interpolation either exaggerates the good qualities of the desired object or adds good qualities that it lacks. Thus, the conceptual interpolation pays attention to the desired object in a discordant manner (incorrect consideration) - for example, considering something dirty (a body filled with excrement) as clean.
From a Western perspective, we may add that when longing desire is aimed at another person or group, it may take the form of wishing to possess the person or group as belonging to us or for us to belong to the person or group. It also would seem that longing desire is often additionally supported by a conceptual repudiation or denial beforehand of the negative qualities of its object.
Vasubandhu defined this root disturbing emotion as attachment or possessiveness. It is wishing not to let go of either any of the five types of desirable sensory objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or physical sensations) ('dod-pa'i 'dod-chags) or of our own compulsive existence (srid-pa'i 'dod-chags). It is also based on an exaggeration or a discordant way of paying attention to a tainted object. Attachment to desirable sensory objects is attachment to objects of the realm of desirable sensory objects ('dod-khams, desire realm). Attachment to compulsive existence is attachment to the objects of the realm of ethereal forms (gzugs-khams, form realm) or the realm of formless beings (gzugs-med khams, formless realm). This means attachment to the deep states of meditative trance attained in those realms.
(2) Anger (khong-khro) aims at another sentient being, our own suffering, or situations entailing suffering that may arise from either of the two or which may simply be the situations in which the suffering occurs. It is impatient with them (mi-bzod-pa) and wishes to get rid of them such as by damaging or hurting them (gnod-sems) or by striking out against them (kun-nas mnar-sems). It is based on regarding its object as unattractive or repulsive by its very nature and it functions to bring us suffering. Hostility (zhe-sdang) is a subcategory of anger and is directly primarily, although not exclusively, at sentient beings.
As with longing desire, although anger may occur with either sensory or mental cognition, it is based on a conceptual interpolation beforehand. The interpolation either exaggerates the negative qualities of the object or adds negative qualities that it lacks. Thus, the conceptual interpolation pays attention to the object in a discordant manner - for example, incorrectly considering something not at fault to be at fault.
From a Western perspective, we may add that when anger or hostility is aimed at another person or group, it may take the form of rejecting the person or group. Alternatively, because of fear of being rejected by the person or group, we may redirect the anger at ourselves. It would also seem that anger is often additionally supported by a conceptual repudiation or denial beforehand of the good qualities of its object.
(3) Arrogance (nga-rgyal, pride) is a puffed-up mind (khengs-pa) based on a deluded outlook toward a transitory network ('jig-lta). As explained below, this deluded outlook focuses on some aspect or network of aspects from among our five aggregates and identifies it as an unaffected, monolithic "me" separate from the aggregates and lording over them. From among the various forms and levels of a deluded outlook toward a transitory network, it is based specifically on automatically arising grasping for "me" (ngar-'dzin lhan-skyes). It functions to make us not appreciate others or respect the good qualities of others (mi-gus-pa) and to prevent us from learning anything. There are seven types:
" Arrogance (nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone inferior to myself in some quality.
" Exaggerated arrogance (lhag-pa'i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone equal to myself in some quality.
" Outrageous arrogance (nga-rgyal-las-kyang nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone superior to myself in some quality.
" Egotistic arrogance (nga'o snyam-pa'i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that thinks "me" while focusing on our own samsara-perpetuating aggregates (nyer-len-gyi phung-po).
" False or anticipatory arrogance (mngon-par nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels I have attained some quality that I have not actually attained or not yet attained.
" Modest arrogance (cung-zad snyam-pa'i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels that I am just a little bit inferior compared to someone vastly superior to myself in some quality, but still superior to almost everyone else.
" Distorted arrogance (log-pa'i nga-rgyal) is a puffed-up mind that feels that some deviant aspect that I have fallen to (khol-sar shor-ba) is a good quality that I have attained - for instance, being a good hunter.
Vasubandhu mentioned that some Buddhist texts list nine types of arrogance, but they can be subsumed under three of the above categories - arrogance, exaggerated arrogance, and modest arrogance. The nine are puffed-up minds that feel:
" I am superior to others,
" I am equal to others,
" I am inferior to others,
" others are superior to me,
" others are equal to me,
" others are inferior to me,
" there is no one superior to me,
" there is no one equal to me,
" there is no one inferior to me.
(4) Unawareness (ma-rig-pa, ignorance), according to both Asanga and Vasubandhu, is the murky-mindedness (rmongs-pa) of not knowing (mi-shes-pa) behavioral cause and effect or the true nature of reality (de-kho-na-nyid). Murky-mindedness is a heaviness of mind and body. Unawareness, then, as a disturbing state of mind that causes and perpetuates uncontrollably recurring rebirth (samsara), does not include not knowing someone's name. Unawareness produces distorted certainty (log-par nges-pa), indecisive wavering, and complete befuddlement (kun-nas nyon-mongs-pa). In other words, unawareness makes us stubborn in our certainty about something incorrect, insecure and unsure of ourselves, and stressed.
According to A Commentary on (Dignaga's "Compendium of) Validly Cognizing Minds" (Tshad-ma rnam-'grel, Skt. Pramanavarttika) by Dharmakirti, unawareness is also the murky-mindedness of apprehending something in an inverted way (phyin-ci log-tu 'dzin-pa).
Destructive behavior arises from and is accompanied by unawareness of behavioral cause and effect. Thus, Asanga explained that through this type of unawareness we build up the karma to experience worse states of rebirth. Unawareness of the true nature of reality gives rise to and accompanies any activity - destructive, constructive, or unspecified. Focusing only on constructive behavior, Asanga explained that through this type of unawareness we build up the karma to experience better states of samsaric rebirth.
According to Vasubandhu and all Hinayana tenet systems (Vaibhashika and Sautrantika), unawareness of the true nature of reality refers only to unawareness of how persons (gang-zag) exist, both ourselves and others. This is because the Hinayana schools do not assert a lack of impossible identity of phenomena (chos-kyi bdag-med, selflessness of phenomena, identitylessness of phenomena).
According to the Sakya and Nyingma interpretations of Prasangika and all four Tibetan traditions' interpretations of the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and Chittamatra views, Asanga's reference to unawareness of the true nature of reality also does not include unawareness of how phenomena exist. This is because they assert that unawareness of how phenomena exist is not a disturbing state of mind and does not prevent liberation. They include this subsidiary awareness among the obscurations regarding all knowables and which prevent omniscience (shes-sgrib).
The Gelug and Karma Kagyu interpretations of the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view include unawareness of the true nature of how all phenomena exist as a form of unawareness that is a disturbing state of mind. Thus, they include it in Asanga's reference and in the obscurations that are disturbing emotions and attitudes and which prevent liberation (nyon-sgrib).
Naivety (gti-mug) is a subcategory of unawareness and, when used in its strict sense, refers only to the unawareness that accompanies destructive states of mind - both unawareness of behavioral cause and effect and of the true nature of reality.
Longing desire (or attachment, depending on the definition), hostility, and naivety are the three poisonous emotions (dug-gsum).
(5) Indecisive wavering (the-tshoms, doubt) is entertaining two minds about what is true - in other words, wavering between accepting or rejecting what is true. What is true refers to such facts as the four noble truths and behavioral cause and effect. Moreover, the wavering may tend more to the side of what is true, more to the side of what is false, or be evenly divided between the two. Indecisive wavering functions as a basis for not engaging with what is constructive.
Asanga pointed out that the main cause of problems here is disturbing, deluded indecisive wavering (the-tshoms nyon-mongs-can). It refers to the wavering that tends more toward an incorrect decision about what is true. It is the troublemaker because, if the wavering tends toward what is correct or is even divided, it could lead to engaging in what is constructive.
(6) Deluded outlooks view their objects in a certain way. They seek and regard their objects as things to latch on to (yul-'tshol-ba), without they themselves scrutinizing, analyzing, or investigating them. In other words, they merely have an attitude toward their objects. They occur only during conceptual cognition and are accompanied by either an interpolation or a repudiation. As subsidiary awarenesses, however, they themselves do not interpolate or repudiate anything.
There are five deluded outlooks. Asanga explained that each is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness (shes-rab nyon-mongs-can). They are not subcategories, however, of the discriminating awareness that is an ascertaining subsidiary awareness. This is because they do not fulfill Asanga's criterion for this ascertaining awareness, that they understand their objects correctly.
Moreover, Asanga explained that each of the five deluded outlooks entails
" tolerance for the deluded outlook, since it lacks the discrimination to see that it brings suffering,
" attachment to it, since it does not realize that it is deluded,
" consideration of it as intelligent,
" a conceptual framework that tightly holds on to it,
" speculation that it is correct.
The Five Deluded Outlooks
(1) A deluded outlook toward a transitory network ('jig-tshogs-la lta-ba, 'jig-lta, false view of a transitory network) regards some transitory network from our own samsara-perpetuating five aggregates as "me" (nga, bdag) or as "mine" (nga'i-ba, bdag-gi-ba). It is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness that grasps the transitory network of aggregates as "me" (ngar-'dzin) or grasps them as "mine" (nga-yir 'dzin). It grasps them as "mine" based on misconceiving "me" to exist as their possessor, their controller, or their inhabitant.
A deluded outlook toward a transitory network is accompanied by and based on grasping for the impossible identity of a person (gang-zag-gi bdag-'dzin), specifically the impossible identity of "me." Such grasping focuses on the conventionally existent "me" imputed on the five aggregates and interpolates it to exist in the manner of a false "me" - as an unaffected, monolithic entity separate from the aggregates and knowable on its own. The interpolation this grasping makes is a discordant manner of paying attention (tshul-min yid-byed, incorrect consideration). As such, the interpolation itself is not a disturbing attitude. It is a subcategory of the everfunctioning subsidiary awareness paying attention.
According to Tsongkhapa, this deluded outlook does not actually focus on the aggregates, as Vasubandhu and Asanga explain. According to his Gelug Prasangika system, it focuses on the conventional "me," which itself is a transitory network of everchanging moments of continuity. It regards it as a truly findable "me," identical with the aggregates, or as "me, the possessor, controller, or inhabitant" of the aggregates.
(2) An extreme outlook (mthar-'dzin-par lta-ba, mthar-lta) regards our five samsara-perpetuating aggregates in either an eternalist (rtag-pa) or nihilistic ('chad-pa) way. In his Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo), Tsongkhapa clarified this by explaining that an extreme outlook is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness that focuses on the conventional "me" that the previous disturbing attitude identified with a transitory network. It considers the conventional "me" either as having this identity permanently or as not having continuity in future lives. According to Vasubandhu, an extreme outlook views the samsara-producing aggregate factors themselves as either lasting eternally or ending totally at death, with no continuity in future lives.
(3) Holding a deluded outlook as supreme (lta-ba mchog-tu 'dzin-pa, an outlook of false supremacy) regards as supreme one of our deluded outlooks and the samsara-perpetuating aggregates based on which the deluded outlook is produced. Tsongkhapa specified that the outlook at which this disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness aims may be our deluded outlook of a transitory network, our extreme outlook, or our distorted outlook. According to Vasubandhu, this disturbing attitude may regard the samsara-perpetuating aggregates, based on which any of the above three deluded outlooks is produced, with the discordant attention that they are totally clean by nature or a source of true happiness.
(4) An outlook of holding deluded morality or conduct as supreme (tshul-khrims-dang brtul-zhugs mchog-tu 'dzin-pa) regards as purified, liberated, and definitely delivered some deluded morality, some deluded conduct, and the samsara-perpetuating aggregate factors that give rise to the deluded morality and conduct. This deluded outlook derives from holding a deluded outlook of a transitory network, an extreme outlook, or a distorted outlook. It regards the deluded morality and conduct as a path that purifies ('dag-pa) us from negative karmic force (sdig-pa, negative potentials), liberates (grol-ba) us from disturbing emotions, and definitely delivers (nges-par 'byin-pa) us from samsara (uncontrollably recurring rebirth). It also regards the samsara-producing aggregates disciplined by them as being purified, liberated, and definitely delivered through the deluded morality and conduct.
Tsongkhapa explained that deluded morality is ridding ourselves of some trivial manner of behavior that is meaningless to give up, such as standing on two feet. Deluded conduct is decisively to engage our way of dressing and our bodies and speech in some trivial manner that is meaningless to adopt, such as the ascetic practice of standing naked on one foot in the hot sun.
(5) A distorted outlook (log-lta, false view) regards an actual cause, an actual effect, an actual functioning, or an existent phenomenon with repudiation, denying it as actual or existent. The repudiation may be, for example, of the fact that constructive behavior and destructive behavior are the actual causes of experiencing happiness and unhappiness. It may be of the fact that happiness and unhappiness are the effects or results that ripen from positive and negative karmic forces. It may be of the fact that past and future lives actually function; or it may be of the fact that the attainment of liberation and enlightenment exists.
According to Tsongkhapa and the Gelug-Prasangika school, a distorted outlook may also regard a false cause, a false effect, a false functioning, or a nonexistent phenomenon with interpolation, adding that it is true or existent. The interpolation may be, for example, that primal matter (gtso-bo) or the Hindu god Ishvara is the cause or creator of sentient beings.
The Twenty Auxiliary Disturbing Emotions
The twenty auxiliary disturbing emotions derive from the three poisonous emotions of longing desire, hostility, or naivety.
(1) Hatred (khro-ba) is a part of hostility and is the harsh intention to cause harm.
(2) Resentment (kun-tu 'dzin-pa) is a part of hostility and is holding a grudge. It sustains the intention to take revenge and to retaliate for harm that we or our loved ones have received.
(3) Concealment of having acted improperly ('chab-pa) is a part of naivety and is to hide and not admit, either to others or to ourselves, our unspeakable actions (kha-na ma-tho-ba). These may be naturally unspeakable actions (rang-bzhin-gyi kha-na ma-tho-ba), such as the destructive action of killing a mosquito. Alternatively, they may be formulated unspeakable actions (bcas-pa'i kha-na ma-tho-ba) - neutral actions that Buddha proscribed for certain individuals and which we vowed to refrain from, such as eating after noon if we are a full monk or nun.
(4) Outrage ('tshig-pa) is a part of hostility and is the intention to speak abusively, based on hatred and resentment.
(5) Jealousy (phrag-dog) is a part of hostility and is a disturbing emotion that is unable to bear others' good qualities or good fortune, due to excessive attachment to our own gain or to the respect we receive. Thus, jealousy is not the same as the English word envy. Envy wishes, in addition, to have these qualities or good fortune ourselves and often has the wish for the other person to be deprived of them.
(6) Miserliness (ser-sna) is a part of longing desire and is an attachment to material gain or respect and, not wanting to give up any possessions, clings to them and does not want to share them with others or use them ourselves. Thus, miserliness is more than the English word stinginess. Stinginess is merely unwillingness to share or to use something we possess. It lacks the aspect of hoarding that miserliness possesses.
(7) Pretension (sgyu) is in the categories of longing desire and naivety. Because of excessive attachment to our material gain and the respect we receive, and activated by wanting to deceive others, pretension is pretending to exhibit or claiming to have a good quality that we lack.
(8) Concealment of shortcomings (g.yo) is a part of longing desire and naivety. Because of excessive attachment to our material gain and the respect we receive, this is the state of mind to hide our shortcomings and faults from others.
(9) Smugness (rgyags-pa) is a part of longing desire. From seeing signs of a long life or of any other samsaric glory, based of being healthy, young, wealthy, and so on, smugness is a puffed-up mind that feels happy about and takes pleasure in this.
(10) Cruelty (rnam-par 'tshe-ba) is a part of hostility and has three forms.
" Hooliganism (snying-rje-ba med-pa) is a cruel lack of compassion with which we wish to cause mischief or harm to others.
" Self-destructiveness (snying-brtse-ba med-pa) is a cruel lack of self-love with which we wish to cause mischief or harm to ourselves.
" Taking perverse pleasure (brtse-ba med-pa) is cruelly rejoicing when seeing or hearing of others' suffering.
(11) No sense of moral self-dignity (ngo-tsha med-pa, no sense of honor) is a part of any of the three poisonous emotions. It is the lack of any sense to refrain from destructive behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on ourselves. According to Vasubandhu, this subsidiary awareness means having no sense of values. It is a lack of respect for positive qualities or persons possessing them.
(12) No sense of saving the honor of others (khrel-med) is a part of any of the three poisonous emotions. It is the lack of any sense to refrain from destructive behavior because of caring how our actions reflect on those connected to us. Such persons may include our family, teachers, social group, ethnic group, religious order, or countrymen. For Vasubandhu, this subsidiary awareness means having no scruples, and is a lack of restraint from being brazenly negative. This and the previous subsidiary awareness accompany all destructive states of mind.
(13) Foggymindedness (rmugs-pa) is a part of naivety. It is a heavy feeling of body and mind that makes the mind unclear, unserviceable, and incapable either of giving rise to a cognitive appearance of its object or of apprehending the object correctly. When the mind actually becomes unclear, due to foggymindedness, this is mental dullness (bying-ba).
(14) Flightiness of mind (rgod-pa) is a part of longing desire. It is the subsidiary awareness that causes our attention to fly off from its object and to recollect or think about something attractive that we have previously experienced instead. Thus, it causes us to lose our peace of mind.
(15) Disbelieving a fact (ma-dad-pa) is a part of naivety and has three forms that are the contrary of the three forms of believing a fact to be true.
" Disbelieving a fact that is based on reason, such as disbelieving behavioral cause and effect.
" Disbelieving a fact, such as the good qualities of the Three Jewels of Refuge, such that it causes our mind to become muddied with disturbing emotions and attitudes and to become unhappy.
" Disbelieving a fact, such as the existence of the possibility for us to attain liberation, such that we have no interest in it and no aspiration to attain it.
(16) Laziness (le-lo) is a part of naivety. With laziness, the mind does not go out to or engage with something constructive because of clinging to the pleasures of sleep, lying down, relaxing, and so on. There are three types:
" Lethargy and procrastination (sgyid-lugs), not feeling like doing something constructive now and putting off until later because of apathy toward the uncontrollably recurring sufferings of samsara, clinging to the pleasure of being idle, or craving sleep as an escape.
" Clinging to negative or trivial activities or things (bya-ba ngan-zhen), such as gambling, drinking, friends who are bad influences on us, going to parties, and so on.
" Feelings of inadequacy (zhum-pa).
(17) Not caring (bag-med, carelessness, recklessness). Based on longing desire, hostility, naivety, or laziness, not caring is the state of mind not to engage in anything constructive and not to restrain from activities tainted with confusion. It is not taking seriously and thus not caring about the effects of our behavior.
(18) Forgetfulness (brjed-nges). Based on recollection of something toward which we have a disturbing emotion or attitude, forgetfulness is losing our object of focus so that it will wander to that disturbing object. Forgetfulness serves as the basis for mental wandering (rnam-par g.yeng-ba).
(19) Being unalert (shes-bzhin ma-yin-pa) is a disturbing, deluded discriminating awareness associated with longing desire, hostility, or naivety, that causes us to enter into improper physical, verbal, or mental activity without knowing correctly what is proper or improper. Thus, we do not take steps to correct or prevent our improper behavior.
(20) Mental wandering (rnam-par g.yeng-ba) is a part of longing desire, hostility, or naivety. It is the subsidiary awareness that, due to any of the poisonous emotions, causes our mind to be distracted from its object of focus. If we are distracted due to longing desire, the object of our desire need not be something we are already familiar with, as in the case of flightiness of mind.
The Four Changeable Subsidiary Awarenesses
Asanga listed four types of subsidiary awarenesses that have changeable ethical status. They can be constructive, destructive, or unspecified, depending on the ethical status of the cognition with which they share five concomitant features.
(1) Sleep (gnyid) is a part of naivety. Sleep is a withdrawal from sensory cognition, characterized by a physical feeling of heaviness, weakness, tiredness, and mental darkness. It causes us to drop our activities.
(2) Regret ('gyod-pa) is a part of naivety. It is the state of mind that does not wish to repeat doing something, either proper or improper, that we did or that someone else made us do.
(3) Gross detection (rtog-pa) is the subsidiary awareness that investigates something roughly, such as detecting if there are mistakes on a page.
(4) Subtle discernment (dpyod-pa) is the subsidiary awareness that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.
Mental Factors That Do Not Fall in the Above Categories
Because grasping for true existence (bden-'dzin) interpolates an impossible mode of existence to its object, it is neither a primary nor a subsidiary awareness, although it accompanies both of them. Moreover, because it is not a subsidiary awareness, it is also not a disturbing emotion or attitude.
According to the Gelug-Prasangika explanation, grasping for true existence accompanies all moments of conceptual and nonconceptual cognition, except for an arya's nonconceptual cognition of voidness. It also does not accompany the moment of conceptual cognition of voidness of someone on the path of application (sbyor-lam, path of preparation) the moment before he or she attains the path of seeing with nonconceptual cognition of voidness. During nonconceptual sensory and mental cognition, the grasping for true existence is not manifest. According to the Jetsunpa textbooks, it is present as a subconscious awareness (bag-la nyal), which is still a way of being aware of something. According to the Panchen textbooks, it is present only as a constant habit (bag-chags), which is not a way of being aware of something, but rather is a nonconcomitant affecting variable (a nonstatic abstraction). According to the non-Gelug Madhyamaka presentations, although the habits of grasping for true existence are present during nonconceptual sensory and mental cognition, the grasping is not present. According to the Karma Kagyu assertions, grasping for true existence is also not present during the first moment of conceptual cognition.
Similarly, the deep awareness of total absorption on voidness (mnyam-bzhag ye-shes) and the deep awareness of the subsequent attainment (rjes-thob ye-shes, post-meditation wisdom) are neither primary nor subsidiary awarenesses, although they accompany both of them. This is because they are not simply ways of being aware of their objects; they also refute the true existence of them.


