Basic Questions on Detachment,
Nonviolence, and Compassion
Singapore, August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from
Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
Question: What is the meaning of detachment?
Answer: The Buddhist meaning of detachment is slightly different from what the word normally means in English. Detachment in Buddhism is connected with renunciation. The word "renunciation" in English is also misleading, for it implies that we have to give up everything and go live in a cave. Although there are examples of people like Milarepa who did give up everything and live in a cave, what they did is referred to by a different word, not the word that is translated as "renunciation" or "detachment". The word that has been translated as "renunciation" actually means "the determination to be free". We have a strong determination: "I must get out of my own problems and difficulties. My mind is totally firm on that goal." We want to give up our ego games because we are determined to be free from all the problems they cause. This does not mean that we have to give up a comfortable house or the things that we enjoy. Rather, we are trying to stop the problems that we have in relation to these objects. That leads us to detachment.
Being detached does not mean that we cannot enjoy anything or enjoy being with anyone. Rather, it refers to the fact that clinging very strongly to anything or anyone causes us problems. We become dependent on that object or person and think, "If I lose it or cannot always have it, I am going to be miserable." Detachment means, "If I get the food I like, very nice. If I do not get it, okay. It is not the end of the world." There is no attachment or clinging to it.
In modern psychology, the word "attachment" has a positive connotation in certain contexts. It refers to the bonding that occurs between a child and parent. Psychologists say that if a child does not have the initial attachment to the parents, there will be difficulties in the child's development. Again, it is problematic to find the appropriate English word to convey the Buddhist meaning, for the Buddhist connotation of attachment is quite specific. When the Buddhist teachings instruct that we need to develop detachment, it does not mean that we do not want to develop the child-parent bond. What is meant by "detachment" is ridding ourselves of clinging and craving for something or someone.
Question: Is there a difference between a detached action and a morally positive action?
Answer: Before I address that, just as an aside, I prefer the word "constructive" rather than "virtuous." "Virtuous" and "nonvirtuous" imply a moral judgment, which is not what is meant in Buddhism. There is no moral judgment. Nor is there reward or punishment. Rather, certain actions are constructive and others are destructive. If someone shoots people, that is destructive. If someone beats the other members of the family, that is destructive. Everybody agrees on this. There is no moral judgment involved. If we are kind and helpful to others, that is very constructive or positive.
When we help others, we can do it out of attachment or detachment. Helping someone out of attachment would be, for example, "I will help you because I want you to love me. I want to feel needed." We would say that this action of helping is still positive, but the motivation is not the best.
In the discussion of karma, we differentiate between the motivation and the action. We can do a positive action with a very poor motivation. The positive action will result in some happiness, while the poor motivation will result in some suffering. The opposite could also be true: the action is negative C for example, we hit our child C but the motivation was positive B it was in order to save his or her life. For example, if our little boy is about to run out onto the road and we just say sweetly, "Oh dear, do not run into the road," that will not stop him. If we grab our son and give him a whack on the bottom, he could resent it and cry, so there is a little negative result of that action. Nevertheless, the motivation was positive and the positive result is much larger than the negative one, because the boy was saved. Also, our son appreciates the fact that we care for him.
The same may be true of a constructive action: it may be motivated by detachment, which is always better, but it may also be done with attachment.
Question: Does compassion imply that we must always be passive and complying, or are forceful methods sometimes permitted?
Answer: Compassion must not be "idiot compassion" in which we give everybody anything he or she wants. If a drunkard wants whiskey or if a murderer wants a gun, it certainly is not compassion to fulfill his or her wishes. Our compassion and generosity must be coupled with discrimination and wisdom.
Sometimes, it is necessary to act in a forceful way C to discipline a child or to prevent a horrible situation from occurring. Whenever possible, it is better to act in a nonviolent manner to prevent or correct a dangerous situation. However, if that does not work and we see that the only way to end the danger right away is to act forcefully, then it would be considered as unwillingness to help if we did not use this method. Nevertheless, we need to act in a way that does not cause great harm to others.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was asked a similar question in an interview and he gave an example: a man goes to a river that is extremely difficult and dangerous to cross and is going to swim across it. Two people are watching nearby and they both know that if this person goes in the river, he will drown in the current. One looks on placidly and does nothing C he thinks he must be nonviolent and that this means he must not interfere. The second person shouts out to the swimmer and tells him not to go into the water. The current is dangerous. The swimmer says, "I don't care. I'm going in anyway." They argue and finally, in order to stop the swimmer from killing himself, the person on shore hits him and knocks him unconscious. In that situation, the person who just sits by and is willing to watch the man go in the water and drown is the one who commits an act of violence. The nonviolent person is the one who actually stops the man from killing himself, even if he had to resort to a forceful method.
AND COMPASSION: BUDDHIST PSYCHOTHERAPY AS SKILLFUL MEANS
© 2002 Kerry Moran
William James, the American writer and psychologist, predicted a century ago that Buddhism would deeply influence Western psychology. Far ahead of his time as usual, James' prediction is beginning to materialise. Western psychotherapists are increasingly incorporating Buddhist principles and practices, applying them in ways suited to our own modern culture. We see this synthesis in Jon Kabat-Zinn's work with stress reduction, in techniques like Hakomi and Integrative Processing Therapy, and in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which uses Zen principles to work with personality disorders. A uniquely Buddhist psychology is being articulated by writers like John Welwood, Tara Bennett-Goleman, Mark Epstein, and Diane Shainberg.
This new field is called presence-centered psychotherapy, or sometimes contemplative psychotherapy, after its meditative roots. It's a way of working that uses the wisdom of the present moment, enhanced by a patient inquiry into body-centered awareness, to unfold our innate potential for healing. It sounds simple, but it's radical in practice.
The blossoming of presence-centered psychotherapy provokes a still broader inquiry: What would a spiritually astute psychology look like, and where might it lead? How might basic Buddhist principles like awareness and compassion be applied in the consulting room? When mindfulness meditation is combined with depth therapy, what kind of synergy can arise? What happens when we apply pure awareness to what Daniel Goleman calls "the last great uncharted territory of the mind" - our own emotions?
In my own life, depth psychology and Buddhism have proven two mainstays of my personal path. I didn't start off as a Buddhist practitioner - in fact, I managed to spend three or four years living in Kathmandu, working as a journalist and trek leader, before I became aware of a growing imperative inside me that said, Go see this teacher. Get to know him, let him get to know you. I wrestled with this inner knowing for a while ("Are you sure you're talking to me?"), because I felt extremely shy and awkward. Still, some part of me seemed to know that I would just have to give that up. Finally I went down to the monastery and introduced myself to the lama. It was hard going for me, but I went back the next week, and the next, because that inner knowing was still there, still nudging me. A little later I went to a 10-day teaching seminar, and found the teachings to be pithy, earthy, and utterly sensible. It was hardly a lightning-bolt conversion - nothing dramatic, no visions or thunderclaps - but it felt workable, and I knew by that time I needed a spiritual discipline, or I'd risk wandering in the woods of dilettantism. At the end of the teachings, I made the decision to take refuge and become a Buddhist.
For the last 14 years I've studied and practiced in the Dzogchen tradition, which emphasises direct recognition of the nature of mind - the essential pure awareness inherent within each of us. For the past five years, I've practiced a form of depth psychotherapy that's been deeply influenced by my Buddhist background. In my personal life as well as in my work, I have found meditation practice and psychotherapy to be mutually supportive. Each takes me to places the other doesn't necessarily go; together, they open up new territory. The two traditions share a common bond in their focus on deepening and stabilizing awareness. I've also found each to be a profound source of strength in dealing with suffering, an aspect of life that is explicitly acknowledged in both systems -- and almost as explicitly avoided by our present society.
Buddhism and psychology are both technologies of the mind. Buddhism excels in unbiased seeing, describing both ultimate reality and relative truth with a clear-eyed profundity and a philosophical astuteness that's seldom been equaled. Like all great spiritual systems, it offers the possibility of breaking beyond the limitations of ego to a completely free and open experience of reality that's known as enlightenment.
Psychotherapy, in contrast, delves into relative reality -- specifically, the emotions, images and intuitions that shape our inner lives. Ultimate truth is not the goal here: rather, therapy strives to untie the knots of painful experiences by reworking past experiences and faulty perceptions. Depth therapy adds power to this enterprise by cultivating an active relationship with the unconscious, the uncontrolled but mighty hidden force that shapes our lives. Therapy's forte is instigating emotional growth and refining interpersonal skills -- areas that tend to be glossed over in many spiritual traditions.
Quite often, therapeutic work and spiritual work are placed in different categories, with spirituality subtly valued as "higher." But we need only take a look at our friends, our partners, or more importantly ourselves to acknowledge that a spiritually developed soul is not always emotionally mature. Spiritual ideals can provide the ultimate refuge from our unfinished emotional business. John Welwood calls this "spiritual bypassing" - the temptation to go up into the head, into unembodied spirituality, as a way to avoid our messy, painful emotional and relational issues; to use our beliefs to defend against our feelings of inadequacy. The big problem here is that this strategy simply doesn't work: our unfinished business eventually catches up with us, no matter how hard we try to "meditate" our way out of it. Whether you call it karma or just the nature of reality, a basic psychological truth is that that which is repressed only gains greater power, and that the only way out of an unpleasant situation is through.
Blending psychological and spiritual work thus offers the potential for a remarkably skillful approach, one that can both scale the heights and plumb the depths, working both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of reality - the spiritual and the embodied aspects of our lives. The two methods, in fact, have the potential to be mutually reinforcing. An awareness-based spiritual practice can support our emotional work, providing a spacious arena in which it can fully unfold. Meanwhile, by wholeheartedly voyaging into our own depths, we embrace the embodied and immediate aspect of our lives, mining the prima materia, the raw substance of spiritual transformation. Exploring the depths of our own psyche can broaden our spiritual understanding, grounding it in our own bodily experience and honing our ability to compassionately connect with others. It's not a matter of one method being "better" than the other, but rather a question as to what particular tool is appropriate for a specific aspect of this individual being at this exact time.
By working both sides of the equation -- emotional and spiritual, relative and ultimate, psychology and Buddhism - we are able to be grounded and open to larger realities, to "grow down," in James Hillman's phrase, as well as to finally grow up; to develop both a workable, comfortable human self and a broadened spiritual awareness.
Traditionalists may argue that formal psychological work was not necessary for the Buddha, for example, so why should it be for us? I've done a lot of thinking on this question, having spent much of my adult life outside the United States. It's my observation that traditional cultures like Nepal (where I lived for more than a decade) do not experience the level of alienation, self-loathing, and doubt we suffer from here. The stress of life in a highly competitive, insanely fast-paced materialistic society creates an insidious form of psychological suffering that is no less painful for its subtlety. Barraged with a constant stream of manipulative media messages, isolated from the intricate community and family structures that have traditionally support human growth, it's easy for us to feel isolated and confused. A pervasive inner tension seems to distort our emotional lives, warping the natural unfolding of a human being from child to adult. For many of us, it seems, unconscious patterns from the past block our ability to be happy and fully present. We often feel separated from our own experience by an invisible blockage or vague fear, a subtle disconnection that cuts us off from our own nature.
This is an area where our souls are begging for psychological as well as spiritual work. It may be that we suffer such a deep rift in our collective psyche - the ancient Western split between shadow and spirit, body and mind, materiality and spirituality -- that we need a certain amount of psychological and emotional exploration to heal this primordial wound. Without at least grounding ourselves in this process, we may simply not be ready for intensive spiritual practice.
Tibetan Buddhist practices presuppose a normally obnoxious human ego, one afflicted by healthy dollops of aggression, desire, and selfishness. Within this context, an enormous range of techniques exists to skillfully allow egocentricity to blossom into a more spacious state of being. But when these fundamentally gritty human qualities are absent - when early traumas, missed connections, or distortions of the growth process have damaged ego growth -- there is no sense of self, but only a hollow void, or a storm of negative voices. I recently read a transcript of a meeting between the Dalai Lama and a group of Western meditation teachers, in which he was stunned to hear the extent to which Americans in particular are tormented by what in psychological language is called "negative self-image." This kind of "self-directed contempt" doesn't exist in Tibetan culture, he commented.
Presence-centered psychotherapy offers a creative response to our society's particular forms of emotional suffering. By blending Eastern and Western wisdom, we are learning to work with our own unique cultural neuroses in a transformative way, as we begin to understand ourselves deeply and compassionately enough to create the space for natural healing.
Thabla khepa or "skillful means" is the Tibetan term for the most effective transformative tool appropriate to a particular moment. Depending on circumstances, it may be placid or fierce, gentle or rough - whatever best fits the situation. Compassion is considered the quintessential skillful means: together with wisdom, it constitutes the basis of Tibetan Buddhist practice. The bottom line is thus clear-eyed awareness and a fundamental sense of kindness and acceptance, applied to oneself and the world with equal generosity.
This is not just theoretical, conceptual truth: it's the kind of truth that's meant to be lived. I found the practical implications of these theories fleshed out in living color during my travels in Tibet in the 1980s. Four years in a row I explored Western and Central Tibet, using my rudimentary Chinese and Tibetan to hitchhike rides on the backs of open trucks -- the de facto method of public transportation. Over and over again, I met people who were both grounded and open-hearted, possessed of both a bawdy sense of humor and a bedrock spiritual faith that was unwavering despite forty-plus years of Chinese rule. It would have been impossible to remain untouched by the stories I heard repeated in calm, matter-of-fact voices: parents killed, relatives imprisoned, families devastated, one blanket and no food for the children through the cold Tibetan winter. Nearly everyone I met had a story to tell, especially about the upheavals of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. They did so matter-of-factly, with little bitterness, but all were quietly adamant on certain things: they want their country back; they want their own government; most of all, they want the Dalai Lama to return. "When the Dalai Lama comes back, I can die happy," my friend Tenzin would say. "If I die before then . . . I cannot die."
Jolting down the dusty dirt roads with groups of pilgrims and rowdy Khampa traders, I sensed a spiritual grounding that allowed them to accept the ongoing flow of life, be it pleasant or painful, in a solid yet graceful way. When a truck would break down unexpectedly in the literal middle of nowhere, there was no moaning about the misfortune. People just naturally took care of what needed to be done: some gathered dried yak dung for cooking fuel, while others hauled jerrycans of water or set up black yak-wool tents. An emissary would flag down a passing truck to ride a hundred miles down the dirt road to obtain the necessary mechanical part, and the rest of us would settle in for a day, or two, or three, of spirited gambling. There was no sense of impatience, no complaining - just a remarkable ability to deal with reality as it is, rather than how they wished it could be, a complete openness to experience that I've come to identify as the essence and fruit of Dharma practice.
In retrospect, I can say that this was my first inkling that Buddhism was a practical spiritual path. If these people, shaped by a profoundly Buddhist culture, managed to live life so completely, I thought, there might be something to this. I don't mean to paint an overly idealistic picture here: I also met up with some troubled individuals along the way. But on the whole I remain convinced that traditional Tibetan society grows exceptional human beings, people who are wonderfully and simply human. This striking combination of strength and warmth is personified most famously by the Dalai Lama, whose charisma radiates from his simple genuineness. You sense that there is no artifice here, just real human warmth, rooted in a deeper strength that is grounded in the transpersonal.
So my introduction to Tibetan Buddhism began not with the formal theory, but with the end result: the fully developed humanity, the cheerful strength and practical wisdom that is the natural result of Buddhist practice. The Buddhist perspective maintains that these qualities are inherent within all of us, and that the Dharma practices are tools to clear away the obscurations that block the full and radiant expression of our innately complete nature.
Wisdom and compassion are thus matters of practical application, not just concepts. Presence-centered psychotherapy applies these principles of wisdom and compassion to our own internal experience as it is in the moment. Virtually all of us hold tight knots of holding and rejection embedded within our experience. With a little observation, it's easy to see how when something unpleasant happens, we tighten up and reject this unwanted sensation. This kind of response seems natural -- after all, it's only common sense. Pushing away suffering in order to attain happiness is a simple equation based on Newtonian physics.
Unfortunately for us, Newton was wrong. We actually live in a quantum universe where all points are connected throughout space and time in an invisible web -- and the sooner our emotional intelligence catches up with this reality, the better. Suffering and happiness, samsara and nirvana, are not mutually exclusive opposites; rather, they are as closely linked as the back and front of your hand. Buddhism points out that it's our attitude towards experience, much more than the experience itself, which creates pleasure and pain.
By blindly grasping and rejecting, choosing and pushing away, we slip into a frantic tailspin of hope and fear. Our single-minded fixation only ends up creating more of the pain it seeks to push away. This tangle of emotions becomes like a chronically tight knot within our inner selves. In rejecting our own experience, we reject our own being, and this becomes an ongoing source of pain, confusion and alienation.
As a Buddhist, I am committed to the unfolding of awareness in the present moment. As a psychotherapist, I am in continual awe of the healing that occurs when awareness is brought to our old wounds, our contractions and rigidities. The awareness I am speaking of here is not conceptual awareness, of the "my-mother-did-this-to-me-when-I-was-five-years-old-and-I'm-still-screwed-up" variety. Rather, it's awareness itself, awareness pure and simple, awareness of the type that is cultivated in meditation. This type of awareness applied in the therapeutic context is an exceedingly powerful skillful means, because it taps into what in Buddhism is known as "the spontaneous pure presence of natural mind."
Postulating the human mind as inherently free and flawless is a radical statement, especially from the disease-oriented medical perspective of mainstream psychology. Our psyches, however, are not merely offshoots of our bodies; nor are they mechanistic pieces of equipment. Our culture errs in describing the personality exclusively through biology and brain chemistry, and errs further in overemphasizing chemical means of resolution for psychic pain. I'm not denying the blessings of psychopharmacology: rather, I'm saying that mainstream psychology desperately needs an enhanced spiritual awareness to open up its claustrophobically narrow view of the human soul.
The truth is that awareness itself is healing. In recognising the truth of our own experiences as they exist in the moment, they are released. The Dzogchen term for this is "natural self-liberation." Recognising the essential nature of mind, our holding is naturally released, just as the snake uncoils itself out of a knot, just as a word traced on the surface of water disappears in the very moment it is written.
Mindfulness practice as embodied in meditation cultivates unconditional friendliness towards our own experience. It involves the radical practice of just being, without trying to do anything about how we are. To simply be with our own experience on a moment-by-moment basis and to treat it with a friendly attitude - this is the essence of mindfulness. It is a discipline, a skill, an art, a game, an endlessly fascinating pursuit with the potential to pervade every moment of life, awake and asleep.
The simplest proposition is also the most radical: that our basic nature is open
space infused with pure awareness. Beyond all our constructs and beneath all our
holding, each of us is no more and no less than spacious awareness - the capacity
to know, pure and simple. This "empty essence fused with luminous knowing"
is our absolute true nature, shared by all sentient beings.
Buddhist psychology is rooted in this fundamental capacity for consciousness, this pure potential inherent in all beings. When we recognise this seed of awareness at our core, we realise that there's no need to embroider upon the fundamentally pure qualities within us. It's not a question of self-improvement, of somehow making ourselves into a "good person." Rather, it's simply a matter of releasing the temporary obscurations that block us from manifesting our pure nature. Simple but profound, this shift in attitude changes everything. We stop struggling with our own nature, trying to make ourselves into something that we are not. We stop identifying with the steady flow of conceptual thought that normally fills our mind, and start identifying with our essence. Rather than constantly trying to actualise ourselves, we wake up to our own actuality.
For most of us, this is not an overnight event, but the gradual result of study, investigation, and meditation practice, preferably under the guidance of an accomplished spiritual teacher. In the Dzogchen tradition, the nature of mind is directly "pointed out" to qualified students by a master who transmits his or her own realisation in that moment. Even if we lack the opportunity to receive such teachings, simply allowing for the mere possibility of enlightened essence can be psychologically liberating. The need to try hard, to improve the self, to struggle for perfection, is so deeply ingrained in the way we treat ourselves. Natural perfection is a radical doctrine, subversive in its simplicity.
