Opening the Door to the Dhamma
Respect in Buddhist Thought & Practice
Copyright © 2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For free distribution only.
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If you're born into an Asian Buddhist family, the first thing your parents will teach you about Buddhism is not a philosophical tenet but a gesture of respect: how to place your hands in añjali, palm-to-palm over your heart, when you encounter a Buddha image, a monk, or a nun. Obviously, the gesture will be mechanical at first. Over time, though, you'll learn the respectful attitude that goes with it. If you're quick to pick it up, your parents will consider it a sign of intelligence, for respect is basic to any ability to learn.
As you get older, they may teach you the symbolism of the gesture: that your hands form a lotus bud, representing your heart, which you are holding out to be trained in how to become wise. Ultimately, as you grow more familiar with the fruits of Buddhist practice, your parents hope that your respect will turn into reverence and veneration. In this way, they give a quick answer to the old Western question of which side of Buddhism -- the philosophy or the religion -- comes first. In their eyes, the religious attitude of respect is needed for any philosophical understanding to grow. And as far as they're concerned, there's no conflict between the two. In fact, they're mutually reinforcing.
This stands in marked contrast to the typical Western attitude, which sees an essential discrepancy between Buddhism's religious and philosophical sides. The philosophy seems so rational, placing such a high value on self-reliance. The insight at the heart of the Buddha's awakening was so abstract -- a principle of causality. There seems no inherent reason for a philosophy with such an abstract beginning to have produced a devotionalism intense enough to rival anything found in the theistic religions.
Yet if we look at what the Pali canon has to say about devotionalism -- the attitude it expresses with the cluster of words, respect, deference, reverence, homage, and veneration -- we find not only that its theory of respect is rooted in the central insight of the Buddha's awakening -- the causal principle called this/that conditionality (idappaccayata) -- but also that respect is required to learn and master this causal principle in the first place.
On the surface it may seem strange to relate a theory of causality to the issue of respect, but the two are intimately entwined. Respect is the attitude you develop toward the things that matter in life. Theories of causality tell you if anything really matters, and if so, what matters and how. If you believe that a supreme being will grant you happiness, you'll naturally show respect and reverence for that being. If you assume happiness to be entirely self-willed, your greatest respect will be reserved for your own willfulness. As for the how: If you view true happiness as totally impossible, totally pre-determined, or totally random, respect is unnecessary, for it makes no difference in the outcome of your life. But if you see true happiness as possible, and its causes as precarious, contingent, and dependent on your attitude, you'll naturally show them the care and respect needed to keep them healthy and strong.
This is reflected in the way the canon treats the issue of respect. It details the varied ways in which lay people of the Buddha's time showed respect to the Buddha and the monastic Sangha, and the more standardized ways in which the members of the Sangha showed respect to the Buddha and to one another. Especially interesting is the protocol of respect for the Dhamma. Buddhist monks and nuns are forbidden from teaching the Dhamma to anyone who shows disrespect, and the Buddha himself is said to have refused to teach his first sermon to the five brethren until they stopped treating him as a mere equal.
This protocol, of course, may have been a cultural accident, something picked up willy-nilly from the society of the Buddha's time, but there are passages in the canon suggesting otherwise. Buddhism was one of the samana (contemplative) movements in ancient India, which claimed to follow truths of nature rather than mainstream cultural norms. These movements were very free in choosing what to adopt from prevailing customs. Buddhist descriptions of other samana movements often criticized them for being disrespectful not only to outsiders but also among themselves. Students are shown being disrespectful to their teachers -- their group meetings raucous, noisy, and out of control. All of this is then contrasted with the way Buddhists conduct their meetings in mutual courtesy and respect. This suggests that the Buddhists were free to reject the common customs of respect but made a conscious choice not to.
This choice is based on their insight into respect as a prerequisite for learning. It's easier to learn from someone you respect than from someone you don't. Respect opens the mind and loosens preconceived opinions to make room for new knowledge and skills. At the same time, people who value their knowledge feel more inclined to teach it to someone who shows respect than to someone who doesn't.
However, the type of learning the Buddha emphasizes is not simply the acquisition of information. It's a skill leading to total release from suffering and stress. And this is where the issue of respect connects with causality, for the Buddhist theory of causality centers on the question of how it's possible to learn a skill.
As cybernetics theory shows, learning in general is possible only where there is feedback; learning a skill requires the further ability to monitor feedback and choose how to use it to modify behavior. The Buddha's discoveries in causality explain the how and the what that allow for these factors. The how he expressed as a causal formula; the what, as an analysis of action: the factors that shape it, together with the range of results it can give.
The causal formula, simply put, states that each moment is composed of three things: results from past actions, present actions, and the immediate results of present actions. Although this principle seems simple, its consequences are very complex. Every act you perform has repercussions in the present moment that also reverberate into the future. Depending on the intensity of the act, those reverberations can last for a very short or a very long time. Thus every conditioned experience is shaped by the combined effects of past actions coming from a wide range over time, together with the effects of present acts.
Causality over time places certain limitations on each moment. The present is not a clean slate, for it's partially shaped by influences from the past. Immediate causality in the present, however, makes room for free will. Not everything is determined by the past. At any moment, you can insert new input into the process and nudge your life in a new direction. Still, there's not so much room for free will that causality becomes arbitrary. Every this put into the system produces a particular type of that. Events follow discernible patterns that can be mastered.
The what that keeps this process in motion is the factor allowing for feedback and the monitoring of feedback. The central element in that what is intention, which the Buddha identified as the essence of action, or kamma. Intention, in turn, is shaped by acts of attention, which ask questions about perceptions and create views from those questions. Because you can attend to the results of your intentions, there is an internal feedback loop allowing you to learn. Because attention can ask questions, it can monitor that feedback to determine how best to put it to use. And because your intentions -- guided by views and offering new input into the present -- can then reshape your experience, your ability to learn can make a difference: you can change your behavior and reap the results of your improved skills in terms of greater and greater happiness.
How far can that happiness go? In the course of his Awakening, the Buddha discovered that the pursuit of skillfulness can ultimately lead beyond time and space, beyond the realm of conditionality and rebirth. From this discovery he identified four types of kamma: the first three giving pleasant, painful, or mixed results in the round of rebirth, and the fourth leading beyond all kamma to the end of rebirth. In other words, the principle of causality works so that actions can either continue the round or bring it to an end. Because even the highest pleasure within the round is inconstant and undependable, he taught that the most worthy course of action is the fourth kind of kamma -- the type that led to his Awakening -- to put an end to kamma once and for all.
The skill needed for this form of kamma comes from coordinating the factors of attention and intention so that they lead first to pleasant results within the round of rebirth, and then -- on the transcendent level -- to total release from suffering and stress. This, in turn, requires certain attitudes toward the principle of causality operating in human life. And this is where the quality of respect becomes essential, for without the proper respect for three things -- yourself, the principle of causality operating in your life, and other people's insights into that principle -- you won't be able to muster the resolve needed to master that principle and to see how far your potential for skillfulness can go.
Respect for yourself, in the context of this/that conditionality, means two things:
1) Because the fourth kind of kamma is possible, you can respect your desire for unconditional happiness, and don't have to regard it as an unrealistic ideal.
2) Because of the importance of intention and attention in shaping your experience, you can respect your ability to develop the skills needed to understand and master causal reality to the point of attaining true happiness.
But respect for yourself goes even further than that. Not only can you respect your desire for true happiness and your ability to attain it, you must respect these things if you don't want to fall under the sway of the many religious and secular forces within society and yourself that would pull you in other directions.
Although most religious cultures assume true happiness to be possible, they don't see human skillfulness as capable of bringing it about. By and large, they place their hopes for happiness in higher powers. As for secular cultures, they don't believe that unconditional happiness is possible at all. They teach us to strive for happiness dependent on conditions, and to turn a blind eye to the limitations inherent in any happiness coming from money, power, relationships, possessions, or a sentimental sense of community. They often scoff at higher values and smile when religious idols fall or religious aspirants show feet of clay.
These secular attitudes foster our own unskillful qualities, our desire to take whatever pleasures come easily, and our impatience with anyone who would tell us that we're capable of better and more. But both the secular and the common religious attitudes teach us to underestimate the powers of our own skillful mind states. Qualities like mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, when they first arise in the mind, seem unremarkable -- small and tender, like maple seedlings growing in the midst of weeds. If we don't watch for them or accord them any special respect, the weeds will strangle them or we ourselves will tread them underfoot. As a result, we'll never get to know how much shade they can provide.
If, however, we develop strong respect for our own ability to attain true happiness, two important moral qualities take charge of our minds and watch out for our good qualities: concern for the suffering we'll experience if we don't try our best to develop skillfulness, and shame at the thought of aiming lower than at the highest possible happiness. Shame may seem a strange adjunct to self-respect, but when both are healthy they go together. You need self-respect to recognize when a course of action is beneath you, and that you'd be ashamed to follow it. You need to feel shame for your mistakes in order to keep your self-respect from turning into stubborn pride.
This is where the second aspect of respect -- respect for the principle of causality -- comes in. This/that conditionality is not a free-form process. Each unskillful this is connected to an unpleasant that. You can't twist the connection to lead to pleasant results, or use your own preferences to design a customized path to release from causal experience. Self-respect thus has to accommodate a respect for the way causes actually produce effects. Traditionally, this respect is expressed in terms of the quality the Buddha stressed in his very last words: heedfulness. To be heedful means having a strong sense that if you're careless in your intentions, you'll suffer. If you truly love yourself, you have to pay close attention to the way reality really works, and act accordingly. Not everything you think or feel is worthy of respect. Even the Buddha himself didn't design Buddhism or the principle of this/that conditionality. He discovered them. Instead of viewing reality in line with his preferences, he reordered his preferences to make the most of what he learned by watching -- with scrupulous care and honesty -- his actions and their actual effects.
This point is reflected in his discourse to the Kalamas (AN III.65). Although this discourse is often cited as the Buddha's carte blanche for following your own sense of right and wrong, it actually says something very different: Don't simply follow traditions, but don't simply follow your own preferences, either. If you see, through watching your own actions and their results, that following a certain mental state leads to harm and suffering, you should abandon it and resolve never to follow it again. This is a rigorous standard, which requires putting the Dhamma ahead of your own preconceived preferences. And it requires that you be very heedful of any tendency to reverse that priority and put your preferences first.
In other words, you can't simply indulge in the pleasure or resist the pain coming from your own actions. You have to learn from both pleasure and pain, to show them respect as events in a causal chain, to see what they have to teach you. This is why the Buddha called dukkha -- pain, stress, and suffering -- a noble truth; and why he termed the pleasure arising from the concentrated mind a noble truth as well. These aspects of immediate experience contain lessons that can take the mind to the noble attainments.
The discourse to the Kalamas, however, doesn't stop with immediate experience. It goes further and states that, when observing the processes of cause and effect in your actions, you should also confirm your observations with the teachings of the wise. This third aspect of respect -- respect for the insights of others -- is also based on the pattern of this/that conditionality. Because causes are sometimes separated from their effects by great expanses of time, it's easy to lose sight of some important connections. At the same time, your chief obstacle to discernment -- delusion -- is the mental quality you have the hardest time detecting in yourself. When you're deluded, you don't know you're deluded. So the wise approach is to show respect to the insights of others, in the event that their insights may help you see through your own ignorance. After all, intention and attention are immediately present to their awareness as well. Their insights may be just what you need to cut through the obstacles you've created for yourself through your own acts of ignorance.
The Buddhist teachings on respect for other people point in two directions. First, the obvious one: respect for those ahead of you on the path. As the Buddha once said, friendship with admirable people is the whole of the holy life, for their words and examples will help get you on the path to release. This doesn't mean that you need to obey their teachings or accept them unthinkingly. You simply owe it to yourself to give them a respectful hearing and their teachings an honest try. Even -- especially -- when their advice is unpleasant, you should treat it with respect. As Dhammapada 76 states,
Regard him as one who
the wise one who
seeing your faults
Stay with this sort of sage.
For the one who stays
with a sage of this sort,
things get better,
At the same time, when you show respect for those who have mastered the path, you're also showing respect for qualities you want to develop in yourself. And when such people see that you respect the good qualities both in them and in yourself, they'll feel more inclined to share their wisdom with you, and more careful about sharing only their best. This is why the Buddhist tradition places such an emphasis on not only feeling respect but also showing it. If you can't force yourself to show respect to others in ways they'll recognize, there's a resistance in your mind. They, in turn, will doubt your willingness to learn. This is why the monastic discipline places so much emphasis on the etiquette of respect to be shown to teachers and senior monastics.
The teachings on respect, however, go in another direction as well. Buddhist monks and nuns are not allowed to show disrespect for anyone who criticizes them, regardless of whether or not that person is awakened or the criticism well-founded. Critics of this sort may not deserve the level of respect due to teachers, but they do deserve common courtesy. Even unawakened people may have observed valuable bits and pieces of the truth. If you open yourself to criticism, you may get to hear worthwhile insights that a wall of disrespect would have repelled. Buddhist literature -- from the earliest days up to the present -- abounds with stories of people who gained Awakening after hearing a chance word or song from an unlikely source. A person with the proper attitude of respect can learn from anything -- and the ability to put anything to a good use is the mark of true discernment.
Perhaps the most delicate skill with regard to respect is learning how to balance all three aspects of respect: for yourself, for the truth of causality, and for the insight of others. This balance is essential to any skill. If you want to become a potter, for example, you have to learn not only from your teacher, but also from your own actions and powers of observation, and from the clay itself. Then you have to weigh all of these factors together to achieve mastery on your own. If, in your pursuit of the Buddhist path, your self-respect outweighs your respect for the truth of causality or the insights of others, you'll find it hard to take criticism or to laugh at your own foolishness. This will make it impossible for you to learn. If, on the other hand, your respect for your teachers outweighs your self-respect or your respect for the truth, you can open yourself to charlatans and close yourself to the truth that the canon says "is to be seen by the wise for themselves."
The parallels between the role of respect in Buddhist practice and in manual skills explains why many Buddhist teachers require their students to master a manual skill as a prerequisite or a part of their meditation. A person with no manual skills will have little intuitive understanding of how to balance respect. What sets the Buddha's apart from other skills, though, is the level of total freedom it produces. And the difference between that freedom and its alternative -- endless rounds of suffering through birth after birth, death after death -- is so extreme that we can easily understand why people committed to the pursuit of that freedom show it a level of respect that's also extreme. Even more understandable is the absolute level of respect for that freedom shown by those who have attained it. They bow down to all their inner and outer teachers with the sincerest, most heart-felt gratitude. To see them bow down in this way is an inspiring sight.
So when Buddhist parents teach their children to show respect for the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, they aren't teaching them a habit that will later have to be unlearned. Of course, the child will need to discover how best to understand and make use of that respect, but at least the parents have helped open the door for the child to learn from its own powers of observation, to learn from the truth, and to learn from the insights of others. And when that door -- when the mind -- is opened to what truly deserves respect, all things noble and good can come in.
Revised: Wed 4 December 2002
Tool Among Many
The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice
Copyright © 1997 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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What exactly is vipassana?
Almost any book on early Buddhist meditation will tell you that the Buddha taught two types of meditation: samatha and vipassana. Samatha, which means tranquillity, is said to be a method fostering strong states of mental absorption, called jhana. Vipassana -- literally "clear-seeing," but more often translated as insight meditation -- is said to be a method using a modicum of tranquillity to foster moment-to-moment mindfulness of the inconstancy of events as they are directly experienced in the present. This mindfulness creates a sense of dispassion toward all events, thus leading the mind to release from suffering. These two methods are quite separate, we're told, and of the two, vipassana is the distinctive Buddhist contribution to meditative science. Other systems of practice pre-dating the Buddha also taught samatha, but the Buddha was the first to discover and teach vipassana. Although some Buddhist meditators may practice samatha meditation before turning to vipassana, samatha practice is not really necessary for the pursuit of Awakening. As a meditative tool, the vipassana method is sufficient for attaining the goal. Or so we're told.
But if you look directly at the Pali discourses -- the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings -- you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquillity, and vipassana to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassana -- a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhana. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassana," but always "go do jhana." And they never equate the word vipassana with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha -- not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together. One simile, for instance (SN XXXV.204), compares samatha and vipassana to a swift pair of messengers who enter the citadel of the body via the noble eightfold path and present their accurate report -- Unbinding, or nibbana -- to the consciousness acting as the citadel's commander. Another passage (AN X.71) recommends that anyone who wishes to put an end to mental defilement should -- in addition to perfecting the principles of moral behavior and cultivating seclusion -- be committed to samatha and endowed with vipassana. This last statement is unremarkable in itself, but the same discourse also gives the same advice to anyone who wants to master the jhanas: be committed to samatha and endowed with vipassana. This suggests that, in the eyes of those who assembled the Pali discourses, samatha, jhana, and vipassana were all part of a single path. Samatha and vipassana were used together to master jhana and then -- based on jhana -- were developed even further to give rise to the end of mental defilement and to bring release from suffering. This is a reading that finds support in other discourses as well.
There's a passage, for instance, describing three ways in which samatha and vipassana can work together to lead to the knowledge of Awakening: either samatha precedes vipassana, vipassana precedes samatha, or they develop in tandem (AN IV.170). The wording suggests an image of two oxen pulling a cart: one is placed before the other or they are yoked side-by-side. Another passage (AN IV.94) indicates that if samatha precedes vipassana -- or vipassana, samatha -- one's practice is in a state of imbalance and needs to be rectified. A meditator who has attained a measure of samatha, but no "vipassana into events based on heightened discernment (adhipañña-dhamma-vipassana)," should question a fellow meditator who has attained vipassana: "How should fabrications (sankhara) be regarded? How should they be investigated? How should they be viewed with insight?" and then develop vipassana in line with that person's instructions. The verbs in these questions -- "regarding," "investigating," "seeing" -- indicate that there's more to the process of developing vipassana than a simple mindfulness technique. In fact, as we will see below, these verbs apply instead to a process of skillful questioning called "appropriate attention."
The opposite case -- a meditator endowed with a measure of vipassana into events based on heightened discernment, but no samatha -- should question someone who has attained samatha: "How should the mind be steadied? How should it be made to settle down? How should it be unified? How should it be concentrated?" and then follow that person's instructions so as to develop samatha. The verbs used here give the impression that "samatha" in this context means jhana, for they correspond to the verbal formula -- "the mind becomes steady, settles down, grows unified and concentrated" -- that the Pali discourses use repeatedly to describe the attainment of jhana. This impression is reinforced when we note that in every case where the discourses are explicit about the levels of concentration needed for insight to be liberating, those levels are the jhanas.
Once the meditator is endowed with both samatha and vipassana, he/she should "make an effort to establish those very same skillful qualities to a higher degree for the ending of the mental fermentations (asava -- sensual passion, states of being, views, and ignorance)." This corresponds to the path of samatha and vipassana developing in tandem. A passage in MN 149 describes how this can happen. One knows and sees, as they actually are, the six sense media (the five senses plus the intellect), their objects, consciousness at each medium, contact at each medium, and whatever is experienced as pleasure, pain, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain based on that contact. One maintains this awareness in such a way as to stay uninfatuated by any of these things, unattached, unconfused, focused on their drawbacks, abandoning any craving for them: this would count as vipassana. At the same time -- abandoning physical and mental disturbances, torments, and distresses -- one experiences ease in body and mind: this would count as samatha. This practice not only develops samatha and vipassana in tandem, but also brings the 37 Wings to Awakening -- which include the attainment of jhana -- to the culmination of their development.
So the proper path is one in which vipassana and samatha are brought into balance, each supporting and acting as a check on the other. Vipassana helps keep tranquillity from becoming stagnant and dull. Samatha helps prevent the manifestations of aversion -- such as nausea, dizziness, disorientation, and even total blanking out -- that can occur when the mind is trapped against its will in the present moment.
From this description it's obvious that samatha and vipassana are not separate paths of practice, but instead are complementary ways of relating to the present moment: samatha provides a sense of ease in the present; vipassana, a clear-eyed view of events as they actually occur, in and of themselves. It's also obvious why the two qualities need to function together in mastering jhana. As the standard instructions on breath meditation indicate (MN 118), such a mastery involves three things: gladdening, concentrating, and liberating the mind. Gladdening means finding a sense of refreshment and satisfaction in the present. Concentrating means keeping the mind focused on its object, while liberating means freeing the mind from the grosser factors making up a lower stage of concentration so as to attain a higher stage. The first two activities are functions of samatha, while the last is a function of vipassana. All three must function together. If, for example, there is concentration and gladdening, with no letting go, the mind wouldn't be able to refine its concentration at all. The factors that have to be abandoned in raising the mind from stage x to stage y belong to the set of factors that got the mind to x in the first place (AN IX.34). Without the ability clearly to see mental events in the present, there would be no way skillfully to release the mind from precisely the right factors that tie it to a lower state of concentration and act as disturbances to a higher one. If, on the other hand, there is simply a letting go of those factors, without an appreciation of or steadiness in the stillness that remains, the mind would drop out of jhana altogether. Thus samatha and vipassana must work together to bring the mind to right concentration in a masterful way.
The question arises: if vipassana functions in the mastery of jhana, and jhana is not exclusive to Buddhists, then what is Buddhist about vipassana? The answer is that vipassana per se is not exclusively Buddhist. What is distinctly Buddhist is (1) the extent to which both samatha and vipassana are developed; and (2) the way they are developed -- i.e., the line of questioning used to foster them; and (3) the way they are combined with an arsenal of meditative tools to bring the mind to total release.
In MN 73, the Buddha advises a monk who has mastered jhana to further develop samatha and vipassana so as to master six cognitive skills, the most important of them being that "through the ending of the mental fermentations, one remains in the fermentation-free release of awareness and release of discernment, having known and made them manifest for oneself right in the here and now." This is a description of the Buddhist goal. Some commentators have asserted that this release is totally a function of vipassana, but there are discourses that indicate otherwise.
Note that release is twofold: release of awareness and release of discernment. Release of awareness occurs when a meditator becomes totally dispassionate toward passion: this is the ultimate function of samatha. Release of discernment occurs when there is dispassion for ignorance: this is the ultimate function of vipassana (AN II.29-30). Thus both samatha and vipassana are involved in the twofold nature of this release.
The Sabbasava Sutta (MN 2) states that one's release can be "fermentation-free" only if one knows and sees in terms of "appropriate attention" (yoniso manasikara). As the discourse shows, appropriate attention means asking the proper questions about phenomena, regarding them not in terms of self/other or being/non-being, but in terms of the four noble truths. In other words, instead of asking "Do I exist? Don't I exist? What am I?" one asks about an experience, "Is this stress? The origination of stress? The cessation of stress? The path leading to the cessation of stress?" Because each of these categories entails a duty, the answer to these questions determines a course of action: stress should be comprehended, its origination abandoned, its cessation realized, and the path to its cessation developed.
Samatha and vipassana belong to the category of the path and so should be developed. To develop them, one must apply appropriate attention to the task of comprehending stress, which is comprised of the five clinging-aggregates -- clinging to physical form, feeling, perception, mental fabrications, and consciousness. Applying appropriate attention to these aggregates means viewing them in terms of their drawbacks, as "inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self" (SN XXII.122). A list of questions, distinctive to the Buddha, aids in this approach: "Is this aggregate constant or inconstant?" "And is anything inconstant easeful or stressful?" "And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?" (SN XXII.59). These questions are applied to every instance of the five aggregates, whether "past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle, common or sublime, far or near." In other words, the meditator asks these questions of all experiences in the cosmos of the six sense media.
This line of questioning is part of a strategy leading to a level of knowledge called "knowing and seeing things as they actually are (yatha-bhuta-ñana-dassana)," where things are understood in terms of a fivefold perspective: their arising, their passing away, their drawbacks, their allure, and the escape from them -- the escape, here, lying in dispassion.
Some commentators have suggested that, in practice, this fivefold perspective can be gained simply by focusing on the arising and passing away of these aggregates in the present moment; if one's focus is relentless enough, it will lead naturally to a knowledge of drawbacks, allure, and escape, sufficient for total release. The texts, however, don't support this reading, and practical experience would seem to back them up. As MN 101 points out, individual meditators will discover that, in some cases, they can develop dispassion for a particular cause of stress simply by watching it with equanimity; but in other cases, they will need to make a conscious exertion to develop the dispassion that will provide an escape. The discourse is vague -- perhaps deliberately so -- as to which approach will work where. This is something each meditator must test for him or herself in practice.
The Sabbasava Sutta expands on this point by listing seven approaches to take in developing dispassion. Vipassana, as a quality of mind, is related to all seven, but most directly with the first: "seeing," i.e., seeing events in terms of the four noble truths and the duties appropriate to them. The remaining six approaches cover ways of carrying out those duties: restraining the mind from focusing on sense data that would provoke unskillful states of mind; reflecting on the appropriate reasons for using the requisites of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine; tolerating painful sensations; avoiding obvious dangers and inappropriate companions; destroying thoughts of sensual desire, ill will, harmfulness, and other unskillful states; and developing the seven factors for Awakening: mindfulness, analysis of qualities, persistence, rapture, serenity, concentration, and equanimity.
Each of these approaches covers a wide subset of approaches. Under "destroying," for instance, one may eliminate an unskillful mental state by replacing it with a skillful one, focusing on its drawbacks, turning one's attention away from it, relaxing the process of thought-fabrication that formed it, or suppressing it with the brute power of one's will (MN 20). Many similar examples could be drawn from other discourses as well. The overall point is that the ways of the mind are varied and complex. Different fermentations can come bubbling up in different guises and respond to different approaches. One's skill as a meditator lies in mastering a variety of approaches and developing the sensitivity to know which approach will work best in which situation.
On a more basic level, however, one needs strong motivation to master these skills in the first place. Because appropriate attention requires abandoning dichotomies that are so basic to the thought patterns of all people -- "being/not being" and "me/not me" -- meditators need strong reasons for adopting it. This is why the Sabbasava Sutta insists that anyone developing appropriate attention must first must hold the noble ones (here meaning the Buddha and his awakened disciples) in high regard. In other words, one must see that those who have followed the path are truly exemplary. One must also be well-versed in their teaching and discipline. According to MN 117, "being well-versed in their teaching" begins with having conviction in their teachings about karma and rebirth, which provide intellectual and emotional context for adopting the four noble truths as the basic categories of experience. Being well-versed in the discipline of the noble ones would include, in addition to observing the precepts, having some skill in the seven approaches mentioned above for abandoning the fermentations.
Without this sort of background, meditators might bring the wrong attitudes and questions to the practice of watching arising and passing away in the present moment. For instance, they might be looking for a "true self" and end up identifying -- consciously or unconsciously -- with the vast, open sense of awareness that embraces all change, from which it all seems to come and to which it all seems to return. Or they might long for a sense of connectedness with the vast interplay of the universe, convinced that -- as all things are changing -- any desire for changelessness is neurotic and life-denying. For people with agendas like these, the simple experience of events arising and passing away in the present won't lead to fivefold knowledge of things as they are. They'll resist recognizing that the ideas they hold to are a fermentation of views, or that the experiences of calm that seem to verify those ideas are simply a fermentation in the form of a state of being. As a result, they won't be willing to apply the four noble truths to those ideas and experiences. Only a person willing to see those fermentations as such, and convinced of the need to transcend them, will be in a position to apply the principles of appropriate attention to them and thus get beyond them.
So, to answer the question with which we began: Vipassana is not a meditation technique. It's a quality of mind -- the ability to see events clearly in the present moment. Although mindfulness is helpful in fostering vipassana, it's not enough for developing vipassana to the point of total release. Other techniques and approaches are needed as well. In particular, vipassana needs to be teamed with samatha -- the ability to settle the mind comfortably in the present -- so as to master the attainment of strong states of absorption, or jhana. Based on this mastery, samatha and vipassana are then applied to a skillful program of questioning, called appropriate attention, directed at all experience: exploring events not in terms of me/not me, or being/not being, but in terms of the four noble truths. The meditator pursues this program until it leads to a fivefold understanding of all events: in terms of their arising, their passing away, their drawbacks, their allure, and the escape from them. Only then can the mind taste release.
This program for developing vipassana and samatha, in turn, needs the support of many other attitudes, mental qualities, and techniques of practice. This was why the Buddha taught it as part of a still larger program, including respect for the noble ones, mastery of all seven approaches for abandoning the mental fermentations, and all eight factors of the noble path. To take a reductionist approach to the practice can produce only reduced results, for meditation is a skill like carpentry, requiring a mastery of many tools in response to many different needs. To limit oneself to only one approach in meditation would be like trying to build a house when one's motivation is uncertain and one's tool box contains nothing but hammers.
A = Anguttara Nikaya; M = Majjhima Nikaya; S = Samyutta Nikaya
Revised: Wed 6 February 2002
Copyright © 2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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The Buddha wasn't the sort of teacher who simply answered questions. He also taught which questions to ask. He understood the power of questions: that they give shape to the holes in your knowledge and force that shape -- valid or not -- onto the answers you hope will fill up those holes. Even if you use right information to answer a wrong question, it can take on the wrong shape. If you then use that answer as a tool, you're sure to apply it to the wrong situations and end up with the wrong results.
That's why the Buddha was careful to map out a science of questions, showing which questions -- in what order -- lead to freedom, and which ones don't. At the same time, he gave his talks in a question-and-answer format, to make perfectly clear the shape of the questions he was answering.
So if you're looking to his teaching for answers and want to get the most out of them, you should first be clear about what questions you're bringing to it, and check to see if they're in line with the questions the teachings were meant to address. That way your answers won't lead you astray.
A case in point is the teaching on not-self. Many students interpret this as the Buddha's answer to two of the most frequently-asked questions in the history of serious thought: "Who am I?" and "Do I have a true self?" In the light of these questions, the teaching seems to be a no-self teaching, saying either an unqualified No: There is no self; or a qualified No: no separate self. But the one time the Buddha was asked point-blank if there is a self, he refused to answer, on the grounds that either a Yes or a No to the question would lead to extreme forms of wrong view that block the path to awakening. A Yes or a qualified No would lead to attachment: you'd keep clinging to a sense of self however you defined it. An unqualified No would lead to bewilderment and alienation, for you'd feel that your innermost sense of intrinsic worth had been denied.
As for the question, "Who am I?" the Buddha included it in a list of dead-end questions that lead to "a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion, a writhing, a fetter of views. Bound by a fetter of views, [you] don't gain freedom from birth, aging, and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, or despair." In other words, any attempt to answer either of these questions is unskillful karma, blocking the path to true freedom.
So if the not-self teaching isn't meant to answer these questions, what question does it answer? A basic one: "What is skillful?" In fact, all of the Buddha's teachings are direct or indirect answers to this question. His great insight was that all our knowledge and ignorance, all our pleasure and pain, come from our actions, our karma, so the quest for true knowledge and true happiness comes down to a question of skill. In this case, the precise question is: "Is self-identification skillful?" And the answer is: "Only up to a point." In the areas where you need a healthy sense of self to act skillfully, it's wise to maintain that sense of self. But eventually, as skillful behavior becomes second nature and you develop more sensitivity, you see that self-identification, even of the most refined sort, is harmful and stressful. You have to let it go.
So, as with any skill, there are definite steps along the road to mastery. And because the asking of a question is a type of karma, the questions you ask not only have to start with the issue of skill, they also have to be skillful -- to approach the issue skillfully -- themselves. Each step in the Buddha's skill is thus defined by a set of questions that focus your attention and shape your thinking in the most strategic direction. In fact, the questions he recommends can be taken as a map to the practice: you start out with questions that assume a self and use that assumption to motivate yourself to act more and more skillfully. Only when you reach an appropriate level of skill do the questions turn to deconstruct your sense of self, pinpointing the things you identify as your self and showing that they're not really you. When the act of self-identification runs out of options, it stops in mid-air -- and the mind opens to freedom. So if you put the not-self teaching in its proper context -- this regimen of questions -- you'll see that it's not a dead-end answer to a dead-end question. Instead, it's a cutting-edge tool for bringing about liberation.
To begin this regimen, the Buddha recommends that when you visit a teacher, the first questions to ask are these: "What is skillful? What is unskillful? What, if I do it, will be for my long-term harm and suffering? Or what, if I do it, will be for my long-term well-being and happiness?" Although these last two questions bring in the concepts of "I" and "my," they aren't the focus of the inquiry. The focus is on doing, on developing skill, on using your concern for "me" and "my well-being" to train your actions toward true happiness.
The Buddha's answers to these preliminary questions read like a course in wilderness survival. First come the do's and don'ts. A wilderness instructor will tell you: "If a moose charges you, run. If a bear charges you, don't." The Buddha's corresponding do's and don'ts are ten guidelines dealing with body, speech, and mind. The guidelines for the body are: don't kill, don't steal, don't engage in illicit sex. For speech: don't tell lies, don't speak divisively, don't speak abusively, don't engage in idle chatter. And for the mind: abandon greed, abandon ill will, cultivate right views. These are the Buddha's basic ground rules for the survival of your happiness, and many of his teachings simply elaborate on these ten points.
But as any wilderness instructor will tell you, survival requires more than simple rules of thumb. You have to be alert to the gaps not covered by the rules. You need to learn to use your powers of observation, imagination, and ingenuity to dig out unskillful habits and develop new habits to fill in the gaps. That way you can live comfortably in the wilderness, respectful of the bears and moose and other dangers around you without being overwhelmed by them.
The same holds true with the Buddha's skill: in addition to following the do's and don'ts, you have to learn how to dig out the roots of unskillful behavior so that you can become adept in all areas of your life, including the areas where the do's and don'ts don't apply. The roots of unskillful behavior are three: greed, anger, and delusion. Of the three, delusion is the most insidious, for it blinds you to its very existence. The only way to overcome it is to be relentlessly observant, looking at your actions in terms of cause and effect, gauging their short- and long-term consequences for yourself and others.
Again, this involves learning to ask the right questions. Each time you're about to act, ask yourself: "This action that I want to do: would it lead to self-harm, to the harm of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful action, with painful consequences, painful results?" If you foresee harm, don't follow through with it. If not, go ahead and act. While acting, ask yourself if there are any unexpected bad consequences arising. If there are, stop. If there aren't, continue with what you're doing. When the action is done, look into its actual short- and long-term consequences. If an action in word or deed has ended up causing harm, inform an experienced fellow-practitioner on the path (this is why the Buddha established the Sangha) and listen to that person's advice. If the mistaken action was purely an act of the mind, try to develop distaste for that kind of thinking. In both cases, resolve never to make the same mistake again, and use your ingenuity to make the resolve stick. If, however, the long-term consequences of the original action were harmless, take joy and satisfaction in being on the right path and continue your training.
As you stay with this line of questioning, it fosters two major results. To begin with, you become more sensitive to your actions and respectful of their effects, both in the present and over time. Unlike the child who says, "It was already broken when I stepped on it," you're aware of when you break things -- physical or mental -- and when you don't. At the same time, you gain mastery over the patterns of action and effect. You get better and better at handling things without their getting broken. This in turn fosters a healthy sense of "self" and "I" based on competence and skill. Your sense of self becomes good-humored enough to freely admit mistakes, mature enough to learn from them, quick enough to notice the immediate effects of your actions, while patient enough to strive for long-term goals. Confident in its own powers of observation, this "I" also has the humility needed to learn from the experience and advice of others.
These two results -- sensitivity to the effects of your own actions and a competent sense of self -- enable you to settle into a level of mental concentration that's solid and nourishing. You overcome the hindrance of uncertainty as to what's skillful and unskillful, and are able to develop the skillful qualities needed to center the mind. As this centered focus develops, an interesting thing happens: your sensitivity to actions and your sense of self come face to face. You begin to see that self not as a thing but as an activity, a process of "I-making" and "my-making" in which you repeatedly create and re-create your sense of who you are. You also begin to notice that this I-making, even when it produces the most skillful self possible, inevitably results in stress.
Why? Because any sense of "I" or "mine" involves clinging -- even when your concentration tunes into a sense of universal self -- and all clinging is stressful. So to take the development of skillfulness to its ultimate degree, you have to unlearn the habit of I-making and my-making. And to do this, another set of questions is required.
These are the questions that introduce the strategy of not-self. The Buddha recommends that you focus on any phenomenon around which you might sense an "I" or a "mine," and ask a series of questions, starting with: "Is this constant or inconstant?" If you identify with your body, look at it. You'll see that it grows hungry and thirsty, that it's aging, destined to grow ill and die. "And is anything inconstant easeful or stressful?" Look at any attempt to find a stable happiness based on the body, and you'll see how stressful it is. "And is it fitting to regard what's inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?"
Pursue this line of inquiry inward, through layer after layer of physical and mental events, until you can zero in on the high command: the self that's managing not only the stability of your concentration but also your internal dialogue of questions and answers. Fortified with the sense of stability and calm that come with strong concentration, you can start deconstructing that self with no anxiety over what will happen when it's gone. And when the intentions making up that self are deconstructed, a strange thing happens. It's as if you had pulled out a strategic thread holding a tapestry together, and now the whole thing unravels on its own. Everything that could possibly be clung to falls away. What remains is total, absolute freedom -- free from time and space, from both self and not-self, for both "self" and "not-self" are perceptions, which that freedom transcends.
Even when you've had only a first, humbling taste of this freedom, you appreciate how adroitly the teaching on not-self answers the question of "What is skillful?" And you understand why the Buddha recommends putting the question of "Who am I?" aside. To begin with, it wouldn't have taken you to this freedom, and could well have stood in freedom's way. Because your "I" is an activity, any attempt to pin it down before you had mastered the processes of activity would have left you pouncing on shadows, distracted from the real work at hand. Any attempt to deconstruct your "I" before it had become healthy and mature would have led to a release neurotic and insecure: you'd simply be running away from the messy, mismanaged parts of your life. In addition, any answer to the question "Who am I?" would be totally inappropriate to describe your new-found freedom, for it's a dimension apart, where the concepts of "I," "not-I," "am," "am not" do not apply.
The only question still concerning you is how to dig out the remaining roots of unskillfulness still latent in the mind. Once they're dug up, the Buddha promises, nothing stands in the way to full and final freedom. And in that freedom, the mind lacks nothing, has nothing in excess. There's none of the delusion that would shape the hole of a burning question, and none of the greed or aversion that would give it teeth. The only remaining questions are bonus ones: how best to take whatever skills you've developed along the way and use them purely for the benefit of the world.
And what more could you possibly ask?
Revised: Wed 4 December 2002
by Alex Paterson
In June 2000 I attended a Radical Forgiveness workshop conducted by Colin Tipping at the Relaxation Centre in Brisbane. The workshop was based Tipping's book, Radical Forgiveness. Below are a few random notes I made at the time about the workshop. Although these notes were made for myself, I have decided to post them online unedited as an introduction for others into Radical Forgiveness.
Tipping's Radical Forgiveness techniques had a powerful (and positive) effect on me personally and I recommend the technique to anyone seeking to heal the shadow aspects of their psyche and rebuild their relationships with others. For a thorough understanding of the technique it is recommended you obtain and read a copy of Tipping's book 'Radical Forgiveness'.
Radical Forgiveness is an extension of the primary truth underlying all reality, namely that everything in the Universe is an expression of a singularity which I choose to call Source and most others call God, and as such everything in the Universe is interconnected.
Radical Forgiveness is based upon the simple premise that the 'dark' or shadow aspects of our psyche which we need to acknowledge and heal are reflected for us in those who have significant impact on our lives - be they lovers, spouse, work colleagues, children, parents, friends, mentors or so called enemies. As Tipping quite rightly pointed out: "if you spot it (a behaviour trait) in others, then you have got it. (yourself)."
The key word in the above statement is 'acknowledge'. Whenever we try to deny something we don't like by pretending it does not exist in us, we invalidate it. To invalidate means "to render having no effect", but the great irony is that as soon as we attempt to invalidate something it immediately demands attention to be validated. The reason for this is simple. Invalidation by definition is an attempt to separate out that which one wishes to invalidate from those aspects we choose to acknowledge. From the perspective of the essential 'ONENESS' pervading the Universe, separation is an illusory 'artificial' state requiring a huge amount of energy to maintain. When we suppress something by invalidating it, we think the issue has gone away, but this is a delusion because the issue will inevitably reappear at some stage to be acknowledged and validated and this process cannot be avoided. Invalidation is a bit like trying to stop the flow of a stream; it can be achieved for a little while, but eventually the weight of water builds up and overwhelms us and continues to flow in accordance with the natural law of balance.
The following definitions are important and need to be clearly understood.
" Invalidate: Definition: To render invalid which means to render something "having no effect". (Source: Websters Dictionary 1898)
" Judgement: Definition: The act of judging involving the comparison and merit of a thing or question. Source: Oxford Dictionary
" Discernment: Definition: The act of discerning which is to perceive clearly with the mind or the senses. Source: Oxford Dictionary
Note: There is no value judgement associated with the act of 'Discernment', as opposed to 'Judgement'. Alex Paterson 2000
At our essence we are energy expressed as LOVE and love expresses itself as an urge towards Unity.