My Favorite Pastime: Complaining
by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron©

I don't know about you, but I frequently find myself indulging in my favorite pastime, complaining. Well, it's not exactly my favorite one, because it makes me more miserable than I was before, but it's certainly one that I engage in often enough. Of course, I don't always see what I'm doing as complaining - in fact, I often think I'm simply telling the truth about the world. But when I really look carefully, I am forced to acknowledge that my woebegone statements are actually complaints.
What constitutes complaining? One dictionary defines it as "An expression of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment." I would add that it's a statement of dislike, blame, or judgment that we whine about repeatedly. Why say it once when we can indulge in our misery?
Contents of Complaints
What do we complain about? You name it - we can complain about it. My flight has been cancelled. The auto insurance company refused to hear my claim. It's too hot. It's too cold. My dog is in a bad mood.
We complain about our wealth, or lack of it. I just saw a bumper sticker that said, "I'm too poor to vote Republican." Who ever has enough money? It's not fair that others have more than we do and that they have better opportunities to earn it.
We complain about our health. This is not limited to just the ill and elderly. Those of us who are precocious start complaining about our body from day one. "My knees hurt, my back hurts. My allergies are acting up. I have a headache. My cholesterol is too high. I'm exhausted. My heart beats irregularly. My kidneys don't work right. My little toe is infected."
One of the juiciest topics of complaint is others' actions and personalities. We're all like mental gossip columnists:
"My colleague at work doesn't turn in his work on time."
"My boss is too bossy."
"My employees are ungrateful."
"After everything I did for my kids, they moved to another town, and they don't come home for holidays."
"I'm fifty, and my parents are still trying to run my life."
"This person talks too loud."
"That one doesn't talk loudly enough, and I always have to ask her to repeat what she said."
Complaining about political leaders and the government - not just our own, but others' too - is a national pastime. We bemoan unfair policies, the brutality of oppressive regimes, the injustice of the justice system, and the cruelty of the global economy. We write e-mails to friends who have the same political views as we do and hope they will do something to change the situation.
In essence, we complain about anything and everything that meets with our disapproval.
Why Do We Complain?
We complain for a variety of reasons. In all the cases, we're looking for something, even though we may not be aware of what it is at the time.
Sometimes we complain because we simply want someone to recognize our suffering. Once they do, something inside us feels satisfied, but until they do, we go on and on telling our story. For example, we may tell the story of a dear one's betrayal of our trust. When our friends try to fix our problem, we feel more frustrated. We may even feel that they're not hearing us. But when they say, "You must be very disappointed," we feel heard - our misery has been acknowledged - and we say no more.
At other times, it isn't so simple. For example, we may repeatedly complain about our health out of self-pity or the wish to gain others' sympathy. Others may show they understand, but no matter what they say or do for us, we are dissatisfied and continue to lament.
We may complain in the hopes that someone will fix our problem. Instead of asking someone directly for help, we recount our sad story again and again in the hopes that he will get the message and change the situation for us. We may do this because we're too lazy or frightened to try to solve the problem ourselves. For instance, we complain to a colleague about a disturbing situation at work in the hopes that she will go to the manager about it.
We complain to vent our emotions and our feelings of powerlessness. We criticize government policies, the corruption of CEOs, and the politicking of the politicians that prevents them from actually caring for the country. We dislike these things, but we feel powerless to change them, so we preside over what amounts to a court case - either mentally or with our friends - in which we prosecute, convict, and banish the people involved.
"Venting" is often used to justify ranting to whomever about whatever we want. One friend told me that he regularly hears people say, "I just have to vent! I'm so angry, I just can't help it." They seem to feel that they will explode if they don't let off some steam. But I wonder about that. Shouldn't we take into account the consequences, for ourselves and others, of venting? In the Buddha's teachings we find many other options to resolve our frustration and anger without spewing out on others.
Discussing vs. Complaining
What is the difference between complaining and discussing certain topics in a constructive way? It lies in our attitude - our motivation - for speaking. Discussing a situation involves taking a more balanced approach, in which we actively try to understand the origin of the problem and think of a remedy. In our mind we become proactive, not reactive. We assume responsibility for what is our responsibility and stop blaming others when we cannot control a situation.
Thus, we can discuss our health without complaining about it. We simply tell others the facts and go on. If we need help, we ask for it directly, instead of lamenting in the hopes that someone will rescue us or feel sorry for us. Similarly, we can discuss our financial situation, a friendship gone awry, an unfair policy at work, the uncooperative attitude of a salesperson, the ills of society, the misconceptions of political leaders, or the dishonesty of CEOs without complaining about them. This is far more productive, because discussion with knowledgeable people can help give us a new perspective on the situation, which, in turn, helps us deal with it more effectively.
Antidotes to Complaining
For Buddhist practitioners, several meditations act as healthy antidotes to the habit of complaining. Meditating on impermanence is a good start; seeing that everything is transient enables us to set our priorities wisely and determine what is important in life. It becomes clear that the petty things we complain about are not important in the long run, and we let them go.
Meditating on compassion is also helpful. When our mind is imbued with compassion, we don't see others as enemies or as obstacles to our happiness. Instead, we see that they do harmful actions because they wish to be happy but don't know the correct method for attaining happiness. They are, in fact, just like us: imperfect, limited sentient beings who want happiness and not suffering. Thus we can accept them as they are and seek to benefit them in the future. We see that our own happiness, in comparison to the problematic situations others' experience, is not so important. Thus we are able to view others with understanding and kindness, and automatically any inclination to complain about, blame, or judge them evaporates.
Meditating on the nature of cyclic existence is another antidote. Seeing that we and others are under the influence of ignorance, anger, and clinging attachment, we abandon idealistic visions that things should be a certain way. As a friend always says to me when I mindlessly complain, "This is cyclic existence. What did you expect?" Well, I suppose that at that moment, I expected perfection, i.e. that everything should happen the way I think it should, the way I want it to. Examining the nature of cyclic existence frees us from such unrealistic thinking and from the complaining it foments.
In his Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Shantideva counsels us, "If something can be changed, work to change it. If it cannot, why worry, be upset, and complain?" Wise advice. We need to remember it when the urge arises to complain.
When Others Complain
What can we do when someone incessantly complains to us about something we cannot do anything to change? Depending on the situation, I've discovered a few things to do.
One person I know is the chief of all complainers. She is melodramatic about her ailments, sucks others into her predicaments, and tries to turn all attention to her suffering. At first I avoided her, since I disliked hearing her complaints. When that didn't work, I told her that she had nothing to complain about. That definitely backfired. Finally, I learned that if I earnestly smile and am playful, she loosens up. For example, in our classes, she would consistently be asking others to move because she was so uncomfortable. Since I sat directly in front of her, her complaints affected me. At first my mind recoiled with, "You have more space than anyone else!" Later, I became more tolerant and would joke with her about the "throne" she had made to sit on. I pretended to lean back and rest on her desk which edged into my back. She would tickle me, and we've become friends.
Another technique is to change the subject. I had an elderly relative who, whenever I visited, would complain about every member of the family. Needless to say, this was boring, and I was dismayed to see him work himself into a bad mood. So, in the middle of a tale, I would take something he had said and lead the discussion in another direction. If we were complaining about someone's cooking, I would ask if he had looked at the delicious sounding-recipes in the Sunday paper. We would begin to talk about the paper, and he would forget his previous complaints in preference to more satisfying topics of discussion.
Reflective listening is also an aid. Here we take someone's suffering seriously and listen with a compassionate heart. We reflect back to the person the content or the feeling he or she expresses: "It sounds like the diagnosis frightened you." "You were relying on your son to take care of that, and he was so busy he forgot. That left you in the lurch."
Sometimes we get the feeling that others complain simply to hear themselves talk, that they don't really want to resolve their difficulties. We sense that they've told the story many times in the past to various people and are stuck in a rut of their own making. In this case, I put the ball in their court by asking, "What ideas do you have for what can be done?" When they ignore the question and return to complaining, I ask again, "What ideas to you have for what could help in this situation?" In other words, I refocus them on the question at hand, instead of allowing them to get lost in their tales. Eventually, they begin to see that they could change their view of the situation or their behavior.
But when all else fails, I return to my favorite pastime - complaining - when I can ignore their ailments and sink into the sticky slime of my own. Oh, the luxury of venting my judgments and airing my troubles!