A traditional Buddhist metaphor compares our essential nature to the sky, and the disturbing emotions we experience to clouds. In truth, the sky is always there behind the clouds, whether or not we see it -- the sky, in fact, accommodates the clouds, without being the least bit disturbed by them. Our mind is the same, in its capacity to remain fundamentally pure as it accommodates these endlessly arising emotions and thoughts. The Tibetan yogi Milarepa said a thousand years ago:
In the gap between two thoughts
Thought-free wakefulness manifests unceasingly.
When this understanding is applied to our own inner being, we begin to relate to our problems from the spacious awareness that is our basic nature. We learn to embrace the ongoing process of life with a degree of calmness and acceptance. Problems become somewhat less tight knots to be struggled with, and somewhat more intriguing phenomena arising within our field of awareness. This is not to say that we pretend to like painful situations, or that we paste a smiley face over our very real pain. Rather, through patient practice, we somehow find we can allow space for our dislike, our suffering, and our confusion - our actual and own experience.
And here is the incredibly hard part - we start to drop our addiction to knowing, to analysing, to working things out in our heads. Resting in mindfulness shows how all of these strategies are simply masquerades for the fundamental need to be in control. It's not that conceptual thinking is bad, so much as it is irrelevant. It clutters our innate spaciousness, chopping up our intrinsic awareness into little bits.
All too often, we simply get in our own way. We ornament our innate awareness with concepts, and soon these concepts become a confining prison - a prison we forget we ourselves created. Thinking is a vital skill, intelligence a saving grace. But used without attention to what the heart or the body or one's larger awareness says about the truth of a situation, cerebral intelligence becomes unskillful means.
Letting go of concepts doesn't mean we drop our ability to discern. Far from it! Freed from the fixation of judgment, we find ourselves keener observers, able to recognise the more nuanced aspects of reality and to respond to circumstances in a more flexible way. Discernment doesn't require us to solidify our experience by holding onto concepts about something. We can let go of concepts and take in our experience in a direct, fresh way: the blue vase on the windowsill, the squish of rain-soaked leaves underfoot, the cap left off the toothpaste (again - and here a concept interjects itself).
Relinquishing judgment also doesn't mean we passively accept everything that comes our way. We can still hate the experience of the capless and crusty toothpaste tube created by our thoughtless partner. We can be fully aware of our aversion, and consciously decide how we are going to respond to the situation, rather than automatically reacting to it. Cultivating awareness doesn't mean we turn into a bowl of mush. It does mean we have more tools at our disposal. We are fine-tuning our perceptions, a process which can be painful, but which over the course of time results in a more accurate experience of reality.
In the state of choiceless awareness that is mindfulness, we find the ability to just let things be, regardless of our like or dislike of the situation. This discovery can be remarkably liberating. Over time, it opens us up to a larger sense of trust. We are cultivating the ability to see through all the busy clutter of our lives to the core: to the bottom-line truth that our essential nature is awareness, pure and simple, and that this pure and simple awareness has its own healing energy, its own path and power.
Here's another popular misconception: that mindfulness practice means detaching from one's feelings. Again, this is far from the truth. If anything, we find ourselves feeling more intensely, once we've scraped away the overlay of neurotic angst that formerly filtered our experiences. Feelings most definitely arise within a state of mindfulness, as strong and clear as ever. And they pass away, just as they always have. The goal here is not detachment, but a full and free experiencing of whatever arises in the moment, unobstructed by conceptual judgment. So often we hold ourselves back from our own experience, subtly freezing it into constructs and thoughts. This pulling back from the flow of life is itself the essence of suffering.
In my own life, it's an ongoing process - I sometimes want to say "struggle" - to apply this knowledge to my everyday experience. Although I'm privileged to witness the transformative power of awareness first-hand as a psychotherapist, this doesn't mean I always apply it gracefully to myself. But I do have the conviction, based on personal experience, that the practices of mindfulness and compassion have an enormous power to relieve suffering and generate healing.
Much of this I learned the hard way. My husband and I awoke on a rainy March morning in 1993 to find our 15-month-old son dead in his crib, victim of an illness that should not have been fatal, but was. The shock, the horror, the enormous guilt that I immediately locked away because it was too much to bear - it was all too much to bear. The event shattered my defenses utterly. That night, I laid down in a haze of grief and exhaustion and sensed a very fine pain at the core of my heart, like a straw had been inserted in a subtle channel deep inside. Heartbreak, it seems, is a literal experience.
I had to get through the days and weeks and months that followed; I had to somehow survive. Killing myself to escape the pain was not an option, though I certainly entertained the notion. But we had a four-year-old daughter to take care of, and I had an intuition that physical death would not resolve the situation; that I would wake up on the other side and find my disembodied grief a hundred times worse. I had to take care of myself in a way that I'd never done before. I had to be present for my own experience and somehow contain it without trying to control it, because my control mechanisms had been blown to bits.
I dragged a cushion into Nick's room, and sat there every day with my grief, anger, and pain. Whenever I felt the waves coming up inside, I'd sit and be with my feelings with a ferocious intensity. Somehow the awareness took off some of the pressure. It let the waves flow in their own rhythm, battering the shore, then receding for a few hours. I learned that if I could just be present for whatever emotions arose, if I could just embrace them as fully and completely as possible, the storm would pass more easily.
I began to practice tonglen, the Tibetan meditation on 'sending and receiving,' in which you imagine yourself taking in the suffering of others with every inhalation, and with every exhalation send them all your happiness, all your joy, all your strength. This worked like nothing else did to ease my own suffering. In some mysterious alchemical fashion, the pain in my heart melted when I connected with the pain of others. I didn't stop to think why this might be so, or how it worked. I simply sat and took in more, grateful for even a few breaths of relief.
Grief took away my life energy in the way that serious illness does. Those first few months, I'd wake in the morning to find my body lying peacefully in bed -- then remember what had happened, and feel the physical weight of irreversible loss descend upon me like a ton of bricks. In the middle of the tempest, though, I found a sort of peace. Seated in the eye of the hurricane, emotional currents swirling all around, I experienced a steady sense of grounded presence that alone helped me bear the grief. It became clear that this awareness was not going to run away, though I at times might choose to. It was always present, spacious and accommodating, despite the awful turbulence of my emotions. It was as if uniting with the seed impetus of those emotions allowed them to unfold as they would, unencumbered by the added pain of resistance. It was an awareness that was larger than thought, larger than emotion, an awareness that preceded and contained both of these.
MINDFULNESS: THE PRACTICE OF AWARENESS
Staying with our own experience as it unfolds moment to moment can be the hardest thing we'll ever do. Painful feelings are avoided or repressed for good reason: they hurt. Facing the emotional traumas embedded in the body requires intention and a great deal of courage -- the kind of courage that doesn't deny the presence of fear, but rather acknowledges the fear and does it anyway, with consideration and kindness for one's own pain. Spiritual practice is where the "Big No" -- our basic rejection of experience -- meets the "Big Yes" -- our compassionate awareness.
It can take only a few weeks of self-investigation to reveal the suffering that arises when we freeze and contract around our own pain - a reaction which creates a whole new layer of suffering on top of the original pain. One could say it's the essence of neurosis, the places where we block ourselves from letting in life.
Presence-centered psychotherapy works with these frozen feelings, thawing them into fluidity through the patient heat of our attention. So often we run away from our own experience. We avoid being present because we are so unhappy. Yet we only make ourselves unhappier through clinging to stories and concepts that further alienate us from what is going on in the moment. The key, the turn-around moment, is in just giving our own experience the space to exist: in paying attention to it and actually experiencing it rather than compressing or contracting or running away, rather than attacking or rejecting or judging it, rather than drugging ourselves numb against it or exaggerating our reaction into hysteria. Each of us has a virtuoso repertoire of negative responses to undesirable experiences. And life provides us with endless opportunities to realise that ultimately, none of them work.
Our fear, our disbelief, says, "What's the point?" It believes that paying attention to painful things only leads to more pain. Obsessing or fixating on painful matters certainly does creates more pain -- but open awareness is a different matter entirely. It's the difference between being squeezed in a closed fist and resting lightly on an open palm. Held in the open palm of awareness, painful experience has a chance to decompress and expand, to gentle itself into its own true nature. So much of the pain we experience is in the contraction, rather than the original wound.
The key, again, is asking the simple question: "What's going on right now? What am I experiencing in this moment?" Turning inside, we check out our experience at the inner level of felt bodily sensation, not the cerebral level of what the head says, yammering away. To be mindful is to be fully present in the moment, relinquishing the urge to control our experience. Just being aware, just noticing: the ache in my right shoulder, the breath going in, the hiss of a car moving down the rain-slicked street, a catch in my throat, a flutter of fear, a tightening in the lower back. Underlying this never-ending process, we subtly notice that which notices. Just noticing, just being aware.
The essence of this process is direct experience: noting what arises, and staying with it as it unfolds. Slowly we discover that it's our resistance to our own experience that makes certain situations so painful, more than the experience itself. Even overwhelming emotions like grief can expand and blossom in the moment-by-moment attention to what is happening, and the commitment to stay with the experience for just one more breath. We learn to open to the actual quality of the feeling, the pure painfulness of the pain, rather than trying to control it or reject it. And it is in this precise attention to detail, this exquisitely scrupulous awareness of exactly what is happening, that the knot unties in space. We learn to ride the waves of emotion, to move with them rather than struggle against them. Emotions are inevitable; they exist to the point of enlightenment and no doubt beyond. Spiritual practice in the Dzogchen tradition does not involve suppressing our emotions or overcoming them, but simply allowing them to flow freely through us, without grasping. The same applies to psychological health.
When we practice mindfulness, we are cultivating a deliberate vulnerability. As Ron Kurtz, the founder of Hakomi, succinctly sums up: "Mindfulness is undefended consciousness." It is an exquisitely poignant process of dismantling our armor, our expectations, our efforts to control; a bittersweet unfolding of the pleasure and pain inherent in every moment. And this fuels the therapeutic process with some very high-octane energy. When we open up to our own inner process, we open the gates of self-exploration and new discovery.
Psychologist Eugene Gendlin has found that the single determining factor in a therapy's effectiveness is how well a client is able to stay with his or her own experience. The type of therapy practiced, the duration of the work, even the particular therapist, did not matter nearly as much as this basic ability to simply experience what one is experiencing. And this ability, Gendlin notes, is seldom taught in therapy (though he developed his Focusing technique around this very point). It seems that the client walks in the door either with it or without it, and flails away valiantly regardless. By bringing aspects of mindfulness meditation into the therapeutic process, we tap into the potential to go beyond superficial cognitive-behavioral solutions to the deepest roots of body, mind, and psyche.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche uses the term "fundamental sanity" to describe the solid and clear ground of our basic nature, our birthright as human beings. Dharma practice is meant to bring us back to this place of our original essence. It seems to me that we Westerners have developed a particularly imaginative repertoire of ways to cut ourselves off from this basic state. Apart from our superb collection of distractions, we can choose from addictions, denial, busyness, workaholism, rationalisation . . . the list of accredited, socially approved ways to flee our ourselves goes on and on.
One pattern I see quite often is how we give absolute credence to the ghost in the machine, the neurotic soundtrack that accompanies our lives, unleashing its negative commentary as our life unfolds. This superficial narrative cuts us off from our own complexity and depth. We believe the voices in our head as they unreel in a devastating commentary on our own self: "You're too this, too that. Too shy. Too fat. Too needy. Too ugly. Too stupid. You never do that. Screwed up again, didn't you? Who do you think you are? Why bother, it's always going to be like this." And on and on, endlessly.
It's difficult to argue with these voices, because they are primed for debate. Apply the clarity of aware emptiness to this scenario, however, and gradually it starts to dissolve. Embrace it with compassion for the suffering involved, and it melts like the Wicked Witch. Rejection can't hold a candle to compassion.
Awareness or mindfulness on its own, however clear it may be, is not enough to support deep change. Love, in the sense of basic warmth and compassion towards ourselves and our own experience, is also necessary. These twin qualities, self-awareness and basic kindness, are inseparable. In the Tibetan tradition they are called wisdom and compassion, or "warmth and wakefulness," as Trungpa Rinpoche phrased it. Compassion is said to be an intrinsic quality of the nature of mind, radiating automatically and effortlessly from the empty, aware essence that is our basic nature.
Compassion plays a major role in psychotherapy as well, though it isn't a subject taught in schools or discussed in seminars. Emotional healing requires a warm, receptive, attentive listener; someone who is willing to take in our own experience and feel it fully. The power of this "suffering with" - the root origin of the word "com-passion" -- cannot be overestimated. It extends far beyond the unburdening we experience when we talk about our problems with a sympathetic friend. That kind of conversation often concludes with a bit of well-meaning advice or an attempt to cheer us up. That is different than exploring our difficulties in the presence of another who is open, relaxed, and aware; someone who is willing to completely be with us without having to change our situation in any way. In some mysterious way, being fully seen and understood by another, even if that understanding is entirely wordless, can support us in understanding ourselves.
It's as if awareness is contagious. By being fully present for our difficult feelings, yet not needing to manipulate reality in any way, the other models self-compassion. This unconditional loving presence provides the context for deep emotional healing. It is profound, fundamental, open-handed love, with no expectations and no judgment. Compassion provides non-egocentric nourishment. It's the kind of unconditional positive regard we all need as children, yet we don't always get. However late it comes, it is always a most welcome experience. It creates the space in which we can unfold ourselves and grow.
Loving kindness applied to ourselves helps us fully experience our own feelings, however negative or difficult they might be. Breathing in, we embrace our pain with compassion. Breathing out, we stay with our present experience as it unfolds in the moment. It's that simple. Over time, this process of compassionate attention heals our restless need to struggle with reality, to strive for something better or different or more. Eventually, it heals our separation from our own selves. To be able to stay with our own experience and allow it to be just as it is - this is the practice of awareness and compassion combined. Presence-centered psychotherapy uses these as tools for awakening and deepening. Through cultivating awareness, we create a container for our experience. Through cultivating compassion, we open this vessel to the world.
Awareness and compassion are thus two key elements of spiritually oriented psychotherapy - skillful means for the heart and soul. Unlike so many external goals we strive for, they are intrinsic to our nature. Unlike so many pop psych fads, they are grounded in millennia of actual practice. They manifest as regularly, as inevitably, and as naturally as the breath itself.
Presence-centered psychotherapy blends the wisdom of meditation and psychology. Psychotherapy uses the presence and awareness of the other - the therapist - to hone self-awareness. In meditation practice, we refine the application of awareness on our own. Quietly seated by ourselves, we become aware of the faintest aspect of the breath, the subtlest movement of the mind. Therapy happens once or twice a week: the rest of the time, you might reflect on the hour and muse a bit, letting the resulting awareness percolate through your system. Meditation can happen any time, any place, but again, the process of letting the resulting awareness filter through the body/mind is as important as the practice itself. The precise methodologies differ, but the goal is the same: to immerse ourselves fully in the flow of life by embracing our awareness of our own experience.
Need and Significance of Modern Science,
One thing I would like to make clear is that Ven Amchok Rinpoche, the Director of Library of Tibetan Works & Archives (LTWA) has come here and his purpose of visit is connected with a project about which I have been thinking for many years. It has been my wish that the learned scholars of the three "Central Seats" as well as the monks who are intelligent in study take keen interest in the various disciplines of modern science such as psychology, physics and astronomy. I have felt the need and importance of entering into discussion with those specialized in various fields of modern science, which shares close affinity with Buddhist philosophy and tenets. Then by working out a proper syllabus and a convenient time-table one can conduct classes or workshops to impart education in science.
I have previously expressed my wish that the LTWA shoulder the responsibility in taking the initiatives. Today Rinpoche has purposely come all the way and has also circulated a written information. I consider this a matter of great significance. Today, science means a most valid method of discovering truth; and this is what science does. Generally speaking, a genuine scientist always does his or her research objectively, free from any pre-conceived and biased notions or ideas. The field of their research, if compared with the wide scopes of Buddhist philosophy, has never been a vast one. Primarily, their field of interest has always been the external material world and not the inner cognitive mind.
The scientists categorize themselves into two groups, the "conservative" and "liberal." The conservative scientists mainly deal with things relating to mind and its psychic force. While material things constitute the main sphere of study for the liberal scientists. I think the main reason of this classification is because of the multiplicity and disparity of concepts and thoughts that comes up in the study of mind; and the difficulties faced in validating and measuring these conceptions ad infinitum.
The well-founded disciplines of modern science are the fields that are directly related to us (Buddhists). Generally speaking, even religions including Christianity which are widely practiced in the West, are labeled as mere "dogmas" by the modern scientists. Science on the other hand is recognized as a field of study that deals with the observed facts and the relationship amongst those facts. Indeed science has enormously influenced the life of people in this world through its study of chemical process, biological aspects and so forth. For example, when we become seriously ill, we go to hospitals, which we associate with "outsider's art of healing" to seek medical treatment. The hospital, through its modern techniques and appliances, makes correct diagnosis and proper medication possible. The methods of diagnosing diseases and prescribing medicines are based on experiences of a physician, and are not mere rituals based on teachings such as the Medicinal Tantra preached by Buddha Bhaishajya. Although it is undeniably true that there have been cases of wrong diagnosis and medications. Also there are medicines and curative measures that relieve our pain and provide solace for a while, but turns detrimental in the long run. However the greatness of medical sciences is widely appreciated and has so far been successful in preventing and treating the deadliest of diseases that inflicts the life of all living beings. It is also sad that many living beings despite the progress in medical science succumb to illness and diseases.
Modern appliances and devices such as radio and audio-recorder, which we use in our daily life, are the products of ceaseless effort and experimentation of science and technology, rather than mystical clairvoyance or miracle powers. As a matter of fact, in this world, modern science is viewed as a field of study that searches for observed facts based on experimentation. Developments in the field of science and technology have had positive impact on the life of people living in this world. It has directly benefited the people by helping them live a better and more comfortable life.
As I have mentioned earlier, religions in general are viewed as ideologies based on belief in god as the almighty creator. From Buddhist perspective, these are considered as religion based on false reification. In terms of false belief, Buddhist teachings classify them into two-fold: false belief springing from reification, exaggeration of factual truth; and false belief stemming from repudiation, denial or under-estimation of truth. Of these, most of the religions are based on reified truths. By these words, I intend to relate that what exist in reality should be known, and what is known should be validated and well substantiated. Scientist took religion as ideologies that were unfounded and baseless, and hence do not see their teachings as complying to the true nature of phenomena's existence. Therefore, in the western countries, religion and science are viewed as completely paradoxical and antithetical with no common factors to share.
Since fifteen to twenty years back, out of fondness and interest for modern science, I have tried to make contacts with scientists. I have cherished this idea of learning the varied field of science even from my childhood days. Thereafter, I have tried to make contacts with those specialized in the field of science and technology. Some of my western friends aware of my interest have told me that science is an enemy of religion. I was also cautioned over my interest in science by explaining how it has been a cause to the ruin and destruction of many religions and faiths in the West. However, I was least affected by these warnings as I am confident over the fact that the teachings of Buddha, unlike others, are based on truth and reality.
In Buddhist teachings, when refuting opinions of the lesser schools in the process of establishing truth from facts and reality, the higher schools formulate their views based on logical reasoning and critical analysis, rather than citing words of the Buddha. In the process of reasoning and analysis, it forewarns the arisal of fallacies and consequences on clinging to the lesser views and ideologies. For example, when learning and teaching Tantra, we begin with the basis of phenomena's existence, the means of transcending the paths by relying on the basis, and finally the mode of actualizing the results through dependence on the paths. Also in the general teachings of the Mahayana vehicle, the basis- two truths, the paths- method and wisdom, and the results- the two bodies of Buddha are explained. It also teaches how cultivation of spiritual paths and accomplishment of goals are attained by dependence upon the basis.
On that which is void of basis, no paths can be cultivated, no goals attained. Therefore, we should look for truth wherever it is prevalent. And truth found through this approach can definitely help develop our inner mind. It will eventually help us realize the fundamental nature of how all sentient beings want happiness and do not want suffering.