When two people meet and are attracted to each other, energy (which is love) begins to flow between them and they experience the emotion of fraternity and in some cases, falling in love. Initially, this flow is unrestricted because the people involved do not judge each other, but with the passage of time one or both of them invariably begin to apply judgement about the other person. As defined above, judgement is a form of discernment in which our Ego consciousness applies 'value' or 'merit' to the different aspects of the thing we are discerning. However, this thinking is fatally flawed as everything in the Universe is a manifestation of SOURCE and despite the perception of separation that is fundamental to experience in this realm (i.e. the Physical Universe ), nothing is ever really separate from anything else and as such everything is of equal validity and value. The moment the Ego assigns value to something over and above something else by judging it, it invalidates all the aspects of so called 'lesser' value which creates disharmony (dis-harmony) resulting in an energy blockage. Thus, instead of the energy flowing freely between two people in a relationship, it begins to spiral back in on itself in order to heal the disharmony. This process manifests itself as emotions of fear, distrust and separation. It is from the perception of separation that we then create our victim stories in which we allege the other person or persons "did something to us". The truth of course, is that we manifested the whole process in co-operation with the soul (or souls) of the other people involved in the drama for the purpose of healing the shadow aspects of our psyche, which have been mirrored by the others involved in the drama for us. (more on this later)
At its essence, Radical Forgiveness is about reminding ourselves that we are not really separate from our Source (God), and that we are entirely responsible for the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is from the perspective of this universal truth that our ego 'victim stories' are revealed to be the nonsense that they really are, and once reminded of this 'truth', the victim story then collapses.
Radical Forgiveness healing technique
Colin Tipping's Radical Forgiveness healing technique is elegantly simple.
1. Tell the story. The story is the Ego's perception of the situation. The story is the energy associated with the blockage. The story needs to be witnessed by someone without interruption in order to validate it. Validation is at the crux of the issue. By definition, invalidation is an attempt by the Ego to create a form of separation, which in reality is an impossible task because absolutely nothing can possibly be separated from its SOURCE, that being God. It is because of this that anything that has been invalidated by the Ego (which is part and parcel of the illusory perception of Separation) requires an inordinate amount of energy to maintain that state of affairs because it is an artificial, illusory state of Being.
NOTE: Judgement, and the invalidation that goes with it, is the main reason most humans die of degenerative diseases (dis-ease) at the present 'time', but I digress .... (AP)
2. Feel the Feelings (emotions) associated with the story, be they anger, hurt, rage, etc. This is very important because this is the point of power. Then...
3. Collapse the story using the Radical Forgiveness worksheet or some other technique. The Radical Forgiveness worksheet is but just one technique in which one applies effort and intent towards honestly addressing the situation at hand through the auspices of writing about it. The worksheet leads one to acknowledge and 'own' the situation - to recognise that one is entirely responsible for the situation at hand.
Note: As one becomes more adept in 'owning' the situations confronting us (by accepting our responsibility for them), one can dispense with tools like the Radical Forgiveness worksheet and just cut to the essence of the process by simply giving thought to the situation in an honest manner .
4. Perform a Radical Forgiveness reframe of the situation. This shifts the perception from one of Ego separation (victim story) to a recognition as to the essential Oneness of all reality and a recognition of the perfection associated with the event. At the heart of Radical Forgiveness is the recognition (and acceptance) that we are all entirely responsible for the situations we find ourselves in - that we have undoubtedly 'created' the experiences (good or bad) confronting us for a reason. (that reason is always associated with the Soul's inexorable drive for self realisation) In other words, we don't change the event itself, we just change our perception and beliefs around it.
5. Integrate it. We hold our story in every aspect of our bodies, so we must integrate our new story into our whole Being.
NOTE 1: One does not need to believe in 'Radical Forgiveness' for the technique to work. As Tipping quite rightly advises "just fake it till you make it."
NOTE 2: The effect of performing a Radical Forgiveness reframe of a situation is often immediate. Tipping related an anecdote that illustrates this point. A client of his was still bitter years after the event about being out negotiated by a business associate of hers over some intellectual property she had created. As the business associate said to her when she complained about the poor nature of the deal to her, "business is business and as a businessman I'm ruthless". Tipping suggested they perform a Radical Forgiveness reframe of the situation to which she readily agreed. After performing the reframe she drove back to her hotel, only to find a message on her answering machine from the very same former business partner wishing to renew the contract pertaining to the intellectual property in question. (she had forgotten that the original deal had a sunset clause in it) A check of the date/time stamp on the answering machine revealed that he had made his call to her literally one minute after the Radical Forgiveness reframe had been completed! Needless to say she drove a very hard bargain this time around which more than compensated for her 'losses' associated with the original deal. As she said to him when it came time to sign the new deal "business is business", something he quite happily agreed with. (presumably, he had some respect for her this time around)
NOTE 3: Once we begin to heal and process the shadow aspects of ourselves reflected by the other person, the state of the relationship between those involved has served its purpose and the relationship can either move on to a new level, or end.
4: As we heal shadow bits of our psyche, more suppressed shadow bits begin to
rise up from our subconscious in order to be processed. In other words, the road
actually gets harder commensurate with our capacity to handle it. Fortunately,
we find that with practice we start to get good at dealing with the issues rising
up before us and then the 'Game' starts to become fun. Just like a good baseball
player, we start to look forward to confronting the pitcher and dealing with whatever
he or she serves up to us.
o The Universe is a manifestation of the consciousness of a single infinite entity we call God. The scientific evidence in support of this concept is actually overwhelming at a Quantum Physics level. In fact, at a Quantum Physics level there is no evidence in support of the Universe comprising separate 'bits' of matter - all the evidence to date points to the Universe comprising a unified field of energy. The manifestation of God in the Physical Universe is consciousness in the form of energy. Physical matter is just 'slowed down' energy. Emotions are a form of Energy we store in our bodies. (We have many 'bodies' or levels of being, the densest being our physical body)
o We are spiritual beings having a physical incarnation in this realm for the purpose of experiencing emotions, especially those emotions associated with the perception of separation and re-connection. Apparently, the emotions we experience in this realm have no real counterpart anywhere else in creation and as such souls are queuing up to experience this realm, despite the misery, pain and heaviness that is part and parcel of experience in this realm at the present 'time'.
There is no such thing as 'time'. (a paradox)
o We come into this realm forgetting who we really are (i.e. that we are an individualised aspect of Source) to add realism and excitement to the perception of separation associated with this realm. It would appear that unfortunately the 'virtual reality' that is this realm is so 'real' that most humans have become stuck in it. Thus, most humans no longer have any clue as to their true nature - that they are an inseparable aspects of Source - and perceive themselves to be truly separate and cast out by God. (e.g. Christianity) Many humans are so lost in the 'game' that they no longer even believe in the existence of the Creator. (e.g. Western culture)
NOTE 1: Apparently most souls incarnating here for the first time don't really believe it is possible to lose sight of their real identity in this realm (i.e. that they are an inseparable aspect of God) as there is no real counterpart to the perception of separation anywhere else in the Universe.
NOTE 2: Colin Tipping told an anecdote about a discarnate entity who entered the physical body of a compliant human for the purpose of healing work and was heard by those witnessing the healing session (which included Colin) to exclaim in a rather shocked tone "how real it all seemed" and that it (the entity) now understood why humans have become "stuck in this realm".
3: Colin Tipping recounted the story where some clients of his brought home their
new born baby from hospital and their three (3) year old daughter insisted on
being allowed to spend some time alone with the new born baby. They agreed to
this request because they were able to monitor the event using a baby monitor.
The three (3) year old child was heard to approach the baby and say. "Please
baby, remind me about God because I'm beginning to forget"
o We invoke everything that happens to us in this realm. There are always reasons for the circumstances we find ourselves in, meaning there are no such things as 'accidents', and those reasons are associated with our spiritual growth. We do not need to consciously know exactly why we have invoked the circumstances we find ourselves in - the reasons will reveal themselves at the proper time - we just need to remember and accept that we are the authors of our story and get on with it. Most humans don't understand or accept any of these truths, which why there is so much pain and suffering in the world at the moment.
Pain is not really an emotion - it is a resistance to feeling associated with fear. The fear is associated with our failure to understand that we create our circumstances (in conjunction with others in our 'play') for the purpose of spiritual growth and as such we are entirely responsible for the same. Ironically, most humans spend an inordinate amount of time ranting and raving against circumstances they themselves have created, instead of seeking to understand why they created the circumstances in the first place.
Tipping recounted a story where
he was conducting a workshop for people with life threatening diseases. One of
the attendees was a woman in her early forties who had breast cancer. The woman
was seething with anger about her circumstances. Apart from the breast cancer,
a significant 'irritant' in her life was the behaviour of her twenty something
year old daughter, who was in the eyes of this woman "hanging around with
unsuitable men and not staying at home helping me defeat my disease". At
the end of the workshop Tipping had the attendees carry out a breath meditation
and then discuss what happened during the meditation. As Tipping recounted "I
could tell the angry woman had gone deep because she went very quiet, so I left
her till last." When it came time for the woman to recount what had happened
to her the class fell silent. The woman said in a very quiet voice "I don't
know what happened, but I found myself out in 'there' in Universe with my daughter.
We performed a beautiful dance around each other looking into each other's eyes
and there was tremendous love between us - it was a beautiful experience. Then
we suddenly sat down and my daughter said "look we have got to resolve this
thing once and for all - who is going to be mother this time?". It would
appear it didn't matter who played mother. The woman then said "I can't explain
it, but I have a completely different feeling towards my daughter now - my anger
towards her has completely gone." Tipping advised the woman to say nothing
about what had occured during the meditation when she got home and "just
see what happens". Two days after the woman returned home, the daughter arrived
unannounced at her mother's doorstep with her bags. The daughter had 'sacked'
all the boyfriends and moved in with her mother. The woman and her daughter then
proceeded to have an extraordinarily rich relationship over the next five years,
at the end of which the mother experienced a painless death. (presumably because
the issues underlying the incarnation had been resolved and there was no purpose
to the woman's 'life' continuing)
o This realm would appear to be very rare in that those souls partaking of it have free will, and that within the rules of the 'game', anything goes. Souls in this realm are the 'thrill seekers' of creation so to speak who have volunteered to experience this realm for that reason. By definition GOD is perfection and as such the Universe always remains in a perfect state of 'balance'. One of the immutable rules of the game in this realm is that any imbalance we create associated with our perception of separation must be re-balanced, via a process known as 'Karma'.
NOTE: I sense that Karma is a very sophisticated process and the notion that we simply incarnate to experience what we inflicted upon others in an earlier incarnation is an overly simplistic and naive interpretation of the process. I also suspect the concept of 'Grace' can somehow fast track the Karmic realignment process, but that could be wishful thinking on my behalf. (AP)
o Our EGO is the everyday consciousness we are aware of within this realm associated with our 'present' incarnation. As mentioned earlier, our Ego consciousness is by necessity of limited awareness as to its real identity (i.e. that it is an inseparable aspect of God) for the purpose of adding realism and a sense of adventure to those partaking of experience in this realm. Our Ego would appear to be an amalgam of some aspects of other incarnations we have chosen to bring with us into our 'current' incarnation, characteristics of the genetics (DNA) associated with the body we have chosen to incarnate in, and our experiences within this realm (i.e. our upbringing and life experiences in the present incarnation). On the other hand the psyche (soul) of most humans remains relatively unconscious to our waking 'ego' consciousness in this realm, but whispers to us through our emotions, gut feelings and our conscience. (e.g. the Soul is the 'voice' that whispers to us "I shouldn't have done that") Spiritual awakening is all about getting in touch with our soul from within this realm and allowing it into our waking everyday consciousness. Whilst the physical brain is the store house of information for our ego to operate with in this realm, that information (and our ego consciousness) survives physical death as anyone who has had a near death experience can attest.
NOTE 1: As Colin Tipping quite rightly noted, our Ego holds a huge sway of votes as to how we think and act in this realm, but its perception of reality is dangerously flawed. (It should be remembered that it is only 500 years (or eight lifetimes) since most humans believed the Earth was flat and anyone who had the temerity to think otherwise was invariably burnt at the stake!)
NOTE 2: Our ego
consciousness does not emanate from our physical brain, as evidenced by those
who can go Out of Body (OBE) or who have experienced a Near Death Experience (NDE).
The brain is just an organ, like any other organ in the human body used by a soul
to 'filter' our awareness down to within the confines and 'rules' of this realm.
When we think about it, this is logical as all reality is simply a manifestation
of consciousness anyway.
o Because we have free will, our Soul (the God essence of our Being that always remains consciously connected to SOURCE) does not have direct control over our Ego consciousness. Because of this 'rule' the GAME is structured such that we attract into our physical lives those who display (mirror) the 'shadow' aspects of ourselves we wish to heal (transmute). As Colin Tipping quite rightly quipped; "if you spot it (in others) you've got it" (meaning if we become upset by something another human being does or displays, then we can rest assured that that is a shadow aspect of our psyche we have come into this realm to heal)
o This realm is really just a dream so to speak. (the ultimate virtual reality) From time to time we are given glimpses of our true essence via spiritual experiences from within this realm for the purpose of keeping us going. In other words, the veil is pulled aside slightly from time to time so we don't completely lose sight of our essence. (I consider my experiences of the Void and NDE as examples of this sort of thing. AP)
o We are all co-creating the virtual reality that is the physical Universe. Spirit has designed the Game to be so realistic that we must experience what we have put in place. The 'Game' itself never stops, (time itself is an illusion) but once we understand the game and the rules (which we are all co-creating) we can move through it with levity and fun.
o Because human souls have free will, here is no compulsion on humans to wake up as to their true identity and move on. However, it would appear that the souls involved in this realm eventually get sick and tired of the pain, suffering and heaviness associated with the karmic debt incurred whilst playing the 'game' and then experience an urge to progress beyond this realm towards a conscious reconnection with their essence (GOD). (I consider myself in this category. Alex Paterson 2000)
o From the human perspective within this realm practically everything is wrong in the world at the moment, with evil occurring everywhere. (e.g. there are at least 40 wars occurring at this very moment, along with a level of environmental degradation that threatens our very existence on Earth etc.) However, from the perspective of spirit everything is perfect and nothing 'bad' is really happening; just the unfolding of a divine plan (game) in which each and everyone of us are part architect. (It defies 'logic' and I can't really explain it, but I have a sense all is well. Alex Paterson 2000)
o I suspect the main purpose of many of us in this realm at the present 'time' is to seek a re-connection with our essence from within this realm. (i.e. bring "heaven to earth" so to speak)
o A couple of weeks after this workshop I met a man in a bookshop. He made two (2) statements which cut to the essence of 'Radical Forgiveness'.
1. Everything we experience in our lives is entirely about us and no one else.
2. The people we meet in life who have some effect on us mirror for us aspects of our souls we need to address and heal.
Copyright © 1999 Alex Paterson
Bribing Attempt Exposed
by Bodu Pubudu Foundation, Panadura
Mr Ananda Fernando, an ex-Police officer, is residing at 8/4, Samudra Mawatha, Panadura. He is 54 years old, married, and living with his wife and two sons.
Ananda hails from a respectable family from Moratuwa, and the former MP for Nuwara Eliya, Mr T William Fernando was his uncle. Ananda's caring wife, Asoka, is the daughter of a well respected educationist, the retired Principal Mr M M M Fernando of Panadura, and a Grand Daughter of the legendary K T Cornalis Peiris Loku Iskole Mahattaya, one of the Head Masters of Upadhyaya Vidyalaya, the first ever Sinhala Buddhist School in the country to be registered with the Government.
With the above family background, both Ananda and Asoka had naturally been brought up in a strong Sinhala Buddhist environment. They are very good Buddhists and maintain a very close rapport with the temple of the area, Abhaya Karunaratne Mudalindaaraamaya of Welipitiya, Panadura.
Ananda developed a cancer a few years ago, and has been undergoing treatment for some time. His condition had been particularly bad towards end 1999. He later switched over to Ayurvedic medical treatment, which he says, has helped him to significantly improve his conditions.
Ananda was a train traveller during his working days. As it is quite natural, there have been many who had befriended with him during his daily train rides to and from Colombo. One such friend was a lady called Kumudini, whom Ananda knew as a Buddhist. It was this lady who called upon at Ananda's residence in the first half of 2000, having heard of Ananda's illness.
Being a very charming and friendly family, Ananda and Asoka received Kumudini, and discussed with her his illness and also the progress Ananda has been making since switching over to Ayurvedic medical treatment. It was at that time, the offer came up from this friend that God would be willing to cure Ananda's cancer. It was further pointed out by Kumudini that there was no point in obtaining medicine without developing the "right belief in God" !
Ananda could not understand this because he had known this lady as a good Buddhist a few years before. He asked, in return, from Kumudini as to what happened to her, and what made her follow God and the Bible, as she used to be a Buddhist ! Then came the reply that she also went through a difficult period in her life, and a group of Christian friends managed to convert her to Christian belief, which gave her relief ! She offered her services to Ananda also, saying that the family would not have to worry about anything, including resources, and that God will look after all such needs. She only wanted Ananda's consent !
By this time, the financial situation of Ananda's family had been badly eroded. The illness had already dried off the only spring of family income, which was Ananda's job. Even the donation amounting to Rs 150000 raised by relatives, villagers and friends to meet Ananda's medical expenses, for which both Ananda and Asoka are still very grateful, also had been spent.
When this "God sent friend" left promising to return, Ananda and Asoka had a detailed discussion. The Sinhalese Buddhist philosophical foundation laid in them by their parents had been too strong to be broken by the hammers of this "newly converted servant of God". But, on the other hand, they found no reason to refuse the offer to cure by this evangelical missionary, if such is without any obligation by Ananda's part, as stated by Kumudini. Buddhist philosophy had provided them an extensive margin of freedom to decide what was correct and incorrect, and they finally decided to let their "friend" to continue, but with no obligation whatsoever from their part.
Kumudini, visiting them once more, had agreed to proceed. She had come with another companion, who knew more details of what was to be done. They prayed at Ananda's residence for his recovery. Ananda was given a Bible to be kept with him continuously, when the next visit was made in a few days, this time accompanied by a Pastor as well. Ananda was requested to read the Bible in Sinhala when he had time. The Bible was to be kept at his bedside. Ananda found nothing wrong in any of those, as reading any material would only enhance one's knowledge. He wondered, though, in his mind that the freedom he enjoys being a Buddhist, as for a follower of another religion this would have been a "sin" and also a possible reason for punishment by "the almighty", and sufficient grounds for excommunication by the fellow followers !
A group of five, including two leading and experienced Pastors, visited them a few days later. They started praying aloud. They called upon the God to look at his "creation" and "cure his son". They claimed that the blood circulating in this poor son is the same as that of the God. They appealed to the God that Ananda be cured. After praying, they said they were happy with the progress, and went away promising that they would come back to start the healing process. In the meantime, Ananda was to do nothing other than keeping the Bible and reading it at his wish.
The day arrived, when a van stopped in front of Ananda's residence. Two Pastors with a group of people, together with Kumudini, were there. They were ready to start the process of curing. They told Ananda and Asoka that Ananda would be definitely cured if they act as advised by the God. Ananda was a bit concerned hearing this, as he had been told earlier that there would be no obligation by his part, and wondered what they would ask him to do next, but decided to observe further. The person who appeared to be the leader of the group told Ananda that he need not worry any longer about financial problems of the family, as God will take care of all their needs. Almost at the same time, a member of the visiting group came into the house with a big bundle wrapped in brown paper and tied with rubber bands, appearing to anyone as a bundle of currency notes. The bundle was kept on the main table of the house. Ananda and Asoka, quite naturally, had a look at this apparently sizable "gift of God", and it was only they who would know what went in their minds.
Having placed the "bundle" on the table, the group started praying. They prayed looking up and raising their hands towards the sky. They called upon the God to grace his "human son" with good health, and with prosperity. After prayers of about half an hour, the leader turned to Ananda and said that the God had heard the prayers, and was willing to cure him. He said, though, that the God wanted Ananda and his family to follow him, and act as he said.
Ananda's house has a main living room. A statue and a picture of Lord Buddha are placed at a prominent place in this living room. The family lights a coconut oil lamp in front of this Buddha Statue every day. By the time of this latest round of prayers of the "God's agents", this oil lamp was already brightly lit. The leader of the evangelists turned to this statue and lamp, and Ananda was asked to go and put off the flame of this lamp, "Budu Pahana", before they proceed with any further curing effort !!!
Guess what would have happened next. Here was an offer for a "guaranteed cure" of Ananda's cancer. The possibility was that the entire expenditure on medicine would be saved from that point onwards, even if the family could still be suspicious about the "promised cure". In any case, there was not even a "promise for such a cure" outside the framework of these evangelists. Moreover, a big bundle of "appearing to be" currency notes was placed in front of the eyes of the family, amidst their already poor family economics. Even if no more monies would be given, this much alone would be more than something. Materials for religious bribes of all kinds were there. Would any lay human being resist such a possibility ?
These are the "bribes" the evangelists offer to prevent, as best as they could, any "resistance" by the Buddhists when they are asked to perform acts breaking emotional attachments towards Buddha. In this case, they attempted to get Ananda to put off the Budu Pahana, in another place it would be getting the Buddhist to break the head of a Buddha statue, or to stand on a picture/statue of Buddha and jump over it. Possible bribes include bundles appearing as huge sums of money, promises to cure illnesses, jobs for youth, marriage proposals for unmarried in their late 30s or 40s, babies for married couples who have been unable to conceive so far, good Christian schools for children, etc. Such are offered to Buddhists, particularly to those who are badly in need. When they succeed in getting the Buddhist to jump over the Buddha statue, brake its head or put off Budu Pahana, they believe that the "psychological bond" the Buddhist had towards Buddha and Buddhism would be lost for ever, and that such people would never go back to Buddhist way of thinking. This was exactly what they tried with Ananda, by asking him to put off the Budu Pahana, while ensuring that the material required for "religious bribing" were made available.
Well, how did Ananda react ? There may be lay Buddhists who are the poorest of the poor in this society and left in isolation, who would fall pray, willingly or unwillingly, to such unethical "religious bribery". But, the true Sinhala Buddhists would not sacrifice their most venerated Buddhist philosophy, way of life and patriotism, even for their lives. Ananda and Asoka are living examples for such calibre. Having realised that the evangelists were trying to get over the most difficult hurdle in their process of conversion, Ananda asked the leader of the group of evangelists why cannot the process of curing continue without putting off the Budu Pahana ? Answer was that " God could not cure in the presence of Budu Pahana".
Ananda's moral strength being a Buddhist, which all our Buddhists have in us though we do not realise, came into surface. He was quite determined in his reply: "There cannot be any reason why your God could not cure me in the presence of Budu Pahana, if he is all powerful and ready to help the mankind without expecting anything in return". "I can only think of two possibilities", Ananda said, in front of all. "One is that our Budu Pahana is more powerful than your God so that his forces are unable to enter our house in the presence of Budu Pahana. If so, I better seek cure from our Budu Pahana, which then logically becomes more capable than your God". Ananda continued : "The other possibility is that your God is so unkind to demand as a bribe that the people should do exactly what he wants them to do if he is to help them in return. How can such a God be good and loving ? Our Buddha did not expect anything in return when he realised someone was in need of something. He helped, cared for and treated both enemies and friends. I better seek relief from such a kind heart than a bribe-seeking selfish and cruel heart". Everyone appeared stunned. None of the evangelists had any answer. Ananda proclaimed : "If your God is capable and willing, let him cure me, but I am not going to put off our Budu Pahana" !
Saadhu .. Saadhu.. Saadhu !!!
Defeated evangelists did not stay there a minute longer. They vanished together with Kumudini, who never returned. By the way, they had taken with them the "bundle" also, may be to offer as potential "bribing material" for another similar attempt !
What about Ananda and family ? Yes, Ananda is still battling with his malady, but says he is much better now since he started obtaining Sinhala medicine from a Veda Mahaththaya. Ananda and Asoka did not expect anything from anyone when they resisted the attempted conversion quite bravely, even ignoring the promises to cure Ananda's cancer, and to financially assist them. There may be thousands of other strong and brave Sinhala-Buddhists who resist such unethical evangelical activities. Such people are our assets. We need to take care of them, and promote them. We also need to inculcate such values in our present and future generations. We need to educate our Buddhist youth. We need to develop Buddhist brotherhood networks to financially, morally, medically, socially and professionally support our fellow Buddhists. We have to take action to establish Buddhist social development funds, and a possible source of money may be a certain percentage of collections received at Buddhist Temples and Sacred places. We have to teach correct history to our future generations. We have to re-establish Buddhist education in Sri Lanka, as those Buddhist schools taken over by the Government have now become breeding grounds for generations without Sinhalese-Buddhist roots or values. We have to strengthen the village-temple relationship. Relevance of Buddhist teachings to meet the needs of today's society, not fairy tales, should be taught through Buddhist sermons. Then only can we ensure that there will be more and more Buddhists of Ananda's calibre in our future generations !
It is time for action. The story of Ananda and Asoka further highlights the urgency.
Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
August 1, 1991
Translated from the Thai by
Copyright © 2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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When we meditate, we let go of our present preoccupations. Normally the mind is always preoccupied with the various objects that the eye sees, the ear hears, the nose smells, the tongue tastes, and the body comes into contact with. But when we want peace of mind, we have to see these objects as coarse and gross. We try to let go of things that are gross, things that are sensual. We focus instead on things that are more refined and of more lasting value, step by step.
We keep on getting the mind to gather in stillness, keep on letting go of everything else. It's like when we go to sleep: we have to let go of distracting thoughts, we have to stop thinking, have to cut those things away if we're going to sleep in comfort. As long as the mind is in a turmoil over those things and can't let them go, it won't be able to fall asleep. It'll have no sense of ease, won't gain any strength. Even more so when we meditate: we have to cut away all our other preoccupations, let them all go, leaving only buddho.
Adjust your attitude so that you can find a sense of ease at the same time you're repeating buddho to yourself. Don't let yourself get bored or tired of the meditation. How do you develop a sense of ease? Through your conviction in what you're doing. No matter what the job, if you can do it with a sense of conviction, a sense of respect for your work, you can keep at it continuously. Even if the sun is beating down and you're all tired and worn out, you can keep on doing it. If you do it with a sense of desire (chanda) for the results, a sense of persistence (viriya), intentness (citta), and circumspection (vimansa), you can keep on doing it without getting tired. When you do your work with this attitude, you can keep at it always.
This is why our teachers were able to live with a sense of contentment even when they were out in the mountain wilds. They put effort into their meditation with a sense of ease and wellbeing in the peace of mind they were able to maintain through restraining the mind with mindfulness. If their hearts were already inclined to stillness and seclusion, then as soon as the mind had developed its foundation, they were able to keep it going without any difficulties. It became automatic, and they were able to experience a sense of wellbeing -- the stillness, the fullness, the brightness of the mind.
So adjusting the mind properly in this way is something very important for anyone who wants peace of mind. Keep reminding yourself to develop an attitude of conviction, and this will give energy and encouragement to your efforts. If your conviction, persistence, and mindfulness are strong, you'll be able to win out over any restless, anxious, sleepy, or lazy states of mind. You'll be able to win out over these things through the qualities of mind you develop.
The qualities of mind we're developing are like strategic weapons. We develop mindfulness. We develop alertness. We pick out our one object of meditation -- "This is what I'm going to fasten on" -- and then we both keep it in mind and stay aware of it. When we refuse to let go of it, when we hold on tight to a single object, it becomes the quality called singleness of preoccupation. When this singleness of mind arises, it can cut through restlessness, cut through anxiety. It includes both mindfulness and persistence, and can keep the mind firmly gathered in one place.
When this singleness of mind arises, it turns into firm concentration. The mind gets more refined and can let go of everything else, step by step. This singleness is the refined part that holds through all the levels of right concentration. In the first level you have to have singleness of preoccupation in charge. Even though there's also directed thought, evaluation, rapture, and pleasure, singleness of preoccupation has to be there. Directed thought and evaluation are the coarser parts of the concentration. You'll know as the mind gets more refined because it lets go of them, leaving just singleness of preoccupation, rapture, and pleasure. Rapture is the coarsest of these three, so you let go of it, leaving just pleasure and singleness of preoccupation. Pleasure is the coarser of these two, so you let go of it, leaving just singleness of preoccupation and equanimity.
When the mind has a sense of steady equanimity, firm and unwavering ... If you want to call it tender, it's tender in that it doesn't put up any resistance to the Dhamma, doesn't resist the truth of things as they are. It doesn't dispute. It's willing to accept that truth. But if you want to call it tough, it's tough in that it's firm and unwavering. Normally, when things are soft and tender they waver and move when they're struck by anything. But when the mind is tender in this way, it becomes tough instead. No one can fool it. It doesn't waver, it's not affected by anything. This is the nature of the mind in concentration. Why doesn't it waver? Because it's seen the truth. It's full. It's not hungry in any way that could make it waver, that could let it get tempted. It doesn't want anything else. We human beings: when we have a sense of enough, we're free.
For this reason, meditators need a solid theme that they can hold to. If you don't know or haven't studied much Dhamma, you can simply remember in brief that this body of ours is Dhamma. Every part of it is Dhamma. Conventional Dhammas, formulated Dhammas, all the way up to absolute Dhammas all can be found in this body. So we should pay attention to the body as it's actually present right here. When we know our own body, we won't have any doubts about other people, other bodies. So to give strength to the mind, we should repeat to ourselves any of the meditation themes dealing with the body so that the mind will settle down and come to rest.
If repeating buddho, buddho is too refined for you -- if you can't find anything to hold to, or don't know where to focus -- you can focus on the breath. It's blatant enough for you to fix your attention on it -- when it comes in, you know it's coming in; when it goes out, you know it's going out. Or if that's too refined, you can focus on the 32 parts of the body. If you want to focus on hair of the head, repeat kesa, kesa (hair of the head, hair of the head) to yourself. You've seen head hairs, you can remember them, so fix the memory in your mind and then repeat kesa, kesa. For hair of the body, you can repeat loma, loma, and so on. Repeat the names of any of the 32 parts until your awareness gathers in with the repetition and settles down into stillness.
If you want, you can focus on any one of the bones. Repeat atthi, atthi. Where is the bone you're focusing on? It's really right there. What kinds of features does it have? It really has them -- after all, you've seen bones before. You can remember what the big bones and little bones are like. So call them to mind, focus on them, and repeat their names so as to build a firm foundation for concentration and mindfulness in the mind.
Once your foundation is firm and steady from the practice of repetition, you move on to investigation, to insight meditation. You analyze these things to see them as aniccam, or inconstant. Why does the Buddha say they're inconstant? We want them to be constant. We don't want them to change. The Buddha teaches us to let go of them, but we can't let them go -- because our views run contrary to the Dhamma. That's why we can't let go.
The word "let go" here means that we don't hold onto them. Even though we still live with them, we just live with them, nothing more. Even though we make use of these things, we simply use them, nothing more. Even though we make the body move, it's just movement. You have to keep this understanding in mind so that wrong views don't overwhelm you. So that delusion doesn't overwhelm you. As long as these things exist, we make use of them. After all, they're here to use. The Buddha and his noble disciples all made use of these things without any thought of their being anything other than what they are -- that they might be constant, that they might give rise to true pleasure, that they might be "us" or "ours." We use these things in line with our duties as long as they're here for us to use. When they change into something else, they change in line with their duties, in line with the laws of the Dhamma.
The Buddha thus taught us to familiarize ourselves with what's normal in life: aging is normal, illness is normal, death is normal, separation from the people and things we love is normal. When we analyze them, we realize that they're all going to have to leave us. They won't stay with us forever. When even these five khandhas that we're looking after all the time aren't really ours, how can our children really be ours? How can our parents really be ours? How can our possessions really be ours? They're all anatta: not-self.
We train and exercise our minds in this way until they're adept in the same way that we memorize our lessons in school. Once they're firmly imbedded in the mind, the mind won't go against the truth of the Dhamma. It will believe the truth of the Dhamma, be inclined to follow the truth of the Dhamma. It won't suffer, for it follows in line with the laws of truth. When we don't struggle against the truth of the Dhamma, there won't be any sorrow or distress when things change, for we've come to know and accept the truth.
So all we have to do is come and know the truth. It doesn't lie far away. The things that will cure our sufferings, the most important things that will help us cross over birth and becoming, all come simply from making our knowledge of what's truly here firm and unwavering so that it can push the mind, lift the mind, over and above any influences that might come to make an impact on it -- so that it will gain release from defilement, release from sorrow, release from distress. The meditation we're practicing here is simply for the purpose of knowing the truth as it actually is. As long as we haven't yet reached it, we won't see it. When we don't see it, all we know about it is news: what we've read in books or heard on tapes or heard our teachers describe. That's simply news. The mind hasn't seen it. The ears have simply received it, the eyes have simply taken it in from books, but they're simply passive receptors, holding it as labels and memories, that's all.
The "reaching" has to be done by the heart. The heart is what reaches the truth. And once the heart has reached it, you don't have to worry. It'll be the heart's own treasure. So we have to train the heart to be intelligent, so that it will gain true happiness, true release from danger, from suffering and stress. Practice so that your mind reaches it, so that it will see it. At the moment, it hasn't gotten there yet. So far, it's all only in your ears and eyes.
So we all have to put our hearts into the meditation. Focus on what's truly here so that the heart will reach the truth -- the noble truths. Whatever suffering or stress is here in your body and mind is all part of the dukkha sacca, the noble truth of stress. Whatever delusion, passion, or delight that depends on delusion -- however much, whatever the object, within or without -- is all samudaya sacca, the noble truth of the origination of stress. All the things that we like, that give rise to desire to the point of clinging: when we get them, we latch onto them. When we lose them, we look for them again. When we don't have them, we suffer. This is what makes the mind travel through all the levels of being, great and small.
In the teaching on dependent co-arising, the Buddha said that it all comes from not knowing. We don't discern contact, don't discern feeling, don't discern craving, don't discern clinging, don't discern becoming, don't discern birth: all of this is called avijja, or unawareness. So do you discern these things yet, or not? When sights strike the eye, day in and day out: is your mindfulness ready to handle them or not? Is your discernment up on the tricks of the defilements or not? If not, you have to be observant, to gather and restrict all your attention to what's right here, for when defilements arise, they arise right here. If discernment is to see the defilements to the point of giving rise to right view, it'll have to see and know right here.
If we gather and restrict our attention to what's right here, we're sure to know and see. If we want to be mindful and alert, we can't do it anywhere else. Remember this point well, and put it into practice. When these words are spoken you hear them, but when you get up you forget them. Then when the time comes to meditate again, you don't know what to pick as your theme of practice. You forget everything, throw it all away. So there's nothing but "you" -- no Dhamma to know, no Dhamma to see, no Dhamma to put into practice. It's all "you" and "yours": your body, and when the body is yours, feelings are yours, perceptions are yours, thought constructs are yours, consciousness is yours. So you get possessive of what's yours, and there's nothing left to be Dhamma. That's why your practice doesn't progress.
All progress has to come from a point of "one." Once "one" is firmly established, then there can be "two" and "three." If "one" is lacking, everything else will be lacking. Actually, when we separate things out, there is no "two" or "three." When we don't lump things together, there's only "one." Even groups of ten or twenty people are all made up of one person -- that one person, this one person, that one person over there.
So in our practice we first have to establish "one" -- this body of ours. What's here in the body? We have mental events and physical phenomena: that's two. Then there's feeling: pleasure, pain, neither pleasure nor pain: that's three. When we separate things out, there's lots of them, but it's all this one person, this one lump sitting here encased in skin. But when you analyze things out, you have hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin ... Here it's already a lot. Then you can analyze the eye, consciousness, forms. It's a lot of things, but all one thing: one mass of suffering and stress. Nothing else. Just know this one thing until it's all clear. You don't have to know a lot of things, just this one body. Once you really see the truth, the mind will let go of its burdens. We suffer because we keep piling things on -- "That's us, that's ours, that's them, that's theirs" -- through the power of attachment, clinging to things, not wanting them to change. When the mind starts meditating by mentally repeating its theme, it can let things go for a while. You hold onto buddho or any of the other themes. You don't take refuge in the body. You take refuge in buddho, buddho, until the mind settles down. That gives you a greater sense of wellbeing than you could get from these other things.
When you can let go even of this level of wellbeing, you'll reach the real buddha. That's where there's purity, that's where there's true wellbeing, with no more need to go swimming through birth and death, no more need to torment yourself by having to sit and meditate like this again -- because there will be nothing to torment, nothing to meditate on any more. When you let go of everything, there are no more issues.
So we meditate to give rise to the discernment that sees the drawbacks of things and lets go of them all. That's when there are no more burdens, no more kamma. It sounds easy, but you have to let go of everything. If you haven't let go of everything, there's more kamma to do, more work to do. So we're taught cago -- renunciation; patinissaggo -- relinquishment; mutti -- release; analayo -- no place for the defilements to dwell.
So. Keep on meditating.
Revised: Mon 20 May 2002
Compassion and Wisdom
Transcription of a teaching given in Helsinki 31.6.2004
Compassion and wisdom is actually the main thing of all Buddhist teachings. In Buddhism in a way there is nothing else, it's all about compassion and wisdom. Basically I think it is very important to go to the basics like compassion and wisdom, the main theme of Buddhism. Why is it necessary to develop compassion and wisdom?
The basic understanding is like this: why do we do anything? What is the real purpose of life, of doing anything? From the Buddhist point of view we don't see the purpose of life as if there was already a purpose given to us, allotted to us, which we have to find out and then follow. What we mean by purpose of life is that which is important. What is it that people really deeply want? What do we wish in our life?
When we look at that, this is the understanding, that if I really look deep into my heart, what is it that I am striving and aspiring for, why I am busy, why I am doing anything, we can almost surely say that I am doing it because I want to be - you can say happy - I want to be free from all the problems. I don't want to suffer, I don't want to have pain and problems, I don't want to be unhappy but I want to be satisfied and joyful. In a way you can say I want to be happy and have no problems and this is not just my wish. Everybody has that as their main wish, whether we express it that way or not. Sometimes we don't. If you ask yourselves, your child or other people, "What do you want to become? - Maybe I want to become a doctor, you know, a very important person, this and that, but why? Why do you want to become that?
Then you will slowly find out: because according to me that is something that will solve all my problems and give me real satisfaction and it is the best situation which will make us very happy. Therefore the main motivation for most of us, all of us actually, is that I want to be free from suffering and pain and I want to be very satisfied and happy. Then is it that I want good things and happiness and satisfaction for myself, I want to be free from my own problems and suffering, is that the only thing I want? Usually no. If I am a kind of religious [person], then maybe okay, but if my family, friends and relatives are not happy, then I am not happy either. It's because usually I am only happy if people like me, love me and appreciate me. My happiness is very much wound together with other people. Maybe not with everybody, but with some people, and generally most people don't want to see other people suffering.
Not only that I want to be without suffering and problems, but if I see somebody with lots of problems and trouble, I don't feel good. I feel bad about it. Whether I actually do something for this person or not, maybe not, but I wish that this person could be without suffering. Therefore you can say there is in all of us, in all human beings, a natural kind of compassion and concern for others. And not only concern for others but there are many people in my life and in all your lives; if they were not in good shape, I could not be happy myself. I can't be happy without them being in a satisfactory situation.
Therefore it's a very basic human experience that we want to be happy ourselves but ourselves not alone. We want others to be happy, too. Some of them, actually, and this is not just my and your feeling. This way of feeling is in everybody. I want to be free from suffering and unhappiness. All of you want that. There is almost nobody in the whole universe, who wouldn't want to be free from problems and the very best situation and experience for themselves and for some others.
This is the main understanding, if that is like that: if we all wish it, then that should be the main purpose of our lives; to be free from all suffering, and to be free from all of the others' sufferings, too, who equally wish that. Therefore, if we ask ourselves: what is that you really want, we can almost say: "I wish to be free from suffering for myself and I wish the same thing for others also, whoever wishes that. And I wish that I be free from - not only suffering and pain, but I wish to have the best, highest and lasting happiness and joy."
This is not something that is taught in certain philosophy or way of thinking, but a basic human way of action. But then, we don't say this, most of us don't even express it. If you ask a young person or an elder one, what you want, they will say "I want to be rich, handsome, somebody like a doctor, president, businessman or sportsperson." They say that, but they don't have the understanding what is behind it.
Why do I want to become rich or famous? They think that to be rich, famous, this and that is the way to be free from our problems. But is it so? This is the main question from the Buddhist point of view. We have to see what we want and then, in order to get that, in order to arrive at that, the way we think to get it - is it the real way to attain it, to accomplish that?
If I say I want to be very rich, okay, there is nothing wrong in being rich; lots of provisions and money is very good. But is it able to solve all my problems, really give me completely satisfactory experience, that alone? Or if you say I want to be famous or powerful, okay, there is nothing wrong in being famous or powerful, but does each of those or even all of them together get rid of our problems? Will it really make us totally satisfied? That is the main question, the main understanding.
There are plenty of very rich people, famous and popular people - are they extremely happy and fully satisfied or not? That you have those things is really good - better that you have money and power than not, better to have lots of people liking you and to be famous than not, but you can have all those things and still be very unhappy. Therefore there must be something else. Those things alone cannot bring you to complete satisfaction. That is why we do spiritual practice, understanding what we all need.
The main thing is to understand how we can solve our problems. Riches, fame etc. do not determine whether we are happy or not. The main thing is inside: how we react. The thing here is important, but how we react is more important. Therefore it's not about having or not having something, whether there is something or not, but how we react to that. Our way of perceiving and reacting is most important. Because if we react in a certain way, then whatever we have is a problem, anything can be a problem if we react in a negative way. If we have different way of seeing and reacting, then sometimes even that thing can be experienced differently.
So the way I experience certain situation is more important, and also there are many things we cannot change. Perhaps if there is not enough heating or light, we can change it or do away with, but there are many things in life we cannot change even if we wished. All those things - is there a way to do something, or what can we do, except for keeping on suffering? We can do one thing only, we can try to change our own way of reacting to that situation, how we take it. If you can do that then we can change the situation - not the situation itself, but our own experience in that situation. That is what we call spiritual transformation, transforming our experience, by changing our way of seeing things we can change our experience.