The Seven-Part Cause and Effect Guideline for Developing Bodhichitta
Alexander Berzin
Berlin, Germany, January 18, 2000

We have precious human lives with all the respites and enrichments that allow us to follow the Dharma path. These freedoms and opportunities, however, are not going to last forever. Therefore, we need to take full advantage of the opportunities that we have.
The best way to take advantage of our precious human life is to use it for developing a bodhichitta aim. A bodhichitta aim is a mind and heart focused on the future enlightenment that we will attain later down the line on our mental continuums. It is accompanied by two intentions: to achieve that enlightenment as soon as possible and to benefit all beings by means of that.
When developing bodhichitta, we develop the two intentions in the opposite order. First, we fully intend to benefit all limited beings, and not just humans. This is brought on by our love, compassion, and exceptional resolve, which we will discuss later in this lecture. Then, in order to benefit them the most effectively, we fully intend to gain enlightenment and become Buddhas. We need to gain enlightenment in order to get rid of all of our limitations and shortcomings, because we see that they prevent us from being able to help others. For instance, if get angry with others, how can we help them at that time. Also, we need to gain enlightenment in order to realize all our potentials. We need to realize them fully in order to be able to use them to benefit others. So, when developing a bodhichitta aim, it is not that first we want to become Buddhas because that is the highest state and then, like some nasty tax that we have to pay, we need to help others.
There are two main methods for developing a bodhichitta aim. One is through the seven-part cause and effect guideline (rgyu-'bras man-ngag bdun), the other is by equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and others (bdag-gzhan mnyam-brje). Here, let us discuss the first of the two methods.
Developing Equanimity
The seven-part cause and effect guideline has six steps that act as causes for the seventh, the actual development of a bodhichitta aim. It begins with a preliminary step, not included in the count of seven. It is the development of the equanimity (btang-snyoms) with which we overcome being attracted to or attached to some beings, repulsed from others, and indifferent to yet others. The point of this preliminary step is to be equally open to everybody.
The understanding of everyone being equal, which is required for being equally open to everyone, comes from realizing that the mental continuum or mind-stream has no beginning and no end. Therefore, everybody at some time has been our friend, everybody at some time has been our enemy, everybody at some time has been a stranger, and the status is always changing. In this sense, everybody is the same.
The main point that we need to understand behind this way of thinking is beginningless mind. This is a basic assumption in Buddhism. Rebirth concerns continuities of experience. Mind-streams are continuities of experience. They are individual and do not have inherent identities as human, animal, male or female. The life form and gender that a mind-stream manifests in any particular rebirth is dependent on previous actions, on karma.
This is a fundamental, necessary understanding for being able to develop bodhichitta, because based on this understanding, it becomes possible to develop loving compassion for absolutely everybody. We do not see other beings as merely a mosquito, for example. Rather, we see this being as an infinitely long individual mental continuum that in this lifetime happens to have the form of a mosquito because of its karma; it is not inherently a mosquito. This allows our hearts be as open to the mosquito as to a human being. The power of bodhichitta derives from the fact that with it, we intend to benefit absolutely everybody. Of course, it is not easy.
Recognizing Everyone as Having Been Our Mother
Once we are able, with equanimity, to see all beings as individual mind-streams - which does not deny their forms in this lifetime - we are ready to take the first step in the seven-part cause and effect meditation. This is to recognize that each being, at some point, has been our mother (mar-shes). The line of reasoning is that just as we have a mother in this lifetime, likewise in every lifetime in which we have been born from a womb or an egg, we have had a mother. From the logic of beginningless rebirth, everybody has been our mother beginningless times as well - and we have been their mothers too. They have also been our fathers, our closest friends, and so on.
In seeing everybody as having been our mother, we need to be careful not to see being our mother as anyone's inherent identity, because that can also become a bit problematic. We must try never to lose sight of voidness, the lack of inherent identities.
Recognizing everybody as having been our mother radically changes our way of relating to others. Here, we are going beyond just having equanimity toward everybody. We are seeing that we have had - and still can have - a very close, warm, loving relationship with everyone.
Remembering the Kindness of Motherly Love
The second of the seven steps is to remember the kindness of motherly love (drin-dran). For many Westerners, this is a problematic step in the meditation, because the Indians and Tibetans always take the example of our mother in this lifetime. In those societies, it seems as though most people have less neurotic and less difficult relationships with their mothers than in Western societies. Whether that is true or not, of course, varies in individual cases. But I would say from my observation, having lived in Tibetan and Indian societies for twenty-nine years, that the relationship between grown children and their mothers there does seem to be far less neurotic than in the West.
This step in the meditation is to remember how kind our mother is - or was, if she has passed away - going all the way back to her having carried us in her womb. Then, we extend this to thinking how everybody has shown us similar kindness in previous lives.
Many people, when they teach this to Westerners, say okay, if you have problems with your mother, you can think instead of your father, a close friend, or anybody who has shown you great kindness. This way, you won't become stuck trying to do this meditation. I think that this is a helpful approach. However, I think that it is very important, if we have problems in our relationships with our mothers, to deal with it and not just pass over it. If we can't have healthy relationships with our mothers, it will be very difficult to have healthy loving relationships with anybody else. There is always going to be a problem. Therefore, I think it is very important to look at our actual relationships with our mothers and to try to recognize her kindness, no matter how difficult that relationship might have been or might presently be.
First, we need to look at ideal motherly love. The classical texts are filled with descriptions of it: you see it in many animals, for instance. A mother bird will sit on her eggs no matter how cold and wet she becomes, and when the eggs hatch, she will catch and chew insects, but not swallow them, and give the food to her chicks. This is really quite extraordinary.
Of course, there are examples from the animal and insect world in which mothers eat their babies, but still they underwent the difficulties to give birth to them. And whether it was our biological mother or a surrogate mother, somebody carried us in her womb - unless we were born from a test tube. But even then, somebody watched the test tube and kept it at the right temperature. Whether our mother liked carrying us or not is irrelevant. It was an incredible kindness to carry us around in her womb and not to abort us; it was not comfortable for her at all. She underwent a lot of pain during our actual birth. Furthermore, when we were infants, somebody had to get up in the middle of the night, feed us, and take care of us; otherwise, we would not have survived. These sorts of things are emphasized in the classical texts.
If we have had difficulties with our mothers, I think we can take a clue as to how to proceed from the guru meditations in the Fifth Dalai Lama's lam-rim text. Many earlier texts have said that it is almost impossible to find a spiritual teacher who has only good qualities. No spiritual teacher is going to be ideal; everyone is going to have a mixture of strong and weak points. What we want to do in the meditation on the spiritual teacher is to focus on the good qualities and the kindness of the teacher in order to develop tremendous respect, inspiration, and appreciation. This will motivate us to develop these good qualities and kindnesses ourselves.
The Fifth Dalai Lama explained that in the process of doing this, we do not need to deny the shortcomings and faults of the teacher. That would be naivety. We acknowledge the shortcomings, but put them aside for the moment, because thinking about the teacher's faults will just lead to complaining and to a negative attitude. That is not going to be inspiring at all. It is only by focusing on the good qualities and kindness that we get inspiration.
So first, we acknowledge the shortcomings. But, we need to examine honestly whether these are true shortcomings or are only projections on our parts. We also need to examine whether they are current shortcomings that the teacher has or is it old history that we don't want to let go of. Once we are clear about what the faults actually are, we say okay, those are his or her faults. Then, we put them aside and focus on the good qualities.
I think that the same procedure is appropriate and can work very well when looking at the kindness of our mothers. Nobody's mother is ideal. If we ourselves are parents, we know that it is unbelievably difficult to be an ideal parent, so we shouldn't expect that our parents were ideal either. Then, we would look at the faults and shortcomings that our mothers have or had, and try to understand the causes and conditions that brought these shortcomings about. She is not inherently a bad person, just as no mind-stream is inherently a mosquito (which is also not inherently annoying). We make sure that we are not projecting shortcomings onto our mothers or just dwelling on ancient history, and then we put that aside for the moment. We say okay, she has or had her faults, but she is a person like everybody else: we all have faults. Then we look at the good qualities and the kindness that she has shown us.
One Western Dharma teacher - I forget who exactly it was - has suggested a method of meditation that I think is very useful. At this point, having put aside the negative qualities of our mothers, we go through our lives in five or ten year units. We spend five minutes, a half hour, an hour, or however long we want, going through and trying to remember all the kind things that our mothers did for us in each five or ten year period. First, from the time we were in the womb until we were five, we remember that she changed our dirty diapers, fed us, bathed us, and did all these things. Then we recall from age five to ten, and so on. She took us to school - maybe she didn't help us with homework, maybe she did, but she probably cooked for us and washed our clothes. When we were teenagers, she probably gave us spending money. No matter how terrible our mothers might have been, there were undoubtedly many kindnesses that they showed us in each period of our lives.
Then we can do the same thing with our fathers and with other relatives, friends, and so on. It is very helpful for the meditation. It is an especially strong antidote to the depression that we sometimes feel when we think, "Nobody loves me." In this way, if we can see the kindness of our mothers in this life, it helps us to recognize that everybody has been similarly kind to us. Nobody has been an ideal mother - sure, she might have eaten us at some point, but she has also shown us kindness.
Repaying the Kindness of Motherly Love
The third step in the seven-part guideline is developing the wish to repay the kindness of motherly love that we have received (drin-gso). For this, we can make a further adaptation from the meditation we just outlined concerning remembering the motherly kindness we've been shown. Again, we go through five or ten year periods of our lives and examine in what ways have we shown kindness back to our mothers. We do the same with our fathers, our friends, relatives, and so on.
If we compare how much love and help we have received and how much we have given, most of us will see that we have received far more than we have given. The point of this is not then to feel guilty, which would be a typically neurotic Western reaction. The point is to help us with the next step of the bodhichitta meditation, which is, having recognizing the kindness we have received, to develop the wish to repay that kindness.
I find that this adaptation to the meditation that I just outlined is very helpful for actually moving our hearts so that we actually feel something. I think it is very important. I have seen so many Western Buddhists who do all these meditations of love and compassion and even who go out and help others, but they have a terrible relationship with their parents and are stuck in that. I think that it is really quite helpful to work on that relationship and not to avoid it just because it is difficult.
Suggested Method to Apply the Practice
An important thing in each of these steps is to open up and try to extend the scope of our practice to all beings. At each step, we can of course start small, but then we need gradually to expand our scope. We do this based on equanimity, seeing everybody as individual mind-streams. An effective way to do this, I've found, is not just to sit and meditate with our eyes closed, abstractly thinking of "all sentient beings." More effective, I think, is to practice similar to the way that I suggest in the sensitivity training.
In other words, try to develop these positive attitudes first toward various people while focusing on their photos - friends, people we don't like, and strangers. Then try to develop them while looking at actual people sitting in a circle around us in a meditation group. Then try it on the subway or bus with the people there. In this way, we actually apply to others the positive attitudes we are trying to develop.
We likewise try to apply it to animals, insects, and so on - and not just theoretically in our minds, but when we actually see them. In doing that, we need to try to avoid the extreme that sometimes we see among Tibetans for example - namely, that it is easier to be kind to an insect than to a human being. If there is an ant in the middle of the temple, everybody goes to such extremes to make sure it doesn't get hurt. Yet, often, they don't show the same type of concern and kindness to human beings, for instance Indians or foreigners who visit their temples and would like to know something about what they see there. We have to keep a proper perspective here.
Some people might say that it is easier to help an ant than it is to help a human being. This is because the ant is not going to talk back to you and give you a hard time, whereas people often do. An ant you can just pick up and take outside, you can't quite do that with people if they become annoying. In any case, my point is that a lot of people do these meditations in a very abstract way - "all sentient beings" - and it is never applied to real people, in "the real world." This creates a big problem in making any progress along the path.
Great Love
When we have recognized everyone as having been our mother, remembered the kindness of motherly love, and thought to repay that kindness, we naturally have a feeling of heartwarming love (yid-'ong byams-pa). This is an automatically arising feeling of closeness and warmth toward anyone we meet. There is no need for a separate meditation step to develop this feeling. It is also called cherishing concerned love (gcer-zhing pham-pa'i byams-pa), the love with which we cherish someone, are concerned about his or her welfare, and would feel very sad if anything bad happened to him or her.
Based on heartwarming love, we go on to the fourth step, meditation on great love (byams-pa chen-po). Great love is the wish for others to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. It is really very important that it be both happiness and its causes. This means that it is with our full understanding that happiness comes from causes, it is not just the favor of the gods or good luck - and the cause is not me.
The causes for happiness are given in the teachings on karma: if people act constructively, without attachment, anger, and so on, they will experience happiness. Therefore, we need to think here, "May you have happiness and the causes for happiness. May you actually act in a constructive and healthy way, so that you will experience happiness."
It is clear already from this step that in these bodhichitta meditations we are striving to become Buddhas to help everybody, but without inflating the role that we can play in helping them. We can show others the way, but they need to build up the causes for happiness themselves.
Great Compassion
Then comes the fifth step, great compassion (snying-rje): the wish for others to be free of suffering and the causes for suffering. This is likewise with the full understanding that their suffering comes from causes and they need to eliminate those causes in order to eliminate their suffering. Again, it is a very realistic view. Great love and great compassion are not merely emotional feelings like, "I feel so sorry that everybody is suffering." Rather, they are accompanied with the understanding of behavioral cause and effect.
Great compassion exceeds ordinary compassion in many other ways. Firstly, it is aimed equally at all limited beings, not just at some. Secondly, it is the wish for them to be free of the all-pervasive suffering (khyab-par 'du-byed-kyi sdug-bsngal) of being repeatedly and uncontrollably reborn with aggregates coming from confusion, mixed with confusion, producing more confusion, and thus perpetuating suffering. Thus, it is not simply the wish for others to be free of the suffering of pain or the suffering of change. The suffering of change is ordinary worldly happiness which never lasts and never satisfies. Great compassion is not the wish for beings to go to a paradise to escape that problem. Thirdly, great compassion is based on firm conviction that it is possible for all limited beings to gain liberation from their all-pervasive suffering. It is not merely a nice wish.
Compassion is always described as an attitude similar to renunciation. Renunciation is an attitude aimed at our own suffering, its causes, and the wish for us to be free of them. Based on renunciation, we can develop empathy for others. What we do is switch the same attitude and direct it toward others, toward their suffering and the causes of their suffering, and the wish for them to be free of it.
It is always said that it is difficult for us to empathize and truly feel compassion for others unless we have thought about our own suffering and wished ourselves to be free of it. We have to understand that others really experience pain from their suffering and their suffering hurts them just as much as our own suffering hurts us. Understanding this depends on acknowledging that our own suffering hurts. Otherwise, we don't take others' suffering seriously. Remember, we are wishing our mothers, who have been so kind to us, to be happy and free of suffering. We start the meditation with our mothers and so on, so that the meditation actually has some feeling to it.
Extending the Method to Help Alleviate Low Self-esteem
Just as the texts say that compassion only develops sincerely if we first wish ourselves to be free of suffering and its causes, I think we can formulate the same principle concerning love. This is particularly relevant for those of us who suffer from low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is a particularly Western phenomenon, not so frequent among Tibetans, or among Indians for that matter. Before we can sincerely wish others to be happy and have the causes of happiness, we need sincerely to wish ourselves to be happy and have the causes of happiness. If we feel that we don't deserve to be happy, why should anybody else deserve to be happy?
Wishing ourselves to be happy, then, is a step in the meditation that I think we can safely add if we suffer from low self-esteem. I feel this is quite important. To get into this way of thinking, that everybody deserves to be happy, it helps to remind ourselves of Buddha-nature. We are not all bad; nobody is all bad. We all have the potentials to become Buddhas, to benefit others, to be happy and so on.
Another point: Love and compassion are also developed in the Theravada and other Hinayana schools. There, however, the meditation methods don't follow graded steps, like these seven here, that help us to build up feeling love and compassion based on reasons, such as remembering motherly kindness. We shouldn't think, however, that love and compassion meditation are missing in the Theravada tradition. The next steps in the bodhichitta meditation, however, are not there.
Exceptional Resolve
Different translators render the sixth next step in various ways. Some call it "the pure selfless wish." His Holiness the Dalai Lama uses the term "universal responsibility." Although I have translated it in several different ways myself, at the moment I prefer "exceptional resolve" (lhag-bsam). This is taking the responsibility ourselves actually to do something about others' suffering. If somebody is drowning in a lake, we don't just stand on the shore and say, "Tsk tsk, I wish this weren't happening." We need actually to jump in and try to help the person. Likewise, here in the bodhichitta meditation, we think in terms of taking responsibility to help as much as possible.
The Bodhichitta Aim
Based on this six-step line of development as a cause, the seventh step is developing the bodhichitta aim (sems-bskyed) as the result. When we examine how we can benefit others the most, with our current limitations and disturbing emotions and attitudes, we realize that we are really not going to be able to help very much. If I am selfish, and impatient, get attracted to some people and angry with others and am lazy, if I get tired all the time, if I can't really understand others, and if I can't communicate properly, if I am afraid of others, afraid of being disliked or rejected - all these things are really going to prevent me from helping as much as is possible. So, because I really want to be of help, I really need to get rid of these things. I really need to work on myself and get rid of these things so that I can actually use my talents and abilities and Buddha-nature qualities to benefit others. We always keep in mind, "as much as is possible" - we are not going to become omnipotent gods. Based on this line of thinking, we set our minds and hearts on becoming a Buddha to help everyone as fully as is possible. This is the development of the bodhichitta aim.
Bodhisattva Conduct
Once we have developed bodhichitta, we try to help others now as much as we can, despite our limitations. This is because we have the exceptional resolve to take responsibility to help, built up from the previous steps in the seven-part cause and effect bodhichitta meditation.
This means that whenever we encounter others and see that they are having a problem, for instance being homeless, we don't just see them as homeless persons. When we see them, we don't think in terms of them being inherently poor, lazy, or whatever value judgments we might project. Rather, we realize that just in this lifetime and at this particular point in this lifetime, they are like that. However, their mind-streams are beginningless and, at some point, they have been our mothers and have taken care of us with kindness. They have carried us in their wombs, have changed our dirty diapers, and so on, and I would really like to repay this kindness. We wish that they would be happy and have the causes of happiness, and that they could be free of their problems and the causes of their problems. We take responsibility to try to do something about it.
What do we need to do? It is not that we need to go home and meditate in order to overcome our shortcomings, and not actually do anything to help such people. Of course we need to meditate more, however what this motivates us to do in the moment is to overcome our shyness, hesitation, and stinginess, and actually give them something, at least smile at them - at least do something.
In other words, we use our exceptional resolve to move us right now to overcome our limitations as much as we can and to use our potentials as much as we can now to help. Sure, when we go home we need to work on ourselves more, but let's not forget about the homeless persons and only go home and meditate. If our resolve is sincere, it keeps us mindful.
The strongest motivation to work on ourselves in each moment comes when we encounter other beings who need help. We see an old woman sitting on the cold ground in winter begging by the subway station and we think what if that were my mother? If she were our actual mother of this lifetime sitting there on the cold ground and begging, would we just walk by? Or what about the young man on the subway peddling the makeshift newspapers of the homeless, how would we feel if that were our own son? This boy has parents. It is very important. In India, we see lepers and other deformed people and usually we never think that these lepers have families. They do have families. Make them human.
Question: What about discriminating awareness to distinguish the conventional situation of these homeless people? To what extent are they just on a scam, ripping people off? I have worked with homeless people myself and I know there are people out on the streets hustling. I need to deal with that on the conventional level and then on the Buddhist level.
Berzin: We need to employ what Buddhism calls "skillful means." We have the wish to help, we have some idea of what the cause of their suffering might be, and what the cause for their happiness would be. Then, we try to do what would in fact be helpful for them. Maybe it's not at all helpful to give them money, which they would use only to buy more drugs or alcohol, and so we don't give them money. If we have some food, we can give them that. But, in any case, we can give them our caring attitude and respect by not thinking of them just as terrible, disgusting junkies or alcoholics. They are human beings, suffering human beings.
It is not easy to decide what the best way of helping someone might be. We see that we are limited now. We don't really know what is best. We have to become Buddhas to really know, but we try our best now, realizing that sometimes we are going to make mistakes. We at least try.