Confident of this fact, I got in touch with scientists, through which I became acquainted with many of them. In their treatment of material world, evolution of universe, and nature of chemical substances, I feel they are very precise and accurate in their analysis. For example, our [Buddhist] view extensively explaining subtle phenomena and time, especially the time division of snapping of a finger by a healthy person into 365 flickering instances, is extremely gross compared to that explained by the modern physicists. The treatment of time and energy by modern scientists are at a subtlest level possible. We also speak of atoms of different types and forms namely lcags-rdul (iron-particle), chu-rdul (water-particle), ri-bong-gi-rdul (rabbit-particle), lug-rdul (sheep-particle), and glang-rdul (ox-particle). These varying ranges of subtle particles are classified from gross to subtle- firstly rdul-phra-rab (atomic particle), then rdul-phran (Sub-atomic particles), followed by iron-particle, water-particle, sun-rays particle, hare-particle, and so forth. However, compared to the explanations of modern scientists, we realize these as being at a very gross level. Therefore, I feel the discoveries and revelations made by the scientists can certainly help us develop a better understanding.
Similarly, modern scientists can also benefit greatly from the teachings of the Buddha. Presently, the radical materialists in their investigation and experiment over subtle objects found out that nothing truly and ultimately exists. As they are unable to posit any truly existing object, they feel that true existence perhaps never exists. However, Buddha-dharma, since thousands of years before, through proper analysis and investigation, have proven the fact that when searched for, no single object of observation truly and inherently exist. It is recently that scientists have realized things lack of true existence, as it is unfindable when closely examined and searched. When they do not find it, they feel that everything existed as mere projection of our mind, hence drawing themselves close to the views of the Cittamatrina (Mind-only) school of Buddhism. At this juncture, they are in pure philosophy and not in the discipline of modern science.
These days, scientists, especially those who have reached a respectably high level of proficiency are turning towards philosophy. In the past, philosophy refers to a discipline wholly dealing with mind and conceptions. And science is recognized as a practical field of study that involves experimenting substantially existent material objects. However, these days their distances have become less. When the object of experiment or observation is beyond the reach of one's ability and perception and when even the inductive methods fail, scientists are left with no other options, but to take up philosophical approach based on study of logic and metaphysis. There are certain points where study and experiment fail and scientists are left with no clues to a problem and its cause.
From this point of view, the Buddhist principle of dependent-origination is worthy of our admiration as it explains phenomena's nominal or relative existence. Scientists' approach towards looking for the nature of phenomena had brought them to such a high level of understanding. Although these have been already explained by the Buddha and Nagarjuna, the scientists still deserve praise as they have discovered it through their own empirical reasoning and practical experiments over how things lack of true existence.
Scientists are especially taking interest in Buddhist philosophy and tenets, excluding the doctrinal teachings such as impermanence and liberation. For example, once I attended a seminar with many highly proficient and recognized scientists. In the first session, I saw some of them air their sense of discontentment and sarcastically asked what the religious practitioners have to discuss with the scientists. However, when I explained to them how Buddhism does not believe in the concept of a creator god, its negation of permanent, single and independent self; its negation of a self other than the aggregates; non-existence of true self; and how changes are brought about by their respective external and internal causes and conditions, only then did they start to see its significance. During the second session, with their increased interest in Buddhism, they expressed how its approach is totally different from other religions. In the third session and thereafter, they raised certain topics of interest and asked how it was viewed from Buddhist perspective. Out of sheer curiosity and amazement, they budged in between sessions and during tea-breaks, to discuss things of importance.
The highly intellectual scientists and deep thinkers are beginning to take interest in the eastern philosophy. Of these, some are exceptionally keen on studying Buddhism. By this, I do not mean all scientists have accepted us. Of the many, those who are aware of this fact and those unbiased indeed are taking interest in Buddhism. The conclusion they draw on Buddhism is that: "taking the matter of fact that science will develop greatly as it ushers into the 21st century, and if there is a religion that can develop with science, it could be none other than Buddhism." This is one thing.
As I have explained before, in many religion faith and wisdom are seen as completely disparate. According to these, faith is viewed as single-pointed devotion and are not conjoined or associated with wisdom. However, the teachings of Buddha, to everyone's amazement, explain the possibilities and advantages of generating faith conjoined with wisdom. Owing to these and many other qualities, people are embracing Buddhism.
Last year, I attended a seminar with some scientists in Dharamsala. There was one or two Chinese and Japanese. A middle-aged Japanese woman also attended the seminar then, not as a speaker but merely as an ardent observer. On the third day, following the first two days of discussions and deliberations, the woman expressed her desire to speak with me. She said, "I am a Japanese from the East. To this day, I have thought that religion and philosophy of the East are merely faith-oriented ideology and that which exist only for prayer's sake. I have never known it to be so profound and have never realized its power in observing phenomena's mode of existence." She also said, "I deeply regard western science as a discipline that highly values and establishes factual realities and which have the potential to practically benefit humankind. Taking into account my notion of considering eastern religion and philosophy as mere objects of our faith and prayer, I have felt that it served as an object of study for western science and philosophy and not vice-versa. Attending this seminar for two days, I was deeply moved to discover how eastern philosophy searches and establishes truth through rational analysis, similar to that of western scientists."
Considering this, I feel amazed by the ontological explanation given in the teachings on Middle Way philosophy and Valid Cognition by Acharya Diganaga and Dharmakirti especially sel-'jug, the eliminative perception and sgrub-'jug, affirming perception as elucidated in the Commentary on [the Compendium of] Valid Cognition (Pramanavartika; tshad-ma rnam-'grel) when teaching valid reasoning establishing the nature of phenomena. The Tirthika's concept of sPyi (generality), though refuted by Buddhists, is a result of their deep thinking and hence should not be taken lightly. Buddhist teachings explain sound and conceptuality as object of eliminative perception and not as affirming perception. These are not vague ideas as they are based on valid reasoning and infallible perception of a valid-cognizer.
The import of Middle Way philosophy and the teachings on Valid Cognition are of utmost importance and are significantly essential for pragmatic experimentation. The teachings of Buddhism in general and that of Mahayana in particular are laden with innate potential and significance. However, until today we have been unable to demonstrate its unique qualities and power to the world. When the potentiality and utility of Buddhism gradually manifest and come to light, I am certain that Buddhist scholars, who have mastered the Middle-Way philosophy, the teachings of valid cognition and other Buddhist literature for many years can play a major role in the explaining the Buddhist perspective as they possess the required knowledge and the requisite factors.
Western scholars are very particular in their research especially in many fields of studies including history. They are very precise and accurate in locating places and identifying dates in their research works. However, they are of no match to the dialecticians and logicians who contemplates and meditates on the profound teachings. Here, I do not intend to undermine the western scholars. On philosophical ground, I feel Buddhist masters are exceptionally great and their understanding immeasurably profound. Mastery over Tibetan language is an additional advantage as Tibetan language, with standardized terms and meanings is the richest existing language that can fully expound and interpret the teachings of Buddha. In spiritual and religious discipline, I feel Tibetan scholars are very good.
If asked what are the main detrimental factors that cause us to lag behind? I feel it is due to our lack of understanding in modern science, for which I feel the need of studying science extremely important. The aim of studying science is not to facilitate us with an opponent or an opposing view, but rather for finding truth. If there are any contradictory views in science, they can be taken as hypothesis for further study and analysis. For example, from the biography of great master Dharmakirti, we learn how he became a disciple and served a heretic master only to study their views and ideologies. We should also follow this uncommon method when studying modern science.
Although the ancient philosophies are valuable, some of these have disappeared and the remainings are irrelevant and impractical. Instead of studying old philosophies void of any relevance it would be wiser to study existing religion such as Christianity. The purpose of the study should not be to criticize or find faults in other religions, but to understand their differences. Understanding their differences strengthens and secures one's faith and dewsvotion toward Buddha-dharma.
As mentioned earlier, if one could study modern science, which in its search for truth, have certain affinities with Buddhist philosophy and tenets, I feel they would start to generate a steadfast and deep-rooted faith in the teachings of the Buddha. This would further contribute in the preservation and dissemination of Buddha-dharma. Moreover, when introducing Buddhist teaching to the new generation of Tibetans, if we are able to present the views of both Buddhism and modern science by drawing their comparisons, I am sure the teachings would be more valid, practically scientific, and easily comprehensible. This is the best method of teachings that can generate belief and conviction in the mind of people.
Our community shall not remain as it is. There will be changes. Not only in the exiled community, but in future, when the Tibetans in and outside Tibet gather, then also there will be changes. The knowledge of science will be instrumental in the preservation, promotion and introduction of Buddhism to the new generation of Tibetans. Hence, it is very necessary to begin the study of science.
I feel it more proper if the initiatives are taken by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, considering its relevance and relatedness with the objectives of the institute. Rinpoche will inform you of this in detail and you may indulge in discussions later. I have just mentioned the general key points that are in my mind.
During the times when battles were fought with the Chinese and the British in the Water-Bird and the Wooden-Dragon year, we considered "the yellow-haired westerners" the enemy of Buddhism, and had a very disgusting opinion of them. On the other hand, the Chinese emperors were held in great veneration by praising them as "the divine emanation of Lord Manjushri." Ultimately we are in the loss, having clung to this faulty opinion for a long time. Now the time has come for us to place our hope to the one whom we once referred to as "the enemy of Buddhism." No matter how lowly "the enemy of the Dharma" be, they respect freedom and democracy. They live in a state where the rule of law is supreme prevails. Contrary to this, the land of "the divine emanation of Manjushri" no longer experience freedom and democracy, nor the rule of law.
The modern science of today is a universal science, rather than that of the West as it once used to be. If those who have studied the Middle Way philosophy and teachings of Valid Cognition take up modern science, with the unending positive doubts and constructive curiosities, I am sure they can easily and swiftly gain a deeper understanding of the subject. Conversely, if the class comprise of students who have studied the Middle Way philosophy and teachings of Valid Cognition, I am certain that the teachers can develop a deeper understanding of the subject he or she has specialized.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Monk That Went Forth
An interview with Bhante Yatirawana Wimala
by Adam Rostoker
Twenty five hundred years later, it is still traditional for monks to wander and teach but there is probably no other monk who has wandered as far as Bhante Yatirawana Wimala, one of the most unusual Theravadha monks. Bhante Wimala has been traveling full time for twelve years covering more than 100,000 miles by air and over 15,000 miles by car in the last year alone. He teaches, lectures and organizes peace and healing programs in many nations and on nearly every continent. In addition to his travel and teaching schedule, he publishes a quarterly newsletter, writes poetry and philosophical articles, distributes a series of meditation cassettes, manages international pilgrimages to sacred Buddhist sites and somehow finds time to visit hospitals, help friends with their lives and keep on with his religious and scholastic studies. And, instead of being exhausted by the pace of his life, Bhante Wimala is known for his quick smile and easy going manner. He never seems to be hurried, angry or depressed. In fact, his close students say he is one of the most peaceful people they have met and that somehow just meeting Bhante Wimala is such a peaceful experience that they recall it to restore their own inner peace at difficult moments of their lives.
I first met Bhante Wimala five years ago when we shared a large house in Boston with nearly a dozen other people. This was a cooperative community of mostly computer professionals and Phd students of MIT. Bhante Wimala had been a long term guest of the house for some time. Despite the enormous cultural differences between a Sri Lankan monk and these assorted American technophiles, Bhante Wimala made us feel relaxed and peaceful for his presence. His advice was usually helpful regardless of the situation, and he pitched in on the household chores better than some of the people who weren't guests. Most of us knew little about Buddhism before we met Bhante Wimala, but we spent many nights talking about religion and philosophy over cups of steaming tea, At least two of us are currently practicing Buddhism today, and I personally learned much about meditation from this charming philosopher.
Despite his many travels, sometimes for months at a time, he was much a part of out household as any of us. Eventually, I moved out of the house to begin my own full-time travels but Bhante Wimala still seems a part of me. We somehow manage to meet each other in various places across North America several times a year to work together on writing projects or to catch up on our friendship. Last summer we met in the Colorado Rockies, the spring before we met in Washington, DC. This time, we met in San Francisco to speak about the strange and wandering life of this unusual monk.
AR: Tell me about your travels and what you hope to accomplish with your wanderings.
BW: Unlike most monks who wander in their homelands or live ascetically in monasteries, I spend my life traveling over the world to teach and to heal and to bring peace to the people of our planet. I have been traveling now for twelve years and have forged friendships across the globe. I like to think that there is a friend of mine who is just waking from a good sleep at every hour of my day.
Many monks, who mostly limit themselves to their local Buddhist temples and congregations, consider my international work in the thoroughfares and living rooms of non-Buddhist lands to be untraditional at best, and even extravagant or heretical. still, the combined merits of exposing people to new and helpful ideas while learning their traditions and beliefs has provided an enormous benefit to everyone involved. My travels are spiritual as well as physical and from the years and miles, I have seen the world inside me and the world outside me grow more peaceful and whole.
It is a peculiar life I have chose, by the judgment of my Buddhist brothers and the judgment of the non-Buddhists I have come to know. I am always a stranger in a strange land, even when I visit my most trusted friends or return to my homeland. Yet, for all the discomforts and unfamiliarities, this is a life I deem necessary: for each time I cross a nation's borders to share my thoughts with another group of strangers or to work on a project to help those who unnecessarily suffer, I forge a trail of peace and understanding and leave a path of open minds and tolerance behind me for others to follow. It is said that we live in and impossible world and so I have chosen to do the impossible to live in it.
As I think about this life that I live, and the string of circumstances that have led me to travel the world as a holy man among secularists, I can't help but smile when I remember that the name for my homeland , Sri Lanka, means serendipity. Perhaps it all makes sense when you think of serendipity as your starting point.
AR: Tell me about some of this serendipity. Are their any stories that illustrate the magic of a world traveling monk?
BW: There are many stories. I recently returned from leading a meditation retreat for the staff at the Findhorn spiritual community in Scotland. The night after the retreat I felt energized and full, but also eager to be alone. Findhorn is a lovely place with beautiful, well-tended gardens but I wanted to walk to the ocean, to experience freer side of Nature. But the beach was further than I thought and it soon grew dark. I was half way to the beach and had started to turn back when I met a young person who offered to walk with me to the beach. Of course, we started to talk and soon I heard about the painful friction present within the family. As we spoke our hearts, tears spilled out over the feeling of lost familiar love. We had a truly intense exchange of thoughts and feelings by the crashing sea, much was shared and we walked home in high spirits carrying new hope.
It is an interesting thing that during our time together, my heart was so clear, healing and soothing, offering comfort. Only afterwards did I realize what an amazing story we were. Two strangers, born on opposite sides of a planet, as different as two people can be, meet on a walk to the beach and wind up speaking their most profound thoughts to each other in a healing, caring, very intense conversation. Then, like a thunderstorm, the moment is over, and the two strangers part again, perhaps forever, having been dynamically changed by the interaction.
There is a special poetry to life that comes from allowing one's self to participate completely in whatever adventure comes down the road. And I wonder how often brilliant magic moments are lost to fear or ignorance. I hope that I always have the wisdom to let my fear go and complete my walks in the dark to beaches unknown looking for the good friend I haven't met.
AR: Are all of your interactions so positive?
BW: Well, not every story is so splendid, but they are mostly positive. Recently while waiting for a flight in Texas, I noticed an older man staring at me through squinted eyes. With my dark skin, shaved head and orange robes, I must have seemed a bit conspicuous in an airport filled with business suits. I smiled and nodded at him and, after a few minutes he came over to me and said in a very loud voice, "You look really strange." I smiled at him again, not quite knowing what to say, Finally, I said, "Yes, I know" - "Well, " he snorted, somehow satisfied with himself, "Why don't you change?"
I smiled yet again and told him that I look like I do because I am a Buddhist monk, a representative of one of the world's major religious, and that many people accept my appearance as that of a clergyman. He seemed pleased with this explanation and we spoke for a few minutes, shook hands and parted. It didn't occur to me for some time afterwards that I never asked him why he wore such a big cowboy hat indoors or why he had such a funny little string tie or why he needed to wear steel-toed boots made from the skin of rattlesnakes or why he spoke so loud through a mouthful of tobacco. I don't know that he would have given me as adequate and explanation for his appearance as I did for mine, But I smile yet again and accept him.
I have noticed similar feelings when I speak at elementary schools. The children are at first frightened of my unfamiliar appearance. I can sense their nervousness as the teacher turns the classroom over to me. I can feel their small fears as they first hear my accent. But always it is the same-after half an hour the children are lined up to talk with me and touch me. They want to be friends.
Very often the teachers ask me before the class what it is I want to teach. And always I tell them that I want children to know that there are people like me- many people-who have different color hair, different color skin, different clothing, different beliefs, and a different religious philosophy. I want them to see beyond my outward appearance and to see the teacher and the friend I want to be for them.
As I travel around the worlds teaching and counseling, it rarely occurs to me that one of my greatest services to the planet and the people I meet is not only in my words but in the fact that I am there to say them. By simply traveling I am helping people to become less attached to appearance and more aware of their own prejudices. I also understand more how important it is that we smile at one another.
AR: These interactions sound so magical, but I imagine that constantly breaching cultural prejudice might become tiresome after a while.
BW: It 's true that there is a lot of cultural prejudice in the world, but overcoming these prejudices is a very satisfying process for me. Throughout history, there have been rare individuals who have managed to reach very strong and heartfelt cultural barriers through their clarity of vision and the sincerity of their hearts. These rare, enlightened people are my inspiration as I travel. I always imagine that through their placid wisdom, they could see beyond cultural boundaries, above the ignorance and fear that create dogmas of aggression and isolation, and focus on the core issues of any situation, with careful words, a gentle smile and a heartfelt gesture, such persons are above judgment, beyond language, and perpetually welcome. When such a person makes the kind of cultural error that would be unforgivable for natives or other visitors-as I sometimes do- most people just laugh softly to themselves, blaming the rigidity of their own expectation, and consider the traveler with even greater warmth. These are universal people and their home is with everyone.
When I meet people, I am not meeting their religious, racial or ethnic labels-often I won't even know what they are or what they mean. Instead, I am meeting a spiritual being with consciousness, heart, intention, and important information to share concerning universal concepts of living. When I travel I see no Buddhist, Christians, Jews, or Jains or spiritualists; no Germans, Saudis, English, Thais or Israelis. I see no colors, genders or ages. I see eager, caring, conscious people who are both struggling and playing with the same issues as I am. There can be no place, in such a world view, for breaches of etiquette or misplaced words. There are only smiles, nods, questions and laughter.
Of course, it is not without effort that I continue to travel among so many different people, and not every interaction is as enlightened as I would hope. In Germany, I met a fine family of Christians who pitied me since I must be lonely without God because I do not believe in Jesus Christ. In America, I know people who feel that since I am not married and have no wife or children I must be devoid of live. I even meet Buddhists who are not used to such a traveling monk and criticize my ways. These people are sometimes quite aggressive in the presentation of their views. And although I can occasionally feel uncomfortable, I am also interested in these views--I am far from having learned all that other people can teach me. I also return their energy with respectful attention. I listen to them , ask questions, offer exchange and quietly go about my own way. It is surprising to me how a second visit to these people often shows that they remember my respectful attention to them and not strength of their disapproval of me.
AR: What is the stated goal of your travel? Is it a missionary sort of work, to create new Buddhists in the world?
BW: Not at all. Most of the time I travel on invitations. My invitations come from universities, collages, churches, or from certain individuals either to work on a project to help needy or to give lectures, presentations or meditation retreats. In fact, I often begin my presentations by reminding people that we all come from different backgrounds with many wonderful, varied belief systems. Each of us is equipped with the truths of our people and the truths of own making. I have only come to share my truths and learn from others. Now, while it is certain that many of my truths derive from Buddhism and the Sri Lankan culture, it does not necessarily mean the Sri Lankan Buddhist culture is the one and only true and right way.
