Comparing and investigating the role of the American Buddhist practitioner is of vital importance to me. Often the Centers and Temples in this country seem to validate practice of contributing members, while not totally addressing the possible potential a person has for practice on their own. Many factor contribute to this trend, including the concept of validation through lineage: the idea being that true practice occurs only when connected to an official dharma lineage that can be dated back to the actual lifetime of Buddha. Although obviously the pattern for practice came from somewhere, it is obvious that these lineage claims may in fact exaggerate or stretch the actual connections between former generations, to further validate their own identity. Many inconsistencies arise from these endeavors, including a comparison with the Buddhist principles in regard to senses of identity or separateness. If both of the latter are illusions, then why all the fuss about which identities agreed with you in the past?
Another problem in dealing with the current state of affairs, namely with American Zen Buddhism, is that in rejecting the religion that they are brought up with, Americans seem to simply carry their cultural baggage into the realm of Zen Buddhism. Greed and materialism seep in, until the practice of non-attachment becomes an abstract motive that is not actualized. Part of non-attachment, it seems, is the capability to live with serenity and dignity whether one drives a sports car or walks; whether one can afford vacations from work or not; whether one is in a position acquired through accomplishment and advancement or not. An ongoing tradition of world culture has been that of over-consumption by the few, resulting in the suffering of the many. Do we contribute to this as Buddhists when we go on a retreat that bears a four-figure price tag? I have read of retreats led by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which the participants yelled at each other in the parking lot over who got to park their SUV where. As Americans, we need to watch out for this tendency. Perhaps the most sincere modern American actualization of Buddhist practice to date stems from the prison system.
A certain amount of Orientalism enters in, also, when dealing with the uniquely Japanese characteristics of Zen. Issues such as blind loyalty to a position of authority, regardless of behavior, come into play. But no matter what the country of origin, or the certification of dharma transmission, if the lay precepts cannot even be followed or actualized then the whole process becomes a shadowplay done for looks .the essence gone, absorbed by the pages of glossy, expensive books that seek to validate the teachers in question. Once a Zen Buddhist, "enlightened" or not, drinks, indulges in sex and affairs, abuses the power that is granted by the students, boasts of their own status, or harps on the superiority of Japanese culture, a heartfelt reevaluation must be made by the people in support of such a person. It is very hard to do; but it must be done.
America has the potential to bring equality, democracy, and a healthy sense of questioning authority to the practice of Zen Buddhism. It also has the potential to immerse the entire practice into a sort of cultural elitism, materialism, hedonism, and outright quests for power in a variety of manifestations. The individual practitioner, whether alone or not, has a role to play in establishing this tradition. We must be very, very careful how we do this.
Frosting and Garbage
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
hear the great masters say, "Practicing Buddhism is good. It will bring you
happiness in this and future lives," and we think, "Umm... This sounds
interesting." But when we try to do it, sometimes we get confused. There
are so many kinds of practice to do. "Should I prostrate? Should I make offerings?
Maybe meditation is better? But chanting is easier, perhaps I should do that instead."
We compare our practice to that of others. "My friend just made 100,000 prostrations
in one month. But my knees hurt and I can't do any!" we think with jealousy.
Sometimes doubt comes in our mind and we wonder, "Other religions teach about
morality, love and compassion. Why should I limit myself to Buddhism?" We
go around in circles, and in the process, lose sight of the real meaning of what
we are trying to do.
To resolve this, we need to understand what following Buddha's teachings means. Let's look beyond clinging to the words. "I'm a Buddhist." Let's look beyond the external appearance of being a religious person. What is it that we want from our lives? Isn't finding some kind of lasting happiness and helping others the essence of what most human beings seek?
One does not have to call him/herself a Buddhist in order to practice the Dharma and receive benefit from it. Interestingly, in Tibetan, there is no word, "Buddhism". This is noteworthy, for sometimes we get so caught up in the names of religions that we forget their meaning, and busy ourselves defending our religion and criticizing others'. This is a useless venture. In fact the term, "Dharma" includes any teaching that, if practiced correctly, leads people to temporal or ultimate happiness. It doesn't exclude teachings given by other religious leaders, provided that these teachings lead us to the attainment of temporal or ultimate happiness.
Examples are readily available: moral discipline such as abandoning killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and intoxicants is taught in many other religions, as is love and compassion for others. This is the Dharma, and it is beneficial for us to practice such advice, whether we call ourselves Buddhist or Hindu or Christian or whatever. This is not to say that all religions are the same in every respect, for they aren't. However, the parts in each of them that lead us to temporal and ultimate happiness should be practiced by everyone, no matter which religion we identify with.
It is extremely important not to get bogged down in words. Sometimes people ask me, "Are you Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Hindu or Muslim? Are you Mahayana or Theravada? Do you follow Tibetan Buddhism or Chinese Buddhism? Are you Gelu, Kargyu, Sakya or Nyingma?" To this complexity of concepts, I reply, "I am a human being searching for a path to discover truth and happiness and to make my life beneficial for others." That's the beginning and end of it. It so happens that I have found a path that suits my inclination and disposition in such and such a religion, and such and such a tradition. However, there is no use in clinging onto the terms, "I am a Buddhist of the Tibetan variety and practice the Gelu tradition." We already have made enough simple words into concrete concepts. Isn't this grasping at fixed and limited categories what we are trying to eliminate from our minds? If we cling to such labels in a close-minded way, then we give ourselves no choice but to quarrel with and criticize others who happen to have different labels. There are already enough problems in the world, what is the use of creating more by having bigoted religious views and conceitedly defaming others?
A kind heart is one of the principal things we are trying to develop. If we run around childishly telling others, "I'm this religion, and you're that religion. But, mine is better," it is like turning chocolate frosting into garbage: what was delicious becomes useless. Instead, we would be much wiser to look inside ourselves and apply the antidotes to intolerance, pride, and attachment. The true criterion of whether we are a religious or spiritual person is whether we have a kind heart toward others and a wise approach to life. These qualities are internal and cannot be seen with our eyes. They are gained by honestly looking at our own thoughts, words and actions, discriminating which ones to encourage and which ones to abandon, and then engaging in the practices to develop compassion and wisdom in order to transform ourselves.
While we are trying to practice the Dharma, let's not get entrenched in superficial appearances. There is a story of one Tibetan man who wanted to practice Dharma, so he spent days circumambulating holy relic monuments. Soon his teacher came by and said, "What you're doing is very nice, but wouldn't it be better to practice the Dharma?" The man scratched his head in wonder and the next day began to do prostrations. He did hundreds of thousands of prostrations, and when he reported the total to his teacher, his teacher responded, "That's very nice, but wouldn't it be better to practice the Dharma?" Puzzled, the man now thought to recite the Buddhist scriptures aloud. But when his teacher came by, he again commented, "Very good, but wouldn't it be better to practice the Dharma?" Thoroughly bewildered, the exasperated man queried his spiritual master, "But what does that mean? I thought I have been practicing the Dharma." The teacher responded concisely, "The practice of Dharma is to change your attitude towards life and give up attachment to worldly concerns."
The real Dharma practice is not something we can see with our eyes. Real practice is changing our mind, not just changing our behavior so that we appear holy, blessed, and others say, "Wow, what a fantastic person!" We have already spent our lives putting on various acts in an effort to convince ourselves and others that we are indeed what in fact we aren't at all. We hardly need to create another facade, this time of a super-holy person. What we do need to do is change our mind, our way of viewing, interpreting and reacting to the world around and within us.
The first step in doing this is being honest with ourselves. Taking an accurate look at our life, we are unafraid and unashamed to acknowledge, "Everything is not completely right in my life. No matter how good the situation around me is, no matter how much money or how many friends or how great a reputation I have, still I'm not satisfied. Also, I have very little control over my moods and emotions, and can't prevent getting sick, aging and eventually dying."
Then we check up why and how we are in this predicament. What are the causes of it? By looking at our own life, we come to understand that our experiences are closely linked with our mind. When we interpret a situation in one way and get angry about it, we are unhappy and make the people around us miserable; when we view the same situation from another perspective, it no longer appears intolerable and we act wisely and with a peaceful mind. When we are proud, it's no wonder that others act haughtily to us. On the other hand, a person with an altruistic attitude automatically attracts friends. Our experiences are based on our own attitudes and actions.
Can our current situation be changed? Of course! Since it is dependent on causes --- our attitudes and actions --- if we take responsibility to train ourselves to think and act in a more accurate and altruistic way, then the current perplexed dissatisfaction can be ceased and a joyful and beneficial situation ensue. It is up to us. We can change.
The initial step in this change is giving up attachment to worldly concerns. In other words, we stop fooling ourselves and trying to fool others. We understand that the problem isn't that we cannot get what we want or once we do get it, it fades away or breaks. Rather, the problem is that we cling to it with over-estimating expectations in the first place. Various activities like prostrating, making offerings, chanting, meditating and so on are techniques to help us overcome our preconceptions of attachment, anger, jealousy, pride and close-mindedness. These practices are not ends in themselves, and they are of little benefit if done with the same attachment for reputation, friends and possessions that we had before.
Once, Bengungyel, a meditator doing retreat in a cave, was expecting his benefactor to visit. As he set up offerings on his altar that morning, he did so with more care and in a much elaborate and impressive way than usual, hoping that his benefactor would think what a great practitioner he was and would give him more offerings. Later, when he realized his own corrupt motivation, he jumped up in disgust, grabbed handfuls of ashes from the ashbin and flung them over the altar while he shouted, "I throw this in the face of attachment to worldly concerns."
In another part of Tibet, Padampa Sangyey, a master with clairvoyant powers, viewed all that had happened in the cave. With delight, he declared to those around him, "Bengungyel has just made the purest offering in all Tibet!"
The essence of the Dharma practice isn't our external performance, but our internal motivation. Real Dharma is not huge temples, pompous ceremonies, elaborate dress and intricate rituals. These things are tools that can help our mind if they are used properly, with correct motivation. We can't judge another person's motivation, nor should we waste our time trying to evaluate others' actions. We can only look at our own mind, thereby determining whether our actions, words and thoughts are beneficial or not. For that reason we must be ever attentive not to let our minds come under the influence of selfishness, attachment, anger, etc. As it says in the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, "Vigilant, the moment a disturbing attitude appears, endangering myself and others, I will confront and avert it without delay." In this way, our Dharma practice becomes pure and is effective not only in leading us to temporal and ultimate happiness, but also in enabling us to make our lives beneficial for others.
Thus, if we get confused about which tradition to follow or what practice to do, let's remember the meaning of practicing Dharma. To cling with concrete conceptions to a certain religion or tradition is to build up our close-minded grasping. To become enamoured with rituals without endeavouring to learn and contemplate their meaning is simply to playact a religious role. To engage in external practices like prostrating, making offerings, chanting and so forth, with a motivation that is attached to receiving a good reputation, meeting a boyfriend or girlfriend, being praised or receiving offerings, is like putting chocolate frosting into garbage: it looks good on the outside, but it's unhealthy.
Instead, if everyday we center ourselves by remembering the value of being a human being, if we recall our beautiful human potential and have a deep and sincere longing to make it blossom, then we'll endeavor to be true to ourselves and to others by transforming our motivations, and consequently, transforming our action. In addition to remembering the value and purpose of life, if we contemplate the transience of our existence and of the objects and people that we are attached to, then we'll want to practice in a pure way. Sincere and pure practice that leads to so many beneficial results is done by applying the antidotes that Buddha prescribed when afflictive attitudes arise in our minds: when anger comes, we practice patience and tolerance; for attachment, we recall transience; when jealousy arises, we counter it with sincere rejoicing in others' qualities and happiness; for pride, we remember that just as no water can stay on a pointed mountain peak, no qualities can develop in a mind inflated by pride; for close-mindedness, we let ourselves listen and reflect on a new view.
Looking holy and important on the outside brings no real happiness either now or in the future. However, if we have a kind heart and a pure motivation free of selfish, ulterior motives, we are indeed a real practitioner. Then our lives become meaningful, joyful and beneficial for others.
Interview with Dr. Alexander Berzin
Newsweek Magazine, Asia & Atlantic editions, January 13, 1997, 56.
Mongolian Buddhism barely survived under decades of Stalinist repression. Now, more than five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia's religious traditions could be facing another threat: an invasion of Christian missionaries. Or so says Dr. Alexander Berzin, 52, a prominent American Buddhist and a research fellow originally from Harvard University. He recently toured Mongolia to deliver a series of lectures on the country's ancient faith, a journey that he says allowed him to witness the impact of foreign evangelists. Berzin shared his observations with Newsweek's George Wehrfritz in Beijing. Excerpts:
WEHRFRITZ: What prompted your latest visit?
BERZIN: I was invited by the National State University of Mongolia to deliver a series of lectures on Buddhism. The background is that since the fall of the communist regime, there has been a very large influx of American Christian missionaries to Mongolia from various denominations. They are exerting tremendous pressure on the population, particularly the young people, to convert to Christianity. This is extremely disruptive to the process of trying to re-establish Mongolia's traditional culture and religion.
How are missionaries disruptive?
For Mongolia to adapt to a new market economy and democracy, it is very important that people feel self-confident. This sense of self-worth comes from being rooted in one's own culture. So if you take away the former Soviet culture, and in addition take away Mongolia's traditional culture and values, which the missionaries are trying to undermine, people are left with nothing. They feel they are not worthwhile, that everything they've spent their lives on is garbage.
How, specifically, do missionaries undermine Mongolia's traditional values?
They come and say that Mongolia's poverty and backwardness are due to Buddhism. This is simply preposterous when one looks at the development of Buddhist societies in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. But many Mongolians believe it because they don't have much information about the outside world. Also, the missionaries come in the guise of English teachers. They print free Christian literature in colloquial Mongolian and in English, which attracts language students. They give money, computers to universities, scholarships to children of influential officials. They buy their way in. The Buddhists can't compete.
They are still trying to re-establish themselves. Their monasteries were destroyed, some 700 during the Stalin period. The communist government allowed only one monastery to stay open. Now they have restarted 155 monasteries. But the old monks who survive are only able to teach the young monks rituals. They don't have money for printing or translation to colloquial Mongolian. And then, of course, the missionaries have parties for young people, with music and free food - and a heavy hit of proselytizing.
What are they trying to accomplish?
The missionaries sincerely believe that they are saving the souls of these people and bringing them to heaven. In the long run, they could destroy Mongolian society.
How might the Buddhist community respond?
There are various steps. I am involved in a project to translate texts from either Tibetan, English or classical Mongolian into the colloquial language. The other thing which is being done is that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been sending teachers from India to help re-establish a Buddhist educational system. Mongolia received its form of Buddhism from Tibet, starting in the 13th century. So there is a very long relationship.
Another strategy is to send in American Buddhists like yourself, right?
The missionaries are American, so Mongolian youth get the impression that their Christian zeal is the backbone of Western culture. It isn't as effective for Mongolian or Tibetan Buddhist teachers to challenge this. But as an American, my presence sends another message: that not every American has this missionary zeal, that there are many other religions in the United States and that we draw our strength from many factors besides Christianity.
Is there a place for Christianity in Mongolia?
I'll give an example. The Dalai Lama and the Pope have had a great deal of contact over the years. One of the things they arranged was an exchange of monastics. A number of Catholic monks came to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India to learn meditation techniques, in particular how to improve concentration. Likewise, the Dalai Lama sent monks to Christian monasteries to study how they set up orphanages, old-age homes, schools and hospitals. In Tibet, the village and family traditionally took care of these things. But in exile in India you don't have the structure anymore, so monasteries need to do this. The Christian monks who went to India certainly did not become Buddhists, nor did the Buddhist monks become Christians. But they were able to learn from each other to enhance their own religions and societies. This type of exchange on the basis of mutual respect has a place in Mongolia.
Children by Example
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
...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.
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 School
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 above is an excerpt from the article "Buddhism in Modern Society" from "The Path To Happiness" by Ven. Chodron
Mystical Art of Contemplative Visualization
by Gan Starling
First let's try an experiment, to assay our present level of skill. Most will find a surprising result...that they are far more adept at this art then they had until now believed.
Just imagine: you are standing in line at the movie theater; a half-dozen folks are qued up before you while nearly as many await behind. There is similar line on your left, and yet another to your right. Do not create this mental image, just remember a like occurrence from your past. Can you see it?
Now you are inside the theater waiting for the picture to start. The lights are still up and all manner of people surround you: different races, different ages, different styles of dress, etc. They all behave quite naturally. None are completely rigid or inanimate. To varying degrees they move about, talk and gesture amongst themselves. You don't even necessarily have to close your eyes. Just picture it and they will be there.
While waiting for the curtain to lift, you loose yourself in an idle daydream. How nice it would be to visit Tahiti Can't you just see it? Ah, yes there you are! You pause while walking along the beach and rest for a moment idlely leaning against an outcrop of rugged, black, volcanic rock. You gaze dreamily at the sunset verging softly ever downward toward the horizon. You wriggle your toes deeper into the still-warm sand while the faintest of breezes tousles your hair. So what if you've never been there? Still you can see it clearly
This is the way to visualize. Everyone knows how to do it. Often enough we seem to do it far too well, mostly when it's not socially convenient. The trick is to be spontaneous, never too overtly deliberate, too firm or too assertive. Don't even call it visualization. Don't call it anything at all. The mental image-building process is neither sublime nor profoundly mystical. It is plain, ordinary, everyday imagination. It's nothing really all that special. So lighten up. Just sit still, relax and imagine.
Don't stress out and the pictures will come all by themselves. But if you struggle, if you strain, trying to sculpt each smallest detail by deliberate mental effort then you will fail. All you'll get is a kind of red unfocused cloud; which just might be actual inside of your eyelids. Don't look with your physical eyes. Don't look at all, just imagine.
Of course, to properly imagine something first we must know it in fair detail. How can we picture Tahiti so clearly? Only because we may have read Mutiny on the Bounty, or watched an adventure travel series on television. We know pretty well what Tahiti should look like. It is the same with meditative visualization. Before sitting down upon our cushion (or at least before evoking an image) we need to study up a bit first.
Acquaint yourself with the imagery. After a while you'll know it by heart. But in so learning, don't lose your spontaneity. Don't get hung up on exact precision according to any single artist. Study several such depictions by different artists. Maintain some slight flexibility. Know in general the expression, gesture and pose. Know also the implements, garments and background. And most important, get to know the function of the imagery. What are the ultimate and intermediate goals of this practice? These will be in full accord with those of the deity.
Take Tara, for instance. Her purpose is guide and protect, to rescue from danger, to lead toward Enlightenment, to inspire and give birth to every good quality within us most especially our Wisdom. In short, She is the perfect Mother. She encourages us to make efforts for ourselves while still sitting always at the ready, willing and able to aid us when needed. She is also eternally youthful and beautiful beyond any words. This is how we should try to see her. In this instance we are the artist. So it is rather more important that our private image of Tara express these ultimate qualities than that it should match with exactitude some other artist's depiction of Her.
So what of traditional Tibetan iconography, with its detailed metrics and all? My own suggestion is to use it only as an informal guide. First know that there is more than just a single Tibetan school of art; and each promotes a slightly varied iconographic metrology. Secondly know that even the early Tibetan artists did not adhere with slavish precision to the original Indian iconography. They remained true instead to the heart of the matter, its inner ideal. A few certain elements of style and expression were re-interpreted so as to speak to the hearts of Tibetans.
And this may be called for in our case also. An ever so slightly Westernized re-depiction of these same exact qualities will not offend against tradition. Artistic license has its limits, but the boundries are none too severe: Green Tara must be green; She must sit thus, pose thus, gesture thus; we must attire her thus and so. Still we enjoy a rather full measure of individual flexibility. Just page through any Tibetan art book; you will see quite a range of variance in many details.
The image which we create for Tara is just as much an offering as the rest of the depiction. First we remember Her image, then we invite Her into it. Perhaps it may be that the image I offer is a composite of several classically beautiful Western women and enlivened by the tender, concerned expression of a certain, half-remembered student teacher from my fifth grade elementary class (whom I then thought to be in love with). That is not at all improper. In such a case, I will have done my best for Tara. And She will gladly communicate to me through this image. That is the function of visualization.
Note the order of events within our short Green Tara sadhana: first we have refuge prayers, then motivational prayers. After that comes visualization. And after that the invocation. Visualization then invocation! First we imagine sublime environs and a physical body for the deity to inhabit. Then we invite the deity to come into them. So how does this work?
Suppose you were planning to invite someone special, whom you admire, over to visit: what do you do? The very first thing, you'd tidy up, clearing out anything unpleasant or offensive. Then you'd pretty up the place as much as you could with decorations here and there. Properly, you would make these special efforts prior to the invitation, rather than waiting till he or she appeared at your doorstep.
And just where is it that we meet the Enlightened Ones? In their realm? No. Not yet anyway. Until we are able to see on their plane we must perforce invite them here, that is to say into our minds. So our minds are what we must tidy up and decorate. We tidy up by putting things in their proper places, correcting our internal perspectives through going for refuge. Then we scrub those old motivations until some real bodhicitta shines through. Next we put out decorations and guest offerings through the power of imagination. And more for ourselves than otherwise, we further include an inspiring semblance for the deity to inhabit during our interview.
Perhaps this may seem a bit contrived. Well, contrived is exactly just what it is but only at first. One's first steps in any endeavor are always awkward: highly deliberate and contrived. This is true for any skill we wish to acquire. Take playing the piano, for instance. First one struggles to hammer out Chopsticks progressing by stages until one can comfortably manage Chopin. But there the similarity ends. Our aspiring pianist may not realistically assume the spirit of Chopin is truly present to offer direct encouragement. We, as tantric practitioners, may indeed rightly do so.
The Heart of Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness, the Vanquishing Lady Surpassing All
(bCom-ldan-'das-ma Shes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa'i snying-po,
Skt. Bhagavati Prajnaparamita-hrdaya)
translated from the Tibetan, as clarified by the Sanskrit
by Alexander Berzin, 2004
These words have I heard. At one time, the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All was dwelling at Vulture Peak Mountain, by the Royal City of Rajagriha, together with a large assembly of the monastic sangha and a large assembly of the bodhisattva sangha.
At that time, the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All was totally absorbed in the absorbed concentration that expresses the multiplicity of phenomena, known as "the appearance of the profound."
Also at that time, the bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva, the Arya Avalokiteshvara, the Powerful Lord Beholding All Around, conducting his behavior in profound and far-reaching discriminating awareness, was beholding all around, in detail, like this: He was beholding all around, in detail, the five aggregate factors of his experience and those as devoid of self-establishing nature.
Then, through the might of the Buddha, the venerable Shariputra addressed these words to the bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva, the Arya Avalokiteshvara: "How does any spiritual child with the (Buddha) family traits need to train, who wishes to conduct his or her behavior in profound and far-reaching discriminating awareness?"
Addressed like that, the bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva, the Arya Avalokiteshvara, addressed these words to the venerable Son of Sharadvati, "O Shariputra, any spiritual son with the family traits or spiritual daughter with the family traits, who wishes to conduct his or her behavior in profound and far-reaching discriminating awareness, needs to behold all around, in detail, like this:
"He or she needs to keep in view, fully and in detail, the five aggregate factors of his or her experience and those as devoid of self-establishing nature. Form - voidness; voidness - form. Form not separate from voidness; voidness not separate from form. (What has form, that has voidness; what has voidness, that has form.) Similarly, feeling, distinguishing, affecting variables, types of consciousness - voidness. It's like that, Shariputra, with all phenomena - voidness: no defining characteristics, no arising, no stopping, no being stained, no being parted from stain, no being deficient, no being additional.
"Because it's like that, Shariputra, in voidness, no form, no feeling, no distinction, no affecting variables, no kind of consciousness. No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. No sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no physical sensation, no phenomena. No cognitive source that's an eye, up to no cognitive source that's a mind, (no cognitive source that's phenomena), no cognitive source that's mental consciousness. No unawareness, no elimination of unawareness, up to no aging and death, no elimination of aging and death. Likewise, no suffering, cause, stopping, and pathway mind. No deep awareness, no attainment, no non-attainment.
"Because it's like that, Shariputra, through there being no attainment of bodhisattvas, he (or she) lives, relying on far-reaching discriminating awareness, with no mental obscuration. (Because of there being no mental obscuration,) there is no fear, gone beyond what's reversed, (thus) nirvana release, complete to the end. In fact, it's by relying on far-reaching discriminating awareness that all Buddhas arrayed throughout the three times are full manifest Buddhas in peerless and perfect full Buddhahood.
"Because it's like that, far-reaching discriminating awareness is the (great) mind-protecting mantra, the mind-protecting mantra of great knowledge, the mind-protecting mantra that's unsurpassed, the mind-protecting mantra equal to the unequaled, the mind-protecting mantra completely stilling all suffering. Because of its being not deceitful, it's to be known as the truth. In far-reaching discriminating awareness, the mind-protecting mantra has been proclaimed, 'Tadyatha, (om) gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. The actual nature: gone, gone, gone beyond, gone far-beyond, purified state, so be it.' O Shariputra, a bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva needs to train like that (for behavior that's) in profound and far-reaching discriminating awareness."
Then the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All, arising from that absorbed concentration, gave his endorsement "excellent" to the bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva, the Arya Avalokiteshvara, "Excellent, excellent, my spiritual son with the family traits, it's just like that. It's just like that that he or she needs to conduct (his or her behavior) in profound and far-reaching discriminating awareness. It's exactly as it's been shown by you for the bodhisattvas, (arhats, and Buddhas) to rejoice."
When the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All had pronounced those words, the venerable Son of Sharadvati, and the bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva, the Arya Avalokiteshvara, and the pair of assemblies of those endowed with all, as well as the world - gods, humans, anti-gods, and gandharva heavenly musicians - rejoicing, sang praises of what had been declared by the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All.
for a Loved One's Death
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
are notes taken from a talk by Ven. Chodron after the death of a student's mother.
In the weeks or months before they die:
" Express your positive feelings for them. Tell them you love them (write a letter if you can't speak with them directly.). Don't wait until they are no longer there to discover and express your love.
" Encourage them to share their love and kindness with others. Help them remember all of the love and kindness that they have given and received from others during their lifetime.
" Encourage them to remember the beneficial things they did in their life.
" If they express regrets, listen with kindness.
" Clear up your relationship with them. If you need to forgive them or apologize to them, do that. If they apologize to you accept their amends.
" Encourage them to forgive whomever they need to forgive and to apologize to whomever they need to apologize to.
" Encourage family members to do kind things to help the dying family member.
" Talk about end-of-life issues -- "living will," medication, religious services, burial or cremation, etc. -- if and when they are willing to do so. Let go of your own agenda of what you want them to talk about or how you want them to die. Listen to them with your heart. Talk about what they want to talk about, not what you think they should think about.
" Let the person tell you how much (if any) pain medication they need. Since the person is terminal, there's no need to be concerned with addiction. On the other hand, avoid sedating them more than is needed.
" Get in touch with your own issues about death, and use your Dharma practice to help you work with them.
At the time of death:
" Make the room as quiet and peaceful as possible.
" Be peaceful and calm. Avoid crying in the room.
" Mentally give them a heartfelt hug and let them know of your love for them, but do not cling or encourage them to cling.
" If it seems necessary, remind them that their children and other family members will be all right after they pass away.
" If person is of another faith, talk to them in the language of that faith -- use words, symbols, and concepts that are familiar to them. Encourage them to have faith and to generate a kind heart towards others. If they are not religious, talk about compassion or loving-kindness. That will help their mind to be calm and peaceful.
" Recite mantra or say prayers for them, quietly or out loud, depending on what is appropriate, as they are dying
" Don't do anything to bring up distress (old hurts, etc.)
" Frequently the person who is about to die will wait to die until family members have left the room and they are either alone or with someone who is not family. Don't feel that you "did something wrong" or abandoned them if they die while you are not there.
" Remember: you can't prevent anyone from dying.
" Trust them in their process and be supportive.
" Tell surrounding family members that we are fond of them (we love) them. Say thank you to them
" If it is possible, allow the body to be untouched for three days after breathing has stopped in order to give time for the consciousness to leave the body. This usually needs to be pre-arranged with the hospital or family. Do not touch the body during this time. If the body starts to smell or if you see fluid come from the nostrils, it indicates that the consciousness has left and the body may be moved before the three days are up. If it is not possible to leave the body untouched for that long (it often isn't), then leave it untouched for as long as possible. When you first touch it, touch it at the crown of the head.
" After the person has died, first touch their crown (top of the head) and say, "Go to the pure land" or "Take a precious human rebirth." Or, according to their faith, say, "Go to heaven or to a safe place."
" Dedicate for them to have a precious human rebirth: May they have each and every conducive circumstance to practice everything they need for enlightenment. Pray that their transition to the next life is free from fear or anxiety. Express in words or in your thoughts all the good wishes you have for them.
Meditation and Prayers to Do After a Dear One Dies
After a dear one dies, it is very beneficial for people who are close to him/her to do prayers and meditations on that person's behalf. These are described below. It is also helpful to offer his/her possessions to the poor and needy, and to make offerings to temples, monasteries, or Dharma centers. You may also request people there to do meditations and prayers for the person.
Do the Chenresig practice (Pearl of Wisdom, book II, page 1, or follow the audio tape) Visualize your dear one in front of you, with Chenresig on their head. As you recite the mantra, visualize much light and nectar from Chenresig flowing into them, completing purifying all obscurations, negativities, distress, disturbing attitudes, negative emotions, fear, etc., and bringing all enlightened qualities -- love, compassion, generosity, wisdom, etc. If you prefer to do this meditating on the Buddha, then refer to the "Meditation on the Buddha" (Pearl of Wisdom, book I, page 32, or follow the audio tape).
At the end, dedicate for the happiness and enlightenment of all sentient beings and especially pray:
May ______ have a precious human life. May he/she meet fully qualified Mahayana spiritual guides, have all conducive circumstances for practice, generate the three principal aspects of the path (the determination to be free, the altruistic intention, and wisdom realizing emptiness), and quickly become a Buddha. Through my Dharma practice, may I benefit this person, leading him/her on the path to enlightenment. By my practice becoming stronger and purer, may I be able to teach this person the Dharma in future lives.
If you wish, you can also recite "The Extraordinary Aspiration of Samantabhadra" (Pearl of Wisdom, book II, page 48) for the person. The practice of the Medicine Buddha can also be done.
Since family and friends have a strong connection with the person, their doing meditation and dedications for them is important. If you can do these on the 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th, 35th, 42nd, and 49th days after their death, it is especially good.
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
Recently, I went to visit Michael, a prisoner in Ohio with whom I've been corresponding for over a year and a half. He first wrote to me in the autumn of 1997, expressing interest in the Heruka and Vajrayogini practices.
I wrote back, "It's great you want to do those practices. Let's start with lamrim." And so we did.
Over the months, I sent him books and tapes, as well as gave him questions to think about in an effort to understand his life, his actions, and the workings of his mind. He would write sometimes quite lengthy replies, slowly opening up and gaining insights about how his mind worked.
At Dharma Friendship Foundation, people join a "refuge group" in which they meet and discuss the meaning of refuge and the five precepts for a few months before taking them. Michael wished to do this, and joined one of the DFF refuge groups, corresponding with the people. They all took refuge and precepts together last February: the DFF people at the center in Seattle, and Michael calling us at the appointed time from Ohio. The telephone was on the table in front of me, and two thousand miles away, he knelt on the floor beneath an open wall-phone in the prison dorm, having made a little altar with photos of the Buddha and his teachers he pasted on the phone.
He faithfully does his daily practice, which is a real refuge for him, as life in prison is not easy. He also tries to practice thought transformation in the various circumstances he encounters in daily prison life. Recently he wrote a long, touching letter about how he practices with the people he meets daily. I've asked him to add some anecdotes to it, and he's given his okay for this to be shared with others when it's ready.
Our correspondence continued, and I asked him more and deeper questions, which he answered as best he could given that letters are read and phone calls overheard by prison officials. He requested to take the eight precepts for life and responded thoughtfully to my pointed questions, asked in order to ensure he was ready to take this commitment. But how and when would the precepts ceremony be?
As things worked out, I went to Madison, Wisconsin, to study with Geshe Sopa for the summer, making it relatively easy to get to eastern Ohio where the prison is. Michael, his mother, and Randi, a volunteer leading the Buddhist group at the prison, went to great lengths to make preparations for the visit-there were paperwork, bureaucracy, and many arrangements to make, even though I would only be at the prison for four hours.
Last weekend I flew to Cleveland and was met at the airport by Randi and Michael's mother, at whose home we stayed. The next morning Randi and I drove two hours to the prison, and after going through elaborate security, we entered the compound..
I saw Michael-6"5" tall, with a shaven head-pacing down the walkway: his mother, sister, and the chaplain all said that he had been excited for weeks about the visit. Earlier that morning, Michael had set up altars, meditation cushions, and so forth in two, otherwise stark rooms in the chapel area: one where Randi would meet with the Buddhist group and the other where Michael and I would be.
It was simultaneously familiar and strange to meet this person that I felt I already knew well. Michael had prepared several offerings-goodies he had bought from the prison commissary, wrapped in white handkerchiefs, and offered to me respectfully. Randi had brought him a kata, which I showed him how to fold and to offer, and he did.
After making offerings to the Buddha, we talked for about two hours, and he related to me some of the things that he could not previously say or write. It was a "splitting open of negativities," which he did earnestly and trustingly, and which I listen to with similar attitudes. Just as we began to do Vajrasattva practice, someone in another room turned on incredibly loud music. But we continued as if nothing happened: that was the only time we had to practice together and it was already very short, so we just did it. Having completed Vajrasattva puification, we did the precepts ceremony, and Michael formally received the eight precepts-including celibacy-for life.
He had been able to arrange for me to give a talk to the Buddhist group, something not usually allowed on a private clergy visit, so we joined Randi and the others in the next room. There, the men asked me, among other things, about working with anger, the meaning of enlightenment, how to practice daily, and why I chose to become a nun. When the chaplain gave us the times-up signal, we quickly ended. As the men left, they smiled happily, bringing me much joy: if I could bring some happiness and clarity to people in these circumstances, my life was worthwhile.
Michael called us at his mother's that evening, and I asked him how he felt. "Very clean inside," he responded. Trust has built up over the time we had corresponded. He trusts the Dharma and the guidance he receives, and I trust him to look hard at difficult issues and to put what he learns into practice.
Many people wrote that they were inspired to read about my visit last year to Michael, who is in a Federal prison in Ohio. I visited him again this year, which was just as rewarding.
He had initially arranged for me to give a talk to the Buddhist group as well as to a large assembly of men, but unexpectedly he was thrown in "the hole"-the "punishment quarters" in which the men are locked in a dingy two-person cell for all but an hour a day. If I was to see him now, it would have to be on a clergy visit, and according to prison rules, I could not do that and be a volunteer who gave a talk to an assembly at the same time. Thus, the talks unfortunately had to be cancelled (Did you really think prison rules were to help the men?).
As it turned out, two days before my visit, the assistant warden told the officers in "the hole" to let Michael out as he hadn't done anything to merit being there to start with! So we met in an attorney's room-a stark white room with a round table and blue chairs-off the general visiting room, for four hours on a Sunday morning.
Michael continues with his daily meditation practice and Dharma studies, as well as tries to practice in daily life-not easy in a prison environment where hostility is the norm and violence is frequent. Last year he took the eight precepts for life, and keeping them has helped him tremendously.
Our correspondence continued throughout the year: I send him questions to contemplate, he writes his reflections, and I comment on them. He has begun his 100,000 prostrations. (Anyone want to be his prostration partner and keep each other going?)
For several months, he has been asking me to do the aspiring and engaging bodhicattva ceremonies during this visit. So that morning, we discussed the motivation for taking the bodhisattva precepts and went through the eighteen root precepts, discussing their implications in daily life. Due to lack of time, we couldn't get to the auxillary precepts, so he will write his thoughts on how to abide by those and send them. Then we did the ceremonies in the attorney room, with him kneeling on a gray blanket on the floor and me sitting in a chair. Forget about setting up an altar, but the Buddhas and bodhisattvas were there for sure! Those of you who have taken bodhisattva precepts with me before will be happy to know that I made it through the ceremony without crying. (A crying nun was all the prison guards needed!)
While we were doing the ceremony, things felt "normal," but afterwards when I considered what had happened, I was amazed. Imagine trying to generate even the slightest bodhicitta-the intention to become fully enlightened in order to benefit all sentient beings most effectively-in a prison environment. It's similar to generating it in hell! I felt profoundly thankful for the opportunity to be there.
After our time together ended, Michael returned to the compound, while I waited for a guard to escort me out. Then, his mother came into the visiting room. Since he had left the room already, a guard arranged for him to meet us at the gate as we left the visiting room. There he was, standing behind a huge metal gate with enormous bars. He bent over and kissed his mother through the bars and then we turned to walk away.
My last image was of him behind the gate looking at two people he cared about leaving. My first thought was, "How sad," but reconsidering and knowing Michael as I do, I knew that wasn't his feeling at all.
He was feeling very full and grateful as he watched us depart. He rejoiced at what he had, rather than lamented that it was over. If only the rest of us could do that with the good things in our lives!
During the summer and autumn of 2001, I had the opportunity to speak at a number of prisons around the United States. I never intended to do prison work: it came to me. But now that I'm involved, I find it very rewarding. In doing it, I learn much more than I give.
A Talk on Anger
Pat picked me up at the Asheville, North Carolina, airport, and we were off to Spruce Pine, the site of the prison that houses Sam, an inmate I'd been corresponding with but had never met. Sam and Pat had arranged for me to give a talk on anger to the Buddhist group and anyone else who showed up. Present were fifteen inmates and four Buddhist volunteers. I was delighted that the chaplain - a friendly, interested woman - also attended, because at some prisons the Christian chaplains are not receptive to the needs and wishes of Buddhist inmates.
We meditated for a while, and then I spoke on anger. The interesting part began when the men asked questions. These people know anger intimately. They have experienced their own, which may be the cause of their being in prison, and they have experienced others', for anger reverberates in the walls of prisons. Most people on the outside do not realize what a violent and dangerous place prison can be for the inmates themselves. Rapes, attacks, and threats occur daily in American prisons.
In prison, Buddhist teachings have to be presented as relevant to the lives these men lead. Their shit detectors are acute, and if someone tried to give them a fairy-tale method to deal with their own and others' anger, they would have howled. They want straight answers, and that's what I gave them, as best I could.
Many quarrels in prisons happen because someone feels disrespected by another inmate. How do you handle a situation in which someone is trying to take advantage of you? If you're nice, they'll keep on doing it; if you argue back, the conflict will escalate. I suggested speaking to the other person firmly and directly, yet kindly, which of course requires a lot of inner work.
How do you keep from getting angry when someone is in your face, deliberately taunting you to get a rise out of you and you want to retaliate? One man smiled when I told him that if you retaliate, you're doing exactly what the other guy wants. He's been successful in setting you off. If you want to maintain your own power in the situation, keep your cool.
Closer to home, how do you let go of anger towards yourself and forgive yourself? I suggested to first recognize that you are no longer that person. That person was in the past. Then look at the person you were when you did that action, see how he was hurting, and have compassion for him.