Speaking of the Faults of Others
by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron©

"I vow not to talk about the faults of others." In the Zen tradition, this is one of the bodhisattva vows. For fully ordained monastics the same principle is expressed in the payattika vow to abandon slander. It is also contained in the Buddha's recommendation to all of us to avoid the ten destructive actions, the fifth of which is using our speech to create disharmony.
The Motivation
What an undertaking! I can't speak for you, the reader, but I find this very difficult. I have an old habit of talking about the faults of others. In fact, it's so habitual that sometimes I don't realize I've done it until afterwards.
What lies behind this tendency to put others down? One of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargye, used to say, "You get together with a friend and talk about the faults of this person and the misdeeds of that one. Then you go on to discuss others' mistakes and negative qualities. In the end, the two of you feel good because you've agreed you're the two best people in the world."
When I look inside, I have to acknowledge he's right. Fueled by insecurity, I mistakenly think that if others are wrong, bad, or fault-ridden, then in comparison I must be right, good, and capable. Does the strategy of putting others down to build up my own self-esteem work? Hardly.
Another situation in which we speak about others' faults is when we're angry with them. Here we may talk about their faults for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's to win other people over to our side. "If I tell these other people about the argument Bob and I had and convince them that he is wrong and I'm right before Bob can tell them about the argument, then they'll side with me." Underlying that is the thought, "If others think I'm right, then I must be." It's a weak attempt to convince ourselves we're okay when we haven't spent the time honestly evaluating our own motivations and actions.
At other times, we may talk about others' faults because we're jealous of them. We want to be respected and appreciated as much as they are. In the back of our minds, there's the thought, "If others see the bad qualities of the people I think are better than me, then instead of honoring and helping them, they'll praise and assist me." Or we think, "If the boss thinks that person is unqualified, she'll promote me instead." Does this strategy win others' respect and appreciation? Hardly.
Some people "psychoanalyze" others, using their half-baked knowledge of pop-psychology to put someone down. Comments such as "he's borderline" or "she's paranoid" make it sound as if we have authoritative insight into someone's internal workings, when in reality we disdain their faults because our ego was affronted. Casually psychoanalyzing others can be especially harmful, for it may unfairly cause a third party to be biased or suspicious.
The Results
What are the results of speaking of others' faults? First, we become known as a busybody. Others won't want to confide in us because they're afraid we'll tell others, adding our own judgments to make them look bad. I am cautious of people who chronically complain about others. I figure that if they speak that way about one person, they will probably speak that way about me, given the right conditions. In other words, I don't trust people who continuously criticize others.
Second, we have to deal with the person whose mistakes we publicized when they find out what we said, which, by the time they hear it, has been amplified in intensity. That person may tell others our faults in order to retaliate, not an exceptionally mature action, but one in keeping with our own actions.
Third, some people get stirred up when they hear about others' faults. For example, if one person at an office or factory talks behind the back of another, everyone in the work place may get angry and gang up on the person who has been criticized. This can set off backbiting throughout the workplace and cause factions to form. Is this conducive for a harmonious work environment? Hardly.
Fourth, are we happy when our mind picks faults in others? Hardly. When we focus on negativities or mistakes, our own mind isn't very happy. Thoughts such as, "Sue has a hot temper. Joe bungled the job. Liz is incompetent. Sam is unreliable," aren't conducive for our own mental happiness.
Fifth, by speaking badly of others, we create the cause for others to speak badly of us. This may occur in this life if the person we have criticized puts us down, or it may happen in future lives when we find ourselves unjustly blamed or scapegoated. When we are the recipients of others' harsh speech, we need to recall that this is a result of our own actions: we created the cause; now the result comes. We put negativity in the universe and in our own mindstream; now it is coming back to us. There's no sense being angry and blaming anyone else if we were the ones who created the principal cause of our problem.
Close Resemblances
There are a few situations in which seemingly speaking of others' faults may be appropriate or necessary. Although these instances closely resemble criticizing others, they are not actually the same. What differentiates them? Our motivation. Speaking of others' faults has an element of maliciousness in it and is always motivated by self-concern. Our ego wants to get something out of this; it wants to look good by making others look bad. On the other hand, appropriate discussion of others' faults is done with concern and/or compassion; we want to clarify a situation, prevent harm, or offer help.
Let's look at a few examples. When we are asked to write a reference for someone who is not qualified, we have to be truthful, speaking of the person's talents as well as his weaknesses so that the prospective employer or landlord can determine if this person is able to do what is expected. Similarly, we may have to warn someone of another's tendencies in order to avert a potential problem. In both these cases, our motivation is not to criticize the other, nor do we embellish her inadequacies. Rather, we try to give an unbiased description of what we see.
Sometimes we suspect that our negative view of a person is limited and biased, and we talk to a friend who does not know the other person but who can help us see other angles. This gives us a fresh, more constructive perspective and ideas about how to get along with the person. Our friend might also point out our buttons - our defenses and sensitive areas - that are exaggerating the other's defects, so that we can work on them.
At other times, we may be confused by someone's actions and consult a mutual friend in order to learn more about that person's background, how she might be looking at the situation, or what we could reasonably expect from her. Or, we may be dealing with a person whom we suspect has some problems, and we consult an expert in the field to learn how to work with such a person. In both these instances, our motivation is to help the other and to resolve the difficulty.
In another case, a friend may unknowingly be involved in a harmful behavior or act in a way that puts others off. In order to protect him from the results of his own blindness, we may say something. Here we do so without a critical tone of voice or a judgmental attitude, but with compassion, in order to point out his fault or mistake so he can remedy it. However, in doing so, we must let go of our agenda that wants the other person to change. People must often learn from their own experience; we cannot control them. We can only be there for them.
The Underlying Attitude
In order to stop pointing out others' faults, we have to work on our underlying mental habit of judging others. Even if don't say anything to or about them, as long as we are mentally tearing someone down, it's likely we'll communicate that through giving someone a condescending look, ignoring him in a social situation, or rolling our eyes when his name is brought up in conversation.
The opposite of judging and criticizing others is regarding their good qualities and kindness. This is a matter of training our minds to look at what is positive in others rather than what doesn't meet our approval. Such training makes the difference between our being happy, open, and loving or depressed, disconnected, and bitter.
We need to try to cultivate the habit of noticing what is beautiful, endearing, vulnerable, brave, struggling, hopeful, kind, and inspiring in others. If we pay attention to that, we won't be focusing on their faults. Our joyful attitude and tolerant speech that result from this will enrich those around us and will nourish contentment, happiness and love within ourselves. The quality of our own lives thus depends on whether we find fault with our experience or see what is beautiful in it.
Seeing the faults of others is about missing opportunities to love. It's also about not having the skills to properly nourish ourselves with heart-warming interpretations as opposed to feeding ourselves a mental diet of poison. When we are habituated with mentally picking out the faults of others, we tend to do this with ourselves as well. This can lead us to devalue our entire lives. What a tragedy it is when we overlook the preciousness and opportunity of our lives and our Buddha potential.
Thus we must lighten up, cut ourselves some slack, and accept ourselves as we are in this moment while we simultaneously try to become better human beings in the future. This doesn't mean we ignore our mistakes, but that we are not so pejorative about them. We appreciate our own humanness; we have confidence in our potential and in the heart-warming qualities we have developed so far.
What are these qualities? Let's keep things simple: they are our ability to listen, to smile, to forgive, to help out in small ways. Nowadays we have lost sight of what is really valuable on a personal level and instead tend to look to what publicly brings acclaim. We need to come back to appreciating ordinary beauty and stop our infatuation with the high-achieving, the polished, and the famous.
Everyone wants to be loved - to have his or her positive aspects noticed and acknowledged, to be cared for and treated with respect. Almost everyone is afraid of being judged, criticized, and rejected as unworthy. Cultivating the mental habit that sees our own and others' beauty brings happiness to ourselves and others; it enables us to feel and to extend love. Leaving aside the mental habit that finds faults prevents suffering for ourselves and others. This should be the heart of our spiritual practice. For this reason, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, "My religion is kindness."
We may still see our own and others' imperfections, but our mind is gentler, more accepting and spacious. People don't care so much if we see their faults, when they are confident that we care for them and appreciate what is admirable in them.
Speaking with Understanding and Compassion
The opposite of speaking of the faults of others is speaking with understanding and compassion. For those engaged in spiritual practice and for those who want to live harmoniously with others, this is essential. When we look at other's good qualities, we feel happy that they exist. Acknowledging people's good qualities to them and to others makes our own mind happy; it promotes harmony in the environment; and it gives people useful feedback.
Praising others should be part of our daily life and part of our Dharma practice. Imagine what our life would be like if we trained our minds to dwell on others' talents and good attributes. We would feel much happier and so would they! We would get along better with others, and our families, work environments, and living situations would be much more harmonious. We place the seeds from such positive actions on our mindstream, creating the cause for harmonious relationships and success in our spiritual and temporal aims.
An interesting experiment is to try to say something nice to or about someone every day for a month. Try it. It makes us much more aware of what we say and why. It encourages us to change our perspective so that we notice others' good qualities. Doing so also improves our relationships tremendously.
A few years ago, I gave this as a homework assignment at a Dharma class, encouraging people to try to praise even someone they didn't like very much. The next week I asked the students how they did. One man said that the first day he had to make something up in order to speak positively to a fellow colleague. But after that, the man was so much nicer to him that it was easy to see his good qualities and speak about them!