There are many different paths that have value, truth and beauty. It is my stated goal to share the values, truth and beauty of my path and learn something of value, truth and beauty from other peoples. Beyond certain practices, like yoga, meditation and creative acts, there is little that I can offer in the way of absolute truth. Eventually we all need to meet on the peak of universal truth where we all will be in prefect harmony. Until then, I encourage tolerance for all peoples and a spiritual path that does not concern itself so much with assessing the truth of other peoples, but one which stresses daily spiritual practice that will lead one to discover their own best truths which is universal.
AR: This must create quite a shock in the Western countries whose religious claim that the only truth comes from one source and that personal investigation beyond this source is a crime.
BW: there is something to this, some Western are shocked at the possibility that they can achieve spiritual greatness without death. but then again, a good half of my lectures in the West are sponsored by the same churches that once executed people who believed in truths that were different than their holy books. These same institutions are the people who most often ask me to come and visit. And I find my work with them to be especially rewarding.
We live in times of great change. The only thing we can be sure of at this time is that we can't be sure of anything. This means great danger, as in the threat of terribly destructive wars and environmentally damaging business practices. but this also means great opportunities, such as can be found by a traveling holy man. I see that there is an emerging sense of spiritual desire all over the world. The planet seems filled with people who are looking at their most basic beliefs through new eyes. Part of this new spiritual interest is due to the intellectual exchange caused by travelers like myself, but most of this urgency arises because so much of the underpinnings for every society have changed quite drastically in the last dozen decades. Few of the ancient understandings will ever again be seen in the same perspective and people are desperate to come to higher understandings. Many people in western nations have turned to, for them, the non-traditional path of Buddhism, for example, although Buddhism practiced by most of these Westerners would surprise the average Sri Lankan.
There is something very wholesome about the emergence of these new spiritual hybrids. so much value comes from the act of searching for better ways. Didn't Gothama find enlightenment after trying many different paths? Weren't his first disciples heretics in the eyes of older, more established traditions? Today I know people who combine elements of ancient European nature religions along with later American Indian traditions and swirl this together with quotations from the Tao Te Ching, martial arts exercises and Buddhist chanting. Perhaps it is more than our privilege to have so many traditions at our disposal, perhaps it is our responsibility to learn the many possible paths to enlightenment. Although it could be confusing at time, hopefully, eventually we will free ourselves from all beliefs and religious concepts and open our hearts to know our own inner truth. This is a grave difference between Buddhism and Western religions: we are required to emulate the Gothama's quest for truth and enlightenment, not sit idly by while others achieve enlightenment for us.
Finally there is no way that I can create more Buddhists in the world--although I certainly teach Buddhism and I know many people who have become attracted to Buddhism because of knowing me. first of all, being a Buddhist is a personal choice for an individual, not a club one can join by paying the entry fee. Secondly, the Buddhism I know is a mix of scripture and culture which evolved on a small island near India. How can someone from Sweden or Russia or Israel learn to be a Singhalese Bhante like me? This is not an easy task. And the people from other lands who call themselves Buddhist are very, very different from what my teachers in Sri Lanka might expect. sometimes this difference is small and may seem amusing to me, but I have been shocked at times by what some Westerners consider Buddhism to be, Even so, this must be the way since we are literally a half a world apart. The best we can do is learn from each other and find beauty and meaning in the harmony of our similarities and differences.
AR: How is it that you manage to travel full time. I think you are a mendicant and have no possessions.
BW: Actually, one time I was a real mendicant. Things has changed a great deal since. Buddhist tradition allows me a few possessions and teaches that I should accept what comes to me. In my work, for example, I own some books and I recently was given a computer which should help me to type stories for the newsletter--a task that burdens others just now. You see, I too live my life as a hybrid of my times, and I value the experience of learning new ways. Adam, how many times have you encouraged me to learn new computer programs telling me "When ever you're in the middle of a tsunami, it pays to know how to surf."
My travel expenses are paid by the various institutions and individuals who invite me to come and lead workshops or meditations or to bless their homes or businesses. Mostly I speak at churches and for small or large groups of religious adventurers. I also work quite a bit with small children in schools. I have lectured at universities throughout the world and often speak at meetings of clergy or business leaders. A fair bit of time is spent at holistic health centers like Findhorn and the Omega Institute, where I counsel the staff and lead workshops in meditation and yoga. I usually stay in the homes of friends when I travel, although I have been made welcome at various monasteries across the world. Usually my needs are small and I find very often that my friends derive great pleasure in hosting me and introducing me to still more friends.
As full as my schedule gets, though, it is always possible to find the time I need for meditation and reflection, to write, to practice yoga, to read, to study, and again to meditate. I plan carefully to avoid the stresses that hurt other travelers because I know that my greatest value to my friends and students lies in my own peace, health and soundness of mind.
AR: How often do you get a chance to return to Sri Lanka and what do you find when you go there?
BW: Actually, I am just returning to Sri Lanka next month to remember my father on the anniversary of his death and to lead a pilgrimage of my students from America and Europe to various holy places in Sri Lanka and Thailand, Later in Thailand I will participate in a leadership conference with more of my students from Sweden and Russia.
There is always a blend of pleasure and pain for me when I return to Sri Lanka and Kandy, in particular. There is so much that is familiar to me--the sights, the smells, the sounds, the faces of my friends and family, and a way of life that is at once ancient and modern, practical and spiritual. I am so very lucky to have been born and raised on this island. And then, there is such pain for me to see the changes that have come over time. I have lost both my parents in the last few years and my village of Yatirawana continues to change so quickly. and when I am only beginning to understated the changes at home, I must again recognize the many changes in me. Sri Lanka and I feel like fond strangers some times, always searching to understand each other.
Eventually, I will hear an old chant or catch sight of an old teacher and suddenly, I will remember why I have come home. I come home to reconnect with the land and the ideals of my childhood, to renew my respect for tradition, to refound my love for our life here and to bind myself again to my roots and beginnings. For a man who is never sure where he will go next, it is so important to understand where I started from.
Adam Rostoker is a well known writer, musician and lecturer on issues ranging from computer science and technology to philosophy and economics. He travels full time in a specially equipped motor home and is involved in the international peace movement.
* This interview was done in Feb/ 1996
Monk in the Lab
By TENZIN GYATSO
These are times when destructive emotions like anger, fear and hatred are giving rise to devastating problems throughout the world. While the daily news offers grim reminders of the destructive power of such emotions, the question we must ask is this: What can we do, person by person, to overcome them?
Of course such disturbing emotions have always been part of the human condition. Some - those who tend to believe nothing will "cure" our impulses to hate or oppress one another - might say that this is simply the price of being human. But this view can create apathy in the face of destructive emotions, leading us to conclude that destructiveness is beyond our control.
I believe that there are practical ways for us as individuals to curb our dangerous impulses - impulses that collectively can lead to war and mass violence. As evidence I have not only my spiritual practice and the understanding of human existence based on Buddhist teachings, but now also the work of scientists.
the last 15 years I have engaged in a series of conversations with Western scientists.
We have exchanged views on topics ranging from quantum physics and cosmology to
compassion and destructive emotions. I have found that while scientific findings
offer a deeper understanding of such fields as cosmology, it seems that Buddhist
explanations - particularly in the cognitive, biological and brain sciences -
can sometimes give Western-trained scientists a new way to look at their own fields.
It may seem odd that a religious leader is so involved with science, but Buddhist teachings stress the importance of understanding reality, and so we should pay attention to what scientists have learned about our world through experimentation and measurement.
Similarly, Buddhists have a 2,500-year history of investigating the workings of the mind. Over the millenniums, many practitioners have carried out what we might call "experiments" in how to overcome our tendencies toward destructive emotions.
I have been encouraging scientists to examine advanced Tibetan spiritual practitioners, to see what benefits these practices might have for others, outside the religious context. The goal here is to increase our understanding of the world of the mind, of consciousness, and of our emotions.
It is for this reason that I visited the neuroscience laboratory of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin. Using imaging devices that show what occurs in the brain during meditation, Dr. Davidson has been able to study the effects of Buddhist practices for cultivating compassion, equanimity or mindfulness. For centuries Buddhists have believed that pursuing such practices seems to make people calmer, happier and more loving. At the same time they are less and less prone to destructive emotions.
According to Dr. Davidson, there is now science to underscore this belief. Dr. Davidson tells me that the emergence of positive emotions may be due to this: Mindfulness meditation strengthens the neurological circuits that calm a part of the brain that acts as a trigger for fear and anger. This raises the possibility that we have a way to create a kind of buffer between the brain's violent impulses and our actions.
have already been carried out that show some practitioners can achieve a state
of inner peace, even when facing extremely disturbing circumstances. Dr. Paul
Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco told me that jarring noises
(one as loud as a gunshot) failed to startle the Buddhist monk he was testing.
Dr. Ekman said he had never seen anyone stay so calm in the presence of such a
Another monk, the abbot of one of our monasteries in India, was tested by Dr. Davidson using electroencephalographs to measure brain waves. According to Dr. Davidson, the abbot had the highest amount of activity in the brain centers associated with positive emotions that had ever been measured by his laboratory.
Of course, the benefits of these practices are not just for monks who spend months at a time in meditation retreat. Dr. Davidson told me about his research with people working in highly stressful jobs. These people - non-Buddhists - were taught mindfulness, a state of alertness in which the mind does not get caught up in thoughts or sensations, but lets them come and go, much like watching a river flow by. After eight weeks, Dr. Davidson found that in these people, the parts of their brains that help to form positive emotions became increasingly active.
The implications of all this are clear: the world today needs citizens and leaders who can work toward ensuring stability and engage in dialogue with the "enemy" - no matter what kind of aggression or assault they may have endured.
It's worth noting that these methods are not just useful, but inexpensive. You don't need a drug or an injection. You don't have to become a Buddhist, or adopt any particular religious faith. Everybody has the potential to lead a peaceful, meaningful life. We must explore as far as we can how that can be brought about.
I try to put these methods into effect in my own life. When I hear bad news, especially the tragic stories I often hear from my fellow Tibetans, naturally my own response is sadness. However, by placing it in context, I find I can cope reasonably well. And feelings of helpless anger, which simply poison the mind and embitter the heart, seldom arise, even following the worst news.
But reflection shows that in our lives much of our suffering is caused not by external causes but by such internal events as the arising of disturbing emotions. The best antidote to this disruption is enhancing our ability to handle these emotions.
If humanity is to survive, happiness and inner balance are crucial. Otherwise the lives of our children and their children are more likely to be unhappy, desperate and short. Material development certainly contributes to happiness - to some extent - and a comfortable way of life. But this is not sufficient. To achieve a deeper level of happiness we cannot neglect our inner development.
The calamity of 9/11 demonstrated that modern technology and human intelligence guided by hatred can lead to immense destruction. Such terrible acts are a violent symptom of an afflicted mental state. To respond wisely and effectively, we need to be guided by more healthy states of mind, not just to avoid feeding the flames of hatred, but to respond skillfully. We would do well to remember that the war against hatred and terror can be waged on this, the internal front, too.
Buddhist View toward Other Religions
Singapore August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
Question: How does Buddhism view the existence of other religions?
Answer: Because not everyone has the same inclinations and interests, Buddha taught various methods to different people. Citing this example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it is wonderful that so many different religions exist in the world. Just as one food will not appeal to everybody, one religion or one set of beliefs will not satisfy everyone's needs. Therefore, it is extremely beneficial that a variety of different religions is available from which to choose. He welcomes and rejoices at this.
Nowadays, there is a growing dialogue, based on mutual respect, between Buddhist masters and leaders of other religions. The Dalai Lama, for example, meets the Pope frequently. In Assisi, Italy, in October 1986, the Pope invited the leaders of all the world religions to a large assembly. About one hundred and fifty representatives were there. The Dalai Lama was seated next to the Pope and was given the honor of making the first speech. At the conference, the spiritual leaders discussed topics that are common in all religions, such as morality, love and compassion. People were very encouraged by the cooperation, harmony and mutual respect that the various religious leaders felt for each other.
Of course, if we discuss metaphysics and theology, there are differences. There is no way to get around the differences. However, that does not mean that we need to need to argue with the attitude of "My daddy is stronger than your daddy." That is very childish. It is more beneficial to look at the things that are in common. All the world religions are seeking to improve the situation of humanity and to make life better by teaching people to follow ethical behavior. They all teach people not to become totally caught up in the material side of life, but at least to strike a balance between seeking material progress and spiritual progress.
It is very helpful if all religions work together to improve the situation of the world. We need not only material progress, but spiritual progress as well. If we only emphasize the material aspect of life, then to make a better bomb to kill everyone would be a desirable goal. If, on the other hand, we think in a humanistic or spiritual way, we are aware of the fear and other problems that come from the further buildup of weapons of mass destruction. If we only develop spiritually and do not take care of the material side then people go hungry, and that is not very good either. We need a balance.
One aspect of the interaction between the world religions is that they are sharing with each other some of their specialties. Consider, for instance, the interaction between the Buddhists and Christians. Many Christian contemplatives are interested to learn methods for concentration and meditation from Buddhism. Numerous Catholic priests, abbots, monks and nuns have come to Dharamsala, India, to learn these skills in order to bring these back to their own traditions. Several Buddhists have taught in Catholic seminaries. I, too, have occasionally been invited to teach there on how to meditate, how to develop concentration, and how to develop love. Christianity teaches us to love everybody, but it does not explain in detail how to do it. Buddhism is rich in methods for developing love. The Christian religion on its highest level is open to learning these methods from Buddhism. It does not mean that Christians are all going to become Buddhists -- nobody is converting anyone else. These methods can be adapted within their own religion to help them to be better Christians.
Likewise, many Buddhists are interested in learning social service from Christianity. Many Christian traditions emphasize that their monks and nuns be involved in teaching, in hospital work, caring for the elderly, for orphans, and so on. Although some Buddhist countries have developed these social services, not all of them have, for various social and geographical reasons. Buddhists can learn social service from the Christians. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very open to this. It does not mean that the Buddhists are becoming Christians. Rather, there are certain aspects from the Christians' experience that Buddhists can learn from; there are also things from the Buddhists' experience that Christians can learn from. In this way, there is an open forum among the world religions, based on mutual respect.
Often the interaction among religions is at the highest level, where the people are open and do not have prejudices. It is at lower levels that people become insecure and develop a football team mentality: "This is my football team and the other religions are opposing football teams!" With such an attitude, we compete and fight. This is very sad, whether it occurs among religions or among various Buddhist traditions. Buddha taught many varied methods and they all work harmoniously to help a wide spectrum of different types of people. Therefore, it is important to respect all traditions, both within Buddhism and among the world religions.
Singapore, August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
Could you speak more about the relationship between Buddhism and science, and
give some specific examples of points that they share in common?
Answer: The dialogues between Buddhist masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and scientists have focused so far primarily on three areas. One is astrophysics, concerning primarily how the universe developed. Does it have a beginning? Was it created or is it part of an eternal process? Another topic is particle physics, regarding the structure of atoms and matter. The third is neurosciences, about how the brain works. These are the main areas.
One of the conclusions that both science and Buddhism reach in common is that there is no creator. In science, the theory of the conservation of matter and energy states that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. Buddhists totally agree and extend the principle to mind as well. "Mind" in Buddhism means awareness of phenomena - either conscious or unconscious - and awareness of phenomena can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. Thus, rebirth is simply a transformation in the ongoing continuity of an individual's awareness of phenomena, but now with the physical basis of another body.
Particle physicists emphasize the role of the observer in defining anything. For example, from a certain point of view, light is matter; from another point of view, it is energy. What type of phenomenon light exists as depends on many variables, particularly on the conceptual framework the investigator is using to analyze it. Thus, phenomena do not exist inherently as this or that from their own sides, unrelated to the consciousness that perceives them.
Buddhism asserts the same thing: what things exist as depends on the observer and the conceptual framework with which the person regards them. For example, whether a certain situation exists as a horrible problem or as something solvable depends on the observer, the person involved. If somebody has the conceptual framework, "This is an impossible situation and nothing can be done," then there really is a difficult problem that cannot be solved. However, with the frame of mind that thinks, "This is complicated and complex, but there is a solution if we approach it in a different way," then that person is much more open to try to find a solution. What is a huge problem for one person is not a big deal for another. It depends on the observer, for our problems do not inherently exist as monstrous problems. Thus, science and Buddhism come to the same conclusion: phenomena exist as this or that dependent on the observer.
Similarly, neurologists and Buddhists both note the dependently arising relationship of things. For example, when the neurologists examine the brain in an attempt to find what makes our decisions, they find that there is no separate "decision-maker" in the brain. No little person called "me" sits inside the head, receiving information from the eyes, ears and so on, as if on a computer screen, and makes decisions by pushing a button so that the arm does this and the leg does that. Rather, decisions are the results of complex interactions of an enormous network of nerve impulses and chemical and electrical processes. Together, they bring the result, a decision. This happens without there being a distinct entity that is a decision- maker. Buddhism emphasizes the same thing: there is no "me" which is permanent and solid sitting in our heads, which makes our decisions. Conventionally, we say, "I'm experiencing this. I'm doing that," but actually, what occurs is the result of a very complex interaction of many different factors. Science and Buddhism are very close in this regard.
Question: What is time? As students, we need to be on time for lectures and to have sufficient time to prepare for our studies or fulfill our responsibilities at work. How can we understand time in order to make life easier?
Answer: Buddhism defines time as "a measurement of change." We can measure change in terms of the motion of the planets or the position of the sun in the sky. We can measure it in terms of how many lectures we go to in a semester ? we have gone to twelve and two more are left ? or we can measure it in terms of physical, bodily cycles ? the menstrual cycle, the number of breaths we take, and so on. These are different ways of measuring change and time is simply a measurement of change.
Time does exist, but according to how we think of it, time affects us differently. For example, we think, "I only have one day left before the exam!" Because we are thinking of time in a small number, we get anxious because we do not have enough time. If we think of it in a different way, "There are twenty- four hours left," then there seems to be ample time to do some preparation. Psychologically, it depends on how we look at it. If we view time as something solid and oppressive, we will be overwhelmed by it and will not have enough time. However, if we look at it openly, as how much time we have, we will try to use it constructively, instead of becoming upset.
Question: Buddhism emphasizes logic and reasoning. Is there a certain point, as in other religions, at which a leap of faith is necessary?
Answer: Buddhism does not require that. We can see this from the Buddhist definition of what exists. What exists is defined as ? that which can be known.? If it cannot be known, then it does not exist, for example, rabbit horns, turtle hair, or chicken lips. We can imagine human lips on a chicken; we can imagine a cartoon drawing of lips on a chicken; but we can never see chicken lips on a chicken because there is no such thing. It does not exist because it cannot be known.
This implies that everything that exists can be known. It is possible for our minds - namely, our mental activity of awareness of phenomena - to encompass everything. There are statements in the scriptures saying that the absolute is beyond the mind and beyond words. Firstly, I do not like to translate the term as "absolute" in English because it gives the connotation that it is beyond us, as if it were something up in the sky. Instead, I prefer to translate it as "the deepest fact about things." The deepest fact about things does exist. It is beyond mind and beyond concepts and words in the sense that it is beyond our usual ways of perceiving things. Language and conception imply that things exist in black and white categories. Good person, bad person, idiot, genius ? the implication of using language is that things actually exist in such well-defined, independent categories: "This is a dumb person. He cannot do anything correctly." "This is a great person." Perceiving reality is seeing that things do not exist in these fantasized, impossible ways, in black and white categories. Things are more open and dynamic. Someone may not be able to do something now, but that does not mean that he or she is exclusively an idiot. The person can be many other things - a friend, a parent, and so on.
Thus, when we say that the deepest fact about things is that they exist in a way that is beyond mind and beyond words, we are referring to the fact that things do not exist in the ways that concepts and language imply they do. Our minds are capable of encompassing that.
It is not that our minds cannot encompass certain things so we must make a leap of faith to believe in them. Buddhism never demands us to have blind faith. On the contrary, Buddha said, "Do not believe what I say just out of respect for me, but test it out yourself, as if you were buying gold." That is true on all levels.
The logic of a particular point may not be immediately obvious to us. However, we do not reject something just because initially we do not understand it. By patiently learning and investigating, something that we previously did not understand can start to make sense.
