A Daily Practice
By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
We need to create virtuous or positive actions because these are the root of our future happiness, we need to abandon non-virtuous or negative actions because these are the root of our future sufferings, and we need to control our delusions because these are the root of our contaminated rebirths.
We can do all of this by sincerely engaging in the following practices:
Sense of shame & consideration for others
Faith is the root of all virtuous qualities and spiritual realizations. In particular, our ability to enter the spiritual path depends upon our having the faith that believes that spiritual realizations directly protect us from suffering and fear.
The great Yogi Ensapa said that all spiritual experiences, great and small, depend upon faith. Since faith is the root of all attainments it should be our main practice.
While the famous Buddhist Master Atisha was in Tibet, a man once approached him asking for spiritual instructions. Atisha remained silent and so the man, thinking that he had not been heard, repeated his request very loudly. Atisha then replied `I have good hearing, but you need to have faith.'
What exactly is faith? Faith is a naturally virtuous mind that functions mainly to oppose the perception of faults in the object it is focused on. The object of faith is any object that is regarded as holy or pure, such as enlightened beings, spiritual teachings, spiritual realizations, and spiritual Teachers and friends.
Faith is more than just belief. For instance, we might believe that human beings have been to the moon, but this belief is not faith, for faith views its object as pure and holy.
Without faith everything is mundane. We are blind to anything beyond the ordinary and imperfect world we normally inhabit, and we cannot even imagine that pure, faultless beings, worlds, or states of mind exist. Faith is like pure eyes that enable us to see a pure and perfect world beyond the suffering world of samsara.
According to Buddhism, enlightened beings are called 'Buddhas', their teachings are called 'Dharma', and the practitioners who have gained realizations of these teachings are called 'Sangha'. These are known as the 'Three Jewels' - Buddha Jewel, Dharma Jewel, and Sangha Jewel - and are the objects of faith and refuge. They are called 'Jewels' because they are very precious.
In dependence upon seeing the fears and sufferings of samsara, and developing strong faith and conviction in the power of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha to protect us, we make the determination to rely upon the Three Jewels. This is the simple way of going for refuge to Buddha Dharma, and Sangha.
There are three types of faith: believing faith,
admiring faith, and wishing faith. If we believe that our spiritual practice
is the very heart of our life, this is an example of believing faith.
An example of admiring faith is the faith we have when, by recognizing the good qualities of our Spiritual Teacher or the good qualities of his or her teachings, we develop admiration for these and our mind becomes very clear and free from disturbing, negative conceptions. This faith is pure-hearted, and it comes when we develop sincere respect and deep admiration for someone or something that we recognize as being worthy or beneficial.
On the basis of believing faith and admiring faith, when we develop the sincere wish to put spiritual teachings into practice, this is wishing faith.
Without faith our mind is like a burnt seed, for just as a burnt seed cannot germinate, so knowledge without faith can never produce spiritual realizations.
Faith in spiritual teachings, or Dharma, induces a strong intention to practice them, and this in turn induces effort. With effort we can accomplish anything.
Faith is essential. If we have no faith, even
if we master profound teachings and become capable of skilful analysis, our
mind will remain untamed because we shall not be putting these teachings into
practice. No matter how well we understand spiritual teachings on an intellectual
level, if we have no faith this will never help us to reduce our problems of
anger and other delusions. We may even become proud of our knowledge, thereby
actually increasing our delusions.
Spiritual knowledge without faith will not help us purify our negativity. We may even create heavy negative karma by using our spiritual position for money, reputation, power, or political authority. Faith should therefore be cherished as extremely precious. Just as all places are pervaded by space, so all virtuous states of mind are pervaded by faith.