Advice for Newcomers to the Dharma
by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron©

I remember well my initial years in the Dharma, trying to figure out how I was supposed to act in Dharma centers, in monasteries, and with monastics. Figuring out what to study and practice was no easier. And learning to work with my mind was the greatest challenge of all! Sometimes I felt like just dropping it all and spacing out with my favorite distraction. But having made it through those challenging times, I'll pass on some tips to those who are newcomers.
When you go to a Dharma center, talk to the person at the door, ask if there is a brochure on etiquette, and pick up a prayer book to use during the class. If there's no one at the door, ask someone who knows their way around the center, or even speak to another newcomer. People are usually friendly. During Q&A time, ask questions. No question is "stupid." In fact, chances are several other people in the room are wondering the same thing and hope that someone will overcome their shyness enough to ask the teacher.
You'll see people bowing. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, don't. There's no pressure. Same with saying prayers; take your time to understand them so you feel comfortable when reciting them.
As a beginner, go to the classes for beginners. Although the center may be hosting initiations by well-known teachers, wait to attend those until you have established a proper foundation in the lamrim (gradual path to enlightenment) and lojong (thought transformation). Learn how to calm your mind and work with your afflictive emotions before delving into more complex practices. If you skip around from one class to another or frequently miss classes, you will miss learning the important steps. The importance of properly understanding basic Buddhist principles and establishing a solid foundation at the beginning can't be overestimated.
You'll hear many new ideas, some of which may not make sense to you. That's ok. You don't need to force yourself to believe them or to discard them as ridiculous. Instead, put them on the back burner and return to contemplate them from time to time. Gradually things will begin to make sense.
Don't expect to understand or actualize everything all at once. It takes years, lifetimes, eons. Learning Dharma is not like Western education, where we learn facts and tell the teacher what they already know on a test. Listen attentively to the Dharma and at home, think about what you heard. Check it out logically and apply it to your life to see if it works. Listen to the same teaching many times, because each time you hear it, it will sound different because your mind has changed. Read Dharma books slowly, pausing to contemplate what you read, applying it to your mind. Although it's tempting to hurry to get a lot of information, especially about exotic practices, principally read books that correspond with your level of practice. In this way, you'll establish a good foundation and won't become confused.
Buddhism isn't intellectual concepts. Practice is essential to bring the Dharma into your heart. This entails setting up a regular daily meditation practice and sticking to it. Only by making meditation a part of your daily life routine will you experience its benefits. Making an appointment with the Buddha by writing it into your daily calendar will help you get to the cushion. If someone calls and asks you to do something else at that time, you can truthfully say, "Sorry, I'm busy." We don't break appointments with important people like the Buddha.
In your daily meditation practice, begin with reciting some verses to establish your motivation and make your mind receptive. Then do checking (analytical) meditation on the topics you learned in Dharma class. This formal time of meditation prepares you for practicing the Dharma the rest of your day-at work, with your family, at school, wherever. In those situations, be aware of what you're thinking, feeling, saying, and doing. Be mindful of your bodhicitta motivation and try to bring love and compassion into all your interactions with others. In the evening, review your day, congratulate yourself for what you did well, admit and regret when you made mistakes, and renew your compassion for the next day.
When you first begin to practice, you may be shocked at the thoughts and feelings you discover inside. Don't get discouraged, thinking the path is too difficult or getting down on yourself. All of us are similar; anyone who has practiced Dharma for a while has gone through what you're experiencing and has come out the other end. Be patient with yourself.
Don't get lost in the trappings. Dharma is about transforming our minds. Tibetan Buddhism has many fascinating external things-high thrones, deep chanting, colorful brocade, and pujas-but these are only aids. Real practice is about working with our mind.
There's no rush to find a teacher. Buddhist scriptures instruct us to check out someone's qualities before taking them as our teacher. In the meantime, continue attending Dharma class and practice what you learn. Go slowly: take refuge and precepts and form a teacher-student relationship when you're ready. Sometimes an emotional feeling may suddenly surge up to do this, but it's wiser to wait a while until your understanding is stable.
Cultivate friendships with people who are also practicing the Dharma. In this way, you encourage each other to learn and practice. One way to meet people is to volunteer at the Dharma center. Start with a small job, and remember that your Dharma practice is most important, so don't take on more volunteer work than you can handle.
We get out what we put into the Dharma. We're responsible for our own spiritual practice. No one is going to spoon-feed us. Our teachers and the Three Jewels are there to guide, teach, and inspire us, but we have to do the work of transforming our minds. As we do, we become wiser, calmer, more compassionate, and clearer, and our sense of well-being increases.


Approaches to the Dharma:
Intellectual, Emotional, and Devotional
Alexander Berzin
October, 2001

Three Approaches
Some people in the West come to Dharma
" to satisfy their wish for exotica,
" for miracle cures,
" to be trendy,
" to get high on the charisma of an entertaining teacher, like a "Dharma junkie,"
" even if they start in one of these ways, for sincere interest in what Dharma has to offer.
Even if we wish at first simply to gain information, there are three different approaches to the Dharma:
1. intellectual,
2. emotional,
3. devotional.
Which one or ones we follow depends on
" the spiritual teacher,
" what and how he or she teaches,
" culture,
" individual inclination.
Each of the three approaches can be mature or immature from a Dharma point of view.
Those who have an immature intellectual approach are often fascinated with the beauty of the Buddhist systems. They want to learn the facts and intricacies of the philosophy and psychology, in a sense, to get "high" on them, but they do not integrate the teachings into themselves or feel anything. Such persons are often the insensitive types or have emotional blocks.
Those with a mature intellectual approach learn the intricacies and details of the Dharma so that they can more fully understand the teachings and can integrate and apply them correctly.
With an immature emotional approach, people want to meditate merely to calm down or to feel good, such as meditating on love toward everyone. Such persons typically want to look at only the "nice" parts of Dharma, not at suffering, worse rebirths, the filthiness of the insides of the body, and so on. They neither want to recognize nor to work on ridding themselves of disturbing emotions and attitudes, and they have little understanding of the teachings. Such persons tend to be the overemotional, oversensitive types.
Those with a mature emotional approach work with their emotions to rid themselves of the disturbing ones and to enhance the positive ones.
An immature devotional approach thinks how wonderful the Buddhas, Buddha-figures, and teachers are and how lowly I am. Thus, persons with this approach pray for help from them, as if to Buddhist "saints," and do not want to take responsibility for their own developments.
Those with a mature devotional approach attend and perform rituals to gain inspiration to work on themselves.
Balancing the Three
We need to balance all three approaches, so that we understand the Dharma, feel something on an emotional level, and gain inspiration.
For example, emotional persons need to learn the intellectual approach. To do this, they need to realize that when, for instance, they do not feel like loving others, they can work themselves up to feeling love by understanding and relying on a line of reasoning.
Intellectual persons need to learn the emotional approach. To do this, they need to realize that their mental tightness leaves them cold and this makes not only others, but even themselves feel uncomfortable. Thus, they need to quiet down to access their natural warmth.
Nondevotional persons need to learn the devotion approach. To do this, they need to realize that they need to be able to develop energy when they are feeling low.
Devotional persons, on the other hand, need to grow intellectually. To do this, they need to realize that when they cannot understand what is happening in life, they need more than comfort and uplifting from ritual.
The Three Approaches and Ritual
For emotional types, ritual gives expression and form to feeling.
For intellectual types, ritual gives regularity and a sense of continuity. Also, engaging in rituals before gaining understanding, as when reciting a tantric sadhana practice in Tibetan when not knowing the language, lowers arrogance. That arrogance often takes the form of "I am not going to practice anything, unless you explain it to me and I understand it."
In Relating to a Spiritual Teacher
We may have each of the three approaches to our spiritual teachers in an immature or mature manner.
In an immature manner, intellectual types argue with their teachers; emotional types fall in love with them; and devotional types become mindless slaves, wanting their teachers to tell them what to do and think.
In a mature manner, intellectual types find their teachers intellectually stimulating and challenging; emotional types find them emotionally moving; and devotional types find them inspiring.
Mature persons may have a balance of all three approaches whether practicing "Dharma-Lite" (watered-down, provisional Dharma) for this lifetime alone, or "The Real Thing" Dharma (authentic traditional Dharma) for liberation from rebirth and enlightenment.


Basic Questions about Karma and Rebirth
Singapore, August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from
Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.