Lama takes message to arena
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 9/15/2003
The Dalai Lama yesterday brought his message of nonviolence and religious tolerance to the FleetCenter, declaring to a full house of 14,578 that "disarmament is our only hope."
he gave a mixed message on war, acknowledging that the Second World War and the
Korean War had made positive contributions to human society, and he said that
only time will tell whether the war in Iraq was justifiable.
And he sounded notes of simultaneous pessimism and optimism on the situation in Tibet, his home country, which is controlled by China. The Dalai Lama is not only the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, but leads the Tibetan government-in-exile, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his advocacy of nonviolence as he leads his people in a struggle for cultural autonomy.
"From my perspective, I am optimistic," he said, speaking just days after meeting with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Washington. "But if you look at the developments, sometimes it feels hopeless."
The Dalai Lama said that a growing number of Chinese intellectuals are sympathetic to the plight of Tibetans, who have little religious or political freedom under China, and that the gradual increase in democracy in mainland China causes him to feel hopeful that Tibet, too, will eventually benefit from such change. But the Dalai Lama said he is worried about "cultural genocide," a loss of Tibetan language and culture, as large numbers of ethnic Chinese move into Tibet, threatening to make Tibetans a smaller minority in their own land.
The Dalai Lama, whose given name is Tenzin Gyatso, spoke for about an hour, then fielded questions for another 25 minutes. He was greeted by a standing ovation when he began and ended, and the crowd also rose as he entered and greeted him silently by bowing toward him with their hands clasped in a traditional Tibetan greeting.
The venue provided a somewhat surreal setting for the 68-year-old Buddhist monk, whose followers believe he is the 14th incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. Dressed in a sleeveless red and saffron robe, he sat on a white lounge chair on a small stage at one end of the cavernous sports arena. His image was beamed through the arena on overhead video screens bearing logos for Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's, and PCConnection.com; the crowd of Buddhists, pacifists, and spiritual seekers sat quietly beneath rafters decorated with the championship banners of the Celtics and the Bruins.
The corridors of the FleetCenter were filled with an unusual array of vendors selling books by and about the Dalai Lama, or products with names such as "Dharma Crafts." Activists set up tables promoting Tibetan meditation centers and organizations such as the MIT Buddhist Community, the Tibetan Nuns Project, and Students for a Free Tibet. The International Campaign for Tibet collected signatures on petitions urging a negotiated solution to the Tibet-China conflict, while the Tibetan Association of Boston raised money for a proposed Tibetan Cultural Center in Boston.
The Dalai Lama's message was to exhort people to pursue lives characterized by compassion, forgiveness, contentment, tolerance, and self-respect, all of which, he said, can lead to happiness. He said Westerners focus too much on material acquisition, and not enough on internal satisfaction.
"We tend to be not contented with what we possess in material objects -- we always want more and more -- but with our inner qualities we remain quite complacent, and we don't strive for better," he said.
He also encouraged the pursuit of nonviolence, and said schools should teach dialogue as a method of conflict resolution. He said many wars have been failures, and called for global demilitarization. But he also said that some wars have provided benefits, citing the Second World War, which he said "protected civilization, democracy, and decency," and the Korean War, which he said "saved South Korea, not only for freedom but for prosperity."
The Dalai Lama sprinkled his talk with humor. As he opened, he warned that anyone who came expecting that he had special healing powers was sure to be disappointed, and wiggling his fingers in the air, he said, "If someone really has healing power, then I would like to call them about my knees."
Many of those who attended last night's speech are not Buddhists, but said they were interested to hear the Dalai Lama because of his philosophy of nonviolence.
"We support world peace, and we like his methods," said Ashley Bryant, a 15-year-old high school student from Marblehead.
The FleetCenter talk was one of several steps the Dalai Lama has taken during this trip to reach out to American Buddhists and to Americans interested in Buddhism. On Friday, he consecrated a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Medford, the Kurukulla Center, which is shared by Buddhists of American and Tibetan origin. And yesterday, he met privately with the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association, to discuss the high number of Unitarian Universalists who either identify themselves as Buddhists or who have adopted some Buddhist practices.
Also over the weekend, the Dalai Lama engaged in an unusual public discussion with scientists about what Buddhists and scientists can learn from one another. As that discussion ended yesterday, the Dalai Lama said that science until now has focused on the study of the external and physical, but now must more intensely examine emotion and the way the mind works in order to prevent humans from harming each other and to shed light on the internal path to peace.
"We must understand the nature of reality to overcome suffering and achieve happiness," he said. Buddhists believe in opposing forces, he said, and believe that the weakening of one force, such as hatred, will cause the strengthening of its opposite, love.
The Dalai Lama is to spend today at Harvard University, meeting with a variety of scholars associated with the school's Asia Center. His one public event, a 4 p.m. talk with the Harvard community in Memorial Church, is sold out, but it will be simulcast in the Harvard Science Center and webcast on the Harvard University Asia Center's Internet site.
Michael Paulson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Globe correspondent Ron DePasquale contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
Reactions During Yoga
By Sarah Powers
Lately during my yoga classes, I find myself feeling very emotional. Several times I have felt my eyes fill up with tears during a pose. This has happened even on good days. Why is this, and is it normal?
Sarah Powers' reply:
Emotional reactions during yoga sessions are very common. When we commit to the yogic path through the physical asana practice, we are doing much more than just exercising our bodies. Although it is slowly becoming more accepted in the West, it is much more common in Asian thought to recognize the inseparability of the body, mind, and emotions. Chinese doctors insist that our organs are linked to our emotions, which affects our overall health, while Indian Ayurvedic doctors and yogis inform us of the interconnection between our state of mind, our breath, and our bodies. So, it naturally follows that the emotional impact of our experiences are imprinted into our bodies, affecting the balance of our vital energy and the harmony (or disharmony) of our whole system.
Both our inherited constitution and all that we have digested in the manner of food and life experience is continually forming and reforming in our ever-changing bodies. During a yoga session, as we stretch and strengthen our muscles, organs, joints, and bones, we release blocked or stagnant energy--both physical/energetic and emotional. The body's energy is in constant motion, but through habitual protection, unaware living, trauma, or disposition, this constant flow stagnates in certain areas of the body. Without a practice to supplement this deficiency of flowing vital energy, we can end up physically sick or become closed off to deeper feeling tones, leaving us unable to access the immediacy of life in its moments.
In addition to the physical and energetic impact of yoga practice, it is also an awareness discipline that is not merely focused on moving the body with a physical goal in mind as in sports, dance, or calisthenics. Our willfulness when playing sports may override our emotions, but in yoga asana we have a precious opportunity to welcome in all states, uncensored and free of expectations or analysis. For this reason, you may notice a release of emotional energy seemingly unrelated to the specific moment at hand. As you become mindful of your emotions, you will be able to include a broader range of feeling states to be metabolized as they are happening, which is called spontaneous mindfulness.
But this is a process, and we have developed conditioned patterns that remain held in the body. Yoga is a great way of moving these patterns through you. I suggest neither blocking nor seeking to mentally figure out these feelings as they emerge during your practice. Simply stay with the feeling-tone itself and notice the way it affects your experience in your body.
Depending on the shade of the emotion, you might experience sensations like a change in breath rhythm, tightness in the belly or restrictions in the chest. You might also feel waves of chills through the spine, contraction in the shoulders, or a heaviness of heart with tears in the eyes. Often accompanying these experiences are uninvestigated beliefs and assumptions going on in the mind.
We may be playing out a story in our heads about ourselves or someone else that we assume to be true. Awareness practice teaches us to diminish feeding the story line, which greatly stimulates the emotional tenor, creating a whole chemical reaction in the body. This can then cycle us into more fragmented thoughts, wild emotions, and further disconnection from our bodies. There is nothing wrong with emotional release during our yoga poses--this is healing.
The problem occurs when we either unskillfully indulge in or ignore what is arising for us presently. The best way to practice is to stay with what is true this moment and to let go of holding on or pushing away any aspect of your experience. Stay curious of the process, while relaxing any expectation that something other than what is happening should be happening. Whenever you are persistently overwhelmed by these emotions, I suggest you seek out a spiritual friend or mentor with whom to process the storm.
Sarah Powers blends the insights of yoga and Buddhism in her practice and teaching. She incorporates both a Yin style of holding poses and a Vinyasa style of moving with the breath, blending essential aspects of the Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Viniyoga traditions. Pranayama and meditation are always included in her practice and classes. Sarah has been a student of Buddhism in both Asia and the U.S. and draws inspiration from teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Toni Packer, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Sarah also draws inspiration from the Self Inquiry (Atma Vichara) of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. She lives in Marin, California where she home schools her daughter and teaches classes. For more information go to www.sarahpowers.com.
the Dharma and Avoiding Suffering
Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche
New Delhi, India, December 7, 1979
translated by Alexander Berzin, edited by Nicholas Ribush
lighted revised by Alexander Berzin, 2003
Originally published as
Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche. "Renunciation." In Teachings at Tushita,
ed. Glenn Mullin and Nicholas Ribush. New Delhi: Mahayana Publications, 1981
Sanskrit word Dharma, chö (chos) in Tibetan, means to hold or to uphold.
What is upheld or maintained? The elimination of suffering and the attainment
of happiness. Dharma does this not only for us, but for all beings.
The sufferings we experience are of two types: those immediately visible to us as humans and those we cannot see without extrasensory powers. The former include the pain involved in the birth process, the unpleasantness of occasionally becoming sick, the misery experienced with growing old and aging, and the terror of death.
The sufferings that come after death are not visible to an ordinary person. We might think that after we die, we will probably be reborn as a human being. However, this is not necessarily the case. There is no logical reason for us to assume that such an evolution will occur. Nor is it the case that after we die we will not take rebirth at all.
As for the particular type of rebirth we will take, this is something very difficult to know, something not presently within our sphere of knowledge. If we generate positive karma during this life, it will naturally follow that we will take happy forms of rebirth in the future. Conversely, if we create mostly negative karma, we will not take a happy rebirth, but will experience great difficulties in lower states of being. This is certain. Rebirth functions that way. If we plant a seed of wheat, what grows is a wheat plant. If we plant a seed of rice, a rice plant is produced. Similarly, by creating negative karma we plant seeds of rebirth in one of the three lower states as a hell creature, a hungry ghost, or an animal.
There are four different states or realms of hells (joyless realms): hot, cold, neighboring and occasional hells. To further subdivide these, there are eight different hot hells. The first of these is known as the Reviving Hell. This is the one of least suffering, relatively speaking. To understand the extent of the misery experienced here, the pain of a person caught in a great fire would be very slight in comparison with that of beings in the first hot hell. Each hell below the Reviving Hell has an increasingly intense degree of misery.
Although the sufferings of hell creatures and hungry ghosts may not be visible to us, those of the animals can be seen with our eyes. If we wonder what would happen if we ourselves were to be reborn as animals, we can just look at the street animals and beasts of burden around us here in India and think what it would be like to have their conditions. Dharma is what holds us back and protects us from experiencing the suffering of these lower rebirths.
The entire wheel of rebirth, the whole of uncontrollably recurring existence (samsara), has the nature of suffering. Dharma is what safeguards us from all samsaric suffering. Moreover, the Mahayana Dharma, the teachings of the Great Vehicle, brings protection not only to us, but to all limited beings (sentient beings).
Taking the Safe Direction of Refuge
In Buddhism, we hear a lot about the Three Jewels of Refuge - Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The first of these includes all the fully enlightened beings, who teach the Dharma. Buddha Shakyamuni, who first turned the wheel of Dharma at Varanasi by teaching the four noble truths, is most significant to us. The last of these four truths - true paths - is the Dharma to be practiced in order to achieve liberation. This is the refuge object of safe direction called the Dharma Gem.
Dharma practice entails two things: recognizing the root of samsaric suffering and eradicating this root. What is the root of recurring existence? It is the grasping for a truly existent self and for the true existence of phenomena. We need to develop a repulsion for this grasping which brings us all our sufferings. We must develop an understanding of the antidote to grasping at true existence. This antidote is the wisdom (discriminating awareness) of selflessness or identitylessness. It is this understanding of selflessness that will bring us liberation from suffering.
The sufferings we experience in samsara do not occur without a cause. They are caused by the disturbing emotions and attitudes (delusions) and by the karma created by them. The root of all disturbing emotions and attitudes and of karma is the grasping for a self. When we understand this, we aspire to obtain the antidote to this grasping for a self. Why have we not yet developed the antidote in our mental continuums? Why don't we understand selflessness? One reason is that we are not sufficiently aware of death and impermanence.
Death and Impermanence
The only possible outcome of birth is death. We are inevitably going to die. There is no living being whose life did not end with death. People try many methods to prevent death's occurrence, but it is impossible. No medicine can cure us of death.
Just to think, "I'm going to die," isn't really the correct way to contemplate death. Of course, everyone is going to die, but merely thinking about this fact is not very powerful. It is not the proper method. In the same way, just thinking of the fact that we are going to disintegrate and degenerate, that our bodies are going to decompose, is not enough. What we have to think about is how to prevent our downfall.
If we think about the fear that comes at the time of death and about how to eliminate that fear, then our meditation on death will be effective. People who have accumulated a great deal of negative karma during their lives become very frightened at the time of death. They cry, tears run down their cheeks, their mouths dribble, they excrete in their clothing, and are completely overwhelmed. These are clear signs of the suffering that occurs at the time of death because of fear caused by negative actions performed during life.
Alternatively, if during our lifetimes we refrain from committing negative actions, the time of death is very easy for us to face. The experience is one of joy, like that of a child going home to its parents. If we have purified ourselves, we can die happily. By refraining from the ten negative ways and cultivating their opposites, the ten constructive actions, our deaths will be easy and as a result we won't have to experience rebirth in a condition of suffering. We can be assured of rebirth in more fortunate states. By planting the seeds of medicinal plants we obtain trees with medicinal powers, by planting the seeds of poisonous trees we produce only harmful fruits. If we plant the seeds of constructive actions on our consciousness, we will experience happiness in future rebirths. We will have fortunate situations both mentally and physically. This basic teaching of the Dharma - avoid destructive deeds and cultivate constructive ones - is given not only in Buddhism, but also in many other religions, including Christianity.
How do we contemplate death and impermanence? As mentioned previously, just thinking, "I'm going to die," is not very beneficial. We need to think, "If I have committed any of the ten destructive actions, at death I will have a great deal of fear and suffering to face, and as a result I will devolve to a rebirth of intense misfortune. On the other hand, if during my life I have created positive force (merit), at death I will not experience fear or suffering and will be reborn in a more fortunate state." That is the correct way to contemplate death.
This meditation need not be merely the gloomy, pessimistic thought, "I'm going to die and there is nothing I can do about it." Rather, we need to think in terms of what will happen when we die. "Where will I go after death? What sort of causes have I created? Can I make my death a happy one? How? Can I make my future rebirths happy? How?"
When contemplating future rebirths, we need to remember that there is no place in samsara that is reliable. No matter what body we take, it must eventually pass away. We read in history of people who have lived for a hundred or even a thousand years. Yet, no matter how fantastic these accounts are, there is no case of a person who did not eventually have to die. Any type of samsaric body that we gain is subject to death.
Nor is there a place to where we can go in order to escape death. No matter where we are, when the time comes, we will have to die. Then no amount of medicine, mantras, or practice will help. Surgical operations may cure certain types of diseases within our bodies, but there are none that can prevent death.
No matter what type of rebirth we gain, it will be subject to death. The process is ongoing. Contemplating the long-range effects of our actions and how the process of birth, life, death, and rebirth is continuous will help us generate much positive karma.
Although we sometimes plan to practice the Dharma, we usually plan to do so tomorrow, or the day after. However, none of us can tell when we will die. If we had a guarantee that we definitely had one hundred years left to live, we would have free space in which to arrange our practice. But there is not the slightest certainty when we will die. To put off our practice is very foolish. Some humans die in the womb even before they are born, others die as small babies before they learn to walk. It doesn't follow that we are going to live a long life.
Our bodies are very fragile. If they were made of stone or iron, perhaps they might give some feeling of stability. But if we investigate, we will see that the human body is very weak. It is very easy for something to go wrong with it. It is like a delicate wristwatch made from countless tiny fragile parts. It is not something to be trusted. There are many circumstances that can cause our death: food poisoning, the bite of a tiny insect, or even the prick of a poisonous thorn. Such small conditions can kill us. The food and liquid that we use to extend our lives can become the circumstances that end it. There is no certainty at all as to when we will die, or what circumstances will cause our death.
Even if we feel certain that we will live for a hundred years, many years of that span have passed already and we haven't accomplished much. We approach death like a man sleeping in a railway carriage, constantly getting closer and closer to the destination, yet unaware of the process. There is little we can do to stop this process. We just constantly come ever-closer to death.
No matter how much money, jewelry, houses or clothes we have accumulated during our lives, it will make no difference whatsoever at the time of our deaths. When we die, we will have to go empty-handed. Not even the tiniest material object can be taken with us. The body itself must be left behind. The body and the mind separate and the mind-stream continues by itself. Not only is it impossible to take a possession with us, we cannot even take our bodies.
What accompanies the consciousness after death? If we have to leave our bodies, our friends, and all our possessions, is there any helper or anything that accompanies our consciousness to a future life?
There is something that follows the consciousness after death: the karmic legacies (seeds) that we have built up during this lifetime. If we have committed any of the ten negative karmic actions, a negative karmic legacy or karmic debt will accompany our mental continuums as they go on into our future rebirths. By killing other beings, stealing others' possessions, or indulging in sexual misconduct, negative karmic legacies from these destructive actions of the body are placed on the mind-stream. By lying, slandering others and causing disunity among people, harming others with words, or speaking meaninglessly, the negative karmic debts of these negative actions of speech will travel with us at the time of death. If we have had many covetous thoughts, often wishing to have the possessions of others; if we have had ill-will toward others, wishing that they be harmed or that something bad would happen to them; or if we have thought in a distorted antagonistic manner, such as "there are no past or future lives," "there is no such thing as cause and effect," "there's no such thing as the safe direction of refuge," these destructive actions of mind will generate negative karmic legacies that travel with and direct our minds into future rebirths.
The reverse is also true. If we have performed positive actions and turned away from creating negativity, the karmic legacies of such positive energy will travel on our mind-streams and produce better circumstances in our future lives.
When we really think about the situation we are in, we will resolve to try in every way to generate positive karma and eliminate its opposite. We need to try to cleanse ourselves of as much negativity as possible, not leaving even the smallest karmic debt to be repaid in our future lives.
We need to look at what type of reactions can happen within the law of cause and effect. There is the account of a person who had very many good qualities, but was harsh in his speech. He abused another, saying, "You talk like a dog." As a result, he himself was reborn as a dog five hundred times. A seemingly small action can have a very large result.
Similarly, a very small positive action can produce a great result. There is the account of a young child who made a humble offering to the Buddha and, as a result, was reborn as the great king Ashoka, who built thousands of Buddhist monuments and performed countless sublime activities.
Renunciation and Compassion
Contemplating the various types of destructive actions that we have committed and their results is a very effective way of ensuring our welfare and happiness. If we think of the suffering we ourselves will have to experience as a result of our negativity and thus give birth to a very strong wish not to have to experience this type of misery, we have developed what is called "renunciation."
Acquainting ourselves with this type of thinking in itself is a form of meditation. First, we need to develop mindfulness of our own suffering; then we need to extend this mindfulness to all living beings. Consider how all beings do not wish to have any suffering, yet are caught in a suffering predicament. This type of thinking leads us to compassion. If we do not develop the wish to be free from all our own suffering, how can we develop the wish for other beings to be free from theirs? We can put an end to all our own suffering, yet this is not ultimately beneficial. We need to extend this wish to all living beings, who also desire happiness. We can train our minds and develop the wish for everyone to be completely parted from their sufferings. This is a much wider and more beneficial way of thinking.