We discussed these issues and more, the men actively participating and being open about their own fears and concerns. While people on the outside may think this is "normal," a safe environment in prison where men can open up without danger is not easily created or to be taken for granted.
After the talk, several of the men came up to me to talk. The expressions on their faces had changed since they had entered the room. One man had such a winsome smile I couldn't help complimenting him on it. Another later sent me a copy of an article he wrote for the prison newsletter about the talk.
The Bodhisattva Vows
The regular volunteer who leads the Buddhist group at the correction institute in Marion, Ohio, arranged for me to visit the group. I had been corresponding with a couple of the men and one had, after lengthy studies, requested to take the bodhisattva vows. The group wanted to witness this, so we decided that I would give a talk to the entire group and at the end do the ceremony of conveying the vows.
The security people checked everything thoroughly. "This is the big gong. This is the striker for the big gong. This is the cushion for the big gong," and on and on. I've found that security in prisons varies widely. At one, the staff didn't check us at all, at another they checked off everything on a list of Dharma items we'd sent in advance. At yet another, we passed through a metal detector and bags containing essential items only were x-rayed.
Before the ceremony, I talked with Doug, the man wishing to take the bodhisattva vows. Gospel music floated in the background as we were talking in the chapel area. Previously he had written me about his childhood. He had experienced considerable abuse as a youngster, as have most incarcerated men. Now, sitting with me, he told me how he found the Buddhist meditation of seeing all sentient beings as our mother and remembering their kindness so effective for his mind. He found his heart opening to others. This is hardly what one would have expected him to say. Westerners who have experienced a more comfortable and secure childhood than this man have trouble with this meditation. But prisoners who are sincere in their spiritual practice have a way of breaking through tough things in themselves that the rest of us dance around.
Doug told me that a few years ago, after he was incarcerated, he began asking his mother about her life. She too had been abused, first by her family, then by religious leaders. The more he understood what she had experienced, the more he felt compassion for her suffering. He saw that it was her own pain and confusion that had made her neglect her children. It was not that she was evil or that he deserved to be mistreated because he was bad - both of which he thought as a child and even as an adult. As he understood her suffering and its causes, he was able to forgive her. In the process, he discovered he loved her very much.
I remember an excellent book, Finding Freedom by Jarvis Masters, a death row inmate in San Quentin, in which Masters describes a few events from his childhood. Some involved his family, others didn't. They were horrific, and I wonder what else had happened that he chose not to include in the book. Yet, when, as an innate, he received news that his mother had died, he wept. Another inmate said, "Hey, man. Why you cryin'? I thought she'd neglected you as a kid?" Jarvis responded, "That's true, but why should I neglect myself by not admitting that I love her?" Reading that had stopped me in my tracks. This man had tremendous wisdom. Since resentment harms only ourselves, why hold on to it? Since others harm us because they are suffering, why hate them and want them to suffer more?
After Doug and I had finished talking, we went into the main room where the volunteers had been meditating with the rest of the group. I gave a Dharma talk as part of the motivation before giving the bodhisattva vows, talking a lot about kindness, love, and compassion. Suddenly I remembered that His Holiness the Dalai Lama, before giving the bodhisattva vows, would do the aspiring bodhicitta ceremony. While the vows were for people who were prepared, he permitted everyone who was interested to participate in the aspiring bodhicitta ritual. So I decided to do the same and opened up the aspiring bodhicitta section to all the men who wished to join in. Much to my surprise, almost all of them did. Here, enclosed within concrete walls and barbed wire, thirty men recited:
With the wish to free all sentient beings,
I take refuge at all times
In the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha
Until the attainment of full enlightenment.
Today in the presence of the enlightened ones,
Inspired by compassion, wisdom and joyous effort,
I generate the mind aspiring for full Buddhahood
For the wellbeing of all sentient beings.
For as long as space endures,
And for as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.
I could barely believe my ears, nor could I believe my fortune to be present at that moment.
After the talk and ceremony were completed, several of the men came up to talk to me. I had noticed one of them during the talk. At that time, he had had a tough, grim look on his face, and the thought had popped into my mind, "Wouldn't want to meet this person alone." Yet now his face was filled with joy as he smiled. We chatted for a few moments and he asked for help with his meditation practice. My previous preconceptions about this human being vanished.
A Typical Sunday Morning
I went to visit Michael in Elkton, Ohio, once again. Due to prison rules and regulations, since I corresponded with him, I was not allow to be a volunteer in the prison and thus could not speak to the Buddhist group. Instead I went in as a friend, through the visitors' channels. We arrived at the visitors' room about 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, thinking it would take the usual twenty minutes to be processed before entering. No way. We waited two hours while the clerks and guards processed the large group there.
Sitting in the visitors' room, I saw people of every age, race, and ethnicity. Of course most, though not all, of them were women - the wives of incarcerated men. They had their children with them, kids of all ages - infants, toddlers, young kids, teenagers. I thought about their lives. How does going to visit your dad in prison affect you as a kid? How much do they understand? How are these young minds affected by the stark environment -- the bare fields without trees, the concrete buildings ,the barbed wire?
While we waited two hours, the mothers had to keep their children amused, while at the same time talking with other mothers they met there. When you visit a prison, you can't take toys, coloring books, balls, crayons, or anything with you, only a change of diapers and a bottle. That's it. Here were American kids growing up in the waiting room of a prison. It flashed through my mind: our country has one of the highest rates in the world for incarceration of its citizens. This same scene is going on in thousands of prisons nationwide this morning. For many Americans this is a "typical Sunday morning."
Something is very wrong. Are American citizens in some strange way imprisoning not only the perpetrators of crimes but their wives and kids as well? What kind of citizens will kids growing up in prison waiting rooms become? Imagine a story in The NY Times Magazine entitled "A Typical Sunday Morning" that talks about families of incarcerated people going to visit their loved ones on Sunday. It would describe daily things - keeping your toddler occupied when he can't walk anywhere, changing a diaper, diverting a brother and sister from teasing each other so a fight doesn't begin, talking about your kids and family - only it's all happening in a prison waiting room.
Meanwhile other kids are spending Sunday morning with both their parents, taking a walk in the park, reading a book, or eating brunch.
In the room, too, were elderly parents. I, in fact, had come with Michael's mother. I couldn't imagine the grief they must feel seeing their son in a prison uniform. Parents always remember their kids as babies. How do they put that image together with this?
A Safe Place
One of my students runs anger management programs in which he has made use of Buddhist principles and meditations without mentioning Buddhism at all. He conducts some programs at a jail and another at a prison. He invited me to be a guest speaker at an open talk in a prison outside Madison, Wisconsin.
We sat in a circle, four of the prison staff, including the assistant warden, joining the fifteen men for the talk. I discussed Buddha nature, saying that the basic nature of our mind is pure and free from defilement. Negative emotions are like clouds blocking the sky. They obscure the unobstructed sky-like nature of mind, but, because they aren't the nature of the mind, they can be eliminated. I also talked about how to cultivate kindness, forgiveness, patience, and generosity.
After the talk, I opened it up for questions. One man, whom I had noticed because he had a strong chin and a mean expression, spoke, "I want you to know that I have a social disorder and it's terrifying for me to speak in front of a group of people. But you were just talking about generosity, and it's important for me to say to the men here that that's how I want to live. I want to give to others. I want to be kind."
I was dumbfounded. Another one of my preconceptions flew out the window. We had created a safe place in this environment where he could say what was in his heart.
Afterwards the assistant warden came up to thank me. "The men here get so many negative messages. No one hesitates to tell them what's wrong with them. It's so important for them to hear positive messages, like what you said." She then invited me to do an in-service with the prison staff next year.
A Free Boat Ride
Residents and visitors to the Pacific Northwest like to take boat rides on Puget Sound. On a bright sunny day, Washington State gave me a free ferry ride to a prison near Steilacoom. I had been there a year before and had been writing to Michael, an inmate, for several years. He was new to Buddhism when our correspondence began; now he was requesting to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
The chaplain that welcomed us was friendly. He had taken part in some Zen sesshins before. I was glad that he was there, as it had required some persistence to work with another chaplain that had been there previously.
Another man had joined Michael in wanting to take refuge. I spoke with them both privately before the ceremony, to make sure they were prepared and to learn more about them and how I could help. I was surprised to learn that the other man was in prison for a violent crime that had rocked the Seattle community several years ago and had been in the paper for weeks. Of course, not reading the daily paper, I knew little of the event, though later I recalled that the son of one of my students was friends with one of the people who had died.
The refuge ceremony was in a sunny room and from where I sat I could see the Sound. "Wow, what a view! People would pay high prices for beach property like this," I thought. Then my eyes focused on what was between me and the water - coiled barbed wire. The shape of the coils reminded me of those on the walls surrounding wealthy homes in El Salvador. When I had visited there to teach a few years back, I marveled that from the outside, these wealthy homes looked like mini-prisons. Maybe they are. Extreme wealth literally imprisons us.
Like some of my teachers, I often spend a lot of time on the beginning of a text or the preparatory section of a ceremony. The time went by, and, when the bell rang and we were only midway through the ceremony, that was it. The men can move from one part of the prison to another only during certain ten-minute slots during the day. Since this one preceded "Count," when they are counted in their residences, being late would bear particularly bad consequences. I had to shorten the ceremony so we could finish in two minutes. From letters I received afterwards, I was happy to learn that this didn't detract from the ceremony's value and impact.
Just the name "San Quentin" sounds ominous when we think about this maximum security prison in California. Nevertheless, I was delighted to receive an invitation to speak there from the Buddha Dharma Sangha Buddhist group in the prison and the Zen practitioners who regularly go there to lead the sessions. We crossed into this oldest prison in the state, established in the 1850s, through a large gate that, if I didn't know better, looked like it led into a castle. About forty men attended our three hour meeting, about half of them lifers - inmates who will spend the rest of their life in prison, mostly on murder charges.
After telling them a little of my background, to satisfy the usual curiosity people have about Western nuns, we meditated. The energy in the room was concentrated, and there was less squirming than I usually encounter in Dharma centers on the outside. Following this, we did slow walking meditation, something valuable not only for inmates in a chaotic prison environment but also for stressed out people on the outside (who, by the way, often don't like to do walking meditation). Then I spoke about the mind, meditation, anger, and compassion. We got into an interesting discussion about the September 11th tragedy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They asked: How can we stand up for justice in the face of oppression and aggression and yet still be compassionate and support non-violence?
I've never heard the word "justice" mentioned in Buddhist teachings. What do we mean by justice? If we mean "punishment" - as many people do after September 11th - Buddhists would not support it. Rather than punish, we seek to stop harmful actions without being motivated by a mind of revenge. Justice meaning "an eye for an eye" is also not a Buddhist concept. As Gandhi said, that would leave the whole world uselessly blind. Justice meaning "fairness" or "equality" as in economic or social justice does have corresponding Buddhist meanings that we can work towards with compassion for everyone in the situation, not with partiality towards one side or the other.
After the formal session ended, a number of the men came to talk to me, and some told me what it was like being a lifer. According to one, inmates who know they will be released sometimes don't try so hard to make the best of their situation in prison because they know they will leave. Lifers, on the other hand, know that prison will be their whole life and thus seek to find a way to be happy there. Religion and spirituality come in here, for after trying so many other things in their lives that haven't brought happiness, self-examination and internal transformation appeal to them. That showed in their respectful demeanor towards the Buddhist volunteers and their peers in the group.
Endpoint of Samsara Is Suffering, the Endpoint of Dharma Is Happiness
Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche
Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, August 19, 1980
translated by Alexander Berzin
All beings wish to be happy, no one wishes to be unhappy. The Dharma teaches the methods to get rid of suffering and achieve happiness. The Dharma which we practice is, literally, something that holds us. This can be explained in many ways. It holds us back from suffering and holds all true sources of happiness.
Happiness can be either physical or mental. There are also two types of suffering: physical and mental. Many of us, though we wish to achieve happiness, we are ignorant of the methods to attain this. The methods we use lead us to suffering.
Some people rob and kill to make a living. They think this will bring them happiness. This is not so. There are many others who try to achieve happiness by being a merchant, farmer, and so on, within the bounds of the laws. Many people become very wealthy and famous through such methods. This type of happiness is not something that can last forever; it's not ultimate happiness. No matter how much happiness or material goods we have, we are never satisfied that we have enough. Even if we owned an entire country, we would want more.
The work we do to achieve happiness never ends. We try to go around by the fastest means we can, cars, etc. - this type of pursuit has no end. That's why they say samsaric existence has no end, it just goes around and around. We can all understand this: worldly pursuits never end.
A flower is fresh when new, fades when old. No matter what you achieve in this life, it will come to an end. It comes to an end as time goes on and on, to the end of our lives where we have the most suffering. For example, the automobile. You pass by junk yards where old cars have been thrown away. This is the final end, in a state where everything has turned to junk. Even when the car is in good order, we worry about it. We worry that parts will break down, tax and insurance payments, etc., etc. We can extend this example to all our material possessions. The more we have, the more worries we have about them.
Dharma is that which teaches the method for bringing about mental happiness. To achieve some type of mental happiness, we don't do physical work: we need to do work with our minds. The mind, however, has a long stream of continuity, even into future lifetimes, and from past lifetimes. In each lifetime, we have a body and we try to get happiness for that body, but at death the mind goes on. So, the happiness we need to wish for is not only a happiness that is great and stable, but one that lasts for all our future lifetimes and which has no break in its continuity.
No matter what type of activity we do, constructive or not, that's not Dharma, but positive actions that are done for the sake of our future lifetimes, that's the Dharma.
Happiness or unhappiness comes from our actions. Regarding these karmic actions, negative actions bring negative results and positive actions bring positive results. Anything we can do well in this life, planting fields, and so on, this is the result of positive actions we did in our previous lives. If we are very sick, or if we are unhappy or have short lives, this is the result of negative actions we have done in the past.
For example, there are two merchants, one is successful and one is not. This is due to previous karma. You can see two businessmen, one works very hard and is not successful while another doesn't have to work hard but is successful. Another example, if you kill living beings, you will have a short life and will have sickness. You can ask your Geshe-la here about all of this.
If you refrain from committing these negative actions, you won't be born in a lower realm, but as a human or in the god realms. But even if you are born as a human or as a god, this doesn't bring you ultimate happiness - it's all in the nature of suffering. Why is this so? If you achieve a high position, you fall to a low one; if you are in a low position, you rise to a higher one. From this, there is a great deal of suffering. For example if you are hungry, you eat food; but if you eat too much, then you get ill. If you are cold, you turn on the heat and get too hot; then you have to cool down. There are all these types of suffering.
Samsara (uncontrollably recurring existence) consists of these types of suffering. It is the result of karma and various disturbing emotions and attitudes. We need to develop the wisdom (discriminating awareness) of voidness or identitylessness.
We can see, as examples of those who have reached an end of their samsara, the sixteen arhats and various other aryas who have achieved this state. Though we can put an end to our own samsaric existence, it's not enough to do this, because no one has been kinder to us than all limited beings (sentient beings). Dairy products come from the kindness of animals. If we enjoy meat, this comes from animals slaughtered while still healthy. In the winter, we wear fur coats and wool, which come from the animals. They are very kind to provide this to us. We need to repay the kindness of all living beings by attaining the state of Buddhahood ourselves - then we can fulfil the aims of all limited beings.
Sravakas and arhats can't fulfill all the purposes of limited beings. The only one who can do this is a Buddha, and so this is what we must do in order truly to help them. We need to become Buddhas ourselves.
How do we do this? By following the Dharma. In India, there were the highly accomplished mahasiddhas, we have the life stories of eighty of them, but really there are countless numbers of them. They achieve enlightenment in their very lifetimes. In Tibet, there is the example of Milarepa, and many other great masters from the Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya, and Gelug schools.
Once we achieve the state of a Buddha, our Dharma efforts come to an end. The work we do in the Dharma is very difficult in the beginning, but it gets easier and easier, and we become happier and happier as we progress. We finish our Dharma work in a state of complete happiness. Worldly work brings us only more suffering.
For example, when people die, their lives reaching their culmination or endpoint in death causes only misery and suffering, not only to themselves, but also to those left behind, for instance at their funerals. We need to think about this and do some type of Dharma work. Reaching the culmination or endpoint of the Dharma with the attainment of enlightenment brings only happiness, not only to us, but also to all others.
We need to refrain from committing the ten negative actions. If we do positive actions, we experience happiness, and if we do negative actions, we experience unhappiness. We need to examine the results of our actions and we need to examine our own minds as the causes of our actions. When we examine, we see we have the three poisonous emotions and attitudes: desire, hostility, and closed-minded ignorance (naivety).
From these, we get the 84,000 kinds of disturbing emotions and attitudes. These 84,000 delusions are our main enemies, so we look within, not around us, for our enemies. Of these 84,000, the main ones are these three poisons, and the worst one is the closed-minded ignorance or naivety, right in our own mind-streams.
In short, we need to look within ourselves and try to put an end to these inner enemies. That's why followers of the Buddha Dharma are called "insiders" (nang-pa), because they always look within. If we put an end to these disturbing emotions and attitudes in our mental continuums, then we put an end to all our suffering. A person who works to do this is known as one who follows the Dharma.
The Dharma activity of someone who works to eliminate the disturbing emotions and attitudes only within him or herself is the Dharma activity of the Hinayana vehicle. If we work to eliminate our delusions not just to get rid of our own suffering, but see others as more important and strive to overcome our delusions so that we can help them remove the disturbing emotions and attitudes in their minds as well, then we are Mahayana practitioners. On the working basis of this body, we need to try to become Mahayanists, and the result is that we can achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha.
The main point is to try always to benefit everybody and never cause harm to anyone at all. If we recite "Om Mani Padme Hum," you need to think, "May the positive force of doing this benefit all limited beings."
These bodies we have as our working basis are difficult to obtain: being born as a human doesn't easily come about. For example, look at the globe. The majority of it is ocean, and think how many fish there are in all these oceans. The life form with the largest number is animals and insects. If we think of the entire planet and the number of animals and insects there are, we will see the rarity of being born a human.
In the Dharma, realizations and insights come very slowly. Not just in a few days, weeks or months. Only a very few human beings even actually think about Dharma, let alone realize it. We need to work at it consistently for a long period of time. You have a well-qualified Geshe here who can answer all of your questions. In the long term, the Buddha Dharma will continue to grow and become widespread. It is still increasing and very much alive. When the Buddha first taught, he only had five disciples. It spread from these people, and now is present to such a great extent.
We now have someone equal to Shakyamuni, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will be here in October. Whatever teaching His Holiness gives you, take to heart and practice them sincerely. The essence of the teachings is never to harm any creature and to have no harmful thoughts - try only to benefit them. This is the main point. If you act like this, it will bring about great benefit in the future.
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
talking about how to deal with anxiety, let's do a brief meditation that will
help us release some of our stress and anxiety. When meditating, sit comfortably.
You can cross your legs or sit with your feet flat on the floor. Place the right
hand on the left, the thumbs touching so they make a triangle, in your lap against
your body. Sit up straight, with your head level, then lower your eyes.
Setting a Positive Motivation
Before we begin the actual meditation, we generate our motivation by thinking, "I will meditate in order to improve myself, and by doing so may I be able to benefit all the beings I come in contact with. In the long term, may I eliminate all defilements and enhance all my good qualities so that I can become a fully enlightened Buddha in order to benefit all beings most effectively." Even though enlightenment may seem a long way off, by generating the intention to transform our mind into one of an enlightened being, we gradually approach that goal.
Meditation on the Breadth
One meditation found in all the Buddhist traditions is the meditation on the breath. It helps to calm the mind, develop concentration, and brings our attention to the present moment. To focus on our breath and really experience what it feels like to breathe, we have to let go of the thoughts that chatter about the past and future and bring our attention simply to what is happening now. This is always more relaxing than the hopes and fears of the past and the future, which exist merely in our mind and are not happening in the present moment.
Breathe normally and naturally -- do not force your breath and do not deep-breathe. Let your attention rest at your abdomen. As you breathe in, be aware of the sensations in your body as the air enters and leaves. Notice that your abdomen rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale. If other thoughts or sounds enter your mind or distract you, just be aware that your attention has strayed, and gently, but firmly, bring your attention back to the breath. Your breath is like home -- whenever the mind wanders, bring your attention home to the breath. Just experience the breath, be aware of what is happening right now as you inhale and exhale. (Meditate for however long you wish.)
The Attitude that Causes Anxiety
When Buddha described the evolution of samsara -- the cycle of constantly recurring problems in which we are presently trapped, he said that its origin was ignorance. This is a specific type of ignorance, one that misunderstands the nature of existence. Whereas things are dependent on other factors and are constantly in flux, ignorance apprehends them in a very concrete fashion. It makes everything seem super-concrete, as if all persons and objects had their own solid essence. We especially make ourselves very concrete, thinking, "Me. My problems. My life. My family. My job. Me, me, me."
First we make our self very solid; then we cherish this self above all else. By observing how we live our lives, we see that we have incredible attachment and clinging to this self. We want to take care of ourselves. We want to be happy. We like this; we don't like that. We want this and we don't want that. Everybody else comes second. I come first. Of course, we're too polite to say this, but when we observe how we live our lives, it is evident.
It is easy to see how anxiety develops because of so much focus on "me." There are over five billion human beings on this planet, and zillions of other living beings throughout the universe, but we make a big deal out of just one of them -- me. With such self-preoccupation, of course anxiety follows. Due to this self-centered attitude, we pay an incredible amount of attention to everything that has to do with me. In this way, even very small things that have to do with me become extraordinarily important, and we worry and get stressed about them. For example, if the neighbor's child does not do their homework one night, we don't get anxious about it. But if our child does not do their homework one night -- it's a big deal! If somebody else's car gets dented we say, "Well, that's too bad," and forget about it. But if our car gets dented, we talk about it and complain about it for a long time. If a colleague is criticized, it doesn't bother us. But if we receive even a tiny bit of negative feedback, we become angry, hurt or depressed.
Why is this? We can see that anxiety is very intricately related to self-centeredness. The bigger this idea that "I am the most important one in the universe and everything that happens to me is so crucial," is, the more anxious we are going to be. My own anxious mind is a very interesting phenomena. Last year, I did a retreat by myself for four weeks, so I had a nice long time to spend with my own anxious mind and know it very well. My guess is that it's similar to yours. My anxious mind picks out something that happened in my life -- it does not make a difference what it is. Then I spin it around in my mind, thinking, "Oh, what if this happens? What if that happens? Why did this person do this to me? How come this happened to me?" and on and on. My mind could spend hours philosophizing, psychologizing and worrying about this one thing. It seemed like nothing else in the world was important but my particular melodrama.
When we are in the middle of worry and anxiety regarding something, that thing appears to us to be incredibly important. It's as if our mind doesn't have a choice -- it has to think about this thing because it's of monumental significance. But I noticed in my retreat that my mind would get anxious about something different every meditation session. Maybe it was just looking for variety! It's too boring to just have one thing to be anxious about! While I was worrying about one thing, it seemed like it was the most important one in the whole world and the other ones weren't as important. That is until the next session arrived, and another anxiety became the most important one and everything else was not so bad. I began to realize it isn't the thing I am worrying about that is the difficulty. It is my own mind that is looking for something to worry about. It doesn't really matter what the problem is. If I'm habituated with anxiety, I'll find a problem to worry about. If I can't find one, then I'll invent one or cause one.
Dealing with Anxiety
In other words, the real issue is not what is happening outside, but what is happening inside of us. How we experience a situation depends on how we view it -- how we interpret what is happening, how we describe the situation to ourselves. Thus the Buddha said that all of our experiences of happiness and suffering don't come from other people or other things, but from our own minds.
Having a Sense of Humor
How do we deal with our minds when we become very self-centered and anxious? It is important to learn to laugh at ourselves. We really do have a monkey mind when it comes to anxiety, don't we? We worry about this and then we worry about that, like a monkey jumping all over the place. We have to be able to laugh at the monkey instead of taking it so seriously and to develop a sense of humor about our problems. Sometimes our problems are pretty funny, aren't they? If we could step back and look at our problems, many of them would seem quite humorous. If a character in a soap opera had this problem or was acting this way, we would laugh at it. Sometimes I do that: I step back and look at myself, "Oh, look how Chodron feels so sorry for herself. Sniff, sniff. There's so many sentient beings having so many different experiences in the universe, and poor Chodron just stubbed her toe."
No Sense Getting Anxious
Thus one antidote is to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at ourselves. But for those of you who can't laugh at yourselves, there is another way. The great Indian sage Shantideva advised us, "If you have a problem and you can do something about it, there is no need to get anxious about it because you can actively do something to solve it. On the other hand, if there is nothing you can do to solve it, getting anxious about it is useless -- it won't fix the problem. So either way you look at it, whether the problem is solvable or unsolvable, there is no sense in getting anxious or upset about it. Try thinking like that about one of your problems. Just sit for a minute and think, "Is there something I can do about this or not?" If something can be done, go ahead and do that -- there's no need to sit around and worry. If nothing can be done to alter the situation, it is useless to worry. Just let it go. Try thinking like that about a problem that you have and see if it helps.
Not Worrying About Making a Fool of Ourselves
Sometimes we are anxious and nervous before going into a new situation. Afraid that we will make fools out of ourselves, we think, "I may do something wrong, I'll look like a jerk, and everybody will laugh at me or think badly of me." In these cases, I find it helpful to say to myself: "Well, if I can avoid looking like an idiot, I'll do that. But if something happens and I look like an idiot then okay, so be it." We can never predict what other people will think or what they will say behind our back. Maybe it will be good, maybe not. At some point we have to let go and say to ourselves, "Well, that's okay." Now I've also started thinking, "If I do something stupid and people think poorly of me, that's okay. I do have faults and make mistakes, so it's no wonder if others notice them. But if I can acknowledge my mistakes and rectify them as much as possible, then I have fulfilled my responsibility and surely others don't hold my mistake against me."
Paying More Attention to Others
Another way of dealing with anxiety is to lessen our self-centeredness and train our mind to pay more attention to others than to ourselves. This doesn't mean that we ignore ourselves. We need to pay attention to ourselves, but in a healthy way, not in a neurotic, anxious way. Of course we need to take care of our body and we should try to keep our mind happy. We can do this in a healthy and relaxed way by being mindful of what we are thinking, saying and doing. This kind of focus on ourselves is necessary and is part of Buddhist practice. However, it is very different from the self-centeredness that makes us so distressed and restless. That self-centeredness puts undue emphasis on ourselves and thus makes every small thing into a big one.
Considering the Disadvantages of Self-Preoccupation
By considering the disadvantages of self-preoccupation, we will find it easier to let go of that attitude. When it arises in our mind, we will notice it and think, "If I follow this self-centered attitude, it will cause me problems. Therefore, I won't follow that way of thinking and will turn my attention instead to view the situation from a broader perspective, one that encompasses the wishes and needs of everyone involved." Then we can use the same amount of energy to be sensitive to others and develop a kind heart towards them. When we look at others with an open mind, we recognize that everybody wants to be happy and free of suffering as intensely as we do. When opening our hearts to this fact, there will be no space left inside ourselves for self-centered anxiety. Look in your own life, when your heart has been filled with genuine kindness toward others, have you simultaneously been depressed and anxious? It's impossible.
Some people may think, "But I do care about others, and that's what makes me anxious," or "Because I care so much about my kids and my parents, I worry about them all the time." This kind of caring isn't the open-hearted loving-kindness that we are trying to develop in Buddhist practice. This kind of caring is limited to only a few people. Who are the people that we care about so much? All the ones who are related to "me" -- my kids, my parents, my friends, my family." We are right back to "me, me, me" again, aren't we? This kind of caring about others isn't what we are trying to develop here. Instead, we want to learn to care for others impartially, without thinking some beings are more important and others are less worthy. The more we can develop equanimity and an open, caring heart towards all, the more we'll feel close to everyone else and the more we will be able to reach out to them. We have to train our mind in this broad attitude, expanding our care from the small group of people around us so that it gradually is extended to everyone -- those we know and those we don't, and especially to those we don't like.
To do this, start by thinking, "Everyone wants to be happy, just like me, and nobody wants to suffer, just like me." If we focus on that thought alone, there is no space left for anxiety in our minds anymore. When we look at each living being with this recognition and immerse our minds in that thought, our mind will automatically become very open and caring. Try doing this today. Whenever you are looking at people -- for example, when you are in a shop, on the street, in a bus -- think, "This is a living being that has feelings, someone who wants to be happy and doesn't want to suffer. This person is just like me." You will find that you will no longer feel that they are complete strangers. You will feel like you know them in some way and will respect each of them.
Reflecting on the Kindness of Others
Then, if we think about the kindness of others, our mood and the way we see others totally transform. Usually we do not think about others' kindness to us, but our kindness to them. Instead, we focus on the thought, "I care for them and helped them so much, and they don't appreciate it." This makes us very anxious and we start to worry, "Oh, I did something nice for that person, but they don't like me," or "I helped that person, but they don't recognize how much I helped them," or "Nobody appreciates me. How come nobody loves me?" In this way, our monkey mind has taken over the show. We focus so single-pointedly on how kind we have been to others and how little they appreciate us that even when somebody says to us, "Can I help you?" we think, "What do you want from me?" Our self-preoccupation has made us suspicious and unable to see or accept the kindness and love that others genuinely give us.
Kindness of our Friends and Relatives
By meditating on the kindness of others, we will see that we have actually been the recipients of an incredible amount of kindness and love from others. In doing this meditation, first think about the kindness of your friends and relatives, all the different things that they have done for you or given you. Start with the people who took care of you when you were an infant. When you see parents taking care of their kids, think, "Somebody took care of me that way," and "Somebody gave me loving attention and took care of me like that." If nobody had given us that kind of attention and care, we wouldn't be alive today. No matter what kind of family we came from, someone did take care of us. The fact that we are alive attests to that, because as children we could not take care of ourselves.
Kindness of the People who Taught Us
Think about the incredible kindness we received from those who taught us to speak. I visited a friend and her two-year-old child who was learning to speak. I sat there, watching as my friend repeated things over and over again just so her child could learn to speak. To think that other people did that for us! We take our ability to speak for granted, but when we think about it, we see that other people spent a lot of time teaching us how to speak, make sentences, and pronounce words. That is a tremendous amount of kindness we have received from others, isn't it? Where would we be if no one taught us how to talk? We did not learn by ourselves. Other people taught us. Everything we learned throughout childhood and everything we keep learning as adults -- every new thing that comes into our lives and enriches us -- we receive due to the kindness of others. All of our knowledge and each of our talents exist because others taught us and helped us to develop them.
Kindness of Strangers
Then consider the tremendous kindness we received from strangers, people that we do not know. So many beings whom we don't know personally have done things that have helped us. For example, we received an education due to the kindness of people who dedicated their lives to building schools and establishing educational programs. We ride on roads that exist due to the effort of so many engineers and construction workers whom we have never met. We probably do not know the people who built our home, the architects, engineers, construction crew, plumbers, electricians, painters, and so forth. They may have built our home in the summer, enduring the hot weather. We don't know these people, but because of their kindness and effort, we have homes to live in and a temple where we can come and meet together. We don't even know who these people are to say, "Thank you." We just come in, use the buildings, and receive benefit from their effort. Seldom do we consider what they had to go through so that we could live so comfortably.
Deriving Benefit from Harm
Next we reflect on the benefit from those who have harmed us. Although it may seem that they harmed us, but if we look at it in another way, we have received benefit from them. For example, a few years ago someone did something quite mean to me behind my back. At the time, I was very upset and thought, "Oh, this is awful. How could this person do this to me?" Now I realize that I'm glad this situation happened because it opened up a new direction in my life. If this person had not been so unkind to me, I would still be doing what I had done before and would probably be stuck in a rut. But this person's actions pushed me to be more creative. Although initially the situation was very painful, in the long-term, it had a very good effect on my life. It forced me to grow and to develop other talents. So, even the people or situations that we feel are bad can turn out to be good in the long run.
It is interesting to look at some of our present problems from that perspective. Instead of getting anxious about our present problems, think, "Maybe in a few years, when my perspective is broader, I will be able to look back on the people causing this problem and see that it was really a beneficial situation. I will be able to see it as something that propelled me in a new direction." Try to think about your present problems in this way. If we do that, the present anxiety stops, and slowly, our heart will be filled with appreciation for the kindness of others.
Feeling Stuck and Alone in Our Problem
Meditating on the kindness of others is quite important. So sit and do it slowly. Think of all the individuals from whom you have received benefit, even those you do not know, like the people who built your cars, make the books you read, and collect your garbage. Do you know the garbage collectors in your neighborhood? I don't know the ones in my neighborhood. I don't see them. But they are incredibly kind. If they did not take away my garbage every week, I would have a big problem! So many people serve us in countless ways. If we can open our heart and see how much we have received from them, our attitude completely changes. We become very grateful, content, and joyful.
When we are in the middle of a problem, we feel like nobody is helping us. We feel all alone with our problem. But when we do this meditation, we can see that in fact, a lot of people are helping us. More people could even help us if we would open ourselves up to receive from them. If we think like this, our anxiety goes away. We do not feel stuck and alone in our problem because we see that there is actually quite a bit of help and assistance out there.
Overcoming Anxiety by Developing Love and Compassion
After we meditate on the kindness of others, it is easy to feel love and compassion towards them. Love is the wish for sentient beings to have happiness and its causes. Compassion is the wish for them to be free from suffering and its causes. When great love and great compassion are alive in our hearts, we will want to take responsibility to benefit all others and will have a great resolve to do so. From this comes bodhicitta, the altruistic intention to become a Buddha in order to benefit others most effectively. When we have this altruistic intention to become a Buddha, we become a bodhisattva. When we are a bodhisattva, it is guaranteed that we will have no anxiety. Look at Kuan Yin. She looks at all sentient beings and wants them to be happy. She does whatever she is capable of doing to take care of all of us, but she does not get nervous, upset, worried or stressed out. She is able to do what needs to be done to help others and lets the rest go. We never hear of Kuan Yin getting depressed or having anxiety attacks. She is able to handle everything that happens. We can also become that way.
We can look to Kuan Yin for inspiration while we practice the Dharma. She is the embodiment of and represents great love and great compassion towards all living beings. Kuan Yin was once an ordinary being like us, with all of the same confusion and anxiety. Through practicing the path with great effort, she developed such wonderful qualities and became a bodhisattva. If we study the Dharma and practice in the same way, we too can develop qualities just like hers.
Extracted from "The Path To Happiness" by Ven. Chodron
with Difficult Experiences that Arise in Meditation and in Retreat
July 12, 2002
Buddha taught in terms of the four noble truths: problems, their causes, the state of their total elimination, and pathways of mind that lead to that elimination. Therefore, to deal with difficult experiences that arise in meditation and in retreat and to eliminate them, we need to know the causes of the problems.
Outlook, Meditation, and Behavior
A balanced practice of Buddhism spans three areas:
1. a constructive outlook, view, or attitude (lta-ba),
2. meditation on it (sgom), which means accustoming ourselves to the attitude,
3. integration of the outlook into our daily behavior (spyod-pa).
If any of these are missing, our practice will have only minimal beneficial results. We are likely to face difficulties and frustration, not only in meditation, but in life as well.
" To try to meditate, but without a constructive outlook or attitude as the state of mind that we wish to develop by means of the meditation, accomplishes little.
" To learn about a constructive attitude without meditating on it makes little change in us.
" To meditate on a constructive attitude without putting it into practice in our daily lives renders our meditation into a hobby and has little effect.
" To try to put a constructive attitude in our lives without meditating on it is extremely difficult.
Listening, Pondering, and Meditating
To meditate, we need to learn about a constructive state of mind, attitude, outlook, or view. Thus, we need the power of listening (thos) to a correct explanation so that, with this information, we get an accurate verbal idea (sgra-spyi) of
" the state of mind and heart that we wish to develop - what it focuses on (dmigs-pa) and how it cognitively takes this object ('dzin-stangs), such as compassion being aimed at others' suffering and its causes, with the wish for them to be free from both,
" the function of the state of mind - the destructive or disturbing emotion or attitude that it counters and how it functions to counter it,
" the benefits of developing the state,
" the drawbacks of not developing it,
" what the state of mind depends on - what we need to develop beforehand that will serve as the foundation for developing the state,
" the instructions for developing it,
" how the methods for developing the state function to produce the state.
Then, we need the power of pondering (bsam, thinking, contemplating, reflecting) so that
" We understand all the above points.
" We gain an accurate idea of what the words describing the state actually mean (don-spyi) and what the instructions actually entail.
" We are convinced that the state and methods to achieve it conform to logic and experience, and fit with Buddha's teachings.
" We are convinced of the benefits of gaining the state and the disadvantages of not developing it, and therefore have the strong wish and intention ('dun-pa) to attain it.
" This wish and intention is what is meant by motivation (kun-slong) in Buddhism. The intention may be not only to achieve this state as our goal or aim, but also to do something with it once we have achieved it, such as help all others. The motivation or aim needs to be accompanied and supported by a constructive emotion or attitude, such as compassion.
" We are convinced that we can attain the state, based on a realistic understanding of the nonlinear manner in which good qualities grow - progress goes up and down.
Based on the powers of listening and pondering properly, we may then engage in meditation to achieve and accustom ourselves to the constructive state of mind. For this, we need a spiritual teacher to guide us, to check our progress, and to correct any mistakes in our practice.
To make any progress with meditation, it is essential to have a daily practice. As with taking a vow, if we have a practice that we promise to do everyday, we eliminate the difficulty of indecisiveness about whether or not to meditate today. The good habit of meditating needs to become as ingrained as the habit of brushing our teeth.
In addition to following the general Buddhist methods for overcoming laziness and frustration, and for developing ethical self-discipline, patience, and joyous perseverance, further steps are helpful for minimizing difficulties in establishing a daily meditation practice.
" Meditate either in the early morning upon awakening or late at night before retiring. This will minimize distraction from the busywork of the day and from street and house noise. Do not wait, however, until being so tired at night that it becomes a struggle to stay awake.
" Do not meditate on a full stomach, to avoid feeling heavy or dull.
" Sweep the floor and tidy the meditation room, to help the mind to be more orderly.
" Make offerings, at least of water bowls, and offer prostration before sitting down to meditate, to show respect.
" Make sure the meditation seat is comfortable, to minimize physical pain.
" Have the minimum daily practice be short, so that it is manageable even when very busy, sick, or traveling.
" Structure the meditation period with (1) preliminaries - such as quieting down by focusing on the breath, reaffirming the motivation, and performing the seven-part practice - (2) the main meditation, and (3) the dedication. Unless the positive force of the meditation is dedicated to attaining enlightenment for the benefit of others, it simply serves to benefit our samsaric existence.
" Do not attempt a meditation that is too advanced without being well prepared and ready - not only in terms of having the powers of listening and pondering and having meditated on the steps that lead up to it, but also in terms of having sufficient emotional maturity and stability.
In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, a retreat usually means performing a serviceability retreat (las-rung) for a specific Buddha-figure (yidam, deity). Completing such a retreat, together with its concluding fire puja (sbyin-sreg), makes our minds serviceable with the Buddha-figure and its practice. It makes our minds serviceable to take the self-initiation (bdag-'jug) to renew our tantric vows and serviceable to engage in more advanced practices of the Buddha-figure.