If we are thinking badly about something, we shift the way of seeing it a bit and then we see good. That is how we work on our mind. That is very important from spiritual point of view. It's all about working on our reactions, emotions and habitual tendencies. Because our reacting changes, the situation changes and if we are in a very difficult situation, we don't feel the difficulty. That's the transformation and that's coming from working on our mind; not the thinking mind but from the experiential level, that's what we call spiritual practice.
To work on this wisdom and compassion are the two main points. What is wisdom? Wisdom is actually nothing but seeing the things as they really are. Understanding, experiencing or seeing things as it really is. And that seeing is not just intellectual, that's the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is that we have information, we read about something, we are told about something, we have a conference about something and we understand: that is like this, this is like that. That is knowledge. Wisdom is more experiential, we understand it deep from the heart. Not just outwardly this is like that, but we understand ourselves: what am I, what is it really that is me. One sees deeply and experiences oneself. To know in an experiential way is wisdom.
By deeply understanding and experiencing what I am, we understand in a way everything else. Everything else is in the way I see. From the experiential point of view this wisdom is extremely important, because through knowing one, in a way you know everything. By understanding myself in a way I understand everything because everything is in the way I understand it. Therefore wisdom is all about experientially (not intellectually) understanding myself. It includes learning about myself, my emotions and thoughts, my habitual tendencies, everything.
Therefore this wisdom is something really important. It's really difficult to explain, because it is experiential, understanding within. It is not necessary a rich, learned person, a professor, someone who studied a lot, who would have more wisdom. Sometimes people study a lot but have no wisdom, even if they are very learned. Sometimes people who know nothing have wisdom. There are many stories about this. There is a story by Tolstoy.
Three fathers lived on an island . An archbishop, priest of the church was travelling on the sea in America. The ship stopped on this small island to get water and he was told that there is a church and three fathers. He went to visit them and found a tiny church and the three monks. They were very happy since they had never seen an archbishop, and the archbishop asked, "How do you pray?" They didn't know. They said, "We just say we three, you three, save us." "No, that's not the way, you must learn." So he taught them a simple prayer, but they did not learn because they were aged. He was teaching them again and again the whole day. At the end of the day they learned and were very happy. "At last we learned how to say our prayer." The archbishop went away with his ship. Next morning he saw something approaching quite far a way. Once they came nearer he saw they were these three fathers running on the water on the sea. They shouted: "Please, stop! We have to see the archbishop, we forgot the prayer! Please tell it to us again." The archbishop answered, "You do as you have been doing, it's all right."
When they could walk on the water like a miracle, what more they needed to learn. This is the understanding. Wisdom is not learning like knowledge, it is deep understanding of yourself. You can be very learned but no wisdom. You can have no learning but have lots of wisdom. Real wisdom is something inner and that is why wisdom liberates us. That is how you liberate yourself from fear, pain and suffering. Main thing is fear. The more wisdom, the less fear; therefore then there is no more anger, craving and ignorance. Ignorance is the direct result. The more wisdom, the less ignorance. Because we are afraid of ourselves, confused, therefore wisdom is said to be the main thing.
Why do we have problems in the world? - Because we have no wisdom. When we get wisdom, we are free. But wisdom is not about getting something that we don't have now. It's about seeing things as they are, knowing what actually is, what you actually are, the way it is directly experiencing. Therefore it is not about a theory, concept or philosophy, it's about experience, directly experientially understanding what is, what you are, that's what wisdom is all about. Therefore wisdom is not necessarily something that can be easily talked about, because it's not a concept. And also no particular doctrine has monopoly of wisdom. You can experience it when you get it, but you can't talk too much about it, it's a direct experience of seeing what you are. It's very difficult to communicate. If you taste chocolate how would you talk about this experience to someone, who has never experienced chocolate? Whatever you say people cannot understand it.
There is a story, maybe coming from the Christian tradition. Maybe not true but a symbolic story. The devil and his assistant were watching a very important person walking up and down. Suddenly there was a shiny burst of light. The devil's assistant asked, "What is that?" The devil casually answered, "Oh, he knows the truth." The assistant said, "That must be dangerous for us. If he gives the truth for everybody, then it's very bad for us." The devil said, "No, it doesn't happen at all, because the moment he talks about it to anybody, they will make it into a dogma." So the truth, wisdom you experience, but it's extremely difficult to talk about, because the moment you talk about it, it is no longer wisdom.
Therefore from the Buddhist point of view meditation is a simple beginning for that, very elementary way of wisdom. It's not about conceptualising, it's not about having lots of information. It's about learning how to be, how to be natural, learning to relax, learning to be in the present moment. This learning is understanding what you are, and it is not intellectual. That's why it's so difficult to teach, it cannot be taught, because it's experiential. It's like learning to ride bicycle. You can teach riding bicycle, but not really teach. One has to do it oneself. You can give a basic idea that anybody can see, anybody knows, but when one does it, one has to learn it by doing it. Doing it, falling down, and sometimes feeling you can't learn. When you feel you will never ever be able to learn this, then you are about to learn it. It's little bit like that. It's learning how to be natural, completely yourself, ordinarily.
When you say "wisdom, enlightenment", it sounds very far a way, very deep. In a way it is not like that, we are not talking about something different, we are talking about me as I am now. It's not about becoming something, it's about learning experientially how to be totally there. Most of our problems, anxieties, emotions come from our way of grasping. When we grasp: this is good, this is bad, that brings lots of emotions and we become sad, because I don't have this and that. That way of experiencing whatever there is becomes a problem.
Even something nice is a problem. If I see something nice, very important, then I say, "Oh, I want it." Now I made something little bit difficult, because I want something. It's very nice, I want it and then it means I don't have something that I should have. I already made up something, desiring things, and now I'm making up that I don't have. I desire something I don't have. Not having something that I want is already dissatisfaction. I already created dissatisfaction because of wanting something. Now I do something and try to get it, I do many things subtly or coarsely and then I get it. I have it. Am I satisfied? Not necessarily, because many times I don't like it anymore when I have it. Only the other side is greener. When I don't have it, I like it very much, but when I have it, nothing special.
Even if I like it, even when I feel satisfied I get the thought, "This is very nice, I shouldn't lose it." We get fear. I shouldn't lose it, I might lose it. If I like it so much, then other people might like it also. The fear comes and as long as the fear is there I'm not satisfied and happy, because I have fear of losing it. I have this fear of losing until I lose it, I can't get rid of the fear. Either I don't want it anymore or I have the fear of losing it and if I lose it, then I have another form of problem: the problem of having lost something, grief. Even something is very nice, wonderful, if my way of seeing, reacting and grasping is like that, it can be a problem, not to mention something not nice. Therefore it's not about having but about the way I grasp. Meditation is a way to kind of learn how to let that way of grasping change.
Usually we grasp: this is nice, this is not nice. But even the good, pleasurable experience is not really making me satisfied, because as soon as it goes we feel: "How can I get another one?" That's addiction. What meditation does, is learning how to let many kind of experiences come, and how to let them go. If one can do that, when experiences come, it doesn't matter, good or bad experience, they are all coming and going anyway. If I can let them go also as they come and go anyway, if I can totally accept it, then I learn about myself more.
The experience comes and goes. If it's nice, nice. If it's not nice, it's very nice that I can make it go. Then I learn how to deal with that and how to free myself from problems I created with grasping. Whatever I experience, whatever emotion comes, it doesn't totally overcome me. To do that, learning how to do that is the main thing in meditation; to be relaxed.
To learn how to relax and be in this moment is important, because if I'm only in the past and future, I'm reacting. If I'm totally now - now is moving and changing. Now never stays. Now - gone. Kick, klick, klick. It's not noooow. After one moment that now is past. Therefore I can be totally open and flexible. The meditation is an effort to learn how to be myself in the moment, as I am now, not just holding onto something in the past expecting something, but just completely experientially learning how to be natural, how to be yourself. This is the beginning, if you can do that, then wisdom is not very far, because it's all about learning about yourself. Of course it is not that simple but that's how you approach.
I don't mean to say you should not study. Studying is also learning and we human beings are very intellectual, we have to use [our brain]. We are so intellectual that it is very difficult to be free from concepts, to be really totally natural, experiential. We are so intellectual and conceptual. And we mix this - sometimes we think this is how it really is, when it actually is lots of concepts. Like if you ask me, "Who are you?" I tell you I am Ringu Tulku, but is it so? All this is given by somebody else: a name. "You are this. You are Tibetan." Okay, but I don't know. I think I am Ringu Tulku, but actually it is something put in me by other people. Even basic things like that, so much I got from others, but I think it is my experience, it's very difficult to go beyond what is experience and what is just concepts given by others mostly, or what I gathered from others. I am like this and like that. Therefore studying is important, because it helps to understand, what is influence from others. Some concepts help me to scrutinize and clear other concepts. I use concepts to work on other concepts.
Study, reflection. Study is about learning exactly what somebody is saying. Like if I study Buddha, great master. I should be just trying to learn without putting my own judgement. Usually we don't do that. Even before somebody finishes saying something I already made judgement and decided what to say to that. This is why there is like boxing going on in our mind. If I say something and you don't like, you knock me over. People tell me, "You are very good because you said exactly how I think." If I say something different from what you think, what you do? Some people say "I don't understand, it doesn't fit to my own way of thinking." Then I have only two choices: I cut the edges. And you say, "But it must be like this." "All right, then."
This is not studying, one doesn't learn anything new. Studying is not changing what you receive. You accept what you receive and understand it. Then you reflect.
Once I understand, then I judge that experience. I don't accept everything. It's very important. Don't analyze or judge before you understand, otherwise you won't understand. Once you understood, then you judge, you have to, in order to get experience. To analyze is very essential, intellectually or experientially. If I don't understand and I accept something [just like that], it doesn't work. That's why Buddha said, "Even my word you should not accept, because it is said by a very realised person or because everybody agrees with that. You have to analyze and examine like a goldsmith examines his gold."
You must use many methods. First you rub it because if it's not gold at all, you can see, then you cut it and melt it. In the same way you analyze your experience, make experiments. Then only you accept it. This is because it is not about concepts but about experience. Therefore, if you don't understand it deeply, it can't transform you. Even if somebody was saying the truth, if you don't understand it, it doesn't matter. Therefore we need to really understand it deeply and experience it. We need to analyze and understand deeply and that includes the experiential side also, not only in a kind of debating way, but experientially. That's why we have lots of studies as well as meditation, these have to be put together. Not only intellectually, but intellectually as well as experientially. That is why in developing wisdom we talk about three things: study, reflection and meditation.
And compassion - I am going to talk about compassion tomorrow more, because I'm asked to talk about Tara, Tara is about compassion. So that much is enough for tonight and if you have any questions, you can ask.
Question: How can I be sure that wisdom helps me to achieve happiness or that happiness means no problems, no worry in my life? How can I be sure about that?
Ringu Tulku: That is something that even little bit of understanding, I think, can help us to have less problems and thereby we can see how it helps. For instance, even changing of the attitude little bit one example is very common: we have a very strong tendency to concentrate fully on our problems. If I have one problem only, my mind is totally occupied by that. It comes up again and again in my mind. Until it is solved I am not satisfied. We think that when that is solved, then I will be very happy. But it is not like that. If I solve that problem, another problem comes, and another. We keep on having problems and solving them. Now if I can understand that well, living with problems is a process in life, something we have to do. It's something that happens, it's not that there will be a time when all the problems are solved and then I will be happy. If I understand that, which is a fact, then what I can do is: "Okay, there is a problem, but I don't have to stop having any kind of good things in my life, enjoying my life till that problem is solved, because if I do that, I will never have any enjoyment."
Therefore I have to at the same time when I have this problem, when it's part of my life, I have to also see there are lots of other things happening in my life. Good things in my life. If I see this, the problem stays, it doesn't go away, but yet it becomes smaller, because I'm able to see other things, concentrate on other things and place my awareness elsewhere. That way the problem becomes comparatively smaller. Otherwise I only see the problem, and that is how many people become very depressed, because they only see a problem after problem, and they don't see anything else in life.
By understanding this - it's just one of the truths, if you see this, it helps to see things much better and therefore changes our life. This is just one example. Wisdom is about seeing the truth, about being able to experience things as they really are. When you can do that, see that, it changes your way of experiencing things. Because most problems come from fear. Fear is a very strong factor in our life. Paranoia comes from fear. Most of our suffering and pain is related to some kind of fear. Therefore, if we can see exactly what we are, we lessen that fear. If you can accept deeply what you see, then you have no more fear.
Even if I understand deeply the way things are - I give you another example: expectations. Many of our problems are coming from expectations. If we see things clearly we don't need to have that kind of problems: I haven't I shouldn't I should have Even for little things we can see the more we understand things clearly the fewer problems we have. Of course then the more understanding and experience we have, the more we will understand. I think it's not very difficult to see the relationship between seeing things clearly and deeply and our fear and how we react.
For instance we are very afraid of security. We do a lot to secure ourselves. But when we look at it deeply, there is nothing we can really make secure. However much we secure and ensure, we will get old and die. There is nothing we can really totally secure in our life. Now, if we deeply understand that, then we don't try to secure, we know there is nothing we can secure, but that's the way it is, in a way it's okay. There is a song of Milarepa, he said - I think it's very important: "I was afraid of death and run away to the mountains. There I reflected on the uncertainty of death so much that I lost the fear of death. Now, even if death comes, I have no fear."
This is one of the things, it's like if you see that this is the truth exactly, completely, you lose your fear, because you can understand it, you can experience it, you see what you are, actually. In a way you see yourself nothing to be destroyed, because yourself is changing all the time. If you see yourself as a process, what is there to be changed? No need to be afraid of change or feel insecurity. And if you are not afraid of anything, there are no more problems.
The Meditational Deity Tara - A Teaching on Compassion
Teaching given in Helsinki 1.7.2004 (1.7.part1.mp3) (1.7.part2.mp3)
Sang-je chö dang tso-ji cho nam la
chang-chub bar-du da ni chab-su-chi
da gi jin sok jin-pe sö-nam ji
dro la pen-chir sang-je dru-par sho.
In the Buddha, Dharma and noblest Sangha
I take refuge until Enlightenment is reached.
Through the virtue generated by generosity and other virtues
may I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of beings.
Unselfish motivation, bodhicitta, Four Limitless Thoughts:
Sem-chen tam-che de-wa dang de-we ju dang den-par jur-chig
dug-nal dang dug-nal chi ju dang dral-war jur-chig.
Dug-nal me-pei de-wa dam-pa dan min dral-var jur-tsig
nje ring cha dan dang dral-vei tan-njom chen-po la ne par jur-tsig.
May all beings be happy and create the causes of happiness.
May they all be free from suffering and creating the causes of suffering.
May they find that noble happiness which can never be tainted by suffering.
May they attain universal, impartial compassion, free of worldly bias towards friends and enemies.
Today we will talk about Tara. This is the drawing of Tara. Tara is a bodhisattva, one of the greatest ones. Bodhisattva is a very important concept in Mahayana Buddhism. Bodhi means enlightened and sattva means "one who has the courage". It's little bit like somebody who makes a promise, a commitment to bring the highest form of liberation, highest form of attainment to all the beings. That's a bodhisattva. This concept is extremely important especially in Mahayana Buddhism.
Usually in Buddhism, we all know - it seems many of you know the prayers we just recited in Tibetan. First is refuge and bodhicitta, and the second is the prayer of all the limitlessnesses, which are very important prayers, important part of this practice, refuge and bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the inspiration of a bodhisattva. Generally in Buddhism we have these three. If you look at the Buddhist world, generally there are many, but you find three groups combined together: Theravadin, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Theravada Buddhists are those Buddhists who are Sri Lankan, Thailand, Burma, these areas. The monks wear yellow clothes, and their main sources of teachings are the fundamental sutras, teachings like Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. These teachings are universal, they are accepted by Theravadins, Mahayanists and in Vajrayana. They are the basic Buddhist teachings and there is no controversy.
The Mahayana Buddhists are mainly in Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam; these are the places where Mahayana Buddhism is practiced. The main difference between the Mahayana and Hinayana, or what we call Theravada, are the bodhisattvas. In the stories of the Buddha, from whichever tradition it comes, before he became a Buddha, he was referred to as Bodhisattva. It is said "The Bodhisattva went and did this, the Bodhisattva did that " But it doesn't explain what really is a Bodhisattva. In the general teachings of the Buddha it is not really explained what a Bodhisattva is, whether anybody can become a Bodhisattva or not and if you can, what you should do for becoming a Bodhisattva. What are the precepts and the training of a Bodhisattva. This is not explained. This is explained in the Mahayana. Mahayana Buddhism is the explanation of the Bodhisattvas. Therefore Mahayana is sometimes called the Bodhisattvayana. Yana means vehicle. Therefore Bodhisattva is somebody - it's very much based on compassion.
It's not to say that in the general Theravada or Hinayana Buddhism there is no compassion, it is very much there. The prayer that we did just now, the second prayer is called Four Limitless Thoughts. It's sometimes called Four Brahmaviharas. These are the general teachings. Theravadins practice this and Mahayanists and Vajrayanists, too. These are limitless loving-kindness, limitless compassion, limitless joy, limitless rejoicing and limitless equality. These four things are practised by everybody. Therefore the compassion and loving-kindness is all over the Buddhist world, there is no-one who doesn't have it, but in the Mahayana it is more a commitment. It's more of a determination that my purpose in doing whatever, whether it's Buddhist practice, study or whatever you do, it is not only for myself but for all the beings. This is the Bodhisattvas' idea. The Bodhisattvas' idea is bodhicitta, special compassion: limitless compassion. It has four aspects.
Firstly it is for all beings. I wish to be free of suffering and I know that all beings, whether it is human being or not, animals, all the beings do not like to suffer. Therefore I wish that there is nobody excluded, I wish that everybody's suffering is finished. I don't exclude anybody, but wish that everybody throughout space, where-ever there are beings who can feel and experience, who don't want to suffer, everybody equally I wish to be free from it.
Second one is that I wish all of them to be free from all kinds of suffering, gross, intense problems and pain, greed and sufferings, or not so intense but very subtle problems, every kind of problems. Both intense and more subtle, different kind of problem I want them to be free from. First is all beings, second is free from suffering.
The third is that it's not that I want them to be just free prom pain and problems. I include all, including myself of course, everybody throughout space where-ever there is life, and we don't know where there are beings. There is no limits to the skies, therefore there can be limitless universes, and in all the limitless universes and worlds there can be beings. I wish all these beings not only to be free from suffering but I wish them the highest and best form of happiness and wellbeing. I wish them to be most joyful, deepest and highest form of satisfaction. It's not that I wish myself to be completely free and others to be little bit free. I wish to everybody what I wish it for myself.
And the fourth one is that I wish that not only for a short time, to have a good time for one day or to take them for a holiday for two weeks. I wish them everlasting happiness.
These we call four limitlessnesses, because there could not be a more benevolent intention. If somebody has this intention, and not only intention but says that this is the highest goal, the highest dream and most important, final, ultimate goal. And not only one should leave it as a dream, because it's most important thing, because it is the final, the ultimate thing. Therefore, if I pray or dedicate or do something, it should ultimately lead to that goal. Whether it takes very long time, countless aeons, doesn't matter. It can take all my efforts life after life, long, long time, that is my final goal. I work for that, it is my commitment from now onwards my direction, my purpose of life. If somebody does that genuinely, that is called a Bodhisattva.
So Tara was a great Bodhisattva like that. It is said that long time ago, many worlds before According to Buddhism worlds, universes, develop, and then the beings develop on that. The beings live on that for very long time, until the world becomes impossible to live in. Then the world gets destroyed and dissolved. But that is not the end of beings because when one world becomes impossible to live in, the beings go to another world. Therefore there can be many millions worlds coming into being and dissolving. It is a continuous process.
Therefore we can say many worlds ago there was this princess called Tara, and seh made a great commitment. She was very compassionate, very concerned of all the beings, and she made a promise to help one hundred thousand beings every day, and as long as all beings have not become totally enlightened, free and have attained the highest peace and happiness, she would never herself become a Buddha. And not only that, but she would always give protection and appear in a form of a woman. This is said to have been commitment of Tara and since then she has been taking many different forms, even one time one time thousands of emanations in all different forms helping beings.
Therefore it is also said that she is the Mother of all the Buddhas, because she has been there so long, helping all the Buddhas reaching enlightenment. Therefore she is considered as the highest ideal of a Bodhisattva. Buddhists, especially Mahayana Buddhists pray to her, take her as their ideal and seek her blessings and advice. Also themselves they try to practice, so that they become Tara. This is very important from the Buddhist point of view. We look at this in many different levels. There is the historical Tara, you can call mythological Tara, it's not written history, it happened so long time ago.
The mythological Tara is very important, it tells us what she represents, what she inspires, the compassion. When we think about Tara with this story we understand. We can't think of Tara without immense determination, limitless and equal compassion, helping all. That is the inspiration, I would like to become like that, because there is no more benevolent way of being than that.
This kind of Bodhisattvas' limitless compassionate attitude is a part of all the enlightened beings' understanding. You can call it in a modern way an archetype. The compassion, the mother concept, that's one way of looking at it. Another important thing is to realise the Tara within us. Because when we say "Tara", it's not necessarily someone out there. It's the compassion and wisdom that is naturally within all of us.
There are many Tara practices. What we do in the practice is that we get inspired by the mythological Tara, we try to develop a type of Tara within ourselves and realise our own true nature, our own human essence, which is the compassion and wisdom together. We say we practice Tara. How can I practice Tara? It means I become, I develop and realise the wisdom and compassion that Tara realised. I don't become somebody else, who is Tara, but I realise my own true compassion and wisdom. That's my inner Tara. Therefore when we talk about Tara, there are these outer, inner and sometimes we call secret aspects. When I say I have realised Tara it's not that I have seen Tara, it means I have realised my own enlightened Buddha Nature, the basic goodness, compassion.
This is very important. When you talk about Buddha Nature, every being has it; it means there is actually nothing wrong with us. The way we originally, naturally are, there is nothing wrong, we don't have any original sin, we are perfectly okay. But we are not really okay, we don't truly and correctly see ourselves, fully. Therefore we talk about realisation and wisdom. It's not about changing ourselves, it's not about changing anything, it's about knowing exactly what we are so that we understand ourselves as we actually are; that's wisdom, enlightenment. From Buddhist point of view enlightenment is not getting anything new, that we did not have before, it's about learning, discovering ourselves, which we did not discover before. That is the main Buddhist argument why enlightenment has to be possible. It's not about getting something that is not there. It's just about learning about ourselves, and not something that is not there but what exactly is there. It's just about seeing things as they are. We are not seeing and experiencing things as they really are, that is the confusion, ignorance. Are we seeing things as they actually are? We are not, because when we look at, we don't know what we are, we don't know exactly, what is our mind, where is our mind, we don't know about our emotions, mind and consciousness. We are not clear about these things, what they are exactly.
That is not seeing things clearly. If you see things extremely clearly, then there are no doubts, you don't need to depend on judgement of others. When someone says "This is very nice," you ask, "Oh is it?" If someone says, "You are not good at all," you think, "Oh, am I not good at all? That's very bad." We depend so much on others and that's why we so much seek others' appreciation. I need their appreciation and praises. Why? - Because I don't really know. I don't understand myself. Id I understood myself really exactly, if you say I am good, it doesn't matter, because I know! If you say I'm not good, I don't mind, because I exactly know.
I don't know; that is why we are confused. This is just one example. We need to see ourselves clearly and completely. When that happens, when we see ourselves extremely clearly and accurately, that is what we call enlightenment. Yesterday there was this question: "How do you know if it solves problems?" It doesn't really solve any problems. It's not about solving problems. If I see myself clearly, it doesn't solve any problems. It doesn't change any of that, but it changes my way of reacting. If someone says to me, "You are very bad," I might see myself very bad, but if I see myself very clearly, I don't need to see so or be unhappy, because I know what I am.
It doesn't stop people staying bad or good things to me, but the way I react to that is changed. Before I wasn't very clear, my eyes were not open, I could not see things clearly, therefore I was afraid, I did not know what was happening, I was in the darkness, but when I am clear, I have the wisdom how to react. Maybe it doesn't change everything out there, but the way I react to things can change. It is a personal transformation.
Anyway, this is the compassionate way of Tara. Of course compassion and wisdom go together. This is very important. When wisdom becomes strong the more clearly you can see what you are more clearly. The less I have to be concerned about myself. My fear and grasping on things diminishes, and my attachment and aversion. They are the two sides of the same coin, other side is attachment: this is very nice, other side is aversion: I don't like this, it's very bad. When one is there the other one is there. Attachment is difficult to deal with and sometimes it is not easy to understand. Sometimes it is misunderstood.
When we say attachment and aversion are something negative, people have wrong understanding that they have to be completely neutral, without sensitivity and feelings. That's not the case we have just talked about compassion, which is the most important thing. If that was the case, compassion should not be, because compassion is a feeling. Attachment and compassion have lots of differences.
The main difference between attachment and compassion is the focus. In compassion the focus is on others. In attachment the focus is selfish: myself. I like it, this is nice, I want it. When I love someone and think of his or her welfare then it is true love, unconditional love. Unconditional love is compassion, conditional love is attachment. Conditional love is for example like this: I love him if he loves me. If he doesn't love me, I hate him. I am the most important, therefore, if he or she doesn't do exactly what I want I hate him. Love can turn into hatred in one second, this is attachment. If my love is for the benefit of all others, the wellbeing of that person is more important, then it is not conditional but true love. Whether he does exactly what I want or not doesn't matter, compassion is unconditional. Compassion is wishing others well. The more wisdom I have, the more I understand myself, the less selfish, less self-centred I become. Being selfish is not good to anyone.
The more wisdom I develop, the more compassion grows. Also, because I have more wisdom, I have found my path, a way to deal with my problems. Therefore I don't need to depend on others, I'm not looking for support, I became independent. I have found my own purpose. The more wisdom grows I become free, less frightened, less insecure. There is nothing more I need to get. I'm not running after or running away from things, because I know. Then there is nothing much more to do but to work for the benefit of others. So the more wisdom grows the more compassion grows. Aversion and attachment are two sides of a coin and wisdom and compassion are also two sides of a coin. Aversion (running away) and attachment (running after) should lessen and wisdom and compassion should grow.
Also the more compassion I have the more wisdom. When I have compassion I don't have too much to cling on, I become more open and less self-centred. Thinking more of the welfare of others means opening up. Therefore many times in the practices it is said: if you don't know how much your wisdom has grown, look at your compassion. If you are becoming more compassionate then you are on the right path, but if you are becoming less compassionate, even if you think your wisdom is very well, you don't know.
You can have many experiences, but the mind, the consciousness is something very strange. It has many arisings, emotions, very vibrant. And that is okay, that is something very important also. We can have feelings; that is how our mind is, naturally clear and vibrant, lots of happening, lots of arisings. All six senses: we see things, we hear things, mind always thinks, there is nothing wrong in that. But how we use these experiences makes the difference. We can use them so that they give us lots of trouble. We can use them in a certain way that is very enjoyable but we don't need to fall into trouble, suffering and pain. That is where the difference is between liberation and samsara. To know how we carry our consciousness, awareness, senses, our experiences.
This is very subtle and very important, because if you don't know this then you try to get something out of yourself and get something new, but it's not possible, we don't have to totally get rid of ourselves, and have something else instead. Also you don't have to your stop your thoughts and emotions, nothing stops. We have to learn how to use those things that are naturally in us in a such a way, that they don't disturb us. That's why I was saying yesterday that thoughts are okay, even in meditation. It's not necessary to have no thoughts. Otherwise you don't hear anything, you don't see anything Sometimes becomes like that but not necessarily.
The main thing is how you react to that. If you learn that, then you have no problem. But it's not easy, it's a subtle balance, not easy to learn, because it is a practical thing, it's not intellectual but something we have to learn through experience. They say we don't understand this because of four reasons: it is too near, too simple, too good and too deep . It's too simple because it's just that, just the way we are, that's what we have to learn, it's too simple sometimes. We think enlightenment somewhere else. It's too near because it's just ourselves, our own experience now.
But then it becomes too deep because it's something we can't handle. We see things in certain dimensions only, and our concepts have created a very strong image of the way we are and the way things are. And if that is the only way we can look at things, it's very difficult for us to get rid of this conceptual image. We can't look from the other side. So it becomes too deep and then, it's too good. We don't know how to be satisfied. Every time we try to do something, we make it a struggle. Even we say, "Relax," it's like: "OKAY!" We only know how to do through efforts, we don't know how to do without efforts.
I saw an interesting film about a ghost. The ghost was trying to save his girlfriend and wanted to pick her, but his arms went through and he could not pick the person. Then the ghost went into the underground and there was another ghost. This ghost could snap newspapers from people's hands. He advised that because ghosts don't have hands they have to do it with their mind. So he exercised with his mind and it was very difficult because we are used to use with hands. He had hands but they did not work. So this is how we have so used in doing in a certain way with effort; we don't know how to do without effort and we don't know how to relax and how to let be. We are so used to make an effort and how can we make an effort to relax when relaxing is not making effort? It's very subtle. This can take a long time to learn, not necessarily always, but sometimes it is takes long time to learn, not because it's difficult, but we are not used to it. That's why we make a struggle to learn to relax.
[Gape on the tape, re-translation from Finnish: In the Tara practice it is most important to have the Bodhisattva motivation. It arises by understanding that we naturally wish good to ourselves and others. We know we want to be happy, so it's the same with everyone. We consciously try to develop this natural quality of ours. Perhaps each and every individual does not have it, but most do have it. When we know we are doing good, we are also aware that there is a meaning to our life. If we do bad things we somehow know that our life is without real meaning. We do not have to make an effort to become compassionate. Sometimes people feel it is too much, they don't want to become a doormat for others.]
Compassion is a general wish that I wish well for myself and others and I don't wish bad to anybody. Whether somebody takes advantage of me or not, is not the thing. Of course people will take advantage, if they can, why not? If they can. They can try, there is nothing wrong. It's not to expect that if I am good everybody will be good. Everybody has their problems: anger, attachment, aversion, ignorance, jealousy, pride, hatred, miserliness, greed, everything is there. We have Buddha Nature, but we are not Buddhas. Buddha Nature means possibility, the potential to become good. But they are not Buddhas, they are samsaric beings. Like me, like you, we have all this.
This is extremely important to understand. Because beings are like that we have compassion and want to help them. If they were completely perfect then there was nothing I needed to do. Why should I help somebody who is perfect? I have to understand and see the weaknesses of others and accept them. I don't have to look people with pink glasses and say everybody is perfect. I have to do the same with myself also, I have problems and weaknesses, and it's okay. It's not okay, but that's where I have to start with. Therefore I want to transform.
If I don't have any problems, what is there to transform? When you understand this, then of course the compassion is because of this; I see the problems and weaknesses and therefore I have compassion. Therefore, if somebody does something wrong, if somebody doesn't do exactly I want, or somebody doesn't do everything perfectly, I don't have to be upset. Why should I be upset? If somebody tries to take advantage of me, so what? Let him try! And it's up to me how much I let him or her to take advantage. If I say, "This much advantage they can take, if it's good for them, let it be." If I think I can't do more than that then I say, "I can't do more than that." So what? I don't need to be upset and angry and feel very bad because he or she tries to take advantage of me. It's nothing wrong with that. When I see this way, when I accept the problems and weaknesses of others, I can be free, I see things and I do whatever I can to help.
When I don't expect too much, I can't be totally upset. If I expect that everybody will be totally nice, kind and wonderful, then I'm sure to be disappointed, because people are not like that, they can't be. But if I understand right from the beginning: well people have their own problems and weaknesses, so I can't expect too much, I can have many pleasant surprises, because people can be very kind, nice and good.
To see things clearly, even the problems is very important. Otherwise you have wrong expectations, which is very bad. And this happens even in the - especially I think I should mention this, because I have a strong feeling about it. Lots of people in the West - I don't know whether you have it in here or not, Finland is different country and each country has its own characteristics. Of course each person is totally different from each other. There are lots of similarities and there are lots of differences everywhere. All human beings are same, actually, on a certain level. But each country has its own When you go to embassies you see the characteristics of the county. In Indian embassy you find exactly India: you have to fill up the form and the form will not be available, missing something and you have to go there three times, and then the person you are dealing with this is not always there. One day you miss something and the next day they don't find it And you go to German Embassy, where they ask you to fill four forms and make four copies of everything you have. In American Embassy they ask you to make an appointment through internet!
Anyway, what I was trying to say is that lots of people in the West have self image problem, less confidence. This is also I think because of expectations. If I expect too much from myself, if I expect myself to be completely nice, perfect, beautiful and I see myself that it's not like that, then I feel I'm no good. But if I see myself not so good and then realise I am better than that, I feel very good. So this expectation is something difficult, everything is comparative, because everybody is very different. So this is very important, but that's not the point here.
The practice of Tara. This is Vajrayana practice, what we call a Deity practice. It's not a Deity actually, but a method. It's about working on our own, with wisdom and compassion. There are many different ways in working this way. One of the ways is through the Vajrayana, sometimes we call it "using the result as the path". It has also many different levels, all the practices have different levels. One can practice whichever level one can connect with. This is very important. It's not that "this is the Buddhist practice, take it or leave it."
In a way Buddhism is very complicated and complex, because there are so many different levels. Whatever level you can connect with or understand, what you think is useful, that you should do. It's not that if you practice Buddhism you need to accept or take everything in Buddhism, you can only take things which you think are good for you and which you can understand and experience. When people ask: "Which is the best practice for me?" I say, "The best practice for you is the one you understand very well." Because if you don't understand it, you don't know how to practice it. And if you don't know how to practice it, you won't practice it. And if you don't practice it, there will be no result. But if you practice what you understand, you will do it because you know how to do it and it will have its own effect.
The main thing in the Vajrayana is using the result as the path. It has the inspiration of Tara, an ideal, but then there is something else: you try to visualise yourself as Tara. There are two stages. One is a feeling of a presence. I give you one example. There you have Tara, concept of a lady who is completely compassionate, limitlessly compassionate for all beings and she has been trying to save and help beings for aeons. And not only compassion but she has the wisdom, equanimity and power to help, the healing power.
Now we have that concept and feel this is Tara in front for instance. How would you feel? You would feel very good. When you think of a person who is completely compassionate, wise and has the willingness to help, when you focus on that, you can't think of Tara, Buddha or a great being without thinking about those qualities. Therefore while imagining the presence of that being, you are naturally acquainting yourself to those qualities, you have to feel them in a subtle way. Therefore you are actually working on your compassion.
We don't visualise Tara as an ordinary person but with all those qualities and not just as one being, but as a field. Not only Tara as a person, but all the great enlightened beings throughout the history, immemorial times. When we talk about Deities or Bodhisattvas and Buddhas in Buddhism, we are not talking only about Buddhist Buddhas. Actually Buddha was not Buddhist anyway. Buddha was before Buddhism. Everybody who is enlightened, who is full of wisdom and compassion, is a Buddha. There is nothing like just Buddhists. Buddhists have no copyright for Buddha. Every enlightened being with compassion and wisdom is included. When we think about enlightened beings, we think about them all. We don't know them all, but we feel they are there.
When we feel their presence, it's receiving and usually when I receive lots of love, then I can give love. People who receive lots of love from their parents become more lovable, they can give more love, that's usually how it is. But how would we receive? Because I feel - therefore it's my feeling that is the most important, others' giving is not so important. Sometimes I can have a mother who is very loving and I can receive lots of love, but sometimes she is not necessarily completely loving, but if I can feel loving, then I receive love. Therefore, if I can feel that with Tara or whoever, then I receive love. When I receive love I can give love, I develop. But in this practice it's not only that I feel loving and compassionate Tara, but I feel that loving-kindness towards all beings. This is the practice, the visualisation, imagination I make. I see Tara and all the great beings, the Bodhisattvas in front of me. I feel their presence and vibration, I try to feel their blessings.
And then I feel all sentient beings around, everybody, including my near and dear ones and including my enemies with whom I did not make so good connection, with whom I have nasty connections, especially them if front of me. And all the beings around, and then I feel that I wish to receive the blessing of warmth, kindness and healing to all of them, I feel this healing to everybody, not only to myself and my near and dear ones, but to everybody, and then I feel everybody is transformed. When I feel that everybody is transformed and feeling good, I can't feel that myself. Who is feeling that everybody is feeling good? Therefore I am exercising on my feeling compassion and wisdom. I don't know exactly what wisdom is, but I am in a way looking for it. I can't go deeply into it, but that's the practice, using the result as a path. Vajrayana practice is like that.
Some people wish to receive refuge. So I will say few words about it.
Question: Would you also give Bodhisattva vow?
RT: It was not on the schedule.
Q: We wish you would come back soon to give it!
RT: Actually there is not so much difference between Bodhisattva vow and Mahayana refuge. Refuge, the word, is little bit strange, the translation. We become like refugee, it's not exactly the meaning. Taking refuge from Buddhist point of view is like finding a purpose and a path. The purpose - we have three things: going refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Finding purpose is going refuge to Buddha. It is not like asking for help: "Buddha please save me." That's not the case. Going refuge is like making a commitment to myself.
Like we talked before: I want to be free from pain and suffering, I want to bring out my Buddha Nature or my best qualities. And I want to transform myself and help all other beings to transform. That would be my purpose and goal. I will work on that. I will not be able to do it in a short time, but that will be my destination, direction. I will try to learn first to work on that step by step and that will be my direction, my commitment. Let's go for refuge to the Buddha. Going for refuge to the Buddha means that there is a possibility for me to transform. If I feel I cannot transform, I cannot change, I cannot become better, there is no use in going refuge. There is no use in anything, actually. But if I feel that there is a possibility for me to change, transform and develop, then there is going for refuge to the Buddha. Buddha is the goal, the highest, enlightened, fully transformed saint, bringing out your finest destination. Wanting to do that, that's the purpose. Not for myself but for others also. Let's go for refuge to the Buddha.
The purpose is important because then you have the right direction. If I have no purpose, I'm lost. If I don't know where I'm going, I'm lost even if I'm going to the right direction, because don't know I have no purpose. The purpose is to transform myself, to help others to transform, to bring out my best qualities and slowly lessen my negative qualities.
Then you go for refuge to the Dharma. Naturally if I go for refuge for Buddha, I will go for refuge for Dharma, because if I have to transform and develop myself, I have to know how to do that. And the Dharma is the path, means, methods. So what do you mean by going for refuge to the Dharma? I can't say, "Oh Dharma, please come and help." What it means is that I will learn different ways, means and methods how to transform myself. And then I would like to use that, I make the decision that I will try to learn different ways and means to work on that, how to transform, and then work on myself. I use that, learn and practise that - that kind of decision is going for refuge to the Dharma.
Once you do that, then you have to go for refuge to the Sangha. Sangha is the people who have taken refuge to the Dharma. The highest Sangha is Buddha, Buddha is Sangha. The Buddha is Sangha, because Buddha has the highest, fullest experience of the Dharma. And then from Buddha downwards, anybody who has certain experience, certain understanding, transformation, they are all Sangha. Therefore Sangha can be also one person, can be many people. Going refuge to Sangha is not to look up to somebody like an idol, but it means to promise to learn from people who have certain understanding and experience, to learn from that. Because, as I said before, Dharma is not just a concept and information, but an experience. Therefore I have to learn it from beings, who have some experience and understanding, and also going for refuge to the Sangha means I want to be influenced positively, I let myself to be influenced positively, because we people are very easily influenced.
Human beings are very easily influenced. Usually it is said that the diagram of the ability to be influenced is like a bow. It is attached to the string little bit less that one percent, 0,001 % here and here. In one end it is attached a little and let's say those are the people that cannot be influenced, they are very bad. In the other end it is attached same amount, and those are the people, who cannot be influenced either, they are very, very good. But rest of the people, 99,99 % can be influenced by each other. Therefore we have to be very careful how we let ourselves to be influenced. Going for refuge to the Sangha means that we promise to ourselves that I try to be influenced in a positive way and try not to be influenced in a negative way.
So if I do these things I am practising a spiritual path, I'm practising Dharma. We can say we are practising Buddhism but we don't usually say that, we say we are practising Dharma. Dharma is righteousness, goodness. I do three things: I have a goal, a purpose of life, it doesn't mean I don't have any other purposes. Then I try to learn how to become better, how to make things good for myself and for others and then I try to do it by letting good things to influence myself and taking less negative influence. If I take that as my way of life, I become a better person. And that is taking refuge. Taking refuge is not just like once taken and then finished. It's something that you work on, it's a path, a way of life. We try more or less, it's not that we have to always work so hard, we take it lightly, as a general direction. It's not a specific commitment, it's a general commitment.
That's also why we take refuge as a kind of ceremony. It's a memory, a reference point. That's why we also give a name in the ceremony, just as a reference that I'm inspired now, like I take refuge today, I'm inspired and I want to benefit other people, transformation etc. But tomorrow I'm not inspired anymore. You lose the inspiration. Then I start to do all sort of things which I shouldn't be doing. And when I find myself doing that, I remind myself: "Oh, I have taken refuge! I didn't take refuge just without thinking. I thought about it, I understood it, I decided not lightly, because it's good for me and good for others. Therefore I shouldn't do this, because it's not good for me, it's not going to lead me anywhere good. Therefore I should not." It's a reminder. I remember my teacher and the incident, the place or the name. That's why we also give a name. I'm so and so, doing wrong is not good for me. It's not that I made a promise, that's why I should not do it, it's not good for me and not good for others, so why should I do it, that's the understanding. So it's a reminder, a reference point.