Why do we need to be concerned with other living beings? Because we receive so much from others. For instance, the milk that we drink comes from the kindness of the cows and the buffaloes, the warm clothing that protects us from the cold and wind comes from the wool of sheep and goats, and so forth. These are just a few examples of why we need to try to find a method that can eliminate their sufferings.
No matter what type of practice we do - the recitation of mantra or any kind of meditation -we need always to retain the thought, "May this benefit all limited beings." This will naturally bring benefit to us as well. Our ordinary life situations can give us an appreciation of this. For example, if someone is very selfish and always works for his own gain, he will not really be liked by others. On the other hand, someone who is kind and always thinks of helping others is usually liked by everybody.
The thought to be developed in our mental continuums is, "May everybody be happy and may nobody suffer." We must try to incorporate this into our own thinking through recollecting it again and again. This can be extremely beneficial. Beings who in the past have developed this type of thinking are now great Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or saints; all the truly great men and women of the world based themselves on it. How wonderful if we could try to generate it ourselves!
The Karma of Harming Others to Protect Our Loved Ones
Question: Are we advised not to defend ourselves when somebody tries to harm us?
Rinpoche: This question introduces a very extensive subject. If someone hits you over the head with a club or stick, the best response is to meditate that you are experiencing this because of your own past negative actions. Think how this person is allowing this particular karmic legacy to ripen now, rather than sometime in the future. You need to feel gratitude that he has eliminated this negative karmic debt from your mind-stream.
Question: What if someone attacks my wife or child, who are under my protection? Do I defend them? Would it be a negative action to do so?
Rinpoche: As it is your duty and responsibility protect your wife and child, you must try to do so in as skillful a manner as possible. You need to be clever. Best is to protect them without harming the attacker. In other words, you need to find a method of protecting them whereby you do not inflict any harm.
Question: He can harm my children, but I cannot harm him? Isn't it our duty to defend our children against barbarous and cruel acts? Shall we just lay down our lives?
Rinpoche: In order to handle this situation skillfully you need a great deal of courage. There is an account about a previous life of the Buddha, in which he was a navigator who went to sea with a group of five hundred people in search of a buried treasure. There was one man in this party who had very greedy thoughts and, in order to steal all the jewels for himself, was plotting to murder the five hundred. The bodhisattva (Shakyamuni Buddha in a previous life) was aware of this and thought that to let the situation develop was incorrect, as one man would kill five hundred. Therefore, he developed the very courageous thought to save the five hundred by killing this one man, willingly accepting upon himself the full responsibility of killing. If you are willing to accept having to be reborn in a hell in order to save others, you have a greatly courageous thought. Then you can engage in these acts, just as the Buddha himself did.
Question: Under such circumstances is killing still considered a negative action?
Rinpoche: Nagarjuna wrote in his Friendly Letter that if one commits negativity in the name of protecting one's parents, children, Buddhism, or the Three Jewels of Refuge, one will have to experience the consequences. The difference is in whether or not you are aware of the consequences and are willing to take them upon yourself in order selflessly to protect your wife and child. If you harm the enemy, you are going to experience a suffering rebirth. However, you need to be willing to face this by thinking, "I will take that suffering on myself and then my wife and child won't suffer."
Question: Then according to Buddhism, it would still be a negative act?
Rinpoche: To protect your wife and child is a positive constructive act, but to harm the enemy is negative and destructive. You have to be willing to accept the consequences of both.
Question: You said that if one creates negative karma one will suffer in the future, but if one does good, happiness will follow. Can these good actions lead to complete salvation, in the sense of not having to experience rebirth?
Rinpoche: If you wish to achieve salvation, you have to follow the teachings completely and precisely. For instance, if you are following the Christian path, you must follow the teachings of Christ perfectly. Then Christian salvation is possible. Jesus alone cannot save us from our sins; we ourselves have to do something. Otherwise, why would Jesus have said not to sin? If we ourselves follow correctly what Jesus taught, I think that Christian salvation is possible. If we follow correctly the teachings of Buddha, Buddhist "salvation" - liberation - is possible.
to Wake Up from Fear and Worry
- Advice from a Tibetan Lama in Response to September 11
A Talk by Kilung Tulku Tsultrim Rinpoche, Head of the Kilung Monastery in Eastern Tibet
Presented on November 11, 2001
Sponsored by Kilung Foundation and Travelers
Most people of the earth felt the events of September 11. I was in Singapore and heard the news on television. At the same time, I received a phone call from Tibet with the news that on exactly the same day a very kind and high lama in Tibet had passed away. That created an additional connection for me. How interesting to think about coincidences like this. These events underscore the teaching of impermanence, how everything is changeable.
Looking outside at the fall weather, we can see impermanence and change. One moment it's warm, then cold, then windy, then warm again. Like autumn weather, the human condition is very changeable. We can be very happy one moment and very sad the next, then happy again. Yet, we need and want to continue living without being so reactive or subject to changing emotions. Tibetans have a lot of experience since the 1950's about change and impermanence. The Tibetan people lost homes, belongings, family and friends. It can be helpful to us now, considering the events of September 11, to look at how the Tibetan people dealt with these losses. Some Tibetan people, especially the older ones, still suffer. They have never re-engaged with their interests of daily life. Other people have rebounded and become active in life again. There are so many different ways of dealing with the feelings. It's best to be able to shake off the feelings of loss, like shaking dirt off of clothes, and appreciate what life offers in the present. Otherwise, the loss becomes a great obscuration to us.
It might seem like the September 11 tragedy was felt only in the United States, but this is not true. Thinking globally, people in the United States, especially younger people, do not have much experience with such tragedy. In this way, it is easy to feel alone with the pain. However, the greater part of the world has experience with tragedy and loss. With the events of September 11, many people came together with help and prayers. In Nepal, where I was, everyone was talking about what happened. The monks at Kilung Monastery did prayers as did many monks and lamas at other locations. It's like the world came together with a single mind, one of aspiring to the good.
It's easy to consume our minds with asking how something as awful as September 11 could have happened. It's easy to be angry. It's best not to create so much anger, disappointment, and sadness. In the face of tragedy, there is a moment of great sadness, true. However, even in the face of great tragedies it's better to think about how to create benefit. Different persons will have different views of how to create this benefit-it won't be the same for two persons. This is not to ignore the tragedy, rather to remember that for those of us remaining, we are still alive. We can do many great things.
After a tragedy, sometimes the shock is like being asleep. For example, in Tibet in the 1950's, the people had much sleepy energy. They could not think clearly. People felt unable to practice [the Dharma]. Everything slowed down and many things stopped. It's important to wake up, though to participate in life.
After a tragedy, it's best to invoke the stronger aspect of ourselves to help ourselves think of the best things for helping and not to be so sleepy. There are so many things we can do:
" Pray. We can pray for everyone in those buildings [that were attacked] and on those airplanes. We can extend those prayers for all beings to have happiness. I was in Nepal at the time and was fortunate to be able to contact my monastery in Tibet. The people there offered a great number of prayers.
" Wake up. We can make sure we wake up
" Become aware of what's important. What is important? What can lead to benefit? Think of children quarreling over a piece of candy. The piece of candy seems more important than it really is. As adults, we have our versions of quarreling over a piece of candy. Thinking of what's important can help us direct our energy to healing rather than quarreling. What would really benefit? Maybe we can share the piece of candy.
" Speak up or write letters. In the United States, people have the freedom to talk, to write letters to the government. People in the U.S. 4. Speak up or write letters. In the United States, people have the freedom to talk, to write letters to the government. People in the U.S. are fortunate to be able to do this. This is not possible in all countries.
It does take time to heal. We don't expect these tragedies. We are not prepared and the shock is great when tragedies like this occur. So, the feelings stay. To start, do an everyday activity that interests you. You may feel like that everyday activity is too small and doesn't help the world. The point is that it helps you become active again, to wake up from the sleepiness.
It's better not to have so much anger. In our Bainbridge group, one woman responded that it's difficult not to have so much anger. When we get angry, we need to ask ourselves, "Why am I angry?" "What is the source of the anger?" In the Buddhist concept, karma (cause and effect) is involved. Maybe it's our karmic turn to receive this tragedy. Responding with anger just keeps the karma of anger in motion. So, it's better not to respond with anger. It's important to consider what this country [the U.S.] has done to receive this tragedy.
No doubt, there's great suffering with the type of tragedy that occurred on September 11th. This type of tragedy happened to large extent in Tibet during the 1950's during the Chinese invasion. I didn't experience the Chinese invasion directly as I was not born yet. I have seen photos and heard the stories from family and friends. There was so much suffering. For many, there still is. There is much suffering in Afghanistan today many people have no food or shelter. That's why it is important to ask ourselves how we can benefit the situation and what the truth is. If we think how the whole world is "like me," the separation decreases, there's less anger and more room for benefit. Having great anger keeps suffering alive.
It's interesting in the U.S. because the country is so big and powerful. On the one hand, the country is helping with food and relief. On the other hand, bombing.
Let's consider what comes up in the personal mind. When strong emotions come up, they tend to get stronger. The emotion can be peaceful, angry, or neutral. Whatever the emotion, it tends to get stronger. That's why it's important for us to ask ourselves what's best for human beings, for the earth. This helps counteract angry thoughts and moves our energy and activity in a beneficial direction.
When sad, it's better to be a bit active than lethargic. So, again, it's important to keep doing daily activities. Let yourself feel completely open and gently ask, "What's important?" This helps the healing. Start small and in the moment. For example, listen to music if that helps. Go for a walk. In days gone by, when kings were bored, they'd have dancers entertain them. Then they could "wake-up" and think more clearly. If you follow a spiritual tradition, this is a good time to pray and do practices of your tradition. Prayer and dedication of the merit of prayer are very powerful ways to transform a situation. Then, you can let go of the situation mentally. Otherwise, the situation seems like a big backpack on the mind heavy! If you can take off the backpack, you can feel yourself get lighter. You can think lightly.
We are lucky. We are still alive. It's our turn to do good things. We can shake off the sleep and wake up. That's important to wake up! Then it's easier to do some prayers. Otherwise, with we may feel that it's difficult to pray without hesitancy. We can work into thinking of compassion equally for all, not this side or that side. We can think of the whole earth undivided. This can be difficult, because we often think of the "big I" and "big You," which results in much separation. Instead, think intelligently of everyone on this earth being brothers and sisters. Think of Mother Earth and all her children, that we are all related as human beings. There's so much we can dedicate in prayer! This is just one example. That's not physical. Physically, we can think of no differences between "my" country and other country.
If we have understanding, awareness that is strong enough, intelligent enough, we can balance our thoughts without wanting to hurt those "on the other side" and taking care only of ourselves on "this side." That is one way to start thinking. Each of us can wake up our mind and clearly see how best to help and think. There's not so much difference between sides. Having an equal balance of feelings helps decrease pressure. We can be more balanced in our thoughts and actions. One's feelings and life are not so involved then with great disaster.
When the mind is sad, the body cannot respond. Then we get mentally involved. In Tibet, many people became mentally ill. They could not forget. Some people are still holding on to the suffering. The feelings are strong and powerful. It seems like big actions are needed to respond to the largeness of the tragedy, so we feel helpless. It's too much. Thinking and being involved mentally with the violence creates and holds negative emotions. This can make the situation worse and lead to ill health. So, it's important not to be so involved mentally.
After thousands die, it's important to make sure that we, who remain, are strong and happy. But if the mind is asleep and keeping negative thoughts, it's difficult. We need to think more strongly healthily. This is most important! We can be part of our own healing we can do prayers and we can wake up.
Again, I want everyone to know how personally sorry I am. The whole world is feeling this. Sometimes we think only two countries are involved, the U.S. and Afghanistan. But the whole world is involved. In Nepal, on the 49th day after the tragedy (November 1 in Nepal, a full moon), we offered 2,000 candle lamps at the Great Stupa in Boudanath. I continue to do prayers.
Question: I felt very sleepy after September 11. I felt very alone, then stuck and unable to do things, like I was falling into a pit of depression. Four days ago, I was able to start moving again.
Response from Rinpoche: This is very good. You are coming back from this sleepiness very fast. You are healing quickly. Hopefully, you will continue to be happy.
Question: It seems like individuals need different amounts of time to wake up. How can we wake up without forcing it or going too fast?
Response from Rinpoche: Yes, it's important not to fight the sleepiness, not to push too hard. Thinking that one shouldn't have these thoughts doesn't help it adds negative thoughts. If that happens, try to think about the situation less and less. Give yourself space. Try to be open and compassionate with yourself to wake up. If you're fighting with yourself, it's like your mind is split into two with each part fighting.
Question: I feel a lot of anger toward the U.S. now because of all the money spent on bombing Afghanistan when so many Afghani refugees need food and shelter.
Response from Rinpoche: Consider that everyone is thinking that they're doing the best activity. We probably can't stop everything. If we can write letters, that's very good. As a person, we can each still do something. But, if worry strikes again and again, that's not good. That creates unhappiness in one's mind. If there's a chance to say something, that's a good option. Otherwise, let the thought come up and let it go don't hold onto the negativity.
Question: Practically, it comes to how to donate my $10. Should I give the money to Afghanistan or to the monastery to help rebuild it?
Response from Rinpoche: Afghanistan needs so much help now. There's so much suffering.
Question: How can I handle the fear, fear of the unknown? The fear of what's going to happen to world. What's the world going to be like in one year? Six months? Two years?
I'm not fearful of more attacks, but how the world's going to reaction and how the world will appear in the future? Will we be more united or separated? How can we be sure that our diversity doesn't separate us?
Response from Rinpoche: Yes, there's so much changing in the world. Many countries are used to this, but as a country, the U.S. may not have felt such a large tragedy since World War II. Especially the young people, they don't have experience of such change. All they know is freedom. This may be the first time to hear and feel fear. There's a saying in Tibet, that a spark on one's clothing makes one a bit sad, but when the spark burns through to the skin, ouch! So now, in the U.S., the feeling, the pain, is stronger. The tragedy really hit home. The spark has burned through to the skin. I think it's going to be OK, though. All people are looking to find benefit now.
Question: What if you find yourself in an immediate short-term situation of facing death? You find yourself realizing the truth of impermanence. For example, I was on an airplane the day before September 11 and realize that I could have been on one of the fateful airplanes on September 11. I have a spiritual practice and still wonder what thoughts should I have in this type of situation.
Response from Rinpoche: Try not to have so much fear. Focus on your spiritual path and what's dear to you, such as your family. Send love to your family. It's good if you don't fear dying; you'll probably have an easier time when you die. If you're fearful when facing death, it's important to decide to let go of what's in this life. You must decide that now is my time to die. Now, death is my journey, so it's time to focus on this journey. That will help you be more peaceful and comfortable. The truth is that we will die. It's very helpful not to have fear.
Question: How should I act when someone I know is dying?
Response from Rinpoche: It's almost the same way as dealing with your own death. Understand that person is dying; recognize that it's her time. There's nothing you can do to change that. Focus on helping that person be happy and peaceful. Be gentle and compassionate with your friend. These are such gifts. If you are far away and can't be present with the person, send prayers and positive thoughts to the person. Keep your mind clear and free of fear and worry.
Question: I'm a teacher working with 10-year old children. How can I best help them with the events of September 11?
Response from Rinpoche: Children can feel what the adults feel even without hearing comments. Children don't seem to carry as much anger as adults, but they can have fear. It's good for you, as a teacher, to respond to their questions in a calm way. You can bring up the topic and gently explore the children's reactions to decide whether to talk more or drop the subject. This gentle acknowledgment of the events can help the children relax.
Transcribed and edited by Lesley Tinker
What You Love
An Interview with Trudy Goodman
From the Spring 2004 Insight Journal of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
Insight: Trudy, in addition to being a long-time dharma practitioner and teacher, you are also a trained psychotherapist. What do you think of the recent confluence of these two traditions?
Trudy: I'm interested in the ways these two different traditions are already enriching one another. For years now my colleages at IMP and I have been working with questions like, "Can we put the dharma into the language of evidence-based psychology, or psychoanalytic theory, without losing the spirit and intention of the ancient teachings?" If we can use professional language and methods to integrate the field of psychotherapy with the vast knowledge of conciousness arising from Buddhist meditation, this will help people. And the good news for dharma teaching is that, with the training in psychotherapy (or judicious referral to psychotherapists), we have a much wider range of skillful means for meeting the deeply rooted emotional obstacles people often encounter in their practice.
Which came first, dharma or therapy?
In my life? It was always dharma first -- meditation -- and then therapy. I never set out to do therapy initially. Already a dharma practioner for some time, I found myself the director of a little nursery school at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. It was a lab school for the residents in child psychiatry, and by being part of their regular seminars I was learning about how psychiatrists looked at children
The psychiatrist who ran that seminar for the residents invited me (and two friends) to start a school with him for severely emotionally disturbed children in the greater Boston area. In the course of working with these children I had to learn to do therapy, because they were wildly disturbed and could not do nursery school activities with any sustained attention or cooperation. We worked with the children no one else wanted. The had been kicked out of every other child care program around.
It was while working with these children and their families that I became interested in the emotional, affective life of people. Before I that I was seeking to understand how humans know, and I had studied cognitive development with Jean Piaget in Switzerland. I was looking for the dharma, really, but didn't know where to look in those days. So I looked in the field of epistemology, the study of how we know perception and reality, but I didn't find there what I wanted to know. I couldn't name it at the time, but I was transfixed by the mystery of consciousness.
Dr. Piaget was not much help here?
No, and that was so disappointing. Piaget studied children as a means of understanding the birth of intelligence, but his definition of intelligence was cognitive development, not consciousness per se. He even said, "If I could interview prehistoric man, (he did not say 'prehistoric people,') that's what I would do. But since they are not available I have to study children." He believed that a child's development recapitulated at the ontology of intelligence, and that he could somehow go back in history by studying children and how their minds unfold as they learn. He did want to know how they come to know things in reality, but his reason for wanting to know was very different from mine. He was interested in learning about the functioning of intelligence, but I had an eye out for something bigger that I found missing in his program.
But I went on to learn a lot about the emotional lives of children and families by working with multiplu-challenged inner-city families, and by dealing with intensities of suffering and poverty that I couldn't even imagine. It was incredible, right in Boston, people living in filth and crowding and crazy loneliness. That was a whole other education. This is when I started meditating and practicing dharma more intensively, when my first teacher came to Cambridge and started a Zen Center.
The Zen model was pretty monastic in those days, was it not?
My first teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, was a monk. He urged people to become monks and nuns and, short of that, to live in the Zen Center. That was his training and he believed in it. But I was a single mother by then, and the Zen Centers were not particularly healthy place to raise a child in those days. Most people were trying to be monastic, but they weren't really, and most had little tolerance for kids.
I practiced for a few years in that contextx and then met Kobun Chino Roshi and Maurine (Stuart, Roshi), who both live a family life and understood how living together and raising children can be a part of spiritual training. It affirmed what I knew from experience. I also practiced vipassana [insight meditation] in the early years. This was before IMS got started in Barre [in 1976]. The used to rent a place in Great Barrington, and I sat vipassana, too, in those days.
I found out about the vipassana retreats through my friend Jon Kabat-Zinn, who practiced Zen with me. He said "These people can really sit!" So I went to see. After that I would go on retreats whenever my circumstances allowed. Occasionally friends, or my parents would take care of my daughter, or I would do trades with other single parents I trusted, and we would help each other that way.
Were there any issues for you about practicing in the two different traditions?
You know in those days, it was no problem. My teacher Seung Sahn, Soen Sa Nim, encouraged my going to the retreats, but said of the vipassana meditators, "They fall into emptiness. If you go to a retreat with them, you will have more samadhi [concentration] on the retreat, but when you come out it will be 'more worser'." And there was definitely more samadhi in the retreats. But it was more difficult to return to ordinary life when I came out -- the emphasis then was not on mindfulness in everyday life. I would emerge in these profound stages, and everything would be an impingement -- including my own child. I would be painfully sensitive for days.