During a serviceablity retreat, we recite the sadhana for visualizing ourselves as a Buddha-figure and repeat the associated mantras hundreds of thousands of times. We may do this in the context of four, three, two, or one session a day.
The number of mantras we recite during the first session of the entire retreat establishes the minimum number that we need to recite each day. Therefore, it is recommended to recite the mantra during this initial session only a few times, for instance only three times, so that if we are sick, we are able to do at least this number. It is important never to break the continuity of the retreat by missing a day of practice. Having only three repetitions of the mantra as our required number minimizes difficulties if we become sick.
Serviceability retreats are not intended as a period for studying and acquainting ourselves with a tantric practice - to gain a "taste" or an "experience" of them. Practitioners undertake them only after they have already studied and practiced them, so that they already have deep familiarity and are free of questions or doubts.
Many practitioners take a period off from their daily lives to perform one or more of the special preliminary practices for tantra - a hundred thousand repetitions typically of prostration, the Vajrasattva hundred-syllable mantra, mandala offerings, and guru-yoga. Such intensive practice is not formally called a "retreat."
Retreats in the Modern Western Usage of the Term
Contemporary Western Buddhists often use the term retreat for any residential meditation course, even if for only a weekend, and for any period of time taken out of their busy daily lives and spent in secluded meditation on any topic. This may include time spent on pondering topics, such as from the lam-rim (graded path to enlightenment), to gain a basic understanding of them.
Some Westerners also call a "retreat" secluded time spent studying and familiarizing themselves with a particular practice. The stated aim is to gain a "taste" or an "experience," to inspire them for further practice.
Such types of retreat may lead to competition with other practitioners and to disappointment if we do not gain any experience. If gaining an experience is the aim of a retreat, it is important to undertake it without any hopes or expectations for any results to come from it.
Solitary Versus Group Retreats
Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhists do solitary retreats. Thus, they need to rely on themselves for discipline. If they do retreat with others - mostly done to pool economic resources - each person typically meditates alone; and, when the retreat entails mantra-repetition, at his or her own rate.
Many Westerners prefer group retreats in which all the participants meditate together. The main advantage is that such method of practice provides the discipline that would be difficult to establish on one's own. The disadvantages are that it may lead to dependency, competition, distraction, and annoyance.
Maintaining strict silence during the retreat can minimize some of these dangers. Periodic optional discussion sessions can provide the opportunity to share experiences. Periodic compulsory consultations with the spiritual teachers guiding the retreats provide the supervision that can help participants avoid mistakes and resolve doubts.
Lung (Subtle Energy Disorders)
Whether in retreat or in daily meditation, it is important not to push ourselves too hard. Pushing ourselves causes anxiety and frustration, commonly referred to in Tibetan as a lung (rlung, subtle energy-wind) disorder. Lung may also arise due to insufficient preparation for the retreat or meditation practice, and the confusion and frustration that follow from lack of clarity about what we are doing or why.
Lung may manifest as quickened pulse, pain around the heart and back, and a general feeling of nervousness, restlessness, and irritability. It may cause visions, ringing in the ears, seemingly "out-of-body" experiences, and/or insomnia.
Imbalances of lung are not easy to quiet. Knowing when to take a break and to rest is helpful, as are long distance views, laughter, friendly affection, and keeping warm. If it is necessary to take a nap during the day, sleeping for only twenty minutes is sufficient to refresh ourselves, and short enough to avoid the heavy, dull feeling that comes from sleeping too long during the day. Avoid getting cold, being in drafts or wind or under a fan, and listening to loud music, particularly music with strong base and drums. Loud machinery and television and computer screens that emit much radiation may also aggravate lung.
Diet also affects lung. Items that will worsen a lung disorder include:
" coffee, black tea, green tea, chocolate, and anything else containing caffeine,
Items that quiet a lung disorder include:
" fatty dairy products,
" warm milk,
" wheat products, such as bread.
Emotional Upheavals during Retreat
Often during retreats, deep memories and suppressed emotions surface. This particularly happens when pondering the teachings and doing analytical meditation, particularly in reference to our own life experiences. The quiet space of the retreat and the meditation lowers our inner defenses and, consequently, these naturally arise. In Western psychological terms, the meditation process helps us to gain access to the unconscious.
If such memories and emotions arise and the experience of them is extremely disturbing, it is helpful to recite a mantra, such as om mani padme hum, with a feeling of compassion, and not to repress them. The mantra and compassion provide a stable container for the experience. Especially when not engaging in a serviceability retreat or a retreat to develop concentration, working through such emotional material by applying the Dharma methods can be very beneficial.
We all experience disturbing emotions (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha, afflictive emotions) - states of mind that when we develop them cause us to lose our mental peace and incapacitate us so that we lose self-control. Common examples are greed, attachment, hostility, anger, and jealousy. They trigger various mental urges (karma) to arise, usually ones that lead to destructive behavior. The urges may be to act destructively toward others or to act in some self-destructive way. The result is that we create problems and suffering for others and, inevitably, for ourselves.
There is a vast range of disturbing emotions. Each culture mentally draws some arbitrary line around a set of common emotional experiences that most people in its society experience, decides on some defining characteristics that describe it as a category, and then give the category a name. Of course, each culture chooses different sets of common emotional experiences, different defining characteristics to describe them, and, in this way, makes up different categories of disturbing emotions.
Categories of disturbing emotions specified by different cultures usually do not exactly overlap, because the definitions of the emotions are slightly different. For example, Sanskrit and Tibetan each have one word for "jealousy" (phrag-dog, Skt. irshya), while most Western languages have two. English has "jealousy" and "envy," while German has "Eifersucht" and "Neid." The distinction between the two English terms is not precisely the same as that drawn between the two German words, and the Sanskrit and Tibetan do not correspond exactly to any of the terms in either language. If, as Westerners, we experience emotional problems in this general category, designated by the categories formulated by our own cultures and languages, and we wish to learn Buddhist methods for overcoming them, we may need to analyze and deconstruct our emotions, as we conceptualize them, into a combination of several disturbing emotions as defined in Buddhism.
"Jealousy" as Defined by Buddhism and "Envy" as Defined in English
The Buddhist abhidharma texts classify "jealousy" (phrag-dog) as a part of hostility. They define it as "a disturbing emotion that focuses on other peoples' accomplishments - such as their good qualities, possessions, or success - and is the inability to bear their accomplishments, due to excessive attachment to our own gain or to the respect we receive."
Attachment, here, means that we are focused on some area of life in which others have accomplished more than we have, and we exaggerate its positive aspects. In our minds, we make this area one of the most important aspects of life and base our sense of self-worth on it. Implicit is an inordinate preoccupation with and attachment to "me." Thus, we are jealous because we are "attached to our own gain or to the respect we receive" in terms of this area. For example, we may fixate on the amount of money we have or on how good-looking we are. As an aspect of hostility, jealousy adds to this attachment a strong element of resentment at what others have achieved in this area. It is the opposite of rejoicing and feeling happy at what they have accomplished.
In English, one of the definitions of jealousy is "hostility toward someone believed to enjoy an advantage." It has only part of the Buddhist definition; it omits the factor of attachment to the area in which the other person has the advantage. The definition only implies that the advantage may be true or not, but does not question the actual importance of the area or the preoccupation with "me."
Furthermore, jealousy, as defined in Buddhism, covers part, but not all of the English word envy. Envy adds a little more. It adds what Buddhism calls "covetousness" (brnab-sems). Covetousness is "the inordinate desire for something that someone else possesses." Thus, the definition of "envy" in English, is "a painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else, joined with the desire to enjoy the same advantage." In other words, in addition to the inability to bear others' accomplishments in an area of life that, as Buddhism points out, we exaggerate the importance of, envy is the wish to have these accomplishments ourselves. We might be poor or lacking in this area, or we may already have an adequate or even above average measure of it. If we are envious and want even more, our covetousness has grown into greed. Often, although not necessarily, envy entails the further wish for others to be deprived of what they have achieved, so that we can have it instead. In this case, there is an ever further ingredient to the emotion, spite.
Envy, as a combination of jealousy and covetousness, leads to competitiveness. Thus, Trungpa Rinpoche discussed jealousy as the disturbing emotion that drives us to become highly competitive and to work fanatically to outdo others or ourselves. It is connected with forceful action - the so-called "karma family." Because of being jealous and envious of what others have accomplished, we push ourselves or we push others under us to do more and more, like with extreme competition in business or sports. Thus, Buddhism uses the horse to represent jealousy. It races against other horses because of jealousy. It cannot bear that another horse is running faster.
It is true that, in Buddhism, jealousy is closely related to competitiveness, although the former does not necessarily lead to the latter. Someone could be jealous of others, and with low self-esteem, not even try to compete. Similarly, being competitive does not necessarily entail jealousy. Some people like to compete in sports simply for fun, to enjoy themselves and the company of others, without ever wishing to keep score.
Buddhism connects jealousy and competition differently. For example, in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (sPyod-'jug, Skt. Bodhicharya-avatara), Shantideva puts together in one discussion jealousy toward those in higher position, competitiveness with equals, and arrogance toward those who are lower in status. His discussion is within the context of learning to view all beings as equal.
The problem Buddhism is addressing here is the feeling that "I" am special, which underlies all three disturbing emotions. For example, if we think and feel that "I" am the only one who can do a specific task well or correctly, like teaching our friend to drive a car, we become jealous if anyone else teaches him or her. That does not necessarily lead to competitiveness. If, on the other hand, we think and feel that "I" am the only one who deserves to do a specific thing, such as get ahead in life, and we are envious if someone else succeeds, we become competitive. We have to outdo the other person, even if we are already moderately successful. In both examples, underlying jealousy and envy is a strong feeling of "me" and a strong preoccupation with us alone. We do not consider others in the same way as we do ourselves. We consider ourselves special.
The remedy Buddhism offers to the problems and unhappiness caused by these types of jealousy, envy, competitiveness, and arrogance is to treat the underlying fallacy concerning "me" and "you." We need to realize and view everyone as equal. Everyone has the same basic abilities, in the sense that everyone has Buddha-nature. Everyone has the same wish to be happy and to succeed, and not to be unhappy or to fail. And everyone has the same right to be happy and to succeed and the same right not to be unhappy or to fail. There is nothing special about "me" in these regards. Buddhism also teaches love - the wish for everyone, equally, to be happy.
When we learn to view everyone as equal, in terms of Buddha-nature and love, then we are open to see how to relate to someone who has either succeeded more than we have or who has succeeded when we have not. We rejoice in his or her success, since we want everyone to be happy. We try to help our equals also succeed, rather than competing with them and trying to outdo them. Toward those who are less successful than we are, we try to help them do well, rather than gloat and arrogantly feel better than they are.
Cultural Reinforcement of Jealousy and Competitiveness
These suggested Buddhist methods are extremely advanced and particularly difficult to apply when our automatically arising jealousy and competitiveness are reinforced, strengthened and even rewarded by certain Western cultural values. After all, almost all children automatically like to win and cry when they lose. But, on top of that, many Western cultures teach capitalism as the naturally best form of a democratic society. Underlying it is the theory of the survival of the fittest, which sets competition as the basic driving force of life, rather than, for instance, love and affection. Further, Western cultures reinforce the importance of success and winning with an obsession with competitive sports, and their glorification of the best athletes and the richest people in the world.
In addition, the whole political system of democracy and voting entails competition - offering and then selling ourselves as candidates, by publicizing how much better we are than our rivals for office. As commonly practiced in the West, campaigning adds to this an intense effort to find out every possible weak point in the rival candidates, even in terms of their private lives, and inflating them out of proportion and widely publicizing them in order to discredit him or her. Many people even view such type of behavior, based on jealousy and competition, as praiseworthy and just.
Tibetan society, on the other hand, frowns on anyone who depreciates others and claims he or she is better than they are. These are considered negative character traits. In fact, the first root bodhisattva vow is never to praise ourselves and belittle others to people in positions lower than ourselves - which would include, here, advertising such words to the voting public. The motivation is specified as desire for profit, praise, love, respect, and so on from the persons addressed, and jealousy of the persons belittled. It makes no difference whether what we say is true or false. In contrast, when speaking about ourselves, extreme modesty and saying "I have no good qualities; I don't know anything" is considered praiseworthy. Thus, democracy and campaigning for votes are totally alien and do not work in Tibetan society if practiced in the usual Western form.
Even just to say that we want to run for office is taken as a suspicious sign of arrogance and of a nonaltruistic motive. The only possible compromise may be for representatives of the candidates - and never the nominees themselves - merely to speak to others about their candidates' good qualities and accomplishments, without comparing them to those of the rivals for the office or saying anything bad about them. This, however, is hardly ever done. Usually, candidates who are well known, such as from noble families or incarnate lamas, are nominated, without even asking them if they wish to run. If they say they do not wish to run for office, this is taken as a sign of modesty, since immediately to say "yes" indicates arrogance and greed for power. It is almost impossible for someone nominated to refuse. Voting is then done, without campaigning. People usually vote for the candidate who is most well known.
Thus, the Buddhist method of rejoicing in the victories of others - and the even stronger one of giving the victory to others and accepting defeat for ourselves - may not be the most suitable first remedy to try for Westerners who are strongly convinced of the virtues of capitalism and of the Western electoral system of campaigning. As Westerners, we might need first to reevaluate the validity of our cultural values and deal with the doctrinally based forms of jealousy and competition that arise from accepting those values, before addressing the automatically arising forms.
An example that may help us to see the relativity of Western culturally based jealousy and competitiveness is an Indian market. In India, there are cloth markets, jewelry markets, vegetable markets, and so on. Each has row after row of stalls and shops, right next to each other, all selling almost exactly the same goods. Most of the shopkeepers are friends with each other and often sit drinking tea together outside their shops. Their attitude is that it is up to their karma whether or not their shops do well.
Jealousy in the Western Sense
While the discussion of jealousy in Buddhism primarily addresses, although does not overlap with, the disturbing emotion of what English defines as "envy," English specifies another similar disturbing emotion that it calls "jealousy." For most Westerners, this type of jealousy gives them even more suffering than the types that Buddhism discusses.
Rather than focus on what another has person received that we have not, this form of jealousy focuses on someone who gives something to someone else, rather than to us. Thus, in English, the first definition of jealousy we find in the dictionary is "an intolerance of rivalry or of unfaithfulness." For example, we feel jealous if our partners flirt with other men or women or spend a lot of time with others. Even a dog feels this type of jealousy when a new baby arrives in the house. Thus, like jealousy in Buddhism, it has elements of resentment and hostility. But, in addition, it has strong elements of insecurity and mistrust.
If we are insecure, then when a friend or partner is with someone else, we are jealous. This is because we are unsure of our self-worth, insecure of the other person's love for "me," and thus we do not trust our friend. We fear that "I" will be abandoned.
To deal with this type of jealousy, we also need to learn the equality of everyone. But here, our problem is not doctrinally based on cultural values, so perhaps it is easier to go directly to trying the Buddhist insight. The heart has the capacity to love everyone - this is an aspect of Buddha-nature. Reaffirming this fact is a way to overcome jealousy. In other words, everyone's heart has that capacity, including our friend or lover. If they are so closed that they have no room in their hearts for me, we can develop compassion for them. They do not realize their Buddha-nature capacities and, consequently, are depriving themselves of some of the greatest joys in life.
We ourselves need to become open to everyone. With open hearts, we can have love for friend, partner, child, pet, parents, country, our people, Nature, God, hobby, job, etc. There is room in our hearts for love for all of them. Love is not exclusive. We are perfectly capable of dealing with and relating to all these objects of our love, expressing our feelings in manners appropriate to each object. We do not express our love and affection to our dogs in the same way as we express it to our wives or husbands, or to our parents. We do not have sexual relations with all of them.
The issues of monogamy and sexual unfaithfulness are extremely complex and bring in many further issues. They are not the topics here. In any case, if our sexual partners, especially our marital spouses and especially when we have young children together, are unfaithful or spend a great deal of time with others, jealousy, resentment, and possessiveness are never helpful emotional responses. We need to deal with the situation in a more sober manner. Yelling at our partners or trying to make them fell guilty can hardly ever succeed in making them love us.
Also, these disturbing emotional responses are, in part, culturally influenced. For example, a traditional Japanese or Indian wife does not expect her husband to spend his social time with her after work, rather than to follow the norms of his society and go out with his male friends. Thus, in most cases, she will be content to lead her social life with her women friends, separately from that of her husband.
Further, when we think that love and having a close friendship can be only with one person exclusively, and if he or she has a friendship with someone else, there is no room for "me," this is jealousy. It is based on the feeling of a solid "me" who must be special, and a solid "you" who is so special that we want only this person's love. Even if there are many others who love us and whom we love, we tend to ignore that fact and think, "That doesn't count."
Continually opening our hearts to as many others as possible and acknowledging the love that others - friends, relatives, pets, and so on - have for us now, have had in the past, and will have in the future helps us to feel more emotionally secure. This, in turn, helps us to overcome any fixation we may have on anyone being a special object of love, not even ourselves.
Omniscience and all-loving both imply having everyone in our minds and hearts. Nevertheless, when a Buddha is focused on or with one person, he or she is 100% concentrated on that person. Therefore, having love for everyone does not mean that love for each individual is diluted. Therefore, we need not fear that if we open our hearts to many people, our personal relations will be less intense or fulfilling. We may be less clinging and less dependent on any one relation to be all-satisfying, and we may spend less time with each individual, but each is a full involvement. The same is true in terms of others' love for us when we are jealous that it will be diluted because they also love someone else.
Also, it is an unrealistic expectation that any one person will be our special perfect match, like our "other half," who will complement us in all ways and with whom we can share every aspect of our lives. Such an expectation is based on the ancient Greek myth told by Plato that originally we were all wholes, who then were split in two. Somewhere "out there" is our other half; and true love is when we find and reunite with our other halves. Although this myth has become the foundation for Western romanticism, it does not refer to reality. To believe in it, like believing in the beautiful prince who will come to rescue us on a white horse, is an acquired, culturally specific phenomenon.
The Deceptive Appearances Underlying Jealousy and Envy
As we have seen, jealousy is the inability to bear someone else's achievement in an area that we exaggerate the importance of, for instance his or her financial success. Envious of it, we wish that we could achieve it instead. We also have seen the variation of this, which occurs when someone receives something from someone, such as love or affection. We wish that we could receive it instead.
This disturbing emotion derives from two deceptive appearances that, because of confusion and just not knowing how things exist, our minds create and project. The first is the dualistic appearance of (1) a seemingly concrete "me" who inherently deserves to achieve or receive something, but did not, and (2) a seemingly concrete "you" who inherently did not deserve to get it. Unconsciously, we feel that the world owes us something and it is unfair when others get it instead. We divide the world into two solid categories: "losers" and "winners," and imagine that people truly exist and are findable inside the boxes of these seemingly solid true categories. Then we put ourselves in the solid permanent category of "loser" and we put the other person in the solid permanent category of "winner." We might even put everyone in the winners' box, except ourselves. Not only do we feel resentment, we feel doomed. This leads to fixation on the painful thought, "poor me."
Naivety about behavioral cause and effect usually accompanies jealousy and envy. For example, we do not understand and even deny that the person who received a promotion or affection did anything to earn or deserve it. Moreover, we feel that we should get it without having to do anything to bring it about. Alternatively, we feel that we did do a lot, but still did not get the reward. Our minds thus create a second deceptive appearance and project it. Our confused minds make things appear to happen for no reason at all, or for only one reason: what we alone did.
Deconstructing Deceptive Appearances
We need to deconstruct these two deceptive appearances. Our cultures might have taught us that the driving principle inherent in the world of living beings is competition: the drive to win, survival of the fittest. But that premise might not be true. Nevertheless, if we have accepted it, we then believe that the world is inherently divided, by its very nature, into an absolute dichotomy of winners and losers. Consequently, we perceive the world in the fixed conceptual categories of winners and losers, and of course view ourselves with the same conceptual framework.
Although these concepts of winners, losers, and competition may be useful for describing evolution, we need to realize that they are only arbitrary mental constructions. "Winner" and "loser" are only mental labels. They are convenient mental categories used to describe certain events, such as coming in first in a race, getting a promotion at work instead of someone else getting it, or losing a client or student to someone else. We could just as easily divide people into the categories of "nice persons" and "not nice persons," depending on how we define "nice."
When we see that all such dualistic sets of categories are merely mentally constructed, we start to realize that there is nothing inherent on the side of "me" or "you" that locks us into solid categories. It is not that we are basically losers, inherently, and, in thinking of ourselves as losers, we have finally discovered the truth - the real "me" is a loser. Poor "me." Rather, we have many other qualities besides losing a client to someone else, so why dwell on that one as if that were the real "me."
Furthermore, it is only because of our limited minds and preoccupation with thinking "poor 'me'" and "you bastard 'you,'" that it seems like success and failure, gain and loss, happen for no reasons at all, or for irrelevant reasons. That is why we think that what happened to us was unfair. What happens in the universe, however, happens because of a huge network of cause and effect. So many things affect what happens to us and to others, it is beyond our imaginations to include every factor.
When we deconstruct these two deceptive appearances (winners and losers, and things happening for no good reason) and stop projecting them, we relax our feelings of injustice. Beneath our jealousy is merely awareness of what has been accomplished, what has happened. We lost a client to someone else and now someone else has this client. This makes us aware of a goal to achieve. If we do not begrudge someone else for achieving or receiving it, we can perhaps learn how the person accomplished the feat. This enables us to see how to accomplish it ourselves. We only feel jealous because of overlaying this awareness with dualistic appearances and concrete identities.
Thus, Buddhism offers a variety of methods to deal with the disturbing emotions of jealousy and envy, whether we define them in the Buddhist manner or in Western ways. When we are troubled with a disturbing emotion in these general categories, the challenge is to recognize correctly the defining characteristics and our cultural backgrounds. When, through meditation practice, we have trained ourselves in a variety of methods, we can chose an appropriate one to help us work through any emotional difficulties we may be experiencing.
and the Iraq War
April 2, 2003
In the short time since the war began, I've taught in Idaho, California, and Missouri. In all these places, people were asking for Dharma advice on how to work with the emotions that were coming up for them around the war. The following, then, is not meant as a political statement - although my personal view is present - but as suggestions on how to work with our feelings about what is happening.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was in the midst of giving the traditional Tibetan New Year teachings when the Iraq War broke out. The day after fighting began, he said, "The war is happening now. Let's pray that at least something good comes from it." I interpreted this to mean that we did our best to prevent it and now, instead of falling prey to feelings of despair and anger, which only create more suffering, we must shift our attention to deal with the situation in a constructive way. How do we do this?
Many people who were hoping the conflict could be resolved without violence are now feeling helpless, afraid, and angry. First we need to work with these destructive emotions that not only enhance our suffering, but also limit our ability to help others. Then we seek to generate a kind and compassionate heart. Having done this, each of us will discover his or her own ways to create and contribute to peace.
Many people feel helpless to change the course of events as governmental leaders seem to be blindly pursuing their own agenda. If we give in to feeling helpless and thinking that there is nothing we can do, it is as if we are saying cause and effect do not exist. But the law of cause and effect does exist; that is a fact of daily life as well as a basic Buddhist principle. We can plants seeds for peace through Dharma practice, social action, and generosity to aid organizations. We may not be able to stop war instantly or single-handedly, but it's important the voice of peace be spoken and heard, regardless of whether it has an immediate or long-term effect. The mutual support that we offer each other just by speaking words of peace helps us and others. In addition, the power of speaking our truth has an influence. Making prayers for peace; doing the taking and giving meditation (tong.len); meditating on Chenresig, the Buddha of Compassion, also have effects. We can attend peace rallies, write to our leaders, engage in social action, and contribute to aid organizations. We may not be able to get food and medicine to those on both sides of the war who are subject to bombing and live fire, but we can at least help the poor and ill in our own country. Reaching out to others with our thoughts and actions is what is important. Helplessness cannot survive in an environment of care.
Two kinds of fear may arise in reaction to the war. One is self-centered, the second other-focused. Self-centered fear is debilitating. We may fear a variety of things: increased terrorist activities in our own countries, the end of the carefully constructed international cooperation that the U.N. has fostered since its inception; the loss of rights and freedom due to the present administration's security policies; a failing economy that restricts our lifestyle. There is a quality of panic about fear, as the mind creates worst-case scenarios that end with, "This situation will overwhelm me."
Asking ourselves a few questions helps to counteract fear:
1. How likely to happen is the situation I fear? How much of this is my mind writing horror stories? Often we find that the drama we create is highly unlikely to occur.
2. Even if it did happen, what resources do I have to deal with it? We find that there are external resources in the community to draw on as well as internal resources of the strength that comes from Dharma practice and the compassion born from it.
3. Although this fear is unrealistic, but real dangers may be present. What can I do to prevent them? Here we again come to the power of speaking the voice of peace, of positive aspirations, and of reaching out to others in whatever way we can. We each have different ways to help. For some it may be healing an interpersonal conflict; for another it may be social or political action; for a third it may be offering service of any kind.
Other-focused fear is concerned with the safety and well-being of others. Imagining what it would be like living in a city being bombed or one in which clean water and food are in short supply, we find the suffering of those experiencing this unbearable. We worry if these people will live, if their loved ones will survive, if their homes and belongings will remain. We fear for the lives troops and civilians on both sides of the conflict. This fear has the potential to transform into compassion, the wish that living beings are free from suffering and its causes. That compassion is dynamic and invigorating, and although tinged with the sadness of witnessing suffering, it is optimistic that in the long-run suffering and its causes can be removed.
However, if we aren't careful, other-focused fear can morph into personal distress in which we become more focused on our own uncomfortable feelings when we see others suffering than on their misery. Personal distress impedes the development of true compassion. Another possible glitch with other-focused fear is bias. That is, we have compassion for the well-being of those that we view as victims of aggression, but lack compassion for those we label perpetrators. In fact, we may even develop animosity towards the perpetrators, in which case our way of thinking resembles theirs in some aspects: we see things in terms of "us and them," blame others, and wish them ill. In other words, we are compassionate to one side but hostile to the other. This is not genuine compassion, which goes beyond bias.
Helplessness and self-centered fear are extremely uncomfortable emotions, and we frequently resort to anger to divert ourselves from experiencing them. At present, our anger is likely to focus on government leaders, whose actions seem ignorant and counterproductive to the welfare of our own and other countries. Or we may be angry at the situation, "I don't have a bone to pick. Why am I stuck in the middle of other people's conflicts?"
Here it is helpful to remember that our own actions - our karma - caused us to be in this situation. There's no one outside to blame. If we hadn't created the karmic causes through our own harmful actions, we wouldn't be in these circumstances. Instead of rejecting the situation, we must accept it and make the war and the threats to safety that go with it our Dharma practice.
We may wonder, "What did I do in the past that I find myself involuntarily dragged into this conflict now?" If we look closely, we may find that in the past we have stirred up conflict by back-biting, gossip, or spreading false stories. We may have a little of Sadam and Bush inside ourselves. Our spiteful speech, which hurts others to the core, is our weapon of mass destruction. Our control issues in which we impose our way on those around us are our bombs and artillery attacks. It's rather sobering to recognize this, and even though it's not at the scale where it influences as many people, still our jealousy and hatred and the actions motivated by them bring suffering. There's work we can start doing now to clean up our own attitudes and behavior as part of our contribution to peace.
Some people fear and distrust Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld as much or more than Sadam. It is extremely easy to vilify the coalition's leaders, in which case we put more anger into an already hostile environment. Here, too, our mind has become like those whose war cries we dislike, just the object of our hatred is different. We see the world in terms of "us and them," denounce one side and praise the other, and wish harm to those who disagree with us. This does no good at all, either for ourselves or others.
This is where compassion comes in. How can we have compassion for those who promote war? How can we be kind to those whose political views differ from ours? How can we wish well to those who harm others, including government leaders and soldiers on both sides?
In my mind opposing the war and supporting the troops are two different issues. I don't hate the US and British troops. These young men are as much victims of others' agendas as everyone else is. I wish them well; I don't want them to be killed or to kill. We can love our country's soldiers as individual sentient beings and still oppose the actions they engage in.
Similarly, opposing this war doesn't mean we don't love our country. In fact, it is because we care about our country that we don't want its leaders to take us down a path that we consider mistaken. We appreciate the freedom we have here but think that an international policy based on understanding and respect for other cultures will protect it better than the current one.
What about the government leaders who command them to fight? How can we hate those whose ways of thinking are so ignorant and misguided? Just imagine - if we grew up in Bush's family or in Sadam's home town with all the conditioning they received as youngsters, it's highly likely that we would think like them. Aren't both of them victims of the conditioning they received? Aren't they oppressed by the force of their own ignorance, attachment, and hostility? When we think of the karma they are creating and the results they will experience due to it, how can we hate them? Aren't they objects worthy of our compassion?
Compassion isn't just for those who are ostensibly suffering in the conflict. Compassion is needed especially for those who perpetrate harm. We need to wish them to be well and happy. If they were content, they wouldn't be doing what they are doing. People only harm others when they're miserable themselves, not when they feel happy.
Compassion doesn't necessitate that we agree with what others think or do. We can speak out against harmful activities while having compassion for their perpetrators. Compassion doesn't mean we escape the realities of war. In fact, I believe it sees those realities more accurately and leads us to creative ways of seeking resolutions. A kind heart is something we have the capability and power to generate. We have some work to do; let's begin right now, and let's help each other do it.
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes.
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes.
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from bias, attachment and anger.
Holiness the Dalai Lama's Comments on Prison Life.
By Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron©
During the time he was teaching in New York City in September, 2003, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met privately with a group of former inmates. They told him about their experience in prison and their endeavors to practice the Buddhadharma there. His Holiness later shared his reflections on this meeting when he spoke to the thousands of people attending his teachings at the Beacon Theatre and the estimated 65,000 who attended his Sunday morning talk at Central Park. What he said was similar, though not exactly the same, on these two occasions, and I share with you what I remember (I didn't take notes, nor was I at the meeting).
His Holiness was very appreciative of the meeting and said how touched and saddened he was hearing the suffering that people experienced while incarcerated. He admired their efforts to learn and practice the Dharma in such a hostile and violent environment and said that the cultivation of compassion is extremely important.
He also commented on the injustices present in a prison system designed to punish rather than rehabilitate, a system which brands people as "evil" instead of seeing their potential and the purity of their Buddha nature. The structure of the prison system is in bad need of reform, he said. Looking directly at the audience, he stated emphatically: But I am not a citizen of this country, you are. Therefore, you are responsible for changing this system. You need a system helps both the inmates themselves and society in general. A loud round of applause by the audience followed this statement.
Having done prison work myself for several years-both corresponding with inmates and teaching Buddhist groups in prisons-I was very moved by the depth of His Holiness' knowledge of and care for people who are generally feared and therefore discarded by society. His care was not only for the individuals themselves, but for the system in general, in which everyone-inmates, their families and friends, guards, and prison staff-is trapped. I wished that all those imprisoned could have heard His Holiness directly and experienced his tremendous compassion for them.
- Determination To Be Free
Morelia, Mexico, October 10, 2001
Definition and Implications
Renunciation (nges-'byung) is the determination to be free from not only some form of suffering, but also from its causes. It entails the willingness to give up that suffering and its causes. Thus, it requires great courage. It is not just aiming to get something nice without paying a price.
Renunciation also implies belief in the fact that it is possible to be free from that suffering and its causes. It is not just wishful thinking. It is belief in a fact to be true (dad-pa) in all three ways.
1. Clearheadedly believing it (dvangs-ba'i dad-pa), clears the mind of disturbing emotions and attitudes about the object. Thus, correct renunciation clears the mind of indecisiveness, self-pity, and resentment about having to give up something desirable.
2. Believing a fact to be true based on reason (yid-ches-pa). We need to understand how liberation from suffering and its causes is possible.
3. Believing a fact with an aspiration toward it (mngon-dad-kyi dad-pa). As with the two stages of bodhichitta (the aspiring and the involved stages), we need not merely to wish or to be willing to give up some level of suffering and its causes. We need actually to give them both up, as much as we presently are able, and to involve ourselves in the practices that will enable us eventually to gain freedom from them forever.
Moreover, correct renunciation is not the same as short-lived all-excited renunciation (sna-thung spu-sud-kyi nges-'byung): the enthusiastic and fanatic renunciation of everything, based on blind faith that an external source will save us. It entails a realistic attitude about the hard work involved. We may gain inspiration from others, but we have to work hard ourselves.
Further, we need a realistic attitude about how progress occurs. Becoming free from samsara is never a linear process, with things getting better each day. Until we are free forever, samsara will continue to go up and down. When viewed from the perspective of a long period of time, we can see progress, but on a day-to-day basis, our moods will continue to go up and down.
Thus, we need discipline and patience to endure the difficulties of following the Buddhist path, and armor-like joyful perseverance (go-cha'i brtson-'grus) to press on despite the ups and downs. With clearheaded belief backing our determination to be free, we will not become frustrated or dismayed.
Two Stages of Renunciation According to Tsongkapa
In The Three Principal Paths (Lam-gtso rnam-gsum), Tsongkhapa differentiates
1. the initial scope renunciation with which we turn our primary concern from benefiting this life to benefiting future lives,
2. the intermediate scope renunciation with which we turn our primary interest from benefiting future lives to gaining liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth in samsara.
The first is a level of renunciation developed in common with non-Buddhists who aim to go to heaven. The second is exclusively Buddhist.
We can implement this differentiation by adding a preliminary stage, the "Dharma-Lite" version (like CocaCola Lite). Dharma-Lite renunciation is turning our primary interest from gratifying the moment to benefiting later periods in this life or later generations.
Dharma-Lite renunciation, however, is only valid as part of the Buddhist path when we view it merely as a stepping stone for reaching the two "real-thing " Dharma levels. To reach the "real-thing" levels, we need to understand the Buddhist teachings on rebirth correctly and believe them to be fact, based on reason. Otherwise, how can we sincerely work to benefit our future lives or to gain liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth?
With Dharma-Lite renunciation, then, we look at the everyday problems we have in life - in our relationships, in our dealing with difficulties, and so on. We also look at the causes and we are willing to give up both, in order to improve the quality of this life - and not just immediately, but also later in life. This is renunciation on a level in common with psychotherapy.
Parallel to this level, we can have a Dharma-Lite version of putting safe direction in life (taking refuge). We put the safe direction in our lives of working to live with our neuroses so that they cause us only minimal problems. We look to those who have achieved this, in full and in part, as indicating the way.
[See: "Dharma-Lite" Versus " The Real Thing" Dharma.]
Provisional Renunciation and Safe Direction
Lamrim (the graded stages of the path) presents the topic of taking safe direction first in terms of initial scope renunciation. There, it is based on dread of worse rebirths and belief in the fact that the Three Gems can lead to better rebirth. Like the Dharma-Lite versions, this level of renunciation and safe direction is also only provisional. They are also not the full, definitional forms.
The Dharma Gem is true stoppings of suffering and its causes, and true paths leading to them. On the initial level, however, the Dharma Gem is not an actual Dharma gem. The suffering we aim to stop is only gross suffering; its cause is only unawareness of behavioral cause and effect; the stopping is only temporary; and the path is restraining from destructive behavior.
Moreover, those who have attained this so-called Dharma Gem are those in the best states of rebirth - human and gods, not Buddhas and not necessarily the arya sangha community of those with nonconceptual cognition of voidness.
Definitional Renunciation and Safe Direction
Only on the intermediate lamrim level do we find full, definitional renunciation and full, definitional safe direction. True sufferings, here, are of all three types (pain, change, and all-encompassing), true causes are unawareness of voidness, true stopping is forever - not just temporary like going to higher realm rebirths or meditative states - and true paths are nonconceptual cognitions of voidness.
Correspondingly, here, we put the definitional safe direction in our lives and aim for the actual Dharma Gem of true stoppings and true paths, as exist in full on the mental continuums of Buddhas and exist in part on the mental continuums of the arya sangha.
[See: Identifying the Objects of Safe Direction (Refuge).]
Bodhisattva Level of Renunciation and Safe Direction
On the advanced lamrim level of a bodhichitta motivation, renunciation aims for the freedom of all others from samsaric suffering and its causes - not just their suffering of pain, and not just the suffering of some beings. This wish for all others to be totally liberated from suffering and its causes, with conviction that it is possible, is called "compassion." Compassion is one aspect of the bodhisattva level of renunciation.
To bring about the ability to help liberate all others, we need the other aspect of bodhisattva renunciation. We need to renounce not only the obscurations preventing our liberation (nyon-sgrib), but also the obscurations preventing our omniscience (shes-sgrib). Again, this implies understanding omniscience, the obscurations that prevent it, and firm belief that it is possible to rid ourselves forever of those obscurations. It also implies firm belief that it is possible for everyone to rid themselves forever of these obcurations.
All along the Buddhist path, then, we need the willingness to give up suffering and the causes of suffering. Thus, we need to recognize as sources of our suffering our selfishness, laziness, attachment, anger, and so on; give them up as much as possible now; and strive as soon as possible to rid ourselves of them forever.
In tantra, we need even deeper renunciation. We need to be willing to give up and then actually let go, as much as we can, our ordinary self-images and our identifying with them. Renunciation is indeed a deep and far-reaching practice, from Dharma-Lite all the way to highest tantra.
and Nonstatic Phenomena
Freiburg, Germany, March 15, 2002
According to the Buddhist analysis, existent phenomena (yod-pa) comprise everything validly knowable. If something exists, it is validly knowable and, in fact, the existence of something can only be established in relation to its being validly knowable. Otherwise, we cannot even discuss an item or consider whether it is existent or not.
What exists and can be known, however, may be either the establishment of something (an affirmation) (sgrub-pa), such as a table, or the absence of something (a nullification) (dgag-pa), such as the absence of a table.
Anything that cannot be validly known does not exist. "Prince" or "Princess Charming" on a white horse, for example, does not exist. Something representing "Prince Charming" or "Princess Charming" can be known, such as a fairy tale story, a cartoon image, or merely the words "Prince" or "Princess" and "Charming." However, an actual Prince or Princess Charming cannot be validly known, since there is no such thing.
Although there are no such things as nonexistent phenomena (Prince or Princess Charming), yet the nonexistence of something (the nonexistence of a Prince or Princess Charming) is a validly knowable nullification and is therefore an existent phenomenon. Thus, no matter how much we may seek the perfect partner, we will never find a Prince or Princess Charming. With deep understanding of reality, we may come to know there is no such thing and accept our partners as they are.
Existent, validly knowable phenomena include both static (rtag-pa) and nonstatic (mi-rtag-pa) phenomena, usually translated as permanent and impermanent phenomena. The distinction between the two, however, is drawn not in terms of how long a phenomenon exists. Rather, it is drawn in terms of whether or not the phenomenon changes from moment to moment while it exists, no matter for how long that might be.
Static phenomena include facts about something. These facts are abstractions imputed about something and they only exist and can be known so long as the basis for their imputation last. When the basis for imputing a static fact ceases to exist, the static fact about it no longer exists and is no longer the case. Moreover, so long as a static fact exists and is the case, it does not change or do anything.