Question: Is the theory of karma empirical and scientific, or is it accepted on faith?
The idea of karma makes sense in many ways, but there is some misunderstanding about what karma is. Some people think that karma means fate or predestination. If somebody is hit by a car or loses a lot of money in business, they say, "Well, tough luck, that is their karma." That is not the Buddhist idea of karma. In fact, that is more the idea of God's will - something that we do not understand or have any control over.
In Buddhism, karma refers to impulses. Based on previous actions we have done, impulses arise in us to act in certain ways now. Karma refers to the impulse that comes into someone's mind to invest in a stock the day before it crashes or before it rises in value. Or, someone may have the impulse to cross the street at just the moment when he or she will be hit by a car, not five minutes earlier or five minutes later. The arising of the impulse at just that moment is the result of some previous action or actions the person did. In a previous life, for example, the person might have tortured or killed someone. Such destructive behavior results in the perpetrator experiencing a shortened lifespan as well, usually in another lifetime. Thus, the impulse to cross the street arose at just the moment to be hit by a car.
A person may have the impulse to shout at or hurt someone else. The impulse comes from habits built up by previous similar behavior. Yelling or hurting others builds up a potential, tendency and habit for this type of behavio r, so that in the future, we easily do it again. Shouting with anger builds up even more of a potential, tendency and habit to make an angry scene again.
Smoking a cigarette is another example. Smoking one cigarette acts as a potential for smoking another. It also builds up a tendency and habit to smoke. Consequently, when the circumstances are right - either in this life when someone offers us a cigarette or in a future lifetime when, as a child, we see people smoking - the impulse comes to our minds to smoke and we do it. Karma explains where that impulse to smoke comes from. Smoking creates not only the mental impulse to repeat the action, but also influences the physical impulses within the body, for example, to get cancer from smoking. The idea of karma makes a lot of sense, for it explains where our impulses come from.
Question: Can someone's receptivity and understanding of Buddhism be predetermined by karma?
Answer: There is a great difference between something being predetermined and something being explainable. Our receptivity and understanding of Buddhism can be explained by karma. That is, as a result of our study and practice in previous lives, we are more receptive to the teachings now. If we had a good understanding of the teachings in the past then, instinctively, we will have a good understanding again in this lifetime. Or, if we had much confusion in previous lives, that confusion would carry over to this life.
However, according to Buddhism, things are not predetermined. There is no fate or destiny. When karma is explained as impulses, it implies that impulses are things that we can choose to act on or not. Based on actions we have done in this and previous lives, we can explain or predict what might occur in the future. We know that constructive actions bring happy results and destructive ones bring undesired consequences. Still, how a specific karmic action ripens will depend on many factors, and thus, many things can influence it. An analogy would be: if we throw a ball up in the air, we can predict that it will come down. Similarly, based on previous actions, we can predict what will happen in the future. If, however, we catch the ball, it will not come down. Likewise, while we can predict from previous actions what will come in the future, it is not absolute, fated, and carved in stone that only that outcome will happen. Other tendencies, actions, circumstances and so on can influence the ripening of karma.
When an impulse comes in our minds to do an action, we have a choice. We are not like little children who act out whatever impulses come to their heads. After all, we did learn to be toilet trained; we do not immediately act out whatever impulses arise. The same is true for the impulse to say something that would hurt someone, or to do something cruel. When such an impulse comes in our minds, we can choose, "Shall I act it out or refrain from acting upon it?" This ability to reflect and discriminate between constructive and destructive actions is what distinguishes human beings from animals. This is the great advantage of being a human being.
Thus, we can choose what we are going to do based on having enough space in our minds to be mindful that impulses are arising. A lot of Buddhist training is involved with developing mindfulness. As we slow down, we become more aware of what we are thinking and what we are about to say or do. Meditation on the breath, in which we observe the in and out-breaths, gives us the space to be able to notice impulses when they arise. We begin to observe, "I have this impulse to say something that will hurt someone. If I say it, it will cause difficulties. So, I will not say it." We can choose. If we are not mindful, we have such a rush of thoughts and impulses that we do not take the opportunity to choose wisely. We just act out the impulses and this often brings troubles to our lives.
Thus, we cannot say that everything - like our understanding or receptivity to the Dharma - is predetermined. We can predict it, but we also have the open space to be able to change.
Question: Do people of other religious beliefs also experience karma?
Answer: Yes. Someone does not have to believe in karma in order to experience it. If we bang our foot, we do not have to believe in cause and effect to experience the pain. Even if we think that poison is a delicious beverage, when we drink it, we get sick. Likewise, if we act in a certain way, the result of that action will come, whether or not we believe in cause and effect.
Question: Am I the continuation of someone else who lived before? Is the Buddhist theory of rebirth a metaphysical one or a scientific one? You said that Buddhism is rational and scientific. Does this apply to rebirth as well?
Answer: There are several points here. One is: how do we prove something scientifically? This brings up the subject: how do we validly know things? According to the Buddhist teachings, things can validly be known in two ways: by direct, straightforward perception, and by inference. By doing an experiment in a laboratory, we can validate the existence of something through straightforward perception; we know it directly through our senses. Some things, however, cannot be known by us now through straightforward perception. We must rely on logic, reason and inference. Rebirth is very hard to prove by means of straightforward sense perception, although there is a story about one Buddhist teacher long ago in India who died, was reborn and then said, "Here I am again," in order to demonstrate to the king that rebirth exists. There are many examples of people who remember their past lives and who can identify either their personal belongings or people they knew before.
Leaving aside those stories, there is also the sheer logic of rebirth. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that if certain points do not correspond to reality, he is willing for them to be eliminated from Buddhism. This applies to rebirth as well. In fact, he made this statement originally in that context. If scientists can prove that rebirth does not exist, then we must give up believing it to be true. However, if scientists cannot prove it false, then because they follow logic and the scientific method, which is open to understanding new things, they must investigate whether it does exist. To prove that rebirth does not exist, they would have to find its nonexistence. Just saying, "Rebirth does not exist because I do not see it with my eyes" is not finding the nonexistence of rebirth. Many things exist that we cannot see with our eyes.
If the scientists cannot prove the nonexistence of rebirth, it then behooves them to investigate if rebirth does in fact exist. The scientific method is to postulate a theory based on certain data and then check if it can be validated. Therefore, we look at the data. For example, we notice that infants are not born like blank cassettes. They have certain habits and personality characteristics observable even when they are very young. Where do these come from?
It makes no sense to say that they come from just the previous continuities of the physical substances of the parents, from the sperm and egg. Not every sperm and egg that come together implant in the womb to grow into a fetus. What makes the difference between when they do become a baby and when they do not? What is actually causing the various habits and instincts in the child? We can say it is the DNA and the genes. This is the physical side. Nobody is denying that this is the physical aspect of how a baby comes into being. Nevertheless, what about the experiential side? How do we account for mind?
The English word "mind" does not have the same meaning as do the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms that it is supposed to translate. In the original languages, "mind" refers to mental activity or mental events, rather than to something that is doing that activity. The activity or event is the cognitive arising of certain things - thoughts, sights, sounds, emotions, feelings and so on - and a cognitive involvement with them - seeing them, hearing them, understanding them, and even not understanding them. These two characteristic features of mind are usually translated as 'clarity' and "awareness," but those English words are also misleading.
Where does this mental activity of the arising and involvement with cognitive objects in an individual being come from? Here, we are not talking about where the body comes from, for that is obviously from the parents. We are not talking about intelligence and so on, because we can also give the argument that there is a genetic base for that. However, to say that someone's preference for chocolate ice cream comes from the person's genes is stretching it too far.
We can say that some of our interests may be influenced by our families or by the economic or social situations we are in. These factors definitely have an influence, but it is difficult to explain absolutely everything we do in that way. For example, why did I become interested in yoga as a child? Nobody in my family or in the society around me was. There were some books available in the area that I lived in, so you could say there was some influence from the society, but why was I interested in that specific book on hatha yoga? Why did I pick it up? That is another question.
Putting all these things aside, let us return to the major question: where does the activity of the arising of cognitive objects and a cognitive involvement in them come from? Where does this ability to perceive come from? Where does the spark of life come from? What makes this combination of a sperm and an egg actually have life? What makes it become a human being? What is it that allows the arising of things like thoughts and sights and what causes cognitive involvement with them, which is the experiential side of the chemical and electrical activity of the brain?
It is difficult to say that the mental activity of an infant comes from the parents because if it did, how does it come from the parents? There has to be some mechanism involved. Does that spark of life - characterized by awareness of things - come from the parents in the same way a sperm and egg do? Does it come with ? With ovulation? Is it the sperm? The egg? If we cannot come up with a logical, scientific indication of when it comes from the parents, then we have to seek another solution.
Looking with sheer logic, we see that functioning phenomena all come from their own continuities, from previous moments of something in the same category of phenomenon. For example, a physical phenomenon, be it matter or energy, comes from the previous moment of that matter or energy. It is a continuum.
Take anger as an example. We can talk of the physical energy we feel when we are angry, that is one thing. However, consider the mental activity of experiencing anger - experiencing the arising of the emotion and the conscious or unconscious awareness of it. An individual's experiencing of anger has its own prior moments of continuity within this lifetime, but where did it come from before that? Either it has to come from the parents, and there seems to be no mechanism to describe how that happens, or it has to come from a creator God. This also has many logical inconsistencies. Alternatively, we have to say it comes from its own prior moment of continuity. The theory of rebirth explains just this.
We may try to understand rebirth with the analogy of a movie. Just as a movie is a continuity of the frames of film, our mental continuums or mind-streams are continuities of everchanging moments of awareness of phenomena within a lifetime and from one life to the next. There is not a solid, findable, entity, such as "me" or "my mind," that gets reborn. Rebirth is not like the analogy of a little statue sitting on a conveyor belt, going from one life to the next. Rather, it is like a movie, something that is constantly changing. Each frame is different but there is continuity in it. One frame is related to the next. Similarly, there is a constantly changing continuity of moments of awareness of phenomena, even if some of those moments are unconscious. Further, just as all movies are not the same movie, although they are all movies, likewise all mental continuums or "minds" are not one mind. There are a countless number of individual streams of continuity of awareness of phenomena.
These are the arguments that we start to investigate from a scientific and rational point of view. If a theory makes sense logically, then we can look more seriously at the fact that there are people who remember their previous lives. In this way, we examine the existence of rebirth from a scientific approach.
Question: Buddhism says that there is no soul or self. What then takes rebirth?
Answer: Again, the analogy of rebirth is not that of some soul, like a concrete little statue or person, traveling on a conveyor belt from one lifetime to another. The conveyor belt represents time and the image it implies is of some solid thing, a fixed personality or soul called "me" passing through time: "Now I am young, now I am old; now I am in this life, now I am in that life." This is not the Buddhist concept of rebirth. Rather, the analogy is like that of a movie. There is a continuity with a movie; the frames form a continuity.
Neither does Buddhism say that I become you, or that we are all one. If we were all one, and I am you, then if we are both hungry, you can wait in the car white I go to eat. It is not like that. We each have our own individual streams of continuity. The sequence in my movie is not going to turn into your movie, but our lives proceed like movies in the sense that they are not concrete and fixed. Life goes on from one frame to another. It follows a sequence, according to karma, and thus forms a continuity.
Question: How are the various impulses stored in the mind and how do they arise?
Answer: It is a bit complex. We act in a certain way, for example, we smoke a cigarette. Because there is some energy involved in smoking a cigarette, that action acts as a potential or force to smoke another one. There is a gross energy, which ends when an action ends, but there is also a subtle energy, which is the potential energy to repeat the action. That subtle energy of the potential to smoke is carried along with the very subtlest energy that accompanies the very subtlest mind that goes from life to life. In the simplest terms, the subtlest mind refers to the subtlest level of the activity of clarity and awareness, while the subtlest energy refers to the very subtle life-supporting energy that supports this activity. Together, they constitute what we may call "the spark of life." They are what go from one lifetime to the next. Karmic potentials are carried together with the spark of life.
Tendencies and habits are carried along also, but they are not physical. What is a habit? For example, we have the habit of drinking tea. We drank tea this morning and yesterday morning and the days before that. The habit is not a physical cup of tea; it is not our minds saying, "Drink tea." It is merely a sequence of similar events - drinking tea many times. Based on that sequence, as a manner of speaking, we say or "impute" that there is a habit of drinking tea. We label the sequence "the habit of drinking tea." A habit is not something physical, but rather an abstraction constructed from a manner of speaking about a sequence of similar events. Based of that, we can predict that something similar will happen in the future.
It is similar when we speak of habits, instincts or tendencies being carried on to the future. Nothing physical is being carried on. However, on the basis of moments of a mental continuum, we can say there are similar instances at this time and that time, and therefore there will be similar instances in the future.
Question: If life involves the transference of consciousness, is there any beginning?
Answer: Buddhism teaches that there is no beginning. A beginning is illogical. The continuity of matter, energy, and individual minds are beginningless. If they had a beginning, where did this beginning come from? What was before the beginning?
Some people say, "We need a beginning. Therefore, God created everything." They assert a creator God, who is given various names in different religions. The question that a Buddhist would ask is, "Where does God come from? Does God have a beginning?" Either they would have to answer that God is beginningless, at which point the Buddhist debater would say, "Ah ha, there is beginninglessness," or they would have to point to something or someone that created God, which contradicts their own philosophy.
An atheist says. "There is no God. Everything came from nothing. The universe evolved out of nothing. Our mental continuums came from nothing." Then, we ask, "Where does that nothing come from?" They say, "That nothing is always around. There was always nothing. This nothing had no beginning." So again, we come back to beginninglessness. Regardless of what answer is given we come back to beginninglessness.
If beginninglessness is the only logical conclusion we can come to, then we examine: "Is it possible for something that functions to come from nothing? How can nothing produce something?" That does not make any sense; things need to have causes. Does the other explanation, that of there being a creator, make sense? That assertion has many logical contradictions too. For exa mple, if an omnipotent being or even if a purely physical Big Bang created everything, then did creation happen at a certain point because of the influence of a motivation, aim, or circumstance? If it did, then what influenced the creation of everything existed before the creation of everything, and that makes no sense.
The third alternative to consider is do things continue with no beginning? This is a more scientific approach that accords with the idea that matter is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. It is the same with individual mental continuums. There is no beginning, and everything transforms dependently, because of causes and circumstances.
Question: Buddha told his followers that he is not God. If that is the case, then what is the role of prayer in Buddhism?
Answer: The main issue concerning prayer is the question, 'Is it possible for someone else to eliminate our sufferings and problems?' Buddha said that nobody can eliminate all of our problems in the same way that one can take a rabbit by the ears and pull it out of a difficult situation. That is impossible. We have to take responsibility ourselves for what happens to us. Therefore, if we wish to create the causes for happiness and to avoid the causes for problems, we need to follow pure morality and ethics. If we want our lives to improve, it is up to us to change our behavior and attitudes in order to affect what will occur in the future.
When we pray in Buddhism, we do not request: "Buddha, please may I have a Mercedes!" No one in the sky can grant it to us. Rather, by praying, we are setting up a strong wish for something to happen. Our attitudes and actions make it happen; but, nevertheless, Buddhas and bodhisattvas can inspire us.
Sometimes, the term for "inspire" is translated as "bless," but this is a very poor translation. Buddhas and bodhisattvas can inspire us by their examples. They can teach or show us the way, but we have to do it ourselves. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot drink for the horse." The horse has to drink by itself. Likewise, we need to follow the path ourselves and gain the realizations ourselves that stop our problems. We cannot pass that responsibility onto an external omnipotent being, thinking, "You are all-powerful, you do it for me. I surrender myself into your hands." Rather, in Buddhism, we look to Buddhas for inspiration to uplift us by their examples. Through their inspiration and their teachings, they help us and guide us. However, we need to develop the potential from our sides to receive their inspiration. The basic work we have to do ourselves.
Much of the misunderstanding about Buddhism arises because of poor translation of Buddhist terms and concepts into English and other foreign languages. For example, many of the translation terms used to translate Buddhism into English were coined by the compilers of the Buddhist dictionaries in the last century, or even earlier. These early scholars often came from missionary or Victorian backgrounds and they chose vocabulary terms that came from their own upbringings. Many of the words they selected, however, do not accurately convey the meanings intended in Buddhism. When we read these words, we think they mean the same as they do in a Christian or Victorian setting when, in fact, they do not.
Examples are the words "bless," "sin," "virtuous," "nonvirtuous," "confession," and so on. In Christianity, they have the implication of some sort of moral judgment, reward and punishment. However, the Buddhist concept is not this at all. It is similar with the word "blessing." These words come from a different cultural background. Therefore, in the study of Buddhism, it is very important to clear away as much as possible the cultural overlay from the words that the earlier translators used. They were the great pioneers of Buddhist Studies and we need to be grateful for their tremendous efforts. Now, however, we need to return once more to the original languages of the texts and understand the Buddhist concepts by their definitions in those languages and put them into English words or phrases that correspond to the meanings.
Question: What does Buddhism say about Darwin's theory of evolution?
Answer: Darwin's theory addresses the evolution of possible bodies into which mental continuums can take rebirth over several periods in the history of the earth. It does not describe the evolution of bodies that an individual mental continuum will take in subsequent lives. There is a great difference between the actual physical life forms on this planet and the continuity of the mind-streams that are reborn in them.
Some explanations about evolution in the Buddhist texts may seem a bit strange to us. They speak about beings that were in a better situation than us in the past and then deteriorated. Whether or not this is true needs investigation. Not everything Buddha and his followers taught can be corroborated by science, and those that cannot, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is willing to leave aside. The masters may have given seemingly odd explanations for specific reasons and did not intend for them to be taken literally. They may indicate various social or psychological truths.
Nevertheless, within the context of evolution itself, there once were dinosaurs and now they are extinct. There is no more karma or impulses left for beings to be reborn as dinosaurs on this planet now. There are different physical bases that are available for mind-streams to take as a body now. It is not contradictory with Buddhist explanations for the physical bases available for rebirth to change over time.
During a discussion that His Holiness Dalai Lama had with scientists, he was asked whether computers could become sentient beings: Could computers one day have minds? He answered in an interesting way, saying that if a computer or a robot reaches the point at which it was sophisticated enough to serve as the basis for a mental continuum, there is no reason why a mind-stream could not connect with a purely inorganic machine as the physical basis for one of its lives. This is even more far-out than Darwin!
This is not saying that a computer is a mind. It is not saying that we can create a mind artificially in a computer. However, if a computer is sophisticated enough, a mind-stream could connect with it and take it as its physical basis.
Such far-reaching thought makes modern-age people excited and interested in Buddhism. Buddhists are brave and willing to enter into these discussions with scientists and to face the various popular issues in the modern world. Buddhism is alive and vibrant in this way. Not only does Buddhism have the ancient wisdom from unbroken lineages going back to Buddha, but also it is alive and deals with issues of the present and future.
Question: What happens to the mind-stream when a person becomes a Buddha?
Answer: Before answering this question, I must explain that Buddha taught many people. Not everyone is the same. We have different dispositions and capacities. Buddha was extremely skillful and gave a variety of teachings so that each person would find an approach suitable to his or her character and disposition. Thus, the major traditions of the Buddhist teachings are Hinayana for modest- minded practitioners and Mahayana for vast- minded practitioners. Of the eighteen Hinayana schools that existed in ancient times, Theravada is the only one left in existence now.
If Buddha were to say to somebody who is modest in his or her aspiration and goal that everyone's mind-stream lasts forever, the person might become discouraged. Some people are overwhelmed with their own problems and therefore, to them, Buddha said, "You can get out of your problems, become a liberated being - an arhat ? and achieve nirvana. When you die, you attain parinirvana. At that time, your mind-stream ends, just as a candle goes out when the wax is exhausted." For that person, such an explanation will be very encouraging, for he or she wishes to escape from the cycle of constantly recurring problems and rebirth, and not have to bother anymore. Thus, it is effective for that type of person. Please note, however, that Buddha did not teach that in the end, all mind-streams become one like streams of water merging in the ocean. That is the explanation of Hinduism.
To a more vast- minded person, Buddha would say, "I gave the previous explanation to benefit those who are modest. However, I did not mean what I explained literally because, in fact, the mind-stream goes on forever. After you have eliminated your problems and attained nirvana, the quality of your mind changes. Your mind does not continue in the same troubling manner as it did before." Thus, to people who have a vast-minded aim to attain enlightenment, Buddha explained that in fact the mind-stream lasts forever - no beginning, no end. When enlightened beings leave their present bodies, their mind-streams still go on.
There is a difference between arhats, liberated beings who have achieved nirvana, and Buddhas, who are fully enlightened. While arhats are free from their problems, suffering and its causes, Buddhas have overcome all their limitations and realized all their potentials in order to benefit everyone in the most effective ways.
Question: Is the state of nirvana permanent? When we achieve enlightenment, we attain a state of equanimity, which is neither happy nor sad. Isn't that rather dull?
Answer: We need to be careful about how we use the word "permanent." Sometimes it has the meaning of being static and never changing. The other meaning of "permanent" is lasting forever. When we achieve nirvana, we have rid ourselves of all of our problems. That state lasts forever - once the problems are gone, they are gone and do not return. The situation in which all limitations are gone also does not change; it will always be the case. However, we must not get the idea that because nirvana is permanent, it is therefore solid and concrete and we do not do anything in it. That is not so. When we have attained nirvana, we can continue to help others and to do things. Nirvana is not permanent in the sense of all activity stopping and nothing happening. We have to be a bit more precise about the use of the word "permanent" and be aware of its connotations. The state of nirvana itself does not change; the accomplishment of having removed our limitations does not change; it lasts forever. The person who achieves such a state, however, continues to act.
"Equanimity" also has several connotations. It can mean a neutral feeling of being neither happy nor unhappy, but that is not what Buddhas experience. Some of the higher gods absorb themselves in deep meditative trances that are beyond the feelings of happiness and sadness; they experience a totally neutral feeling in these trances. Buddhas rid themselves of such neutral feelings as well, since they are associated with confusion. When we rid ourselves of all problems and limitations, we release a tremendous amount of energy that was previously tied up with neuroses, anxiety and worries. We experience the release of all that energy unassociated with any confusion as extremely blissful. This is completely different from ordinary happiness associated with confusion, and it is not at all neutral or dull.
Another usage of the word "equanimity" refers to Buddhas having equanimity toward everyone. Here "equanimity" does not mean indifference, but having an equal attitude of care and concern for all. Buddhas do not favor some and ignore or dislike others.