If a practitioner has strong faith, then even if they make some mistake they will still receive benefits. Once in India there was a famine in which many people died. One old woman went to see her Spiritual Guide and said `Please show me a way of saving my life.' Her Spiritual Guide advised her to eat stones. The woman asked `But how can I make stones edible?', and he replied `If you recite the mantra of the Goddess Tsunda you will be able to cook the stones.' He taught her the mantra, but he made a slight mistake. He taught OM BALE BULE BUNDE SÖHA, instead of OM TZALE TZULE TZUNDE SÖHA. However, the old woman placed great faith in this mantra and, reciting it with concentration, she cooked stones and ate them.
This old woman's son was a monk and he began to worry about his mother, and so he went home to see her. He was astonished to find her plump and well. He said `Mother, how is it that you are so healthy when even young people are dying of starvation?' His mother explained that she had been eating stones. Her son asked `How have you been able to cook stones?', and she told him the mantra that she had been given to recite. Her son quickly spotted the mistake and declared, `Your mantra is wrong! The mantra of the Goddess Tsunda is OM TZALE TZULE TZUNDE SÖHA.' When she heard this the old woman was plunged into doubt. She tried reciting both the mantras but now neither of them would work because her faith was destroyed.
To develop and increase our faith in spiritual teachings, we need a special way of listening and reading. For example when we are reading a book that reveals the spiritual path we should think:
This book is like a mirror that reflects all the faults of my bodily, verbal, and mental actions. By showing up all my shortcomings it provides me with a great opportunity to overcome them and thereby remove all faults from my mental continuum.
This book is supreme medicine. Through practicing the instructions contained within it I can cure myself of the diseases of the delusions, which are the real source of all my problems and suffering.
This book is the light that dispels the darkness of my ignorance, the eyes with which I can see the actual path to liberation and enlightenment, and the supreme Spiritual Guide from whom I can receive the most profound and liberating advice.
It does not matter whether the author is famous or not - if a book contains pure spiritual teachings it is like a mirror, like medicine, like light, and like eyes; and it is a supreme Spiritual Guide. If we always read Dharma books and listen to teachings with this special recognition our faith and wisdom will definitely increase.
Contemplating in this way we can develop and maintain faith in spiritual teachings, in Teachers who show us spiritual paths, and in our spiritual friends. This will make it easier for us to make progress in our spiritual practice.
Sense Of Shame And Consideration For Others
The difference between sense of shame and consideration for others is that with the former we avoid inappropriate actions for reasons that concern our self, whereas with the latter we avoid inappropriate actions for reasons that concern others. Thus, sense of shame restrains us from committing inappropriate actions by reminding us that it is not suitable to engage in such actions because, for example, we are a spiritual practitioner, an ordained person, a spiritual Teacher, an adult, and so on; or because we do not want to experience negative results from our actions.
If we think 'It is not right for me to kill insects because this will cause me to experience suffering in the future', and then make a firm decision not to kill them, we are motivated by sense of shame. Our sense of shame guards us against committing negative actions by appealing to our conscience and to the standards of behavior that we feel to be appropriate. If we are unable to generate sense of shame we shall find it extremely difficult to practice moral discipline.
Examples of consideration for others are holding back from saying something unpleasant because it will upset another person, or giving up fishing because of the suffering it causes the fish. We need to practice consideration whenever we are with other people by being mindful of how our behavior might disturb or harm them.
Our desires are endless, and some of them would cause other people much distress if we acted them out. Therefore, before we act on a wish we should consider whether it will disturb or harm others, and if we think that it will we should not do it. If we are concerned for the welfare of others we shall naturally show them consideration.
Consideration for others is important for everyone. If we are considerate others will like and respect us, and our relationships with our family and friends will be harmonious and long lasting. Without consideration for others, however, relationships quickly deteriorate. Consideration prevents others from losing faith in us, and is the basis for developing a mind of rejoicing.
Whether we are a good person or a bad person depends upon whether or not we have sense of shame and consideration for others. Without these two minds our daily behavior will soon become negative and cause others to turn away from us. Sense of shame and consideration are like beautiful clothes that cause others to be attracted to us. Without them we are like a naked person whom everyone tries to avoid.