Whereas when I would sit at the urban Zen Center, in Providence, there would be people with boom boxes walking outside, and neither the sitting nor the sessions were long. You could never really sink in to any particular state. You'd be up and down, up and down, working with a koan, meeting with the teacher. And when you came home it seemed a more natural extension of that -- meeting with life's circumstances as your teacher. But I learned things about stillness on the vipassana retreats that I did not learn on those Zen retreats. There was no conflict. The teachings seemed consistent and similar to me. Of course, the relationships with the teachers was quite different, but neither would say you could not practice with the other.
Can you say more, from your own experience, about some of the differences between practicing vipassana and practicing zen?
I feel each has something to offer that the other doesn't. The vipassana teachings were more accessible, in the sense that there was a map you could follow. The instructions follow the four foundations of mindfulness. You are given techniques for how not to get lost in your thoughts, how to cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, and for what to do, rather, how to be in the sitting. You're not busy, busy, like in the Tibetan tradition, but there is something to hang your mind-hat on. Especially with the practice of noting and labeling, it's possible to connect mindfulness with named, and accurately known, emotions that may have been repressed. This can be a profound way to offer ourselves the acceptance we seek outside of ourselves -- being seen and known completely, including psychologically. Vipassana has contributed in this way. There are also very explicit dharma talks about what the Buddha actually taught. So you hear about the four noble truths, the three characteristics, the factors of enlightenment, and the eightfold path. The Buddhist way is liad out in a very methodical and accessible manner, suffused with metta [lovingkindness].
Much of that was missing in Zen. I was a Zen student for years, and we would sit intensively and work with our teacher, but study was not much emphasized. What was valued was looking into your own don't-know mind, your self, your life, the mystery of it all. That was considered to be alive, and true. It was what I had been seeking all my young life.
What I loved about Zen, and did not find in vipassana, was an emphasis on direct experience, pure presence, the spontaneous expression of the immediate moment. Now you are free! What do you do? Free to do what? How do you manifest your understanding? The meetings with my teacher Mauring were like that, too: "Okay, so you understand this. Now, what? What do you do? How can you help? Show me!" That was always the emphasis.
With Zen you manifest what you know by being it -- fully. If you are giving a dharma talk you don't talk about the dharma. You sit in presence, body, breath, mind, fully present, and you speak from that, moment-to-moment. It's not that you can't have an outline of what you want to say, but you don't read a prepared talk. As Kobun Chino Roshi said to me once, "Would you want to go around the table and eat the garbage off everybody's plate when they were done eating?" I was taught that a prepared talk is life leftovers, not fresh from the pot or the oven. This is a more challenging way of teaching, less consistent sometimes, but it can carry great vitality. It involves trusting our knowing at a seep level.
Another thing about the Zen tradition I think is very useful is that you are working closely with the teacher. Now, obviously, there are things that can go wrong in this close relationship, but we are talking here about strengths, not weaknesses. The point is to have that meeting be as unclouded as possible by expectation, longing for approval, showing off -- all the things we habitually bring to our encounters with people.
There is something remarkable about seeing and being seen by another, about being so naked and clear and present. It's such an intimate acceptance. It almost takes your breath away!! To come to that pure presence and see: It's just this! Nothing else! Everything falls away! All your illusions, your idealizations, your longing for love, your paranoia about your teacher not liking you, or finding you're not enough -- all those projections just have to stop, at least for a moment!
In Zen interviews you are facing this person sitting there in the power seat who is the authority. Depending on the teacher, you find yourself trying to answer an unanswerable question they've asked you, or you're trying to come up with something to say or do that demonstrates your understanding, your willingness to be fully present and open to what is. The Zen choreography is used to cultivate mindfullness and try to dislodge people from their comfort zeon and encourage them to step out of their mind-house and see what's there. It draws out whatever poisons come up for you in intimate relationship. Whatever you are carrying will come up in that situation.
When the teach is wise, balanced, b and mature, it can be an unparalleled chance to trust someone and be completely without artifice or pretense. In those moments you realize that your mind and your teacher's mind are just one big mind that you are both inhabiting. You're not caught by the particularities of anyone. To me, this sort of mind-to-mind direct transmission of understanding is a huge strength of Zen.
And the teacher encounter in a vipassana retreat?
In the beginning, the interviews were the least satisfying element of sitting vipassana. I loved being on retreat, I loved the dharma talks, the long sitting and walking, the stillness -- all of it, except for the interviews. I would go and talk about my practice and then be told I was doing fine. I couldn't simply trust my teachers then, as I learned to do when I returned to intensive vipassana retreats a dozen years ago.
As a female, and I don't think this is unique, I had difficulty trusting my own realization. It was difficult to trust that just hearing is enough, just seeing, just tasting, just this thought, just this feeling in the body -- is enough. The mind likes to search for more, for something deeper... Although the teaching is clear: "Zen mind is enough mind," Zen practice sometimes reinforced a sense of never doing enough. I find that can be a beautiful spirit if it keeps us from fixating and being complacent, or to understanding how the way is infinite and there is always more to learn. But so often our fears inform our beliefs, such as, whatever I'm doing can't possibly be it. So, if a teacher tell you, "You're doing fine, just continue," You think, "Well, he must not really know." (Laughter)
Have you worked recently with vipassana teachers?
I have felt Joseph [Goldstein], Sharon [Salzber], Sarah [Doering] and Jack [Kornfield]'s b caring and support for years now, and have benefited hugely from the teaching -- and friendship -- of other vipassana teachers, too. After the teacher retreat at the Forest Refuge at IMS last year, I stayed for the month with Sayadaw U Pandita. U Pandita's commitment to sila [virtue] is palpable.
The morning after he arrived at the retreat, there was a rainbow over the whole entrance to the Forest Refuge. It was raining light. And when he walked in the meditation hall that morning, it was like a wave of that fragrance just rolling into the room. Such a wave of purity I felt in his presence, it made me cry. Being one of the people hurt by unethical behavior, I can say: Sila is the best medicine!
We are given a very clear protocol on what our report to the teacher was to include and, especially, what it was not to include. The report was to focus primarily on the rising and falling of the abdomen. We could name certain mind states, or describe what the mind might be trying to do, but not in any way that was personally indentified with the experience. For example, we could say "There was sadness arising." But we would not say, "I got so sad because..." We were given strict instructions on how to report most clearly to the Sayadaws, and that is all they would talk to us about.
It was a matter of using impersonal language, speaking without the identification 'I', 'me', 'mine', and focusing on a very tiny segment of experience. But we know reality is holographic. If you focus on any one piece and bring all of your attention to it, you are going to discover the dharma truths that are universal. So you might be just looking at rising and falling, for example; but you're going to start experiencing just pulsations, and then you're going to start seeing how some disappear and others take their place, and then you're going to start having your focus on how they disappear all together as soon as they are perceived. Through the microcosm of the rising and falling and the sensations that accompany that -- because that's what you're reporting and focusing on -- you actually come to experience their true nature. And yet, to learn in this way, you are leaving out huge amount of your life and your experience.
Does this kind of precisely concentrated mindfulness play any role in therapy, where you also track and report on experience?
The level of concentration is different outside of retreat. But the more care and attentiveness the partnership of the therapist/client can bring to exploring experience, the more compassion and connection there will be. And then people begin to trust their own capacity to slow into experience and see what's there. Noting, labeling the felt sense of things, can help there too.
Both as a dharma teacher and as a therapist, I am passionate about awareness and have empathy for who we are in all our manifestations! We have all seen what happens when people compartmentalize parts of their lives. When we disavow and deny aspects of who we are by projecting them on to an enemy, or try to be a 'spiritual' person, we wind up at the mercy of the very forces we reject, without the protection of mindfulness and compassion. I think the best way for us to learn to live in peace with each other is to be able to know that, with a little mindfulness and metta and karuna [compassion], all the different parts of who we are -- even the crazy parts -- can peacefully coexist in our own hearts.
To wake up, to be fully alive, most of us have to include the wider range of emotional experience along with body-based, sensation-based awareness. High levels of energy and aliveness come through the emotions when they are approached skillfully and can transform into wisdom. I say transform, rather than be transformed, because it's something that just happens when we are willing to be present and trust our experience. And having the wise company of a skilled therapist (or teacher) can help people find the courage and strength to trust even their painful losses as truth.
Discovering how to do that came from practicing with my own intense suffering. We can find what lies on the other side of suffering -- what's left when you've had insight into how you came to be this way through your parents being the way there were, in part because your grandparents brought them up this way, and their parents' lives were this way, and so on. The view of human life gets very, very big. Bigger than you or me or them! And what's naturally left when our suffering falls away? A vast peace and freedom that has always been there.
Might this be one of the ways these traditions of Zen and vipassana are complementary?
Everything is complementary for me. I don't get into conflicts or confusion with different practices, because I can see how they're all expressing dharmic truth. I spent two years studying Vajrayana Buddhism, doing ngondro practices, doing a Dzogchen retreat in the mountain jungles of Bhutan, then continuing to practice in India for a couple of months in Bodh-Gaya, doing prostrations at the stupa. I could see that each practice was just drawing on different paramis [moral perfections] and developing different qualities. And they were all so clearly and deeply rooted in the dharma, in the teachings of the Buddha. They were just coming at it from different upaya [skillful means]. It seems to me it is the creativity of human culture developing all of these skilful means of waking up and expressing our gratitude and love of life. Such an abundance of imagination, creativity, and cultural diversity! 50 ways to love the dharma! Thank you India, Korea, Japan, China, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bhutan! United States, Switzerland, France, England, Thank you too!
What about the differing notions of selfhood and identity, East and West?
There is a lot of conversation about this. It gets confusing for the therapists when they hear "no self." Then people start talking about "no self" or "emptiness" as if they were things, reified (thing-afied) experiences. There is also a lot of confusion in dharma circles about therapy. Many people jump on Freud's phrase about returning his patients to ordinary human unhappiness, and view therapy as simply a way of adjusting to dukkha [suffering] without much spiritual value.
I remember hearing a Rinpoche [Tibetan Buddhist teacher] at a conference on psychotherapy and Buddhism in the early eighties say in his opening talk to an assembly of professionals something like, "I suppose some poor, unfortunate individuals might need some psychotherapy before they can practice dharma." That was his understanding of what we were doing. So there are misunderstandings on both sides.
In my experience, there are places in practice where personality is uncovered as illusory and unnecessary. These insights can be vivid and on-going if you are on a retreat, and maybe for some people they are on-going when not on retreat. Some of those dimensions of experience are not ordinarily accessible through psychotherapy, and they're not usually accessible to psychotherapists unless they've practiced.
How do you feel about combining the professions of dharma teachers and psychotherapists?
You see alot of dharma teachers who become therapists, and some are not necessarily well trained as therapists. And there are therapists who learn dharma, but then continue to think in therapy terms. Not everyone makes the shift.
For me beginning to teach dharma was very humbling, because I realized it wasn't about me. It was really about just performing a service. People need to hear the dharma, for the same reasons I did. It saved my life over and over. If you've been blessed with being given the chance to practice a bit and work usefully with suffering, it is a service to pass on the teachings about how to do this to others.
I don't think I have a b teacher identity. I've seen too many hurtful things arise out of that, so I'm really careful. I think of myself like a French teacher or a piano teacher. I have a way of being with people (and myself) that I've practiced a lot because it's something I love. And if you share what you love, it's contagious. People can catch that spark. And it's profoundly healing to love you life; this is where the two paths intersect for me.
What brought you from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where you lived for so many years, to Los Angeles?
I left Cambridge after a tough divorce that tore away deeply rooted illusions I'd had for years. It felt like dying, and I had to jump into the unknown and live a gypsy life on the dharma trail for a few years.
I landed in Los Angeles for family reasons. My elderly mom lives there, and needed help in a way that she hadn't before. She is showing me what it is to be old. It truly is a different stage of development, with its own cognition and ways of perceiving things. It's not just rhythm and pace that slow down; there are also subtle changes in perception. Understanding this has allowed me to be patient with her in ways that did not come easily at all. She wasn't a very patient parent, and I wasn't a very patient daughter. She has sweetened and mellowed, and only speaks her gratitude and support now. I just can't imagine living far away from her during these years. I'm learning a different kind of love, her dharma of old age.
My daughter also lives in the area, and got pregnant before I went to India. She had been off on her own quite happily for a long time, but wanted me nearby because of the baby. I was in transition in my life, so I thought I would spend a little time while the baby is young and help my daughter. But I fell in love, head over heels, with that child, and did not want to live far away from her. She is almost three now, and she has a new baby brother! So my family life now turns around the evolving relationship with my mother, siblings, daughter, and watching my grandchildren grow.
So you are fully embedded in the life of a householder now?
Oh no! I'm in it, but not of it -- that's the beauty of being a grandparent. When I came to LA a teacher said to me, "Well, being so involved with your family is going to be very bad for your spiritual life." I knew what he meant, because I was always getting triggered by my family. I felt a lot more kilesas [imperfections], such as impatience and aversion.
Yet I began to think, "Wait a minute, what is this practice if it doesn't work around my family of origin? Isn't that a training ground? Don't they push my buttons the most? Why do I have to go a monastery to seek out situations that push my buttons? I have them right here: endless changes to cultivate my least favorite virtue, patience! Countless opportunities for renunciation! It's been very humbling, like going backwards in time and bringing the practice to ancient family dynamics that I'd been able to bypass for a long time.
So how did you get started teaching in LA?
Out of appreciation for the intensity of my own family path, I started Growing Spirit, a family practice program in LA that meets once and a while on Sunday mornings. We sit, and the kids do meditations that are geared towards kids and play. In my new life, I just created a practice situation I knew to be valuable and offered it to the community. We started with two people and now have a regular Thursday sitting group, monthly retreats, weekly classes, visiting teachers, and a growing sangha: Insight LA.
I'm truly grateful to the people in Los Angeles who have come to sit with me. They are so devoted to waking up and being compassionate in this life, caring about each other and the dharma. When I talk about what's happening with Insight LA, I immediately think of them. They are, we are, what's happening with Insight LA.
The Appeal of Buddhism in the Modern World
Singapore August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
This year you have been on a teaching tour to twenty-six countries. Please share
with us your observations of how Buddhism is spreading to new places.
Answer: Buddhism is spreading rapidly around the world now. There are Buddhist centers in many European countries, North America, South America, South Africa, Australasia, and so on. We find Buddhists in Europe not only in the Western capitalist countries, but also in the socialist countries of the East. For example, Poland has about five thousand active Buddhists.
Buddhism appeals very much to the modern world because it is reasonable and scientifically based. Buddha said, "Do not believe in anything that I say just out of respect for me, but test it for yourself, analyze it, as if you were buying gold." Modern-day people like such a nondogmatic approach.
There are many dialogues between scientists and Buddhist leaders, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Together they are discussing and investigating what is reality. Buddha said that all problems come from not understanding reality, from being confused in this regard. If we were aware of who we are and how the world and we exist, we would not create problems out of our confusion. Buddhism has an extremely open attitude in examining what is true. For example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that if scientists can prove that something Buddha or his followers taught is incorrect or just superstition, he would be happy and willing to drop it from Buddhism. Such an approach is very attractive to Western people.
Since learned masters of the past have adapted Buddhism to the culture of each society to which it has spread, it is only natural that teachers today need to present Buddhism in different modern countries in slightly different ways. In general, Buddhism emphasizes a rational explanation. Within this context, however, different points and approaches need more emphasis depending on predominant cultural traits.
Buddha taught such a variety of methods, simply because people very so much. Not everyone thinks in the same way. Consider the example of food. If there were only one type of food available in a city, it would not appeal to everyone. If, on the other hand, different foods could be had with varied flavors, everyone could find something appealing. Likewise, Buddha taught a large variety of methods for people with a wide spectrum of tastes to use to develop themselves and grow. After all, the objective of Buddhism is to overcome all our limitations and problems and to realize all our potentials so that we can develop ourselves to the point at which we can help everyone as much as is possible.
In some Western countries that emphasize psychology, such as Switzerland and the United States, teachers usually present Buddhism from the point of view of psychology. In other countries where people prefer a devotional approach, such as many Southern European lands and in Latin America, teachers tend to present Buddhism in a devotional manner. People there like to chant very much, and one can do that in Buddhist practice. People in Northern European countries, however, do not enjoy chanting as much. Teachers tend to emphasize an intellectual approach to Buddhism there.
Many people in Eastern Europe are in a very sad situation. The Buddhist teachings appeal to them greatly because many find their lives empty. Whether they work hard at their jobs or not seems to make no difference. They see no results. Buddhism, in contrast, teaches them methods for working on themselves, which do bring results that make a difference in the qualities of their lives. This makes people unbelievably appreciative and enthusiastic to throw themselves fully into practices such as making thousands of prostrations.
In this way, Buddhism adapts itself to the culture and the mentality of the people in each society, while preserving the major teachings of Buddha. The principal teachings are not changed -- the aim is to overcome our problems and limitations and to realize our potentials. Whether practitioners do this with more emphasis on the psychological, intellectual, scientific, or devotional approach depends on the culture.
Question: How is Buddhism adapting to the twentieth century in general?
Answer: Buddhism is adapting by emphasizing a rational scientific approach to its teachings. Buddhism gives a clear explanation of how life's experiences come about and how to deal with them in the best manner possible. Then it says do not accept anything on blind faith; think for yourself, test it out and see if it actually does make sense. This resembles science asking us to verify the results of an experiment by repeating it ourselves, and only then to accept the results as fact. Modern people do not like buying something without examining it; they would not buy a car without testing it. Likewise, they will not turn to another religion or philosophy of life without checking it first to see if it really makes sense. That is what makes Buddhism so appealing to many people of the twentieth century. Buddhism is open to scientific investigation and invites people to examine it in that way.
reason we practice meditation
By The Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche
the spread of Buddhism in America, the Kagyu lineage was in the forefront of the
sending of lamas to America. Of these lamas, the three great progenitors of the
dharma in America were His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche,
and the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It was very unfortunate that in the
1980s we lost all of these great beings, but in the aftermath, there were a number
of remarkable lamas in the lineage who stepped forward to fill their places and
to bring great benefit to sentient beings. Amongst these, in the forefront of
them, was The Very Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, abbot by appointment of
His Holiness Karmapa of Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. He is also abbot of his own
monasteries in Nepal and Tibet, and by appointment of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche,
of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. In addition he has been very generous and kind
to Western students, teaching the dharma extensively in retreats and seminars
throughout the world. Rinpoche taught in Seattle for the first time in May 1996.
This transcript is from his teachings the evening of May 24.
I'd like to begin by welcoming all of you here tonight. I recognize that you've come here out of your sincere interest in, and wish to practice, genuine dharma, and out of your respect for my teaching. And this is all delightful to me, and I thank you for it. I consider myself fortunate to have such an opportunity to form such a connection with you. To begin, I would like to recite a traditional supplication to the teachers of my lineage, and while doing so, I invite you to join me in an attitude of confidence and devotion. (Chants)
The essence of the buddhadharma, the teachings of the Buddha, is practice. And when we say practice, we mean the practice of meditation, which can consist of either the meditation known as tranquillity or that known as insight. But in either case, it must be implemented in actual practice. The reason we practice meditation is to attain happiness. And this means states of happiness in both the short term and the long term. With regard to short-term happiness, when we speak of happiness, we usually mean either or both of two things, one of which is physical pleasure and the other of which is mental pleasure. But if you look at either of these pleasant experiences, the root of either one has to be a mind that is at peace, a mind that is free of suffering. Because as long as your mind is unhappy and without any kind of tranquillity or peace, then no matter how much physical pleasure you experience, it will not take the form of happiness per se. On the other hand, even if you lack the utmost ideal physical circumstances of wealth and so on, if your mind is at peace, you will be happy anyway.
We practice meditation, therefore, in part in order to obtain the short-term benefit of a state of mental happiness and peace. Now, the reason why meditation helps with this is that, normally, we have a great deal of thought, or many different kinds of thoughts running through our minds. And some of these thoughts are pleasant, even delightful. Some of them however, are unpleasant, agitating, and worrisome. Now, if you examine the thoughts that are present in your mind from time to time, you will see that the pleasant thoughts are comparatively few, and the unpleasant thoughts are many - which means that as long as your mind is ruled or controlled by the thoughts that pass through it, you will be quite unhappy. In order to gain control over this process, therefore, we begin with the meditation practice of tranquillity, which produces a basic state of contentment and peace within the mind of the practitioner.