Buddha-Nature According to Gelug-Chittamatra, Svatantrika, and Prasangika
Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche
translated by Alexander Berzin
Graz, Austria, October 10, 2002

The Tibetan term rigs, meaning "caste" or "family," appears in the technical term sangs-rgyas-kyi rigs (Buddha-caste, Buddha-family) and is usually translated as "Buddha-nature." More specifically, in the context of the discussion of Buddha-nature, it means a caste-trait or family-trait.
There are two types of family-traits:
" naturally abiding family-traits (rang-bzhin gnas-rigs),
" evolving family-traits (rgyas-'gyur-gyi rigs).
The discussion of Buddha-nature appears only among the Mahayana schools of Indian tenets, namely Chittamatra, Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, and Prasangika-Madhyamaka. Each of these schools of tenets interprets Buddha-nature differently. Here, we shall survey some of the basic differences, according to the Gelug presentation.

The Chittamatra school of tenets speaks of three major castes or families:
" the shravaka family of listeners to Buddha's teachings,
" the pratyekabuddha family of self-evolvers,
" the bodhisattva family.
According to Chittamatra, the naturally abiding family-traits are the seeds (sa-bon) that, without beginning, are imputable on the basis of the stained mind of each limited being (sentient being) and which serve as factors allowing that being to attain one of three purified states (byang-chub, Skt. bodhi). The purified states are those of an arhat (liberated being) - either a shravaka arhat or pratyekabuddha arhat - or that of an enlightened being (bodhisattva arhat, Buddha).
The evolving family-traits are the seeds that, newly gained by listening to, contemplating, or meditating on Buddha's teachings, are imputable on the basis of the stained mind of each limited being and which serve as factors allowing that being to attain arya pathway minds ('phags-lam) in the category of shravakas, pratyekabuddhas, or bodhisattvas. The arya pathways of mind are the paths of seeing, paths of accustoming (path of meditation), and paths of no further training.
According to Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, the naturally abiding family-traits are the voidnesses (chos-nyid) imputable on the basis of the stained mind of each limited being.
The evolving family-traits are the factors, imputable on the basis of the stained mind of each limited being, that are fit to become the essential nature (ngo-bo 'gyur-rung) of a deep awareness Dharmakaya (ye-shes chos-sku).
A whole depends on its parts and a universal or collective depends on the individual items included in it. A stained mind, as a collective or whole, depends on grasping for true existence (bden-'dzin) as one of its constituent individual items or parts. Nevertheless, grasping for true existence is not fit to become the essential nature of a deep awareness Dharmakaya. Only the enlightenment-building network of deep awareness (ye-shes-kyi tshogs, collection of wisdom), built up by total absorption on voidness, free from grasping for true existence, is an evolving family-trait.
Thus, an actual enlightenment-building network of deep awareness is imputable on the basis of a stained mind as a whole - once the mental continuum of that mind has attained a Mahayana path of building up (path of accumulation). However, it cannot be imputed on the basis of the grasping for true existence included in the continuum of that stained mind.

According to Prasangika-Madhyamaka, the naturally abiding family-traits are the voidnesses imputable on the basis of the stained mind of each limited being. This is the same as the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka presentation, except that the assertion of voidness is different.
The evolving family-traits are the factors, imputable on the basis of the stained mind of each limited being, that are fit to become the essential natures of the Buddha-bodies that are affected (conditioned) phenomena. Here, the Buddha-bodies include not only the deep awareness Dharmakaya, but also the form bodies (Skt. rupakaya) of a Buddha that the limited being will attain. Thus, the evolving family-traits include the actual enlightenment-building networks of both deep awareness and positive force (collection of merit) imputable on the stained mind of each limited being once that being has attained a pathway mind of building up.


Buddhism and Science
Singapore, August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.

Question: Could you speak more about the relationship between Buddhism and science, and give some specific examples of points that they share in common?
Answer: The dialogues between Buddhist masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and scientists have focused so far primarily on three areas. One is astrophysics, concerning primarily how the universe developed. Does it have a beginning? Was it created or is it part of an eternal process? Another topic is particle physics, regarding the structure of atoms and matter. The third is neurosciences, about how the brain works. These are the main areas.
One of the conclusions that both science and Buddhism reach in common is that there is no creator. In science, the theory of the conservation of matter and energy states that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. Buddhists totally agree and extend the principle to mind as well. "Mind" in Buddhism means awareness of phenomena - either conscious or unconscious - and awareness of phenomena can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. Thus, rebirth is simply a transformation in the ongoing continuity of an individual's awareness of phenomena, but now with the physical basis of another body.
Particle physicists emphasize the role of the observer in defining anything. For example, from a certain point of view, light is matter; from another point of view, it is energy. What type of phenomenon light exists as depends on many variables, particularly on the conceptual framework the investigator is using to analyze it. Thus, phenomena do not exist inherently as this or that from their own sides, unrelated to the consciousness that perceives them.
Buddhism asserts the same thing: what things exist as depends on the observer and the conceptual framework with which the person regards them. For example, whether a certain situation exists as a horrible problem or as something solvable depends on the observer, the person involved. If somebody has the conceptual framework, "This is an impossible situation and nothing can be done," then there really is a difficult problem that cannot be solved. However, with the frame of mind that thinks, "This is complicated and complex, but there is a solution if we approach it in a different way," then that person is much more open to try to find a solution. What is a huge problem for one person is not a big deal for another. It depends on the observer, for our problems do not inherently exist as monstrous problems. Thus, science and Buddhism come to the same conclusion: phenomena exist as this or that dependent on the observer.
Similarly, neurologists and Buddhists both note the dependently arising relationship of things. For example, when the neurologists examine the brain in an attempt to find what makes our decisions, they find that there is no separate "decision-maker" in the brain. No little person called "me" sits inside the head, receiving information from the eyes, ears and so on, as if on a computer screen, and makes decisions by pushing a button so that the arm does this and the leg does that. Rather, decisions are the results of complex interactions of an enormous network of nerve impulses and chemical and electrical processes. Together, they bring the result, a decision. This happens without there being a distinct entity that is a decision- maker. Buddhism emphasizes the same thing: there is no "me" which is permanent and solid sitting in our heads, which makes our decisions. Conventionally, we say, "I'm experiencing this. I'm doing that," but actually, what occurs is the result of a very complex interaction of many different factors. Science and Buddhism are very close in this regard.
Question: What is time? As students, we need to be on time for lectures and to have sufficient time to prepare for our studies or fulfill our responsibilities at work. How can we understand time in order to make life easier?
Answer: Buddhism defines time as "a measurement of change." We can measure change in terms of the motion of the planets or the position of the sun in the sky. We can measure it in terms of how many lectures we go to in a semester ? we have gone to twelve and two more are left ? or we can measure it in terms of physical, bodily cycles ? the menstrual cycle, the number of breaths we take, and so on. These are different ways of measuring change and time is simply a measurement of change.
Time does exist, but according to how we think of it, time affects us differently. For example, we think, "I only have one day left before the exam!" Because we are thinking of time in a small number, we get anxious because we do not have enough time. If we think of it in a different way, "There are twenty- four hours left," then there seems to be ample time to do some preparation. Psychologically, it depends on how we look at it. If we view time as something solid and oppressive, we will be overwhelmed by it and will not have enough time. However, if we look at it openly, as how much time we have, we will try to use it constructively, instead of becoming upset.
Question: Buddhism emphasizes logic and reasoning. Is there a certain point, as in other religions, at which a leap of faith is necessary?
Answer: Buddhism does not require that. We can see this from the Buddhist definition of what exists. What exists is defined as ? that which can be known.? If it cannot be known, then it does not exist, for example, rabbit horns, turtle hair, or chicken lips. We can imagine human lips on a chicken; we can imagine a cartoon drawing of lips on a chicken; but we can never see chicken lips on a chicken because there is no such thing. It does not exist because it cannot be known.
This implies that everything that exists can be known. It is possible for our minds - namely, our mental activity of awareness of phenomena - to encompass everything. There are statements in the scriptures saying that the absolute is beyond the mind and beyond words. Firstly, I do not like to translate the term as "absolute" in English because it gives the connotation that it is beyond us, as if it were something up in the sky. Instead, I prefer to translate it as "the deepest fact about things." The deepest fact about things does exist. It is beyond mind and beyond concepts and words in the sense that it is beyond our usual ways of perceiving things. Language and conception imply that things exist in black and white categories. Good person, bad person, idiot, genius ? the implication of using language is that things actually exist in such well-defined, independent categories: "This is a dumb person. He cannot do anything correctly." "This is a great person." Perceiving reality is seeing that things do not exist in these fantasized, impossible ways, in black and white categories. Things are more open and dynamic. Someone may not be able to do something now, but that does not mean that he or she is exclusively an idiot. The person can be many other things - a friend, a parent, and so on.
Thus, when we say that the deepest fact about things is that they exist in a way that is beyond mind and beyond words, we are referring to the fact that things do not exist in the ways that concepts and language imply they do. Our minds are capable of encompassing that.
It is not that our minds cannot encompass certain things so we must make a leap of faith to believe in them. Buddhism never demands us to have blind faith. On the contrary, Buddha said, "Do not believe what I say just out of respect for me, but test it out yourself, as if you were buying gold." That is true on all levels.
The logic of a particular point may not be immediately obvious to us. However, we do not reject something just because initially we do not understand it. By patiently learning and investigating, something that we previously did not understand can start to make sense.