Both sense of shame and consideration for others are characterized by a determination to refrain from engaging in negative and inappropriate actions and from breaking vows and commitments. This determination is the very essence of moral discipline. We generate and sustain this determination by contemplating the benefits of practicing moral discipline and the dangers of breaking it. In particular, we need to remember that without moral discipline we have no chance of taking any higher rebirth, let alone of attaining nirvana.
Sense of shame and consideration for others are the foundations of moral discipline, which is the basis for gaining spiritual realizations, and the main cause of higher rebirth.
The great Spiritual Teacher Nargarjuna said that whereas enjoyments come from giving, the happiness of higher rebirth comes from moral discipline. The results of practicing giving can be experienced in a higher realm or a lower realm, depending upon whether or not we practice it in conjunction with moral discipline. If we do not practice moral discipline, our action of giving will ripen in a lower realm.
For example, as the result of actions of giving they accumulated in previous lives, some pet dogs have far better conditions than many humans - pampered by their owners, given special food and soft cushions, and treated like a favorite child. Despite these comforts these poor creatures have nevertheless taken rebirth in a lower life form with the body and mind of an animal. They have neither the bodily nor the mental basis to continue with their practice of giving, nor any other virtuous action. They cannot understand the meaning of the spiritual path nor transform their minds.
Once their previous karma of giving is exhausted through enjoying such good conditions, since they have had no opportunity to create more virtuous actions, their enjoyments come to an end; and in a future life they will experience poverty and starvation. This is because they did not practice giving in conjunction with moral discipline and so did not create the cause for a higher rebirth.
Through practicing sense of shame and consideration for others, the foundation of moral discipline, we can abandon non-virtuous or inappropriate actions, the root of our future sufferings.
Non-attachment in this context is the mind of renunciation, which is the opponent of attachment. Renunciation is not a wish to abandon our family, friends, home, job, and so forth and become like a beggar; but rather it is a mind that functions to stop attachment to worldly pleasures and that seeks liberation from contaminated rebirth.
We must learn to stop our attachment through the practice of renunciation, or it will be a serious obstacle to our pure spiritual practice. Just as a bird cannot fly if it has stones tied to its legs, so we cannot make progress on the spiritual path if we are tightly tied down by the chains of attachment.
The time to practice renunciation is now, before our death. We need to reduce our attachment to worldly pleasures by realizing that they are deceptive and cannot give real satisfaction. In reality, they cause us only suffering. This human life with all its suffering and problems is a great opportunity for us to improve both our renunciation and our compassion. We should not waste this precious opportunity.
The realization of renunciation is the gateway through which we enter the spiritual path to liberation, or nirvana. Without renunciation it is impossible even to enter the path to the supreme happiness of nirvana, let alone to progress along it.
To develop and increase our renunciation we can repeatedly contemplate the following:
Because my consciousness is beginningless, I have taken countless rebirths in samsara. I have already had countless bodies; if they were all gathered together, they would fill the entire world, and all the blood and other bodily fluids that have flowed through them would form an ocean. So great has been my suffering in all these previous lives that I have shed enough tears of sorrow to form another ocean.
In every single life I have experienced the sufferings of sickness, ageing, death, being separated from those I love, and being unable to fulfill my wishes. If I do not attain permanent liberation from suffering now, I shall have to experience these sufferings again and again in countless future lives.
Contemplating this, from the depths of our heart we make a strong determination to abandon attachment to worldly pleasures and attain permanent liberation from contaminated rebirth. By putting this determination into practice we can control our attachment and thereby solve many of our daily problems.
Non-hatred in this context is love, which is the opponent of hatred. Many people experience problems because their love is mixed with attachment; for such people the more their 'love' increases, the more their desirous attachment grows. If their desires are not fulfilled they become upset and angry. If the object of their attachment, such as their lover, even so much as talks to another person they may become jealous or aggressive.