An example of this is the great Tibetan yogi Jetsun Milarepa, who lived in conditions of the utmost austerity. He lived it utter solitude, in caves and isolated mountains. His clothes were very poor; he had no nice clothes. His food was neither rich nor tasty. In fact, [for a number of years] he lived on nettle soup alone, as a result of which he became physically very thin, almost emaciated. Now, if you consider his external circumstances alone, the isolation and poverty in which he lived, you would think he must have been miserable. And yet, as we can tell from the many songs he composed, because his mind was fundamentally at peace, his experience was one of constant unfolding delight. His songs are songs that express the utmost state of delight or rapture. He saw every place he went to, no matter how isolated and austere an environment it was, as beautiful, and he experienced his life of utmost austerity as extremely pleasant.
In fact, the short-term benefits of meditation are more than merely peace of mind, because our physical health as well depends, to a great extent, upon our state of mind. And therefore, if you cultivate this state of mental contentment and peace, then you will tend not to become ill, and you will as well tend to heal easily if and when you do become ill. The reason for this is that one of the primary conditions which brings about states of illness is mental agitation, which produces a corresponding agitation or disturbance of the channels and the energies within your body. These generate new sicknesses, ones you have not yet experienced, and also prevent the healing of old sicknesses. This agitation of the channels and winds or energies also obstructs the benefit which could be derived from medical treatment. If you practice meditation, then as your mind settles down, the channels and energies moving through the channels return to their rightful functioning, as a result of which you tend not to become ill and you are able to heal any illnesses you already have. And we can see an illustration of this also in the life of Jetsun Milarepa, who engaged in the utmost austerities with regard to where he lived, the clothes he wore, the food he ate, and so on, throughout the early part of his life. And yet this did not harm his health, because he managed to have a very long life, was extremely vigorous and youthful to the end of his life, which indicates the fact that through the proper practice of meditation, the mental peace and contentment that is generated calms down or corrects the functioning of the channels and energies, allowing for the healing of sickness and the prevention of sickness.
The ultimate or long-term benefit of the practice of meditation is becoming free of all suffering, which means no longer having to experience the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. Now, this attainment of freedom is called, in the common language of all the Buddhist traditions, buddhahood, and in the particular terminology of the vajrayana, the supreme attainment, or supreme siddhi. In any case, the root or basic cause of this attainment is the practice of meditation. The reason for this is, again, that generally we have a lot of thoughts running through our minds, some of which are beneficial - thoughts of love, compassion, rejoicing in the happiness of others, and so on - and many of which are negative - thoughts of attachment, aversion, jealousy, competitiveness, and so on. Now, there are comparatively few of the former type of thought and comparatively many of the latter type of thought, because we have such strong habits that have been accumulating within us over a period of time without beginning. And it's only by removing these habits of negativity that we can free ourselves from suffering.
You cannot simply remove these mental afflictions, or kleshas, by saying to yourself, "I will not generate any more mental affliction," because you do not have the necessary freedom of mind or control over the kleshas to do so. In order to relinquish these, you need to actually attain this freedom, which begins, according to the common path, with the cultivation of tranquillity. Now, when you begin to meditate, [when] you begin to practice the basic meditation of tranquillity meditation, you may find that your mind won't stay still for a moment. But this is not permanent. This will change as you practice, and you will eventually be able to place your mind at rest at will, at which point you have successfully alleviated the manifest disturbance of these mental afflictions or kleshas. On the basis of that, then you can apply the second technique, which is called insight, which consists of learning to recognize and directly experience the nature of your own mind. This nature is referred to as emptiness. When you recognize this nature and rest in it, then all of the kleshas, all of the mental afflictions that arise, dissolve into this emptiness, and are no longer afflictions. Therefore, the freedom, or result, which is called buddhahood, depends upon the eradication of these mental afflictions, and that depends upon the practice of meditation.
The practice of tranquillity and insight is the general path which is common to both the paths of sutra and tantra. In the specific context which is particular to the vajrayana, the main techniques are called the generation stage and the completion stage. These two techniques are extremely powerful and effective. Generation stage refers to the visualization of, for example, the form of a lineage guru, the form of a deity or yidam, or the form of a dharma protector. Now, initially, when first encountering this technique, it's not uncommon for beginners to think, what is the point of this? Well, the point of this is that we support and confirm our ignorance and suffering and our kleshas through the constant generation of impure projections or impure appearances which make up our experience of samsara. And in order to transcend this process, we need to transcend these impure projections, together with the suffering that they bring about. A very effective way to do this is to replace these gradually, replace these projections of impurity with pure projections based on the iconography of the yidam, the dharmapala, and so on. By starting to experience the world as the mandala of the deity and all beings as the presence of that deity, then you gradually train yourself to let go of mental afflictions, let go of impure projections, and you create the environment for the natural manifestation of your own innate wisdom.
Now, all of this occurs gradually through this practice of the generation stage. The actual deities who are used can vary in appearance. Some of them are peaceful and some of them are wrathful. In general, the iconography of the wrathful deities points out the innate power of wisdom, and that of the peaceful deities the qualities of loving-kindness and compassion. Also, there are male deities and female deities. The male deities embody the method or compassion, and the female deities embody intelligence or wisdom.
For these reasons, it's appropriate to perform these practices of meditation upon deities. And because these practices are so prevalent in our tradition, if you go into a vajrayana practice place or temple, you will probably see lots of images of deities - peaceful deities, wrathful deities, and extraordinarily wrathful deities. And you'll see lots of shrines with some very eccentric offerings on them. Initially, if you're not used to all this, you might think, "What is all this?" And you might feel, "Well, the basic practices of tranquility and insight make a lot of sense, and are very interesting; and all these deities, all these rituals, and all these eccentric musical instruments are really not very interesting at all." However, each and every aspect of the iconography, and each and every implement you find in a shrine room, is there for a very specific reason. The reason in general is that we need to train ourselves to replace our projection of impurity or negativity with a projection or experience of purity. And you can't simply fake this, you can't simply talk yourself into this, because you're trying to replace something that is deeper than a concept. It's more like a feeling. So, therefore, in the technique by which you replace it, a great deal of feeling or experience of the energy of purity has to be actually generated, and in order to generate that, we use physical representations of offerings, we use musical instruments in order to inspire the feeling of purity, and so on. In short, all of these implements are useful in actually generating the experience of purity.
That is the first of the two techniques of vajrayana practice, the generation stage. The second technique is called the completion stage, and it consists of a variety of related techniques, of which perhaps the most important and the best known are mahamudra and dzogchen or "The Great Perfection." Now, sometimes, it seems to be presented that dzogchen is more important, and at other times it seems to be presented that mahamudra is more important, and as a result people become a little bit confused about this and are unsure which tradition or which practice they should pursue. Ultimately, the practices in essence and in their result are the same. In fact, each of them has a variety of techniques within it. For example, within mahamudra practice alone, there are many methods which can be used, such as candali (see footnote) and so forth, and within the practice of dzogchen alone there are as well many methods, such as the cultivation of primordial purity, spontaneous presence, and so on. But ultimately, mahamudra practice is always presented as guidance on or an introduction to your mind, and dzogchen practice is always presented as guidance or introduction to your mind. Which means that the root of these is no different, and the practice of either mahamudra or dzogchen will generate a great benefit. Further, we find in The Aspiration of Mahamudra by the third Gyalwa Karmapa, Lord Rangjung Dorje, the following stanza:
It does not exist, and has not been seen, even by the Victors.
It is not non-existent, it is the basis of all Samsara and Nirvana.
This is not contradictory, but is the great Middle Way.
May I come to see the nature which is beyond elaboration.
And that is from the mahamudra tradition. Then, in The Aspiration for the Realization of the Nature of the Great Perfection by the omniscient Jigme Lingpa, an aspiration liturgy from the dzogchen tradition, we find the following stanza:
It does not exist, it has not been seen, even by the Victors.
It is not non-existent, it is the basis of all Samsara and Nirvana.
It is not contradictory, it is the great Middle Way.
May I come to recognize dzogpa chenpo, the nature of the ground.
In other words, these two traditions are concerned entirely with the recognition of the same nature.
So both short-term and ultimate happiness depend on the cultivation of meditation, which from the common point of view of the sutras (the point of view held in common by all tradition of Buddhism) is tranquillity and insight, and from the uncommon point of view of the vajrayana is the generation and completion stages.
Meditation, however, depends in part upon the generation of loving-kindness and compassion. And this is true of any meditation, but it is especially most true of vajrayana meditation. The reason is that the specific vajrayana practices - the visualization of deities or meditation upon mahamudra and so on - depend upon the presence of a pure motivation on the part of the practitioner from the very start. If this pure motivation or genuine motivation is not present - and, since we're ordinary people, its quite possible that it might not be present - not much benefit will really occur. For that reason, vajrayana practitioners always try to train their motivation, and try to develop the motivation that's known as the awakened mind, or bodhicitta.
Now, as an indication of this, if you look at the liturgies used in vajrayana practice, you'll see that the long and extensive forms of vajrayana liturgies always begin with a clarification of, or meditation upon, bodhicitta, and that even the short and shortest liturgies always begin with a meditation upon bodhicitta, loving-kindness and compassion, the point of this being that this type of motivation is necessary for all meditation, but especially for vajrayana practice.
The only real meaning that we can give to our being born on this planet - and in particular being born as human beings on this planet - and the only really meaningful result that we can show for our lives is to have helped the world: to have helped our friends, to have helped all the beings on this planet as much as we can. And if we devote our lives or any significant part of our lives to destroying others and harming others, then to the extent that we actually do so, our lives have been meaningless. So if you understand that the only real point of a human life is to help others, to benefit others, to improve the world, then you must understand that the basis of not harming others but benefiting others is having the intention not to harm others and the intention to benefit others.
Now, the main cause of having such a stable intention or stable motivation is the actual cultivation of love and compassion for others. Which means, when you find yourself full of spite and viciousness - and it is not abnormal to be so - then you have to recognize it, and be aware of it as what it is, and let go of it. And then, even though you may be free of spite or viciousness, and you may have the wish to improve things, you may be thinking only of yourself; you may be thinking only of helping or benefiting yourself. When that's the case, then you have to recollect that the root of that type of mentality, which is quite petty and limited and tight, is desiring victory for yourself even at the expense of the suffering and loss experienced by others. And, in that case, you have to gradually expand your sympathy for others, and therefore this cultivation of bodhicitta or altruism in general as a motivation is an essential way of making your life meaningful.
The importance of love and compassion is not an idea that is particular to Buddhism. Everyone throughout the world talks about the importance of love and compassion. There's no one who says love and compassion are bad and we should try and get rid of them. However, there is an uncommon element in the method or approach which is taken to these by Buddhism. In general, when we think of compassion, we think of a natural or spontaneous sympathy or empathy which we experience when we perceive the suffering of someone else. And we generally think of compassion as being a state of pain, of sadness, because you see the suffering of someone else and you see what's causing that suffering and you know you can't do anything to remove the cause of that suffering and therefore the suffering itself. So, whereas before you generated compassion, one person was miserable, and after you generate compassion, two people are miserable. And this actually happens.
However, the approach (that the Buddhist tradition takes) to compassion is a little bit different, because it's founded on the recognition that, whether or not you can benefit that being or that person in their immediate situation and circumstances, you can generate the basis for their ultimate benefit. And the confidence in that removes the frustration or the misery which otherwise somehow afflicts ordinary compassion. So, when compassion is cultivated in that way, it is experienced as delightful rather than miserable.
The way that we cultivate compassion is called immeasurable compassion. And, in fact, to be precise, there are four aspects of what we would, in general, call compassion, that are called, therefore, the four immeasurables. Now, normally, when we think of something that's called immeasurable, we mean immeasurably vast. Here, the primary connotation of the term is not vastness but impartiality. And the point of saying immeasurable compassion is compassion that is not going to help one person at the expense of hurting another. It is a compassion that is felt equally for all beings. The basis of the generation of such an impartial compassion is the recognition of the fact that all beings without exception really want and don't want the same things. All beings, without exception, want to be happy and want to avoid suffering. There is no being anywhere who really wants to suffer. And if you understand that, and to the extent that you understand that, you will have the intense wish that all beings be free from suffering. And there is no being anywhere who does not want to be happy; and if you understand that, and to the extent that you understand that, you will have the intense wish that all beings actually achieve the happiness that they wish to achieve. Now, because the experience of happiness and freedom from suffering depend upon the generation of the causes of these, then the actual form your aspiration takes is that all beings possess not only happiness but the causes of happiness, that they not only be free of suffering but of the causes of suffering.
The causes of suffering are fundamentally the presence in our minds of mental afflictions - ignorance, attachment, aversion, jealousy, arrogance, and so on - and it is through the existence of these that we come to suffer. Now, through recognizing that there is a way to transcend these causes of suffering - fundamentally, through the eradication of these causes through practicing meditation, which may or may not happen immediately but is a definite and workable process - through this confidence, then this love - wishing beings to be happy - and the compassion of wishing beings to be free from suffering, is not hopeless or frustrated at all. And, therefore, the boundless love and boundless compassion generate a boundless joy that is based on the confidence that you can actually help beings free themselves.
So boundless love is the aspiration that beings possess happiness and the causes of happiness. Boundless compassion or immeasurable compassion is the aspiration that beings be free of suffering and the causes of suffering. And the actual confidence and the delight you take in the confidence that you can actually bring these about is boundless joy. Now, because all of these are boundless or immeasurable or impartial, then they all have a quality, which is equanimity. Which is to say that if these are cultivated properly, you don't have compassion for one being but none for another , and so on. Now, normally, when we experience these qualities, of course, they are partial; they are anything but impartial. In order to eradicate the fixation that causes us to experience compassion only for some and not for others, then you can actually train yourself in cultivating equanimity for beings through recognizing that they all wish for the same thing and wish to avoid the same thing, and through doing so you can greatly increase or enhance your loving-kindness and compassion.
This has been a brief introduction to the practice of meditation, and how to train in and generate compassion. If you have any questions, please ask them.
Question: Rinpoche, can you speak a little bit about the difference between pure projection and impure projection, and in particular, where do pure projections actually come from?
Rinpoche: First of all, impure projections are how we experience because of the presence in our minds of kleshas or mental afflictions. Because we have kleshas, then we experience friend and enemy - that to which we are attached and that towards which we have aversion - we experience delight and disgust and so on. And all of these ways we experience the world - all these ways we experience are fundamentally tinged with, at least tinged with unpleasantness.
Now, what is called pure appearance or pure projection is based on the experience of the true nature or essential purity of what, in confusion, we experience to be five types of mental affliction, or the five kleshas. The true nature of these five kleshas is what are called the five wisdoms. For example, when you let go of fixation or obsession on a self, or with yourself, then the fundamental nature of the way you experience is a sameness, a lack of preference or partiality, which is called the wisdom of sameness. And, when you recognize the nature of all things, then that recognition which pervades or fills all of your experience is called the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. And so on.
Now, when you experience the five wisdoms rather than the five kleshas or five mental afflictions, then instead of projecting all of the impurity which you project on the basis of experiencing the kleshas, you project purity, or you experience purity, which is the actual manifestation of these five wisdoms as realms, as forms of buddhas, and these are what are called the pure appearances which are experienced by bodhisattvas and so forth. Now, in order to approach this, in order to cultivate the experience of these wisdoms and the external experiences which go along with the experience of these wisdoms, we meditate upon the bodies of these buddhas, the realms, palaces and so on. By generating clarity of these visualized appearances and stabilizing that, then gradually we transform how we experience the world.
Question: In practicing compassion, there's the practice of tonglen, which is the sending and receiving, taking the suffering from all sentient beings and giving them the happiness and merit that we have. And, in this practice, I've practiced it before, and it seems to go well for a while, but then there's a subtle sense of "I" that creeps in that says, "I don't really want to take the suffering," or its, "I can't deal with too many people having cancer, I just can't take it all on myself," and so one kind of loses a little courage in the practice. So, could you illuminate us on this practice, and how to overcome these obstacles and really develop heroic mind?
Rinpoche: What you say is very true, especially in the beginning of undertaking this practice. And, in fact, its okay that it be experienced that way. Even though there is a quality of faking it about the degree to which you actually really are ready to take on the suffering of others in the beginning, there's still benefit in doing the practice, because up until you begin this practice, you've probably been entirely selfish. And, to even attempt to fake altruism is a tremendous improvement. But it doesn't remain insincere like that, because eventually the habit starts to deepen and starts to counteract the habit of selfishness.
Now if, when you began practicing tonglen, you already had one hundred per cent concern with the welfare of others and no concern for your own welfare, then you wouldn't need to practice tonglen in the first place. So, it is designed to work for a practitioner who's starting from a place of selfishness and to lead them into this place of concern for others. And, gradually, by using the practice, you will actually cultivate the sincere desire to take suffering away from others and experience it yourself; you will cultivate real love and compassion for others. But on the other hand, you don't really do the practice in order to be able to, at that moment, take on the suffering of others and experience it yourself; you're really doing it in order to train the mind. And by training your mind and developing the motivation and the actual wish to free others from suffering, then the long-term result is that you have the ability to directly dispel the suffering of others.
Question: Rinpoche, you said that we may not be able to - one person may not be able to directly affect or remove short-term unhappiness or suffering of another person, but that we can learn to generate the basis of another's happiness, ultimate happiness. So could you say more, please, about how one person can generate the basis of ultimate happiness for another person?
Rinpoche: Well, the direct basis of establishing another being in a state of freedom or happiness, long-term or ultimate happiness, is being able to show them how to get rid of their mental afflictions and to teach them how to recognize and therefore abandon causes of suffering. And, through doing so in that way, then you can establish them gradually in ultimate happiness. But even in cases where you can't, for whatever reason, do that, by having the intention to benefit that being, then when you yourself become fully free, then you will be able to actually help them and gradually free and protect them as well.
Question: Rinpoche, can you say a little more about the practice of letting go when the mind is agitated, as you described, as used in mahamudra and dzogchen? I experience my mind when I sit as being agitated. And there's the practice of letting go. And I'm wondering if you can just say more about that in a practical way?
Rinpoche: In general, the main approach that is taken in the mahamudra and dzogchen traditions is applied when you are looking at the nature of your mind. Now, kleshas or mental afflictions are thoughts, and thoughts are the natural display of the mind. Thoughts may be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant, they may be positive or negative, but in any case, whatever type of thought arises, you deal with it in exactly the same way. You simply look directly at it.
Now, looking at the thought, or looking into the thought, or looking at the nature of the thought, is quite different from analyzing it. You don't attempt to analyze the contents of the thought, nor do you attempt to think about the thought. You just simply look directly at it. And when you look directly at a thought, you don't find anything. Now, you may think that you don't find anything because you don't know how to look or you don't know where to look, but in fact, that's not the reason. The reason, according to Buddha, is that thoughts are empty. And this is the basic meaning of all the various teachings on emptiness he gave, such as the sixteen emptinesses and so on.
Now, to use anger as an example of this, if you become angry, and then you look directly at the anger - which doesn't mean analyze the contents of the thoughts of anger, but you look directly at that specific thought of anger - then you won't find anything. And, in that moment of not finding anything, the poisonous quality of the anger will somehow vanish or dissolve. Your mind will relax, and you will, at least to some extent, be free of anger.
Now, you may or may not, at this point, understand this, but in any case, you'll have opportunity to work with this approach tomorrow and the next day, and over the next couple of days you may come to have some experience of this.
So, we're going to conclude now with a brief dedication. But I would also like to thank you for demonstrating your great interest in dharma, and listening and asking questions.
footnote: gtum-mo in Tibetan, meaning fierce or wrathful and referring to a kind of psychic heat generated and experienced through certain meditative practices of the vajrayana. This heat serves to burn up all types of obstacles and confusion. Included in the Six Doctrines of Naropa, the Six Doctrines of Niguma, and the Six Doctrines of Sukhasiddhi.