That is why we are taking refuge and that is also why we repeat this prayer again and again, to remind ourselves. Before every practise, teaching and meditation, in the morning you say refuge prayer once or three times. It's reminding of the direction.
The ceremony is very simple and I will explain it while we go on with it. Those who want to take refuge they will give the names to Anila, and then I have to write a Tibetan name for you. The ceremony takes 10 - 15 minutes. Those who don't want to take it, they can either leave or just sit there and watch, there is no restriction.
Teachings © Rokpa Finlad ry
Prayer for the Long Life of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
DU-SUM JAL-WAY CHI- ZUK KAR-MA PAY
I pray for the long life of the one who accomplishes changeless activity,
TEN-PAY KUR-CHEN DEK-LA MI-NGAL-WA
Who has trained his being with the armour of pure conduct,
NAM-DA TSUL-TRIM GO-CHAY JYU-JANG SHING
And who is untiring in carrying the great burden of the Teachings
JYUR-MAY TRIN-LAY CHAY-PO SHAB-TEN MÖN
Of the Karmapa-embodiment of the Buddhas of the three times.
This brief long-life prayer for Tulku Karma Tsultrim Jyurme Trinlay was written, in accordance with the request of his pupils, by the Tai Situpa.
(The order of the words in the translation does not coincide with that in the phonetics, the English lines being in the reverse order to the Tibetan, Jyurmay Trinlay/changeless activity, Tsultrim/good conduct.)
The Benefits of Walking Meditation
At our meditation retreats, meditators practice mindfulness in four different postures. They practice mindfulness when walking, when standing, when sitting, and when lying down. They must sustain mindfulness at all times in whatever position they are in. The primary posture for mindfulness meditation is sitting with legs crossed, but because the human body cannot tolerate this position for many hours without changing, we alternate periods of sitting meditation with periods of walking meditation. Since walking meditation is very important, I would like to discuss its nature, its significance, and the benefits derived from its practice.
The practice of mindfulness meditation can be compared to boiling water. If one wants to boil water, one puts the water in a kettle, puts the kettle on a stove, and then turns the heat on. But if the heat is turned off, even for an instant, the water will not boil, even though the heat is turned on again later. If one continues to turn the heat on and off again, the water will never boil. In the same way, if there are gaps between the moments of mindfulness, one cannot gain momentum, and so one cannot attain concentration. That is why meditators at our retreats are instructed to practice mindfulness all the time that they are awake, from the moment they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night. Consequently, walking meditation is integral to the continuous development of mindfulness.
Unfortunately, I have heard people criticize walking meditation, claiming that they cannot derive any benefits or good results from it. But it was the Buddha himself who first taught walking meditation. In the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, the Buddha taught walking meditation two times. In the section called "Postures," he said that a monk knows "I am walking" when he is walking, knows "I am standing" when he is standing, knows "I am sitting" when he is sitting, and knows "I am lying down" when he is lying down. In another section called "Clear Comprehension," the Buddha said, "A monk applies clear comprehension in going forward and in going back." Clear comprehension means the correct understanding of what one observes. To correctly understand what is observed, a meditator must gain concentration, and in order to gain concentration, he must apply mindfulness. Therefore, when the Buddha said, "Monks, apply clear comprehension," we must understood that not only clear comprehension must be applied, but also mindfulness and concentration. Thus the Buddha was instructing meditators to apply mindfulness, concentration, and clear comprehension while walking, while "going forward and back." Walking meditation is thus an important part of this process.
Although it is not recorded in this sutta that the Buddha gave detailed and specific instructions for walking meditation, we believe that he must have given such instructions at some time. Those instructions must have been learned by the Buddha's disciples and passed on through successive generations. In addition, teachers of ancient times must have formulated instructions based on their own practice. At the present time, we have a very detailed set of instructions on how to practice walking meditation.
Let us now talk specifically about the practice of walking meditation. If you are a complete beginner, the teacher may instruct you to be mindful of only one thing during walking meditation: to be mindful of the act of stepping while you make a note silently in the mind, "stepping, stepping, stepping," or "left, right, left, right." You may walk at a slower speed than normal during this practice.
After a few hours, or after a day or two of meditation, you may be instructed to be mindful of two occurrences: (i) stepping, and (ii) putting down the foot, while making the mental note "stepping, putting down." You will try to be mindful of two stages in the step: "stepping, putting down; stepping, putting down." Later, you may be instructed to be mindful of three stages: (i) lifting the foot; (ii) moving or pushing the foot forward; and (iii) putting the foot down. Still later, you would be instructed to be mindful of four stages in each step: (i) lifting the foot; (ii) moving it forward; (iii) putting it down; and (iv) touching or pressing the foot on the ground. You would be instructed to be completely mindful and to make a mental note of these four stages of the foot's movement: "lifting, moving forward, putting down, pressing the ground."
At first meditators may find it difficult to slow down, but as they are instructed to pay close attention to all of the movements involved, and as they actually pay closer and closer attention, they will automatically slow down. They do not have to slow down deliberately, but as they pay closer attention, slowing down comes to them automatically. When driving on the freeway, one may be driving at sixty or seventy or even eighty miles per hour. Driving at that speed, one will not be able to read some of the signs on the road. If one wants to read those signs, it is necessary to slow down. Nobody has to say, "Slow down!" but the driver will automatically slow down in order to see the signs. In the same way, if meditators want to pay closer attention to the movements of lifting, moving forward, putting down, and pressing the ground, they will automatically slow down. Only when they slow down can they be truly mindful and fully aware of these movements.
Although meditators pay close attention and slow down, they may not see all of the movements and stages clearly. The stages may not yet be well-defined in the mind, and they may seem to constitute only one continuous movement. As concentration grows stronger, meditators will observe more and more clearly these different stages in one step; the four stages at least will be easier to distinguish. meditators will know distinctly that the lifting movement is not mixed with the moving forward movement, and they will know that the moving forward movement is not mixed with either the lifting movement or the putting down movement. They will understand all movements clearly and distinctly. Whatever they are mindful and aware of will be very clear in their minds.
As meditators carry on the practice, they will observe much more. When they lift their foot, they will experience the lightness of the foot. When they push the foot forward, they will notice the movement from one place to another. When they put the foot down, they will feel the heaviness of the foot, because the foot becomes heavier and heavier as it descends. When they put the foot on the ground, they will feel the touch of the heel of the foot on the ground. Therefore, along with observing lifting, moving forward, putting down, and pressing the ground, meditators will also perceive the lightness of the rising foot, the motion of the foot, the heaviness of the descending foot, and then the touching of the foot, which is the hardness or softness of the foot on the ground. When meditators perceive these processes, they are perceiving the four essential elements (in Pali, dhatu). The four essential elements are: the element of earth, the element of water, the element of fire, and the element of air. By paying close attention to these four stages of walking meditation, the four elements in their true essence are perceived, not merely as concepts, but as actual processes, as ultimate realities.
Let us go into a little more detail about the characteristics of the elements in walking meditation. In the first movement, that is, the lifting of the foot, meditators perceive lightness, and when they perceive lightness, they virtually perceive the fire element. One aspect of the fire element is that of making things lighter, and as things become lighter, they rise. In the perception of the lightness in the upward movement of the foot, meditators perceive the essence of the fire element. But in the lifting of the foot there is also, besides lightness, movement. Movement is one aspect of the air element. But lightness, the fire element, is dominant, so we can say that in the stage of lifting the fire element is primary, and the air element is secondary. These two elements are perceived by meditators when they pay close attention to the lifting of the foot.
The next stage is moving the foot forward. In moving the foot forward, the dominant element is the air element, because motion is one of the primary characteristics of the air element. So, when they pay close attention to the moving forward of the foot in walking meditation, meditators are virtually perceiving the essence of the air element.
The next stage is the movement of putting the foot down. When meditators put their foot down, there is a kind of heaviness in the foot. Heaviness is a characteristic of the water element, as is trickling and oozing. When liquid is heavy, it oozes. So when meditators perceive the heaviness of the foot, they virtually perceive the water element.
In pressing the foot on the ground, meditators will perceive the hardness or softness of the foot on the ground. This pertains to the nature of the earth element. By paying close attention to the pressing of the foot against the ground, meditators virtually perceive the nature of the earth element.
Thus we see that in just one step, meditators can perceive many processes. They can perceive the four elements and the nature of the four elements. Only those who practice can ever hope to see these things.
As meditators continue to practice walking meditation, they will come to realize that, with every movement, there is also the noting mind, the awareness of the movement. There is the lifting movement and also the mind that is aware of that lifting. In the next moment, there is the moving forward movement and also the mind that is aware of the movement. Moreover, meditators will realize that both the movement and the awareness arise and disappear in that moment. In the next moment, there is the putting down movement and so also the awareness of the movement, and both arise and disappear in that moment of putting the foot down on the ground. The same process occurs with the pressing of the foot: there is the pressing and the awareness of pressing. In this way, meditators understand that along with the movement of the foot, there are also the moments of awareness. The moments of awareness are called, in Pali, nama, mind, and the movement of the foot is called rupa, matter. So meditators will perceive mind and matter rising and disappearing at every moment. At one moment there is the lifting of the foot and the awareness of the lifting, and at the next moment there is the movement forward and the awareness of that movement, and so on. These can be understood as a pair, mind and matter, which arise and disappear at every moment. Thus meditators advance to the perception of the pairwise occurrence of mind and matter at every moment of observation, that is, if they pay close attention.
Another thing that meditators will discover is the role of intention in effecting each movement. They will realize that they lift their foot because they want to, move the foot forward because they want to, put it down because they want to, press the foot against the ground because they want to. That is, they realize that an intention precedes every movement. After the intention to lift, lifting occurs. They come to understand the conditionality of all of these occurrences - these movements never occur by themselves, without conditions. These movements are not created by any deity or any authority, and these movements never happen without a cause. There is a cause or condition for every movement, and that condition is the intention preceding each movement. This is another discovery meditators make when they pay close attention.
When meditators understand the conditionality of all movements, and that these movements are not created by any authority or any god, then they will understand that they are created by intention. They will understand that intention is the condition for the movement to occur. Thus the relationship of conditioning and conditioned, of cause and effect, is understood. On the basis of this understanding, meditators can remove doubt about nama and rupa by understanding that nama and rupa do not arise without conditions. With the clear understanding of the conditionality of things, and with the transcendence of doubt about nama and rupa, a meditator is said to reach the stage of a "lesser sotapanna. "
A sotapanna is a "stream-enterer," a person who has reached the first stage of enlightenment. A "lesser sotapanna" is not a true stream-enterer but is said to be assured of rebirth in a happy realm of existence, such as in the realms of human beings and devas. That is, a lesser sotapanna cannot be reborn in one of the four woeful states, in one of the hells or animal realms. This state of lesser sotapanna can be reached just by practicing walking meditation, just by paying close attention to the movements involved in a step. This is the great benefit of practicing walking meditation. This stage is not easy to reach, but once meditators reach it, they can be assured that they will be reborn in a happy state, unless, of course, they fall from that stage.
When meditators comprehend mind and matter arising and disappearing at every moment, then they will come to comprehend the impermanence of the processes of lifting the foot, and they will also comprehend the impermanence of the awareness of that lifting. The occurrence of disappearing after arising is a mark or characteristic by which we understand that something is impermanent. If we want to determine whether something is impermanent or permanent, we must try to see, through the power of meditation, whether or not that thing is subject to the process of coming into being and then disappearing. If our meditation is powerful enough to enable us to see the arising and disappearing of phenomena, then we can decide that the phenomena observed are impermanent. In this way, meditators observe that there is the lifting movement and awareness of that movement, and then that sequence disappears, giving way to the pushing forward movement and the awareness of pushing forward. These movements simply arise and disappear, arise and disappear, and this process meditators can comprehend by themselves - they do not have to accept this on trust from any external authority, nor do they have to believe in the report of another person.
When meditators comprehend that mind and matter arise and disappear, they understand that mind and matter are impermanent. When they see that they are impermanent, they next understand that they are unsatisfactory because they are always oppressed by constant arising and disappearing. After comprehending impermanence and the unsatisfactory nature of things, they observe that there can be no mastery over these things; that is, meditators realize that there is no self or soul within that can order them to be permanent. Things just arise and disappear according to natural law. By comprehending this, meditators comprehend the third characteristic of conditioned phenomena, the characteristic of anatta, the characteristic that things have no self. One of the meanings of anatta is no mastery - meaning that nothing, no entity, no soul, no power, has mastery over the nature of things. Thus, by this time, meditators have comprehended the three characteristics of all conditioned phenomena: impermanence, suffering, and the non-self nature of things - in Pali, anicca, dukkha, and anatta.
meditators can comprehend these three characteristics by observing closely the mere lifting of the foot and the awareness of the lifting of the foot. By paying close attention to the movements, they see things arising and disappearing, and consequently they see for themselves the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and non-self nature of all conditioned phenomena.
Now let us examine in more detail the movements of walking meditation. Suppose one were to take a moving picture of the lifting of the foot. Suppose further that the lifting of the foot takes one second, and let us say that the camera can take thirty-six frames per second. After taking the picture, if we were to look at the separate frames, we would realize that within what we thought was one lifting movement, there are actually thirty-six movements. The image in each frame is slightly different from the images in the other frames, though the difference will usually be so slight that we can barely notice it. But what if the camera could take one thousand frames per second? Then there would be one thousand movements in just one lifting movement, although the movements would be almost impossible to differentiate. If the camera could take one million frames per second - which may be impossible now, but someday may happen - then there would be one million movements in what we thought to be only one movement.
Our effort in walking meditation is to see our movements as closely as the camera sees them, frame by frame. We also want to observe the awareness and intention preceding each movement. We can also appreciate the power of the Buddha's wisdom and insight, by which he actually saw all of the movements. When we use the word "see" or "observe" to refer to our own situation, we mean that we see directly and also by inference; we may not be able to see directly all of the millions of movements as did the Buddha.
Before meditators begin practicing walking meditation, they may have thought that a step is just one movement. After meditation on that movement, they observe that there are at least four movements, and if they go deeper, they will understand that even one of these four movements consists of millions of tiny movements. They see nama and rupa, mind and matter, arising and disappearing, as impermanent. By our ordinary perception, we are not able to see the impermanence of things because impermanence is hidden by the illusion of continuity. We think that we see only one continuous movement, but if we look closely we will see that the illusion of continuity can be broken. It can be broken by the direct observation of physical phenomena bit by bit, segment by segment, as they originate and disintegrate. The value of meditation lies in our ability to remove the cloak of continuity in order to discover the real nature of impermanence. meditators can discover the nature of impermanence directly through their own effort.
After realizing that things are composed of segments, that they occur in bits, and after observing these segments one by one, meditators will realize that there is really nothing in this world to be attached to, nothing to crave for. If we see that something which we once thought beautiful has holes, that it is decaying and disintegrating, we will lose interest in it. For example, we may see a beautiful painting on a canvas. We think of the paint and canvas conceptually as a whole, solid thing. But if we were to put the painting under a powerful microscope, we would see that the picture is not solid - it has many holes and spaces. After seeing the picture as composed largely of spaces, we would lose interest in it and we would cease being attached to it. Modern physicists know this idea well. They have observed, with powerful instruments, that matter is just a vibration of particles and energy constantly changing - there is nothing substantial to it at all. By the realization of this endless impermanence, meditators understand that there is really nothing to crave for, nothing to hold on to in the entire world of phenomena.
Now we can understand the reasons for practicing meditation. We practice meditation because we want to remove attachment and craving for objects. It is by comprehending the three characteristics of existence - impermanence, suffering, and the non-self nature of things - that we remove craving. We want to remove craving because we do not want to suffer. As long as there is craving and attachment, there will always be suffering. If we do not want to suffer, we must remove craving and attachment. We must comprehend that all things are just mind and matter arising and disappearing, that things are insubstantial. Once we realize this, we will be able to remove attachment to things. As long as we do not realize this, however much we read books or attend talks or talk about removing attachment, we will not be able to get rid of attachment. It is necessary to have the direct experience that all conditioned things are marked by the three characteristics.
Hence we must pay close attention when we are walking, just as we do when we are sitting or lying down. I am not trying to say that walking meditation alone can give us ultimate realization and the ability to remove attachment entirely, but it is nevertheless as valid a practice as sitting meditation or any other kind of vipassana (insight) meditation. Walking meditation is conducive to spiritual development. It is as powerful as mindfulness of breathing or mindfulness of the rising and falling of the abdomen. It is an efficient tool to help us remove mental defilements. Walking meditation can help us gain insight into the nature of things, and we should practice it as diligently as we practice sitting meditation or any other kind of meditation. By the practice of vipassana meditation in all postures, including the walking posture, may you and all meditators be able to attain total purification in this very life!
Copyright © 1995 U Silananda
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The technique is to actively suggest to your subconscious with a concentrated mind.
When you feel that you may be catching a cold, sit down and do some hard rhythmic chest-breathing for some 20 minutes or more. Do this breathing for 3 or 4 times during the day and the onset of the cold should have abated and the cold will have disappeared.
For respiratory diseases and high blood pressure, hard or medium rhythmic chest-breathing should be resorted to. Every session should last at least 20 minutes. As you breathe you may rock your body in a to-and-fro motion. Instead of concentrating on the nose area, keep suggesting to your subconscious that your malady is disappearing. Your malady may be bronchitis, or sinus, or high blood pressure or tuberculosis or any other respiratory disease. Have two or more sessions a day; keep at it. Others have been cured, and so can you. Do not give up, even if it takes weeks and weeks, according to the nature and intensity of the infirmity. But you will be cured.
When you are concentrating while doing rhythmic chest-breathing, you may develop aches and pain in some part of your body. After a bout of deep concentration for 20 minutes or so, transfer your concentration to your biggest ache or biggest pain and suggest to your subconscious that the ache or pain is disappearing.
After a sufficient period of concentrated suggestion, all of a sudden the ache or pain will disappear and the body and mind will feel very light. This experience should lead you to further efforts at concentration.
For the cure of other diseases much as arthritis, paralysis, gout, etc.; the technique is similar to that mentioned above regarding the cessation of aches and pains. Unless you have developed very good concentration by other means, the best method is the acquisition of concentration by the chest-breathing techniques. Obtain deep concentration for 20 minutes or more, and then transfer the concentration to your infirmity, to that part of your body which is the subject of the disease and make firm suggestions to your subconscious that the disease is disappearing.
You must keep at it for days and days and weeks and weeks. Have 2 or 3 sessions a day. The cure of your infirmity will take time; it is not to be a sudden cure but a gradual natural cure. The time taken to cure will depend naturally on the intensity of your infirmity. But the cure will really come about.
If there is a particular organ of your body or a particular part of your body that you want healed, concentrate on it as you make the suggestion to your subconscious. Otherwise concentrate on your heart as you make the suggestions to your subconscious.
by Bhikkhu Bodhi
It is perhaps symptomatic of the "fallen" nature of the ordinary
human condition that few of us pass the full extent of our lives
comfortably reconciled to our natural selves. Even in the midst of
prosperity and success, grinding notes of discontent trouble our
days and disturbing dreams come to haunt our sleep. As long as our
eyes remain coated with dust we incline to locate the cause of our
discontent outside ourselves -- in spouse, neighbor or job, in
implacable fate or fluky chance. But when the dust drops off and our
eyes open, we soon find that the real cause lies within.
When we discover how deeply the cause of our unhappiness is lodged
in the mind, the realization dawns that cosmetic changes will not be
anywhere near enough, that a fundamental internal transformation is
required. This desire for a transformed personality, for the
emergence of a new man from the ashes of the old, is one of the
perennial lures of the human heart. From ancient times it has been a
potent wellspring of the spiritual quest, and even in the secular,
life-affirming culture of our own cosmopolitan age this longing has
not totally disappeared.
While such concepts as redemption, salvation and deliverance may no
longer characterize the transformation that is sought, the urge for
a radical reshaping of the personality persists as strong as ever,
appearing in guises that are compatible with the secular worldview.
Where previously this urge sought fulfillment in the temple, ashram
and monastery, it now resorts to new venues: the office of the
psychoanalyst, the weekend workshop, the panoply of newly spawned
therapies and cults. However, despite the change of scene and
conceptual framework, the basic pattern remains the same.
Disgruntled with the ruts of our ingrained habits, we long to
exchange all that is dense and constrictive in our personalities for
a new, lighter, freer mode of being.
Self-transformation is also a fundamental goal of the Buddha's
teaching, an essential part of his program for liberation from
suffering. The Dhamma was never intended for those who are already
perfect saints. It is addressed to fallible human beings beset with
all the shortcomings typical of unpolished human nature: conduct
that is fickle and impulsive, minds that are tainted by greed, anger
and selfishness, views that are distorted and habits that lead to
harm for oneself and others. The purpose of the teaching is to
transform such people -- ourselves -- into "accomplished ones": into
those whose every action is pure, whose minds are calm and composed,
whose wisdom has fathomed the deepest truths and whose conduct is
always marked by a compassionate concern for others and for the
welfare of the world.
Between these two poles of the teaching -- the flawed and knotted
personality that we bring with us as raw material into the training,
and the fully liberated personality that emerges in the end -- there
lies a gradual process of self-transformation governed by highly
specific guidelines. This transformation is effected by the twin
aspects of the path: abandoning (//pahana//), the removal from the
mind of all that is harmful and unwholesome, and development
(//bhavana//), the cultivation of qualities that are wholesome, pure
What distinguishes the Buddha's program for self-transformation from
the multitude of other systems proposing a similar end is the
contribution made by another principle with which it is invariably
conjoined. This is the principle of self-transcendence, the endeavor
to relinquish all attempts to establish a sense of solid personal
identity. In the Buddhist training the aim of transforming the
personality must be complemented by a parallel effort to overcome
all identification with the elements that constitute our phenomenal
being. The teaching of //anatta// or not-self is not so much a
philosophical thesis calling for intellectual assent as a
prescription for self-transcendence. It maintains that our ongoing
attempt to establish a sense of identity by taking our personalities
to be "I" and "mine" is in actuality a project born out of clinging,
a project that at the same time lies at the root of our suffering.
If, therefore, we seek to be free from suffering, we cannot stop
with the transformation of the personality into some sublime and
elevated mode as the final goal. What is needed, rather, is a
transformation that brings about the removal of clinging, and with
it, the removal of all tendencies to self-affirmation.
It is important to stress this transcendent aspect of the Dhamma
because, in our own time when "immanent" secular values are
ascendent, the temptation is great to let this aspect drop out of
sight. If we assume that the worth of a practice consists solely in
its ability to yield concrete this-worldly results, we may incline
to view the Dhamma simply as a means of refining and healing the
divided personality, leading in the end to a renewed affirmation of
our mundane selves and our situation in the world. Such an approach,
however, would ignore the Buddha's insistence that all the elements
of our personal existence are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not
self, and his counsel that we should learn to distance ourselves
from such things and ultimately to discard them.
In the proper practice of the Dhamma both principles, that of
self-transformation and that of self-transcendence, are equally
crucial. The principle of self-transformation alone is blind,
leading at best to an ennobled personality but not to a liberated
one. The principle of self-transcendence alone is barren, leading to
a cold ascetic withdrawal devoid of the potential for enlightenment.
It is only when these two complementary principles work in harmony,
blended and balanced in the course of training, that they can bridge
the gap between the actual and ideal and bring to a fruitful
conclusion the quest for the end of suffering.
Of the two principles, that of self-transcendence claims primacy
both at the beginning of the path and at the end. For it is this
principle that gives direction to the process of
self-transformation, revealing the goal towards which a
transformation of the personality should lead and the nature of the
changes required to bring the goal within our reach. However, the
Buddhist path is not a perpendicular ascent to be scaled with picks,
ropes and studded boots, but a step-by-step training which unfolds
in a natural progression. Thus the abrupt challenge of
self-transcendence -- the relinquishing of all points of attachment
-- is met and mastered by the gradual process of
self-transformation. By moral discipline, mental purification and
the development of insight, we advance by stages from our original
condition of bondage to the domain of untrammeled freedom.
Paradigms on How We Respond To Pain
© 1999 Denise Breton and Christopher Largent
The Buddha's Take on Pain
"Life involves suffering"-that's
the Buddha's first Noble Truth. We've always liked Buddhism as a teaching, because
it doesn't dance around suffering or pretend it's not there. Buddhism deals with
suffering as a question of life and of philosophy-that our paradigms set us up
to suffer more than we need to-and that sounds right to us.
For the Buddha, one of the things that causes us to suffer is a paradigm that tells us we can find security by attaching ourselves to finite things. Since the world is always changing, we think we need more and more attachments, mainly to people and money, to maintain our sense of security. "Clinging" is the term for it, and it causes us pain. Why? Because everything is in flux, everything passes away some time or another. If we cling to something that's on its way out of our lives, for whatever reason, we suffer, at least more than if we have a paradigm that's oriented to letting things come and go.
We're not Buddhists-for that matter, we're not adherents of any religious tradition-yet we value spiritual teachings for what each has to contribute to understanding who we are, why we're here, and what's really going on. For many years, the Buddhist perspective gave us our main handle on the issue of suffering. It provided an analysis of suffering that is hopeful, in that we can shift our philosophies. That's doable.
And yet the Buddhist way out of suffering has involved mostly meditative practices with a focus on individual consciousness change, with the most profound release from suffering coming after death. We're all for consciousness change-that's our main work-and we do agree that it begins with individuals, but suffering-causing philosophies influence more than individuals. They shape social structures, and these structures perpetuate suffering and perpetrate it on individuals starting from the moment of birth. Our ultimate release from suffering may come after death, but there is a great deal we can do here and now in this world to reduce paradigm-created pain.
To give Buddhism its due, its history does include social activism, though even the Dalai Lama says that Buddhism needs to develop more skills for social change. As for the Buddha himself, he certainly had enough savvy that if he were alive today, he would notice that individual meditation can take us only so far. His commitment was always to end suffering, whatever it took. From the perspective of today's mega-systems, which send pain around the globe, reducing suffering requires consciousness change on many levels, involving not only individual self-examination but also collective and whole-system questioning.
Control Paradigm Response to Pain
In the last fifteen years, we've learned a great deal about how to handle pain from the fields of addiction recovery and restorative justice, both of which pose sharp critiques of our current cultural paradigm-the control paradigm-and how it deals with pain. When pain arises, this model, guided by the aim to maintain the established order of things, has various strategies for responding:
o First, we're to deny pain, ignore it, pretend it's not there, or say it'll go away on its own. Pain is nothing to pay attention to or worry about. We're making it up, exaggerating. Or we're to believe that "those people" are always in trouble. In short, as passengers on the Titanic, we're to hold the line that there is no iceberg.
o Second, if pain won't be denied, then we're to numb ourselves to it. We desensitize ourselves to pain, until it doesn't bother us. We learn to tolerate suffering in our lives, and more and more of it. We learn not to see it, or if we do see it, we learn not to respond to it-not to let it get to us. Television and movies are skillful in numbing our sensitivities.
o Third, if pain reaches a level that we feel it, no matter what-it's there in our faces-then we anesthetize ourselves to it or patch the symptoms. Pharmaceuticals can become a multi-billion dollar industry only in a society where there's a lot of pain-pain a lot of people don't want to feel or pain that a lot of other people don't want those in pain to feel. Ginger Breggin, co-author with her husband Peter Breggin of The War Against Children of Color, told us that one-year-old toddlers are now being given Ritalin and that four to five million schoolchildren are on prescribed drugs, either Ritalin or Prozac or some other antidepressant. Something is wrong with millions of schoolchildren, but instead of finding out what, we drug them into conformity.
o Fourth, if pain persists in making itself known, then we're to blame the individual, whether it's ourselves or someone else. Something must be wrong with the person. People in pain that won't go away must have done something wrong and so deserve what they get. They must be flawed. Or maybe they're just bad people-bad genes, bad psyches, bad families, bad histories. Or maybe they created it for themselves in order to learn something, which means they're responsible and we should not worry about their suffering. It says nothing relevant to us. If they act from their pain in violent ways, then they must be incarcerated-put away so their pain doesn't interfere with a well-ordered society.
On this model, pain is bad because it gets in the way of business as usual, schools, families, governments, or religions as usual. Pain management means finding a way to get people back to conforming to the social norm as soon as possible. That way, social norms-the accepted social structures-never have to change. The status quo is never questioned.
Shifting to a New Model:
Pain's Role in the Dynamics of Evolution
The control-paradigm's approach to pain doesn't work, though, because it fails to acknowledge pain's critical role in human development, both personal and collective. Pain doesn't happen for no reason. Until we look at what's causing pain, pain isn't going to go away.
In other words, pain has a message to give us. It has a meaning-a meaning that relates to our development, personally and collectively. Pain tells us that something isn't working, and we'd better find out what. Pain sends a warning signal, and we put ourselves in peril if we turn that warning system off. Finding ways to ignore pain is like switching off our nervous system; we won't last long.
Pain operates on many levels. We all know about personal pain-physical and emotional being the most obvious forms. These forms often point to deeper levels of pain.
For example, depression as an emotional experience can point to pain in our souls-pain about the kind of life we're living with our jobs and families or pain about the kind of self-image and ultimately philosophy we're struggling under. Psychologist Charles Tart worked up a "credo" of scientific materialism-for example, that the material universe is all there is, that we're nothing but the chemicals in our bodies, that we're here in a Darwinian struggle for survival, the usual stuff-and has people in his seminars stand up and recite it with their hands over their hearts as if it were a pledge of allegiance. Tart comments, "By and large, it depresses the hell out of people, especially when they realize that they believe a lot of it, and that these beliefs are culturally reinforced."
Personal pain, in other words, is seldom entirely personal. Oh yes, we feel it as persons, but the roots of it are almost never just personal. We come from a context, a web of connectedness, and that entire web is very much present in personal pain. Indeed, we could say that we as individuals function together as society's nervous system, and that our personal pain is like a pain in society's head or chest.
Certainly the pain of millions of children says something about what's going on in our cultural systems: how children are viewed and treated, how they're trained, all informed by what kind of adult life we want to prepare them for. In most of our current social systems, for example, thinking for oneself is not an asset, which is why our schools do not teach it.
Pain, then, serves the vital role of spurring us to question the status quo, to change, and hence to grow not only as individuals but also as groups, institutions, systems, societies, and ultimately as a species. To this end, pain isn't to be ignored or dismissed but listened to: what is it telling us not just on one level but on many levels? The more levels we let pain speak to us on, the more meaning and help we get from pain. We get guidance straight from reality about something we're outgrowing or something that needs to change.
Pain isn't then something to push out of our lives before it's served its purpose. Pain means that development and often healing are going on. The only trouble is that development and healing have their own schedules in our lives, and they have a tendency to upset the apple cart. But maybe the cart was full of rotten apples. If that's pain's message to us about our social systems and the philosophies behind them, we need to hear it, and it's time for the cart to tumble. Who wants to spend a lifetime dragging around a load of rot-and then passing it on to our children to drag around? When pain's message gets loud enough, we change, rotten apples be damned.
As it happens, just the experience of listening to pain-our own, others, as well as pain in how our social, economic, and political systems are functioning-can have a healing effect. Why? Because it's the first step in pain's message being heard. Anne Wilson Schaef says that joy and depression both send us messages from our souls. Depression tends to last longer than joy only because we like to hear joy's message and listen, whereas depression we try to avoid, and so it takes longer for us to get the message that depression is trying to give us.
So, too, with social ills. We need to hear what's really going on, and we don't mean the corporate-owned media who package stories according to some agenda or for some emotional effect. Students have been shooting each other in inner city schools and streets for decades. Why do we have to wait until some upper middle class children shoot classmates and teachers to hear the message that something is wrong? Val Valerian's website (www.trufax.org), journal, and books are full of pain messages we need to hear-shocking pain that's been going on long before the 20th century. Ignoring collective pain won't make it go away.
Of course, those who profit from selling rotten apples want pain silenced or dismissed: rotten apples, they'd have us believe, don't give us stomach aches. That's no surprise. And the profit-makers support those who say that listening to pain means wallowing in it or that heeding pain's message means getting locked in victim thinking-that acknowledging we're in pain means we identify ourselves as disempowered victims.
What about this? No one wants to be in pain. If people get stuck in it, it's because some part of the message remains to be heard. A case of a convenience store clerk robbed at gunpoint comes to mind. She couldn't recover from the trauma of the experience, and her family got fed up with her for being "stuck" in the trauma. Finally, she felt moved to meet the robber, and a meeting in prison where he was detained was arranged. She told him her story-all that she had experienced. Hearing what he'd put her through, the young man was deeply touched and remorseful in a way he had not been up to that point. Hearing her pain was a turning point for him. After that, he began working with counselors toward doing something constructive with his life. On her side, the meeting brought to closure the fear and trauma she had not been able to release. She felt free after that and could finally go on with her life happily. Her pain apparently persisted so that not one but two lives could be transformed. Pain's message was for more than her alone. And why not? The trauma was not a solo event.
What about identifying ourselves as victims and disempowering ourselves accordingly? Sometimes we are victims. In a connected universe, we are not all-powerful. Connectedness is a fact, and sometimes it makes us vulnerable. To say categorically that we are never victims is to speak the absurd along with the atomistic. What truly disempowers us is a strategy of ignoring the pain that gives us feedback about how we're connecting. We need to first acknowledge that we're hurting before we can take steps to change.
Which is why pain is there in the first place. Feeling and acknowledging that we're in pain is not a bad thing, something to run away from. It's not weakness. Pain is there to help us name what's wrong and move us in the direction of healing, and that takes courage, because it's no small job. Pain is there to help in this process by spurring growth and transformation. And it's there to wake us up to our personal connectedness to the whole ball of wax-the whole family wax, society and culture wax, consciousness wax, and planetary wax. We just need to listen-listen to the pain all over our psyches and culture-and then go where it leads in claiming our powers to change.
Out Your Views
Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
Translated from the Thai by
Copyright © 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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When we meditate, we're training the mind, for we hold the mind to be very important. But training the mind is really difficult if we don't develop the right character habits. We have to depend on refined inner qualities for the training really to go straight to the heart, because the heart itself is subtle and sensitive. We have to make our character meticulous, pliant, tractable, respectful, inoffensive. We have to be willing to follow the example already set by someone who knows, who's already taken the path, who -- on examination -- we've found to be above us in terms of his training in mindfulness and discernment, above us in terms of the purity of his actions. Who is this person? The Buddha -- someone to whom no one else can legitimately be compared. We can't legitimately compare our views and opinions with him, for he is someone who truly trained himself, who sacrificed everything, with no thought for his survival.
The fact that we're still left hanging on in samsara after this long, long time is all because of our character habits. It's because of our character habits that we keep missing the path, falling off the path, straying away from the path all the time. It's because of our habit of finding excuses for ourselves that we aren't willing to follow the path set out by the Buddha. What sort of path has he set out for our actions? What sort has he set out for our words? For our mind? He set out standards for us to respect, to obey, to put into practice. Sages have said that the Buddha's path is an easy one to follow correctly, for it creates no dangers. It doesn't require that we do anything hurtful or hard.
We have to examine the Buddha's teachings to see if they're worthy of obedience or not, to see if they're worthy to be followed or not. Do they have any defects that we should try to avoid, that we shouldn't accept? Can we find any inconsistencies in the Buddha that would justify our giving more credence to our own opinions, that would justify our disobeying his teachings? And what do we have that's so special? When you look carefully, you can't find anything to fault him with. So what harm would it do to listen to him and to obey his teachings?
We have to study to see where our own defects lie. It's as if we're going on a journey. Our body may be in good shape, but if the workings of our car are defective they can take us right off the road. So we have to meditate to examine the workings of our car, in other words, the preoccupations that we create in the mind and that act as views. The Buddha gave a great deal of importance to the issue of views, for our views can make us defective. When our views are defective, they can make our virtues defective. They can make our practice defective, taking us off the path. Our views get defective when the mind is infected with delusion. There's very little alertness. There may be a lot of knowledge, a lot of information, but very little alertness. We may think that we're knowledgeable, that we're intelligent, but we don't know that our views are defective. Only those who know, who've gotten past this stage, can recognize what's defective in our views.
So we have to make a point of training the aspect of our character related to our views, to practice making our views straight (ditth'uju-kamma). Only then will we free ourselves from defective views and replace them with impeccable ones. In order to do this, we have to be scrupulous in being observant. And we have to be scrupulous in reflecting on our past actions, both the things we've done right and the things we've done wrong. For the most part, we don't observe our actions carefully. We make the same mistakes over and over again. We cause ourselves suffering but don't take it to heart to prevent it from happening again. This is why we keep spinning around endlessly in the cycles of samsara. We keep making mistakes but we don't recognize them as mistakes. We do things right from time to time but don't recognize why they're right. So everything gets all confused.
But if we train ourselves to be observant, to keep cleansing the heart so that we won't repeat our mistakes a second time, won't cause ourselves to suffer in that way a second time, we'll be able to make choices that really benefit us. When we look at our past beliefs and actions, and then compare them with the actions of those who are wise, we'll see which things are useless and we'll stop doing them. But if we don't let go of our old views, we won't be able to stop doing the things we should stop. We won't be able to give up the things we should give up. As long as we hold onto our old views, the same old sufferings will keep shadowing us. We'll never be able to find the path leading to the end of suffering.
This is why the noble eightfold path begins with samma-ditthi, or right view. Right view correctly describes things right around us -- within and without us -- that have always been that way from time immemorial. So when you see the Dhamma -- the truth of things as they already are -- you'll be willing to let go of your old opinions and follow the path taught by the Buddha. For the Buddha taught these truths so that we could study and know the genuine truth. It doesn't hurt to believe the Buddha. It can only help us. His Awakening was for the benefit and happiness of the beings of the world, for the purification of the beings of the world who have the wisdom and discernment to follow the path that he followed. The arising of a Buddha leads to suffering only for those whose pride prevents them from following his path. They're the only ones who don't benefit from his Awakening.
We should be open and honest with ourselves about our pride, our views. We shouldn't hide them from ourselves. We should bring them out and flush them out. Don't keep feeding them. For the most part, they're not the sort of friends who will help make us bright, clean, and pure. Don't go thinking that the ideas we like will necessarily help make us bright, clean, and pure. We should pry them out, unfurl them, clean them out so that all our defective views can be cut away. When we're free of defective views, we'll be left with impeccable views, views that are a treasure in terms of our thinking. When our views are impeccable, our virtues will be impeccable. And when our virtues form a good, solid foundation, training the mind becomes easy and free from difficulties.
The problem right now is that our views run contrary to the truth and are always ready to make false assumptions. We see stressful things as pleasurable, short things as long, things that should be done as things not to be done. We see things that are filthy, that should be straightened out to put them in line with the truth, and we simply leave them as they are, at odds with the truth. So how can we hope to gain release from suffering? How can we hope to reach purity?
The mind is something subtle and sensitive, easily misled by subtle misunderstandings, to say nothing of blatant ones. This is why the Buddha set out a training regime for our character habits, to make us compliant and respectful toward the truth, even in the smallest matters, seeing danger in even the slightest faults. In other words, he pointed out even the slightest faults that we should avoid, should abandon, but we feel that we can't do without them. We don't see them as faults. This means we don't see the frightening dangers that will arise from our own wrong actions. So we're audacious in doing what's wrong. As for the things the Buddha told us to do, we're not willing to do them, not willing to follow him, all because of our views and our pride. This is why we can't reach the stream to nibbana.
If we want to practice so as to abandon our pride, so as to enter the stream to the transcendent, we have to straighten out our views -- in particular, self-identity views (sakkaya-ditthi). These are the very first door. If we can't straighten out these sorts of wrong views, we won't be able to find the door through the wall that separates us from the Deathless. We'll simply circle around the outside perimeter. No matter how many lifetimes we practice, we'll just keep walking around the perimeter of the wall if we can't straighten out these views. So we should train ourselves to examine our many subtle views in all their elaborations. We should give rise to conviction that's stronger than what we already have. We should make our respect stronger than what it already is, and be willing to follow the Buddha's instructions. When he says to renounce something, we should renounce it, even if it means putting our life on the line, even if it means dying. Only then will we come out victorious, making an opening in the wall of our views. If we're not willing to make that level of sacrifice, there's no way we'll succeed.
So remember this: If we're not willing to make that level of sacrifice, there's no way we'll succeed. If you want to get through the final wall so as to gain total release from dying and birth, you have to stop circling around the outside perimeter like this. If you keep acting the way you are, you'll never gain release from suffering and stress. So try to be observant, try to evaluate the preoccupations that lie buried in your heart. What are the obstacles, the defilements, you have to undo so that you can come out victorious? If you can't overcome them using one method, try other methods until you can. Don't let them become "you." Don't let them become your self, making you engage in I-making and my-making and self-identity views. Once there are self-identity views, the stupidity of the mind will lead to uncertainty (vicikiccha), so that you can't come to any clear and genuine conclusions. You'll grasp at external things -- this is what's called "grasping at precepts and practices" (silabbata-paramasa) -- like the Jains in the time of the Buddha, who thought they would succeed in gaining release through external practices, without training the mind to give rise to discernment. They felt that if they followed their practices, external forces would come and save them, some god would come and save them. But the purity of our external actions is something only we can know. As the Buddha taught, there's no one else who can come and save us. Only we can save ourselves. There's no god greater than the help we give ourselves.
So don't let yourself be misled. Vanquish your wrong views so that you can be genuinely compliant toward the Buddha, genuinely believing in his teachings with genuine respect.
Keep on meditating.