An example is a voidness - an absence of something existing in an impossible way. An impossible way for something to exist might be, for example, in a vacuum, all by itself, totally independently of anything else, as if with solid lines around it as in a coloring book. The absence of a table, for instance, existing with a solid line around it exists only so long as the table exists. When the table no longer exists, we can no longer cognize or speak about the absence of it existing with a solid line around it. We can only speak of the absence of a solid line around the past table, but not around the present table, because there is no present table. On the other hand, the absence of anything knowable existing with a solid line around it exists forever, because knowable phenomena exist with no beginning and no end.
A more down-to-earth example is the absence of my partner existing as Prince or Princess Charming. That is an impossible way of existing, because there is no such manner of existence. This fact is true about my partner for as long as my partner exists. It is never going to change. Therefore, there is no hope that my partner will change some time in the future and become Prince or Princess Charming. Moreover, it was never the case that he or she existed as Prince or Princess Charming before meeting me, but now has changed into the Monster. Further, the absence of all people existing as Prince or Princess Charming is a static fact that is true and is the case forever. No one will ever exist as the Prince or Princess; therefore, it is best to give up false hopes and expectations of ever meeting someone who exists as that.
The static fact of the absolute absence of anyone existing as Prince or Princess Charming is a neutral fact, neither good nor bad. Therefore, there is no need to become upset about it. We need to accept it, whether we like it or not. Moreover, the fact itself cannot do anything; it cannot produce any effect. However, knowing and accepting the fact can do something: it can help us avoid frustration and problems. Confusion about it can also do something: it can cause us to create problems in our relationships. Therefore, it is important to learn and try to remain mindful of the facts of reality.
Four Types of Nonstatic Phenomena
Nonstatic phenomena are those things that
" arise from or are supported by causes and conditions,
" change from moment to moment,
" produce effects.
There are four types of nonstatic phenomena. Those that
1. have a beginning and an end - such as our gross bodies, a relationship with someone, or an episode of anger;
2. have no beginning and no end - such as our mental continuums;
3. have no beginning, but have an end - such as the presence of unawareness (ignorance, confusion) accompanying our mental continuums;
4. have a beginning, but no end - such as the death of a loved one, or the functioning of our mental continuums as omniscient minds of Buddhas.
Nonstatic phenomena that have a beginning and an end undergo both gross and subtle impermanence.
Gross impermanence is the final destruction of something. For example, a relationship with someone will have an end. Such things last only so long as the causes and conditions that support and give rise to them are gathered together and continue. Once the supporting causes and conditions are gone, these things come to an end.
If we fail to accept this fact, we delude ourselves and suffer greatly. We cling to a relationship or to our youthful vigor, for example, as if they could last forever, and our attachment and confusion cause enormous pain when these things inevitably end. If we accept the fact of gross impermanence, we are able to enjoy a relationship or our youthful vigor for as long as they last.
It is like the example of a beautiful wild bird that comes to our window. The bird will of course fly away, and if we grasp at it and try to catch it, it will either fly away sooner or die in captivity. If we accept that it will inevitably leave, we enjoy the moment. We may be sad when the bird flies away, but the sadness does not overwhelm us. It too will pass.
Subtle impermanence is not merely the moment to moment changing of a nonstatic phenomenon that has a beginning and an end. It is not merely the fact that the phenomenon is drawing closer each moment to its ultimate end, like a time bomb. It is also the fact that the cause for the phenomenon's final disintegration or end is its coming into being, its arising.
For example, the fact that we enter a relationship with someone and start living together is the cause for it eventually to end. An argument or death is only the circumstance for it to end, but not the deepest cause. This does not mean that the relationship cannot grow and develop into something beautiful. It does not mean that is doomed, and so we cannot enjoy it while it lasts. Rather, it means that we do not blame the other person or ourselves for making the relationship end. Of course, it will end, simply because it began.
Moreover, each moment of living together is one moment closer to the arrangement ending. This aspect of subtle impermanence is not so obvious. Thus, although we might understand and accept gross impermanence - that some day we shall part our ways - still we might think that while we are living together, our situation is remaining stable and static. Under such a delusion, we are caught by surprise when gross impermanence strikes and our living together comes to an end. With awareness of subtle impermanence, we appreciate more the fragility of the situation and cherish it more deeply.
The Problem of Change
The so-called "worldly happiness" - the usual happiness with which we are all familiar - is problematic. Every small period of it ends; we never know when that will happen; the experience of it doesn't rid us of all our suffering and problems; and we have no way to know how we will feel next. Thus, in a relationship with someone, we need to be realistic about the happiness that we experience and not inflate it into something impossible. The nature of samsara, and thus the nature of any relationship, is that it goes up and down.
Nonstatic Phenomena with No Beginning and No End
Our individual mental continuums, which are the continuities of our individual subjective experiencing of things, have no beginning and no end. They are eternal; they last forever. It is illogical for them to have an absolute beginning at which they arise
1. from no cause,
2. from causes that are of a different category of phenomena, such as physical matter,
3. from another being's subjective mental activity, or
4. from the power of a creator.
Similarly, it is illogical for them to have an absolute end, without generating, by the laws of behavioral cause and effect, a next moment of continuity.
Consider the case of the continuity of our living together with someone. Living together with someone has a beginning, because the causes and conditions for its arising - each party being a certain age, being in the same location, having certain emotional needs, and so on - come together at a specific moment. The circumstances and conditions for our living together to begin were not gathered together before. Because the conditions for it arising come together newly at some moment and are not naturally together, the conditions will fall apart at some later moment. At that moment, the continuity of our living together will end.
The situation is quite different with the continuity of our individual subjective experiencing of things. Although our experiencing of something specific, such as of a specific event, arises newly when that event occurs, our experiencing things in general is not created newly at any specific moment. It is the characteristic feature of our mental continuums and is always together with our continuums, regardless of the causes and conditions affecting the contents of what we experience at any given moment. Thus, a continuity of experiencing is not coming closer each moment to its ultimate end.
In summary, the fundamental nature of experiencing things does not change; nevertheless, experiencing itself changes from moment to moment. This is because experiencing must have contents and, because the contents change each moment and because experiencing arises dependently on contents as its condition, the experiencing also changes from moment to moment. Nevertheless, the continuity of individual subjective experiencing of things does not undergo gross impermanence. It will not come to a final end. Although it changes from moment to moment, it also does not undergo subtle impermanence - either in the sense of it approaching closer, every moment, to its final demise or in the sense of its arising being the cause of its ending.
Even if we do not think in terms of past and future lives, still, if we realize that the continuity of our individual, subjective experiencing of things goes on in this life, we do not suffer so greatly when something within our lives comes to an end, such as living with someone. We understand that life goes on, experience continues, without a break, and so new relationships can arise in the future.
Nonstatic Phenomena with No Beginning, but with an End
The unawareness (of how everything actually exists) that accompanies a continuum of individual, subjective experiencing of things has no beginning, as is the case with the continuum itself. However, unlike that continuum, it can have an end. Thus, it can undergo gross impermanence. The unawareness, however, does not undergo subtle impermanence. Because it has no absolute beginning, it is not slowly falling apart and approaching closer, each moment, to its ultimate end.
Unawareness and awareness are mutually exclusive. In the same moment, we cannot both know and not know how everything exists, nor can we know how everything exists both correctly and incorrectly. Moreover, correct understanding can be validated. It withstands the force of analysis, whereas unawareness or confusion falls apart the closer we scrutinize it. Therefore, unawareness can come to an end because it can be replaced by awareness.
Moreover, once the continuity of correct understanding can be maintained without a break, unawareness ends forever. As the great Indian Buddhist master Shantideva explained, unawareness is not like an external enemy. Once it is definitively banished from the mental continuum, it cannot go anywhere. When we turn on the light in a room, the darkness doesn't go somewhere and hide.
In terms of a relationship, then, the unawareness that no one exists as a Prince or Princess Charming, which accompanies our interaction with a partner either consciously or unconsciously, will not weaken and go away by itself. With correct understanding, however, that there is no such thing as a partner who exists in this impossible manner, the unawareness can come to an end.
Nonstatic Phenomena with a Beginning, but No End
The continuity of an individual's correct understanding of everything (the functioning of an individual mental continuum as the omniscient awareness of a Buddha) has a beginning, but no end. It begins with the attainment of enlightenment, and continues forever. The first moment of the continuity, however, is not created anew from the gathering of causes and conditions that were not previously together. The situation resembles that of a mirror covered with dirt.
A mirror covered with dirt does not function to reflect objects. The removal of the dirt marks the beginning of the mirror reflecting, but it does not create the mirror functioning to reflect. The functioning of the mirror is a natural characteristic of the mirror. It was simply blocked by the dirt.
Similarly, unawareness blocks the functioning of our mental continuums as omniscient awarenesses reflecting everything. The removal of the unawareness signals the start of our continuums functioning omnisciently, but does not create that functioning. Reflecting everything, as a mirror does, is a natural feature of our mental continuums.
Therefore, although an omniscient awareness changes from moment to moment as its focus and contents change, it undergoes neither gross nor subtle impermanence. This is because, although its functioning omnisciently has a beginning, its functioning is not created by causes and conditions coming together anew. Knowing this helps us to gain the self-esteem and self-confidence that allows us to work on removing our confusion in a healthy manner.
In terms of a relationship, our mental continuums, like mirrors or cameras, have always taken in the factual information of the other person - how he or she has looked, acted, and spoken. The removal of our confusion and projections does not create that camera-like ability. It was already there and will continue forever.
Compassionate Heart of Bodhichitta
Singapore, August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999
. I have been asked to speak on bodhichitta this evening. This is a vast subject, which deals with our motivation -- specifically why we want to follow a spiritual path. It is a motivation that we build up gradually within ourselves; it is difficult to generate it immediately. Bodhichitta refers to a heart set on becoming a Buddha, a heart that has a firm determination: "I have to overcome all my limitations and realize all my potentials in order to be able to benefit everyone." We are striving for enlightenment not just because it is the best and the highest, but in order to help everyone by attaining it. Although we may often verbally say that we are working to become a Buddha in order to benefit all sentient beings, it is very hard to feel that continuously and sincerely in our hearts. However, by repeatedly building up this aspiration, we can reach a stage in which it arises within us spontaneously. A bodhisattva is someone with genuine bodhichitta as his or her primary motivation day and night.
Since you have probably had teachings and explanations on the ways to develop bodhichitta, I shall not emphasize that now. Instead, I shall talk about the importance of going through all the stages that lead up to this motivation. It is quite easy to skip over these stages and try to go straight to this highest Mahayana motivation. We may say, "I practice because I want to help others. It is my social responsibility." Because this is something obviously beneficial to do, we immediately try to do it. However, if we have not gone through the earlier stages, we get into trouble. I would like to discuss how to avoid these difficulties when we are developing a motivation of love and compassion to help others.
With the lamrim, or gradual path to enlightenment, we work through graduated paths to the highest level of spiritual development. The initial spiritual motivation involves working for the happiness of our future lives. Striving just for the happiness of this life is what everybody does. Even animals do that. They are concerned about the food they eat and about taking care of their young. Although this is an essential concern, it does not necessarily involve spiritual practice.
Taking care of this life is important, however. Some people do not take themselves and their situations seriously, and never want to look at what happens in their lives. Thus, they do not even want to improve their current situation. They just accept what is going on and never aim for anything better. Therefore, it is important at least to start on the level of being concerned about ourselves, our families, and our situations -- even if this is not a particularly spiritual motivation. When we have problems, we actually admit them; we examine our lives to see what difficulties we are having. "Am I happy? Am I unhappy? Are there difficulties that I am facing that make my life unpleasant?"
The boundary indicating that we have actually entered spiritual practice is when we are interested and concerned primarily about our future lives. All texts agree on this. When we are concerned with future lives, we want to avoid having worse problems than the ones we have now. We look at the situations that could follow in the future from what we are doing now. We think about our precious human lives: "How fortunate I am! I am not starving to death. I am not in a concentration camp. I am not mentally handicapped. I am not in a barbaric situation in which everyone is attacking each other. I am very fortunate that I am free from all these things and have the opportunity to develop myself spiritually. Nevertheless, this will not last forever. Death is going to come for sure. It comes to everybody, and there is no certainty when it will happen. A truck could hit me at any time. I do not have to be old to die; I could die young." Then, we think about what could happen after we die. We go either to a better situation or to a worse situation. Looking at these worse situations -- for example, being an insect or hungry ghost -- we develop a great sense of dread. Not fear, but dread.
We do not try to cultivate fear in Buddhism. Saying that we fear rebirth in the lower realms is a mistaken translation. To say that we dread a lower rebirth conveys the meaning better. Fear is a crippling state of mind in which we put a big solid line around the situation we dislike and make it into something monstrous and horrible. Then we freeze. We are not able to handle it. This is not what is meant in Buddhism. What is discussed is dread: not wanting a terrible situation to happen to us. The difference between dread and fear is like the situation of having to spend an afternoon with an obnoxious and horrible person who makes the afternoon very unpleasant. We do not fear that, but we dread it. Dread is a strong wish for something not to happen.
Taking a Safe Direction
Dreading these worse situations in the future, we then look for a direction to take in order to get out of them. The direction out of them is taking refuge. Refuge is a safe direction that we take in our life. We go in the direction of the Dharma. The complete Dharma is the state in which all of our limitations and problems have been eliminated and all our potentials have been realized. Dharma means preventive measures, things we do in order to avoid problems. The greatest and ultimate thing that we could do to avoid all our problems is to rid ourselves of the limitations that cause them. "If I get angry, or upset, or nervous, or worried, that is going to cause me a lot of problems. However, if I could realize all my potentials, I would be able to handle all situations, I would be able to help everyone in the best way possible." When we see that, then we want to go in that direction.
Going in that direction is positive and beneficial. It is the direction that the Buddhas have taken and is the direction toward which the Sangha community is working. The Sangha is the community of highly realized beings who have beheld reality straightforwardly and nonconceptually. The monastic community of monks and nuns represent them for us. Putting that safe and positive direction into our lives is the solution to avoid going in a worse direction in future lives.
Specifically, we need to think of behavioral cause and effect. We need to see that if we act destructively, that results in harm and problems. We create a lot of negative energy and then experience that negative energy ourselves. We are stuck with it. Whereas if we restrain ourselves from acting in destructive ways and act in constructive manners instead, we build positive potential and, consequently, things go better in the future. In this way, we work to improve future lives.
Determination to Be Free
No matter what type of future life we obtain, there are still going to be uncontrollably recurring problems -- frustrations, confrontations and conflicts with people, not getting what we want, getting what we do not want, and so on. These are inevitable. They come about because of our lack of awareness of who we are, how we exist, and how other people exist. Because we are unaware of this, we become very confused; because we are confused, we feel insecure; and feeling insecure, we grasp at an identity to give us some form of security. We grasp at some aspect of ourselves, either true or imaginary, and we identify with it: "That is ME."
We could identify ourselves with certain social roles or occupations: I am a BUSINESSMAN; that is who I am." Or, "I am a MOTHER." Or, "I am a FATHER." We base our entire identities on that, and still feeling insecure, we try either to defend those identities or to assert them. In doing that, we act in a very impulsive and compulsive way. We bully people around. "I am a FATHER and I must be respected!" Of course, our child has difficulty with that, and there is a big conflict. The child says. "I am an independent person. I know what I want to do!" The child bases his or her identity on being an independent person as a teenager. Then the father has to maintain his own identity and says, 'No, you MUST obey me!' Everybody is insecure and grasps more and more at his or her social role. This produces uncontrollably recurring arguments, fights, resentments, and so on. This is what is known as samsara -- uncontrollably recurring problems.
We need to develop a determination to be free from this cycle of constantly recurring problems. This is often translated as renunciation, but this is a misleading translation. It gives the connotation in English that we are supposed to give up everything and go live in a cave. Buddha did not say that. We get this idea because we read about people like Milarepa, who left his family and village to live in a cave. We think that we have to do that too. That is not the meaning of renunciation. Obviously, we have to give up our gross attachments and our clinging to what we have, but it does not mean that we have to throw everything out the window.
Rather, the idea translated as "renunciation" actually means "the determination to be free." Our mind is made up and determined: 'All the problems that I have, all these confrontations with my family, difficulties with my work - enough already! I am fed up! I am disgusted! I have to get out!' Based on that, we try to develop the discriminating awareness that sees reality and understands how we exist, for, in fact, we do not exist locked inside these solid identities. Things are much more open than that. We do not exist in these strange, fantasized, impossible ways. We are not only parents; we are also friends and children of our own parents. We are many things in relation to others. Thus, we want to develop this determination to be free, which will propel us to follow a spiritual practice and gain wisdom.
After that, we think, 'I am not the only one who exists in this universe. There is everybody else. What about them? Do I have some responsibility toward them?' We may say, 'No, who cares about them? I am not really connected to them. I can just work for myself alone.' But, this is being very unrealistic. The great Indian master, Shantideva, used the example of the hand and the foot. If we have a thorn in our foot and if our hand were to say to our foot, 'Tough luck, foot! That is your problem, I am okay up here,' that would be very silly. The hand has to help the foot because they are interconnected. Likewise, we cannot work for ourselves alone because we are very much interconnected with everybody else.
We can easily see this if we think about everything we use or enjoy during the course of a day. Take, for instance, what we had for breakfast this morning. We may have had a bowl of hot cereal. Where did that bowl of cereal come from? There were very many people involved in growing the wheat; there were people who harvested it and those who brought it to the mill where it was made into flour; some people made it into cereal, and others packaged it. All these people were involved in preparing the cereal for us. Then the box of cereal had to be transported here by airplane, ship, or road. Who built the roads? Who built the airplanes? Where did the materials that made the trucks or the airplanes come from? What about the fuel? Think about all the dinosaurs whose bodies decomposed in order to make the gasoline! There are so many people and animals involved in making this one box of cereal.
How did we cook the cereal? There must have been electricity in the kitchen and gas for the stove. These are due to the people working at the electric plants and those who drill for and pump the gas. There are so many people, involved in all these activities -- and we are just considering one little bowl of cereal! What about everything else we eat? And the clothes we wear? How about all the objects in the house? Where did the bowl from which I ate the cereal come from? There was also a piece of plastic or cardboard containing the cereal. Where did that come from? Think of all the people in the lumber industry, the paper or plastic industry, and the printing industry who were involved in making the wrapper.
Hundreds of thousands of people are involved in making our lives possible everyday. To work for ourselves alone does not make any sense, because we are so interconnected with everybody else. If everyone else is in a terrible situation and we are okay, it is not going to work. Similarly, it is not going to work if we are the only survivors of a nuclear war, alone by ourselves down in the bomb shelter with a gas mask on when everybody else is dead. How long can we last like that? Not very long. Also, it is not going to be very much fun.
In this way, we start to think of others. We remember their kindness and want to repay it. We develop love, wishing them to be happy, and compassion, a genuine wish for them to be free from their problems. In addition, we take on the responsibility to actually do something aboutit. It is not enough to stand by the side of the pool while we watch our child drown, and say, 'Tsk tsk! What a shame! I wish that would not happen.' Compassion is not enough. We actually have to do something. We have to jump in and help our child; we take the responsibility to save him or her. This is an exceptional resolve, the resolve: 'I am going to do something to help others.'
Then we ask: Am I really capable of doing the best job to help others? Honestly speaking, no. I can hardly help myself. So how can I help others? The only way is by becoming a Buddha myself. To become a Buddha, I need to overcome all my limitations and realize all my potentials. Then I can really help everybody in the best way possible.-- We generate bodhichitta: we set our hearts on becoming Buddhas in order to benefit everyone. Developing bodhichitta refers to expanding our hearts increasingly more toward others, expanding our hearts to the goal of reaching our fullest potentials and overcoming all our limitations so that we can help others in the best way possible.
This is the graduated path by which we develop ourselves. First, we want to ensure that we have good future lives. Then, we develop the determination to be free from all our problems altogether. Finally, we dedicate our hearts to becoming Buddhas in order to be able to help everyone. We take on this responsibility based on love and compassion, caring for the happiness of all others and not wanting them to be unhappy.
Without Taking Future Lives Seriously
What happens if we try to jump to that final stage of aspiring to become Buddhas without going through the initial stages? We have problems. For example, the first important step is to think about future lives and to take them seriously. We may not have given much thought to that. Or maybe we have accepted it in a very vague way, without taking it to heart. If we have not thought about the fact that we have infinite lives, we may think, 'Well, things are not going well in my relationship with a particular person. So why not give this person up and get involved with someone else?' We may have this attitude toward people that we do not know well, or friends with whom things are going sour -- we just want to leave them. When we get tired of our partners or we have difficulties with them, we simply get a new husband or a new wife. In some countries, as many as 50% of all marriages end in divorce. It is really shocking! And very sad too.
What is behind this? It is the idea that we do not have connections with others, so we can throw them away like old cabbages. 'Well, I am not going to help this person any more. I can just leave him or her aside. It does not matter.' However, if we have thought about future lives and infinite lives, then we realize that we cannot avoid a relationship with somebody. If the relationship is not working well, we cannot get out of it by ignoring that person and never seeing him or her again. If we do not resolve this relationship now in this life, then, in future lives, similar situations will recur. If we have problems with this person now and we just walk out, in future lives, we are going to meet somebody very similar -- the continuity of this same person -- and again we will have the same difficulties and problems. We cannot escape from it.
If we have difficulties with somebody, it does not mean that we always have to stay with that person. Sometimes, that might be difficult. But, at least we try to improve the situation, or to part on good terms. We try to improve the quality a little because in future lives, it is going to continue. Maybe we are not fully prepared to deal with these situations now, but, hopefully, in future lives we shall be.
When we are trying to expand our hearts out to everybody and to reach Buddhahood in order to help them, it is very helpful if we have thought of future lives. If we have not, then we can have the problem of 'I am expanding my heart out to everybody, but I really do not like that person so I shall forget about that one and work with some other people.' It helps us to expand our hearts out to everybody when we realize that we cannot escape from anyone, that in future lives, we shall continue to encounter these people. Therefore, we have to deal with them. We need to be able to develop more love, more warmth, and more kindness toward everybody. That is an important point.
Another aspect is that very often we identify with our own small groups. We identify with just Americans, or Chinese, or Buddhists, or our families, or our own genders or our age groups -- teenagers, adults, or seniors -- and we feel, 'I can only relate to people from my own group. I can only understand their problems. Therefore, I can only help them. I can only help other American people. How can I understand people in Africa?' 'I can only help other Buddhists, because it is impossible to understand people from other religious backgrounds.' 'I can only help other men, because how can I possibly understand women?' 'I can only help women because all men are chauvinists and are pushing me around. How can I possibly relate to them?' 'I can only understand and help other teenagers, because parents have no idea of what is going on. They do not understand.' 'I can only help mature adults, because all kids are rotten and you cannot say anything to them.'
Thus, we limit ourselves when we think of just this life and the particular situations that we are in now in terms of our age, gender, family, country, and so on. If we think of infinite lives ' future lives and past lives ' we realize, ' I have been every age. I have been young; I have been middle-aged; and I have been old. I can relate to people of all different ages because I have been them myself. I can appreciate them. I have been every race and every nationality. I have come from every type of cultural background.' This realization allows us to be able to relate to all groups and feel some connection with them.
We can extend this and remember that in past lives we have also been animals. ' How did I feel when someone kicked me or smashed me?' In this way, we remember that animals too experience pain and pleasure, and we are more careful in the way we treat them.
Thinking of past and future lives is therefore very helpful in giving us a feeling of connection with everybody. We can also relate to everybody of both sexes: ' I have been both a man and a woman in the past.' We can appreciate, empathize with, and understand the problems and situations of all groups. This is very helpful for expanding our hearts to help everyone, and wanting to reach Buddhahood in order to do so in the best way possible. These are some important points that follow from thinking about future lives. Without them, the way that we expand our hearts becomes very limited.
Without the Determination to Be Free
When dedicating our hearts to benefiting others, another major and important aspect is the determination to be free. When we are involved in helping others, often we are doing it for certain neurotic reasons. We are helping others because we want to feel loved. ' I shall help you in order to become very popular.? ' Everybody likes me because I am helping that person. I am doing it in order to be loved and appreciated.? ' I am doing it because everybody else is going to think what a good person I am. Then I shall have a good reputation.' ' I am doing it because if I do not, I shall lose face and people will think badly of me; I feel obligated to do it.' Or, we want to feel needed: ' I shall help you so that I will feel important. I will be loved in return for the help I am giving.' Parents sometimes have this attitude: ' Even if my children are thirty or forty years old, I still have to tell them what to wear and what to eat because then I feel needed. I feel that I have some function, that I am important in my children' s lives.' To help others so that we feel needed is to exploit them.
If we have the determination to be free, we look at all these uncontrollably recurring situations and all these neurotic relationships, and we see the problems that they bring about. Then we develop a determination to be free. ' Enough already! I have to get out of this. This is just ridiculous! This is causing so much aggravation, so much anxiety, so much tension!'
When we have that determination to be free, we are also determined to be free from any type of neurotic interaction with the people we are helping. ' I help so that everybody will think that I am a wonderful person. I worry about what this person thinks, what that person thinks. I only help others when someone else is around to witness it, so that they can tell other people. I do it in order to impress people. I give to charities, but I certainly do not do it anonymously. I do it so that everybody knows that I have given. In fact, I shall put up a plaque with my name to show that I gave this amount!' With the determination to be free, we see the disadvantage of thinking, ' I am helping others so that they will be dependent on me and I will feel important.' If we have a strong determination to be free from these problems, we abandon all these ulterior motives for helping others.
Although we may not be able to stop it immediately, at least we see that helping others for neurotic reasons will create problems. The other person is eventually going to resent it. They are going to realize what we are doing and this will undermine our sincerity in benefiting others.
We need to clear away whatever neurotic motivations we have. The way we do this is through the determination to be free from all the aggravation and pretension that occur when we are acting with an impure motivation. To develop this determination to be free so that our interaction with others will not be so strongly tainted by neurotic motivations is very important. Although it is important, we tend to skip over it.
Working on Ourselves
The major purpose of the Dharma is to recognize our shortcomings, correct them, and develop our good qualities. In working on improving ourselves, we progress through a graded series of methods and use our personal experiences to learn about ourselves. For example, suppose we have a habit of nagging our partners or children. ' Why don' t you do this? Why don' t you do that? Why didn' t you come home on time? Why didn' t you call? Why don' t you take out the garbage?' etc. We know that this is very destructive. It creates a lot of tension in the relationship. It is probably going to result in our partners or children being colder and more distant and saying, ' Leave me alone.' Or, if they are not so vocal, they will just ignore us and be completely cold. Then we say, ' Why don' t you talk to me? Why don' t you do this? Why don' t you do that?' and they become even quieter, more withdrawn, and do not come home at all. This produces so much unhappiness. What do we usually do to stop this?
First, we try to use self-control: ' I know I shouldn' t say that, so I am not going to say it.' We control ourselves tightly, but that is often difficult to do and we find that we start to nag anyway. ' I know intellectually that I shouldn' t nag, but I cannot help myself. I do not have the strength to be able to stop it.' Then we get angry with ourselves, ' That is terrible! I tried to hold my tongue but I could not.' In that state of anger, it is very difficult for us to change or to improve ourselves because we are so upset.
The anger quickly changes into guilt. ' I blew it! I feel so guilty! I am terrible! I shouldn' t have nagged. I have caused another confrontation.' Guilt is a very unfortunate and unhappy state of mind, in which we strongly identify ourselves with being a naughty child: ' I am so naughty. Look at what I have done! Mummy and Daddy are not going to like me anymore.' We feel bad. The guiltier we feel, the more we identify with being a naughty child; the more we identify with being a naughty child, the guiltier we feel. It is a vicious circle. Again, it is difficult for us to change the situation when we are feeling such guilt.
Then, we go to the step beyond guilt, which is boredom. ' I am so tired of all these arguments. I am so tired of all these scenes that happen when I nag and when, in response, my partner or child closes up with resentment and tells me to stop nagging. I am sick and tired of it! I am bored with it! ENOUGH! I have to get out.'
Those are the steps that we go through to develop the determination to be free. We do not change when we are angry with ourselves. We do not change when we feel guilty. We change in a state of boredom ' ' This is stupid!' That is when we try to get out of it.
If we have not gone through all these stages of working on ourselves, then when we try to help others, we tend to project all these destructive emotions onto them. That becomes very unfair. For instance, I am trying to help somebody and the first thing that I do is bully the person into it: ' I want to use selfcontrol with myself, so you, too, HAVE to change, you HAVE to stop doing that.'
Very often, we act like that with our children. It is easy to bully them and to try to impose our will and control on them. Nobody likes to be treated like a child, especially if they are not our child.
Nobody likes to be bullied into changing or improving himself or herself. When we push others ' ' You have to change. You have to go to school. You have to get a job. You have to do this. You have to do that' ' we are coming on too strongly. We are getting into a power trip. What happens is that he or she does not follow our advice or accept the help we want to give. So, just as we would have gotten angry with ourselves, now we get angry with the other person, ' You terrible person! I told you to do this and you did not do it. Look at all the trouble that you have caused for yourself!' That is not the ideal interaction to have with somebody whom we are trying to help. To get angry when he or she does not take our advice just causes a lot of resentment.
Then, we go on to the next step. Just as we felt guilty ourselves, now we try to make the other person feel guilty. ' You do not appreciate what I am trying to do for you. Look at all the hardship that I have gone through! The least you could do is to appreciate it, the least you could do is to try.' We become the ' parent' and try to make him or her feel guilty.
After that, we go to the next stage. ' I am so tired myself, so tired of having all these problems and difficulties. I have to get out of them.' In the same way, we look at the other person and think, ' We have to get out of this. This is really too much!' In that way, we work to help him or her. Just as we felt this determination to be free from problems ourselves, likewise we have this determination to help the other person to be free from his or her problems as well. This is very important. If we have not worked through the stages on our own, through our own experiences, then when we try to help others, we tend to project all our problems on the other person; we try to change him or her by bullying, getting angry, or making the person feel guilty. These are big obstacles to helping others.
Another aspect to be aware of when helping others is the situation that occurs when somebody comes to us with a problem, tells us their story, and, after a while, we get tired of it. It is like a bad television program, and we want to change the station and put on a different show because this is a very unpleasant, uninteresting program. This occurs because we are not taking the other person seriously. He or she is talking about a problem and we are thinking, ' This television program is lasting too long! I am hungry. Let me press the button and switch off the TV.' We are not taking that person seriously, even though those problems are real for him or her and they do hurt. Often we do not take others seriously because in the earlier stages of the path we have not taken ourselves seriously.
Taking ourselves seriously, by looking at our problems and trying to deal with them, is very important. If we cannot take ourselves and our problems seriously, how can we take anybody else and their difficulties seriously? If we do not care about ourselves being happy, how can we , the mind that wants all others to be happy?
Caring about ourselves does not mean being selfish, it does not mean, ' I have to get a million dollars and buy this and that.' Rather, we respect ourselves as a living being.
Many people have negative ideas and attitudes about themselves, feeling, ' I am no good; I do not deserve to be happy; I do not deserve to be loved.' If that is how we feel about ourselves, then the thought easily follows, ' If I do not deserve to be happy, why should you deserve to be happy?' However, if we look at ourselves and think, ' I have Buddha-nature. I have all the factors within me that allow me to be able to develop and grow to become a Buddha, to be able to help everyone: I have a mind, I have energy, I have the ability to communicate, I have some level of good heart. All of these things can be developed. So, of course I deserve to be happy. I deserve to have a better life.'
In this way, we take ourselves seriously and have respect for ourselves. We acknowledge, ' I do deserve to be happy and to get out of my problems.' With this as a basis, we can transfer this respect to others. We see that they also have the ability to improve, they have Buddha-nature; they have all the potentials. On that basis, they too deserve to be happy and to be free from all of their problems. We take them seriously.
From the Beginning
These are some of the major points that are important when we are developing a bodhichitta motivation to help others and to reach enlightenment in order to benefit them in the best way possible. That is not saying that we do not help others in the beginning, that we should just work on ourselves and only when we have reached an advanced level, do we help others. From the Mahayana point of view, we help others from the beginning. However, we do not do it thinking, 'I can skip over all the earlier stages and just involve myself with helping others.' We help to the best of our abilities along the path. That is essential to the Buddhist path.
Nevertheless, while helping others as much as we can now, we need to be sure to put a fair amount of time in developing the earlier fundamental or foundation-building motivations and experiences. This is because if we do not, we are likely to have problems when helping others. We may think that when we are having trouble with others, we can ignore them. We cannot. We have infinite lives and we are always going to meet them again. Or, we may feel that we can only help people of our own ages and from our own cultural backgrounds. That is not so. We have been everything. We have been all ages, all cultures, and both genders. So, we can relate to everybody.
Also, we do not want to help others only to be loved, to feel important, or to feel needed. We have a determination to be free from such neurotic interactions because we see that they bring about uncontrollably recurring problems. We are not going to get into power trips with others when we are helping them or try to bully them into taking our advice. We are not going to get angry with them or make them feel guilty when they do not take our advice. This is because we have gone through the whole process of working on ourselves: we tried self-control, we became angry with ourselves, we felt guilty, but then we became so fed up, that we were determined to be free. We set our decision firmly to get out of it. Having gone through that, we are not going to project it onto others.
Throughout the whole process, we have also taken ourselves seriously. We acknowledge our Buddhanature and know that we have the ability and all the factors that allow us to grow and become enlightened and to help everyone. Having taken ourselves seriously, we have respect for ourselves. In Buddhism, respecting someone does not mean fearing him or her; respect means, ' I take myself seriously and look positively upon myself. I deserve to be happy.' We can then sincerely have the same attitude toward others: ' I respect you as well. I respect that you have Buddha-nature. Even if you are acting like an idiot now; nevertheless, I see that you do have the potential to become a compassionate and wise person. Just as I take my own problems seriously, I take your problems seriously. Just as I saw how my own problems hurt, likewise I can appreciate that your problems hurt you as well." Such an attitude allows us to benefit and help others in a much more sincere manner.
Another source of trouble is that sometimes we try to help somebody and it does not work. Then we become discouraged. A drastic example is trying to help someone in our family and the person commits suicide. That is a horrible situation and it is easy to blame ourselves: ' If I had only done this or that, then this person would not have or herself.' We can become very discouraged in the process of trying to act like a bodhisattva. When it seems like we have failed, we feel so guilty and horrible that it could become a big obstacle in our paths.
The problem here is that we think in terms of inappropriate models. We think that we are God, or that we should have been God, and we should have been able to stop something from happening to someone else. In Buddhism, we say, "That is not possible. No one is omnipotent. There is only a certain amount of energy in the universe" ' scientists agree to this as well. One aspect of the energy in the universe is the force of Buddha-activity, which is the enlightening influence that a Buddha can exert on anybody. The other is the energy of the impulses that come into people' s minds, in other words karma. Karma refers to the impulses that come to our minds based on previous habits of doing things. Because there is only a certain amount of energy in the universe, one cannot override the other. All that a Buddha or a bodhisattva can do is to try to influence someone in a positive way. He or she cannot stop anyone from doing something. If the impulse to commit suicide is so strong in someone's mind, the person is going to do it anyway.
A very interesting example happened one day when I was in Dharamsala in India. In front of the library where I worked was a mouse drowning in a drain. One of my friends rescued the mouse and put it on the ground to recover. As soon as he walked away, a large hawk swooped down and took the mouse.
We need not think, from that example, that we cannot help anybody because it is his or her karma what will happen. Do not think that karma is fate. "It is the fate of the mouse that it is going to die. There is no reason for me to help because it is the mouse' s karma to die." We try our best. If the person we are trying to help has some seed or potential from his or her side to be helped, then our helping will connect with that and we shall be able to benefit the person. If there were no seed, it would be like the example of this mouse: we rescue it, but it dies anyway.
It is the same thing when we try to help others. Aspiring to be bodhisattvas, we try our best to help them. If it works, fine. We do not congratulate ourselves or go around telling others how compassionate and wonderful we are. If it does not work, we need not feel guilty. We need not emotionally whip ourselves or punish ourselves. We tried our best and if that person had been receptive, it would have worked. They were not, so there is nothing that we could have done. Nobody is an omnipotent God. Certainly, we are not. Nobody can stop somebody from doing something if the impulses in that person' s mind are so strong.
It is important to be realistic when we are trying to help others and to realize that we cannot eliminate everybody' s problems. We develop the wish to be able to do that. We sincerely care and genuinely take the responsibility to help them. If it works, it works; if it does not work, we have tried our best. We do not get discouraged.
The Purpose of Enlightenment
His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has said that when we recite, "May I reach enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings," there is a bit of danger in the order of the aspirations here. Often, for us, the main emphasis seems to be "may I reach enlightenment." Why' Because it is the highest, it is the greatest; it is the most blissful. After all, we have to have the highest rank, the highest title. But, "may I reach enlightenment" is followed by "to benefit all sentient beings," which seems like some nasty tax that we have to pay afterwards. It is not really what we want to do, but if we want to become a Buddha, that is what we are obligated ' we have to benefit all sentient beings. His Holiness has said that the emphasis needs to be the other way around: "I want to help all sentient beings as much as is possible, and in order to do that, I have to become a Buddha." The major emphasis needs to be "I want to help everybody."
Sometimes, when we think of benefiting others, we may face the obstacle of not being sincere in our practice. We say, "I am going to help all sentient beings, and I love all sentient beings," but when our parents or our children ask us to do something, we snap at them, "Stop bothering me! I am trying to help all sentient beings!" As it says in the lojong teachings of cleansing our attitudes (training the mind), we need to start helping ourselves first; then, expand our help to our families; next, to people around us; and so on. In other words, we need to help those who are close to us. We do not ignore them. Often, people involved in social work have resentful children because they are so involved in helping others that they never have any time for their own families. That is very unfair. If we follow Buddha' s advice, then we would start with our families first and take care of them.
Developing equanimity does not mean, "Now I am going to ignore my own children and just work for everybody else," it means, "Just as I have an intense loving attitude toward my own children, I am going to expand it to include more and more people. Instead of having two children, now I have five, ten, a hundred, a thousand " We are expanding the range of our loving concern. We do not take care and love away from one area and transfer it to another. It is important to take care of those who are close to us and then extend it to others: our friends, strangers, and people we do not like, animals, spirits, and beings in all the different realms.
To develop bodhichitta means to expand our heart. Expanding our heart does not mean we can go from being selfish to cherishing all sentient beings in one jump. We have to work up to it gradually. In that way, we will be more sincere. We cannot be sincere when we say, "I am working to benefit all sentient beings," but we do not take care of our parents or our children. Bodhichitta is not at all contradictory to our usual cultural values of the importance of the family, parents and children. It builds on that basis and extends it further and further.
These are some important points to be aware of when we are engaged in the Mahayana path of expanding our hearts toward others, setting our hearts on the goal of eliminating all our limitations and realizing all our potentials so that we can help everybody in the best way possible. If we keep these in mind, we shall have less difficulty on that path.
Question: Is it possible, from having gained experience in past lives, to bypass some of these steps and take a short cut in this life'
Answer: Yes, that is possible. There are two types of practitioners: those for whom everything happens all at once and those who follow a gradual path. Thus, there is the sudden path and the gradual path. One of the great Tibetan masters who wrote a commentary on this particular point, however, said that it is a very rare person for whom everything happens all at once. It is very rare to have built up all the positive habits and instincts in past lives so that in this life we are able to jump steps. Often, itis because we are lazy and do not want to go through all the stages that we make the excuse, "I am someone who has built up so much potential in my past lives. I am one of the select few for whom everything happens all at once, so I can skip some stages and jump ahead." We need to be completely honest with ourselves. It is extremely rare that anyone has build up that much positive potential in past lives. There is no harm in going through all the steps, although we do not have to spend years and years in each one. One of the texts on the gradual path to enlightenment states that even if the instincts are there, it is good to reconfirm them by going through the steps quickly, not just skipping ahead.