Buddhism In Modern Society
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

Appreciating Our Advantageous Circumstances
We are extraordinarily fortunate to have the circumstances for Dharma practice that are presently available to us. In both 1993 and 1994 I went to Mainland China on a pilgrimage and visited many temples there. Seeing the situation of Buddhism there made me appreciate the fortune we have here. However, we often take our freedom, material prosperity, spiritual masters and the Budda's teachings for granted and are blind to the wonderful opportunity that we have to practice. For example, we take for granted our ability to gather together to learn the Dharma. But this is not the case in many places. For example, when I was on a pilgrimage at Jiu Hua Shan, Kshitigarbha's Holy Mountain, the abbess of a nunnery asked me to give a talk to the pilgrims there. But my friends from Shanghai who were traveling with me said, "No, you can't do that. The police will come and all of us will get in trouble." We had to be careful about even an innocent activity like teaching the Dharma. Only when the abbess said that she was a friend of the police did my friends say it was safe for me to teach.
It is important that we reflect on the advantages and good circumstances that we have to practice right now. Otherwise, we will take them for granted and they will go to waste. We tend to select one or two small problems in our life, emphasize them, and blow them out of proportion. Then we think, "I can't be happy. I can't practice the Dharma," and this thought itself prevents us from enjoying our life and making it meaningful. We human beings are very funny: when something bad happens in our lives we say, "Why me? Why is this happening to me?" But when we wake up every morning and are alive and healthy and our family is well, we never say, "Why me? Why am I so fortunate?"
Not only should we open our eyes to all the things that are going right in our lives, but also we should recognize that they are results of our own previously-created positive actions or karma. It is helpful to think, "Whoever I was in a previous life, I did a lot of positive actions which make it possible for me to have so many good circumstances now. So in this life I should also act constructively by being ethical and kind so that in the future such fortune will continue."
Appreciating Our Problems
Appreciating our advantageous circumstances is important as is appreciating our problems. Why appreciate our problems? Because the difficult situations in our lives are the ones that make us grow the most. Take a minute and think about a difficult time in your life, a time when you had a lot of problems. Didn't you learn something valuable from that experience? You wouldn't be the person you are now without having gone through those difficulties. We may have gone through a painful time in our life, but we came out the other side with stronger inner resources and a better understanding of life. Seen in this way, even our problems enable us to become better people and aid us on the path to enlightenment.
Before we take refuge in the Three Jewels -- the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha -- it is helpful to visualize them in the space in front of us. That is, we imagine the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and arhats in a pure land. We are there too, surrounded by all sentient beings. A pure land is a place where all the circumstances are conducive to practicing the Dharma. When I visualized being in a Pure Land, I used to imagine only the people I liked and left out the people with whom I felt uncomfortable, threatened, insecure, or fearful. It was nice to imagine being in a place where everything was very pleasant and it was easy to practice the Dharma.
But one time when I was visualizing the pure land, all the people who were giving me problems were there too! I recognized that if a pure land is a place conducive for Dharma practice, then I also need the people who harm me to be there, because they help me to practice. In fact, sometimes those who harm us help us more to practice the Dharma than those who help us. The people who help us, give us gifts, and tell us how wonderful, talented, and intelligent we are often cause us to get puffed up. On the other hand, the people who harm us show us very clearly how much resentment and jealousy we have and how attached we are to our reputations. They help us to see our attachments and aversions and they point out the things we need to work on in ourselves. Sometimes they help us even more than our teachers do in this respect.
For example, our Dharma teachers tell us, "Try to forgive other people, try not to be angry. Jealousy and pride are defilements, so try not to follow them because they will cause you and others difficulties." We say, "Yes, yes, that's true. But I don't have those negative qualities. But the people who harm me are very resentful, jealous, and attached!" Even though our Dharma teachers point out our faults to us, we still don't see them. But when people with whom we don't get along point out our faults to us, we have to look at them. We can't run away anymore. When we're outrageously angry or burning with jealousy or attachment is eating away at us, we can't deny that we have these negative emotions. Of course, we try to say that it's the other person's fault, that we have these horrible emotions only because they made us have them. But after we've listened to the Buddha's teachings, this rationale doesn't work any more. We know in our hearts that our happiness and suffering come from our own mind. Then, even though we try to blame our difficulties on other people, we know we can't. We are forced to look at them ourselves. And when we do, we also see that they are incredible opportunities to grow and learn.
The bodhisattvas, who sincerely wish to practice the Dharma, want to have problems. They want people to criticize them. They want their reputation to get ruined. Why? They see problems as wonderful opportunities to practice. Atisha, a great bodhisattva in India, helped to spread Buddhism to Tibet in the 11th century. When he went to Tibet, he took his Indian cook with him. This cook was very disagreeable, speaking harshly and being rude and obnoxious to people. He even regularly insulted Atisha. The Tibetans asked, "Why did you bring this person with you? We can cook for you. You don't need him!" But Atisha said, "I do need him. I need him to practice patience."
So when someone criticizes me I think, "He is an incarnation of Atisha's cook." One time I was living in a Dharma center and had big problems with one person there, let's call him Sam. I was so happy when I left that place to go back to the monastery and see my spiritual master. My master knew of my difficulties and asked me, "Who is kinder to you: the Buddha, or Sam?" I immediately replied, "Of course the Buddha is kinder to me!" My teacher looked disappointed and proceeded to tell me that Sam was actually much kinder to me than the Buddha! Why? Because I couldn't possibly practice patience with the Buddha. I had to practice with Sam, and without practicing patience there was no way I could become a Buddha, so I actually needed Sam! Of course, that wasn't what I wanted my teacher to say! I wanted him to say, "Oh, I understand, Sam is a horrible person. He was so mean to you, you poor thing." I wanted sympathy, but my teacher didn't give it to me. This made me wake up and realize that difficult situations are beneficial because they force me to practice and find my inner strength. All of us are going to have problems in our lives. This is the nature of cyclic existence. Remembering this can help us to transform our problems into the path to enlightenment.
Dharma Practice in Modern Society
This is an important aspect of Buddhism in modern society. Dharma practice isn't just coming to the temple; it's not simply reading a Buddhist scripture or chanting the Buddha's name. Practice is how we live our lives, how we live with our family, how we work together with our colleagues, how we relate to the other people in the country and on the planet. We need to bring the Buddha's teachings on loving-kindness into our workplace, into our family, even into the grocery store and the gym. We do this not by handing out leaflets on a street corner, but by practicing and living the Dharma ourselves. When we do, automatically we will have a positive influence on the people around us. For example, you teach your children loving-kindness, forgiveness, and patience not only by telling them, but by showing it in your own behavior. If you tell your children one thing, but act in the opposite way, they are going to follow what we do, not what we say.
Teaching Children by Example
If we're not careful, it is easy to teach our children to hate and never to forgive when others harm them. Look at the situation in the former Yugoslavia: it is a good example of how, both in the family and in the schools, adults taught children to hate. When those children grew up, they taught their children to hate. Generation after generation, this went on, and look what happened. There is so much suffering there; it's very sad. Sometimes you may teach children to hate another part of the family. Maybe your grandparents quarreled with their brothers and sisters, and since then the different sides of the family didn't speak to each other. Something happened years before you were born -- you don't even know what the event was -- but because of it, you're not supposed to speak to certain relatives. Then you teach that to your children and grandchildren. They learn that the solution to quarreling with someone is never to speak to them again. Is that going to help them to be happy and kind people? You should think deeply about this and make sure you teach your children only what is valuable.
This is why it's so important that you exemplify in your behavior what you want your children to learn. When you find resentment, anger, grudges, or belligerence in your heart, you have to work on those, not only for your own inner peace but so you don't teach your children to have those harmful emotions. Because you love your children, try to also love yourself as well. Loving yourself and wanting yourself to be happy means you develop a kind heart for the benefit of everybody in the family.
Bringing Loving-Kindness to the Schools
We need to bring loving-kindness not only into the family but also into the schools. Before I became a nun, I was a schoolteacher, so I have especially strong feelings about this. The most important thing for children to learn is not a lot of information, but how to be kind human beings and how to resolve their conflicts with others in a constructive way. Parents and teachers put a lot of time and money into teaching children science, arithmetic, literature, geography, geology, and computers. But do we ever spend any time teaching them how to be kind? Do we have any courses in kindness? Do we teach kids how to work with their own negative emotions and how to resolve conflicts with others? I think this is much more important than the academic subjects. Why? Children may know a lot, but if they grow up to be unkind, resentful, or greedy adults, their lives will not be happy.
Parents want their children to have a good future and thus think their children need to make a lot of money. They teach their children academic and technical skills so that they can get a good job and make lots of money -- as if money were the cause of happiness. But when people are on their deathbed, you never hear anybody wishfully say, "I should have spent more time in the office. I should have made more money." When people have regrets about how they lived their life, usually they regret not communicating better with other people, not being kinder, not letting the people that they care about know that they care. If you want your kids to have a good future don't teach them just how to make money, but how to live a healthy life, how to be a happy person, how to contribute to society in a productive way.
Teaching Children to Share with Others
As parents you have to model this. Let's say your children come home and say, "Mom and Dad, I want designer jeans, I want new rollerblades, I want this and I want that because all the other kids have it." You say to your children, "Those things won't make you happy. You don't need them. It won't make you happy to keep up with the Lee's." But then you go out and buy all the things that everybody else has, even though your house is already filled with things you don't use. In this case, what you are saying and what you are doing are contradictory. You tell your children to share with other children, you don't give things to charities for the poor and needy. Look at the homes in this country: they are filled with things we don't use but can't give away. Why not? We're afraid that if we give something away we might need it in the future. We find it difficult to share our things, but we teach children that they should share. A simple way to teach your children generosity is to give away all the things you haven't used in the last year. If all four seasons have gone by and we haven't used something, we probably won't use it the next year either. There are many people who are poor and can use those things, and it would help ourselves, our children, and the other people if we gave those things away.
Another way to teach your children kindness is to not buy everything that you want. Instead, save the money and give it to a charity or to somebody who is in need. You can show your children through your own example that accumulating more and more material things doesn't bring happiness, and that it's more important to share with others.
Teaching Children About the Environment and Recycling
Along this line, we need to teach children about the environment and recycling. Taking care of the environment that we share with other living beings is part of the practice of loving kindness. If we destroy the environment, we harm others. For example, if we use a lot of disposable things and don't recycle them but just throw them away, what are we giving to future generations? They will inherit from us bigger garbage dumps. I'm very happy to see more people reusing and recycling things. It is an important part of our Buddhist practice and an activity that temples and Dharma centers should take the lead in.
The Buddha did not comment directly on many things in our modern society -- such as recycling -- because those things didn't exist at his time. But he talked about principles that we can apply to our present situations. These principles can guide us in deciding how to act in many new situations that didn't exist 2,500 years ago.
New Addictions in the Modern Society
However, the Buddha did talk directly about intoxicants and discouraged us from using them. At the time of the Buddha, the chief intoxicant was alcohol. However, extrapolating on the principle he set down, the advice against intoxicants also refers to using recreational drugs or misusing tranquilizers. If we take this a step further, we have to observe our relationship to the biggest intoxicant in our society: television. As a society, we are addicted to TV. For example, after getting home from work, we're tired and want to relax. What do we do? We sit down, turn on the TV, and space out for hours, until we finally fall asleep in front of it. Our precious human life, with its potential to become a fully enlightened Buddha, gets wasted in front of the TV! Sometimes certain TV programs are far worse intoxicants than alcohol and drugs, for example, programs with a lot of violence. By the time a child is 15-years-old, he or she has seen thousands of people die on the television. We're intoxicating our children with a violent view of life. Parents need to select the TV programs they watch with a lot of care, and in that way be an example to their children.
Another big intoxicant is shopping. You may be surprised to hear this, but some psychologists are now researching addiction to shopping. When some people feel depressed, they drink or use drugs. Other people go to the shopping center and buy something. It's the same mechanism: we avoid looking at our problems and deal with our uncomfortable emotions by external means. Some people are compulsive shoppers. Even when they don't need anything, they go to the mall and just look around. Then buy something, but return home still feeling empty inside.
We also intoxicate ourselves by eating too much or eating too little. In other words, we handle our uncomfortable emotions by using food. I often joke that in America the Three Jewels of Refuge are the TV, the shopping center, and the refrigerator! That's where we turn when we need help! But these objects of refuge don't bring us happiness and in fact make us more confused. If we can turn our mind to the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha, we'll be a lot happier in the long-run. Even in this moment, our spiritual practice can help us. For example, when we are tired or stressed out, we can relax our mind by chanting the Buddha's name or by bowing to the Buddha. While doing this, we imagine the Buddha in front of us and think that much radiant and peaceful light streams from the Buddha into us. This light fills our entire body-mind and makes us very relaxed and at ease. After doing this for a few minutes, we feel refreshed. This is much cheaper and easier than taking refuge in the TV, shopping mall, and refrigerator. Try it!!

Extracted from "The Path To Happiness" by Ven. Chodron