Revised: Mon 20 May 2002
With mindfulness, we can be independent of the positions other people are taking. We can stand on our own two feet and take responsibility for acting in a virtuous way, regardless of what the rest of sociery is doing.I can be kind, generous, and loving toward you, and that is a joy to me.But if I make my happiness dependent upon your being kind to me, then it will always be threatened, because if you aren't doing what I like-behaving the way I want you to-then I'm going to be unhappy. So then, my happiness is always under threat because the world might not behave as I want it to.
It's clear that I would spend the rest of my life being terribly disappointed if I expected everything to change-if I expected everybody to become virtuous, wars to stop, money not to be wasted, governments to be compassionate, sharing, and giving-everything to be just exactly the way I want it! Actually, I don't expect to see very much of that in my lifetime, but there is no point in being miserable about it ; happiness based on what I want is not all that important.
Joy isn't dependent on getting things, or on the world going the way you want, or on people behaving the way they should, or on their giving you all the things you like and want. Joyfulness isn't dependent upon anything but your own willingness to be generous, kind, and loving.
It's that mature experience of giving, sharing, and developing the science of goodness. Virtuousness is the joy we can experience in this human realm. So, although what society is doing or what everyone else is doing is beyond my control-I can't go around making everything how I want it- still, I can be kind, generous, and patient,and do good, and develop virtue. That I can do, and that's worth doing, and not something anyone can stop me from doing. However rotten or corrupted society is doesn't make any difference to our ability to be virtuous and to do good.
Excerpted from 'The Mind and the Way' by Ajahn Sumedo.
Taking the Taking the EssenceEssence
Taking the essence with the self-healing of Tara
"Look into the mirror of your mind, the secret home of the dakini" (Drubchen Naropa)
Buddha Shakiamuni gave many different methods to help sentient beings to be free from sufferings; one of them is the practice of taking the essence.
He lived long time in the mountains of Bihar taking the essence.
Many great yogis of India had high realizations trough this practice, in places like Kania Gopha, in the mountains outside Mumbay, increasing their life and concentration.
One of the greatest Yogi of India Padampa Sanghie (contemporary of the great Yoghi Milarepa) received this practise directly from Vajrayoghini, an emanation of Buddha Shakiamuni.
The great adepts of India carried on with this mystical tradition verbally, until the times when Buddhism spread in Tibet.
Was the Second Dalai Lama in His great compassion who wrote the first text "metog tchulen", while He was in retreat in the monastery of Cho kor ghiel, close to the Lhamo Lhatso (the lake of the great female protector of Buddhism Palden Lhamo).
In this small text (translated into English by Glen Mullin in the book "Life and teaching of the Second Dalai Lama" Snow Lion Press) the Second Dalai Lama says that the great Yogi Padampa Sanghie received the teachings of taking the essence directly from Vayrayoghini and lived 593 years.
Countless Tibetan Yogis of all traditions adopted the tchulen practice; in the tradition of Lama Tzong Khapa it is practiced by the Yogis of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama traditions until today.
To take the essence is very important, especially nowadays that we don't have much time to dedicate to spiritual development.
We have very few occasions to increase our life and take advantage of it trough spiritual development. In general we live until the moment of death, without taking much advantage of the different ways to experience an authentic happiness and genuine inner peace.
Trying the different methods, of an ancient spiritual tradition like the Tibetan Buddhism, can help us to heal our body and mind, from the unbalance of modern times, where spiritual or inner development is very little practiced, do to the busy life.
Within our body-mind exist the potentiality to reach a space of inner peace and genuine happiness; the meditation of tchulen is a way to experience it.
The practice consists on gradually cutting gross food and living for few days on the food of meditation and few pills made with flower petals, that are a strong protein for our body.
For the rest of the time we will experience the profound mind transformation methods, described in the Tibetan text "Logion don dunma", analyzing the commentary of the Great Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, that He gave in 1973 to few westerner disciples, in the mountains of Dharamsala, India.
Claudio Cipullo alias Chansem Naljorpa Champa Togme, the instructor of tchulen, was one of the disciples of Gheshe Rinpoche who listened to the teachings translated in English by the Venerable Gonsar Rinpoche.
The retreat of tchulen is done in order to give a first experience of the mystical practice of taking the essence, a little taste of genuine happiness and inner peace.
The practice is enriched by the Tara Ngalso meditation a method to heal the outer, inner, and secret fears.
Agendas of Mindfulness
Copyright © 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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The Pali term for meditation is bhavana: development. It's a shorthand word for the development of skillful qualities in the mind. Bhavana is a type of karma -- the intentional activity leading ultimately leading to the end of karma -- but karma nonetheless. This point is underlined by another Pali term for meditation: kammatthana, the work at hand; and by a Thai idiom for meditation: "to make an effort." These terms are worth keeping in mind, to counterbalance the common assumption that meditation is an exercise in inaction or in passive, all-encompassing acceptance. Actually, as described in the Pali texts, meditation is a very pro-active process. It has an agenda and works actively to bring it about. This can be seen in the Pali description of how of right mindfulness is fostered through satipatthana.
Satipatthana is often translated as "foundation of mindfulness," which gives the impression that it refers to an object of meditation. This impression is reinforced when you see the four satipatthanas listed as body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities. But if you look at the texts, you find that they teach satipatthana as a process, a way of establishing (upatthana) mindfulness (sati): hence the compound term. When the texts define the compound, they give, not a list of objects, but four formulas describing an activity.
Here's the first formula:
A meditator remains focused on the body in and of itself -- ardent, alert, and mindful -- putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world.
Each of the terms in this formula is important. "Remaining focused" can also be translated as "keeping track." This refers to the element of concentration in the practice, as you hold to one particular theme or frame of reference amid the conflicting currents of experience. "Ardent" refers to the effort you put into the practice, trying to abandon unskillful states of mind and develop skillful ones in their stead, all the while trying to discern the difference between the two. "Alert" means being clearly aware of what's happening in the present. "Mindful" means being able to remember or recollect. Sometimes mindfulness is translated as non-reactive awareness, free from agendas, simply present with whatever arises, but the formula for satipatthana doesn't support that translation. Non-reactive awareness is actually part of equanimity, one of many qualities fostered in the course of satipatthana, but the ardency involved in satipatthana definitely has an agenda, a task to be done, while the role of mindfulness is to keep your task in mind.
The task here is twofold: staying focused on your frame of reference, and putting aside any greed and distress that would result from shifting your frame of reference back to the world. This is the meaning of "the body in and of itself." In other words, you try to stay with the experience of the body as it's immediately felt, without referring it to the narratives and views that make up your sense of the world. You stay away from stories of how you have related to your body in the past and how you hope to relate to it in the future. You drop any concern for how your body fits into the world in terms of its beauty, agility, or strength. You simply tune into the body on its own terms -- the direct experience of its breathing, its movements, its postures, its elementary properties, and its inevitable decay. In this way you learn how to strip away your assumptions about what does or doesn't lie behind your experience of the body, and gain practice in referring everything to the experience itself.
The same approach applies to the remaining types of satipatthana: focusing on feelings, on mind states, and on mental qualities in and of themselves. At first glance, these may look like new and different meditation exercises, but the Buddha makes clear that they can all center on a single practice: keeping the breath in mind. When the mind is with the breath, all four frames of reference are right there. The difference lies simply in the subtlety of your focus. So when you've developed your skills with the first, most blatant type of satipatthana, you don't have to move far to take up the more subtle ones. Simply stay with the breath and shift your focus to the feelings and mind states that arise from being mindful of the breath, and the mental qualities that either get in the way of your focus or strengthen it. Once you've chosen your frame of reference, you treat it the same way you've been treating the body: taking it as your frame of reference in and of itself, without referring it to stories about yourself or views about the world. You separate feelings -- of pleasure, pain, and neither-pleasure-nor-pain -- from the stories you normally create around them. You separate states of greed, anger, and delusion from their focal points in the world. In this way you can see them for what they are.
Still, though, you have an agenda, based on the desire for Awakening -- a desire that the Buddha classed, not as a cause of suffering, but as part of the path leading to its end. This becomes clearest in the satipatthana focused on mental qualities in and of themselves. You acquaint yourself with the unskillful qualities that obstruct concentration -- such as sensual desire, ill will, and restlessness -- not simply to experience them, but also to understand them so that you can cut them away. Similarly, you acquaint yourself with the skillful qualities that foster discernment so that you can develop them all the way to release.
The texts call these skillful qualities the seven factors of Awakening and show that satipatthana practice is aimed at developing them all in order. The first factor is mindfulness. The second is called "analysis of qualities": the ability to distinguish skillful from unskillful qualities in the mind, seeing what can be accepted and what needs to be changed. The third factor is persistence -- persistence in abandoning unskillful qualities and fostering skillful ones in their place. The texts describe a wide variety of methods to use in this endeavor, but they all come down to two sorts. In some cases, an unskillful quality will disappear simply when you watch it steadily. In other cases, you have to make a concerted effort, actively doing what you can to counteract an unskillful quality and replace it with a more skillful one.
As skillful qualities take charge within you, you see that while skillful thinking leads to no harmful actions, long bouts of it can tire the mind. So you bring your thoughts to stillness, which develops three more of the factors of Awakening: rapture, serenity, and concentration. These provide the mind with a foundation of well-being.
The final factor is equanimity, and its place in the list is significant. Its non-reactivity is fully appropriate only when the more active factors have done what they can. This is true of all the lists in which equanimity is included. It's never listed on its own, as sufficient for Awakening; and it always comes last, after the pro-active factors in the list. This doesn't mean that it supplants them, simply that it joins in their interaction. Instead of replacing them, it counterbalances them, enabling you to step back and see subtle levels of stress and craving that the more pro-active factors may have obscured. Then it makes room for the pro-active factors to act on the newly discovered levels. Only when all levels of stress and craving are gone is the work of both the pro-active and non-reactive sides of meditation done. That's when the mind can be truly agenda-free.
It's like learning to play the piano. As you get more pro-active in playing proficiently, you also become sensitive in listening non-reactively, to discern ever more subtle levels in the music. This allows you to play even more skillfully. In the same way, as you get more skilled in establishing mindfulness on your chosen frame of reference, you gain greater sensitivity in peeling away ever more subtle layers of the present moment until nothing is left standing in the way of total release.
Revised: Thu 5 December 2002
Buddhist Tradition of Healing
by Dr. Randolph E. Clayton
Twenty-five hundred years ago in a part of what would now be the Kingdom of Nepal, the first son of a clan chief was born with a multitude of auspicious signs. It is said that his birth caused his mother no pain and that from the first second from the womb he could stand on his own two feet. He took seven steps in each of the compass directions, and where his feet touched the ground, flowers bloomed. In front of his mother and her attendants, he vowed that this was to be his final lifetime and that he had been born to rip out the causes of suffering and to liberate all sentient beings. He was named Siddhartha, meaning "he whose aim is accomplished." We call him Shakyamuni Buddha (the Fully Enlightened One, the Sage of the Shakya Family).
From the time of Lord Buddha's first teaching on the Four Noble Truths at the City of Sarnath and from the first assemblies of the Sangha, there have been physicians and healers who were themselves a part of the Buddhist tradition. Lord Buddha even called himself the Superior Physician because of his ability to offer refuge and nurturing to beings trapped within Samsara.
Mahayana Buddhism further expanded on these teachings with instruction in the practice of the Buddha of Spiritual Medicine, also known as the Buddha with the Body of Lapis Lazuli, and the practices of Compassionate Bodhisattvas, who vowed to help beings attain liberation until the very last being had been liberated.
Reiki and Buddhism
Reiki is the most well-known practice of healing that originates from the Buddhist Tradition. As we know it today, Reiki is the work of a Buddhist physician and teacher named Master Mikao Usui. Usui-sensei is said to have discovered a Tantra, or Esoteric teaching, originally given by Shakyamuni Buddha on the practice of the Buddha of Spiritual Medicine. Due to visions he had of the various Buddhas, and the guidance of his own spiritual teacher, he fasted and meditated on the practice and received empowerment directly from the Buddhas. He then adapted the teaching so that it could be practiced by anyone who wished, including non-Buddhists. Some believe that Usui-sensei transmitted several forms of Reiki - one for non-Buddhists, one for Buddhists, and one for Tantric (Vajrayana) Buddhists.
The most recent development in the Reiki story came due to the blessings of a local teacher, Lama Drügpa Yeshe Trinley Odzer, the Ninth Drügmar Rinpoché, a Tibetan Buddhist Lama in the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions. While in Japan, Rinpoché's father embraced the Shingon School of Tantric Buddhism, and purchased a number of texts and teachings. Among these was a Medicine Buddha / Healing Teaching called the Tantra of the Lightning Flash Which Illumines the Mind and Heals the Body, as well as copies of the notebooks of Master Usui (the founder of Reiki) and Master Watanabe (his pupil). With these, Rinpoché worked to recreate the Reiki Tradition in keeping with both Lord Buddha's and Master Usui's teaching.
All Healing Is Buddhist
When you reach to the heart of what healing is - removing the causes of the suffering of others - you see how close it is to the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva principles. To quote the poet Shantideva:
"May I be the doctor and the medicine, and may I be the nurse, for all sick beings in the world, until everyone is healed."
In keeping the Bodhisattva Vows of the Mahayana Doctrine, we vow to be all things to all people. We vow to be reborn in a variety of forms to assist others on the path of liberation. We vow to be reborn in forms where we can take on and remove the suffering of others and extend our blessings and merit to them.
"For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide, to dispel the misery of the world."
We can continue this practice by remembering to dedicate all actions of good merit for the liberation of the sick and infirm, and for all sentient beings. We can practice meditation on Loving Kindness and Impermanence. We can do the Tibetan practice of Giving and Receiving (Töng-len). We can pray and make supplication to Awakened Beings.
There are a wealth of resources out there for people interested in studying the Buddhist Tradition of healing. Thanks to the kind patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan College of Astrology and Medicine has been rebuilt near the site of the Tibetan Government in Exile, in Dharmasala India.
However, you don't need to be a Doctor of Medicine, Tibetan or otherwise, to accomplish the Healing tradition set down by Lord Buddha. You simply need to understand the nature of suffering, and truly want to remove it. I hope and pray that all physicians, therapists, and healers of all modalities will receive these teachings and put them to good use.
~ May any positive merit gained by any virtuous act I do be offered up to remove the sufferings of all sentient beings. May I take on their sufferings with a pure and open heart and see them purified. May any who read this find the fortune to completely Awaken. ~
Randolph E. "Raven" Clayton, D.Div. Randolph E. "Raven" Clayton, D.Div. is a teacher, massage therapist, master of seven different forms of reiki, and practicing Tibetan Buddhist in the Nyingma tradition. He is the administrator of North Carolina Dharma Online, and can be reached by email at email@example.com.
The Compassionate Heart of Bodhichitta
Singapore, August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999
I have been asked to speak
on bodhichitta this evening. This is a vast subject, which deals with our motivation
-- specifically why we want to follow a spiritual path. It is a motivation that
we build up gradually within ourselves; it is difficult to generate it immediately.
Bodhichitta refers to a heart set on becoming a Buddha, a heart that has a firm
determination: "I have to overcome all my limitations and realize all my
potentials in order to be able to benefit everyone." We are striving for
enlightenment not just because it is the best and the highest, but in order to
help everyone by attaining it. Although we may often verbally say that we are
working to become a Buddha in order to benefit all sentient beings, it is very
hard to feel that continuously and sincerely in our hearts. However, by repeatedly
building up this aspiration, we can reach a stage in which it arises within us
spontaneously. A bodhisattva is someone with genuine bodhichitta as his or her
primary motivation day and night.
Since you have probably had teachings and explanations on the ways to develop bodhichitta, I shall not emphasize that now. Instead, I shall talk about the importance of going through all the stages that lead up to this motivation. It is quite easy to skip over these stages and try to go straight to this highest Mahayana motivation. We may say, "I practice because I want to help others. It is my social responsibility." Because this is something obviously beneficial to do, we immediately try to do it. However, if we have not gone through the earlier stages, we get into trouble. I would like to discuss how to avoid these difficulties when we are developing a motivation of love and compassion to help others.
With the lamrim, or gradual path to enlightenment, we work through graduated paths to the highest level of spiritual development. The initial spiritual motivation involves working for the happiness of our future lives. Striving just for the happiness of this life is what everybody does. Even animals do that. They are concerned about the food they eat and about taking care of their young. Although this is an essential concern, it does not necessarily involve spiritual practice.
Taking care of this life is important, however. Some people do not take themselves and their situations seriously, and never want to look at what happens in their lives. Thus, they do not even want to improve their current situation. They just accept what is going on and never aim for anything better. Therefore, it is important at least to start on the level of being concerned about ourselves, our families, and our situations -- even if this is not a particularly spiritual motivation. When we have problems, we actually admit them; we examine our lives to see what difficulties we are having. "Am I happy? Am I unhappy? Are there difficulties that I am facing that make my life unpleasant?"
The boundary indicating that we have actually entered spiritual practice is when we are interested and concerned primarily about our future lives. All texts agree on this. When we are concerned with future lives, we want to avoid having worse problems than the ones we have now. We look at the situations that could follow in the future from what we are doing now. We think about our precious human lives: "How fortunate I am! I am not starving to death. I am not in a concentration camp. I am not mentally handicapped. I am not in a barbaric situation in which everyone is attacking each other. I am very fortunate that I am free from all these things and have the opportunity to develop myself spiritually. Nevertheless, this will not last forever. Death is going to come for sure. It comes to everybody, and there is no certainty when it will happen. A truck could hit me at any time. I do not have to be old to die; I could die young." Then, we think about what could happen after we die. We go either to a better situation or to a worse situation. Looking at these worse situations -- for example, being an insect or hungry ghost -- we develop a great sense of dread. Not fear, but dread.
We do not try to cultivate fear in Buddhism. Saying that we fear rebirth in the lower realms is a mistaken translation. To say that we dread a lower rebirth conveys the meaning better. Fear is a crippling state of mind in which we put a big solid line around the situation we dislike and make it into something monstrous and horrible. Then we freeze. We are not able to handle it. This is not what is meant in Buddhism. What is discussed is dread: not wanting a terrible situation to happen to us. The difference between dread and fear is like the situation of having to spend an afternoon with an obnoxious and horrible person who makes the afternoon very unpleasant. We do not fear that, but we dread it. Dread is a strong wish for something not to happen.
Taking a Safe Direction
Dreading these worse situations in the future, we then look for a direction to take in order to get out of them. The direction out of them is taking refuge. Refuge is a safe direction that we take in our life. We go in the direction of the Dharma. The complete Dharma is the state in which all of our limitations and problems have been eliminated and all our potentials have been realized. Dharma means preventive measures, things we do in order to avoid problems. The greatest and ultimate thing that we could do to avoid all our problems is to rid ourselves of the limitations that cause them. "If I get angry, or upset, or nervous, or worried, that is going to cause me a lot of problems. However, if I could realize all my potentials, I would be able to handle all situations, I would be able to help everyone in the best way possible." When we see that, then we want to go in that direction.
Going in that direction is positive and beneficial. It is the direction that the Buddhas have taken and is the direction toward which the Sangha community is working. The Sangha is the community of highly realized beings who have beheld reality straightforwardly and nonconceptually. The monastic community of monks and nuns represent them for us. Putting that safe and positive direction into our lives is the solution to avoid going in a worse direction in future lives.
Specifically, we need to think of behavioral cause and effect. We need to see that if we act destructively, that results in harm and problems. We create a lot of negative energy and then experience that negative energy ourselves. We are stuck with it. Whereas if we restrain ourselves from acting in destructive ways and act in constructive manners instead, we build positive potential and, consequently, things go better in the future. In this way, we work to improve future lives.
Determination to Be Free
No matter what type of future life we obtain, there are still going to be uncontrollably recurring problems -- frustrations, confrontations and conflicts with people, not getting what we want, getting what we do not want, and so on. These are inevitable. They come about because of our lack of awareness of who we are, how we exist, and how other people exist. Because we are unaware of this, we become very confused; because we are confused, we feel insecure; and feeling insecure, we grasp at an identity to give us some form of security. We grasp at some aspect of ourselves, either true or imaginary, and we identify with it: "That is ME."
We could identify ourselves with certain social roles or occupations: I am a BUSINESSMAN; that is who I am." Or, "I am a MOTHER." Or, "I am a FATHER." We base our entire identities on that, and still feeling insecure, we try either to defend those identities or to assert them. In doing that, we act in a very impulsive and compulsive way. We bully people around. "I am a FATHER and I must be respected!" Of course, our child has difficulty with that, and there is a big conflict. The child says. "I am an independent person. I know what I want to do!" The child bases his or her identity on being an independent person as a teenager. Then the father has to maintain his own identity and says, 'No, you MUST obey me!' Everybody is insecure and grasps more and more at his or her social role. This produces uncontrollably recurring arguments, fights, resentments, and so on. This is what is known as samsara -- uncontrollably recurring problems.
We need to develop a determination to be free from this cycle of constantly recurring problems. This is often translated as renunciation, but this is a misleading translation. It gives the connotation in English that we are supposed to give up everything and go live in a cave. Buddha did not say that. We get this idea because we read about people like Milarepa, who left his family and village to live in a cave. We think that we have to do that too. That is not the meaning of renunciation. Obviously, we have to give up our gross attachments and our clinging to what we have, but it does not mean that we have to throw everything out the window.
Rather, the idea translated as "renunciation" actually means "the determination to be free." Our mind is made up and determined: 'All the problems that I have, all these confrontations with my family, difficulties with my work - enough already! I am fed up! I am disgusted! I have to get out!' Based on that, we try to develop the discriminating awareness that sees reality and understands how we exist, for, in fact, we do not exist locked inside these solid identities. Things are much more open than that. We do not exist in these strange, fantasized, impossible ways. We are not only parents; we are also friends and children of our own parents. We are many things in relation to others. Thus, we want to develop this determination to be free, which will propel us to follow a spiritual practice and gain wisdom.
After that, we think, 'I am not the only one who exists in this universe. There is everybody else. What about them? Do I have some responsibility toward them?' We may say, 'No, who cares about them? I am not really connected to them. I can just work for myself alone.' But, this is being very unrealistic. The great Indian master, Shantideva, used the example of the hand and the foot. If we have a thorn in our foot and if our hand were to say to our foot, 'Tough luck, foot! That is your problem, I am okay up here,' that would be very silly. The hand has to help the foot because they are interconnected. Likewise, we cannot work for ourselves alone because we are very much interconnected with everybody else.
We can easily see this if we think about everything we use or enjoy during the course of a day. Take, for instance, what we had for breakfast this morning. We may have had a bowl of hot cereal. Where did that bowl of cereal come from? There were very many people involved in growing the wheat; there were people who harvested it and those who brought it to the mill where it was made into flour; some people made it into cereal, and others packaged it. All these people were involved in preparing the cereal for us. Then the box of cereal had to be transported here by airplane, ship, or road. Who built the roads? Who built the airplanes? Where did the materials that made the trucks or the airplanes come from? What about the fuel? Think about all the dinosaurs whose bodies decomposed in order to make the gasoline! There are so many people and animals involved in making this one box of cereal.
How did we cook the cereal? There must have been electricity in the kitchen and gas for the stove. These are due to the people working at the electric plants and those who drill for and pump the gas. There are so many people, involved in all these activities -- and we are just considering one little bowl of cereal! What about everything else we eat? And the clothes we wear? How about all the objects in the house? Where did the bowl from which I ate the cereal come from? There was also a piece of plastic or cardboard containing the cereal. Where did that come from? Think of all the people in the lumber industry, the paper or plastic industry, and the printing industry who were involved in making the wrapper.
Hundreds of thousands of people are involved in making our lives possible everyday. To work for ourselves alone does not make any sense, because we are so interconnected with everybody else. If everyone else is in a terrible situation and we are okay, it is not going to work. Similarly, it is not going to work if we are the only survivors of a nuclear war, alone by ourselves down in the bomb shelter with a gas mask on when everybody else is dead. How long can we last like that? Not very long. Also, it is not going to be very much fun.
In this way, we start to think of others. We remember their kindness and want to repay it. We develop love, wishing them to be happy, and compassion, a genuine wish for them to be free from their problems. In addition, we take on the responsibility to actually do something aboutit. It is not enough to stand by the side of the pool while we watch our child drown, and say, 'Tsk tsk! What a shame! I wish that would not happen.' Compassion is not enough. We actually have to do something. We have to jump in and help our child; we take the responsibility to save him or her. This is an exceptional resolve, the resolve: 'I am going to do something to help others.'
Then we ask: Am I really capable of doing the best job to help others? Honestly speaking, no. I can hardly help myself. So how can I help others? The only way is by becoming a Buddha myself. To become a Buddha, I need to overcome all my limitations and realize all my potentials. Then I can really help everybody in the best way possible.-- We generate bodhichitta: we set our hearts on becoming Buddhas in order to benefit everyone. Developing bodhichitta refers to expanding our hearts increasingly more toward others, expanding our hearts to the goal of reaching our fullest potentials and overcoming all our limitations so that we can help others in the best way possible.
This is the graduated path by which we develop ourselves. First, we want to ensure that we have good future lives. Then, we develop the determination to be free from all our problems altogether. Finally, we dedicate our hearts to becoming Buddhas in order to be able to help everyone. We take on this responsibility based on love and compassion, caring for the happiness of all others and not wanting them to be unhappy.
Without Taking Future Lives Seriously
What happens if we try to jump to that final stage of aspiring to become Buddhas without going through the initial stages? We have problems. For example, the first important step is to think about future lives and to take them seriously. We may not have given much thought to that. Or maybe we have accepted it in a very vague way, without taking it to heart. If we have not thought about the fact that we have infinite lives, we may think, 'Well, things are not going well in my relationship with a particular person. So why not give this person up and get involved with someone else?' We may have this attitude toward people that we do not know well, or friends with whom things are going sour -- we just want to leave them. When we get tired of our partners or we have difficulties with them, we simply get a new husband or a new wife. In some countries, as many as 50% of all marriages end in divorce. It is really shocking! And very sad too.
What is behind this? It is the idea that we do not have connections with others, so we can throw them away like old cabbages. 'Well, I am not going to help this person any more. I can just leave him or her aside. It does not matter.' However, if we have thought about future lives and infinite lives, then we realize that we cannot avoid a relationship with somebody. If the relationship is not working well, we cannot get out of it by ignoring that person and never seeing him or her again. If we do not resolve this relationship now in this life, then, in future lives, similar situations will recur. If we have problems with this person now and we just walk out, in future lives, we are going to meet somebody very similar -- the continuity of this same person -- and again we will have the same difficulties and problems. We cannot escape from it.
If we have difficulties with somebody, it does not mean that we always have to stay with that person. Sometimes, that might be difficult. But, at least we try to improve the situation, or to part on good terms. We try to improve the quality a little because in future lives, it is going to continue. Maybe we are not fully prepared to deal with these situations now, but, hopefully, in future lives we shall be.
When we are trying to expand our hearts out to everybody and to reach Buddhahood in order to help them, it is very helpful if we have thought of future lives. If we have not, then we can have the problem of 'I am expanding my heart out to everybody, but I really do not like that person so I shall forget about that one and work with some other people.' It helps us to expand our hearts out to everybody when we realize that we cannot escape from anyone, that in future lives, we shall continue to encounter these people. Therefore, we have to deal with them. We need to be able to develop more love, more warmth, and more kindness toward everybody. That is an important point.
Another aspect is that very often we identify with our own small groups. We identify with just Americans, or Chinese, or Buddhists, or our families, or our own genders or our age groups -- teenagers, adults, or seniors -- and we feel, 'I can only relate to people from my own group. I can only understand their problems. Therefore, I can only help them. I can only help other American people. How can I understand people in Africa?' 'I can only help other Buddhists, because it is impossible to understand people from other religious backgrounds.' 'I can only help other men, because how can I possibly understand women?' 'I can only help women because all men are chauvinists and are pushing me around. How can I possibly relate to them?' 'I can only understand and help other teenagers, because parents have no idea of what is going on. They do not understand.' 'I can only help mature adults, because all kids are rotten and you cannot say anything to them.'
Thus, we limit ourselves when we think of just this life and the particular situations that we are in now in terms of our age, gender, family, country, and so on. If we think of infinite lives ' future lives and past lives ' we realize, ' I have been every age. I have been young; I have been middle-aged; and I have been old. I can relate to people of all different ages because I have been them myself. I can appreciate them. I have been every race and every nationality. I have come from every type of cultural background.' This realization allows us to be able to relate to all groups and feel some connection with them.
We can extend this and remember that in past lives we have also been animals. ' How did I feel when someone kicked me or smashed me?' In this way, we remember that animals too experience pain and pleasure, and we are more careful in the way we treat them.
Thinking of past and future lives is therefore very helpful in giving us a feeling of connection with everybody. We can also relate to everybody of both sexes: ' I have been both a man and a woman in the past.' We can appreciate, empathize with, and understand the problems and situations of all groups. This is very helpful for expanding our hearts to help everyone, and wanting to reach Buddhahood in order to do so in the best way possible. These are some important points that follow from thinking about future lives. Without them, the way that we expand our hearts becomes very limited.
Without the Determination to Be Free
When dedicating our hearts to benefiting others, another major and important aspect is the determination to be free. When we are involved in helping others, often we are doing it for certain neurotic reasons. We are helping others because we want to feel loved. ' I shall help you in order to become very popular.? ' Everybody likes me because I am helping that person. I am doing it in order to be loved and appreciated.? ' I am doing it because everybody else is going to think what a good person I am. Then I shall have a good reputation.' ' I am doing it because if I do not, I shall lose face and people will think badly of me; I feel obligated to do it.' Or, we want to feel needed: ' I shall help you so that I will feel important. I will be loved in return for the help I am giving.' Parents sometimes have this attitude: ' Even if my children are thirty or forty years old, I still have to tell them what to wear and what to eat because then I feel needed. I feel that I have some function, that I am important in my children' s lives.' To help others so that we feel needed is to exploit them.
If we have the determination to be free, we look at all these uncontrollably recurring situations and all these neurotic relationships, and we see the problems that they bring about. Then we develop a determination to be free. ' Enough already! I have to get out of this. This is just ridiculous! This is causing so much aggravation, so much anxiety, so much tension!'
When we have that determination to be free, we are also determined to be free from any type of neurotic interaction with the people we are helping. ' I help so that everybody will think that I am a wonderful person. I worry about what this person thinks, what that person thinks. I only help others when someone else is around to witness it, so that they can tell other people. I do it in order to impress people. I give to charities, but I certainly do not do it anonymously. I do it so that everybody knows that I have given. In fact, I shall put up a plaque with my name to show that I gave this amount!' With the determination to be free, we see the disadvantage of thinking, ' I am helping others so that they will be dependent on me and I will feel important.' If we have a strong determination to be free from these problems, we abandon all these ulterior motives for helping others.
Although we may not be able to stop it immediately, at least we see that helping others for neurotic reasons will create problems. The other person is eventually going to resent it. They are going to realize what we are doing and this will undermine our sincerity in benefiting others.
We need to clear away whatever neurotic motivations we have. The way we do this is through the determination to be free from all the aggravation and pretension that occur when we are acting with an impure motivation. To develop this determination to be free so that our interaction with others will not be so strongly tainted by neurotic motivations is very important. Although it is important, we tend to skip over it.
Working on Ourselves
The major purpose of the Dharma is to recognize our shortcomings, correct them, and develop our good qualities. In working on improving ourselves, we progress through a graded series of methods and use our personal experiences to learn about ourselves. For example, suppose we have a habit of nagging our partners or children. ' Why don' t you do this? Why don' t you do that? Why didn' t you come home on time? Why didn' t you call? Why don' t you take out the garbage?' etc. We know that this is very destructive. It creates a lot of tension in the relationship. It is probably going to result in our partners or children being colder and more distant and saying, ' Leave me alone.' Or, if they are not so vocal, they will just ignore us and be completely cold. Then we say, ' Why don' t you talk to me? Why don' t you do this? Why don' t you do that?' and they become even quieter, more withdrawn, and do not come home at all. This produces so much unhappiness. What do we usually do to stop this?
First, we try to use self-control: ' I know I shouldn' t say that, so I am not going to say it.' We control ourselves tightly, but that is often difficult to do and we find that we start to nag anyway. ' I know intellectually that I shouldn' t nag, but I cannot help myself. I do not have the strength to be able to stop it.' Then we get angry with ourselves, ' That is terrible! I tried to hold my tongue but I could not.' In that state of anger, it is very difficult for us to change or to improve ourselves because we are so upset.
The anger quickly changes into guilt. ' I blew it! I feel so guilty! I am terrible! I shouldn' t have nagged. I have caused another confrontation.' Guilt is a very unfortunate and unhappy state of mind, in which we strongly identify ourselves with being a naughty child: ' I am so naughty. Look at what I have done! Mummy and Daddy are not going to like me anymore.' We feel bad. The guiltier we feel, the more we identify with being a naughty child; the more we identify with being a naughty child, the guiltier we feel. It is a vicious circle. Again, it is difficult for us to change the situation when we are feeling such guilt.
Then, we go to the step beyond guilt, which is boredom. ' I am so tired of all these arguments. I am so tired of all these scenes that happen when I nag and when, in response, my partner or child closes up with resentment and tells me to stop nagging. I am sick and tired of it! I am bored with it! ENOUGH! I have to get out.'
Those are the steps that we go through to develop the determination to be free. We do not change when we are angry with ourselves. We do not change when we feel guilty. We change in a state of boredom ' ' This is stupid!' That is when we try to get out of it.
If we have not gone through all these stages of working on ourselves, then when we try to help others, we tend to project all these destructive emotions onto them. That becomes very unfair. For instance, I am trying to help somebody and the first thing that I do is bully the person into it: ' I want to use selfcontrol with myself, so you, too, HAVE to change, you HAVE to stop doing that.'
Very often, we act like that with our children. It is easy to bully them and to try to impose our will and control on them. Nobody likes to be treated like a child, especially if they are not our child.
Nobody likes to be bullied into changing or improving himself or herself. When we push others ' ' You have to change. You have to go to school. You have to get a job. You have to do this. You have to do that' ' we are coming on too strongly. We are getting into a power trip. What happens is that he or she does not follow our advice or accept the help we want to give. So, just as we would have gotten angry with ourselves, now we get angry with the other person, ' You terrible person! I told you to do this and you did not do it. Look at all the trouble that you have caused for yourself!' That is not the ideal interaction to have with somebody whom we are trying to help. To get angry when he or she does not take our advice just causes a lot of resentment.
Then, we go on to the next step. Just as we felt guilty ourselves, now we try to make the other person feel guilty. ' You do not appreciate what I am trying to do for you. Look at all the hardship that I have gone through! The least you could do is to appreciate it, the least you could do is to try.' We become the ' parent' and try to make him or her feel guilty.
After that, we go to the next stage. ' I am so tired myself, so tired of having all these problems and difficulties. I have to get out of them.' In the same way, we look at the other person and think, ' We have to get out of this. This is really too much!' In that way, we work to help him or her. Just as we felt this determination to be free from problems ourselves, likewise we have this determination to help the other person to be free from his or her problems as well. This is very important. If we have not worked through the stages on our own, through our own experiences, then when we try to help others, we tend to project all our problems on the other person; we try to change him or her by bullying, getting angry, or making the person feel guilty. These are big obstacles to helping others.
Another aspect to be aware of when helping others is the situation that occurs when somebody comes to us with a problem, tells us their story, and, after a while, we get tired of it. It is like a bad television program, and we want to change the station and put on a different show because this is a very unpleasant, uninteresting program. This occurs because we are not taking the other person seriously. He or she is talking about a problem and we are thinking, ' This television program is lasting too long! I am hungry. Let me press the button and switch off the TV.' We are not taking that person seriously, even though those problems are real for him or her and they do hurt. Often we do not take others seriously because in the earlier stages of the path we have not taken ourselves seriously.
Taking ourselves seriously, by looking at our problems and trying to deal with them, is very important. If we cannot take ourselves and our problems seriously, how can we take anybody else and their difficulties seriously? If we do not care about ourselves being happy, how can we , the mind that wants all others to be happy?
Caring about ourselves does not mean being selfish, it does not mean, ' I have to get a million dollars and buy this and that.' Rather, we respect ourselves as a living being.
Many people have negative ideas and attitudes about themselves, feeling, ' I am no good; I do not deserve to be happy; I do not deserve to be loved.' If that is how we feel about ourselves, then the thought easily follows, ' If I do not deserve to be happy, why should you deserve to be happy?' However, if we look at ourselves and think, ' I have Buddha-nature. I have all the factors within me that allow me to be able to develop and grow to become a Buddha, to be able to help everyone: I have a mind, I have energy, I have the ability to communicate, I have some level of good heart. All of these things can be developed. So, of course I deserve to be happy. I deserve to have a better life.'
In this way, we take ourselves seriously and have respect for ourselves. We acknowledge, ' I do deserve to be happy and to get out of my problems.' With this as a basis, we can transfer this respect to others. We see that they also have the ability to improve, they have Buddha-nature; they have all the potentials. On that basis, they too deserve to be happy and to be free from all of their problems. We take them seriously.
From the Beginning
These are some of the major points that are important when we are developing a bodhichitta motivation to help others and to reach enlightenment in order to benefit them in the best way possible. That is not saying that we do not help others in the beginning, that we should just work on ourselves and only when we have reached an advanced level, do we help others. From the Mahayana point of view, we help others from the beginning. However, we do not do it thinking, 'I can skip over all the earlier stages and just involve myself with helping others.' We help to the best of our abilities along the path. That is essential to the Buddhist path.
Nevertheless, while helping others as much as we can now, we need to be sure to put a fair amount of time in developing the earlier fundamental or foundation-building motivations and experiences. This is because if we do not, we are likely to have problems when helping others. We may think that when we are having trouble with others, we can ignore them. We cannot. We have infinite lives and we are always going to meet them again. Or, we may feel that we can only help people of our own ages and from our own cultural backgrounds. That is not so. We have been everything. We have been all ages, all cultures, and both genders. So, we can relate to everybody.
Also, we do not want to help others only to be loved, to feel important, or to feel needed. We have a determination to be free from such neurotic interactions because we see that they bring about uncontrollably recurring problems. We are not going to get into power trips with others when we are helping them or try to bully them into taking our advice. We are not going to get angry with them or make them feel guilty when they do not take our advice. This is because we have gone through the whole process of working on ourselves: we tried self-control, we became angry with ourselves, we felt guilty, but then we became so fed up, that we were determined to be free. We set our decision firmly to get out of it. Having gone through that, we are not going to project it onto others.
Throughout the whole process, we have also taken ourselves seriously. We acknowledge our Buddhanature and know that we have the ability and all the factors that allow us to grow and become enlightened and to help everyone. Having taken ourselves seriously, we have respect for ourselves. In Buddhism, respecting someone does not mean fearing him or her; respect means, ' I take myself seriously and look positively upon myself. I deserve to be happy.' We can then sincerely have the same attitude toward others: ' I respect you as well. I respect that you have Buddha-nature. Even if you are acting like an idiot now; nevertheless, I see that you do have the potential to become a compassionate and wise person. Just as I take my own problems seriously, I take your problems seriously. Just as I saw how my own problems hurt, likewise I can appreciate that your problems hurt you as well." Such an attitude allows us to benefit and help others in a much more sincere manner.
Another source of trouble is that sometimes we try to help somebody and it does not work. Then we become discouraged. A drastic example is trying to help someone in our family and the person commits suicide. That is a horrible situation and it is easy to blame ourselves: ' If I had only done this or that, then this person would not have or herself.' We can become very discouraged in the process of trying to act like a bodhisattva. When it seems like we have failed, we feel so guilty and horrible that it could become a big obstacle in our paths.
The problem here is that we think in terms of inappropriate models. We think that we are God, or that we should have been God, and we should have been able to stop something from happening to someone else. In Buddhism, we say, "That is not possible. No one is omnipotent. There is only a certain amount of energy in the universe" ' scientists agree to this as well. One aspect of the energy in the universe is the force of Buddha-activity, which is the enlightening influence that a Buddha can exert on anybody. The other is the energy of the impulses that come into people' s minds, in other words karma. Karma refers to the impulses that come to our minds based on previous habits of doing things. Because there is only a certain amount of energy in the universe, one cannot override the other. All that a Buddha or a bodhisattva can do is to try to influence someone in a positive way. He or she cannot stop anyone from doing something. If the impulse to commit suicide is so strong in someone's mind, the person is going to do it anyway.
A very interesting example happened one day when I was in Dharamsala in India. In front of the library where I worked was a mouse drowning in a drain. One of my friends rescued the mouse and put it on the ground to recover. As soon as he walked away, a large hawk swooped down and took the mouse.
We need not think, from that example, that we cannot help anybody because it is his or her karma what will happen. Do not think that karma is fate. "It is the fate of the mouse that it is going to die. There is no reason for me to help because it is the mouse' s karma to die." We try our best. If the person we are trying to help has some seed or potential from his or her side to be helped, then our helping will connect with that and we shall be able to benefit the person. If there were no seed, it would be like the example of this mouse: we rescue it, but it dies anyway.
It is the same thing when we try to help others. Aspiring to be bodhisattvas, we try our best to help them. If it works, fine. We do not congratulate ourselves or go around telling others how compassionate and wonderful we are. If it does not work, we need not feel guilty. We need not emotionally whip ourselves or punish ourselves. We tried our best and if that person had been receptive, it would have worked. They were not, so there is nothing that we could have done. Nobody is an omnipotent God. Certainly, we are not. Nobody can stop somebody from doing something if the impulses in that person' s mind are so strong.