Question: Can we be kind and compassionate without being taken advantage of'
Answer: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche coined an excellent expression that is relevant to this question: "idiot compassion." Idiot compassion is compassion without wisdom. For instance, the baby always asks for candy. With idiot compassion, we would constantly give the baby candy just because it asks for it. Or, a maniac comes and says, "Get me a gun. I want to shoot someone." If we say, "I am practicing generosity, so I will get a gun for him," that is idiot compassion.
Likewise, when people take advantage of us, if we continue to give, it is not helping them. In fact, it is detrimental to their growth. Sometimes, it is important to be very firm and strict. We need to give what others need, and what they may need is discipline. They may need someone saying "No" to them; they may need someone setting limits for them. For example, an unruly child needs discipline. There is a generation in the West that was raised with the philosophy of no discipline: "Just let the children do whatever they want, let them be free." This policy was disastrous. Many of the children felt unloved and insecure because other parents would set rules, but theirs did not. They felt that their parents did not love them and that they did not care enough to set rules. So, itis very important sometimes to say "No," to set limitations and not let everybody take advantage of us.
Idiot compassion is not beneficial. We need compassion with wisdom. This is fundamental in the Buddhist teachings, and is expressed in the mantra om mani padme hum. Mani is "jewel," which represents compassion, and padme signifies "in the lotus," which refers to wisdom. The two are together.
Sometimes, then, it is necessary to say "No." However, this may hurt the other person because he or she does not understand. Is that good? It says in the teachings on karma, that if it is a little harmful in the short run, but very beneficial in the long run, that action should be done. Obviously, if it is beneficial both in the short and long run, that is the best. But, if I give the kids candy, for instance, so that they will stop screaming and I can go to sleep, that is beneficial in the short run but not in the long run. It harms the children because they will get sick from constantly eating candy. Also, they will get spoiled and become brats. In this case, it is better to cause a little bit of harm and unpleasantness in the short run; because in the long run, it is beneficial. It requires wisdom to see what will be beneficial and what will not be, but some of these things are common sense.
Question: If our lives end prematurely, will we again be the husbands or wives of the same persons in our next lives?
Answer: Not necessarily, although it is possible. It could happen if the connection is very strong. There are examples: a child was born to a family and died as a baby, but the individual had such a strong connection with the family that this person was born as another baby in that family. That does happen but, in general, there are many different karmic possibilities. At the time of death, different karmic imprints can be activated to propel us into different rebirths.
Also, we do not have a relationship with just one person like a wife or husband. We have had relations with many different people in many different lifetimes. These relationships change continuously. In one lifetime, certain interactions with another person occur and our relationship changes. Therefore, the continuity of that relationship may not necessarily be in the same form of husband and wife. Maybe you become two cows chewing grass together or two ants in an anthill working together. It depends on how the relationship developed before. Also, we may not meet that person in the next life or the life after that. It could be thousands of lives in the future.
It is important to combine the understanding of rebirth with the basic teachings on the lack of a truly existent, solid self or person. It is not that I am going to meet my husband ' whatever his name is ' or my wife ' whatever her name is ' in a future life. Each person is a continuity ' a continuity of energy, a continuity of consciousness, a continuity of tendencies and habits. In some future lives, the continuities of the two people will meet, but it will not be you and me exactly as we are now.
We all have experienced walking into a crowded room and having one or two people attract our eye. We have a close and warm feeling about them, and we want to talk to them. On the other hand, somebody else gives us the feeling of "Ugh! I do not want to become involved with that person." Why does this happen? This is an indication of a previous connection with that person. We have connections with millions and millions of beings. Some connections are more recent or stronger, so our experiences with these people affect us more. Other connections may be weak: we may be born in the same city but never meet.
Question: How is merit or positive potential carried to future lives?
Answer: "Merit" is a misleading translation. We do not gain points ' like being in the Scouts ' andwhen we earn enough points, we get a badge. Nobody is keeping score. "Merit" is better translated as "positive potential." We build up positive potentials just as we put more and more energy into a car battery. When there is enough potential, the car will go. Likewise, we are building up a lot of positive potential for something positive to happen. We also build up habits of acting in a positive way.
There are various levels of mind and various levels of body. The gross mind or consciousness is our sense consciousnesses ' seeing, hearing, tasting and so on. There is also subtle consciousness, which is a mental consciousness, and refers mostly to conceptual thinking. Then there is the subtlest level of mind, which is free from concepts.
Our gross and subtle consciousnesses function while we are awake. We see, hear, think and so on. Our dream consciousnesses are subtler. When we are asleep with no dreams, that is still more subtle. As we go through the death process, our consciousnesses become more and more subtle as our mental continuums separate from our gross bodies. The subtlest level is the bare continuity, the bare clarity and awareness of the mind that provides the continuity from one moment to another. The grosser levels are like a radio being tuned on various stations or at different volumes, and that subtlest level is just the radio being on.
Correspondingly, we have the gross body, which is the basis for the gross mind. We have eyes, ears, body, and so on, which are the bases for seeing, hearing and other sense perceptions. The subtle body is the energy ( qi in Chinese) of the channels and chakras. The subtle body is the basis for the subtle mental consciousness. When the energy is disturbed in our bodies, we have strange thoughts and feelings. The subtlest energy is the support for the subtlest consciousness. It is like the electricity for that consciousness. The subtle energy and subtle mind together constitute something like the spark of life.
What goes on into future lives is not the gross body, which is cremated or buried, nor the gross consciousness. Neither is it our conceptual mental consciousness, the energy, channels and so on. What goes on into future lives is the continuity of the subtlest consciousness and the energy that supports it. There is not a solid self ' like a little statue sitting on a conveyor belt ' going from one life to the next. It is more analogous to a movie. A movie appears to be solid, but it is actually made up of individual frames forming a continuity, without one thing existing throughout. Likewise, this continuity of the subtlest consciousness and subtlest energy, which are both constantly changing, goes from one life to the next. This is the spark of life that continues.
Merit or positive potential is a type of energy that is built up. That positive energy is carried along with the subtlest energy, the spark of life. The potentials are a form of subtle energy that continue on into future lives.
What is a habit or instinct? Suppose we have the habit of having cereal every morning. We had cereal yesterday, the day before, and today too. What is the habit? It is not something physical. It is not a bowl of cereal that pops up in our minds. It is not something mental: "Eat cereal, eat cereal" going on in our minds. All we can say is that there is a sequence of similar events of our eating cereal on so many days. Based on that, as a manner of speaking, we say that there is a habit of eating cereal. On that basis, we can predict that we are probably going to eat cereal tomorrow morning. It is just a manner of speaking or describing. A habit is imputed onto a series of similar events. That is what we call mental labeling.
A habit is nothing concrete or even mental. Neither are instincts. Suppose we have the habit of being kind. We were kind yesterday, we were kind the day before, and we are kind today. Based on that, as a manner of speaking, there is the instinct of being kind. Later we have a future life. In the future life, the child that we become is kind. She shares things and wants to give her cookies to others. She does not want just to take from others. There is kindness there. Thus, we can say that there is a habit of kindness that has continued into future lives. Nevertheless, the habit is not something concrete. The way it continued was just on the basis of individual moments. There was the time yesterday, the time before that and the time before that.
The subtlest consciousness and energy have underlain each of those moments, because they are there all the time. The radio is always on. Based on this, we can say that the instincts are carried along. The instincts need not be something solid and concrete in order to continue on to the future. They are not physical seeds.
That is the mechanism of how things are carried into future lives. The positive potentials ("merits") are a type of very subtle energy that goes with the energy that supports life. The instincts and habits are just a manner of speaking, based on a sequence of similar events both in this life and future lives. On thebasis of there being the subtlest mind and energy that go from one life to the next, we say that there is a sequence of similar events ' a habit or an instinct.
Question: Do you believe in rebirth?
Answer: Yes, I do. But, it has taken a long time for me to reach that point. Belief in rebirth does not come instantly. Some people may come from a background in which belief in rebirth is part of the culture. This is the case in many Asian countries, and thus, since people have heard about rebirth since they were children, the belief in it comes automatically. However, for those of us from Western cultures, it seems strange at first. We do not usually gain conviction in rebirth all of a sudden, with rainbows and music in the background and "Hallelujah! Now I believe!" It does not usually work like that.
It takes most people a long time to get used to the idea of rebirth. I went through various stages in the process of gaining conviction in it. First, I had to become open to the idea in the sense that I thought, "I do not really understand rebirth." Acknowledging that we do not understand it is important, because sometimes we could reject rebirth and what we are actually rejecting is an idea of rebirth that Buddhism would also reject. Someone may think, "I do not believe in rebirth because I do not think that there is a soul with wings that flies out of the body and goes into another body." Buddhists agree, "We do not believe in a soul with wings either." In order to decide whether I believed in rebirth, I had tounderstand the Buddhist concept of rebirth, and that concept is not simple. It is very sophisticated, as you can see from what I explained before about the subtlest consciousness and energy, and the instincts that accompany it.
Then I thought to give rebirth the benefit of the doubt. Provisionally, let us say there is rebirth. Now, what follows from viewing our existence in this way? We can establish all the bodhisattva trainings, we can recognize everybody as having been our mother and thus can feel some connection with all others.
It could also explain why the things that happened in my life happened. Why was someone from my background drawn strongly to study Chinese language? Why was I drawn to go to India and study with the Tibetans? Considering my family' s interests and the environment in which I grew up, it made no sense that I was interested in these things. However, when I thought in terms of rebirth, there was an explanation. I must have had some connection with India, China and Tibet in differentlifetimes, and this has caused me to be interested in these places, their languages and cultures. Rebirth started to answer many questions that I could not find any answers to otherwise; if there were no past lives and no karma, then what happened in my life did not make any sense. Rebirth could also explain the recurring dreams that I used to have. In this way, I started slowly to become more familiar with it.
I have been studying m India for the last nineteen years and have had the great privilege and opportunity to study with some of the very old masters while they were still alive. Many of them have died and have come back, and now I meet them again as small children. I know them in two of their lives.
There is a certain point on the Buddhist path atwhich you can control your rebirths. You do not have to be a Buddha, or even a liberated being, an arhat, to do this. Nevertheless, you do need to be a bodhisattva. You also need to have advanced to a certain stage on the tantric path and to have a very strong determination to be reborn in a form so that you can help everybody. There are certain visualizations and methods that enable you to transform death, the intermediate state and rebirth. If you have mastered that level, you can control your rebirths. There are about a thousand people among the Tibetans who have achieved that level and when they pass away, they are found again. In the Tibetan system, they are called tulkus. A tulku is a reincarnate lama, someone given the title Rinpoche. The title Rinpoche, however, is not used exclusively for tulkus, or reincarnated lamas. It is also used for an abbot or retired abbot of a monastery. Not everyone who is called Rinpoche is a reincarnate lama.
Also, I should point out that the way the word lama is used varies from one Tibetan tradition to the next. In some, lama refers to a very high spiritual teacher, such as a geshe -- one who has the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies -- or a reincarnate lama. In some traditions, lama is used for someone who functions somewhat like a community priest. This person has done a three-year retreat and has learnt the various rituals. He or she will then go to villages and do rituals in people's homes. The title lama can have different meanings.
Again, there are about one thousand recognized incarnate lamas, or tulkus, and they are identified through various indications that they themselves give as well as by other indications such as oracles or significant signs in the environment. The attendants of the previous lama will look for the new incarnation. They will bring ritual objects and personal belongings of the previous lama together with other similar items. The child will be able to recognize what belonged to his or her previous life. For example, His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, recognized the people who came looking for him. He called them by name and started speaking to them in the Lhasa dialect, which is not the language of the region where he was born. By such signs, they are able to identify the child.
Meeting my teachers again in their next lives has been quite impressive for me. The most impressive example was Ling Rinpoche, who was the senior tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was also the head of the Gelug tradition. When he passed away, he remained in meditation for nearly two weeks, although his breath had stopped and for all medical purposes, he would have been considered dead. However, his subtle consciousness was still within the body: he was absorbed in a very profound meditation with the very subtle mind. The region around the heart was still slightly warm, and he sat in meditation position without his body decomposing. When he finished the meditation, his head tipped and a bit of blood came from his nostrils. At that time, his consciousness had left his body.
In Dharamsala, where I live, this sort of things occurs two, three, four times a year. It is not uncommon, even though someone needs to be at a high level of spiritual practice to do this. This ability can be attained.
Ling Rinpochey's reincarnation was recognized when he was one year and nine months old. Usually, children are not identified so young, because when they are older -- about three or four years old -- they can speak and give some indications themselves. The child was brought back to his old house. There was a very large ceremony to welcome him. A few thousand people lined the streets, and I had the fortune to be among them. They were dressed in special clothes and were singing. It was such a joyous occasion
Question: How was the child identified?
Answer: It was through oracles and mediums, as well as his being able to identify various objects from his previous life. Also, he displayed certain physical characteristics. For instance, his predecessor always held his mala (the garland of beads) with two hands, and the child did this as well. He recognized the people from his household, too.
What was the most convincing for me, however, was the child's behavior during the ceremony. The child was carried to the house where a throne was set up near the doorway facing a large verandah and two to three thousand people gathered in the yard. Most children under two years old would be very frightened in such a situation. He was not. They put the child on the throne. Normally, a child would want to get down and would cry if he could not get his way. This child sat cross-legged without moving for an hour and a half while the people did a long-life puja (ritual) for him. He was completely interested in what was going on, and being amidst this huge crowd did not bother him at all.
Part of the ceremony entailed making offerings to the lama and requesting him to live long. There was a procession of people, each holding an offering - a statue of the Buddha, a scriptural text, a stupa reliquary monument, a set of monks' robes, and many other things. When someone gave an offering to him, he was supposed to take it with two hands and give it to a person standing on his left. He did this perfectly with each object. It was really remarkable! How can you teach a one year and nine-month old child to do something like that? You cannot.
When the ceremony had finished, all the people lined up to receive his hand blessing. Someone held the child, and he gave hand blessings, holding his hand in the correct position. With total absorption, and without losing interest or getting tired, the child then gave a hand blessing to two or three thousand people. After that His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, had lunch with him and they spent some time together. The only time that the child cried and made any fuss was when the Dalai Lama started to leave. He did not want him to go.
In fact, the child was giving hand blessings even before he was recognized as being Ling Rinpoche. Both he and his older brother were in an orphanage, because the mother died shortly after he was born. The father was very poor and so had to put the children in an orphanage. He used to give hand blessing to the people there. His older brother, who was three or four years old, would say to people, "My brother is very special. He is a lama. He is a Rinpoche. Do not do anything bad to him. Treat him special."
The previous Ling Rinpoches have been the teachers of three consecutive Dalai Lamas. One Ling Rinpoche was the teacher of the twelfth Dalai Lama; the next Ling Rinpoche was the teacher of the thirteenth; the next one was the teacher of the fourteenth. Certainly, people look at this one to be teacher of the next Dalai Lama.
Seeing examples like this made a big impression on me about the feasibility of future lives. So, by thinking, by hearing stories and by seeing things like this, gradually one becomes more and more convinced about the existence of past and future lives. If you ask me now, "Do you believe in future lives?" Yes, I do.
Question: Are incarnate lamas found only among the Tibetans?
Answer: No, about seven have been identified in Western countries as well. One of these, Lama Osel, the reincarnation of Lama Thubten Yeshe, is a Spanish child. Meeting Lama Osel has given the people who knew Lama Yeshe much conviction in rebirth.
Question: Some people here carry little Buddha statues for protection. How does this work?
Answer: Two factors are involved here. One is from the side of the object. Such statues are consecrated by very high lamas. Many masters may gather together and recite om mani padme hum ten million times and blow on the objects. One lama could also do this, or he could sit in deep and concentrated meditation. To use a scientific analogy, the recitation of mantra and concentration changes the magnetic field -- the energy field -- of the objects so that they have a certain spiritual magnetic quality to them.
The second factor is the faith and confidence of the people using the objects, as well as their previously created actions or karma. If people have faith and confidence that something will protect them, then their own confidence can protect them. It may not protect them from an atom bomb, but it could protect them in events where they would not have confidence to deal with a situation in a beneficial way.
If a blessed cord or image were put around the neck of a pig, I do not know if it would protect it from being slaughtered. However, if a person has the potential that will allow for this blessing to work, then it works. Both factors are needed. It is like two pieces of a puzzle fitting together.
the Objects of Safe Direction (Refuge)
December 1998, revised April 2002
Taking a safe direction in life (skyabs-'gro, taking refuge) is an active process, not a passive one of seeking protection from higher powers, as the term taking refuge might imply. By striving in this direction, we protect ourselves from fear and suffering.
To put a safe direction in life, we need to identify correctly the objects that indicate that safe direction (skyabs-yul). These are the Three Rare and Supreme Gems (dkon-mchog gsum), usually called the Three Jewels of Refuge, the Triple Gem, or the Three Precious Gems. They are the Buddhas (sangs-rgyas, clear evolved ones), the Dharma (chos, preventive measures), and the Sangha (dge-'dun, intent community or network).
Although there are several formulations of the Triple Gem, the sutra tradition of all four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism follow the Mahayana presentation of them found in the texts of Maitreya, the future Buddha.
Apparent and Deepest Level Rare and Supreme Gems
According to the tradition based on Maitreya's Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamaya-alamkara), each of the Three Gems has an apparent (kun-rdzob-pa'i dkon-mchog, superficial) and a deepest (don-dam-pa'i dkon-mchog, ultimate) level. The apparent level gems conceal the deepest level ones. The presentation accords with the definitions of the Three Gems that Maitreya gave in another of his texts, The Furthest Everlasting Continuum (rGyud bla-ma, Skt. Uttaratantra). Except for the apparent level Dharma Gem, all the others fulfill these definitions.
Let us look at the explanation of the two-level Gems by the seventeenth-century Gelug master Jetsun Chokyi-gyeltsen (rJe-btsun Chos-kyi rgyal-mtshan) in The Ocean Playground of the Fortunate Naga King: The General Meaning of the First Chapter [of "A Filigree of Realizations"] (sKal-bzang klu-dbang-gi rol-mtsho zhe-bya-ba-las skabs-dang-po'i spyi-don).
1. The apparent Buddha gem is a Buddha's rupakaya (gzugs-sku, bodies with form, corpus of enlightening forms, Form Body). This network of bodies with form include both sambhogakaya (longs-sku, bodies of full use, corpus of full use, Enjoyment Body) and nirmanakaya (sprul-sku, bodies of emanations, corpus of emanations, Emanation Body). The former teach arya ('phags-pa, highly realized) bodhisattvas, who have nonconceptual cognition of voidness, while the latter are emanations of the former and teach ordinary beings with the fortune to meet them.
2. The deepest Buddha gem is a Buddha's dharmakaya (chos-sku, bodies encompassing everything, corpus encompassing everything, Truth Body). This network of bodies encompassing everything includes both a jnana-dharmakaya (ye-shes chos-sku, body of deep awareness encompassing everything, corpus of deepest awareness of everything, Wisdom Truth Body) and a svabhavakaya (ngo-bo-nyid sku, essential nature body, corpus of essential nature, Nature Body). The former refers to a Buddha's enlightening mind, which has the full network of all true pathway minds (lam-bden, true paths) that have brought about the elimination forever of all suffering and its causes, and of all mental obscuration. The latter refers to the voidness of a Buddha's omniscient mind and is equivalent to the network of its true stoppings ('gog-bden, true cessations) of the two sets of obscuration. The two are the obscurations that are disturbing emotions and attitudes, and which prevent liberation (nyon-sgrib), and the obscurations regarding all knowables, and which prevent omniscience (shes-sgrib).
1. The apparent Dharma Gem is the twelve textual categories of teachings proclaimed by a Buddha's enlightening speech.
2. The deepest Dharma Gem is the true stoppings and true pathways of mind on the mental continuum of an arya, whether a layperson or a monastic.
1. The apparent Sangha Gem is the individual person of any arya, whether lay or monastic.
2. The deepest Sangha Gem is the true stoppings and true pathways of mind on the mental continuum of an arya.
The tradition based on Maitreya's Filigree of Mahayana Sutras (mDo-sde rgyan, Mahayana-sutra-alamkara) presents an apparent and deepest level for only the Buddha Gem. It presents the deepest Dharma Gem as Maitreya does in Filigree of Realizations, but presents that text's apparent Sangha Gem as the deepest level Sangha Gem.
The Deepest Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha Gems Share the Same Essential Nature
The deepest Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha Gems, as formulated in Filigree of Realizations, share the same essential nature (ngo-bo gcig), but have different logical isolates (ldog-pa tha-dad). They each refer to the same aspect of a phenomenon, namely the true stoppings and true pathways of mind on a mental continuum. They can be logically isolated and differentiated from each other since they describe this aspect of a mental continuum from different points of view.
[See: Relationships between Two Objects in General.]
Consider the case of the true stoppings and true pathways of mind on the mental continuum of a Buddha. As guides that are the sources of inspiration (byin-rlabs, blessings), they are the deepest Buddha Gem. As preventive measures that are the sources of actual attainments (dngos-grub, Skt. siddhi), they constitute the deepest Dharma Gem. As a network that brings enlightening influence ('phrin-las, Buddha-activity, virtuous conduct), they function as the deepest Sangha Gem. Like a nurse, they bring us support and help while on the path.
Ultimate and Provisional Providers of Safe Direction
The deepest Dharma and deepest Sangha Gems include the true stoppings and true pathway minds on the mental continuums of all aryas - from the path of seeing to the attainment of liberation as an arhat or of enlightenment as a Buddha. With the attainment of nonconceptual cognition of voidness and thus the path of seeing, aryas begin to have true stoppings and true pathway minds on their mental continuums. They achieve the full networks of both only with the attainment of Buddhahood.
Thus, only Buddhas are the ultimate providers of safe direction (mthar-thug-gi skyabs-gnas), because only Buddhas have realized the full networks of true stoppings and true pathway minds. Only Buddhas have rid themselves forever of the two sets of obscuration. Aryas with attainments less than those of a Buddha, then, are only provisional providers of safe direction (gnas-skabs-kyi skyabs-gnas). They cannot provide safe direction all the way to enlightenment because they have not yet achieved enlightenment themselves. This is the meaning of Maitreya's statement in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum that, in terms of the deepest level Gems, only Buddhas are the deepest source of safe direction.
Another reason behind Maitreya's statement is that the true stoppings and true pathway minds on the mental continuums of aryas who have not yet achieved enlightenment are examples of only deepest level Dharma and Sangha Gems. They are not deepest level Buddha Gems. Only the true stoppings and true pathway minds on the mental continuums of Buddhas serve as all Three Gems. Therefore, only Buddhas are the deepest providers of safe direction.
Formulated in another way, Buddhas are primary because they are the source of safe direction all the way to enlightenment and are the endpoint of the Sangha. They became Buddhas because of Dharma, through the stages of being Sangha.
Causal and Resultant Providers of Safe Direction
Taking safe direction in life from the apparent and deepest level Triple Gem is the mere taking of safe direction (skyab-'gro tsam-pa-ba). It is also called causal taking of safe direction (rgyu'i skyabs-'gro), since the providers of direction are the persons or phenomena that act as causes for our own attainments of the Three Gems.
The special taking of safe direction (skyabs-'gro khyad-par-ba), also called resultant taking of safe direction ('bras-bu'i skyabs-'gro), takes as its providers of direction the Triple Gem that we will attain in the future, based on actualizing our Buddha-natures.
Consequently, when we offer prostration to the Triple Gem, with both the mere and special taking of safe direction, we show respect not only to those who have become aryas, arhats, and Buddha themselves, and to their attainments, but also to ourselves and to our own future achievements of the same.
Each of the Three Rare and Supreme Gems has a representation, which is merely a nominal gem (brdar-btags-pa'i dkon-mchog), but not an actual provider of safe direction. Since actual Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha Gems are not readily available as objects that we can encounter, representations of them serve as focuses for showing respect.
1. The nominal Buddha Gem includes paintings and statues of Buddhas.
2. The nominal Dharma Gem includes printed Dharma texts from the twelve categories of teachings.
3. The nominal Sangha Gem refers to four or more people from any of the four groups of the monastic sangha: full or novice monks or nuns. The four need not necessarily be all from one group or one from each group.
Since nominal Gems are not actual Gems, the practice of Buddhism does not entail the worship of idols, books, or monks and nuns.
The modern Western usage of the term sangha for the members of a Dharma center or organization, as if it were an equivalent term for the congregation of a church, is a nontraditional use of the term. If members of the monastic community include emotionally disturbed and even unethical persons who are neither qualified nor reliable to serve as actual sources of safe direction, how much less so are the wide variety of members of a Dharma center.
Causes for Putting a Safe Direction in Life
In general, the two causes for taking the safe direction in life indicated by the Triple Gem are dread ('jigs-pa) and believing a fact to be true (dad-pa).
Dread, in this context, is a state of mind focused on the first two noble truths (true facts of life) - true problems (true suffering) and their true causes. Often misleadingly translated as "fear," it is not a disturbing emotion. With fear, we inflate the negative aspects of suffering and its causes and project true inherent existence onto them and onto ourselves. We then feel that the inherently existent objects of our fear will overwhelm the inherently existent "us," and although we wish to be free of the objects of our fear, we feel helpless to do so.
Dread, on the other hand, regards true suffering and its true causes objectively, without inflating them or projecting onto them or onto ourselves inherent existence. With dread, we deeply wish not to continue experiencing the objects of our dread. It does not imply, however, feeling helpless; although, in this case, we acknowledge that we need help. Rather, it leads to renunciation (nges-'byung), the determination to be free from true problems and their true causes.
[See: Renuncation - Determination to Be Free.]
The scope of our understanding of the first two noble truths expands as we progress through the three levels of lamrim (graded) motivation. On the initial level, true problems include rebirth in one of the worse realms and the experience of gross suffering; the true cause is acting destructively, based on unawareness of behavioral cause and effect. On the intermediate level, true problems include any uncontrollable recurring samsaric rebirth and all forms of suffering experienced therein; the true causes are the obscurations that are the disturbing emotions and attitudes, and which prevent liberation. On the advanced level, true problems include the inability to lead others to liberation most effectively; true causes are the obscurations regarding all knowables, and which prevent omniscience. On this highest level, an additional cause for taking safe direction is compassion - the wish for others to be free from true problems and their true causes.
Believing a Fact to Be True
The second cause for taking in life the safe direction of the Triple Gem is believing as true the fact that the Three Rare and Supreme Gems have the ability to help us free ourselves from true problems and their true causes. In other words, we need to believe as true the fact that the deepest Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha Gems - the third and fourth noble truths (true stoppings and true pathways of mind that bring the attainment) - have the ability to remove the first two noble truths forever. Moreover, we need to understand this fact on two levels.
On the level of causal taking of safe direction, the true stoppings and true pathways of mind on the mental continuums of aryas, arhats, and Buddhas show us the way. Putting their direction in our lives, we gain inspiration, actual attainments, and nurture from their enlightening influence all along the path. What actually eliminate our true problems and their true causes, however, are our own attainments of true stoppings and true pathways of mind - our future attainments of Triple Gems ourselves. With resultant taking of safe direction, then, we work toward that goal.
Believing a fact to be true - in this case, that the second two noble truths eliminate forever the first two noble truths - is not blind faith. When properly developed, it has three aspects.
1. Believing a fact to be true based on reason (yid-ches-pa). For a stable taking of safe direction, we need a deep understanding of the four noble truths and of the reasons why the last two truths eliminate forever the first two truths.
2. Clearheadedly believing a fact to be true (dvangs-ba'i dad-pa) clears the mind of disturbing emotions and attitudes. When we correctly understand the four noble truths, our belief in their facticity clears our minds of hopelessness and despair. The further we strive in this safe direction and begin to achieve the Triple Gem ourselves, we gradually clear our minds of all disturbing emotions and attitudes forever.
3. Believing a fact with an aspiration toward it (mngon-dad-kyi dad-pa). When we understand not only the four noble truths, but also our Buddha-natures that enable us to achieve resultant Triple Gems ourselves, we naturally aspire to put this safe direction in our lives. As with the two stages of bodhichitta (the aspiring and the involved stages), we not only aspire to go in this direction, but we actively put this safe direction in our lives.
Conventional and Deepest Bodhichitta
Corresponding to the two truths as defined in the Mahayana tenets, there are two bodhichitta aims:
" conventional bodhichitta (kun-rdzob byang-sems, relative bodhichitta),
" deepest bodhichitta (don-dam byang-sems, ultimate bodhichitta).
With a conventional bodhichitta aim, our minds focus on the future enlightenment imputable on our mental continuums that we will attain, based on our Buddha-natures, when the circumstances are complete. Accompanying it are the intentions to attain that enlightenment and to benefit all limited beings by means of that attainment.
With a deepest bodhichitta aim, our minds focus on voidness, with the force of having conventional bodhichitta.
Stages of Developing a Conventional Bodhichitta Aim
The conventional bodhichitta aim to achieve enlightenment to benefit all limited beings has two stages:
" aspiring bodhichitta (smon-sems),
" engaged bodhichitta ('jug-sems).
Aspiring bodhichitta is the aspiration to achieve enlightenment to benefit all beings. It has two stages:
" merely aspiring bodhichitta (smon-sems smon-pa-tsam), with which we merely aspire to reach enlightenment to benefit everyone as much as is possible,
" pledged aspiring bodhichitta (smon-sems dam-bca'-can), with which we pledge never to give up our bodhichitta aim until we reach enlightenment. This stage entails pledging to do certain actions that will help us not to lose our aim in this lifetime or in future lives, all the way to enlightenment.
Engaged bodhichitta has, in addition to the two aspiring states, the bodhisattva vows and bodhisattva behavior to practice the six far-reaching attitudes (six perfections), which will actually bring us to enlightenment.
Factors Accompanying Engaged Bodhichitta
In Auto-Commentary on the Difficult Points of "Lamp to the Path to Enlightenment" (Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-me'i dka'-'grel), Atisha quoted The Sutra Requested by the Arya Akashakosha ('Phags-pa nam-mkha' mdzod-kyi mdo). There, Buddha explained that engaged bodhichitta has two mental factors included in it:
" sincerity (bsam-pa),
" exceptional sincerity (lhag-bsam).
Sincerity has two factors included in it:
" lack of hypocrisy (g.yo-med) - not hiding our own faults,
" lack of pretension (sgyu-med) - not pretending to have qualities that we do not have.
Lack of hypocrisy has two factors included in it:
" being honest and straightforward (drang-po),
" being clear and open (gsal-ba).
Lack of pretension has two factors included in it:
" not being contrived or artificial (not making things up) (bcos-ma ma-yin-pa),
" having a pure motivation (bsam-pa dag-pa), not mixed with any ulterior motives.
Exceptional sincerity has, in addition to the factors comprising sincerity, two more factors:
" nonattachment (ma-chags-pa),
" going forward in a special way (khyad-par-du 'gro-ba).
Nonattachment has two factors included in it:
" not liable to suffer a loss of mind (giving up bodhichitta) because of attachment to some other goal (sems ma-god-pa),
" not liable to suffer a loss of joyful perseverance because of attachment to something else (brtson-'grus ma-god-pa).
Going forward (proceeding to enlightenment) in a special way has two factors included in it: proceeding with:
" an enlightenment-building network of positive force (bsod-nams-gyi tshogs),
" an enlightenment-building network of deep awareness (ye-shes-kyi tshogs).
Thus, although the Tibetan term for exceptional sincerity (lhag-bsam) is also the term for the exceptional resolve that is the sixth of the seven-part cause and effect guideline for developing a bodhichitta aim, the term has a different meaning here. Exceptional resolve is taking universal responsibility actually to help alleviate the suffering and bring happiness to all beings. As a cause for developing a conventional bodhichitta aim, it is a mental factor that accompanies both aspiring bodhichitta and engaged bodhichitta.
in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, 1994
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
Planning for the trip to Eastern Europe and
former Soviet Union (FSU) was an adventure in itself, with my passport getting
lost twice in the U.S. mail, the Ukrainian embassy refusing my visa, and the travel
agent keeping my urgent itinerary at the bottom of the stack of papers. I called
the places in Eastern Europe to let them know the dates of my visit, and a man
in St. Petersburg was supposed to organize the part of the tour in FSU. But I
soon learned that organizing a sixteen city teaching tour in former communist
countries made travel in India look like a piece of cake.
My first stop in Eastern Europe was Prague, a beautiful capital whose buildings were comparatively unscathed during World War II. I stayed with Marushka, a delightful woman with whom I'd been corresponding for a number of years, although we had never met. She had been hospitalized twice for emotional difficulties and told me hair-raising tales of being in a communist mental institution. Juri, my other host, showed me around the city, one memorial site being the exhibit of children's art in the Jewish museum. These children, confined in a ghetto in Czechoslovakia during the war, drew pictures of the barbed wire compounds in which they lived and the cheerful houses surrounded by flowers in which they formerly lived. Below each drawing were the child's birth and death dates. Many of these little ones were taken to Auschwitz to be exterminated in 1944. All over Eastern Europe and the FSU, the ghost of the war reigns. I was constantly reminded that the demographics of the area changed radically in a few years and that people of all ethnic groups suffered.
My talks in the Prague were held downtown. They were attended by about twenty-five people, who listened attentively and asked good questions. Jiri was an able translator.
The next stop was Budapest, where spring was just beginning. Most of the city had been destroyed by door-to-door fighting at the end of the war. I stayed with a lovely extended family, two members of whom had escaped during the communist regime and gone to Sweden to live. The talks were at the recently-established Buddhist College, a first in that part of the world. But I was surprised when entering the principal's office, to see on the wall behind his desk not a picture of the Buddha, but a painting of a nude woman!
I also visited a Buddhist retreat center in the countryside where ten people had just begun a three-year retreat. Over lunch, the Hungarian monk explained the difficulties that people raised under communism have when becoming Buddhists. "You don't know what it's like to learn Marxist-Leninist scientific materialism since you're a child. This does something to your way of thinking, making it a challenge to expand your mind to include Buddhist ideas," he said. True, I thought, and on the other hand, people in Western Europe and North America have to undo years of indoctrination of consumerism and if-it-feels-good-do-it philosophy when they encounter Buddhism.
Oradea, a town in Transylvania (Rumania) that is renown as Count Dracula's home, was the next stop. Rumania was much poorer than Czech Republic and Hungary, or rather, it was more neglected. As I later found in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, people had things, but they were falling apart and left unrepaired. The roads, once paved, were now rutted. The trams, once brightly painted, were now dilapidated. There was no idea of fixing things, or if there was, no money to do it. Transylvania was traditionally inhabited by Hungarians and in recent years, there has been an influx of Rumanians. The Dharma group was mostly Hungarians and took every opportunity to tell me how awful the Rumanians were. I was shocked at the prejudice and ethnic hatred, and found myself talking passionately about equanimity, tolerance, and compassion in the Dharma talks.
The people I stayed with were kind and hospitable, and as in most places, I felt real friendships develop. However, they knew little about etiquette around monastics, and at a gathering in someone's flat after a talk, I was surrounded by couples making out. They would take turns talking to me and then resume their (obviously more pleasurable) activities. Needless-to-say, I excused myself as soon as possible and went to my room to meditate.
Then on to Krakow, Poland, the site of Schindler's List. Venerable Tenzin Palmo, a British nun who meditated twelve years in a cave in India, was also teaching in Poland at the time, and our schedules were arranged so we could meet in Krakow. It was lovely to see her again, and together we discussed the recent tragedy that had befallen many Polish Dharma centers. Years ago, a Danish teacher in the Tibetan tradition had set up centers in many cities. But in recent years power struggles developed, and the teacher, becoming involved in the Tibetans' dispute over the new Karmapa, forbade his centers to invite other teachers from even his own Tibetan tradition. As a result, the centers throughout Poland split into opposing groups, with the Danish man and his followers retaining the property. The tragedy is that many friendships have disintegrated and much confusion generated about the meaning of refuge and relying on a spiritual mentor. Ven. Tenzin Palmo and I did our best to alleviate the confusion, encouraging people in the new groups to go ahead with their practice, to invite qualified teachers, and to practice together with their Dharma friends. This experience intensified my feeling that we Westerners need not and should not get involved in political disputes within the Tibetan community. We must remain firmly centered with a compassionate motivation on the real purpose of Dharma practice and check teachers' qualifications well before establishing a teacher-student relationship with them.
The Poles were warm and friendly, and we had long, interesting and open talks. "As an American, do you have any idea what it's like to have your country occupied by foreign forces? Can you imagine what it feels like to have your country carved up and your borders rearranged at the discretion of powerful neighbors? Do you know how it feels when citizens are deported to foreign lands?" they asked. All over Eastern Europe, people remarked that their countries were the walking grounds of foreign troops, and indeed so many of the places were alternately occupied by the Germans and the Russians. The smell of history lingers on in each place.
I enjoy inter-religious dialogue and while in Prague met with the novice training master at a monastery. In Budapest, I met with a monk from a monastery with its church carved as a cave in the rock along the river in Budapest. In both these conversations, the monks were open and curious about Buddhism -- I was probably the first Buddhist they had met -- and they shared their experiences of following their faith despite the fact that their monasteries had been shut down during the communist regime.
In Krakow, Ven. Tenzin Palmo and I visited some sisters of St. Francis at their cloister in the center of the city. Two sisters in full traditional nuns' dress sat behind the double grill as we exchanged questions and answers about spiritual life and practice. One topic of interest was how to keep our religious traditions alive and yet adapt to the circumstances of modern life, challenges that both Buddhist and Catholic monastics face. Our discussion lasted two hours, and by the end thirteen Catholic nuns (half of the monastery's inhabitants) were crammed into the tiny room. With much laughter we showed them how our robes were worn and they peeled off layers of black and white cloth to show us how to assemble their robes. We traded prayer beads through the grill, like teenage girls sharing secrets, and parted with a sense of love, understanding and shared goals.
Later, in Russia and Ukraine, I tried to meet with Orthodox nuns, but could not find any. One large Orthodox nunnery we visited in Moscow is now a museum. Fortunately, in Donetsk, Ukraine, a young Orthodox priest and a Catholic woman attended my talk at the Buddhist center. We spent a long time talking about doctrine, practice, and religious institutions. I explained to the priest that many people in America who had been raised Christian suffered from guilt -- from their youth, they were told that Jesus had sacrificed his life for them and they felt they were too egotistical to appreciate or repay this -- and asked how this could be alleviated. He explained that many people misunderstand Jesus' death -- that Jesus sacrificed his life willingly, without asking for anything in return. He also said that women played a greater role in the early Church than they do now in Orthodoxy, and that slowly, he would like to see them resume that place.
