teaching was given in response to a two-part question presented during Lama Lodu's
visit to Taos, New Mexico.
Question: How does one live in the world and
do spiritual practice skillfully when one has no spiritual teacher, and how does
one who already has a path live and work in a world where others don't share it?
Answer: Those who have no spiritual guide and are motivated by a strong aspiration
can practice on their own until a good spiritual guide is found. Those who have
the intention to do good things will, sooner or later, meet a qualified teacher.
the motivation to do beneficial things and to follow the spiritual path, body,
speech, and mind can be used to generate right attitude and right actions through
kindness and compassion. One should also be motivated to develop the constant
wish that all beings experience happiness and freedom from suffering. As a result,
one's body, speech and mind will become engaged in expressing compassion. This
is a basic preliminary spiritual practice that can be learned on one's own without
the help of a spiritual guide.
As Buddhists, we believe that we shouldn't do
anything to others that would hurt them. So you should always make an example
of yourself. If someone speaks to you in a positive way, you experience well-being;
therefore, you should speak to others in the same manner so they may also have
that experience. When you meet someone who communicates, without words, purely
motivated loving and compassionate mind-energy, you feel clear, more peaceful.
In turn, you should cultivate that same kindness and compassion as much as possible,
and then bring that attitude of speech, mind and body to all that you meet.
this is my advice to someone who does not have a spiritual guide: It is not necessary
for you to sit down and do formal meditation and visualization practice. Expressing
loving-kindness and compassion can be done anywhere. There is always an opportunity
for applying kindness and compassion to others and for using your body, speech
and mind in right action. This attitude is very powerful and is the perfect preliminary
spiritual practice. Sooner or later, through the power of your positive motivation,
you will meet the right spiritual guide, and the door will open to the spiritual
In the second case, you are already in spiritual practice, and you are
distracted by worldly concerns. It is important that you follow the spiritual
friend, the teacher and not go from place to place. Stay with one spiritual guide,
someone you really feel is true, and try not to change teachers until you get
the true understanding within.
The Boddhisattva attitude is very important;
without it, you cannot practice Vajrayana and Mahayana Buddhism. When your mind
is motivated one hundred percent by this pure attitude, then your body, speech
and mind naturally turn toward the positive. From the Mahayana and Vajrayana perpsective,
even if you are not able to sit on your cushion in front of your altar because
of children, because of a job, because you have all kinds of distractions in the
world, you can still practice. You must get the true advice from your teacher
and have confidence in him or her and also in the teachings. Then your activity
in the world will offer the same opportunity for enlightenment as that gained
on your cushion.
Question: Would you please explain how this is done?
For guidance in such situations, we can turn to one of the great Tibetan masters,
Machig Labdron, the founder of the Chod practice. She was an extremely accomplished
yogi and teacher. Although most Buddhist teachings travelled only from India to
Tibet, hers was transmitted from Tibet back to India. She has a few great words
of advice on this subject that for me seem full, rich and simple. She reminds
us that we human beings alternate between happiness and suffering. One moment
we are very happy, but the happiness does not last long; we grasp at that happiness
and suddenly it becomes suffering which is hard to get rid of. Occasionally there
is brief happiness again, but this causes more attachment and clinging, and thus
more suffering. This is the experience of all sentient beings, but it is more
acultely felt by humans.
So, Machig Labdron taught: Do not worry. If you are
suffering, you have an excellent opportunity there to practice. Remember, "If
I am happy, this happiness which I experience so pleasantly, I wish for all living
beings without exception. May everyone experience this happiness just as I have."
In this way happiness becomes purification, true practice, and accumulated merit.
Secondly, "If I suffer physical or mental pain, may I take on with my suffering
the suffering of all sentient beings, without exception." So our suffering
also becomes useful as purification and gives us a deeper sense of the bodhisattva
conduct. This approach is highly useful for those who have no time to formally
practice in a world full of responsibilities and distractions.
One person may
practice for years sitting and counting mantras, and another person may practice
living in the world with the technique I have just mentioned. The second person
may reach enlightenment sooner because he or she has dealt with daily life as
a spiritual practice, transforming all worldly circumstances into spiritual phenomena.
The person staying at home sitting all day may not be practicing correctly; they
may be daydreaming, distracted and unable to accomplish realization.
have opportunities to be mindful. As we fulfill our responsibilities to our families,
our love for them remains strong in spite of problems. If we think of all sentient
beings as being equal to family, some day we will be able to serve all in the
same way. For instance, at your place of work, because of karma, a person has
a dispute with you. By accepting responsibility for the dispute, you take this
suffering on yourself, you purify it, and the cause of the suffering is removed.
If, instead, you more forcefully continue with the argument, you will create more
suffering and pain. Therefore it is very important to take on the suffering of
other sentient beings. As you do this, your selfishness will be weakened and you
will become more selfless.
So those who have no time to practice should keep
in mind Machig Labdron's words and try to think of their full and rich meaning
as you go through daily life. You definitely have to be mindful, you must remind
yourself morning and evening of these insights, and you have to apply their meaning
daily. Also remember that being busy is not an excuse. This is especially true
in the Mahayana tradition. Even in the Vajrayana, you think of yourself as the
deity of the initiation, whatever sound you hear is the sound of the mantra, and
all beings are the entourage of the deities. And yet all that is seen and all
that is heard has no inherent existence.v This is, rather, the manifestation of
the Dharmakaya, the manifestation of profound emptiness. If you are able to apply
your mind in this way daily, then your work, your taking care of your family --
all these things become your practice, and you are progressing every moment. But
sometimes our problems come from laziness, lack of confidence and trust, insufficient
faith, and procrastination. We think daily practice is a good thing to do, but
not today. Suddenly, something important comes up and we are willing to engage
in practice seriously; only then we take a spiritual point of view. Instead, one
should always dedicate all happiness to others and use every personal suffering
to take on the suffering of all sentient beings.
Remember when taking the Vajrayana
point of view: every form is inseparable from the form of the deities, every sound
is inseparable from mantra; but every form and every sound is inherently non-existent,
an expression of emptiness. That's the way Vajrayana is practiced.
Rinpoche resides at Kagyu Droden Kunchab, a Dharma center for the practice of
Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, located at 1892 Fell Street (near Clayton) San
Francisco, CA 94117. Lama has supervised the translation of numerous practice
texts (sadhanas) and has written several books: Bardo Teachings (available through
Snow Lion Publications), The Quintessence of the Animate and Inanimate, Attaining
Enlightenment, Maintaining the Bodhisattva Vow, and Homage to Kalu Rinpoche (available
from KDK Publications).