It is important to be realistic when we are trying to help others and to realize that we cannot eliminate everybody' s problems. We develop the wish to be able to do that. We sincerely care and genuinely take the responsibility to help them. If it works, it works; if it does not work, we have tried our best. We do not get discouraged.
The Purpose of Enlightenment
His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has said that when we recite, "May I reach enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings," there is a bit of danger in the order of the aspirations here. Often, for us, the main emphasis seems to be "may I reach enlightenment." Why' Because it is the highest, it is the greatest; it is the most blissful. After all, we have to have the highest rank, the highest title. But, "may I reach enlightenment" is followed by "to benefit all sentient beings," which seems like some nasty tax that we have to pay afterwards. It is not really what we want to do, but if we want to become a Buddha, that is what we are obligated ' we have to benefit all sentient beings. His Holiness has said that the emphasis needs to be the other way around: "I want to help all sentient beings as much as is possible, and in order to do that, I have to become a Buddha." The major emphasis needs to be "I want to help everybody."
Sometimes, when we think of benefiting others, we may face the obstacle of not being sincere in our practice. We say, "I am going to help all sentient beings, and I love all sentient beings," but when our parents or our children ask us to do something, we snap at them, "Stop bothering me! I am trying to help all sentient beings!" As it says in the lojong teachings of cleansing our attitudes (training the mind), we need to start helping ourselves first; then, expand our help to our families; next, to people around us; and so on. In other words, we need to help those who are close to us. We do not ignore them. Often, people involved in social work have resentful children because they are so involved in helping others that they never have any time for their own families. That is very unfair. If we follow Buddha' s advice, then we would start with our families first and take care of them.
Developing equanimity does not mean, "Now I am going to ignore my own children and just work for everybody else," it means, "Just as I have an intense loving attitude toward my own children, I am going to expand it to include more and more people. Instead of having two children, now I have five, ten, a hundred, a thousand " We are expanding the range of our loving concern. We do not take care and love away from one area and transfer it to another. It is important to take care of those who are close to us and then extend it to others: our friends, strangers, and people we do not like, animals, spirits, and beings in all the different realms.
To develop bodhichitta means to expand our heart. Expanding our heart does not mean we can go from being selfish to cherishing all sentient beings in one jump. We have to work up to it gradually. In that way, we will be more sincere. We cannot be sincere when we say, "I am working to benefit all sentient beings," but we do not take care of our parents or our children. Bodhichitta is not at all contradictory to our usual cultural values of the importance of the family, parents and children. It builds on that basis and extends it further and further.
These are some important points to be aware of when we are engaged in the Mahayana path of expanding our hearts toward others, setting our hearts on the goal of eliminating all our limitations and realizing all our potentials so that we can help everybody in the best way possible. If we keep these in mind, we shall have less difficulty on that path.
Question: Is it possible, from having gained experience in past lives, to bypass some of these steps and take a short cut in this life'
Answer: Yes, that is possible. There are two types of practitioners: those for whom everything happens all at once and those who follow a gradual path. Thus, there is the sudden path and the gradual path. One of the great Tibetan masters who wrote a commentary on this particular point, however, said that it is a very rare person for whom everything happens all at once. It is very rare to have built up all the positive habits and instincts in past lives so that in this life we are able to jump steps. Often, itis because we are lazy and do not want to go through all the stages that we make the excuse, "I am someone who has built up so much potential in my past lives. I am one of the select few for whom everything happens all at once, so I can skip some stages and jump ahead." We need to be completely honest with ourselves. It is extremely rare that anyone has build up that much positive potential in past lives. There is no harm in going through all the steps, although we do not have to spend years and years in each one. One of the texts on the gradual path to enlightenment states that even if the instincts are there, it is good to reconfirm them by going through the steps quickly, not just skipping ahead.
Question: Can we be kind and compassionate without being taken advantage of'
Answer: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche coined an excellent expression that is relevant to this question: "idiot compassion." Idiot compassion is compassion without wisdom. For instance, the baby always asks for candy. With idiot compassion, we would constantly give the baby candy just because it asks for it. Or, a maniac comes and says, "Get me a gun. I want to shoot someone." If we say, "I am practicing generosity, so I will get a gun for him," that is idiot compassion.
Likewise, when people take advantage of us, if we continue to give, it is not helping them. In fact, it is detrimental to their growth. Sometimes, it is important to be very firm and strict. We need to give what others need, and what they may need is discipline. They may need someone saying "No" to them; they may need someone setting limits for them. For example, an unruly child needs discipline. There is a generation in the West that was raised with the philosophy of no discipline: "Just let the children do whatever they want, let them be free." This policy was disastrous. Many of the children felt unloved and insecure because other parents would set rules, but theirs did not. They felt that their parents did not love them and that they did not care enough to set rules. So, itis very important sometimes to say "No," to set limitations and not let everybody take advantage of us.
Idiot compassion is not beneficial. We need compassion with wisdom. This is fundamental in the Buddhist teachings, and is expressed in the mantra om mani padme hum. Mani is "jewel," which represents compassion, and padme signifies "in the lotus," which refers to wisdom. The two are together.
Sometimes, then, it is necessary to say "No." However, this may hurt the other person because he or she does not understand. Is that good? It says in the teachings on karma, that if it is a little harmful in the short run, but very beneficial in the long run, that action should be done. Obviously, if it is beneficial both in the short and long run, that is the best. But, if I give the kids candy, for instance, so that they will stop screaming and I can go to sleep, that is beneficial in the short run but not in the long run. It harms the children because they will get sick from constantly eating candy. Also, they will get spoiled and become brats. In this case, it is better to cause a little bit of harm and unpleasantness in the short run; because in the long run, it is beneficial. It requires wisdom to see what will be beneficial and what will not be, but some of these things are common sense.
Question: If our lives end prematurely, will we again be the husbands or wives of the same persons in our next lives?
Answer: Not necessarily, although it is possible. It could happen if the connection is very strong. There are examples: a child was born to a family and died as a baby, but the individual had such a strong connection with the family that this person was born as another baby in that family. That does happen but, in general, there are many different karmic possibilities. At the time of death, different karmic imprints can be activated to propel us into different rebirths.
Also, we do not have a relationship with just one person like a wife or husband. We have had relations with many different people in many different lifetimes. These relationships change continuously. In one lifetime, certain interactions with another person occur and our relationship changes. Therefore, the continuity of that relationship may not necessarily be in the same form of husband and wife. Maybe you become two cows chewing grass together or two ants in an anthill working together. It depends on how the relationship developed before. Also, we may not meet that person in the next life or the life after that. It could be thousands of lives in the future.
It is important to combine the understanding of rebirth with the basic teachings on the lack of a truly existent, solid self or person. It is not that I am going to meet my husband ' whatever his name is ' or my wife ' whatever her name is ' in a future life. Each person is a continuity ' a continuity of energy, a continuity of consciousness, a continuity of tendencies and habits. In some future lives, the continuities of the two people will meet, but it will not be you and me exactly as we are now.
We all have experienced walking into a crowded room and having one or two people attract our eye. We have a close and warm feeling about them, and we want to talk to them. On the other hand, somebody else gives us the feeling of "Ugh! I do not want to become involved with that person." Why does this happen? This is an indication of a previous connection with that person. We have connections with millions and millions of beings. Some connections are more recent or stronger, so our experiences with these people affect us more. Other connections may be weak: we may be born in the same city but never meet.
Question: How is merit or positive potential carried to future lives?
Answer: "Merit" is a misleading translation. We do not gain points ' like being in the Scouts ' andwhen we earn enough points, we get a badge. Nobody is keeping score. "Merit" is better translated as "positive potential." We build up positive potentials just as we put more and more energy into a car battery. When there is enough potential, the car will go. Likewise, we are building up a lot of positive potential for something positive to happen. We also build up habits of acting in a positive way.
There are various levels of mind and various levels of body. The gross mind or consciousness is our sense consciousnesses ' seeing, hearing, tasting and so on. There is also subtle consciousness, which is a mental consciousness, and refers mostly to conceptual thinking. Then there is the subtlest level of mind, which is free from concepts.
Our gross and subtle consciousnesses function while we are awake. We see, hear, think and so on. Our dream consciousnesses are subtler. When we are asleep with no dreams, that is still more subtle. As we go through the death process, our consciousnesses become more and more subtle as our mental continuums separate from our gross bodies. The subtlest level is the bare continuity, the bare clarity and awareness of the mind that provides the continuity from one moment to another. The grosser levels are like a radio being tuned on various stations or at different volumes, and that subtlest level is just the radio being on.
Correspondingly, we have the gross body, which is the basis for the gross mind. We have eyes, ears, body, and so on, which are the bases for seeing, hearing and other sense perceptions. The subtle body is the energy ( qi in Chinese) of the channels and chakras. The subtle body is the basis for the subtle mental consciousness. When the energy is disturbed in our bodies, we have strange thoughts and feelings. The subtlest energy is the support for the subtlest consciousness. It is like the electricity for that consciousness. The subtle energy and subtle mind together constitute something like the spark of life.
What goes on into future lives is not the gross body, which is cremated or buried, nor the gross consciousness. Neither is it our conceptual mental consciousness, the energy, channels and so on. What goes on into future lives is the continuity of the subtlest consciousness and the energy that supports it. There is not a solid self ' like a little statue sitting on a conveyor belt ' going from one life to the next. It is more analogous to a movie. A movie appears to be solid, but it is actually made up of individual frames forming a continuity, without one thing existing throughout. Likewise, this continuity of the subtlest consciousness and subtlest energy, which are both constantly changing, goes from one life to the next. This is the spark of life that continues.
Merit or positive potential is a type of energy that is built up. That positive energy is carried along with the subtlest energy, the spark of life. The potentials are a form of subtle energy that continue on into future lives.
What is a habit or instinct? Suppose we have the habit of having cereal every morning. We had cereal yesterday, the day before, and today too. What is the habit? It is not something physical. It is not a bowl of cereal that pops up in our minds. It is not something mental: "Eat cereal, eat cereal" going on in our minds. All we can say is that there is a sequence of similar events of our eating cereal on so many days. Based on that, as a manner of speaking, we say that there is a habit of eating cereal. On that basis, we can predict that we are probably going to eat cereal tomorrow morning. It is just a manner of speaking or describing. A habit is imputed onto a series of similar events. That is what we call mental labeling.
A habit is nothing concrete or even mental. Neither are instincts. Suppose we have the habit of being kind. We were kind yesterday, we were kind the day before, and we are kind today. Based on that, as a manner of speaking, there is the instinct of being kind. Later we have a future life. In the future life, the child that we become is kind. She shares things and wants to give her cookies to others. She does not want just to take from others. There is kindness there. Thus, we can say that there is a habit of kindness that has continued into future lives. Nevertheless, the habit is not something concrete. The way it continued was just on the basis of individual moments. There was the time yesterday, the time before that and the time before that.
The subtlest consciousness and energy have underlain each of those moments, because they are there all the time. The radio is always on. Based on this, we can say that the instincts are carried along. The instincts need not be something solid and concrete in order to continue on to the future. They are not physical seeds.
That is the mechanism of how things are carried into future lives. The positive potentials ("merits") are a type of very subtle energy that goes with the energy that supports life. The instincts and habits are just a manner of speaking, based on a sequence of similar events both in this life and future lives. On thebasis of there being the subtlest mind and energy that go from one life to the next, we say that there is a sequence of similar events ' a habit or an instinct.
Question: Do you believe in rebirth?
Answer: Yes, I do. But, it has taken a long time for me to reach that point. Belief in rebirth does not come instantly. Some people may come from a background in which belief in rebirth is part of the culture. This is the case in many Asian countries, and thus, since people have heard about rebirth since they were children, the belief in it comes automatically. However, for those of us from Western cultures, it seems strange at first. We do not usually gain conviction in rebirth all of a sudden, with rainbows and music in the background and "Hallelujah! Now I believe!" It does not usually work like that.
It takes most people a long time to get used to the idea of rebirth. I went through various stages in the process of gaining conviction in it. First, I had to become open to the idea in the sense that I thought, "I do not really understand rebirth." Acknowledging that we do not understand it is important, because sometimes we could reject rebirth and what we are actually rejecting is an idea of rebirth that Buddhism would also reject. Someone may think, "I do not believe in rebirth because I do not think that there is a soul with wings that flies out of the body and goes into another body." Buddhists agree, "We do not believe in a soul with wings either." In order to decide whether I believed in rebirth, I had tounderstand the Buddhist concept of rebirth, and that concept is not simple. It is very sophisticated, as you can see from what I explained before about the subtlest consciousness and energy, and the instincts that accompany it.
Then I thought to give rebirth the benefit of the doubt. Provisionally, let us say there is rebirth. Now, what follows from viewing our existence in this way? We can establish all the bodhisattva trainings, we can recognize everybody as having been our mother and thus can feel some connection with all others.
It could also explain why the things that happened in my life happened. Why was someone from my background drawn strongly to study Chinese language? Why was I drawn to go to India and study with the Tibetans? Considering my family' s interests and the environment in which I grew up, it made no sense that I was interested in these things. However, when I thought in terms of rebirth, there was an explanation. I must have had some connection with India, China and Tibet in differentlifetimes, and this has caused me to be interested in these places, their languages and cultures. Rebirth started to answer many questions that I could not find any answers to otherwise; if there were no past lives and no karma, then what happened in my life did not make any sense. Rebirth could also explain the recurring dreams that I used to have. In this way, I started slowly to become more familiar with it.
I have been studying m India for the last nineteen years and have had the great privilege and opportunity to study with some of the very old masters while they were still alive. Many of them have died and have come back, and now I meet them again as small children. I know them in two of their lives.
There is a certain point on the Buddhist path atwhich you can control your rebirths. You do not have to be a Buddha, or even a liberated being, an arhat, to do this. Nevertheless, you do need to be a bodhisattva. You also need to have advanced to a certain stage on the tantric path and to have a very strong determination to be reborn in a form so that you can help everybody. There are certain visualizations and methods that enable you to transform death, the intermediate state and rebirth. If you have mastered that level, you can control your rebirths. There are about a thousand people among the Tibetans who have achieved that level and when they pass away, they are found again. In the Tibetan system, they are called tulkus. A tulku is a reincarnate lama, someone given the title Rinpoche. The title Rinpoche, however, is not used exclusively for tulkus, or reincarnated lamas. It is also used for an abbot or retired abbot of a monastery. Not everyone who is called Rinpoche is a reincarnate lama.
Also, I should point out that the way the word lama is used varies from one Tibetan tradition to the next. In some, lama refers to a very high spiritual teacher, such as a geshe -- one who has the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies -- or a reincarnate lama. In some traditions, lama is used for someone who functions somewhat like a community priest. This person has done a three-year retreat and has learnt the various rituals. He or she will then go to villages and do rituals in people's homes. The title lama can have different meanings.
Again, there are about one thousand recognized incarnate lamas, or tulkus, and they are identified through various indications that they themselves give as well as by other indications such as oracles or significant signs in the environment. The attendants of the previous lama will look for the new incarnation. They will bring ritual objects and personal belongings of the previous lama together with other similar items. The child will be able to recognize what belonged to his or her previous life. For example, His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, recognized the people who came looking for him. He called them by name and started speaking to them in the Lhasa dialect, which is not the language of the region where he was born. By such signs, they are able to identify the child.
Meeting my teachers again in their next lives has been quite impressive for me. The most impressive example was Ling Rinpoche, who was the senior tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was also the head of the Gelug tradition. When he passed away, he remained in meditation for nearly two weeks, although his breath had stopped and for all medical purposes, he would have been considered dead. However, his subtle consciousness was still within the body: he was absorbed in a very profound meditation with the very subtle mind. The region around the heart was still slightly warm, and he sat in meditation position without his body decomposing. When he finished the meditation, his head tipped and a bit of blood came from his nostrils. At that time, his consciousness had left his body.
In Dharamsala, where I live, this sort of things occurs two, three, four times a year. It is not uncommon, even though someone needs to be at a high level of spiritual practice to do this. This ability can be attained.
Ling Rinpochey's reincarnation was recognized when he was one year and nine months old. Usually, children are not identified so young, because when they are older -- about three or four years old -- they can speak and give some indications themselves. The child was brought back to his old house. There was a very large ceremony to welcome him. A few thousand people lined the streets, and I had the fortune to be among them. They were dressed in special clothes and were singing. It was such a joyous occasion
Question: How was the child identified?
Answer: It was through oracles and mediums, as well as his being able to identify various objects from his previous life. Also, he displayed certain physical characteristics. For instance, his predecessor always held his mala (the garland of beads) with two hands, and the child did this as well. He recognized the people from his household, too.
What was the most convincing for me, however, was the child's behavior during the ceremony. The child was carried to the house where a throne was set up near the doorway facing a large verandah and two to three thousand people gathered in the yard. Most children under two years old would be very frightened in such a situation. He was not. They put the child on the throne. Normally, a child would want to get down and would cry if he could not get his way. This child sat cross-legged without moving for an hour and a half while the people did a long-life puja (ritual) for him. He was completely interested in what was going on, and being amidst this huge crowd did not bother him at all.
Part of the ceremony entailed making offerings to the lama and requesting him to live long. There was a procession of people, each holding an offering - a statue of the Buddha, a scriptural text, a stupa reliquary monument, a set of monks' robes, and many other things. When someone gave an offering to him, he was supposed to take it with two hands and give it to a person standing on his left. He did this perfectly with each object. It was really remarkable! How can you teach a one year and nine-month old child to do something like that? You cannot.
When the ceremony had finished, all the people lined up to receive his hand blessing. Someone held the child, and he gave hand blessings, holding his hand in the correct position. With total absorption, and without losing interest or getting tired, the child then gave a hand blessing to two or three thousand people. After that His Supreme Presence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, had lunch with him and they spent some time together. The only time that the child cried and made any fuss was when the Dalai Lama started to leave. He did not want him to go.
In fact, the child was giving hand blessings even before he was recognized as being Ling Rinpoche. Both he and his older brother were in an orphanage, because the mother died shortly after he was born. The father was very poor and so had to put the children in an orphanage. He used to give hand blessing to the people there. His older brother, who was three or four years old, would say to people, "My brother is very special. He is a lama. He is a Rinpoche. Do not do anything bad to him. Treat him special."
The previous Ling Rinpoches have been the teachers of three consecutive Dalai Lamas. One Ling Rinpoche was the teacher of the twelfth Dalai Lama; the next Ling Rinpoche was the teacher of the thirteenth; the next one was the teacher of the fourteenth. Certainly, people look at this one to be teacher of the next Dalai Lama.
Seeing examples like this made a big impression on me about the feasibility of future lives. So, by thinking, by hearing stories and by seeing things like this, gradually one becomes more and more convinced about the existence of past and future lives. If you ask me now, "Do you believe in future lives?" Yes, I do.
Question: Are incarnate lamas found only among the Tibetans?
Answer: No, about seven have been identified in Western countries as well. One of these, Lama Osel, the reincarnation of Lama Thubten Yeshe, is a Spanish child. Meeting Lama Osel has given the people who knew Lama Yeshe much conviction in rebirth.
Question: Some people here carry little Buddha statues for protection. How does this work?
Answer: Two factors are involved here. One is from the side of the object. Such statues are consecrated by very high lamas. Many masters may gather together and recite om mani padme hum ten million times and blow on the objects. One lama could also do this, or he could sit in deep and concentrated meditation. To use a scientific analogy, the recitation of mantra and concentration changes the magnetic field -- the energy field -- of the objects so that they have a certain spiritual magnetic quality to them.
The second factor is the faith and confidence of the people using the objects, as well as their previously created actions or karma. If people have faith and confidence that something will protect them, then their own confidence can protect them. It may not protect them from an atom bomb, but it could protect them in events where they would not have confidence to deal with a situation in a beneficial way.
If a blessed cord or image were put around the neck of a pig, I do not know if it would protect it from being slaughtered. However, if a person has the potential that will allow for this blessing to work, then it works. Both factors are needed. It is like two pieces of a puzzle fitting together.
Elimination of Anger
With two stories retold from the Buddhist texts
by Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera
Copyright © 1975 Buddhist Publication Society
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is the deathless condition of Nibbana, the sole reality. Hence, one who aspires to that state should renounce mundane pursuits and attachments, which are ephemeral, for the sake of that reality. But there are very few who are sufficiently mature to develop themselves to achieve that state in this very life. Thus the Buddha does not force the life of renunciation upon those who lack the spiritual capacity to embark upon the higher life.
Therefore, one should follow the path of mundane advantage which is twofold, namely, the advantage obtainable here in this very life and the advantage obtainable in future lives, as steps on the path to the spiritual life. Although one may enjoy the pleasures of life, one must regard one's body as an instrument with which to practice virtue for one's own and other's benefit; in short, one should live a useful life of moral integrity, a life of simplicity and paucity of wants.
As regards acquisition of wealth, the Buddha said: "One must be diligent and energetic," and as regards the safeguarding of one's wealth, "one must be mindful and economical."
It is not impossible that even the life of such a man may be somehow or other disturbed and harassed as a result of the actions of "unskillful" men. Although this might induce him to abandon his chosen path, it is at such times that one must not forget the steps to be taken for the purpose of establishing peace. According to the teaching of the Buddha this includes the reflection: "Others may be harmful, but I shall be harmless, thus should I train myself." We must not forget that the whole spirit of Buddhism is one of pacification. In the calm and placid atmosphere of the Buddha's teaching there is every chance, every possibility, of removing hatred, jealousy and violence from our mind.
It is no wonder if we, at times, in our everyday life, feel angry with somebody about something. But we should not allow this feeling to reside in our mind. We should try to curb it at the very moment it has arisen. Generally there are eight ways to curb or control our anger.
The first method is to recollect the teachings of the Buddha. On very many occasions the Buddha explained the disadvantages of an angry temper. Here is one of his admonitions:
Suppose some bandits catch one of you and sever his body limb from limb with a two-handed saw, and if he should feel angry thereby even at that moment, he is no follower of my teaching.
-- Kakacupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 21
As a log from a pyre, burnt at both ends and fouled in the middle, serves neither for firewood in the village nor for timber in the forest, so is such a wrathful man.
-- Anguttara Nikaya II, 95
Further, we may consider the Buddha's advice to be found in the Dhammapada:
He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me of my property. Whosoever harbor such thoughts will never be able to still their enmity.
Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred; it will only be stilled by non-hatred -- this is an eternal law.
-- Dhp., vv. 4-5
Do not speak harshly to anyone. Those who are harshly spoken to might retaliate against you. Angry words hurt other's feelings, even blows may overtake you in return.
-- Dhp., v. 133
Forbearance is the highest observance. Patience is the highest virtue. So the Buddhas say.
-- Dhp., v. 184
Let a man remove his anger. Let him root out his pride. Let him overcome all fetters of passions. No sufferings overtake him who neither clings to mind-and-body nor claims anything of the world.
-- Dhp., v. 221
Conquer anger by non-anger. Conquer evil by good. Conquer miserliness by liberality. Conquer a liar by truthfulness.
-- Dhp., v. 223
Guard your mind against an outburst of wrong feelings. Keep your mind controlled. Renouncing evil thoughts, develop purity of mind.
-- Dhp., v. 233
If by contemplating the advice of the Buddha in this way one cannot curb his anger, then let him try the second method.
Naturally, any bad person may possess some good quality. Some men are evil in mind but speak in deceptive language or slyly perform their deeds in an unsuspecting manner. Some men are coarse only in their language but not in their mind or deeds. Some men are coarse and cruel in their deeds but neither in their speech nor in their mind. Some are soft and kind in mind, speech and deed as well.
When we feel angry with any person, we should try to find out some good in him, either in his way of thinking, or in his way of speaking or in his way of acting. If we find some redeeming quality in him, we should ponder its value and ignore his bad qualities as natural weaknesses that are to be found in everyone. Whilst we think thus, our mind will soften and we may even feel kindly towards that person. If we develop this way of thinking we will be able to curb or eliminate our anger towards him.
At times, this method may not be successful and we shall then have to try the third method. Basically, this entails reflecting thus:
"He has done some wrong to me and in so doing has spoiled his mind. Then why should I spoil or impair my own mind because of his foolishness? Sometimes I ignore support or help offered by my relatives; sometimes their tears even shed because of my activities. Being a person of such type myself, why should I not therefore ignore that foolish man's deed?
"He has done that wrong, being subject to anger, should I too follow him, making my mind subject to anger? Is it not foolish to imitate him? He harboring his hatred destroys himself internally. Why should I, on his account, destroy my reputation?
"All things are momentary. Both his mind and body are momentary too. The thoughts and the body with which the wrong was done to me are not now existing. What I call the same man now are the thoughts and physical parts which are different from the earlier ones that harmed me although belonging to the same psycho-physical process. Thus, one thought together with one mass of physical parts did me some wrong, and vanished there and then, giving place to succeeding thoughts and material parts to appear. So with which am I getting angry? WIth the vanished and disappeared thoughts and physical parts or with the thoughts and material parts which do not do any wrong now? Should I get angry with one thing which is innocent whereas another thing has done me wrong and vanished?
"The so-called 'I' is not the same for two consecutive moments. At the moment the wrong was done there was another thought and another mass of molecules which were regarded as 'I,' whereas what are regarded as 'I' at the present moment are a different thought and collection of molecules, though belonging to the same process. Thus some other being did wrong to someone else and another gets angry with another. Is this not a ridiculous situation?"
If we scrutinize the exact nature of our life and its happenings in this manner, our anger might subside or vanish there and then.
There is another way, too, to eliminate upsurging anger. Suppose we think of someone who has done wrong to us. On such occasions we should remember that we suffer harm or loss as a result of our previous kamma. Even if others were angry with us, they could not harm us if there were no latent force of past unwholesome kamma committed by us which took advantage of this opportunity to arouse our adversary. So it is I who am responsible for this harm or loss and not anybody else. And at the same time, now while I am suffering the result of past kamma, if I, on account of this, should get angry and do any harm to him, by that do I accumulate much more unwholesome kamma which would bring me correspondingly unwholesome results.
If we recall to mind this law of kamma, our anger may subside immediately. We can consider such a situation in another way too. We as the followers of Buddha believe that our Bodhisatta passed through incalculable numbers of lives practicing virtues before he attained Buddhahood. The Buddha related the history of some of his past lives as illustrations to teach us how he practiced these virtues. The lives of the prince Dhammapala and the ascetic Khantivadi are most illustrative and draw our attention.
At one time the Bodhisatta had been born as the son of a certain king named Mahapatapa. The child was named Culla Dhammapala. One day the Queen sat on a chair fondling her child and did not notice the King passing by. The King thought the Queen was so proud of her child as not to get up from her chair even when she saw that her lord the King passed that way. So he grew angry and immediately sent for the executioner. When he came the King ordered him to snatch the child from the Queen's arms and cut his hands, feet and head off, which he did instantly. The child, our Bodhisatta, suffered all that with extreme patience and did not grow ill-tempered or relinquish his impartial love for his cruel father, lamenting mother and the executioner. So far had he matured in the practice of forbearance and loving-kindness at that time.
At another time, our Bodhisatta was an ascetic well-known for his developed virtue of forbearance and consequently people named him Khantivadi, the preacher of forbearance. One day he visited Benares and took his lodgings at the royal pleasure grove. Meanwhile, the King passed that way with his harem and, seeing the ascetic seated under a tree, asked what virtue he was practicing, to which the ascetic replied that of forbearance. The King was a materialist who regarded the practice of virtue to be humbug. So, hearing the words of the ascetic, he sent for the executioner and ordered him to cut off his hands and feet and questioned the ascetic as to whether he could hold to forbearance at the severing of his limbs. The ascetic did not feel ill-tempered but even at that time he lay down extending his loving-kindness and holding his forbearance undiminished. He spoke to the King in reply to the effect that his forbearance and other virtues were not in his limbs but in his mind. The King, being unsuccessful in his attempts to disturb the ascetic's feelings, grew angrier and kicked the stomach of the ascetic with his heel and went away. Meanwhile, the King's minister came over and, seeing what had happened, bowed before the dying ascetic and begged him saying: "Venerable one, none of us agreed to this cruel act of the King and we are all sorrowing over what has been done to you by that devilish man. We ask you to curse the King but not us." At this the ascetic said: "May that king who has caused my hands and feet to be cut off, as well as you, live long in happiness. Persons who practice virtues like me never get angry." Saying this, he breathed his last.
Since the Buddha in his past lives, while still imperfect like us, practiced forbearance and loving-kindness to such a high extent, why cannot we follow his example?
When we remember and think of similar noble characters of great souls, we should be able to bear any harm, unmoved by anger. Or if we consider the nature of the round of rebirths in this beginningless and infinite universe, we will be able to curb our upspringing anger. For, it is said by the Buddha: "It is not easy to find a being who has not been your mother, your father, your brother, sister, son or daughter." Hence with regard to the person whom we have now taken for our enemy, we should think: "This one now, in the past has been my mother who bore me in her womb for nine months, gave birth to me, unweariedly cleansed me of impurities, hid me in her bosom, carried me on her hip and nourished me. This one was my father in another life and spent time and energy, engaged in toilsome business, with a view to maintaining me, even sacrificing life for my sake," and so on. When we ponder over these facts, it should be expected that our arisen anger against our enemy will subside.
And further, we should reflect on the advantages of the development of mind through the practice of extending loving-kindness. For, the Buddha has expounded to us eleven advantages to be looked for from its development. What are the eleven? The person who fully develops loving-kindness sleeps happily. He wakes happily. He experiences no evil dreams. He is beloved of men. He is beloved even of non-human beings. He is protected by the gods. He can be harmed neither by fire, poison or a weapon. His mind is quickly composed. His complexion is serene. At the moment of his death he passes away unbewildered. If he can go no further along the path of realization, he will at least be reborn in the heavenly abode of the Brahma Devas.
So, by every similar and possible way should we endeavor to quench our anger and at last be able to extend our loving-kindness towards any and every being in the world.
When we are able to curb our anger and control our mind, we should extend from ourselves boundless love as far as we can imagine throughout every direction pervading and touching all living beings with loving-kindness. We should practice this meditation every day at regular times without any break. As a result of this practice, we will be able, one day, to attain to the jhanas or meditative absorptions, comprising four grades which entail the control of sensuality, ill-will and many other passions, bringing at the same time purity, serenity and peace of mind.
Appendix: Two Stories Retold from the Buddhist Texts
Once while the Blessed One stayed near Rajagaha in the Veluvana Monastery at the Squirrels' Feeding Place, there lived at Rajagha a Brahmin of the Bharadvaja clan who was later called "the Reviler." When he learned that one of his clan had gone forth from home life and had become a monk under the recluse Gotama, he was angry and displeased. And in that mood he went to see the Blessed One, and having arrived he reviled and abused him in rude and harsh speech.
Thus being spoken to, the Blessed One said: "How is it, Brahmin: do you sometimes receive visits from friends, relatives or other guests?"
"Yes, Master Gotama, I sometimes have visitors."
"When they come, do you offer to them various kinds of foods and a place for resting?"
"Yes, I sometimes do so."
"But if, Brahmin, your visitors do not accept what you offer, to whom does it then belong?"
"Well, Master Gotama, if they do not accept it, these things remain with us."
"It is just so in this case, Brahmin: you revile us who do not revile in return, you scold us who do not scold in return, you abuse us who do not abuse in return. So we do not accept it from you and hence it remains with you, it belongs to you, Brahmin..."
[The Buddha finally said:]
"Whence should wrath rise for him who void of wrath,
Holds on the even tenor of his way,
Self-tamed, serene, by highest insight free?
"Worse of the two is he who, when reviled,
Reviles again. Who doth not when reviled,
Revile again, a two-fold victory wins.
Both of the other and himself he seeks
The good; for he the other's angry mood
Doth understand and groweth calm and still.
He who of both is a physician, since
Himself he healeth and the other too, --
Folk deem him a fool, they knowing not the Norm."
-- Abridged and freely rendered from Samyutta Nikaya, Brahmana Samyutta, No. 2. Verses translated by C. A. F. Rhys Davids, in "Kindred Sayings," vol. I.
The Anger-eating Demon
Retold from an ancient Buddhist Story
by Nyanaponika Thera
Once there lived a demon who had a peculiar diet: he fed on the anger of others. And as his feeding ground was the human world, there was no lack of food for him. He found it quite easy to provoke a family quarrel, or national and racial hatred. Even to stir up a war was not very difficult for him. And whenever he succeeded in causing a war, he could properly gorge himself without much further effort; because once a war starts, hate multiplies by its own momentum and affects even normally friendly people. So the demon's food supply became so rich that he sometimes had to restrain himself from over-eating, being content with nibbling just a small piece of resentment found close-by.
But as it often happens with successful people, he became rather overbearing and one day when feeling bored he thought: "Shouldn't I try it with the gods?" On reflection he chose the Heaven of the Thirty-three Deities, ruled by Sakka, Lord of Gods. He knew that only a few of these gods had entirely eliminated the fetters of ill-will and aversion, though they were far above petty and selfish quarrels. So by magic power he transferred himself to that heavenly realm and was lucky enough to come at a time when Sakka the Divine King was absent. There was none in the large audience hall and without much ado the demon seated himself on Sakka's empty throne, waiting quietly for things to happen, which he hoped would bring him a good feed. Soon some of the gods came to the hall and first they could hardly believe their own divine eyes when they saw that ugly demon sitting on the throne, squat and grinning. Having recovered from their shock, they started to shout and lament: "Oh you ugly demon, how can you dare to sit on the throne of our Lord? What utter cheekiness! What a crime! you should be thrown headlong into the hell and straight into a boiling cauldron! You should be quartered alive! Begone! Begone!"
But while the gods were growing more and more angry, the demon was quite pleased because from moment to moment he grew in size, in strength and in power. The anger he absorbed into his system started to ooze from his body as a smoky red-glowing mist. This evil aura kept the gods at a distance and their radiance was dimmed.
Suddenly a bright glow appeared at the other end of the hall and it grew into a dazzling light from which Sakka emerged, the King of Gods. He who had firmly entered the undeflectible Stream that leads Nibbana-wards, was unshaken by what he saw. The smoke-screen created by the gods' anger parted when he slowly and politely approached the usurper of his throne. "Welcome, friend! Please remain seated. I can take another chair. May I offer you the drink of hospitality? Our Amrita is not bad this year. Or do you prefer a stronger brew, the vedic Soma?"
While Sakka spoke these friendly words, the demon rapidly shrank to a diminutive size and finally disappeared, trailing behind a whiff of malodorous smoke which likewise soon dissolved.
The gist of this story dates back to the discourses of the Buddha. But even now, over 2500 years later, our world looks as if large hordes of Anger-eating Demons were haunting it and were kept well nourished by millions slaving for them all over the earth. Fires of hate and wide-traveling waves of violence threaten to engulf mankind. Also the grass roots of society are poisoned by conflict and discord, manifesting in angry thoughts and words and in violent deeds. Is it not time to end this self-destructive slavery of man to his impulses of hate and aggression which only serve the demoniac forces? Our story tells how these demons of hate can be exorcised by the power of gentleness and love. If this power of love can be tested and proven, at grass-root level, in the widely spread net of personal relationships, society at large, the world at large, will not remain unaffected by it.
-- Based on Samyutta Nikaya, Sakka Samyutta, No. 22
1. The "Norm" or law (dhamma), here referred to, may be expressed in the words of the Dhammapada (v. 5):
"Not by hating hatred ceases
In this world of tooth and claw;
Love alone from hate releases --
This is the Eternal Law."
Translated by Francis Story]
Endpoint of Samsara Is Suffering,
the Endpoint of Dharma Is Happiness
Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche
Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, August 19, 1980
translated by Alexander Berzin
All beings wish to be happy, no one wishes to be unhappy. The Dharma teaches the methods to get rid of suffering and achieve happiness. The Dharma which we practice is, literally, something that holds us. This can be explained in many ways. It holds us back from suffering and holds all true sources of happiness.
Happiness can be either physical or mental. There are also two types of suffering: physical and mental. Many of us, though we wish to achieve happiness, we are ignorant of the methods to attain this. The methods we use lead us to suffering.
Some people rob and kill to make a living. They think this will bring them happiness. This is not so. There are many others who try to achieve happiness by being a merchant, farmer, and so on, within the bounds of the laws. Many people become very wealthy and famous through such methods. This type of happiness is not something that can last forever; it's not ultimate happiness. No matter how much happiness or material goods we have, we are never satisfied that we have enough. Even if we owned an entire country, we would want more.
The work we do to achieve happiness never ends. We try to go around by the fastest means we can, cars, etc. - this type of pursuit has no end. That's why they say samsaric existence has no end, it just goes around and around. We can all understand this: worldly pursuits never end.
A flower is fresh when new, fades when old. No matter what you achieve in this life, it will come to an end. It comes to an end as time goes on and on, to the end of our lives where we have the most suffering. For example, the automobile. You pass by junk yards where old cars have been thrown away. This is the final end, in a state where everything has turned to junk. Even when the car is in good order, we worry about it. We worry that parts will break down, tax and insurance payments, etc., etc. We can extend this example to all our material possessions. The more we have, the more worries we have about them.
Dharma is that which teaches the method for bringing about mental happiness. To achieve some type of mental happiness, we don't do physical work: we need to do work with our minds. The mind, however, has a long stream of continuity, even into future lifetimes, and from past lifetimes. In each lifetime, we have a body and we try to get happiness for that body, but at death the mind goes on. So, the happiness we need to wish for is not only a happiness that is great and stable, but one that lasts for all our future lifetimes and which has no break in its continuity.
No matter what type of activity we do, constructive or not, that's not Dharma, but positive actions that are done for the sake of our future lifetimes, that's the Dharma.
Happiness or unhappiness comes from our actions. Regarding these karmic actions, negative actions bring negative results and positive actions bring positive results. Anything we can do well in this life, planting fields, and so on, this is the result of positive actions we did in our previous lives. If we are very sick, or if we are unhappy or have short lives, this is the result of negative actions we have done in the past.
For example, there are two merchants, one is successful and one is not. This is due to previous karma. You can see two businessmen, one works very hard and is not successful while another doesn't have to work hard but is successful. Another example, if you kill living beings, you will have a short life and will have sickness. You can ask your Geshe-la here about all of this.
If you refrain from committing these negative actions, you won't be born in a lower realm, but as a human or in the god realms. But even if you are born as a human or as a god, this doesn't bring you ultimate happiness - it's all in the nature of suffering. Why is this so? If you achieve a high position, you fall to a low one; if you are in a low position, you rise to a higher one. From this, there is a great deal of suffering. For example if you are hungry, you eat food; but if you eat too much, then you get ill. If you are cold, you turn on the heat and get too hot; then you have to cool down. There are all these types of suffering.
Samsara (uncontrollably recurring existence) consists of these types of suffering. It is the result of karma and various disturbing emotions and attitudes. We need to develop the wisdom (discriminating awareness) of voidness or identitylessness.
We can see, as examples of those who have reached an end of their samsara, the sixteen arhats and various other aryas who have achieved this state. Though we can put an end to our own samsaric existence, it's not enough to do this, because no one has been kinder to us than all limited beings (sentient beings). Dairy products come from the kindness of animals. If we enjoy meat, this comes from animals slaughtered while still healthy. In the winter, we wear fur coats and wool, which come from the animals. They are very kind to provide this to us. We need to repay the kindness of all living beings by attaining the state of Buddhahood ourselves - then we can fulfil the aims of all limited beings.
Sravakas and arhats can't fulfill all the purposes of limited beings. The only one who can do this is a Buddha, and so this is what we must do in order truly to help them. We need to become Buddhas ourselves.
How do we do this? By following the Dharma. In India, there were the highly accomplished mahasiddhas, we have the life stories of eighty of them, but really there are countless numbers of them. They achieve enlightenment in their very lifetimes. In Tibet, there is the example of Milarepa, and many other great masters from the Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya, and Gelug schools.
Once we achieve the state of a Buddha, our Dharma efforts come to an end. The work we do in the Dharma is very difficult in the beginning, but it gets easier and easier, and we become happier and happier as we progress. We finish our Dharma work in a state of complete happiness. Worldly work brings us only more suffering.
For example, when people die, their lives reaching their culmination or endpoint in death causes only misery and suffering, not only to themselves, but also to those left behind, for instance at their funerals. We need to think about this and do some type of Dharma work. Reaching the culmination or endpoint of the Dharma with the attainment of enlightenment brings only happiness, not only to us, but also to all others.
We need to refrain from committing the ten negative actions. If we do positive actions, we experience happiness, and if we do negative actions, we experience unhappiness. We need to examine the results of our actions and we need to examine our own minds as the causes of our actions. When we examine, we see we have the three poisonous emotions and attitudes: desire, hostility, and closed-minded ignorance (naivety).
From these, we get the 84,000 kinds of disturbing emotions and attitudes. These 84,000 delusions are our main enemies, so we look within, not around us, for our enemies. Of these 84,000, the main ones are these three poisons, and the worst one is the closed-minded ignorance or naivety, right in our own mind-streams.
In short, we need to look within ourselves and try to put an end to these inner enemies. That's why followers of the Buddha Dharma are called "insiders" (nang-pa), because they always look within. If we put an end to these disturbing emotions and attitudes in our mental continuums, then we put an end to all our suffering. A person who works to do this is known as one who follows the Dharma.