Ven. Tenzin Palmo and I also visited Auschwitz as well as the Jewish neighborhood, the ghetto, and the cemetery in Krakow. It was rainy and cold those days, the weather illustrating the horror of what human beings' destructive emotions can perpetrate. Coming from a Jewish background, I had been raised knowing about the tragedy there. But I found it odd, and all too familiar, that people were now vying for their share of suffering and pity. Some Jews objected to a Catholic nunnery being built near the concentration camp, and some Poles felt that the fact they lost a million Polish patriots at Auschwitz wasn't adequately recognized by the world. The importance of meditating on equanimity became obvious to me -- everyone equally wants to be happy and to avoid suffering. Creating too strongly of a religious, racial, national, or ethnic identity obscures this basic human fact.
In Warsaw, I went to the site of the Jewish Ghetto where now a monument stands for those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The area is a park surrounded by socialist flats, but old photos reveal that after the uprising it was nothing more than leveled rubble. At the Jewish cemetery, we overheard an older woman visiting from America say that she had been in Warsaw at the time of the uprising and came back to look for the graves of her friends. It seems to me that Caucasians haven't completely come to terms with the atrocities committed under Hitler and Stalin (to name a few) -- they view these as flukes or aberrations, because white people could never cause such heinous events. I believe that this is why we have such difficulty grappling with events such as the situations in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.
From time to time on the trip, I met some Jewish Buddhists, in Eastern Europe and the FSU, where so few Jews are left! They are generally assimilated into the main society now, and although they say, "I am Jewish," they don't know much about the religion or culture. It's similar to many people from my generation of Jews in USA. In Ukraine they told me that since so many Russian Jews in Israel can get Ukrainian TV, that there are now advertisements in Hebrew on their TV! They also told me that since things opened up in the FSU, that many of their Jews friends have left for Israel and the USA. It was interesting that the people I met didn't want to leave, given how chaotic and directionless those societies are now.
The Transition from Communism to ??
As I traveled northward, spring disappeared, and I entered the countries of the former Soviet Union, where winter lingered on. I realized that the person in St. Petersburg who was supposed to organize this part of the tour had dropped the ball. Some places didn't know I was coming until I called them the night before to give them the arrival time of the train! People told me this was normal -- since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, ties had been broken, there were now border checks and customs in what used to be one country, and things were not well-organized.
All over Eastern Europe and the FSU, people told me how difficult the change from communism to free-market economy and political freedom had been. First there were economic hardships due to the changing system. Then there was the change in mentality required to cope with it. People said that under communism they lived better -- they had what they needed -- while now they had to struggle financially. Under the old system, things were taken care of for them, and they didn't have to take personal initiative or be responsible for their livelihood. They worked a few hours each day, drank tea, and chanted with their colleagues the rest, and collected a pay check that allowed them to live comfortably.
Now, they had to work hard. Factories were closing down, and people losing their jobs. Although the markets had plenty of Western goods, in the FSU hardly anyone could afford them. Even people who were employed were not paid well, if their employers had money to pay them at all. Many educated and intelligent people, especially in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine left their jobs to do business, buying and selling from one place to another. The poverty was real. In the Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine we basically ate rice, bread and potatoes.
In Eastern Europe, the situation was not so grave, and the mood was upbeat. People were glad to be free from communism and from Russian domination. Circumstances were difficult, but they were confident they would get through them. The people in the Baltics felt the same and were especially happy to have their independence. In all these areas, which had been under communism only since the war, the people removed the statues and symbols of communism as quickly as possible.
But in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine -- areas that were communist since the early 1920s -- the atmosphere was different. Economically, they were more desperate, and socially, more disorganized. Their great empire was lost and their confidence destroyed. Only one woman I met in Moscow saw the present situation optimistically, saying that Russians now had the opportunity to develop an economic system which was neither capitalist nor communist, a system which could fit their unique cultural mentality.
But others I met felt confused. With the advent of peristroyka, things snowballed, changing so fast in ways that no one had expected, with no advance planning or firm direction for the society. Now clever people are profiteering from the chaos, and the gap between rich and poor is growing. It broke my heart to see old grandfathers in St. Petersburg begging outside the churches and old grandmothers in Moscow with their palms held out in the subways. Such things never happened before, I was told. But when I asked people if they wanted to return to the old system, they replied, "We know we can't go back." Yet, they had little idea of what lay ahead, and most did not have confidence in Yeltsin's leadership.
The Baltic Countries and Former Soviet Union
Back to my time in the Baltics. I taught in Vilnus (Lithuania) and Riga (Latvia), but had the best connection with the people in Tallinn (Estonia). They were enthusiastic, and we did a marathon session on the gradual path to enlightenment, after which all of us were elated and inspired.
In previous decades a few people from the Baltics and St. Petersburg had learned Buddhism, either by going to India or to Buryatia, an ethnically Buddhist area in Russia just north of Mongolia. Some of these people were practitioners, others were scholars. Yet, the public has many misunderstanding about Buddhism -- I was asked if I could see auras, if Tibetan monks could fly through the sky, if one could go to Shambala, or if I could perform miracles. I told them that the best miracle was to have impartial love and compassion for all beings, but that wasn't what they wanted to hear!
I met people who had learned a little about tantra from someone who knew someone who knew someone who had gone to Tibet in the twenties. Then they read Evans-Wentz's book on the six-yogas of Naropa, invented their own tummo (inner heat) meditation and taught it to others. They were very proud that they didn't have to wear overcoats in the icy Russian winter, while I was relieved that they didn't go crazy from inventing their own meditation. It brought home to me the importance of meeting pure lineages and qualified teachers, and then following their instructions properly after doing the necessary preliminary practices.
The teachings in St. Petersburg were well-attended. While there, I visited the Kalachakra Temple, a Tibetan temple completed in 1915 under the auspices of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. In the 1930s, Stalin had the monks killed, and the state took over the temple, turning it into an insect laboratory. In recent years the Buddhists were allowed to return, and there is now a group of young men from Buryatia and Kalmykia (between the Caspian and Black Seas) who are training to be monks. The women at the temple -- some European, others Asian -- were enthusiastic about Dharma, and we talked for hours. With excitement, they kept saying, "You're the first Tibetan nun who's been here. We're so happy!"
In Moscow, the teachings were organized by a new-age center, although there are many Buddhist groups in the city. Before leaving Seattle, I met with the Russian consul, who was interested in Dharma. He gave me the contact of his friend in Moscow who was a Buddhist. I looked him up and had an impromptu meeting with some of the people from his group. We discussed Buddhism from the point of view of practice not theory, and there was a wonderful and warm feeling at the end of the evening.
Then on to Minsk, Belarus, where the trees were barely beginning to bud and the Dharma group was earnest. Again, people were not very familiar with etiquette for monastics, and I was housed at the flat of a single man who had a huge photo of a naked woman in his bathroom. Fortunately, he was kind and minded his manners, but it put me in an awkward position -- do I ask to stay elsewhere even though everyone else's flats were crowded?
On the way from Minsk to Donetsk, we stopped for a few hours in Kiev and met a friend of Igor, the man translating for me. She and I had a good connection and I was touched by how she shared the little she had with us. She and I were about the same size, and the idea popped into my head to give her the maroon cashmere sweater that friends had given to me. My ego tried to quench that idea with all sorts of "reasons" about my needing it. A "civil war" broke out inside me on the way to the train station, "Should I give her the sweater or not?" and I hesitated even after she got us sweet bread for the trip, although she had little money. Fortunately, my good sense won out, and I reached into my suitcase and gave her the beautiful sweeter minutes before the train pulled away. Her face lighted up with delight, and I wondered how I could have considered, just five minutes prior, being so stingy as to keep it myself.
Donetsk, a coal mining town in eastern Ukraine, was the last stop. Here I stayed at a center begun by a Korean monk, where the people were friendly and open to the Dharma. The town had little "Mount Fujis" all around it -- when the mines were dug, the excess earth was piled in hills of pollution around the town. Nevertheless, the town had trees and green grass--welcome sights after the dreariness of Moscow -- and spring was again present. In addition to speaking at the center, the public library, and a college, I gave talks to two large groups at a high school, with many students staying afterwards to ask more questions.
With a good sense of timing, after finishing the last talk of this six-week tour, I promptly lost my voice. On the train from Donetsk to Kiev, I was coughing and sneezing, and the compassionate people who shared the train compartment -- two slightly-tipsy Ukrainian men -- offered to share their precious vodka with me, saying that it would definitely make me feel better. But being unappreciative of their generosity, and using the (in their eyes) lame excuse that drinking was counter to my monastic vows, I refused. In an effort to overcome my ignorance, they kept repeating their offer, until I finally feigned going to sleep to have some peace.
As a final touch to the trip, on the flight from Kiev to Frankfurt, I sat next to an evangelical Christian from Seattle who had just been to Kazakhstan, Moscow, and Kiev to spread the "good news." He was a pleasant man, who meant well and wanted to help others. But when I asked him if the Muslims who converted to Christianity faced difficulties with their families, he said, "Yes, but it's better than going to hell."
By the time I arrived in Frankfurt and my friend, a German monk, picked me up at the airport, I felt like Alice reemerging from the hole, wondering about confusing and wonderful experiences -- the kindness and the complexity -- that others had just shared with me.
Foundation for Good Qualities
(Yon-tan gzhi-gyur-ma)by Tsongkhapa (Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa)
translated by Alexander Berzin, 1982,
(1) (Healthy) reliance on a kind spiritual master,
The foundation for all good qualities, is the root of the path.
Seeing this well, I request inspiration to rely
With great appreciation, through many endeavors.
(2) This excellent working basis with its respites, found but once,
Is difficult to obtain. Having realized its great importance,
I request inspiration to develop without disruption
An attitude to take its essence in all ways, day and night.
(3) At death, my body and life-force
will perish quickly
Like bubbles on a moving stream. Remembering this
And having found stable certainty that after death,
The fruits of my noble and dark actions will follow behind,
(4) Like a shadow to a body, I
request inspiration always to take care
To rid myself of even the slightest, most minor action
That would build up a network of faults and to accomplish
Every possible deed that will build up a network of constructive force.
The splendors of compulsive existence, even when indulged in, never suffice;
The gateway of all problems, they are unfit to make my mind secure.
Aware of these pitfalls, I request inspiration
To develop a great avid interest in liberation's bliss.
(6) I request inspiration to take to heart, with mindfulness,
And great care, induced by this pure motivating thought,
The practices for individual liberation,
The root of the teachings,
Just as I have fallen into the ocean of compulsive existence,
So, too, have all wandering beings - they have been my mothers.
Seeing this, I request inspiration to grow to a supreme bodhichitta aim
To take responsibility to free these wandering beings.
(8) Even if I have developed merely this resolve,
if I lack the habit
Of the three types of ethical discipline, I will be unable to attain
A (supreme) purified state. Seeing this well, I request inspiration
To train with strong efforts in the bodhisattva vows.
request inspiration quickly to develop on my mind-stream a path
That combines the pair: a stilled, settled mind and an exceptionally perceptive mind,
By stilling mental wandering toward objects of distortion
And properly discerning the correct meaning (of voidness).
(10) When I have trained myself
through the common paths
And become a vessel, I request inspiration easily to board
The Diamond-strong Vehicle, the supreme of all vehicles,
The sacred fording passage for those of good fortune.
(11) Then, when
I have found uncontrived certainty in what has been said,
That the foundation for realizing the two types of actual attainments
Is the closely bonding practices and vow restraints kept totally pure,
I request inspiration to uphold them even at the cost of my life.
(12) Then, understanding correctly the
essential points of the two stages
That are the essence of the tantra classes, I request inspiration
To actualize them in accord with the Holy One's enlightening speech,
Never straying from the conduct of four (daily) sessions of yoga.
(13) I request inspiration for the feet of the spiritual mentors
Who indicate the excellent path like this
And of friends for proper practice to remain firm,
And for the masses of outer and inner interference to be stilled.
May I never be parted for all my lives from perfect gurus;
May I put to good use the all-around perfect Dharma;
And by achieving in full all good qualities of the stages and paths,
May I quickly attain a Vajradhara supreme state.
Four Axioms for Examining a Dharma Teaching
Success in Dharma practice depends on having a realistic attitude. This means examining the Dharma teachings in a manner that accords with how things actually exist. For such examination, Buddha taught four axioms (rigs-pa bzhi), which are the basic assumptions in Buddhist thinking. Remember, Buddha said, "Do not accept what I teach just out of faith or respect for me, but investigate for yourself as if buying gold."
The four are the axioms of
1. dependency (ltos-pa'i rigs-pa),
2. functionality (bya-ba byed-pa'i rigs-pa),
3. establishment by reason (tshad-ma'i rigs-pa),
4. the nature of things (chos-nyid-kyi rigs-pa).
Let us look at how Tsongkhapa explains the four in A Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo).
The Axiom of Dependency
The first axiom is that certain things depend on other things as their bases. This is the axiom of dependency. For a result to come about, it must depend upon causes and conditions. This is an axiom we can all accept. It means that if we wish to develop a good quality or an understanding of something, we need to investigate what it relies on. What do we need to develop beforehand to serve as its basis?
Each level of spiritual attainment relies on other attainments and factors as its basis. For example, if we wish to develop the discriminating awareness or understanding of voidness or reality, we need to investigate and know what this understanding relies on. It relies on concentration. Without concentration, we cannot develop understanding. What is the basis that concentration depends on? It depends on self-discipline. If we do not have discipline to correct our attention when it wanders astray, we cannot possibly develop concentration. Therefore, if we wish to develop the discriminating awareness of voidness, we need to work first on building up at least some modicum of self-discipline and concentration.
Applying this first axiom is very important when studying the Dharma. Many of us would like to achieve the wonderful things we read about in the Dharma texts, but if we wish to be realistic about our wishes, we need to investigate what their achievement relies upon. When we know what we need to build up to reach our goals, we know how to reach them. We can then start from the foundation upward. This makes our quests realistic.
The Axiom of Functionality
The second is the axiom of functionality. Every phenomenon that is affected by causes and conditions performs its specific function. Fire, not water, performs the function of burning. This is, again, a basic assumption in Buddhism, an axiom, and is something that we can accept as well. Its application is that in studying and learning the Dharma, we need to investigate the function that this or that performs. We are given instructions about certain states of mind or emotions that we need to develop, such as love and concentration, and about other ones that we need to rid ourselves of, like confusion or anger. We are also taught certain methods to follow. To understand the methods, we need to investigate what they do, what are their functions? Since certain things are compatible and others are not, certain states of mind will function to enhance or increase other states.
For example, investigation and experience of a specific meditation method for developing love increases our confidence in it. We investigate "Is this right or not?" and then we try to gain an experience of it. The function of doing this is that it gives us confidence about the method. What is the function of confidence that a method of practice is correct and that it works? It enhances our ability to practice it deeply. If we lack confidence in what we are doing, we will not practice it. If we understand the function each step has, we will put our hearts into each one. If we do not understand, we will not do any of them.
In addition, we need to understand the function of something to damage or counter another. For instance, confidence in a method destroys indecisiveness about it. Lack of confidence in a method or in our abilities to follow it prevents us from succeeding or getting anywhere with it.
It is very important to know what each thing that we learn and each step of practice we take will strengthen and what it will destroy. Then we have a realistic attitude about what we are doing. For example, why would we want to develop a particular positive state of mind or attitude, such as love? A valid reason is because it functions to bring about peace of mind and enables us to help others. Why would we want to rid ourselves of a particular negative state of mind, such as anger? Because of what it does: it makes trouble for others and us. Knowing this is very important when we wish to stop destructive patterns of behavior that we are attached to, such as smoking. If we understand clearly what an action functions to do, such as what smoking does to our lungs, we understand why we need to stop doing it. That is how we apply the axiom of functionality.
The Axiom of Establishment by Reason
The third is the axiom of establishment by reason. This means that a point is established or proven if a valid means of knowing does not contradict it. First we need to investigate anything we learn as Dharma to determine whether scriptural authority contradicts it. How do we know a teaching is a Dharma teaching? It is consistent with what Buddha taught. Since Buddha taught varying things to different disciples, that on the surface seem contradictory, how do we know Buddha's deepest intention? The Indian master Dharmakirti explained that if a teaching appears as a recurrent theme in Buddha's teaching, we know that Buddha really meant it. This is important, especially concerning ethical issues.
The second means of validly knowing something is by logic and inference. Is it logically consistent or does logic contradict it? Does it make common sense or is it completely weird? Then the third valid way of knowing is straightforward cognition. When we actually meditate, does our experience contradict or confirm it?
Let us look at an example of how to apply this axiom. We might receive a teaching that applying a certain opponent eliminates a certain shortcoming or problem, like for instance, "love overcomes anger." First, we consider is this consistent with what Buddha taught? Yes, it is not contradicted by anything Buddha taught.
Is it logically correct? Yes, love is the wish for others to be happy. Why is this other person who is harming me and with whom I am angry acting this way? This person is doing these terrible things because he or she is unhappy; the person is mentally and emotionally upset. If I had love for this person, I would wish that he or she were happy; I would wish that the person were not upset and were not so miserable. Such an attitude prevents us from getting angry with the person, doesn't it? It is perfectly logical. If this person is causing a lot of harm, if I want him or her to stop doing that, I need to extend my love. I need to wish the person to be happy, because if he or she were happy, the person would not do this harm. Getting angry with the person is not going to make him or her stop harming me. This teaching makes logical sense.
Lastly, we investigate with straightforward cognition or with the experience of meditation. In other words, we try it out to see whether it works. If I meditate on love does it lessen my anger? Yes it does. That is the third test of whether something is a reasonable teaching. This is how we apply the axiom of establishment by reason.
The Axiom of the Nature of Things
The last is the axiom of the nature of things. This is the axiom that certain facts are just the nature of things, such as fire being hot and water being wet. Why is fire hot and why is water wet? Well, that is just the way things are. Within the Dharma, we need to investigate which points are true simply because it is the nature of things, such as all beings want to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy. Why? That is just the way it is. Take another example. Unhappiness results from destructive behavior and happiness from constructive behavior. Why? That is just the way the universe works. It is not that Buddha created it that way; it is just the way it is. If we investigate and discover that certain things are just the way things are, we need to accept them as facts of life. To drive ourselves crazy about them would be a waste of time.
One of the points regarding the nature of things that is most relevant to Dharma practice is the fact that samsara goes up and down. This refers not simply to taking fortunate and unfortunate rebirths, but also applies moment to moment in our daily lives. Our moods and what we feel like doing go up and down. If we accept that as the way things are, we do not get upset about it. What do you expect from samsara? Of course some days meditation is going to go well and some days it is not. Some days I am going to feel like practicing, other days I will not. No big deal! That is the just the way things are. Leave it and do not get upset by it. That is very crucial.
If we wish to approach the Dharma in a realistic manner, these four points that Buddha taught are very helpful. To confirm our understanding of them and of how to apply them to a teaching that we learn, let us look at an example, detachment from our bodies.
1. What does the development of this detachment depend on? It depends on the understanding of impermanence, rebirth, how the self exists, the relationship between body, mind, and self, and so on.
2. What is the function of developing detachment from our bodies? It functions to help us not get upset and angry when we fall sick, grow old, or become senile.
3. Is this established by reason? Yes, Buddha taught that detachment from the body eliminates one of the causes of suffering: attachment based on identifying with something transitory. Is it logical? Yes, because the body changes and grows old from moment to moment. Do we experience its function? Yes, as we develop detachment, we see that we do experience less unhappiness and problems.
4. What about the nature of things? If I meditate on detachment from my body, does my happiness grow stronger each day? No, it does not. This is samsara; it goes up and down. Eventually, from a long- term perspective, I can become happier and my life can get better, but this is not going to happen in a linear fashion. That is not the nature of things.
With this example, we can see that by applying the four axioms to investigate a teaching such as the development of detachment from our bodies, we develop a realistic attitude about how to approach it. Thus, when Buddha said, "Do not believe what I teach simply because of faith or respect, but investigate yourself as if buying gold," he meant to investigate by applying the four axioms.
by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron©
The four immeasurables-so called because we generate equanimity, love, compassion, and joy towards an immeasurable number of sentient beings-are an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism. As thought-feelings that open our heart towards ourselves and others, they are forerunners of bodhicitta, the altruistic intention that seeks enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings most effectively. The following verses are taken from the practice of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion.
How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were to abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger. May they abide in this way. I shall cause them to abide in this way. Guru Chenresig, please inspire me to be able to do so.
How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings had happiness and its causes. May they have these. I shall cause them to have these. Guru Chenresig, please inspire me to be able to do so.
How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were free from suffering and its causes. May they be free. I shall cause them to be free. Guru Chenresig, please inspire me to be able to do so.
How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were never parted from upper rebirth and liberation's excellent bliss. May they never be parted. I shall cause them never to be parted. Guru Chenresig, please inspire me to be able to do so
The key word in the four immeasurables is all sentient beings. "All" is a short word with great meaning. We don't simply think, "May my friends, relatives, and everyone who loves me have happiness and its causes." Even animals wish for that. But, as human beings, we try to extend the limits of our love and think, "May the jerk who cut me off on the highway have happiness and its causes. May that doctor who screwed up my prescription be freed from suffering and its causes. May the person who hung up on me, may the person who complained about me, may my friend who won't speak to me, may my cousin who doesn't invite me to her parties-may all these people have happiness and its causes and be free from suffering and its causes."
When our compassion becomes strong, we will be able to think and feel, "May Timothy McVeigh, Sadam Hussein, and George W. Bush have happiness and its causes and be free from suffering and its causes. We must try to gradually extend the scope of our equanimity, love, compassion, and joy, spreading them out to all sentient beings, not excluding even one.
If our hearts shut down when thinking of one sentient being and we can't bring ourselves to include them in "all," we should stop and observe what's happening in our heart/mind. With compassion for ourselves, we ask, "What in me is resistant to this? Am I hurt? Angry? Prejudiced?" When we become aware of what we're feeling then we apply the appropriate Dharma antidote. For example, think of Osama bin Ladin when he was a baby. Doing this, we realize that he didn't come out of the womb as a terrorist, but due to conditioning in this and previous lives, his mind was overwhelmed by confusion and hatred. He's acting in the way he is because he's trying to be happy and doesn't know the real method to find happiness. Thinking like this, we let go of our anger and bias. Then contemplating the kindness of others, we open our heart and wish them well.
Each of the four immeasurables has four parts-a wish, an aspiration, a resolve, and a request for inspiration-and each part progressively leads our mind to a deeper, more committed state. Going through each step slowly, thinking of specific people or situations, and making examples from our life is very helpful.
The first immeasurable is equanimity. First we wish, "How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings were to abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger." That is, may we and all others have this impartial, caring attitude. Then we aspire, "May they abide in that way." Third we resolve to act, "I shall cause them to abide in that way." Fourth, we request Avalokiteshvara's inspiration so that we will have the strength of mind and the courage to continuously work to help sentient beings be free of bias, attachment, and anger and to abide in equanimity.
The second immeasurable is love. "How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings had happiness and its causes." Meditate on that wish for a while and then aspire, "May they have these," and generate that feeling. This aspiration is stronger. We're not simply wishing for sentient beings to be happy, but strongly feeling that we want them to have happiness and its causes. Then we resolve to get involved to bring this about. Here we're committing ourselves to work towards this aim. Recognizing that our selfishness is great and that this noble aim is hard to actualize, we request the inspiration and blessings of Avalokiteshvara, "Guru Chenresig, please inspire me to be able to do so." Here we feel that we are not alone, but are supported by our own Buddha nature and by all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. We feel-or imagine we feel because it takes a long time to completely transform our attitude-the courage to joyfully work for the happiness of all beings, without getting exhausted or discouraged.
The third immeasurable is compassion, wishing sentient beings to be free from suffering. We progressively meditate on the same four steps here. Compassion is extremely important: it is a strong motivation for us to practice Dharma and it is a source of all goodness in the world.
The fourth immeasurable is joy, wanting
sentient beings never to be separated from happiness. Here happiness includes
1) temporal happiness, which is the happiness that exists as long as we're in cyclic existence-for example, fortunate rebirths-and
2) definitive goodness-the cessation of all suffering and its causes-liberation and enlightenment.
by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron©
We have a precious human life with
the potential to develop love, compassion, and wisdom limitlessly. How do we use
that potential? What occupies our mind most of the time? When observing my mind,
I see that much time is spent ruminating about the past and the future. Thoughts
and emotions twirl around, seemingly of their own accord, but I must admit to
sometimes churning them up or at least not making the effort to counteract them.
Are you similar? What do we ruminate about and what effect does it have on our
One big topic of rumination is past hurts. "I was so hurt when my spouse said xyz." "I worked so hard for the company but they didn't appreciate me." "My parents criticized the way I look," and on and on. We have an excellent memory for all the times others have disturbed or disappointed us and can dwell upon these hurts for hours, reliving painful situations again and again in our minds. What is the result? We get stuck in self-pity and depression.
Another topic is past anger. We repeatedly go over who said what in a quarrel, analyzing its every detail, getting more and more agitated the longer we contemplate it. When we sit to meditate, concentrating on the object of meditation is difficult. But when we reflect on an argument, our concentration is great! In fact, we can sit in perfect meditation posture, looking very peaceful externally, but burning with anger inside as we single-pointedly remember past situations without getting distracted for even a minute. When the meditation bell rings at the end of the session, we open our eyes and discover that the event we spent the last half hour contemplating is not happening here and now. In fact, we're in a safe place with nice people. What is the effect of ruminating on anger? Clearly, it's more anger and unhappiness.
When we ruminate on feelings of being misunderstood, it is as if we were chanting a mantra, "My friend doesn't understand me. My friend doesn't understand me." We convince ourselves of this; the feeling becomes solid, and the situation looks hopeless. The result? We feel alienated, and we unnecessarily back away from those we want to be close to because we're convinced they never will understand us. Or we may spill our neediness over the other person in an attempt to make them understand us in the way we want to be understood.
All our ruminations aren't unpleasant, though. We can also spend hours recalling past pleasurable events. "I remember lying on the beach with this wonderful guy who adored me," and off we go on a fantastic fantasy. "It was so wonderful when I won that reward and receive the promotion I wanted," and the real life situation appears like a movie to our conceptual mind. "I was so athletic and healthy. I could throw a ball like no one else and catch the ones no one else could" and happy memories of past victorious sports events glide through our mind. The result? We feel the tinges of nostalgia for the past which is long-gone. Or, dissatisfied and anxious, we seek to re-create these events in the future, which leads to frustration because circumstances have changed.
Meditators are no exception to this. We hold onto a wonderful feeling in meditation and try to re-create it in future sessions. Meanwhile, it eludes us. We remember a state of profound understanding and feel despair because it hasn't happened since. Accepting an experience without getting attached to it is hard for us. We cling to spiritual experiences in the same way we used to grasp at worldly ones.
We also spend lots of time ruminating about the future. We may plan things for hours. "First I'll do this errand, then that, finally the third. Or would it be quicker to do them in the reverse order? Or maybe I should do them on different days?" Back and forth our mind swings trying to decide what to do. "I'll go to this college, do graduate work at that one, and then send out my resume to land the job I've always wanted." Or, for Dharma practitioners, while doing one retreat, we daydream about all the other practice opportunities that lie before us. "This teacher is leading a retreat in the mountains. I can go there and learn this profound practice. With that under my belt, I'll go to this other retreat center and do a long retreat. When that is done, I'll be ready for a private hermitage." No practice gets done now because we're too busy planning all the wonderful teachings we're going to receive and retreats we're going to do in the future.
Envisioning the future, we create idealistic dreams. "The Right Man/Woman will appear. S/He'll understand me perfectly and then I'll feel whole." "This job will fulfill me completely. I'll quickly succeed and be nationally recognized as excellent in my field." "I'll realize bodhicitta and emptiness and then become a great Dharma teacher with so many disciples who adore me." The result? Our attachment runs wild, and we develop unrealistic expectations that leave us disappointed with what is. In addition, we don't create the causes to do the things we imagine because we're stuck in our head just imagining them.
Our future ruminations may also spin around with worry. "What if my parents get sick?" "What if I lose my job?" "What if my child has problems at school?" In school, we may not have been very good at creative writing, but in our heads we dream up fantastic dramas and horror stories. This results in our stress level zooming sky high as we anxiously anticipate tragedies that usually do not occur.
Our worries may zoom outward about the state of world. "What happens if the economy plummets? If the ozone layer keeps increasing? If we have more anthrax attacks? If the terrorists take over the country? If we lose our civil liberties fighting the terrorists?" Here, too, our creative writing ability leads to fantastic scenarios that may or may not happen, but regardless, we manage to work ourselves into a state of unprecedented despair. This, in turn, often leads to raging anger at the powers that be or to apathy, simply thinking that since everything is rotten, there's no use doing anything. In either case, we're so gloomy that we neglect to act constructively in ways that remedy difficulties and create goodness.
The only time we ever have to live is now. The only time that spiritual practice is done is now. If we're going to cultivate love and compassion, it has to be in the present moment, because we don't live in any other moment. So, even though the present is constantly changing, it's all we have. Life happens now. Our past glories are simply that. Our past hurts are not happening now. Our future dreams are simply future dreams. The future tragedies we concoct do not exist at this time.
A spiritual practitioner may remember previous illuminating moments and dream of future exotic situations, replete with fully enlightened teachers and blissful insights, but in fact, practice occurs now. The person in front of our nose at this moment represents all sentient beings to us. If we're going to work for the benefit of all sentient beings, we have to start with this one, this ordinary person in our everyday life. Opening our hearts to whoever is before us requires discipline and effort. Connecting with the person in front of us necessitates being fully present, not off in the past or the future.
Dharma practice means dealing with what is happening in our mind at this moment. Instead of dreaming of conquering future attachment, let's deal with the craving we have right now. Rather than drown in fears of the future, let's be aware of the fear occurring right now and investigate it.
H. H. the Dalai Lama speaks of counteracting forces for the disturbing emotions. These counteracting forces are specific mental states that we cultivate to oppose the ones that are not realistic or beneficial. Reflection on impermanence and death is an excellent opponent force for mental states that spin around with either worry or excitement. When we reflect on impermanence and our own mortality, our priorities become much clearer. Since we know that death is certain but its time isn't, we realize that having a positive mental state in the present is of utmost importance. Worry can't abide in a mind that is content with what we have, do, and are. Seeing that all things are transient, we stop craving and clinging onto them, thus our happy memories and enjoyable day dreams cease to be so compelling.
Recognizing past turmoils and future rhapsodies as projections of our mind prevents us from getting stuck in them. Just as the face in the mirror is not a real face, the objects of our memories and daydreams are likewise unreal. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind.
Reflecting on the value of our precious human life also minimizes our habit of ruminating. Our wondrous potential becomes clear, and the rarity and value of the present opportunity shines forth. Who wants to ruminate about the past and future when we can do so much good and progress spiritually in the present?
One counteracting force that works well for me is realizing that all these ruminations star Me, Center of the Universe. All the stories, all the tragedies, comedies, and dramas all revolve around one person, who is clearly the most important one in all existence, Me. Just acknowledging the power of the mind to condense the universe into Me shows me the stupidity of my ruminations. There is a huge universe with countless sentient beings in it, each of them wanting happiness and not wanting suffering just as intensely as I do. Yet, my self-centered mind forgets them and focuses on Me. To boot, it doesn't even really focus on Me, it spins around My past and future, neither of which exist now. Seeing this, my self-centeredness evaporates, as I simply cannot justify worrying about only myself with everything that is going on in the universe.
The most powerful counteracting force is the wisdom realizing there is no concrete Me to start with. Just who are all these thoughts spinning around? Who is having all these ruminations? When we search we cannot find a truly existent Me anywhere. Just as there is no concrete Me to be found on or in this carpet, there is no concrete Me to be found in this body and mind. Both are equally empty of a truly existent person who exists under her own power.
With this understanding, the mind relaxes. The ruminations cease, and with wisdom and compassion, the Me that exists by being merely labeled in dependence on the body and mind can spread joy in the world.
Doubts about Pure Land
By Tien Tai Patriarch Chih I
Translated by Master Thich Thien Tam
Great Compassion is the life calling of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Thus, those who have
developed the Bodhi Mind, wishing to rescue and ferry other sentient beings across, should
simply vow to be reborn in the Triple Realm, among the five turbidities and the three evil paths.
Why should we abandon sentient beings to lead a selfish life of tranquillity? Is this not a lack
of compassion, a preoccupation with egoistic needs, contrary to the path of enlightenment?
There are two types of Bodhisattvas. The first type are those who have followed the
Bodhisattva path for a long time and attained the Tolerance of Non-Birth (insight into
the non-origination of phenomena). This reproach applies to them.
The second type are Bodhisattvas who have not attained the Tolerance of Non-Birth, as
well as ordinary beings who have just developed the Bodhi Mind. If they aspire to perfect
that Tolerance and enter the evil life of the Triple Realm to save sentient beings, they should
remain in constant proximity to the Buddhas. As stated in the Perfection of Wisdom Treatise:
"It is unwise for human beings who are still bound by all kinds of afflictions, even if they
possess a great compassionate mind, to seek a premature rebirth in this evil realm to
rescue sentient beings.
"Why is this so? It is because in this evil, defiled world, afflictions are powerful and
widespread. Those who lack the power of Tolerance (of Non-Birth) are bound to be
swayed by the external circumstances. They then become slaves to form and sound,
fame and fortune, with the resulting karma of greed, anger and delusion. Once this
occurs, they cannot even save themselves, much less others!
"If, for example, they are born in the human realm, in this evil environment full of
non-believers and externalists, it is difficult to encounter genuine teachers. Therefore, it
is not easy to hear the Buddhadharma nor to achieve the goals of the sages.
"Of those who planted the seeds of generosity, morality and blessings in previous lives
and are thus now enjoying power and fame, how many are not infaturated with a life of
wealth and honor, wallowing in endless greed and lust?
"Therefore, even when they are counselled by enlightened teachers, they do not believe
them nor act accordingly. Moreover, to satisfy their passions, they take adavantage of
their existing power and influence, creating a great deal of bad karma. Thus, when their
present life comes to an end, they descend upon the three evil paths for countless eons.
After that, they are reborn as humans of low social and economic status. If they do not
then meet good spiritual advisors, they will continue to be deluded, creating more bad
karma and descending once again into the lower realms. From time immemorial, sentient
beings caught in the cycle of Birth and Death have been in this predicament. This is called
the 'Difficult Path of Practice'."
The Vimalakirti Sutra also states,
"If you cannot even cure your own illness, how can you cure the illness of others?"
The Perfection of Wisdom Treatise further states:
"Take the case of two persons, each of whom watches a relative drowning in the river.
The first person, acting on impulse, hastily jumps into the water. However, because he
lacks the necessary skills, in the end, both of them drown. The second person, more
intelligent and resourceful, hurries off to fetch a boat and sails to the rescue. Thus, both
persons escape drowning.
"Newly aspiring Bodhisattvas are like the first individual who still lacks the power of
Tolerance (of Non-Rebirth) and cannot save sentient beings. Only those Bodhisatttvas
who remain close to the Buddhas and attain that Tolerance can substitute for the Buddhas
and ferry countless sentient beings across, just like the person who has the boat."
The Perfection of Wisdom Treatise goes on to state:
"This is not unlike a young child who should not leave his mother, lest he fall into a well, drown
in the river or die of starvation; or a young bird whose wings are not fully developed. It must bide
its time, hopping from branch to branch, until it can fly afar, leisurely and unimpeded.
"Ordinary persons who lack the Tolerence of Non-Birth should limit themselves to Buddha
Recitation, to achieve one-pointedness of Mind. Once that goal is reached, at the time of death,
they will certainly be reborn in the Pure Land. Having seen Amitabha Buddha and reached the
Tolerance of Non-Birth, they can steer the boat of that Tolerance into the sea of Birth and Death,
to ferry sentient beings across and accomplish countless Buddha deeds at will."
For these reasons, compassionate practitioners who wish to teach and convert sentient
beings in hell, or enter the sea of Birth and Death, should bear in mind the causes and
conditions for rebirth in the Pure Land. This is referred to as the 'Easy Path of Practice' in
the Commentary on the Ten Stages of the Bodhisattvas.
All phenomena are by nature empty, always unborn (Non-Birth), equal and still. Are we not
going against this truth when we abandon this world, seeking rebirth in the Land of Ultimate
Bliss? The (Vimalakirti) Sutra teaches that "to be reborn in the Pure Land, you should first
purify your own Mind; only when the Mind is pure, will the Buddha lands be pure." Are not
Pure Land followers going against this truth?
This question involves two principles and can be answered on two levels.
A) On the level of generality, if you think that seeking rebirth in the Pure Land means
"leaving here and seeking there", and is therefore incompatible with the Truth of Equal
Thusness, are you not committing the same mistake by grasping at this Saha World and
not seeking rebirth in the Pure Land, i.e., "leaving there and grasping here"? If, on the
other hand, you say, "I am neither seeking rebirth there, nor do I wish to remain here,"
you fall into the error of nihilism.
The Diamond Sutra states in this connection:
"Subhuti, ... do not have such a thought. Why? Because one who develops the Supreme
Enlightened Mind does not advocate the (total) annihilation (of the marks of the dharmas.)"
(Bilingual Buddhist Series, Vol. 1. Taipei: Buddhist Cultural Service, 1962, p. 130.)
B) On the level of Specifics, since you have brought up the truth of Non-Birth and the
Pure Mind, I would like to give the following explanation.
Non-Birth is precisely the truth of No-Birth and No-Death. No-Birth means that all dharmas
are false aggregates, born of causes and conditions, with no Self-Nature. Therefore, they have
no real "birth nature" or "time of birth". Upon analysis, they do not really come from anywhere.
Therefore, they are said to have No-Birth.
No-Death means that, since phenomena have no Self-Nature, when they are extinguished,
they cannot be considered dead. Because they have no real place to return to, they are said
to be not extinct (No-Death).
For this reason, the truth of Non-Birth (or No-Birth No-Death) cannot exist outside of
ordinary phenomena, which are subject to birth and death. Therefore, Non-Birth does not
mean not seeking rebirth in the Pure Land.
The Treatise on the Middle Way states:
"Dharmas (phenomena) are born of causes and conditions. I say they are thus empty.
They are also called false and fictitious, and that is also the truth of the Middle Way."
It also states:
"Dharmas are neither born spontaneously nor do they arise from others. They are born
neither together with nor apart from causes and conditions. They are therefore said to
The Vimalakirti Sutra states:
"Although he knows that Buddha Lands / Are void like living beings / He goes on
practicing the Pure Land (Dharma) / to teach and convert men." (Charles Luk, The
Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, p. 88.)
It also states:
"We can build mansions at will on empty land, but it is impossible to build in the middle
of empty space."
When the Buddhas preach, they usually rely on the Two Truths (ultimate and conventional).
They do not destroy the fictitious, provisional identities of phenomena while revealing their
That is why the wise, while earnestly striving for rebirth in the Pure Land, also understand
that the nature of rebirth is intrinsically empty. This is true Non-Birth, and also the meaning
of "only when the Mind is pure, will the Buddha Lands be pure".
The dull and ignorant, on the other hand, are caught up in the concept of birth. Upon hearing
the term "Birth", they understand it as actual birth; hearing of "Non-Birth", they (cling to its literal
meaning) and think that there is no rebirth anywhere. Little do they realize that "Birth is precisely
Non-Birth, and Non-Birth does not hinder Birth."