This clearly indicates that their 'love' is not real love but attachment. Real love can never be a cause of anger; it is the opposite of anger and can never cause problems. If we love everyone as a mother loves her dearest child there will be no basis for any problems to arise because our mind will always be at peace. Love is the real inner protection against suffering.
Love is a virtuous mind motivated by equanimity to which its object appears as beautiful or pleasant. Equanimity is a balanced mind that prevents us from developing anger and attachment by applying their specific opponents. Recognizing anger and attachment to be harmful, like poison, equanimity prevents them from developing and keeps our mind peaceful. When the mind of equanimity is manifest we are very balanced and calm because we are free from the disturbing minds of attachment, anger, and other delusions.
Developing equanimity is like plowing a field - clearing our mind of the rocks and weeds of anger and attachment, thereby making it possible for true love to grow.
We need to learn to love all living beings. Whenever we meet anyone we should be happy to see them and try to generate a warm feeling towards them. On the basis of this feeling of affection, we should develop cherishing love so that we genuinely come to feel that they are precious and important.
If we cherish others in this way it will not be difficult to develop wishing love, wanting to give them happiness. Through learning to love everyone we can solve all our daily problems of anger and jealousy, and our life will become happy and meaningful. A more detailed explanation of how to develop and increase our love will be given in later chapters.
If we do not apply our self to our spiritual practice no one can grant us liberation from suffering. We are often unrealistic in our expectations. We wish we could accomplish high attainments swiftly without having to apply any effort, and we want happiness without having to create its cause.
Unwilling to endure even the slightest discomfort we want all our suffering to cease, and while living in the jaws of the Lord of Death we wish to remain like a long-life god. No matter how much we long for these wishes to be fulfilled, they never will be. If we do not apply energy and effort to our spiritual practices all the hopes we have for happiness will be in vain.
Effort in this context is a mind that delights in virtue. Its function is to make our mind happy to engage in virtuous actions. With effort we delight in actions such as listening to, reading, contemplating, and meditating on spiritual teachings, and engaging in the path to liberation. Through effort we shall eventually attain the ultimate supreme goal of human life.
By applying effort in our meditation we develop mental suppleness. Even though we may experience problems such as heaviness, tiredness, or other forms of mental or physical discomfort when we first begin to meditate, we should nevertheless patiently persevere and try to become familiar with our practice.
Gradually as our meditation improves it will induce mental suppleness - our mind and body will feel light, healthy, and tireless, and be free from obstacles to concentration. All our meditations will become easy and effective, and we shall have no difficulty in making progress.
However difficult meditation may be at the beginning, we should never give up hope. Instead we should engage in the practice of moral discipline, which protects us from gross distractions and acts as the basis for developing pure concentration. Moral discipline also strengthens mindfulness, which is the life of concentration.
We need to abandon laziness - laziness arising from attachment to worldly pleasures, laziness arising from attachment to distracting activities, and laziness arising from discouragement.
With laziness we shall accomplish nothing. As long as we remain with laziness the door to spiritual attainments is closed to us. Laziness makes our human life meaningless. It deceives us and causes us to wander aimlessly in samsara. If we can break free from the influence of laziness and immerse our self deeply in spiritual training we shall quickly attain our spiritual goal.
Training in spiritual paths is like constructing a large building - it demands continuous effort. If we allow our effort to be interrupted by laziness we shall never see the completion of our work.
Our spiritual attainments therefore depend upon our own effort. An intellectual understanding of spiritual teachings is not sufficient to carry us to the supreme happiness of liberation - we must overcome our laziness and put our knowledge into practice. Buddha said:
If you have only effort you have all attainments,
But if you have only laziness you have nothing.
A person without great spiritual knowledge who nevertheless applies effort consistently will gradually attain all virtuous qualities. However someone who knows a great deal and has only one fault - laziness - will not be able to increase his or her good qualities and gain experience of spiritual paths.
Understanding all of this, we should apply joyful effort to the study and practice of spiritual teachings in our everyday life.