The Dharma activity of someone who works to eliminate the disturbing emotions and attitudes only within him or herself is the Dharma activity of the Hinayana vehicle. If we work to eliminate our delusions not just to get rid of our own suffering, but see others as more important and strive to overcome our delusions so that we can help them remove the disturbing emotions and attitudes in their minds as well, then we are Mahayana practitioners. On the working basis of this body, we need to try to become Mahayanists, and the result is that we can achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha.
The main point is to try always to benefit everybody and never cause harm to anyone at all. If we recite "Om Mani Padme Hum," you need to think, "May the positive force of doing this benefit all limited beings."
These bodies we have as our working basis are difficult to obtain: being born as a human doesn't easily come about. For example, look at the globe. The majority of it is ocean, and think how many fish there are in all these oceans. The life form with the largest number is animals and insects. If we think of the entire planet and the number of animals and insects there are, we will see the rarity of being born a human.
In the Dharma, realizations and insights come very slowly. Not just in a few days, weeks or months. Only a very few human beings even actually think about Dharma, let alone realize it. We need to work at it consistently for a long period of time. You have a well-qualified Geshe here who can answer all of your questions. In the long term, the Buddha Dharma will continue to grow and become widespread. It is still increasing and very much alive. When the Buddha first taught, he only had five disciples. It spread from these people, and now is present to such a great extent.
We now have someone equal to Shakyamuni, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will be here in October. Whatever teaching His Holiness gives you, take to heart and practice them sincerely. The essence of the teachings is never to harm any creature and to have no harmful thoughts - try only to benefit them. This is the main point. If you act like this, it will bring about great benefit in the future.
Five Skandhas and the New Millennium
by Martin Goodson
It may be because we are coming to the end of one millennium and about to enter another that there is a great interest in news stories that signal the end of the world. In 1998, a new film was released called 'Deep Impact'. It was about a comet colliding with Earth. At the time, a space agency revealed that in the twenty-first century, Earth will narrowly miss a collision with an asteroid that will cross its orbit. Although the warning turned out to greatly overestimate the danger, it provided a great platform to launch the film and, from Hollywood's point of view, could not have been better timed.
One thousand years ago in parts of Europe, the population was also in the grip of an end-of-time fever. Then, of course, the carrier was not science but religion. Christianity has always had a strong eschatological teaching and indeed the early Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent. The turn of the first millennium provided an opportunity for this fear to manifest. They were convinced that the world was about to be destroyed in a great battle between God and the Antichrist and that this battle would usher in the New Kingdom.
Whether our collective concern for the future of our species is aimed at asteroids colliding with Earth or at man's effect on the environment, we should not forget that medieval Europeans' fears were every bit as real to them as ours are to us. It is not whether our scientific concerns are true or not but our obsession with the belief in our mass destruction at this particular time that is so reminiscent of the turn of the first millennium. In this way we share something with those people of one thousand years ago and the struggle against a feeling of powerlessness in a universe that is so much larger than us.
Those people, however, at least could take comfort in being the chosen few who would be saved and make it into the New Kingdom. As we have lost our religious values by and large, we are more subject to the darker side of nature, whether from the vastness of space or from the powerful forces within the human heart that guide our actions for good or ill. Science may give us explanations about how things happen but it cannot help us to forge a relationship with these powers and with the universe. We simply do not understand why things are the way they are. Why is it that we have evolved so far and yet in a moment may be wiped out by a meteor or a new killer disease? Why is it that some people carry out the most horrific and calculated crimes, so much so that our media seem obsessed by such acts of cruelty, going over and over their causes in an effort to make sense of them? Why do even we ourselves, often acting against our better judgment, almost monotonously carry out acts that we know will only make trouble for us and those we hold dear?
The contradictions and contrariness of life can be just too overwhelming, and most of the time we distract ourselves from these dilemmas. Otherwise, we would become caught up in the apparent pointlessness of it all and be swamped by our helplessness. In extreme cases this mood can lead to our own demise, as in the legend of the Lorelei, who lured travelers into swampy ground to drown them.
A feeling of alienation from the universe and from our own inherent nature, which reveals our place in it, has led us into this predicament. What we need is to reestablish a link with that which lies beyond the restricted horizon of this self, to find something that can help us to forge a relationship with those natural forces within us upon which we have turned our back. In order to do this, we need a map to show us the way.
Every doctrinal formula given us by the Buddha contains an insight. But it is not enough that this insight is realized on an intellectual level only. The intellect, for all its development, does not go deep enough to satisfy the whole human being. There is too much within us that lies unknown and often in direct opposition to the will of the intellect. An insight acts as a center of gravity different from that of 'I', 'me' and 'mine'. In order for such an insight to ripen, a wholehearted awareness must be cultivated. This of course is going to conflict with 'my' wishes, normal habits and concerns that otherwise distract me. At times it will feel like going against the grain to work with a particular formula as more and more it comes into conflict with the attitude of 'I', 'me' and 'mine'. These emotional onslaughts must be borne if the insight is to bear fruit. In fact it is the energy that powers these emotional uprushes that will gradually loosen the bonds of 'I' and at the same time nurture the developing insight into consciousness. It is important to realize that as this process continues, small precursor insights will arise and that it will be tempting to stop and intellectualize them. This, however, would sustain the formation of 'my opinions', thus making further insights impossible, as true insight is not an idea but something fluid, something alive that will manifest slightly differently in different situations. This is something that the intellect with its 'either/or' approach cannot do.
The insight in the formula of the Five Skandhas is the realization that no part of the human mind-body is a separate 'self' or 'I'. The skandhas are like a river. It may have a particular name such as 'Thames' but it never remains the same; it is in constant flux. And when awareness of this flowing, changing quality of the skandhas is sufficiently cultivated, we realize this from moment to moment.
The first skandha is Form (rupa), which takes in the physical senses and their objects &endash; shape and colour, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile objects. Form stands for the body and the physical world. We need to be aware of our cultural conditioning as regards both our bodies and the physical world in general. Our native religion places great emphasis upon the separation of the spirit from the material world and views the latter as flawed and even intrinsically evil. This view is an example of the lopsidedness of 'I', of how 'I' likes to split things into extremes and place them in opposition to each other. Of late, this dislike and mistrust of the body has swung to the other extreme. This other view sees 'my body' as a temple to 'me'. It is here as a center to my life and to give me satisfaction. I like to pamper it and dress it up and compare it to the bodies of others. I feel a need to constantly reshape it, dye it, pierce it, tattoo it and, most important of all, protect it from old age. Alas, old age cannot be kept at bay forever: the body changes over time in accordance with nature, not my wishes, and my attitude changes as I begin to hate and despise it because it has let me down. In order to compensate for this, I may change my values and turn to the spirit for comfort. Remember, in our Western view spirit and matter are quite separate, and in this way I can ignore my body. But the emotional highs of the spirit are not fulfilling either. I am caught between an overemphasis on the body or a negation of it. I am never at ease with the body.
Form needs to be recognized for what it is &endash; Buddha-nature in corporeal form. Buddha-nature gives rise to all forms yet it is neither a form in itself nor separate from form. It manifests from one moment to the next, and to try to cling to it is to try to capture the liveliness of a river in a teacup.
Staying with the body and the situation the body is in is an excellent way to cultivate Awareness (sati). It provides an anchor and something to keep giving myself to when my thoughts and underlying passions or emotions (klesa) carry me away. Every few moments we can refresh our awareness of the five senses. Or we can use one sense in particular just to 'ground' ourselves: when I become aware of being carried away by a daydream or other 'head noise', I can open up instead and really listen, as if someone is calling my name. Alternatively, I can become aware of my feet on the ground or my behind on the chair. In this way I give myself into Form, sink into Form, become absorbed into Form.
With the arising of sensory consciousness, Sensation (vedana), the second skandha, comes to be. Sensations are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This is the subjective experience of them. In terms of our behavior it is movement towards, away from or neither towards nor away from something. Sensation acts as a motivating force on the instinctual level. It moves us away from danger or an undesirable situation, and towards things that are conducive to our well-being, rather like a cat moves from a cold spot to a warmer place. But if the warm place becomes too hot, vedana will arise and the cat will move to a cooler spot. Plants too move according to vedana, moving their leaves and flowers towards the sun and their roots towards water. Their shoots grow upward and their roots downward. We humans experience vedana in the same way. I may be absorbed in reading a favorite book, and suddenly a delicious smell from the kitchen wafts under my nose. In a flash attention shifts from the book to the pleasant smell 'Ah, dinner!'
In meditation, following the breath or counting the out-breath is mundane. It can be experienced as boring, as an unpleasant Sensation. Immediately craving arises and as a result, there is grasping for something more pleasant. Thoughts arise and are experienced as pleasant, thus I become absorbed in them until some time later the awareness arises that I have been daydreaming, and once again it is back to meditation. This process of slipping into pleasant day dreams happens unconsciously, which is why the conscious experience is of suddenly coming to oneself and realizing that day dreaming has been taking place. I do not 'choose' to think. If, however, we are fully conscious of vedana and completely given into or absorbed into it, then no outflow takes place and no craving arises. Awareness of this process gives rise to the insight that vedana is conditioned by the arising of sensory consciousness and in turn conditions the arising of craving. In other words, there is no 'doer' or subject to be bored by meditation, and no one who decides to think about something more pleasant instead. Understanding that vedana can be habituated leads us to see why difficulties arise in changing old patterns of behavior and adopting new ones that are conducive to the Buddha's Way.
Perception (samjña) is the third skandha and it involves identifying and recognizing the data that arise from the sense gates. It brings objects into consciousness and names them. Thus if I look at a crowd of people and recognize the face of an old friend, that face will seem to stand out. Perception recognizes by selecting two or three characteristics and committing them to memory. So if, for example, my friend has a distinctive hair style, that will be a primary characteristic for identification. However, should my friend change his hair style, I may not recognize him for a moment when next I see him. I must rely on the other, unchanged characteristics. Thus we can see that the faculty of recognition relies on recognizing external characteristics and matching them to memories. All perceived objects are seen as collections of these characteristics. As these are all subject to change, there is no essential self-hood to any perceived form.
Volitional Mental Objects (samskara), the fourth skandha, consist of thoughts, dreams, wishes, imaginings, emotions etc. It is important to understand that 'volitional', by an act of will, refers to the passions (klesa). Any volitional action, whether in thought, word or deed, is 'I' trying to get something or to get rid of something, thus the awareness of 'self' is born out of the energy manifesting as the passions. This means that far from being separate from my thoughts and feelings, I am my thoughts and feelings and will act in accordance with the nature of that particular emotion. Consequently, a sense of self born from aversion just wants to get rid of the undesired object, and the thoughts that arise are aversive, aggressive or withdrawn. A self that is born from the emotion of desire wants something. The resulting feelings of craving and grasping are only concerned with the desired object and cannot rest until the desire burns itself out. This shows up the futility of trying to push unwanted mental states away. The pushing and the desire to push are born from the mental state of aversion that I am trying to get rid of.
Our mistake in Buddhist training is to take these feelings and thoughts and allied mental states as real. In fact, they are like a dream. The dreamer does not know that he is dreaming: he is part of the dream and cannot be separated from it. The dream seems quite real, just as in waking life the physical world is quite real. Nor is it of use to say there is nothing real to be afraid of to someone who is terrified of spiders. The fear is quite real. The feeling of threat is real. Thoughts then arise that compound and reinforce the feeling. Maybe this spider has escaped from a zoo and has a fatal bite! We know only too well how in a crisis the mind manufactures thoughts that always seek to establish the current mental state.
These thoughts and states do not remain the same; they constantly change. Even powerful emotions do not last. If something has really upset me, and we know how that goes, I go over the grievance in my mind, re-visiting it again and again. But just try to maintain the level of anger. A point will come when it begins to subside. At that moment try to keep up the irritation. Even if I try by going over the irritating scene in my head, sooner or later I shall be distracted by something else. Other mental states arise and crowd the anger out. Someone talks to me and I become involved in a conversation or something interesting comes on the TV. Yet when a powerful emotion is in full spate, it is not possible to concentrate on anything else. Even if a distraction would normally interest me, I cannot give it my full attention, as the anger will not let me go. Thus we can see that such a state, with its accompanying thoughts and wishes, fears and hopes and imaginings, expectations and longings, is not mine. It comes and goes as forces outside 'my control' dictate, and these forces are much stronger than I. As anyone involved in a Buddhist training knows, these forces are constantly creating distractions from this moment, and this 'me' is generated by those selfsame states from moment to moment.
Consciousness (vijñana), the fifth skandha, is the way by which the other skandhas are known. Everything manifests itself through Consciousness. Nothing can come into existence without it. Consciousness, on the other hand, cannot arise without an object, thus there is no such thing as 'empty- of-all-objects Consciousness'. Buddhist terms such as emptiness or void (sunyata) mean that Consciousness is empty of anything permanent and is in a constant state of flux, that nothing exists without prior cause or condition and that there is nothing separate or independent from Consciousness.
Ajahn Chah once gave a beautiful metaphor for just this. He likened meditation to a pool in a forest. Day after day animals come to drink from it. Some of these animals are well known; some are strange. All of them come for a long or short time but sooner or later they all disappear back into the darkness of the forest.
Finally, we must understand that the insight within the Five Skandhas does not arise by me intellectually puzzling things out. It arises, as intimated above, by immersing myself in the stream of life, by being as open and attentive as possible to the skandhas as they come and go. It is the difference between wandering through the landscape with my head lowered, wrapped in thoughts about me, my problems and what I want and don't want, and holding my head up and opening up to that landscape of which for the time being I am part.
The Five Skandhas, by Mark Goodson
Journal - The Middle Way Journal
Four Foundations of Mindfulness Meditation
By Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
For the follower of the buddhadharma, the teachings of Buddhism, there is a need for great emphasis on the practice of meditation. One must see the straightforward logic that mind is the cause of confusion and that by transcending confusion one attains the enlightened state. This can only take place through the practice of meditation. The Buddha himself experienced this, by working on his own mind; and what he learned has been handed down to us.
Mindfulness is a basic approach to the spiritual journey that is common to all traditions of Buddhism. But before we begin to look closely at that approach, we should have some idea of what is meant by spirituality itself.
Some say that spirituality is a way of attaining a better kind of happiness, transcendental happiness. Others see it as a benevolent way to develop power over others. Still others say the point of spirituality is to acquire magical powers so we can change our bad world into a good world or purify the world through miracles. It seems that all of these points of view are irrelevant to the Buddhist approach. According to the buddhadharma, spirituality means relating with the working basis of one's existence, which is one's state of mind.
There is a problem with one's basic life, one's basic being. This problem is that we are involved in a continual struggle to survive, to maintain our position. We are continually trying to grasp onto some solid image of ourselves. And then we have to defend that particular fixed conception. So there is warfare, there is confusion, and there is passion and aggression; there are all kinds of conflicts. From the Buddhist point of view, the development of true spirituality is cutting through our basic fixation, that clinging, that stronghold of something-or-other, which is known as ego.
In order to do that we have to find out what ego is. What is this all about? Who are we? We have to look into our already existing state of mind. And we have to understand what practical step we can take to do that. We are not involved here in a metaphysical discussion about the purpose of life and the meaning of spirituality on an abstract level. We are looking at this question from the point of view of a working situation. We need to find some simple thing we can do in order to embark on the spiritual path.
People have difficulty beginning a spiritual practice because they put a lot of energy into looking for the best and easiest way to get into it. We might have to change our attitude and give up looking for the best or the easiest way. Actually, there is no choice. Whatever approach we take, we will have to deal with what we are already. We have to look at who we are. According to the Buddhist tradition, the working basis of the path and the energy involved in the path is the mind-one's own mind, which is working in us all the time.
Spirituality is based on mind. In Buddhism, mind is what distinguishes sentient beings from rocks or trees or bodies of water. That which possesses discriminating awareness, that which possesses a sense of duality-which grasps or rejects something external-that is mind. Fundamentally, it is that which can associate with an "other"-with any "something" that is perceived as different from the perceiver. That is the definition of mind. The traditional Tibetan phrase defining mind means precisely that: "That which can think of the other, the projection, is mind."
So by mind we mean something very specific. It is not just something very vague and creepy inside our heads or hearts, something that just happens as part of the way the wind blows and the grass grows. Rather, it is something very concrete. It contains perception-perception that is very uncomplicated, very basic, very precise. Mind develops its particular nature as that perception begins to linger on something other than oneself. Mind makes the fact of perceiving something else stand for the existence of oneself.
That is the mental trick that constitutes mind. In fact, it should be the opposite. Since the perception starts from oneself, the logic should be: "I exist, therefore the other exists." But somehow the hypocrisy of mind is developed to such an extent that mind lingers on the other as a way of getting the feedback that it itself exists, which is a fundamentally erroneous belief. It is the fact that the existence of self is questionable that motivates the trick of duality.
This mind is our working basis for the practice of meditation and the development of awareness. But mind is something more than the process of confirming self by the dualistic lingering on the other. Mind also includes what are known as emotions, which are the highlights of mental states.
Mind cannot exist without emotions. Daydreaming and discursive thoughts are not enough. Those alone would be too boring. The dualistic trick would wear too thin. So we tend to create waves of emotion which go up and down: passion, aggression, ignorance, pride-all kinds of emotions. In the beginning we create them deliberately, as a game of trying to prove to ourselves that we exist. But eventually the game becomes a hassle; it becomes more than a game and forces us to challenge ourselves more than we intended.
So we have created a world that is bittersweet. Things are amusing but, at the same time, not so amusing. Sometimes things seem terribly funny but, on the other hand, terribly sad. Life has the quality of a game of ours that has trapped us. The setup of mind has created the whole thing. We might complain about the government or the economy of the country or the prime rate of interest, but those factors are secondary. The original process at the root of the problems is the competitiveness of seeing oneself only as a reflection of the other. Problematic situations arise automatically as expressions of that. They are our own production, our own neat work. And that is what is called mind.
According to the Buddhist tradition, there are eight types of consciousness and fifty-two types of conceptions and all kinds of other aspects of mind, about which we do not have to go into detail. All these aspects are based largely on the primeval dualistic approach. There are the spiritual aspects and the psychological aspects and all sorts of other aspects. All are bound up in the realm of duality, which is ego.
As far as meditation practice is concerned, in meditation we work on this thing, rather than on trying to sort out the problem from the outside. We work on the projector rather than the projection. We turn inward, instead of trying to sort out external problems of A, B, and C. We work on the creator of duality rather than the creation. That is beginning at the beginning.
A gigantic world of mind exists to which we are almost totally unexposed. This whole world is made by mind. Minds made this up, put these things together. Every bolt and nut was put in by somebody-or-other's mind. This whole world is mind's world, the product of mind. This is needless to say; I am sure everybody knows this. But we might remind ourselves of it so that we realize that meditation is not an exclusive activity that involves forgetting this world and getting into something else. By meditating, we are dealing with the very mind that devised our eyeglasses and put the lenses in the rims.
So this is a living world, mind's world. Realizing this, working with mind is no longer a remote or mysterious thing to do. It is no longer dealing with something that is hidden or somewhere else. Mind is right here. Mind is hanging out in the world. It is an open secret.
The method for beginning to relate directly with mind, which was taught by Lord Buddha and which has been in use for the past twenty-five hundred years, is the practice of mindfulness. There are four aspects to this practice, traditionally known as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness of Body
"Mindfulness of body has to do with trying to remain human, rather than becoming an animal or fly or etheric being. It means just trying to remain a human being, an ordinary human being."
Mindfulness of body, the first foundation of mindfulness, is connected with the need for a sense of being, a sense of groundedness.
To begin with, there is some problem about what we understand by body. We sit on chairs or on the ground; we eat; we sleep; we wear clothes. But the body we relate with in going through these activities is questionable.
According to the tradition, the body we think we have is what is known as psychosomatic body. It is largely based on projections and concepts of body. This psychosomatic body contrasts with the enlightened person's sense of body, which might be called body-body. This sense of body is free from conceptualizations. It is just simple and straightforward. There is a direct relationship with the earth.
As for us, we do not actually have a relationship with the earth. We have some relationship with body, but it is very uncertain and erratic. We flicker back and forth between body and something else-fantasies, ideas. That seems to be our basic situation. Even though the psychosomatic body is constituted by projections of body, it can be quite solid in terms of those projections. We have expectations concerning the existence of this body, therefore we have to refuel it, entertain it, wash it. Through this psychosomatic body we are able to experience a sense of being.
Mindfulness of body brings this all-pervasive mind-imitating-body activity into the practice of meditation. The practice of meditation has to take into account that mind continually shapes itself into bodylike attitudes. Consequently, since the time of Buddha, sitting meditation has been recommended and practiced, and it has proved to be the best way of dealing with this situation. The basic technique that goes with sitting meditation is working with the breath. You identify with the breath, particularly with the out-breath. The inbreath is just a gap, a space. During the in-breath you just wait. So you breathe out and then you dissolve and then there is a gap. Breathe out . . . dissolve . . . gap. An openness, an expansion, can take place constantly that way.
Mindfulness plays a very important role in this technique. In this case, mindfulness means that when you sit and meditate, you actually do sit. You actually do sit as far as the psychosomatic body is concerned. You feel the ground, body, breath, temperature. You don't try specifically to watch and keep track of what is going on. You don't try to formalize the sitting situation and make it into some special activity that you are performing. You just sit.
And then you begin to feel that there is some sense of groundedness. This is not particularly a product of being deliberate, but it is more the force of the actual fact of being there. So you sit. And you sit. And you breathe. And you sit and you breathe. Sometimes you think, but still you are thinking sitting thoughts. The psychosomatic body is sitting, so your thoughts have a flat bottom. Mindfulness of body is connected with the earth. It is an openness that has a base, a foundation. A quality of expansive awareness develops through mindfulness of body-a sense of being settled and of therefore being able to afford to open out.
Going along with this mindfulness requires a great deal of trust. Probably the beginning meditator will not be able simply to rest there, but will feel the need for a change. I remember someone who had just finished a retreat telling me how she had sat and felt her body and felt grounded. But then she had thought immediately how she should be doing something else. And she went on to tell me how the right book had "just jumped" into her lap, and she had started to read. At that point one doesn't have a solid base anymore. One's mind is beginning to grow little wings. Mindfulness of body has to do with trying to remain human, rather than becoming an animal or fly or etheric being. It means just trying to remain a human being, an ordinary human being.
The basic starting point for this is solidness, grounded-ness. When you sit, you actually sit. Even your floating thoughts begin to sit on their own bottoms. There are no particular problems. You have a sense of solidness and groundedness, and, at the same time, a sense of being.
Without this particular foundation of mindfulness, the rest of your meditation practice could be very airy-fairy-vacillating back and forth, trying this and trying that. You could be constantly tiptoeing on the surface of the universe, not actually getting a foothold anywhere. You could become an eternal hitchhiker. So with this first technique you develop some basic solidness. In mindfulness of body, there is a sense of finding some home ground.
Mindfulness of Life
"The instinct to live can be seen as containing awareness, meditation, mindfulness. It constantly tunes us in to what is happening. So the life force that keeps us alive itself becomes the practice of mindfulness."
The application of mindfulness has to be precise. If we cling to our practice, we create stagnation. Therefore, in our application of the techniques of mindfulness, we must be aware of the fundamental tendency to cling, to survive.
We come to this in the second foundation of mindfulness, which is mindfulness of life, or survival. Since we are dealing with the context of meditation, we encounter this tendency in the form of clinging to the meditative state. We experience the meditative state and it is momentarily tangible, but in that same moment it is also dissolving. Going along with this process means developing a sense of letting go of awareness as well as of contacting it. This basic technique of the second foundation of mindfulness could be described as touch-and-go. you are there-present, mindful-and then you let go.
A common misunderstanding is that the meditative state of mind has to be captured and then nursed and cherished. That is definitely the wrong approach. If you try to domesticate your mind through meditation-try to possess it by holding onto the meditative state-the clear result will be regression on the path, with a loss of freshness and spontaneity. If you try to hold on without lapse all the time, then maintaining your awareness will begin to become a domestic hassle. It will become like painfully going through housework. There will be an underlying sense of resentment, and the practice of meditation will become confusing. You will begin to develop a love-hate relationship toward your practice, in which your concept of it seems good, but, at the same time, the demand this rigid concept makes on you is too painful.
So the technique of the mindfulness of life is based on touch-and-go. You focus your attention on the object of awareness, but then, in the same moment, you disown that awareness and go on. What is needed here is some sense of confidence-confidence that you do not have to securely own your mind, but that you can tune into its process spontaneously.
Mindfulness of life relates to the clinging tendency not only in connection with the meditative state, but, even more importantly, in connection with the level of raw anxiety about survival that manifests in us constantly, second by second, minute by minute. You breathe for survival; you lead your life for survival. The feeling is constantly present that you are trying to protect yourself from death.
For the practical purposes of the second foundation, instead of regarding this survival mentality as something negative, instead of relating to it as ego-clinging as is done in the abstract philosophical overview of Buddhism, this particular practice switches logic around. In the second foundation, the survival struggle is regarded as a steppingstone in the practice of meditation. Whenever you have the sense of the survival instinct functioning, that can be transmuted into a sense of being, a sense of having already survived. Mindfulness becomes a basic acknowledgment of existing. This does not have the flavor of "Thank God, I have survived." Instead, it is more objective, impartial: "I am alive, I am here, so be it."
In this way, meditation becomes an actual part of life, rather than just a practice or exercise. It becomes inseparable from the instinct to live that accompanies all one's existence. That instinct to live can be seen as containing awareness, meditation, mindfulness. It constantly tunes us in to what is happening. So the life force that keeps us alive and that manifests itself continually in our stream of consciousness itself becomes the practice of mindfulness.
Such mindfulness brings clarity, skill, and intelligence. You are here; you are living; let it be that way-that is mindfulness. Your heart pulsates and you breathe. All kinds of things are happening in you at once. Let mindfulness work with that, let that be mindfulness, let every beat of your heart, every breath, be mindfulness itself. You do not have to breathe specially; your breath is an expression of mindfulness. If you approach meditation in this way, it becomes very personal and very direct.
But again it is necessary to say, once you have that experience of the presence of life, don't hang onto it. Just touch and go. Touch that presence of life being lived, then go. You do not have to ignore it. "Go" does not mean that we have to turn our backs on the experience and shut ourselves off from it; it means just being in it without further analysis and without further reinforcement.
Holding onto life, or trying to reassure oneself that it is so, has the sense of death rather than life. It is only because we have that sense of death that we want to make sure that we are alive. We would like to have an insurance policy. But if we feel that we are alive, that is good enough. We do not have to make sure that we actually do breathe, that we actually can be seen. We do not have to check to be sure we have a shadow. Just living is enough. If we don't stop to reassure ourselves, living becomes very clear-cut, very alive, and very precise.
Mindfulness of Effort
"The sudden flash is a key to all Buddhist meditation, from the level of basic mindfulness to the highest levels of tantra. But it is not enough just to hope that a flash will come to us; there must be a background of discipline."
The next foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of effort. The idea of effort is apparently problematical. Effort would seem to be at odds with the sense of being that arises from mindfulness of body. Also, pushing of any kind does not have an obvious place in the touch-and-go technique of the mindfulness of life.
In either case, deliberate, heavy-handed effort would seem to endanger the open precision of the process of mindfulness. Still we cannot expect proper mindfulness to develop without some kind of exertion on our part. Effort is necessary. But the Buddhist notion of right effort is quite different from conventional definitions of effort.
The traditional Buddhist analogy for right effort is the walk of an elephant or tortoise. The elephant moves along surely, unstoppably, with great dignity. Like the worm, it is not excitable, but unlike the worm, it has a panoramic view of the ground it is treading on. Though it is serious and slow, because of the elephant's ability to survey the ground there is a sense of playfulness and intelligence in its movement.
In the case of meditation, trying to develop an inspiration that is based on wanting to forget one's pain and on trying to make one's practice thrive on a sense of continual accomplishment is quite immature. On the other hand, too much solemnity and dutifulness creates a lifeless and narrow outlook and a stale psychological environment. The style of right effort, as taught by the Buddha, is serious but not too serious. It takes advantage of the natural flow of instinct to bring the wandering mind constantly back to the mindfulness of breathing.
The crucial point in the bringing-back process is that it is not necessary to go through deliberate stages. It is not a question of forcing the mind back to some particular object, but of bringing it back down from the dream world into reality. We are breathing, we are sitting. That is what we are doing, and we should be doing it completely, fully, wholeheartedly.
There is a kind of technique, or trick, here that is extremely effective and useful, not only for sitting meditation, but also in daily life, or meditation-in-action. The way of coming back is through what we might call the abstract watcher. This watcher is just simple self-consciousness, without aim or goal.
When we encounter anything, the first flash that takes place is the bare sense of duality, of separateness. On that basis, we begin to evaluate, pick and choose, make decisions, execute our will. The abstract watcher is just the basic sense of separateness-the plain cognition of being there before any of the rest develops.
Instead of condemning this self-consciousness as dualistic, we take advantage of this tendency in our psychological system and use it as the basis of the mindfulness of effort. The experience is just a sudden flash of the watcher's being there. At that point we don't think, "I must get back to the breath" or "I must try and get away from these thoughts." We don't have to entertain a deliberate and logical movement of mind that repeats to itself the purpose of sitting practice. There is just suddenly a general sense that something is happening here and now, and we are brought back. Abruptly, immediately, without a name, without the application of any kind of concept, we have a quick glimpse of changing the tone. That is the core of the mindfulness of effort practice.
One of the reasons that ordinary effort becomes so dreary and stagnant is that our intention always develops a verbalization. Any kind of sense of duty we might have is always verbalized, though the speed of conceptual mind is so great that we may not even notice the verbalization. Still, the contents of the verbalization are clearly felt. This verbalization pins the effort to a fixed frame of reference, which makes it extremely tiresome.
In contrast, the abstract effort we are talking about flashes in a fraction of a second, without any name or any idea with it. It is just a jerk, a sudden change of course which does not define its destination. The rest of the effort is just like an elephant's walk-going slowly, step by step, observing the situation around us.
You could call this abstract self-consciousness leap if you like, or jerk, or sudden reminder; or you could call it amazement. Sometimes it could also be also felt as panic, unconditioned panic, because of the change of course-something comes to us and changes our whole course. If we work with this sudden jerk, and do so with no effort in the effort, then effort becomes self-existing. It stands on its own two feet, so to speak, rather than needing another effort to trigger it off.
This kind of effort is extremely important. The sudden flash is a key to all Buddhist meditation, from the level of basic mindfulness to the highest levels of tantra. Such mindfulness of effort could definitely be considered the most important aspect of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness of body creates the general setting; it brings meditation into the psychosomatic setup of one's life. Mindfulness of life makes meditation practice personal and intimate. Mindfulness of effort makes meditation workable: it connects the foundations of mindfulness to the path, to the spiritual journey. It is like the wheel of a chariot, which makes the connection between the chariot and the road, or like the oar of a boat. Mindfulness of effort actualizes the practice; it makes it move, proceed.
But we have a problem here. Mindfulness of effort cannot be deliberately manufactured: on the other hand, it is not enough just to hope that a flash will come to us and we will be reminded. There must be a background of discipline which sets the tone of the sitting practice. Effort is important on this level also; it is the sense of not having the faintest indulgence toward any form of entertainment. We have to give something up. Unless we give up our reservations about taking the practice seriously, it is virtually impossible to have that kind of instantaneous effort dawn on us. So it is extremely important to have respect for the practice, a sense of appreciation, and a willingness to work hard.
Once we do have a sense of commitment to relating with things as they actually are, we have opened the way to the flash that reminds us: that, that, that. "That what?" does not apply any more. Just that, which triggers an entirely new state of consciousness and brings us back automatically to mindfulness of breathing or a general sense of being.
We work hard at not being diverted into entertainment. Still, in some sense, we can enjoy the very boring situation of the practice of sitting meditation. We can actually appreciate not having lavish resources of entertainment available. Because of having already included our boredom and ennui, we have nothing to run away from and we feel completely secure and grounded.
This basic sense of appreciation is another aspect of the background that makes it possible for the spontaneous flash of the reminder to occur more easily. This is said to be like falling in love. When we are in love with someone, because our whole attitude is open toward that person somehow or other we get a sudden flash of that person not as a name or as a concept of what the person looks like; those are afterthoughts. We get an abstract flash of our lover as that. A flash of that comes into our mind first. Then we might ponder on that flash, elaborate on it, enjoy our daydreams about it. But all this happens afterward. The flash is primal.
Mindfulness of Mind
"Mind functions singly. Once. And once. One thing at a time. Things always happen one at a time, in a direct, simple movement of mind. Mindfulness of mind is to be there with that one-shot perception, constantly."
Often mindfulness is referred to as watchfulness. But that should not give the impression that mindfulness means watching something happening. Mindfulness means being watchful, rather than watching some thing. This implies a process of intelligent alertness, rather than the mechanical business of simply observing what happens.
Particularly the fourth foundation-mindfulness of mind-has qualities of an aroused intelligence operating. The intelligence of the fourth foundation is a sense of light-handedness. If you open the windows and doors of a room the right amount, you can maintain the interior feeling of roomness and, at the same time, have freshness from outside. Mindfulness of mind brings that same kind of intelligent balance.
Without mind and its conflicts, we could not meditate or develop balance, or develop anything at all for that matter. Therefore, conflicts that arise from mind are regarded as a necessary part of the process of mindfulness. But at the same time, those conflicts have to be controlled enough so that we can come back to our mindfulness of breathing. A balance has to be maintained. There has to be a certain discipline so that we are neither totally lost in daydream nor missing the freshness and openness that come from not holding our attention too tightly. This balance is a state of wakefulness, mindfulness.
Mindfulness of mind means being with one's mind. When you sit and meditate, you are there: you are being with your body, with your sense of life or survival, with your sense of effort, and at the same time, you are being with your mind. You are being there. Mindfulness of mind suggests a sense of presence and a sense of accuracy in terms of being there. You are there, therefore you can't miss yourself. If you are not there, then you might miss yourself. But that also would be a doubletake: if you realize you are not there, that means you are there. That brings you back to where you are-back to square one.
The whole process is very simple, actually. Unfortunately, explaining the simplicity takes a lot of vocabulary, a lot of grammar. However, it is a very simple matter. And that matter concerns you and your world. Nothing else. It does not particularly concern enlightenment, and it does not particularly concern metaphysical comprehension. In fact, this simple matter does not particularly concern the next minute, or the minute before this one. It only concerns the very small area where we are now.
Really we operate on a very small basis. We think we are great, broadly significant, and that we cover a whole large area. We see ourselves as having a history and a future, and here we are in our big-deal present. But if we look at ourselves clearly in this very moment, we see we are just grains of sand-just little people concerned only with this little dot which is called nowness.
We can only operate on one dot at a time, and mindfulness of mind approaches our experience in that way. We are there and we approach ourselves on the very simple basis of that. That does not particularly have many dimensions, many perspectives; it is just a simple thing. Relating directly to this little dot of nowness is the right understanding of austerity. And if we work on this basis, it is possible to begin to see the truth of the matter, so to speak-to begin to see what nowness really means.
This experience is very revealing in that it is very personal. It is not personal in the sense of petty and mean. The idea is that this experience is your experience. You might be tempted to share it with somebody else, but then it becomes their experience, rather than what you wished for: your/their experience, jumbled together. You can never achieve that. People have different experiences of reality, which cannot be jumbled together. Invaders and dictators of all kinds have tried to make others have their experience, to make a big concoction of minds controlled by one person. But that is impossible. Everyone who has tried to make that kind of spiritual pizza has failed. So you have to accept that your experience is personal. The personal experience of nowness is very much there and very obviously there. You cannot even throw it away!
In sitting practice, or in the awareness practice of everyday life, for that matter, you are not trying to solve a wide array of problems. You are looking at one situation that is very limited. It is so limited that there is not even room to be claustrophobic. If it is not there, it is not there. You missed it. If it is there, it is there. That is the pinpoint of mindfulness of mind, that simplicity of total up-to-dateness, total directness. Mind functions singly. Once. And once. One thing at a time.
The practice of mindfulness of mind is to be there with that one-shot perception, constantly. You get a complete picture from which nothing is missing: that is happening, now that is happening, now that is happening. There is no escape. Even if you focus yourself on escaping, that is also a one-shot movement of which you could be mindful. You can be mindful of your escape-of your sexual fantasy or your aggression fantasy.
Things always happen one at a time, in a direct, simple movement of mind. Therefore, in the technique of mindfulness of mind, it is traditionally recommended that you be aware of each single-shot perception of mind as thinking: "I am thinking I hear a sound." "I am thinking I smell a scent." "I am thinking I feel hot." "I am thinking I feel cold." Each one of these is a total approach to experience-very precise, very direct, one single movement of mind.
Things always happen in that direct way. That one-shot reality is all there is. Obviously we can make up an illusion. We can imagine that we are conquering the universe by multiplying ourselves into hundreds of aspects and personalities: the conquering and the conquered. But that is like the dream state of someone who is actually asleep. There is only the one shot; everything happens only once. There is just that. Therefore mindfulness of mind is applicable.
So meditation practice has to be approached in a very simple and very basic way. That seems to be the only way that it will apply to our experience of what we actually are. That way, we do not get into the illusion that we can function as a hundred people at once. When we lose the simplicity we begin to be concerned about ourselves: "While I'm doing this, such-and-such is going to happen. What shall I do?" Thinking that more than that is happening, we get involved in hope and fear in relation to all kinds of things that are not actually happening.
Really it does not work that way. While we are doing that, we are doing that. If something else happens, we are doing something else. But two things cannot happen at once; it is impossible. It is easy to imagine that two things are happening at once, because our journey back and forth between the two may be very speedy. But even then we are doing only one thing at a time.
It is necessary to take that logic all the way and realize that even to apply bare attention to what we are doing is impossible. If we try, we have two personalities: one personality is the bare attention; the other personality is doing things. Real bare attention is being there all at once. We do not apply bare attention to what we are doing; we are not mindful of what we are doing. That is impossible. Mindfulness is the act as well as the experience, happening at the same time.
Obviously, we could have a somewhat dualistic attitude at the beginning, before we get into real mindfulness, that we are willing to be mindful, willing to surrender, willing to discipline ourselves. But then we do the thing; we just do it. It is like the famous Zen saying "When I eat, I eat; when I sleep, I sleep." You just do it, with absolutely no implication behind what you are doing, not even of mindfulness.
These teachings are abridged from The Heart of the Buddha, published by Shambhala Publications. ©1991 by Diana J. Mukpo. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was founder of Shambhala International, a worldwide association of meditation centers; Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, and the Shambhala Sun. "The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Meditation" appeared in the March 2001 issue of the Shambhala Sun.
Healing Power of Mind:
Simple Exercises for Health, Well-Being, and Enlightenment
By Tulku Thondup, Rinpoche
Our minds possess the power of healing pain and creating joy. If we use that power along with proper living, a positive attitude, and meditation, we can heal not only our mental and emotional afflictions, but even physical problems.
When we cling to our wants and worries with all our energy, we create only stress and exhaustion. By loosening the attitude that Buddhists call "grasping at self," we can open to our true nature, which is peaceful and enlightened. This book is an invitation to the awakening of our inner wisdom, a source of healing we all possess. Like a door opening to this wisdom, we can bring in the sunlight, warmth, and gentle breeze of healing. The source of this energy is ours to touch and share at any moment, a universal birthright that can bring us joy even in a world of suffering and ceaseless change.
In Buddhism, the wisdom taught in the scriptures is mainly aimed at realizing enlightenment. However, spiritual exercises can also help us find happiness and health in our everyday life. There are extensive discourses in Buddhism on improving our ordinary life and having a peaceful, joyous, and beneficial existence in this very world.
THE BENEFITS OF HEALING
Buddhism advocates releasing the unnecessary and unhealthy tension that we create in our lives by realizing the truth of how things really are. I have seen many examples of the healing power of the mind for mental and emotional problems, and for physical sickness too.
One example is from my own life. When I was eighteen, my dear teacher Kyala Khenpo and I decided to flee Tibet because of political turmoil, knowing that we were losing home, country, friends, and livelihood. In an empty but sacred valley, Kyala Khenpo died from old age and sickness. He was not only my kind and enlightened teacher, but had cared for me as a parent since I was five. This was one of the saddest and most confused times of my life. However, my understanding of mpermanence-- the fact that everything always changes in life-- made it easier to accept. Spiritual experiences enabled me to remain calm, and the wisdom lights of teachings made the path of my future life clearer to me. In other words, recognizing the nature of what was happening, opening to it, and using sources of power that I had already been given helped me heal from my loss more easily. As we shall see, these three basic steps--acknowledging difficulties and suffering, opening to them, and cultivating a positive attitude--are integral to the healing process.
Another of my teachers, Pushul Lama, had mental problems throughout his youth. He was so destructive that when he was a teenager, his family had to tie him up to protect others--and himself--from his violence. Through healing meditations--mainly of compassion--he healed himself and later became a great scholar and teacher. Today I know of no person more cheerful, peaceful, and kind.
When I lived in Tibet, physical healing through meditation and the right attitude were a common part of everyday life. So now when people ask me for examples of physical healing, it's not easy to figure out which story to tell. For someone from Tibet, it is accepted as an ordinary event that the mind can heal the body. The mind leads the energies of the body--this is how it is. There were so many healings, I never paid much attention when I was younger. However, I do know of one recent example that many people might find amazing, even if it is not very surprising from the Buddhist point of view.
A couple years ago, the present Dodrupchen Rinpoche, a highly spiritual living lama, had an attack of severe appendicitis while traveling in the remote countryside of Bhutan. A senior minister of the country arranged for a helicopter to take him to a hospital. The doctors were afraid Rinpoche's appendix would rupture, and the pain was very great. Against the strong advice of his doctors, he refused surgery and healed himself using meditations and mantras.