Because they do not understand this principle, they provoke arguments, slandering
and deprecating those who seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. What a great mistake!
They are guilty of vilifying the Dharma and belong to the ranks of deluded externalists
All the Pure Lands of the Buddhas of the ten directions have equal qualities and virtues.
Their Dharma Nature is also the same. Therfore, the practitioner should meditate on all
the virtues of the Buddhas and seek rebirth in the various Pure Lands of the ten directions.
Why should he specifically seek rebirth in the Pure Land of one particular Buddha (i.e.,
Amitabha)? Is this not contrary to the truth of "equally in seeking rebirth"?
All the Pure Lands of the Buddhas are, in truth, equal. Nevetheless, since the majority of
sentient beings in our world generally have dull faculties and defiled, scattered minds, it will
be difficult for them to achieve samadhi, unless they concentrate exclusively on one realm.
The practice of constantly focussing on Amitabha Buddha is the "Single Mark Samadhi".
Because the Mind is exclusively devoted to one thing, the practitioner achieves rebirth in
the Pure Land. In the Sutra Rebirth According to One's Vows, Buddha Sakyamuni was
asked by a Bodhisattva, "Honored One! There are Pure Lands in all ten directions. Why
do you especially extol the Western Pure Land and urge sentient beings to focus continuously
on Amitabha Buddha, seeking rebirth in His Land?"
The Buddha replied, "Sentient beings in this Saha World generally have polluted, scattered
minds. Therefore, I only extol one Pure Land in the West, focussing their Minds on a single
realm. If they meditate on all Buddhas, the scope of attention will be too broad, their Minds
will be lost and scattered and they will find samadhi difficult to attain. Thus, they will fail to
achieve rebirth in the Pure Land.
"Furthermore, seeking their virtues of one Buddha is the same as seeking the virtues of
all Buddhas -- as all Buddhas have one common Dharma Nature. That is why to focus
on Amitabha Buddha is to focus on all Buddhas, to be born in the Western Pure Land is
to be born in all Pure Lands."
Thus, the Avatamsaka Sutra states:
"The bodies of all the Buddhas / are the body of any one Buddha. / They have the same
Mind and the same wisdom. / They are also equal in power and fearlessness."
The Avatamsaka Sutra further states:
"It is like the full moon, round and bright, its image reflected in all rivers and ponds.
Although the reflection is everywhere, there is but a single moon. So it is with ... (the
Buddhas). Although they appear in all realms, their bodies are non-dual."
In summary, based on these examples, the wise will understand the truth that "one is all, all is
one". When this truth is grasped, concentrating on one Buddha is precisely concentrating on all
There are many Buddhas and Pure Lands in all the ten directions. Even if sentient beings
in this world have polluted, scattered minds and dispositions, so that focussing on many
Buddhas makes it difficult for them to attain samadhi, why should they not recite the name
of any Buddha, as they wish, and seek rebirth in any Pure Lamd, in accordance with their
vows? Why concentrate specifically on Amitabha Buddha and seek rebirth in the Land of
Common people lacking in wisdom should follow the teaching of the Buddha rather than
acting arbitrarily on their own. This is why, from time immemorial, Pure Land practitioners
have all diligently recited Amitabha Buddha's name.
What does it mean to follow the Buddha's teaching?
During his entire preaching career, Buddhs Sakyamuni constantly enjoined sentient
beings to focus on Amitabha Buddha and seek rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
This is mentioned in such sutras as the Longer Amitabha Sutra, the Meditation Sutra,
the Amitabha Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra ... In numerous sutras,
the Buddha constantly urged us to seek rebirth in the Western Land. This is not only
true of the sutras; in their commentaries, the Bodhisattvas and Patriarchs unanimously
advise us to seek rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Moreover, Amitabha Buddha possesses the power of His forty-eight compassionate vows
to rescue sentient beings. The Meditation Sutra states:
"Amitabha Buddha possesses 84,000 signs of perfection, each sign has 84,000 minor marks
of excellence and from each minor mark 84,000 rays of light shine forth, illuminating the entire
Dharma Realm (cosmos) to gather in, without exception, all sentient beings who practice Buddha
Recitation. If any sentient being recite His name, there will be correspondence between cause
and response, and he will surely be reborn."
Furthermore, the Amitabha Sutra, the Longer Amitabha Sutra, etc., teach that when
Sakyamuni Buddha preached these sutras, the Buddhas of the ten directions, numerous
as the grains of sand in the River Ganges, all "extended their tongues to cover the entire
universe", bearing witness to the truth that any sentient being who recites Amitabha
Buddha's name shall be assured of rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, thanks to the
great, compassionate vow-power of the Buddha.
We should know that Amitabha Buddha has great affinities (causes and conditions)
with this world. As the Longer Amitabha Sutra states:
"In the Dharma-Ending Age, when all other sutras have disappeared, only this sutra will
remain for another hundred years to rescue sentient beings and lead them to the Western
This demostrates that Amitabha Buddha has strong affinities with sentient beings
in this defiled world.
Although one or two sutras have, in a general way, urged rebirth in other Pure Lands, this
cannot be compared to the fact that numerous sutras and commentaries have earnestly pointed
out to the Land of Ultimate Bliss as the focus of rebirth.
Ordinary people are entirely enmeshed in heavy evil karma and are full of all kinds of
afflictions. Even though they may have some virtues as a result of cultivation, they find it
difficult to sever even a fraction of their defilements and hindrances. The Land of Ultimate
Bliss, on the other hand, is extremely purely adorned, transcending the Triple Realm. How
can such depraved common mortals hope to be reborn there?
There are two conditions for rebirth: "self-power" and "other-power". As far as self-power
is concerned, while the ordinary beings of this world, totally bound (by their attachments and
afflictions), may have some level of cultivation, in reality, they still cannot be reborn in the Pure
Land nor deserve to reside there.
The Peace and Bliss Collection states:
"Those who first develop the Bodhi Mind -- starting from the level of completely fettered
ordinary beings ignorant of the Three Treasures and the Law of Cause and Effect -- should
base themselves initially on faith. Next, when they have embarked upon the Bodhi path, the
precepts should serve as their foundation. If these ordinary beings accept the Bodhisattva
precepts and continue to uphold them unfailingly and without interruption for three kalpas,
they will reach the First Abode of Bodhisattvahood.
"If they pursue their cultivation in this manner through ... the Ten Paramitas as well as countless
vows and practices, one after another without interruption, at the end of ten thousand kalpas they
will reach the Sixth Abode of Bodhisattvahood. Should they continue still further, they will reach
the Seventh Abode (Non-Retrogression). They will then have entered the stage of the 'Seed of
Buddhahood', (i.e., they are assured of eventual Buddhahood). However, even then, they still
cannot achieve rebirth in the Pure Land" -- that is, if they rely on self-power alone.
With regard to "other power", if anyone believes in the power of Amitabha Buddha's
compassionate vow to rescue sentient beings and then develops the Bodhi Mind,
cultivate the Buddha Remembrance (Recitation) Samadhi, grows weary of his temporal,
impure body in the Triple Realm, practices charity, upholds the precepts amnd performs
other meritorious deeds -- dedicating all the merits amd virtues to rebirth in the Western
Land -- his aspirations and the Buddha's response will be accord. Relying thus on the
Buddha's power, he will immediately achieve rebirth.
Thus, it is stated in the Commentary on the Ten Stages of Buddhahood:
"There are two paths of cultivation, the Difficult Path and the Easy Path. The Difficult Path
refers to the practices of sentient beings in the world of the five turbidities, who, through
countless Buddha eras, aspire to reach the stage of Non-Retrogression. The difficulties are
truly countless, as numerous as specks of dust or grains of sand, too numerous to imagine.
I will summarize the five major ones below:
a) Externalists are legion, creating confusion with respect to the Bodhisattva Dharma;
b) Evil beings destroy the practitioner's good, wholesome virtues;
c) Worldly merits and blessings can easily lead the practitioner astray, so that he ceases
to engage in virtuous practices;
d) It is easy to stray onto the Arhat's path of self-benefit, which obstructs the Mind of
e) Relying exclusively on self-power, without the aid of the Buddha's power, makes
cultivation very difficult and arduous. It is not unlike the case of a feeble, handicapped
person, walking alone, who can only go so far each day regardless of how much effort
"The Easy Path of cultivation means that, if sentient beings in this world believe in the
Buddha's words, practice Buddha Recitation and vow to be reborn in the Pure Land,
they are assisted by the Buddha's vow-power and assured of rebirth. This is analagous
to a person who floats downstream in a boat; although the distance may be many
thousands of miles, his destination will be reached in no time. Similarly, a common being,
relying on the power of a 'universal monarch' (a kind of deity), can traverse the 'four
great universes' in a day and a night -- this is not due to his own power, but, rather, to
the power of the monarch."
Some people, reasoning according to "noumenon", (principle) may say that common
beings, being "conditioned", cannot be reborn in the Pure Land or see the Buddha's
The answer is that the virtues of Buddha Recitation are "unconditioned" good roots.
Ordinary, impure persons who develop the Bodhi Mind, seek rebirth and constantly
practice Buddha Recitation can subdue and destroy afflictions, achieve rebirth and,
depending on their level of cultivation, obtain vision of the their level of the rudimentary
aspects of the Buddha (the thirty-two marks of greatness, for example). Bodhisattvas,
naturally, can achieve rebirth and see the subtle, loftier aspects of the Buddha (i.e.,
the Dharma body). There can be no doubt about this.
Thus, the Avatamsaka Sutra states:
"All the various Buddha Lands are equally purely adorned. Because the karmic practices
of sentient beings differ, their perceptions of these Lands are different."
This is the meaning of what was said earlier.
Although sentient beings, completely enmeshed in afflictions and evil views, may achieve
rebirth in the Pure Land, they are bound to develop afflictions and perverse views constantly.
Under these circumstances, how can they be said to have "transcended the Triple Realm
and attained the stage of Non-Retrogression"?
Those who are reborn in the Pure Land, though they may be ordinary beings totally
enmeshed in evil karma, cannot ever develop afflictions or perverse views, nor can they
fail to achieve non-retrogression. This is due to five factors:
a) The power of the Buddha's great, compassionate vow embraces and protects them;
b) The Buddha's light (wisdom) always shines upon them and, therefore, the Bodhi
Mind of these superior persons will always progress;
c) In the Western Pure Land, the birds, water, forests, trees, wind and music all preach the
Dharma of "suffering, emptiness, impermanence and no-self". Upon hearing this, practitioners
begin to focus on the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha;
d) Those who are reborn in the Pure Land have the highest level Bodhisattvas as their
companions and are free from all obstacles, calamities and evil conditions. Moreober there
are no externalists or evil demons, so their Minds are always calm and still;
e) Once they are reborn in the Pure Land, their life span is inexhaustible, equal to that of the
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Thus, they can peacefully cultivate for countless eons.
As a result of these five causes and conditions, sentient beings who are reborn in the Pure
Land will certainly achieve non-retrogression and will never develop afflictions or perverse
views. Sentient beings in this world of the five turbidities, on the other hand, have short life
spans and face a host of perverse conditions and obstructions. Therefore, they have great
difficulty achieving non-retrogression. This truth is self-evident and beyond doubt.
The Bodhisattva Maitreya is a One-Life Bodhisattva who is now in the Tushita Heaven.
He will succeed Buddha Sakyamuni and become a Buddha in the future. I venture to think
that we should cultivate the loftier aspects of the Ten Virtues and seek to be reborn in the
Tushita Heaven, to see Him in person. When the time comes for Him to descend to earth
and become a Buddha, we will follow Him and certainly achieve Sagehood in the course
of His three teaching assemblies. Therefore, where is the need to seek rebirth in the Western
Seeking rebirth in the Tushita Heaven could be considered equivalent to hearing the
Dharma and seeing the Buddha. It seems very similar to seeking rebirth in the Western
Pure Land. However, upon close scrutiny, there are many great differences between
the two. Let us cite two points for the sake of discussion.
A) Even though we may cultivate the Ten Virtues, it is not certain that we will achieve
rebirth in the Tushita Heaven. As states in the sutras:
"The practitioner must cultivate the various samadhi and enter deeply into right concentration
to obtain rebirth in the Inner Court of the Tushita Heaven."
From that we can deduce that the Bodhisattva Maitreya lacks the expedient of "welcoming
and escorting". This cannot be compared to the power of Amitabha Buddha's Original Vow
and His power of light, which can gather in and rescue all sentient beings who concentrate in
Moreover, when Buddha Sakyamuni explained the meaning of the "welcoming and escorting"
expedient in his exposition of the nine grades of rebirth, he earnestly enjoined sentient beings to
seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. This expedient is very simple. The practitioner need only
recite the name of Amitabha and, thanks to the congruence of sentiment and response, he will
immediately achieve rebirth. This is analogous to an enlistment campaign: those who wish to
join the army may do so immediately, as their desire parallels the goal of the state.
B) Secondly, the Tushita Heaven is, after all, still within the Realm of Desire (to which our
Saha World also belongs). Therefore, those who retrogress are legion. In that Heaven, the
birds, rivers, forests, trees, wind ... do not preach the Dharma and thus cannot help sentient
beings destroy afflictions, focus on the Triple Jewel nor develop the Bodhi Mind. Moreover,
in that realm, there are goddesses who kindle the five desires in the Minds of celestial beings,
to the point where few of them escape distraction and infatuation.
How can this be compared to the Western Pure Land, where the trees and birds proclaim
the wonderful Dharma and the wind sings enlightenment, destroying the afflictions of sentient
beings and reinforcing the Bodhi Mind of practitioners? Moreover, in the Pure Land of
Amitabha Buddha, there are no seductive beings or beings concerned with self-enlightenment
alone. There are only pure vessels of the Mahayana way. Therefore, afflictions and evil karma
cannot arise. Under these circumstances, how can cultivators fail to achieve the stage of
non-retrogression swiftly? We have only drawn a few points of comparison, yet the differences
between the Pure Land and the Tushita Heaven are already obvious. How can there be any
further doubt or hesitation?
Moreover, seeing the Bodhisattva Maitreya and achieving the fruits of Arhatship is not
necessarily a sure thing! During the lifetime of Buddha Sakyamuni, there were many who
saw the Buddha but did not achieve Sagehood. In the future, when the Bodhisattva
Maitreya appears in the world, the same will be true: countless sentient beings will see
Him and listen to the Dharma but not attain Arhatship. Such is not the case in the Pure
Land of Amitabha Buddha: to be reborn there is to be assured of attaining the Tolerance
of Non-Birth, with no possible retrogression to the Triple World nor bondage to the karma
of Birth and Death.
In the Accounts of the Western Land, (i.e., India), there is the story of three Bodhisattvas,
Asanga, Vasubandhu and Simhabhadra, all of whom practiced meditation, determined to seek
rebirth in the Tushita Heaven. They all vowed that if the first one of them to die were reborn
in the Inner Court of the Tushita Heaven and saw the Bodhisattva Maitreya, he would return
and inform the others. Simhabhadra died first, but a long time elapsed and he still had not
returned. Later, when Vasubandhu was nearing death, Asanga said to him, "After paying
your respects to Maitreya, come back and let me know right away." Vasubandhu died, but
did not return for three years. Asanga inquired, "Why did it take you so long?" Vasubandhu
answered, "After paying my respects to the Bodhisattva Maitreya, listening to His sermon
and exhortations, and respectfully circumambulating Him three times, I came back immediately.
I could not return sooner because a day and night in the Tushita Heaven is equivalent to four
hundred years on earth."
Asanga then asked, "Where is Simhabhadra now?" Vasubandhu replied, "He has strayed
into the Outer Court of the Tushita Heaven, and is now entangled in the five pleasures. From
the time of his death to now, he has been unable to see Maitreya."
We can deduce from this anecdote that even lesser Bodhisattvas who are reborn in
the Tushita Heaven are subject to delusion, not to mention common mortals. Therefore,
practitioners who wish to be assured of non-retrogression should seek rebirth in the
Western Pure Land rather than the Tushita Heaven.
From time immemorial, sentient beings have committed countless transgressions. Moreover,
in this life, from infancy to old age, they create additional evil karma because they do not have
the opportunity to encounter good spiritual advisors. Under these circumstances, how can it
be said that "At the time of death, they will achieve rebirth with only ten perfect utterances of
the Buddha's name"? Furthermore, how do you satisfactorily explain the teaching that such
practitioners "transcend the binding karma of the Triple Realm"?
In truth, it is difficult to assess the number or the strength of the good and evil kamic seeds
that sentient beings have created from time immemorial. However, those who, at the time of
death, encounter a good spiritual advisor and accomplish ten utterances, must have created
good karma in the past. Otherwise, they could not even meet a good spiritual advisor, let
alone accomplish ten pure recitations!
Now, lest you think that the evil karma from beginningless time is heavy while ten utterances
at the time of death are light, I shall cite three reasons why rebirth in the Pure Land does not
necessarily depend on the weight of bad karma, the amount of practice or the duration of
cultivation. The three reasons concern a) the Mind, b) the conditions and c) the issue of certainty.
The trangressions committed by sentient beings spring from deluded, perverse thought.
Recitation of the Buddha's name, on the other hand, arises from right thought, that is,
hearing of Amitabha Buddha's name and true virtues. One is false and the other is true.
There is no possible comparison between them!
This is similar to a house which has been boarded up for ten thousand years. If the windows
are suddenly opened to let the sunlight in, all darkness immediately dissipates. However long
the period of darkness may have been, how can it fail to disappear? It is likewise for sentient
beings who have committed transgressions for many eons but achieve rebirth at the time of death
through ten pure recitations.
Transgressions grow out of dark, inverted thoughts, combined with illusory circumstances
and environments. Buddha Recitation, on the contrary, arises from hearing of Amitabha Buddha's
name and pure virtues, combined with the aspiration for enlightenment. One is false and the
other is true. There is no possible comparison between them!
This is analagous to a person struck by a poisoned arrow. The arrow has penetrated deep
inside his body and the poison is strong, deeply wounding his flesh and bones. Still, if at that
moment he hears the "celestial drum", the arrow will "shoot out" of his flesh by itself and the
poison will be neutralized. The arrow has not penetrated so deep nor is the poison so strong
that he cannot recover! It is likewise for sentient beings who have committed transgressions
for many eons but achieve rebirth at the time of death through ten pure recitations.
c) Certaintiy of Salvation
When sentient beings commit transgressions, they do so enter from the "intervening mental
state" or "post-mental state". These two mental states do not apply, however, at the time of
death: there is only one extremely powerful, utterly intense thought of recitation, letting go of
everything before dying. Therefore, rebirth is achieved.
This is analogous to a very large, strong cable which even thousands of people cannot break.
Yet, a child wielding a "celestial sword" can cut it in several pieces without difficulty. It is also
similar to a huge pile of wood, accumulated for thousands of years, which, when set on fire by
a small flame, is completely consumed within a short time. The same is true of someone who
has practiced the Ten Virtues throughout his life, seeking rebirth in the Heavens. If, at the time
of death, he develops an intense perverse thought, he will immediately descend, instead, into
the Avici (Never-Ending) Hell.
Although bad karma is intrinsically false and illusory, the overpowering strength of Mind
and thought can still upset a lifetime of good karma and cause the individual to descend
onto evil paths. How, then, can Buddha Recitation, which is true, wholesome karma,
generated intensely at the time of death, fail to upset his bad karma, even though that karma
may have been accumulated from time immemorial? Therefore, someone who has committed
transgressions for many eons, but, at the time of death accomplishes ten recitations with a
totally earnest Mind, will certainly be reborn in the Pure Land. Not to achieve rebirth under
such circumstances would indeed be inconceivable!
The sutras teach:
"A single utterly sincere recitation of Amitabha Buddha's name obliterates the grave
wrongdoings of eight million eons of Birth and Death."
This is possible because the practitioner recites the Buddha's name with a Mind of utmost
sincerity and therefore can annihilate evil karma. As long as, on his deathbed, he utters the
Buddha's name in such a frame of Mind, he will be assured of rebirth. There can be no further
doubt about it!
Traditionally, it has been explained that the dying person's ability to recite ten utterances is
due entirely to previous good karma. This explanation is not, however, correct. Why is this
so? It is because, as a commentary states, "if it were merely a question of previous karma,
only the vow for rebirth would be necessary, and there would be no place at all for practice ..."
The practitioner who, on his deathbed, accomplishes ten recitations, is able to do so
because of his previous good conditions (enabling him to meet a good spiritual advisor)
and because of his own wholehearted recitation. To attribute rebirth in such circumstances
exclusively to previous good karma would be a great mistake! I hope that practitioners
will ponder this truth deeply, develop a firm Mind, and not be led astray by erroneous
The Western Pure Land is ten billion Buddha Lands away from here. Common, ordinary
people are weak and frail. How can they reach it?
The Western Pure Land is described as being ten billion Buddha Lands away from here
only with respect to the limited concepts of ordinary people with eyes of flesh and blood,
mired in birth and death.
For those who have attained the pure karma of rebirth in the Pure Land, the Mind in
samadhi at the time of death is precisely the Mind reborn in the Pure Land. As soon as
the thought (of rebirth) arises, rebirth is achieved. Thus, the Meditation Sutra states
that "the Land of Amitabha Buddha is not far from here!" Moreover, the power of karma
is inconceivable. In the space of one thought, rebirth in the Pure Land is achieved. There
is no need to worry about distance.
This is analogous to a person asleep and dreaming. Although his body is on the bed,
his Mind is travelling all over, to all worlds, as though he were awake. Rebirth in the
Pure Land is, generally speaking, similar to this example.
I have now resolved to seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. However, I do not know
which practices to cultivate, nor what the seeds of rebirth in the Western Pure Land are.
Moreover, ordinary people all have families and have not rid themselves of lust and attachment.
This being the case, can they achieve rebirth?
If a cultivator wishes to be assured of rebirth, he should perfect two practices: the practice
of "disgust" (at the five desires) and the practice of "joyfulness in vows".
A) The practice of "disgust" refers to the fact that common people have been bound by
the five desires from time immemorial. Thus, they wander along the six paths, enduring
untold suffering! In that quagmire, unless they become disgusted with the five desires, how
can they escape the cycle of birth and death?
Therefore, the Pure Land cultivator should constantly visualize this body as a mass of
flesh and bones, blood and pus, a skinbag containing phlegm, pus, urine, feces and other
foul-smelling substances. The Parinirvana Sutra states:
"This fortress of a body -- only evil, deluded demons could tolerate living in it. Who
with any wisdom would ever cling to or to delight in such a skinbag!"
Another scriptures states:
"This body is the confluence of all kinds of suffering; it is a jail, a prison, a mass of ulcers;
everything is impure. In truth, it is not worth clinging to -- even the celestial bodies of deities
are no different."
Therefore, whether walking, standing, sitting or reclining, whether asleep or awake,
cultivators should always visualize this body as nothing but a source of suffering, without
any pleasure, and develop a sense of disgust ... (thus gradually becoming free from lustful
Moreover, the cultivator should also engage in the Seven Types of Meditation on Impurity
(e.g., as a fetus, in the impure, dirty area of the womb, drinking the mother's blood, emerging
from the womb with pus and blood gushing forth and foul odors in profusion ... after death,
the body swelling up and rotting away, with flesh and bones in disarray ...).
Our own bodies being thus, the bodies of others are likewise. If we constantly meditate
on these seven impurities, we will develop disgust toward those male and female forms
which ordinary people judge handsome and beautiful. The flames of lust will thus gradually
If, in addition, we can practice the meditations on the Nine Kinds Of Foulness, (e.g.
meditation on the fresh corpse, the bloated corpse, the bleeding and oozing corpse, the
skeleton ... and other progressive stages of decay of the human body after death), so
much the better.
We should also vow to be forever free from rebirth in a deluded, impure male or female
body in the Triple Realm, eating a hodgepodge of foods, and aspiring instead to be endowed
with a Pure Land Dharma Nature body.
This constitutes a general discussion of the practice of disgust.
B) There are, in general, two aspects to making the joyous vow of "rescuing oneself
1) The practitioner should clearly realize the goal of rebirth -- which is to seek escape
from suffering for himself and all sentient beings. He should think thus: "My own strength
is limited, I am still bound by karma; moreover, in this evil, defiled life, the circumstances
and conditions leading to afflictions are overpowering. That is why other sentient beings
and myself are drowning in the river of delusion, wandering along the evil paths from time
immemorial. The wheel of birth and death is spinning without end; how can I find a way
to rescue myself and others in a safe, sure manner?
"There is but one solution: it is to seek rebirth in the Pure Land, draw close to the Buddhas
and Bodhisattvas, and, relying on the supremely auspicious environment of that realm, engage
in cultivation and attain the Tolerance of Non-Birth. Only then can I enter the evil world to
rescue sentient beings."
The Treatise on Rebirth states:
"To develop the Bodhi Mind is precisely to seek Buddhahood; to seek Buddhahood is
to develop the Mind of rescuing sentient beings; and the Mind of rescuing sentient beings
is none other than the Mind that gathers in all beings and helps them achieve rebirth in the
Moreover, to ensure rebirth, we should perfect two practices: abandoning the three
things that hinder enlightenment and abiding by the three things that foster enlightenment.
What are the three things that hinder enlightenment?
First, the Mind of seeking our own peace and happiness, ego-grasping and attachment
to our own bodies. The practitioner should follow the path of wisdom and leave all such
thoughts far behind.
Second, the Mind of abandoning and failing to rescue sentient beings from suffering.
The practitioner should follow the path of compassion and leave all such thoughts far
Third, the Mind of exclusively seeking respect and offerings, without seeking ways to
benefit sentient beings and bring them peace and happiness. The practitioner should follow
the path of expedients and leave all such thoughts far behind.
Once he has abandoned these three hindrances, the practitioner will obtain the three
things that foster enlightenment. They are:
First, the "undefiled Pure Mind" of not seeking personal happiness. That is, enlightenment
is the state of undefiled purity. If we seek after personal pleasure, body and Mind are defiled
and obstruct the path of enlightenment. Therefore, the undefiled Pure Mind is called consonant
Second, the "Pure Mind at peace", rescuing all sentient beings from suffering. This is because
Bodhi is the undefiled Pure Mind which gives peace and happiness to sentient beings. If we
are not rescuing sentient beings and helping them to escape the sufferings of Birth and Death,
we are going counter to the Bodhi path. Therefore, a Mind focussed on saving others, bringing
them peace and happiness, is called consonant with enlightenment.
Third, a "blissful, Pure Mind", seeking to help sentient beings achieve Great Nirvana.
Because Great Nirvana is the ultimate, eternally blissful realm, if we do not help sentient
beings to achieve it, we obstruct the Bodhi path. Hence, the Mind which seeks to help
sentient beings attain eternal bliss is called consonant with enlightenment.
How can we abandon the things that hinder enlightenment and abide by the things
that foster enlightenment? -- It is precisely by seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land,
remaining constantly near the Buddhas and cultivating the Dharma until Tolerance of
Non-Birth is reached. At that point, we may sail the boat of great vows at will, enter
the sea of Birth and Death and rescue sentient beings with wisdom and compassion,
"adapting to conditions but fundamentally unchanging", free and unimpeded. This ends
our discussion of the goal of rebirth.
2) The cultivator should next contemplate the wholesome characteristics of the Pure Land
and the auspicious features of Amitabha Buddha.
Amitabha Buddha possesses a resplendent, golden Reward Body, replete with 84,000
major characteristics, each characteristic having 84,000 minor auspicious signs, each sign
beaming 84,000 rays of light which illuminate the entire Dharma Realm and gather in those
sentient beings who recite the Buddha's name (Ninth Visualization in the Meditation Sutra).
The Western Pure Land is adorned with seven treasures, as explained in the Pure Land
In addition, when practicing charity, keeping the precepts and performing all kinds of
good deeds, Pure Land practitioners should always dedicate the merits toward rebirth
in the Pure Land for themselves and all other sentient beings.
If the practitioner can cultivate joyfulness in vows, as set out in Section B, he will develop
a Mind of hope and longing for the Pure Land and achieve rebirth without fail. This is what
is meant by vowing to rescue oneself and others.
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
When people first begin Dharma practice, they often ask, "Buddhism says clinging attachment is a disturbing attitude. If I diminish my clinging attachment, what will happen to my ambition? Will I be listless and lack motivation to do anything? What will happen to my career?" Similarly, they wonder, "What role does ambition play when we organize Dharma events and volunteer work in a Dharma center? How do we know if our efforts are positive?"
These are good questions and to answer them we must distinguish between constructive ambition and destructive ambition. Ambition, like desire, can have two aspects, depending upon the motivation and the object sought. Negative ambition pursues worldly success and worldly pleasures with a self-centered motivation. Positive ambition seeks beneficial goals with one of the three kinds of Dharma motivation: to have a good rebirth in the future, to be liberated from the difficulties of cyclic existence, and to attain full enlightenment in order to benefit all beings most effectively.
When speaking of the first hindrance to genuine Dharma practice -- attachment to the happiness of only this life -- the Buddha spoke of the desire or ambition for material possessions, money, fame, praise, approval, and sensory pleasures such as food, music, and sex. Due to our strong desire to have the pleasure we think these things will bring, we often harm, manipulate, or deceive others to obtain them. Even if we strive for these things without directly ill-treating others, our mind is still locked into a narrow state, seeking happiness from external people and objects that do not have the ability to bring us lasting happiness. Thus, the time we could spend developing unbiased love, compassion and wisdom is diverted into seeking things that do not satisfy us in the long term. To bring about lasting happiness, we need to decrease this kind of ambition by first, seeing its disadvantages -- these actions create problems in our relationships with others and also plant negative karmic imprints on our mindstream -- and second, recognizing that the things worldly ambition seek lack the ability to bring us long-term happiness. There are many rich and famous people who are miserable and suffer from emotional problems and alcoholism.
As we gradually decrease our worldly ambition, space opens up in our mind to act with compassion and wisdom. This is positive ambition. Compassion -- the wish that living beings be free of suffering -- can be a powerful motivator for action. It can replace the anger that previously motivated us when we saw social injustice, and inspire us to act to help others. Similarly, constructive ambition is imbued with the skillful wisdom that reflects carefully on the long- and short-term effects of our actions. In short, through consistent practice, the energy of our selfish ambitions for worldly pleasures is transformed into the energy of practicing the Dharma and benefiting others.
For example, let's say Sam is very attached to his reputation. He wants people to think well of him and speak well of him to others, not because he really cares about people, but because he wants people to give him things, to do things for him, and to introduce him to famous and powerful people. With this motivation, he may lie, cover up his shortcomings, pretend to have qualities he doesn't have, or to have contacts are, in fact, bogus. Or, he may even do something seemingly nice, such as speak sweetly to someone, but his intention is solely to fulfill his selfish wish.
If he stops and reflects, "What is the result of such an attitude and actions? Will attaining what my ambition seeks really bring me happiness?" Sam would realize that, in fact, he is creating more problems for himself and others through his deceit and manipulation. Although at the beginning he may be able to fool people, eventually he will give himself away and they will discover his base motives and lose faith in him. Even if he succeeds in getting the things he wants and initially feels good, these things will not leave him totally satisfied and will bring with them a new set of problems. In addition, he is creating negative karma, which is the cause to have problems in future lifetimes. By thinking in this way, his worldly ambition will die down and there will be now space to think clearly. Reflecting on his interdependence with all beings, Sam will understand that his own and others' happiness are not separate. How could he be happy if those around him are miserable? How could he bring about others' happiness if he neglects himself? He could then engage in various projects with this new, more realistic motivation of care and concern for self and others.
As we leave behind worldly ambitions, we can approach our job and career with a new motivation. With worldly ambition, we grasp at our paycheck and everything we want to buy with it, and are concerned with our reputation in the workplace and getting the promotions we seek. When we recognize that even if we got those things they would not make us everlastingly happy, nor would they give ultimate meaning to our lives, then we can relax. This relaxation is not laziness, however, for now there is room in our minds for more altruistic and far-reaching attitudes which motivate our work. For example, in the morning before going to work, we can think, "I want to offer service to my clients and colleagues. My purpose in working is to benefit these people and to treat them with kindness and respect." Imagine how different our working environment would be if even one person -- us -- acted with that intention as much as we could! We can also think, "Whatever happens today -- even if I get criticized or stressed out -- I will use it to learn about my mind and to practice the Dharma." Then, if unpleasant things happen at work, we can observe our minds and try to apply the Dharma antidotes to disturbing emotions such as anger. If we are not successful with quieting our mind down on the spot, when we come home we can review what happened and apply the Dharma antidotes, in this example, by doing one of the meditations to generate patience. In this way, we can see that giving up worldly ambition will actually make us kinder, more relaxed, and thus more efficient at our work. And curiously, those are the qualities that will naturally bring us a better reputation and even a promotion, although we may not directly be seeking them!
Sometimes, if we are not careful, our worldly ambitions become involved with Dharma projects. For example, we may become attached to being someone important in the eyes of our spiritual master and become jealous of or compete with fellow disciples for our teacher's attention. We may seek to be powerful in our Dharma center so that things are done according to our ideas and we get the credit for the center's achievements. We may want to have many expensive and beautiful Buddha statues, Dharma books, and photographs of spiritual masters so that we can show them off to our Buddhist friends. We may want to have the reputation of being a good meditator or one who has taken many initiations and done several retreats.
In such cases, although the objects and people we are around are Buddhist, our motivation is not. It is the same worldly ambition, only now it is more deadly because it focuses on Dharma objects. It is easy to get caught in this trap. We think that just because we work in Dharma groups, go to teachings, or have Buddhist objects, that we are practicing Dharma. This is not necessarily the case. A motivation seeking reputation, possessions and so forth for the happiness of only this life contaminates our actions It is only by repeatedly looking at our motivation that we can discern whether or not it is worldly or Dharmic. Often, we discover our motivations are mixed: we do care about the Dharma and want to serve others, but we also want our efforts to be noticed and appreciated and to receive some recognition or remuneration in return. It is normal to find such mixed motivations, for we are not yet realized beings. Should we discover a mixed motivation or one tainted by worldly concern, then we need to contemplate its disadvantages as explained before and deliberately generate one of the three Dharma motivations.
The purpose of our practice is not to look like we are practicing Dharma, but to actually practice it. Practicing Dharma means transforming our minds. This occurs in our own minds. Statues, books, Dharma centers, and so forth help us to do this. They are the tools which help us actualize our purpose; they are not the practice itself. Thus, to progress along the path, we continuously have to be aware of our internal thoughts and feelings and examine if they concern worldly ambitions and desires, which are by nature self-centered and narrow. If they do, we can transform them into the positive ambition and desire for more noble aims such as the happiness of others, liberation from cyclic existence, and the full enlightenment of a Buddha. As we gradually do so, the benefit to ourselves and others will be apparent.
May 30, 2001
Shamatha (zhi-gnas, calm abiding) is a stilled and settled state of mind that has the accompanying mental factor (sems-byung, subsidiary awareness) of a sense of physical and mental fitness (shin-sbyangs, flexibility). This is an exhilarating feeling of fitness to be able to concentrate on anything for as long as we wish.
Shamatha is settled on an object or in a state of mind. It can be a sense object, such as the breath, or a visualized mental object, like a Buddha. In Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharma-samuccaya), the third-century Indian master Asanga emphasizes concentrating only on a mental object.
" In following that instruction, the Gelug tradition mostly uses a visualized Buddha as the object of focus.
" The Kagyü and Sakya traditions also employ what Gelug would consider sense objects, such as paintings of Buddhas, flowers, pebbles, and so on. This does not violate Asanga's instruction. In the non-Gelug traditions, the objects of sensory cognition are only sensibilia, such as patches of colored shapes, not decisively determined as being a "this" or a "that." Because such patches need to be mentally constructed into a Buddha image or a flower, focus on a Buddha image or flower is exclusively with mental cognition.
Nevertheless, most meditation masters of all Tibetans traditions recommend choosing a Buddha - whether a visualized one or an actual image - since it helps with safe direction (refuge), bodhichitta, and tantra. While focusing on a Buddha, we may also focus on a Buddha's good qualities (yon-tan). We may then accompany our focus with belief in the fact (dad-pa, "faith") that Buddhas have these qualities, and we may pay attention to them as features that we aspire to attain ourselves.
For attaining shamatha, we may also focus on other objects, pay attention to them in other beneficial ways, and accompany our focus with other constructive emotions and attitudes. For example:
" With the four immeasurable attitudes (tshad-med bzhi), we focus progressively on ourselves, friends, strangers, and those we dislike, and we pay attention to them with equanimity, love, compassion, and then joy.
" With equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and others (bdag-gzhan mnyam-brje), we focus on ourselves and all others, and pay attention to everyone as being equal. Continuing our focus, we then pay attention to others with the strong caring concern that we previously reserved for ourselves, and to ourselves with the weak caring concern that we previously had for others. These are the objects of concentration that Shantideva explains in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior.
" With the four close placements of mindfulnesses (dran-pa nyer-bzhag bzhi), we focus on the body as unclean, feelings as suffering, mental states as impermanent, and all phenomena as lacking true identities.
" With the four noble truths, we focus on our changing aggregates in terms of true problems and true causes of problems, and on our minds in terms of true stoppings (cessations) and true paths.
Alternatively, our focus may remain unaimed at any specific object (dmigs-med). We may remain focused:
" in a state of love and compassion, unaimed at any specific being, but extending out to everyone, like sunshine emanating from the sun,
" on voidness, unaimed in the sense of not being aimed at true existence,
" on mind (mental activity) itself, unaimed at objects of cognition as if they existed on their own.
The latter method of focusing for attaining shamatha is used in mahamudra (phyag-chen, great seal) and dzogchen (rdzogs-chen, great completeness) meditations. There are at least four major manners of meditating:
1. In the Karma Kagyü tradition of mahamudra, we focus first on commonsense objects constructed from the sensibilia of each of the senses (the sight of an orange, the smell of an orange, the taste of an orange, and so on) and then on a visualized object. When we gain a stable level of concentration, we then focus with it on the mind itself, but without being aimed at the mind as an object. We do this by settling down into the mind's natural state of bliss (bde-ba), clarity (gsal-ba), and bareness (stong-pa).
2. In the Sakya tradition of mahamudra, we stare at a visual object and then focus on just the clarity aspect (gsal-ba) of the cognition, which is the aspect that is giving rise to the cognitive appearance.
3. In the Gelug/Kagyü tradition of mahamudra, we focus on the superficial nature (kun-rdzob, conventional nature) of mind as the mental activity of merely giving rise to cognitive appearances and cognitively engaging with them (gsal-rig-tsam, mere clarity and awareness).
4. In the Nyingma tradition of dzogchen, we settle down into the natural state in between thoughts.
Regardless of the object we choose, we need to stay with that object until we achieve shamatha, and not switch objects part way through the process.
To practice and achieve shamatha, we need to gather six conditions conducive for it:
1. A conducive place (yul).
2. Little attachment - to people, friends and loved ones, food, clothing, our own bodies, affection, comfort, praise, blame, sleep, and so on.
3. Contentment with the food, clothing, weather conditions, and so on that we have.
4. Being rid of the busy work ('du-'dzi) of having many distracting activities, such as carrying out business and other worldly affairs, gardening, elaborate cooking, chatting with fellow practitioners, speaking on the telephone, writing letters or email, and so on.
5. Pure ethical self-discipline.
6. Being rid of obsessive prejudiced thoughts (rnam-rtog) about what we usually consider desirable to do, such as watching television or videos, looking at the Internet, listening to music, reading novels, reading about astrology, medicine, and so on.
In Filigree of Mahayana Sutras (mDo-sde rgyan, Skt. Mahayanasutra-alamkara), Asanga gives the five qualities of the first of the above six conducive conditions (a conducive place):
1. Easy availability of food and water.
2. An excellent spiritual situation (gnas), having been approved and sanctified by our own spiritual mentor or by previous masters who have meditated there.
3. An excellent geographic situation (sa), being secluded, quiet, distant from people who upset us, with a pleasant long-distance view of nature, no sound of running water or the ocean to mesmerize us, and a good climate.
4. The excellent company of friends similarly engaged and either living nearby or practicing with us.
5. The items required for a happy bonding (Skt. yoga) with the practice, namely having the full teachings and instructions for the practice and having thought about and understood them beforehand so that we are free of questions and doubts.
The Five Deterrents to Concentration
Having the full teachings and instructions for shamatha refers primarily to having detailed teachings on the five deterrents to concentration (nyes-pa lnga) and the eight composing mental factors ('du-byed brgyad) for overcoming them. Maitreya delineated these deterrents and factors in Differentiating the Middle from the Extremes (dBus-mtha' rnam-'byed, Skt. Madhyanta-vibhanga).
The five deterrents to concentration are:
1. Laziness (le-lo), of three types:
1. putting meditation off until later because we do not feel like doing it (sgyid-lugs),
2. 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.
3. feelings of inadequacy (zhum-pa).
2. Forgetting the instructions or losing the object of focus (gdams-ngag brjed-pa).
3. Interruptions due to mental flightiness or mental dullness (bying-rgod).
4. Not applying opponents to them ('du mi-byed).
5. Not stopping applying opponents when they are no longer necessary ('du-byed).
Levels of Mental Flightiness and Mental Dullness
The mental hold ('dzin-cha) on an object of focus has two aspects, mental placement (gnas-cha, mental abiding) and appearance-making (gsal-cha, clarity). The latter aspect gives rise to the cognitive appearance of the object.
Mental flightiness (rgod-pa, agitation), a subcategory of mental wandering (rnam-g.yeng) or distraction ('phro-ba), is a fault of the mental placement on the object due to desire or attachment. There are two levels:
1. With gross flightiness of mind, we completely lose mental placement on the object because our mental hold on it is so weak that it is lost.
2. With subtle flightiness of mind, we keep the hold, but not tightly enough, so that there is an undercurrent of thought about the object or about something else. Even if there is no undercurrent of thought, yet because the hold is slightly too tight, we feel restless and are "itching" to leave.
Mental dullness (bying-ba, sinking) is an interruption to concentration due to a fault in the appearance-making factor of the mental hold. It has three levels:
1. With gross mental dullness, we lose the object because the appearance-making factor is too weak to give rise to it. This can be with or without foggy-mindedness (rmugs-pa) (heaviness of body and mind), and with or without sleepiness (gnyid).
2. With middling mental dullness, we give rise to an appearance of the object, but the hold is not tight and so it lacks sharp focus (ngar).
3. With subtle mental dullness, we give rise to an appearance of the object and have sharp focus, but because the mental hold is still not sufficiently tight, it is not fresh (gsar). Being "spaced out" can refer to all three levels of dullness.
The Eight Composing Mental Factors
To overcome laziness, we need to apply the first four of the eight composing mental factors:
1. Belief in a fact (dad-pa), namely in the advantages of achieving shamatha.
2. This leads to the conscious intention ('dun-pa) to concentrate.
3. This leads to joyful perseverance (brtson-'grus), happily making an effort to do something constructive.
4. This leads to a sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs), which gives us the flexibility to apply ourselves to the practice.
Shantideva explains four supports (dpung-bzhi) and two forces (stobs-gnyis) to enhance joyful perseverance:
" Firm aspiration (mos-pa) is being firmly convinced of the benefits of the goal and the drawbacks of not achieving it, so that aspiration to attain it cannot be swayed.
" Steadfastness (brtan) or self-confidence (nga-rgyal) comes from examining if we are capable of achieving the goal and, being convinced that we are, applying ourselves steadily, even though progress goes up and down.
" Joy (dga'-ba) is not being satisfied with just a little progress, but taking joy in advancing, with a sense of self-satisfaction.
" Rest (dor) is taking a break when tired, but not out of laziness, in order to refresh ourselves.
" Naturally accepting (lhur-len) is naturally to accept what we need to practice and what we need to rid ourselves of in order to reach our goals, and naturally to accept the hardships involved, having examined them realistically.
" Taking control (dbang-sgyur) is to take control of ourselves and apply ourselves to what we wish to achieve.
To overcome forgetting the instructions or losing the object of focus, we need to apply:
5. Mindfulness (dran-pa), remembering, keeping the mental hold on the object of focus (dmigs-rten), like "mental glue."
To overcome mental flightiness or mental dullness, we need to apply:
6. Alertness (shes-bzhin), to check the condition of our mindfulness. If the mental glue becomes undone due to gross flightiness or dullness, so that we lose the object, alertness triggers the restoring attention (chad-cing 'jug-pa'i yid-byed) to focus once more on the object. Alternatively, it triggers tightening the grip or loosening the grip of mindfulness in the case of middling and subtle dullness or subtle flightiness.
To overcome the deterrent of not applying the opponents for them, we need to apply:
7. Readiness to apply opponents ('du-byed). This comes from the two powers to enhance joyful perseverance: naturally accepting what has to be done and what has to be gotten rid of, and taking control to apply ourselves.
To overcome not stopping applying opponents when they are no longer necessary, we need to apply:
8. Relaxation of opponents ('du mi-byed). This refers also to knowing when to take a rest, knowing not to push more than is appropriate.
Concentration and Alertness as Automatic Features of Mindfulness
For achieving shamatha, we need to put our main energy on maintaining mindfulness (mental glue) on our object of focus. This means making effort primarily on holding on to the object. With mental glue, we automatically have concentration. Mental glue and concentration are merely two ways of describing the same mental activity. Mental glue describes it from the point of view of the mental hold on the object of focus; concentration describes it from the point of view of mental placement (mental abiding) on the object.
Moreover, if we liken mental glue to the sun, then alertness is like the sunlight - it is automatically present. In other words, if we are able to maintain a mental hold on an object of focus with mental glue, this implies that we are automatically keeping a check to see if the hold is proper.
Occasionally, however, we need to apply a second type of alertness, one that makes a spot check of the condition of the mental hold on the object. When doing so, however, we only use a corner of our attention, so as not to be distracted from having the main focus of our attention be on the object of the meditation.
The Nine Stages of Settling the Mind
There are nine stages of settling the mind (sems-gnas dgu) into a state of shamatha:
1. Setting the mind (sems 'jog-pa) on the object of focus. At this stage, we are merely able to set or place our attention on the object of focus, but are unable to maintain it.
2. Setting with some continuity (rgyun-du 'jog-pa). Here, we are able to maintain our mental hold on the object with some continuity, but only for a short time before losing it. It takes some time before we recognize that we have lost the object and before we can reestablish our focus.
3. Resetting (glan-du 'jog-pa). Here, we are able to recognize as soon as we have lost our mental hold on the object, and we are able to reset or restore our focus immediately.
4. Closely setting (nye-bar 'jog-pa). Here, we do not lose our mental hold on the object, but because the subtle mental flightiness of an undercurrent of thought and middling dullness are strong dangers and can still occur, we need to maintain their opponents very strongly.
5. Taming (dul-bar byed-pa). Here, we no longer experience gross flightiness, the subtle flightiness of an undercurrent of thought, or gross or middling dullness. However, because we have overstrained to concentrate and have sunk too deeply inwards, we have relaxed the appearance-producing factor giving rise to the appearance of the object of focus. Consequently, we experience subtle dullness. We need to refresh and uplift (gzengs-bstod) the mental hold by remembering the benefits of gaining shamatha.
6. Stilling (zhi-bar byed-pa). Here, although there is no longer great danger of subtle mental dullness, nevertheless in uplifting the mind, we became too excited and the mental hold became too tight. Consequently, we experience the subtle flightiness of itchiness to leave the object of focus. We need to use strong alertness to detect this and to relax our mental hold slightly.
7. Complete stilling (rnam-pa zhi-bar byed-pa). Here, although the danger of subtle flightiness or dullness is minimal, we still need to exert effort to rid ourselves of them completely.
8. Single-pointedness (rtse-cig-tu byed-pa). Here, by just relying on a slight effort to apply mental glue at the beginning of the session, we are able to sustain our concentration uninterruptedly throughout the session, without experiencing any level of flightiness or dullness.
9. Setting with ease (mnyam-par 'jog-pa). Here, we are able effortlessly to maintain concentration, free of any interruptions, throughout the entire session. This is the attainment of single-minded concentration (ting-nge-'dzin, Skt. samadhi.)
When, in addition to single-minded concentration, we gain the mental factor of an exhilarating sense of mental and physical fitness to concentrate perfectly on anything for as long as we wish, we gain shamatha.
The Six Powers
We gain the nine stages of settling the mind by relying on six powers (stobs-drug):
1. We gain the first stage by relying on the power of listening to the instructions (thos-pa'i stobs).
2. We gain the second stage by relying on the power of thinking about the instructions (bsam-pa'i stobs).
3. We gain the third and fourth stages by relying on the power of mindfulness (dran-pa'i stobs).
4. We gain the fifth and sixth stages by relying on the power of alertness (shes-bzhin-gyi stobs).
5. We gain the seventh and eighth stages by relying on the power of joyful perseverance (brtson-'grus-kyi stobs).
6. We gain the ninth stage by relying on the power of complete familiarity (yongs-su 'dris-pa'i stobs).
The Four Types of Attention
In the process of progressing through the nine stages of settling the mind, we use four types of attention (yid-byed bzhi), which are four ways of taking the object of focus to mind:
1. During the first two stages, we use painstaking attention (bsgrims-du 'jug-pa'i yid-byed), with which we use great control and force to take the object of focus to mind.
2. During the third through the seventh stages, we use restoring attention (chad-cing 'jug-pa'i yid-byed), with which we repeatedly bring our focus back to the object or repair our focus if there is some fault.
3. During the eighth stage, we use uninterrupted attention (chad-pa med-par 'jug-pa'i yid-byed), with which we can focus on the object without interruption.
4. During the ninth stage, we use spontaneous attention (lhun-gyi 'grub-pa'i yid-byed), with which we can maintain our focus on the object effortlessly.
Pilgrimage to Tibet, 1987
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
people have asked about my pilgrimage to Tibet this summer, but while one person
wants to hear a travel log, another is interested in the social and political
situation, another in the Dharma, another in the mountains. So where do I begin?
How about with the taxi ride from Kathmandu to the Nepal-Tibet border? The taxi
broke down about thirty km from the border - the fan belt was shredded. When the
driver took out a piece of yellow plastic cord and knotted it together in an attempt
to make a new fan belt, we decided not to wait for him and to hitch a ride to
the border. That we did, and lo and behold, the taxi pulled up fifteen minutes
Due to landslides, the road up the mountain from the Nepali border to just beyond Kasa, the Tibetan border town, was impassable. We trudged up the steep trails and mounds of rocks to the Chinese immigration office. From that moment on, it was clear that we were in an occupied country. The baggy green Chinese army uniforms don't fit in. The Tibetans certainly don't want foreign troops occupying their country as the Red Chinese have done since l950. Judging by the attitude of the numerous Chinese I came in contact with there, they don't seem too happy living there. They came to Tibet either because the Beijing government told them to, or because the government will give them better salaries if they go to colonize the more geographically inhospitable areas. Generally, the Chinese in Tibet aren't very cooperative or pleasant to deal with. They are condescending towards the Tibetans, and following government policy, they charge the foreigners much more than locals for hotel accommodation, transportation, etc. Still, I couldn't help have compassion for them, for they, just as we all are, are bound by previously created actions.
But to return to the travel log -- the next day we caught a bus ascending up to the Tibetan plateau. The bus ride was bumpy, with a mountain on one side of the road and a cliff on the other. Passing a vehicle coming from the other direction was a breath-taking experience (thank goodness, it wasn't life-taking!). We ascended to the Tibetan plateau, headed for Shigatse. What a change from the lush greenery of lower altitudes! It was barren, with much open space and beautiful snow-capped Himalayan peaks. But what do the animals (let alone the people) eat? It is the end of May, but hardly anything is growing!
The bus stopped for the night at a Chinese military-operated truck stop near Tingri. It was an unfriendly place, but I was already feeling sick from the altitude and didn't pay much attention to the controversies the other travelers had with the officials. I slept the next day on the bus, and by the time we arrived in Shigatse, felt okay. At first it is strange to be out of breath after climbing one flight of stairs, but soon the body adapts.
Tibetans' Warm Welcome of Western Monastics
Walking down the streets in Shigatse was quite an experience. People looked at me, some with surprise, most with happiness, for they are over-joyed to see monks and nuns after so many years of religious persecution in Tibet. Generally, the people know very little about other countries and peoples (some had never heard of America), so the sight of Caucasians is new. But a Western nun was almost beyond belief to them. As a young Tibetan woman later explained to me, the Chinese communists have been telling the Tibetans for years that Buddhism is a backward, demon-worshipping religion that impedes scientific and technological progress. Since Tibet has to modernize, the communists were going to liberate them from the effects of their primitive beliefs. This they did very efficiently by destroying almost every monastery, hermitage, temple, and meditation cave in the country, and by making the Tibetans lose the feeling of the dignity and value of their religion in a modern world. Although internally, most Tibetans never abandoned their faith and desire to practice the Dharma, the communist society around them makes that difficult. Thus when they see Westerners -- who are educated in modern ways and come from a technological society -- practicing the Dharma, they know that what they have been told during the Cultural Revolution was wrong.
Many people came up to ask for blessed pills and protection cords as well as for hand blessings. At first this was rather embarrassing, for I am far from being a high lama capable of giving blessings. But I soon realized that their faith had nothing to do with me. It was due to my monastic robes, which reminded them of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and their teachers in exile. Thus seeing anyone in robes made them happy. The closest many Tibetans can get to contacting His Holiness in this life is seeing Buddhist robes. Although they desperately wish to see His Holiness -- I often had to choke back tears when they told me how they longed to see him -- His Holiness cannot return to his own country now, and it is very difficult for the Tibetans to get permission to visit India. It began to dawn on me that my pilgrimage to Tibet was not just for me to receive inspiration from the many blessed places where past great masters, meditators, and practitioners lived, but also to act as a sort of link between His Holiness and the Tibetans. Again, this had nothing to do with me, it was the power of the robes and of whatever encouraging words I could say in garbled Tibetan.
Many people would give the "thumbs up" sign and say "very good, very good," when they saw an ordained Westerner. This appreciation for the sangha reminded me of how much we, who live in places with religious freedom, take that freedom for granted. We can easily go to listen to His Holiness teach; we can study and practice together without fear. Do we appreciate this? Do the Tibetans in exile appreciate this? As much as those in exile have gone through difficulties in the past, now they enjoy religious freedom and are far better off materially than those who remained in Tibet. It saddens me to recall Tibetan families in India who go to teachings with a thermos of butter tea and bread, and then chat and enjoy a picnic while His Holiness teaches.
One woman in Shigatse told me of the plight of her family after 1959. Her father and husband were imprisoned and all the family's property confiscated. Living in poverty for years, she was sustained by her devotion to His Holiness during those difficult times. I told her that His Holiness always has the Tibetan people in his heart and constantly makes prayers for them and actively works for their welfare. Upon hearing this, she started to cry, and my eyes, too, filled with tears. Little did I know, after being in Tibet only two days, how many times during my three-month pilgrimage people would tell me even more woeful stories of their suffering at the hands of the communist Chinese government, and of their faith in the Dharma and in His Holiness.
Then we went on to Lhasa, to meet Zopa Rinpoche and a group of approximately sixty Westerners doing pilgrimage with him. Like pilgrims of old, I strained to catch the first glimpse of the Potala and was elated when it came into view. Such a strong feeling of His Holiness' presence arose, and I thought, "Whatever else happens during this pilgrimage, no matter what difficulties may arise, compassion is all that is important. Several days later, when about thirty-five of us Westerners were doing the puja of the Buddha of Great Compassion at the Potala (to the amazed gazes of Tibetans, Chinese and Western tourists), this same feeling arose again. Compassion cannot be destroyed, no matter how confused and evil people's minds become. There we were, Buddhists coming from a variety of countries thousands of kilometers away to meditate on compassion in a land that has endured incredible suffering, destruction, violation of human rights, and religious persecution since 1959. But anger at this injustice is inappropriate. It was as if people had gone crazy -- what happened during the Cultural Revolution is almost too bizarre for comprehension. We can only feel compassion, and humility, for who amongst us can say with certainty that, given the conditions, we would not inflict harm upon others?
Early in the morning of the day celebrating the Buddha's enlightenment, Zopa Rinpoche led a large group of Western Dharma students in taking the eight Mahayana precepts at the Jokang, Lhasa's holiest temple. The crowd of Tibetans gathered around us were surprised, yet joyful to see this. As the days went on, we visited the Potala, Sera, Ganden, and Drepung Monasiteries, Ta Yerpa, Pabongka Rinpoche's cave, and many more sights in the Lhasa area. Suddenly all the stories about great masters that I had heard for years became alive. I could envision Atisha teaching on the sun-drenched hillside of Ta Yerpa, and felt the peace of the retreat house above Sera where Lama Tsong Khapa composed texts on emptiness. In so many places figures of Buddhas have naturally arisen out of stone. At times, the stories of miracles, footprints in rocks, and self-emanating figures were a little too much for my scientifically-educated mind, but seeing some of these broke some of my preconceptions. To tell the truth, some of the statues had so much life-energy that I could imagine them talking!
Destruction of Tibetan Society and Lack of Religious Freedom
My mind alternated between the joy of the inspiration of these sites, and the sadness of seeing them in ruins. Ganden Monastery was the hardest hit of the major monasteries in the Lhasa area, and it lies almost entirely in ruins. It is located at the top of a huge mountain, and as our bus laboriously chugged up there, I marveled at the perseverance of the Red Chinese (and the confused Tibetans who cooperated with them) in leveling the monastery. Especially years ago when the road was not so good (not that it's great now), they really had to exert effort to get up the mountain, tear down building made of heavy stones, and cart away the precious religious and artistic treasures. If I had a fraction of the enthusiasm and willingness to overcome difficulties that they had in destroying Ganden, and used it to practice Dharma, I'd be doing well!
In the last few years, the government has allowed some monasteries to be rebuilt. Living amongst the rubble of Ganden are two hundred monks, who are now endeavoring to restore not only the building, but also the level of study and practice that once existed at this famous place, which is the site of Lama Tsong Khapa's throne. Of those two hundred only fifty are studying, the rest have to work or to help the tourists. The situation is similar in other monasteries. I also noticed that in most monasteries, the number of monks that were quoted exceeded the number of seats in the prayer hall. Why? I was told because they had to go outside to work or were at private homes doing puja. They must have stayed away for a long time, because I did not see them return although I stayed in the area a few days. When I inquired at the monasteries what texts they were studying, those few monasteries that had been able to re-instate the philosophical studies were doing the elementary texts. They had been able to start the study program only recently.
In spite of the recent liberalization of government policy, there is no religious freedom. Lay officials are ultimately in charge of the monasteries, and they determine, among other things, who can be ordained, how many monks or nuns a monastery can have, what building and work are to be done. In a few places I had occasion to observe that the rapport between the monks and the local officials in charge of the monastery was not relaxed. The monks seemed afraid and wary of the officials, and the officials at times were bossy and disrespectful to the monks and nuns. When I saw Tibetan officials like this, it saddened me, for it shows the lack of unity amongst the Tibetans.
After 1959, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Chinese tried to suppress the Dharma and harm Tibetans by violent means. Some people call it attempted genocide. But the effects of the recent, more liberalized policy is even more insidious. Now the government offers jobs to young Tibetans, although their educational possibilities and job positions are inevitably lower than those of the Chinese. In order to get a good salary and good housing, Tibetans have to work for the government. Some get jobs in Chinese compounds, where they then abandon Tibetan dress and speak Chinese. So slowly, in the towns, young people are leaving aside their Tibetan culture and heritage. In addition, this diluting of Tibetan culture is encouraged by the government sending more and more Chinese to live in Tibetan towns.
The fact that some Tibetans have government positions of minor authority divides the Tibetans in general. Those not working for the government say that government employees are concerned just with their own benefit, seeking money or power by cooperating with the Red Chinese. In addition, because they don't know when the government may reverse its policy and begin gross persecution of Tibetans again, the Tibetans who don't work for the government cease to trust those who do. They start to worry about who may be a spy. The suspicion that one Tibetan has for another is one of the most destructive forces, psychologically and socially.
The future of Buddhism in Tibet faces many obstacles. In addition to the mass destruction of the monasteries and texts that occurred in the past, the monasteries are now controlled by the government, and since l959 the children have had no religious instruction in school. Save for what they learn at home, people aged thirty and younger have little understanding of Buddhist principles. Many people go to temples and monasteries to make offerings and pay their respects, yet among the young people especially, much of this is done without understanding. Without public Dharma instruction available, their devotion will become more and more based on blind faith rather than on understanding. Also, monks aged thirty to fifty-five are rare, for they were children during the time of the Cultural Revolution. After the remaining teachers, who are already quite old, pass away, who will there be to teach? The young monastics will not have learned enough by then, and the generation of monastics that should be the elders doesn't exist. Many monks and nuns do not wear robes: some because they have to work, others because of lack of money, some because they don't want to be noticed. But this is not a good precedent, for it eventually will lead to a weakening in the sangha.
While Tibetans in exile blame the Chinese communists for the destruction of their land, this is not the whole story. Unfortunately, many Tibetans cooperated with them in destroying the monasteries, either because they were forced or persuaded to or because they harbored jealousy or animosity towards the religious establishments. Many Tibetans came to see the Tibetan friend from India with whom I traveled. In tears, some of them told how they had joined in desecrating the temples years ago and how much they now regretted this. This was sad, but not surprising to learn, and I believe that Tibetans must acknowledge and heal the divisions existing in their own society.
In spite of all this, the monasteries are being rebuilt and many youngsters request ordination. The lay Tibetans are remarkable in their devotion. I marvel at how, after twenty-five years of strict religious persecution (one could get shot or imprisoned for even moving one's lips while reciting mantra or prayer), now, given a little space, such intense interest and faith in the Dharma blossoms again.
Most Tibetans still have the hospitality and kindness for which they are so well-known. Lhasa, unfortunately, is becoming touristy, with people trying to sell things. But outside of Lhasa, especially in the villages, people are as friendly and warm as ever. They still look at foreigners as human beings, which is a pleasant relief, for in India and Nepal, many people see foreigners and think only of business and how to get money from them.
Pilgrimage and Meeting People
When Zopa Rinpoche and the other Westerners went to Amdo, I went to the Lokha region with the attendant of one of my teachers. There I really felt Tibetan hospitality and warmth as I stayed in the homes of my teacher's relatives and disciples in small villages. One very old man inspired me with his practice. He would do various Dharma practices the entire day, and I loved to sit in the shrine room with him and do my prayers and meditate in that peaceful atmosphere.
While I was staying at his house near Zedang, his son returned from the Tibetan-Indian border where there was much tension between the Chinese and the Indians. The young men in Zedang and other areas had been divided into three groups, which rotated doing one-month work shifts in the military installments at the border. The government gave them no choice about going. They had virtually no military instruction and were sent to the border unprepared. The son told us that part of his job was to look across the river to see what the Indian army was up to. But who was in the Indian army stationed at the border? Tibetans in exile. So Tibetans in Tibet could potentially have to fight against Tibetans in exile, although both groups were working in foreign armies.
For years I had wanted to go to Lhamo Lhatso (the Palden Lhamo lake) and to Cholung (where Lama Tsong Khapa did prostrations and mandala offerings). Both are in Lokha. Six of us did this pilgrimage on horseback for five days. (Incidentally, for some unexplainable reason, the government does not allow foreigners in this area. But somehow we managed to do the pilgrimage anyway.) I hadn't ridden a horse in years and was quite relieved when they gave me a docile one. However, her back got a sore after two days, and so I was to ride another horse on the day we were making the final ascent to the lake (at 18,000 ft.) I got on, and the horse immediately tossed me off. It was on soft grass, so I didn't mind too much. Later, when the saddle slipped and he reared up, I fell onto rocks. I decided to walk after that. But all this was part of the pilgrimage, for pilgrimage is not just going to a holy place and maybe seeing visions (as some people do at Lhatso). Nor is it only making offerings or touching one's head to a blessed object. Pilgrimage is the entire experience -- falling off the horse, getting scolded by a traveling companion, eating with the nomads in their tent. All this is an opportunity to practice Dharma, and it is by practice that we receive the inspiration of the Buddha.
As we neared Lhatso, my mind got happier day by day, and I thought of the great masters, those with pure minds, who had come to this place and seen visions in the lake. It was here that Reting Rinpoche had seen the letters and house that indicated the birthplace of the present Dalai Lama. After the long walk up, we sat on the narrow ridge looking down at the lake below. A few snowflakes began to fall -- it was July -- and we meditated. Later we descended the ridge and stayed the night at the monastery at its base.
The next day we headed towards Chusang and Cholung, places where Lama Tsong Khapa had lived. Even someone like me, who is as sensitive to "blessed vibrations" as a piece of rock, could feel something special about these places. Places like these exist all over Tibet, reminding us that many people throughout the centuries have followed the Buddha's teachings and experienced their results. Cholung, a small mountainside retreat, also had been demolished. A monk living there had been a shepherd during the difficult years of the Cultural Revolution. He had also done forced labor under the Red Chinese. In the last few years, as government policy began to change, he raised funds and rebuilt the retreat place. How much I admire people like this, who kept their vows during such hardship and have the strength and courage to return to devastated holy places and slowly rebuild them.
It was at Cholung that Lama Tsong Khapa did 100,000 prostrations to each of the thirty-five Buddhas (3.5 million prostrations total) and then had a vision of them. The imprint of his body could be seen on the rock where he prostrated. I thought of the comparatively comfortable mat on which I did my meager 100,000 prostrations. I could also see figure of deities, flowers, and letters on the stone on which Je Rinpoche did mandala offerings. They say his forearm was raw from rubbing it on the stone.
Upon returning to Zedang, I saw some friends who had gone to Amdo. They had been to Kumbum, the large monastery located at Lama Tsong Khapa's birthplace. It is now a great Chinese tourist place, and they were disappointed, feeling that the monks were there more for the tourists than for the Dharma. However, Labrang Monastery made up for it, for the 1000 monks there were studying and practicing well.
They said that demographic aggression had set in in Amdo. It seemed hardly a Tibetan place any more. The street and shop signs in Xining were almost all in Chinese, and in the countryside, one finds both Tibetan and Chinese Muslim villages. Some friends tried to find the village where the present Dalai Lama was born, but even when they learned its Chinese name, no one (even monks) were able to direct them to it.
Bus and boat led me to Samye, where the traditional pujas and "cham" (religious dancing with masks and costumes) during the fifth lunar month were in progress. People said that in the past it would take over a week to visit all the temples and monasteries in this great place where Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) had lived. Certainly that is not the case now, for within half a day, we had seen all of it. I was dismayed to see animals living in one small temple and sawdust and hay piled up against the faces of Buddhas and bodhisattvas on the walls of another. Another temple was still used for grain storage, as so many had been during the Cultural Revolution.
Arising well before dawn one day, I walked up to Chimbu, where Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal had meditated in caves. There are meditators now living in the many caves up and down the mountainside. As I went from one to the other to make offerings, the meditators greeted me warmly, and I felt like I was meeting old friends.
With a few friends, I then traveled back to Lhasa and on to Pembo and Reting. Tourists usually go there in hired jeeps as no public transportation is available. However, a friend and I hitch-hiked (in Tibet, you call it "kutchie"), walked, and rode on a donkey cart. It was definitely slower and not so luxurious, but we got to know the people. The first night, after wallkng through wide valleys ringed by multi-layered mountains where the colors of the rocks varied from red to green to black, we finally persuaded the teachers at a village school that we weren't Marsians and we would appreciate being able to sleep in a spare room. The children, however, continued to think we were people from outer space and fifty or sixty of them would cluster around us to watch us do such interesting things as eat a piece of bread. Being able to go to the toilet in peace was considerably more difficult. This, too, was the first place I encountered children ridiculing us and being generally obnoxious. Unfortunately, similar episodes were to be repeated in other places. The good thing about it was that it made the I-to-be-refuted appear very clearly! Later I asked a Tibetan friend why the children were so rude to travelers, especially if they were sangha. It hardly seemed to fit in with what I knew about Tibetan friendliness. "Because they don't know the Dharma," he replied. It made me think.
By this time, I was accustomed to the wide-open spaces and lack of trees in Tibet. How startling and enriching Reting appeared, situated in a juniper forest, which is said to have sprung from Dron Dompa's hair. This area, where the previous Kadampa geshes had lived, had been leveled during the Cultural Revolution, and just in the last year, rebuilding the monastery began. Up the mountain was the site where Lama Tsong Khapa wrote the Lam Rim Chen Mo. Amidst manifold nettles, we prostrated to the simple seat of stones used to commemorate his seat. Further up the mountain is Je Rendawa's abode, and around the mountain, Drom's cave. Up, around, and up again we climbed until we came upon a boulder field. It was here that Lama Tsong Khapa had sat in meditation and caused a shower of letters to fall from the sky. I had always been skeptical about such things, but here they were in front of my eyes, many letters AH, and OM AH HUM. Veins of different colored rock inside the boulders formed the letters. They clearly hadn't been carved by human hands. At the nunnery further down the mountain was a cave where Lama Tsong Khapa had meditated, and his and Dorje Pamo's footprints were etched in the rock. Because I have deep respect and attraction for the simplicity and directness of the Kadampa geshes' practice, Reting was a special place for me.
However, being there also made me recall the incident with the previous Reting Rinpoche and Sera-je's fight with the Tibetan government in the early 1940s. This had left me perplexed, but it seems that it was a forewarning, symptomatic that amidst the wonder of old Tibet, something was terribly amiss. What perplexed me as well was why, after the Red Chinese take-over, some Tibetans joined in the looting and destruction of the monasteries. Yes, the Red Chinese instigated it and even forced many Tibetans to do it. But why did some Tibetans lead the groups? Why did some villagers join in when they didn't have to? Why did some turn over innocent friends and relatives to the police?
Leaving Reting, we went to Siling Hermitage, perched on the steep side of a mountain. I wondered how it was possible to get up there, but a path led the way to this small cluster of retreat huts where we were so warmly received. Then on to Dalung, a famous Kargyu monastery that once held 7700 monks and the relic of the Buddha's tooth. Need I repeat that it, too, had been demolished. An old monk there told us how he had been imprisoned for twenty years. Ten of those he was in shackles, ten more chopping wood. In 1984, together with twelve other monks, he returned to Dalung to reconstruct the monastery.
Upon returning to Lhasa, we made an excursion to Rado by hitching a ride on a tractor filled with ping noodles. Very comfortable indeed! A few days later, we got a ride towards Radza, this time in the back of a truck filled with watermelon. As the truck rolled down the road, we rolled along the watermelons.
We then began to slowly make our way back toward the Nepali border, visiting Gyantse, Shigatse, Shallu (Buton Rinpoche's monastery), Sakya, and Lhatse. At Lhatse I visited the monastery and the family of one of my teachers. His sister burst into tears when she saw me for I reminded her of her brother who she hasn't seen for over twenty-five years. But it was lovely staying with his family and meeting the abbot and head teachers who were Geshe-la's friends.
In Shelkar, I stayed with relatives of another Tibetan friend in Nepal. Amala fed us aplenty and was constantly and lovingly barking out orders like an army sergeant, "Drink tea. Eat tsampa!" She far outshone even my grandmother with her ability to push food at you!
Behind Shelkar is Tsebri, a mountain range associated with Heruka and said to have been thrown to Tibet from India by a mahasiddha. It looks very different from other mountains in the area and has a variety of the most magnificent geological formations I've ever seen. This is another place that is spiritually very special for me. Together with an old Tibetan man as a guide and his donkey to carry our food and sleeping bags, my friend and I circumambulated this mountain range. We stayed in villages along the way, most of them making me feel like I had gone back a few centuries in a time machine. But the trip to Tibet was teaching me to be flexible. There were also a couple of tiny gompas with mummified bodies of great lamas that we visited along the way. Along the way we visited Chosang, where the previous life of a friend had once been abbot. The monastery was totally demolished, save a few rocks piled up to form an altar of sorts and a few prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Because this place was special to my friend, I sat and meditated there a while. Afterwards, when I looked up, there was a rainbow around the sun.
On we went to the border, stopping at Milarepa's cave en route, and then descending from the high plateau of Tibet to the lush monsoon foliage of Nepal. Due to strong monsoon rains, a good portion of the road to Kathmandu had either fallen into the river or been covered by landslides. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant walk. Awaiting me in Kathmandu was a message from my teacher, asking me to go to Singapore to teach. Now at sea-level, at the equator, in a sparkling-clean modern city, I have merely the memory and the imprints of this pilgrimage, which has changed something deep inside me.
Working with Anger
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©
Does being patient with people who harm us mean being passive? Must
we let them get their way or walk all over us?
No. We can redress a bad situation without antagonism. In fact, we'll be more effective in doing so when we're calm and clear-thinking.
Sometimes we may have to speak strongly to someone because that is the only way to communicate with her. For example, if your child is playing in the street and you very sweetly say, "Susie dear, please don't play in the street," she may ignore you. But if you speak forcefully and explain the danger to her, she'll remember and obey.
As a sports enthusiast, isn't anger good because it helps you to win the game? Is sports a good way to release anger?
Yes, sports is a socially accepted way of venting anger. However, it doesn't cure the anger, it only temporarily releases the physical energy accompanying anger. We are still avoiding the real problem, which is our disturbing emotion and misconceptions regarding a situation.
Yes, anger may help you win the game, but is that really beneficial? Is it worthwhile to reinforce negative characteristics just to get a trophy? The danger in sports is making the "us and them" too concrete. "My team must win. We have to fight and beat the enemy."
But let's step back for s moment. Why should we win and the other team lose? The only reason is "My team is best because it's mine." The other team feels the same way. Who is right? Competition based on such self-centredness isn't productive because it breeds anger and jealousy.
On the other hand, we can concentrate on the process of playing the game, not on the goal of winning. In this case, we'll enjoy the physical exercise, the camaraderie and team spirit, whether we win or lose. Psychologically, this attitude brings more happiness.
How do we deal with anger when we witness a person harming another?
All the techniques described above are applicable here. However, being patient doesn't mean being passive. We may have to actively stop one person from harming another, but the key is to do this with impartial compassion for everyone in the situation.
It's easy to have compassion for the victim. But compassion for the perpetrator is equally important. This person is creating the cause for his own suffering: he may be tortured by guilt later, he may encounter trouble with the law, and he will reap the karmic fruits of his own actions. Recognising the suffering he brings on himself, we can develop compassion for him. Thus, with equal concern for the victim and the perpetrator, we can act to prevent one person from harming another.
We needn't be angry in order to correct a wrong. Actions done out of anger may complicate the situation even more! With a clear mind, we'll be able to determine more easily what we can do to help.
How can we help someone who is creating negative karma by getting angry at us?
Each situation is different and will have to be examined separately. However, some general guidelines may apply. First, check up if the other's complaints about us are justified. If so, we can apologise and correct the situation. That stops his anger.
Second, when someone is very upset and angry, try to calm him down. Don't argue back, because in his state of mind, he can't listen to you. This is understandable: we don't listen to others when we are in a temper. So it's better to help him settle down and later, perhaps the next day, discuss it.
What do we do when people criticise Buddhism?
That's their opinion. They're entitled to have it. Of course, we don't agree with it. Sometimes we may succeed in correcting another's misconceptions, but sometimes people are very closed-minded and don't want to change their views. That's their business. Just leave it.
We don't need others' approval to practice the Dharma. But we do need to be convinced in our hearts that what we do is right. If we are, then others' opinions aren't important.
Others' criticisms don't hurt the Dharma or the Buddha. The path to enlightenment exists whether others recognise it as such or not. We don't need to be defensive. In fact, if we become agitated when others criticise Buddhism, it indicates we're attached to our beliefs - that our ego is involved and so we feel compelled to prove our beliefs are right.
When we're secure in what we believe, others' criticisms don't disturb our peace of mind. Why should it? Criticism doesn't mean we are stupid or bad. It's simply another's opinion, that's all.
Tibetan Buddhism has many images of fierce deities. What do they mean?
These deities or Buddha figures are manifestations of the Buddha's wisdom and compassion. Their ferocity isn't directed towards living beings, because as Buddhas, they have only compassion for others. Rather their force is aimed at ignorance and selfishness, the real causes of all our problems.
By showing a fierce aspect, these deities demonstrate the need to act firmly and swiftly against our ignorance and selfishness. Being patient with internal enemies, the disturbing attitudes, isn't beneficial at all. We should actively oppose them. These deities illustrate that instead of being wrathful towards other beings, we should be fierce with internal enemies like ignorance and selfishness.
In addition, as manifestations of compassionate wisdom, these deities symbolically represent compassionate wisdom conquering disturbing attitudes.
How do we identify our anger?
There are several ways to do this. When we do the breathing meditation, clearly focussing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath, observe what distractions arise. We may recognise a general feeling of restlessness or anger. Or we may remember a situation from years ago that we're still irritated about. By noting these distractions, we'll know what we need to work on. We can also identify our anger by being aware of our physical reactions, whether we're meditating or not.
For example, if we feel our stomach tightening, or our body temperature increasing, it may be a signal that we're starting to lose our temper. Each person has different physical manifestations of anger. We can be observant and note ours. This is helpful, for sometimes it's easier to identify the physical sensation accompanying anger than the anger itself.
Another way is to observe our moods. When we're in a bad mood, we can pause and ask ourselves, "What is this feeling? What prompted it?" Sometimes we can observe patterns in our moods and behaviours. This gives us clues as to how our minds operate.
What can we do about anger that has been building up over a long period of time?
It will take a while to free our minds from this. Habitual anger must be replaced with habitual patience, and this takes time and consistent effort to develop. When we notice our anger building up towards someone, it's helpful to ask ourselves, "What button is this person pushing in me? Why am I so irritated by her actions?" In this way, we research our reactions to determine the real issue involved. Do we feel powerless? Do we feel no one listens to us? Are we offended? Observing in this way, we'll come to know ourselves better and can then apply the right antidote to that disturbing attitude.
Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Instead of allowing our anger to build up over time, it's better to be courageous and try to communicate with the other person earlier on. This stops the proliferation of misconceptions and misunderstandings. If we allow our anger to build up over time, how can we blame it on the other person? We have some responsibility to try to communicate with people who disturb us.
For a fuller version, please see "Working With Anger" by Ven. Chodron, published by Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca NY.