ANYONE CAN BENEFIT
The ability to recover from such a serious sickness through meditation depends on a person's level of trust and spiritual experience. Of course, most of us would be very glad to have the opportunity for surgery if our appendix were about to burst! I only tell this true story to illustrate the power of the mind, and because people have such a strong interest in maintaining their physical health. Few of us are spiritual masters. But anyone can benefit from meditation and a positive attitude. Beginning from where we are right now, it is possible to live a happier and healthier life.
Although physical sickness is one subject you will read about here, this book is meant mostly as a manual for dealing with our everyday emotions. This is the best starting place for most of us. If we can learn to bring greater contentment into everything we do, other blessings will naturally flow.
The views and meditation exercises in this book are inspired mainly by teachings of Nyingma Buddhism, the oldest school of Buddhism in Tibet, dating to the ninth century, a school that combines the three major Buddhist traditions: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. However, you need not be a Buddhist to use this book. Unfortunately, many people perceive Buddhism as a religion propagated by a particular historical teacher, the Shakyamuni Buddha, that is intended to benefit only the followers of this tradition.
Buddhism is a universal path. Its aim is to realize universal truth, the fully enlightened state, Buddhahood. According to Shakyamuni Buddha himself, an infinite number of beings realized Buddhahood before he was born. There are, were, and will be Buddhism, the path, and Buddhas (those who have realized enlightenment) in this world as well as other worlds, in the past, present, and future. It is true that almost twenty-five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha propagated teachings that became known as Buddhism. The Buddhism taught by Shakyamuni is one of the appearances of Buddhism, but it is not the only one. People whose minds are open will hear the true way, which Buddhists call Dharma, even from nature. The Dharmasamgiti says: "People who have mental well-being, even if the Buddha is not present, will hear Dharma from the sky, walls, and trees. For seekers whose minds are pure, teachings and instructions will appear just by their own wishes."
Buddhism recognizes the differences in cultures and practices of people around the world, and in individual upbringings and personalities. Many other cultures and religions have traditions of healing, and offer specific advice about suffering. Even in Tibet there are many approaches to Buddhism. Having different approaches is good, even if they sometimes appear to contradict one another, because people are different. The whole purpose is to suit the needs of the individual.
MEDITATION, MIND, AND BODY
Healing through meditation is not limited to a particular religious belief. Nowadays, many physicians trained in conventional Western medical science are recommending traditional methods of meditation as a way to restore and maintain mental and physical health. These practices rarely acknowledge the experience of what Buddhists call the true nature or the great openness, but instead emphasize visualization and the development of a positive attitude and positive energy. High blood pressure, which in many cases is created and aggravated by mental stress, is particularly responsive to such alternative treatments. Some physicians recommend concentrating the mind on a physical point where the muscles are contracted and then consciously releasing those muscles, so that relief and relaxation will result. This technique follows the same principle as the Buddhist way of recognizing a problem and loosening the grasping at it.
Healing is most effective if it is accompanied by any spiritual belief or meditation experience. Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, who originated the Relaxation Response, writes: "If you truly believe in your personal philosophy or religious faith--if you are committed, mind and soul, to your world view-- you may well be capable of achieving remarkable feats of mind and body that we may only speculate about."
Bernie Siegel, M.D., a surgeon and professor at Yale University, describes some of the benefits of meditation: "It tends to lower or normalize blood pressure, pulse rate, and the levels of stress hormones in the blood. It produces changes in brain-wave patterns, showing less excitability. . . . Meditation also raises the pain threshold and reduces one's biological age. . . . In short, it reduces wear and tear on both body and mind, helping people live better and longer."
Many journalists, like Bill Moyers, have long noted the relation of mind and body to health. Here is what Moyers says in his introduction to the book Healing and the Mind, based on the Public Broadcasting System's television series.
I suppose I've always been interested in the relation of mind and body, growing up as I did in a culture that separated them distinctly. . . . Yet every day in this divided world of mind and body, our language betrayed the limitations of our categories. "Widow Brown must have died of a broken heart--she never got sick until after her husband was gone." My parents talked about our friend the grocer, who "worried himself sick," and my uncle Carl believed that laughter could ease what ailed you long before Norman Cousins published his story about how he coped with serious illness by watching Marx Brothers movies and videos of "Candid Camera."
In recent years, Western medical science has begun to take a closer look at mind and body, and to examine the connection between the mind, emotions, and health. In the 1970s researchers found evidence of what they called neurotransmitters, chemical messengers to and from the brain. Some neurotransmitters, called endorphins and enkephalins, act as natural painkillers. Others seem to be related to particular states of mind, such as anger, contentment, or mental illness.
Research is continuing on the biological links between the brain, the nervous system, and the immune system. Although Western medical science is not the topic of this book, discoveries in this area are very interesting. New evidence about mind and body is always welcomed and may benefit many people. However, the basic idea behind the research is actually very old. Buddhism has believed in the importance of the mind for many centuries, long before modern theories of molecular biology were advanced.
TIBETAN MEDICINE'S APPROACH TO SPIRITUAL HEALING
In Buddhism, the mind generates healing energies, while the body, which is solid and stable, grounds, focuses, and strengthens them. The main text of Tibetan medicine is the Four Tantras (Gyud zhi), which Tibetans see as a terma, or mystical revelation, discovered by Trawa Ngonshey in the eleventh century. According to these ancient texts, the root of all sickness of mind and body is grasping at "self." The poisons of the mind that arise from this grasping are ignorance, hatred, and desire.
Physical sicknesses are classified into three main divisions. Disharmony of wind or energy, which is generally centered in the lower body and is cold by nature, is caused by desire. Disharmony of bile, which is generally in the upper body and is hot, is caused by hatred. Disharmony of phlegm, which is generally centered in the head and is cold by nature, is caused by ignorance. These categories--desire, ignorance, and hatred--as well as the temperatures associated with them can still be very useful today in determining which meditation exercises might be most helpful, depending on the individual's emotional state and nature.
According to Tibetan medicine, living in peace, free from emotional afflictions, and loosening our grip on "self" is the ultimate medicine for both mental and physical health.
What is this "self" that has come up now several times in this book? The Buddhist view of self is sometimes difficult for people outside this tradition to understand. Although you can meditate without knowing what the self is, some background on the self will make it easier to do the healing exercises presented later.
Language can be tricky when we are talking about great truths. In an everyday sense, it is quite natural and fine to talk about "myself" and "yourself." I think we can agree that self-knowledge is good, and that selfishness can make us unhappy. But let's go a bit further and examine the deeper truth about self as Buddhists see it.
WHY WE ARE SUFFERING
Our minds create the experience of both happiness and suffering, and the ability to find peace lies within us. In its true nature, the mind is peaceful and enlightened. Anyone who understands this is already on the path to wisdom.
Buddhism is centered on the principle of two truths, the absolute truth and the relative truth. The absolute is that the true nature of our minds and of the universe is enlightened, peaceful, and perfect. By the true nature of the mind, Nyingma Buddhism means the union of awareness and openness.
The relative or conventional truth is that in the whole spectrum of ordinary life--the passing, impermanent earthly life of birth and death that Buddhists call samsara--the world is experienced as a place of suffering, ceaseless change, and delusion, for the face of the true nature has been obscured by our mental habits and emotional afflictions, rooted in our grasping at "self."
In Western thought, "self" usually means personhood, or the ego consciousness of "I, me, and mine." Buddhism includes this meaning of self, but also understands "self" as any phenomenon or object-- anything at all--that we might grasp at as if it were a truly existing entity. It could be the self of another person, the self of a table, the self of money, or the self of an idea.
If we grasp at these things, we are experiencing them in a dualistic way, as a subject grasping at an object. Then the mind begins to discriminate, to separate and label things, such as the idea that "I" like "this," or "I" don't like "this." We might think, "this" is nice, and attachment comes in, or "that" is not so nice, then pain may come. We may crave something we do not have, or fear losing what we have, or feel depressed at having lost it. As our mind gets tighter and tighter, we feel increasing excitement or pain, and this is the cycle of suffering.
With our "relative" or ordinary mind, we grasp at self as if it were firm and concrete. However, self is an illusion, because everything in the experience of samsara is transitory, changing, and dying. Our ordinary mind thinks of self as something that truly exists as an independent entity. But in the Buddhist view, self does not truly exist. It is not a fixed or solid thing, but a mere designation labeled by the mind. Neither is self an independent entity. In the Buddhist view, everything functions interdependently, so that there is nothing that has a truly independent quality or nature.
In Buddhism, the law of causation is called karma. Every action has a commensurate effect; everything is interdependent. Seeds grow into green shoots, then into trees, then into fruits and flowers, which produce seeds again. That is a very simple example of causation. Because of karma, our actions shape the world of our lives. Vasubandhu, the greatest Mahayana writer on metaphysics, said: "Due to karma deeds various worlds are born."
Grasping creates negative karma--our negative tendencies and habits. But not all karma is negative, although some people mistakenly think of it this way. We can also create positive karma, and that is what healing is about. The tight grip on self creates negative karma. Positive karma loosens that grip, and as we relax, we find our peaceful center and become happier and healthier.
WE ARE ALL BUDDHA
Buddhists believe that all beings possess Buddha- nature. In our true nature we are all Buddhas. However, the face of our Buddha-nature is obscured by karma and its traces, which are rooted in grasping at self, just as the sun is covered by clouds.
All beings are the same and are one in being perfect in their true nature. We know that when our mind is natural, relaxed, and free from mental or emotional pressures and situations that upset us, we experience peace. This is evidence that the uncontaminated nature of the mind is peaceful and not painful. Although this wisdom, the true nature that dwells in us, has been covered by mental defilements, it remains perfect and clear. Nagarjuna, founder of the Middle Way school of Mahayana Buddhism, writes:
Water in the earth remains unstained.
Likewise, in the emotional afflictions,
Wisdom remains unstained.
Nagarjuna speaks of peace and freedom as our own "ultimate sphere," which is within us all the time if we only realize it:
In the womb of a pregnant woman,
Although there is a child, we cannot see it.
Likewise, we do not see our own "ultimate sphere,"
Which is covered by our emotional afflictions.
Peace is within us; we need not look elsewhere for it. By using what Buddhists call "skillful means," including meditation exercises, we can uncover this ultimate sanctuary. Nagarjuna describes the ultimate sphere--the great openness, the union of mind and universe--this way:
As by churning the milk, its essence-butter appears immaculately,
By purifying mental afflictions, the "ultimate sphere" manifests immaculately.
As a lamp in a vase does not manifest,
The "ultimate sphere" enveloped in the vase of mental afflictions is not visible for us.
In whatever part of the vase you make a hole,
From that very part, light from the lamp will shine forth.
When the vase of mental afflictions is destroyed through vajra-like meditation,
The light shines unto the limits of space.
Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, says in Haivajra:
Living beings are Buddha in their true nature,
But their nature is obscured by casual or sudden afflictions.
When the afflictions are cleansed, living beings themselves are the very Buddha.
Buddahood, or enlightenment, is "no-self." It is total, everlasting, universal peace, openness, selflessness, oneness, and joy. For most people, the prospect of total realization of enlightenment is very foreign and difficult to understand. The purpose of this book is not to go beyond self, not to be fully enlightened, but only to relax our grip on self a little bit, and to be happier and healthier. Even so, it may be helpful to have an idea of what is meant by total openness and oneness.
The stories that we hear about "near-death experiences," of nearly dying but coming back from death, can provide us with insight. Many people who have survived the process of dying describe traveling through a tunnel and being met by a white light that touches them, giving them a feeling of great bliss and peace. Yet the light is not something separate from that experience. The light is peace. And they are the light. They do not experience the light in the usual dualistic way, as someone seeing light, as a subject and an object. Instead, the light, peace, and person are one.
In one near-death story, a man tells of reviewing everything that happened in his life, from birth until death--not just one event after another, but his entire life simultaneously. And he didn't just see with his eyes or hear with his ears, or even know with his mind; he had a vivid and pure awareness of seeing, knowing, and feeling without distinctions among them. In such a case, when limits and restrictions are gone, there is oneness. With oneness, there is no suffering or conflict, because conflict exists only where there is more than one.
For Buddhists, such experiences are especially interesting because they could be a glimpse of the "luminous bardo of ultimate nature"--a transitional period after death that, for people who have some realization of the truth, transcends the realm of ordinary space, time, and concepts. But such stories are not just about the experience of death; they also tell us about the enlightenment that is possible while we are alive.
The enlightened mind is really not so foreign. Openness is here within us, although we may not always recognize it. We can all experience it at some important juncture in our life, or even as a glimpse amid our everyday existence. We don't have to be near death. Although near-death stories can be inspiring and interesting, enlightenment isn't just one story or another. It is not "this" experience, or "that" way of looking or being. Total openness is free from the extremes of "existing" and "not existing"; nor is it both "existing" and "not existing"--or neither "existing" nor "not existing." In other words, total openness cannot be contained in concepts and descriptions.
THE PATH OF HEALING
Enlightenment is oneness, beyond grasping at self, beyond duality, beyond happy or sad, beyond positive or negative karma. However, when we talk of healing, as in this book, it is not necessary to be too concerned with enlightenment. Realizing the true nature of our minds is the ultimate healing, but the ordinary mind also has healing powers. We can use our everyday, dualistic minds to help ourselves. Most of the exercises in this book take this everyday approach to becoming more relaxed and happy.
So our aim is simply to go from negative to positive, from sickness to healing. If we are already in a positive state for the time being, we can learn how to maintain and enjoy that. However much we loosen our grasping, that much better will we feel.
On a long journey, we may want to keep the ultimate destination in mind, but it is good to take one day at a time and rest along the way. If we want to relax our grip on self, we shouldn't try too hard. It is better to take a gentle approach. Whatever steps we take, even if they are small, the most important thing is to rejoice in those small steps; then they become powerful. Always we should appreciate what we are able to do, and not feel bad about what we haven't done.
To be a little more open, a little more positive, a little more relaxed. These are the goals of this book. If we are newcomers to meditation and spiritual training, it is important to be practical, to use our knowledge of ourselves to see the right path to take. When we keep an open attitude, suggestions about specific healing meditations can help us swiftly along the path. The best guide of all is the wisdom within us. We are not restricted to a few methods of meditation. Instead, all of life--thinking, feeling, everyday activities and experiences--can be a means of healing.
Healing Power of the Precepts
Copyright © 1997 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
The Buddha was like a doctor, treating the spiritual ills of the human race. The path of practice he taught was like a course of therapy for suffering hearts and minds. This way of understanding the Buddha and his teachings dates back to the earliest texts, and yet is also very current. Buddhist meditation practice is often advertised as a form of healing, and quite a few psychotherapists now recommend that their patients try meditation as part of their treatment.
After several years of teaching and practicing meditation as therapy, however, many of us have found that meditation on its own is not enough. In my own experience, I have found that Western meditators tend to be afflicted more with a certain grimness and lack of self-esteem than any Asians I have ever taught. Their psyches are so wounded by modern civilization that they lack the resilience and persistence needed before concentration and insight practices can be genuinely therapeutic. Other teachers have noted this problem as well and, as a result, many of them have decided that the Buddhist path is insufficient for our particular needs. To make up for this insufficiency they have experimented with ways of supplementing meditation practice, combining it with such things as myth, poetry, psychotherapy, social activism, sweat lodges, mourning rituals, and even drumming. The problem, though, may not be that there is anything lacking in the Buddhist path, but that we simply haven't been following the Buddha's full course of therapy.
The Buddha's path consisted not only of mindfulness, concentration, and insight practices, but also of virtue, beginning with the five precepts. In fact, the precepts constitute the first step in the path. There is a tendency in the West to dismiss the five precepts as Sunday-school rules bound to old cultural norms that no longer apply to our modern society, but this misses the role that the Buddha intended for them: They are part of a course of therapy for wounded minds. In particular, they are aimed at curing two ailments that underlie low self-esteem: regret and denial.
When our actions don't measure up to certain standards of behavior, we either (1) regret the actions or (2) engage in one of two kinds of denial, either (a) denying that our actions did in fact happen or (b) denying that the standards of measurement are really valid. These reactions are like wounds in the mind. Regret is an open wound, tender to the touch, while denial is like hardened, twisted scar tissue around a tender spot. When the mind is wounded in these ways, it can't settle down comfortably in the present, for it finds itself resting on raw, exposed flesh or calcified knots. Even when it's forced to stay in the present, it's there only in a tensed, contorted and partial way, and so the insights it gains tend to be contorted and partial as well. Only if the mind is free of wounds and scars can it be expected to settle down comfortably and freely in the present, and to give rise to undistorted discernment.
This is where the five precepts come in: They are designed to heal these wounds and scars. Healthy self-esteem comes from living up to a set of standards that are practical, clear-cut, humane, and worthy of respect; the five precepts are formulated in such a way that they provide just such a set of standards.
Practical: The standards set by the precepts are simple -- no intentional killing, stealing, having illicit sex, lying, or taking intoxicants. It's entirely possible to live in line with these standards. Not always easy or convenient, but always possible. I have seen efforts to translate the precepts into standards that sound more lofty or noble -- taking the second precept, for example, to mean no abuse of the planet's resources -- but even the people who reformulate the precepts in this way admit that it is impossible to live up to them. Anyone who has dealt with psychologically damaged people knows that very often the damage comes from having been presented with impossible standards to live by. If you can give people standards that take a little effort and mindfulness, but are possible to meet, their self-esteem soars dramatically as they discover that they are actually capable of meeting those standards. They can then face more demanding tasks with confidence.
Clear-cut: The precepts are formulated with no ifs, ands, or buts. This means that they give very clear guidance, with no room for waffling or less-than-honest rationalizations. An action either fits in with the precepts or it doesn't. Again, standards of this sort are very healthy to live by. Anyone who has raised children has found that, although they may complain about hard and fast rules, they actually feel more secure with them than with rules that are vague and always open to negotiation. Clear-cut rules don't allow for unspoken agendas to come sneaking in the back door of the mind. If, for example, the precept against killing allowed you to kill living beings when their presence is inconvenient, that would place your convenience on a higher level than your compassion for life. Convenience would become your unspoken standard -- and as we all know, unspoken standards provide huge tracts of fertile ground for hypocrisy and denial to grow. If, however, you stick by the standards of the precepts, then as the Buddha says, you are providing unlimited safety for the lives of all. There are no conditions under which you would take the lives of any living beings, no matter how inconvenient they might be. In terms of the other precepts, you are providing unlimited safety for their possessions and sexuality, and unlimited truthfulness and mindfulness in your communication with them. When you find that you can trust yourself in matters like these, you gain an undeniably healthy sense of self-respect.
Humane: The precepts are humane both to the person who observes them and to the people affected by his or her actions. If you observe them, you are aligning yourself with the doctrine of karma, which teaches that the most important powers shaping your experience of the world are the intentional thoughts, words, and deeds you chose in the present moment. This means that you are not insignificant. Every time you take a choice -- at home, at work, at play -- you are exercising your power in the on-going fashioning of the world. At the same time, this principle allows you to measure yourself in terms that are entirely under your control: your intentional actions in the present moment. In other words, they don't force you to measure yourself in terms of your looks, strength, brains, financial prowess, or any other criteria that depend less on your present karma than they do on karma from the past. Also, they don't play on feelings of guilt or force you to bemoan your past lapses. Instead, they focus your attention on the ever-present possibility of living up to your standards in the here and now. If you are living with people who observe the precepts, you find that your dealings with them are not a cause for mistrust or fear. They regard your desire for happiness as akin to theirs. Their worth as individuals does not depend on situations in which there have to be winners and losers. When they talk about developing lovingkindness and mindfulness in their meditation, you see it reflected in their actions. In this way the precepts foster not only healthy individuals, but also a healthy society -- a society in which the self-respect and mutual respect are not at odds.
Worthy of respect: When you adopt a set of standards, it is important to know whose standards they are and to see where those standards come from, for in effect you are joining their group, looking for their approval, and accepting their criteria for right and wrong. In this case, you couldn't ask for a better group to join: the Buddha and his noble disciples. The five precepts are called "standards appealing to the noble ones." From what the texts tell us of the noble ones, they are not people who accept standards simply on the basis of popularity. They have put their lives on the line to see what leads to true happiness, and have seen for themselves, for example, that all lying is pathological, and that any sex outside of a stable, committed relationship is unsafe at any speed. Other people may not respect you for living by the five precepts, but noble ones do, and their respect is worth more than that of anyone else in the world.
Now, many people find it cold comfort to join such an abstract group, especially when they have not yet met any noble ones in person. It's hard to be good-hearted and generous when the society immediately around you openly laughs at those qualities and values such things as sexual prowess or predatory business skills instead. This is where Buddhist communities can come in. It would be very useful if Buddhist groups would openly part ways with the prevailing amoral tenor of our culture and let it be known in a kindly way that they value goodheartedness and restraint among their members. In doing so, they would provide a healthy environment for the full-scale adoption of the Buddha's course of therapy: the practice of concentration and discernment in a life of virtuous action. Where we have such environments, we find that meditation needs no myth or make-believe to support it, because it is based on the reality of a well-lived life. You can look at the standards by which you live, and then breathe in and out comfortably -- not as a flower or a mountain, but as a full-fledged, responsible human being. For that's what you are.
Healing Tradition of Medicine Buddha
By Robert Sachs
Each of us has the capacity to be a buddha, an enlightened being. What distinguishes an enlightened being from an ordinary being is that he/she have brought to fruition the potentials that are latent inside each one of us. These capacities can be classified as three qualities: a rainbow-like body, an unlimited mind, and precise, yet totally spontaneous action filled with joy. Our rainbow-like body has to do with us fully realizing what is taught in the Heart Sutra, that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. When we understand and experience the insubstantial nature of all we hold as three-dimensionally solid or real, we attain a presence that is limitlessly resourceful and fearless. We become a reliable, unconditional source of protection for all beings. Our unlimited mind is the result of the elimination of all stiff ideas which in turn results in the blossoming of our capacity to know and understand things clearly as they are - from the most mundane to subtly profound. This is the natural state of our mind spoken of in all the texts and commentaries. Finally, being limitlessly resourceful and knowing what needs to be known in any or all situations, we have the confidence and power to be and act in accordance with what is needed to benefit any or all beings in any situation. Freed from limitations and boundaries, our interactions are fresh, full-bodied, and joyful.
What prevents us from experiencing life in this way? Two limitless kalpas, or a very long time, ago, this was the question that was the impetus for a being, who was to become known as the Medicine Buddha, to reach enlightenment.
Having attained enlightenment, fully realizing all of the potentials spoken of earlier, the Medicine Buddha (Tib. Sangye Menla) saw that it is the three poisons that are the cause for us not realizing our potentials. These three poisons are ignorance, attachment, and aggression. Simply put: we don't understand fully what is going on or what resources we have at our fingertips. With this restricted view, we develop stiff, restricted ideas about what we think is going on. And when someone challenges our world view or what we are doing based on our own stiff ideas, we get mad, indignant, combative with them, seeing them as competition or a threat. What the Medicine Buddha could also see is that this way of thinking and being effects us at every level of our existence. The three poisons are the reasons we get caught up in religions, philosophies, or world views that are marked by various levels of eternalism and nihilism. But, also on the everyday level, they can express themselves in our preference of friends, food, occupation, or whatever. They are the source of all of our dramas, be they spiritual, emotional, or physical.
To remedy this situation we need an antidote to the three poisons. To antidote them does not mean to eliminate them, but rather, in accordance with the tradition and teachings of the Medicine Buddha, to transform them. Each of the poisons is, in truth, a veiled, neurotic expression of the three noble qualities of enlightenment. Consequently, as we transform ignorance, we re-connect with our resourcefulness, our rainbow-like body. When we let go of our attachment to stiff ideas, our minds become open to their unlimited nature. When we give up our territorial perspective and see ourselves as intimately connected to each and every being, competition gives way to joy and everything we do becomes a spontaneous expression of our enlightened being.
When a buddha teaches, he gives information and guidance that is both ultimately and relatively useful. What is ultimately useful are Dharma teachings, teachings of the way things are that go directly to the source of the problem, in this case the three poisons. Ultimately, it is our view that needs to be transformed. In the case of Medicine Buddha, the spiritual practices that he gave specifically address and go head on with the three poisons. For whether our discomfort or dis-ease with our world is spiritual, emotional, or physical, it is the transformation of our experience of living in and from perspectives based on the three poisons that needs to change.
At the same time the Medicine Buddha could see how caught we, as human beings, are in our experience. He saw that, because of our emotional or physical pains and discomforts, we cannot step outside of our predicament and realize the value and importance of Dharma practice. And so, to eradicate the symptoms and conditions that weigh us down, the Medicine Buddha gave teachings on medicine. These teachings were passed on from this enlightened source through gods and beings over the generations.
According to the histo-mythology (where history and mythology meet) of Tibetan sources, Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, was transmitted to the sages and yogis of India by Brahma,1 who had in turn learned it aeons before from the Medicine Buddha. The Ambrosia Heart Tantra or Gyud Zhi of Tibet, written down in the eleventh century by the great physician, Yutok Yonten Gonpo, is considered the most complete transmission of the Medicine Buddha's teaching on healing. The sole purpose of these teachings was to help humans to overcome their emotional and physical burdens so that they can connect with and practice what is ultimately useful, what re-connects them to their enlightened potentials.
When we think of medicine from an ancient time, even if it comes from an enlightened source as the Medicine Buddha, it is often our arrogance that makes us presume that it is archaic and not readily applicable to our modern world. What surprises many is to learn that these teachings include every aspect of medicine we know of today: embryology, pre- and post-natal care, pediatrics, gerontology, medicine specifically for women and men at all ages, psychiatry, surgery and so on. The recommendations the Medicine Buddha teaches fall into four general categories or levels. In sequence, these levels range from least to most invasive, the idea being that we start simple and go deeper if the condition and suffering of the being demands a deeper level of attention.
I. The first level of medicine taught in the Gyud Zhi has to do with lifestyle changes: diet, exercise, quality relaxation and rest, and hygiene. According to Tibetan Ayurveda, roughly ninety-five percent of the symptoms of distress and dis-ease that we experience would be eliminated if we were to just make lifestyle changes that were more in keeping with our particular constitution (what in Tibetan is called Rang-Zhin) and our current condition. Knowledge of this is determined by a Tibetan or Ayurvedic healer/physician who would do pulse diagnosis, urinalysis, observation, palpation, and take a detailed medical history (which would include the medical history of one's parents and astrological information). The results of such an examination is an understanding of the client's unique blend of three basic energies, called in Tibetan: nyepas (in Sanskrit: doshas). These three energies are BEKAN (Kapha in Sanskrit), which has to do with the physical basis of the structures and tissues of our bodies, LUNG (Vata in Sanskrit) which has to do with all movement we experience - from how are mind moves from one thing to another to how our blood moves through our bodies, and even how we move from one place to another - and TrIPA (Pitta in Sanskrit) which has to do with all the transformative processes in our body (such as metabolism). These three, BEKAN, LUNG, and TrIPA come together in a particular mix that determines our stature, how we process information, what emotions are more pronounced, even our spiritual inclinations and propensities. The Medicine Buddha taught that there are over 84,000 combinations of these energies or nyepas. In humans, these can be reduced down to seven basic constitutional types. Knowing our unique blend will help us to better live a lifestyle that is less stressful and more conducive to accessing our deeper potentials.
Knowing that we often let things get out of hand before we are willing to admit that something isn't quite right, the Medicine Buddha saw that there are times when deeper levels of intervention are necessary; where the person is too weak or sick to engage, practice, and possibly even see the benefits of lifestyle changes alone. Thus, the second and third levels become more relevant in the person's immediate situation, providing that, in the long run, the client embraces a better lifestyle so that they need not get themselves into the same predicament again.
II. The second level of Tibetan Ayurveda has to do with processes of detoxification and rejuvenation. Sometimes we need to be rid of excess waste and other expressions of imbalance before we can gain the benefits of a better lifestyle. Thus, detoxification is necessary. To accomplish this one may use herbs, supplements, and other detoxifying medicines, massage, hydrotherapies, and methods known in both Indian and Tibetan Ayurveda as the Five Karmas (Sanskrit: Pancha Karma and in Tibetan: Len Nga). These include enemas, purgatives, emetics, nasal treatments, and blood letting or blood purification. It is only after proper detoxification that the second aspect of this level, rejuvenation, is effective. For rejuvenating the body one may use herbs, supplements, essence extracts (examples being the various Chulens and Precious Pills in Tibetan tradition and what in Indian Ayurveda are called Rasayanas), massage and hydrotherapies with rejuvenating herbs, even herbal enemas. Rejuvenation, however, may also be practiced before detoxification in situations where people's energy is so depleted that in order for them to be able to benefit from an ongoing lifestyle change, or to detoxify in the future, they need to be built up and strengthened initially. Such an approach to rejuvenation is of relevance in our own culture where, often, people obsessed by fad or crash dieting become so emaciated and depleted that in order for them to restore a proper balance they need to be built back up.
This level is considered more invasive, thus needs more expertise and understanding on the part of the healer/physician. Especially as one begins to physically interact with the client, doing massage and administering the various purifying actions, it is taught that one is beginning to influence their karma. This has consequences for both the client and the health care practitioner. Thus, at this level it is said that the client must feel comfortable with and have confidence in the practitioner, both in terms of their expertise and ethics.
III. The third level of Tibetan Ayurveda is even more invasive. Here we are looking at emergency medicine and the treatment of deep-seated problems that need a more radical intervention. These interventions include surgery, acupuncture, and moxabustion - a heat form of acupuncture.
It may seem shocking to our modern-day notions of ancient times, but medicine, as it was practiced in India, Tibet, and other areas of the world, included surgical procedure which, whilst not having all the technology surrounding it, was remarkably sophisticated. In the case of the Tibetan practice of surgery, it was banned at some point during the time of our Middle Ages due to the fact that the mother of a king died during one of the procedures.
Tibetans claim to have discovered acupuncture (the Golden Needle techniques) and that it was they who taught it to the Chinese. At the same time, there is an entire system of acupuncture that also existed in the Indian version of Ayurveda. So who was first with these techniques is a rather muddled issue. Nevertheless, moxabustion, the form of acupuncture most applicable to a high, dry, mountainous climate, has remained as the treatment of choice in this level of Tibetan Ayurveda.
Such methods were considered last resorts rather than initial interventions, unless of course the situation was an emergency. The Medicine Buddha taught that there are subtle energy systems, pathways, and points in the body. Cutting on or through them or stimulating them in the wrong way could result in problems for the client later on. They could even be fatal. Here, skill and timing were both necessary. For example, Tibetan Ayurveda teaches that such strong interventions as surgery will yield poor results if done on the New Moon. On the other hand, there are days of the month, like the 8th day of the Lunar Month, the Day of Medicine Buddha, that are quite beneficial. A person's astrological chart would also be taken into consideration. Even with the use of moxabustion it is considered that certain times of day and seasons are better than others when addressing various complaints. Of course, in an emergency, things need to get done when they need to get done. Such action will have its own consequences that must be accepted at the time. But if at all possible, to wait for the most auspicious time is what is preferred.
IV. The last level taught by the Medicine Buddha in the Gyud Zhi is spiritual medicine. This is considered the deepest, most invasive level. Why?
If it is true that how we think and perceive our world will determine how we act in it, both for ourselves and in relation to others, it only stands to reason that a change of paradigm, a new or different belief about the world, will have an impact on us at all levels. Does a new paradigm or new belief help to transform the three poisons or does it just compound matters? This is a critical question, one we usually don't address well enough, especially in the West.
The effects of bad religion can lead us to change our diets, maybe ignore our bodies altogether. They can destroy close ties to family, friends, and loved ones. They can even alter how we view life and death itself. Certainly, even changes at this level in a positive direction, where we are embracing the way things are as opposed to a contrivance or fantasy, can alter our personal life and relationships. But in the long run, the turmoil and pain in changes and bad feelings should be replaced with a greater sense of personal integration and wholeness and a greater love between oneself and others. It is probably for this very reason that the great teacher, Gampopa, spent so much time in his Jewel Ornament of Liberation encouraging students to thoroughly examine teachers and teachings. Too often in the West we hear of students abandoning their common sense and leaping into the hands of gurus and teachers, both scrupulous and not. The abdication of such personal power and reason can only have long-term disastrous effects.
Along with these relatively conscious personal choices and decisions in the spiritual arena, the Medicine Buddha also recognized that sometimes, underlying assumptions, even mental inclinations from birth, can create a context in which negative forces and influences can affect us. We are talking here of possession, i.e. being possessed. To our western scientific mind, such a notion may seem far-fetched and antiquated. But I am reminded of being taught at a Dharma discourse that of the 84,000 different kinds of beings, most of them are invisible. There is far more going on in the universe than what can be measured in the visual spectrum.
Thus at the level of spiritual medicine, the Gyud Zhi teaches various methods that either involve the client in practices of contemplation and meditation, or meditations, prayers, even exorcisms that are done on the client's behalf by the healer/physician.
First and foremost at this level is that each of us needs to be more consciously aware of our own predicament. We need to be able to contemplate how we have contributed to our distress and resulting illnesses and take some level of responsibility for our situation. Here we are talking about looking directly at our inclinations to be caught in the three poisons. Such a personal knowledge is critical for whatever level of recovery we may hope to experience and as a foundation for making a commitment to change what we can so that we never have to go through what we are experiencing now. Regardless of what level of medicine the client is receiving, this foundation is indispensable. It also becomes the basis for engaging in spiritual practices that help to transform the three poisons themselves. The meditation practice that most directly concerns itself with transforming the three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aggression are the visualizations and mantras of the Medicine Buddha. Of course, a healer/physician may perceive that other meditations are equal to or more important for the particular client. For example, perhaps the client needs to develop more concern and compassion for others as well as himself. Thus, to create more openness, the practice of Chenrezig (Loving Eyes) may be what is emphasized.
As the fourth level of the Medicine Buddha's teachings can uproot and transform the causes for our illnesses and woes, it can bring about more rapid recoveries, even miraculous healings. Once confusion, doubt, and fear are eliminated, or at least tempered in our minds, we find ourselves living and acting more in accordance with what serves rather than challenges our life. We choose life over entropy and our bodies and minds respond accordingly. Yet sometimes, the damage to our body in the form of cancer, other chronic or degenerative diseases, or damage from traumatic injuries is so extensive, that a worsening of our condition and even death are the only possible outcomes. Of what value then is spiritual medicine?
The root of all illnesses, of all mishaps, arises from the three poisons. If we transform the root, the cause for future illness is removed. Sometimes this will mean in this immediate life. Sometimes it will be good preparation for future lifetimes. If you jump off a cliff and realize you have made a mistake - one that you vow to never make again - you may sew the seeds for awareness of what lies over the cliff in a future life. But, in the meantime, gravity will have to have its way with you. And, if you are more conscious and less full of fear and apprehension, these negative emotions will not be a part of your death experience, in which case your death and what comes from your death can only be more positive.
Ultimately, the constituent energies of our body, BEKAN, LUNG, and TrIPA are none other than the psycho-physical manifestations of the three poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aggression respectively. In turn, these three poisons are none other than the neurotic expressions of our enlightened potentials, our rainbow body, our unlimited mind, and our spontaneous joy.
The Medicine Buddha teaches us that by knowing the dominance and mix of the three poisons within us, learning to temper their effects on us through a balanced lifestyle, attending to whatever level of healing we need to go through to experience our own vitality and strength, and engaging in spiritual practices that transform these poisons in our everyday life, that we will surely come to a realization and state of being equal to his own. And if not now, then in Dewachen, or the Medicine Buddha's own Pure Land of Sudarshan, such will arise as who we are implicitly. The veils of illusion of separation will fall and we shall stand, resplendent - as Medicine Buddha.
1Brahma - the supreme god in the Hindu pantheon.
Robert Sachs has spent the last 20 years studying and working with some of today's most noted Tibetan spiritual teachers and doctors, including noted physician Dr. Lobsang Rapgay. He trained in the practice of Medicine Buddha with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, a highly accomplished Tibetan Lama residing in New York state. Robert is the author of Nine Star Ki: Your Astrological Companion to Feng Shui, Rebirth into Pure Land, and Health for Life: Secrets of Tibetan Ayurveda. To order any of his books call: 877-964-1395 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
BUDDHISM TODAY, Vol.8, 2000
©2000 Diamond Way Buddhist Centers USA
Heart of Fundamentalism
by Tenzin Sherab
Why are people "fundamentalists"? They don't see themselves that way. It's a label we give to others whom we fundamentally disagree with. Fundamentalism is in our hearts--all our hearts. Once we recognize that, we can start to come to terms with it.
We all have a trace of de Sade, Genghis Khan, or Hitler in us. And all a touch of Mohammed, Socrates, or Avalokiteshvara. They merely express the extremes of our humanity. If we condemn someone for evil we are, in part, condemning ourselves.
Often, the people who most condemn a fundamentalist group are those who were once members, but have escaped its "clutches." But what made them join in the first place? Not anger or hate, but the desire for love, devotion, and the search for a better world, a life more meaningful than the usual 9-to-5 drudgery.
"They brainwashed me," former members sometimes say. "I was told to trust the leaders without question," "I was told my money would build the new tomorrow." The message is: Now that I've left, I'm all right, but the group I was part of is condemned.
But any group is a whole bunch of I's. I was a member, I was the one who propagated those views, I was the one who believed, and they are my friends who are still members. Now I've changed. But why? And why are these, my erstwhile friends, now the enemy, dangerous fringe elements out to destroy society and everything I stand for?
Whenever I read an alarmist newspaper article, or hear some terrible first-hand account by a "victim" of fundamentalism, I try to answer four questions: o Who's labeling whom as fundamentalist, and why? o Am I seen as fundamentalist by the people I've labeled as such? o What am I going to do about my attitudes; am I simply going to condemn and grow more paranoid, or reach out compassionately and communicate? o Why is it that "fundamentalism" produces such a fundamental reaction in me?
Fundamentalism is not something alien, "out there," to be feared and guarded against. It is something that can well up within any of us, because it results from very human conditions: faith and fear.
In my experience--and I've been there, having been both a political and evangelical fundamentalist in my time--fundamentalism begins from a very deep and powerful dissatisfaction with life. Take my story. As a teenager, I perceived the way of the world as radically wrong. So wrong, I desperately wanted to change it, make it a better place to live. First, I turned towards God, then towards Marxism.
I was young. It was hard to get a job. The people I lived with and identified with were poor. The world was being polluted, not just by carbon monoxide, but by evil, by rich people. Everyone seemed to be against me. Nothing seemed to work for me. I increasingly searched for a more radical answer to my fears and frustrations. Twice, I joined a small group of people who believed they held the right answer, the only answer.
Now, as members of these groups, we didn't see ourselves as a great threat to the world. We saw the world as the great threat to us! We felt marginalized, laughed at, vilified, endangered. These feelings only served to push us further to the extreme and make us more insular and secretive.
It's the same with members of the NRA (National Rifle Association). They believe that Big Government threatens their whole way of life. To "Wise-Use" people (who believe in unrestricted exploitation of natural resources), environmentalists are evil extremists, fundamentalists out to destroy their whole way of life. Christian and Muslim "fundamentalists" sincerely believe the world is in the grip of the Devil and that everything they value is being torn down. To Christians, Muslims seem extreme; to Muslims, Christians, and the Western values they bring with them, seem the real threat.
So "fundamentalists" don't see themselves as particularly extreme. Rather, they see the extent of the threat to themselves as so great, so powerful, that the only answer is an extreme one: a theological state, sectarian violence or holy war. We may not like it, but Libyan bombers or IRA terrorists blowing up civilians in London believe they're the victims, that they're forced to those actions because of the desperate plight of the Palestinians or Catholics in Northern Ireland. This way of thinking is also true of Marxists. They believe in revolution because they see it as the only answer to the terrible problems of poverty and class inequities.
So part of others' "fundamentalism" is, in fact, a reflection, a mirror image, of our own fundamental beliefs, for which we are as answerable as they. To my mind, we all need to make compromises. Christians must be prepared to compromise on their way of life. So must environmentalists, Buddhists, Muslims, the FBI. Part of the answer is to look at our own belief system and question how it is perceived by the people we are labeling.
And another part of the answer is to question precisely why we're labeling them. What right do we have to call anyone a "fundamentalist"? Is that the very problem--we've labeled people who differ from us, and, as part of that labeling process, we've decided they're evil, a terrible threat, to be condemned outright?
Fundamentalism frequently grows out of a feeling of being ignored and despised. It is often a call to arms by people worn down by years of oppression. We have to examine our role in wearing them down and in continuing their oppression, in not hearing their cries for help.
When the Boer people trekked across southern Africa in their wagon trains, if they were attacked by the Zulu, they would form their wagons into a circle called a laager. This "laager mentality" is at the heart of fundamentalism. "Fundamentalists" feel they're on a mission to build a holy land, a place of peace and contentment. They are visionaries, often escaping from some sort of hell. Just like the Lutherans and Pilgrims escaping religious persecution in Europe. They were "fundamentalists," too.
These visionaries see dangers all around them; they feel they're being attacked from all sides. To defend themselves, they resort to everything from sloganeering to slaughter. Look how the European settlers, usually deeply religious, set out to exterminate the Native Americans, because of the threat they were thought to pose. Fear and misunderstanding led to genocide.
For myself, emerging from my fundamentalist mentality was the result of two trends, one internal, the other external. Internally, I began to find peace, to become happier with the world as I saw it. I began to realize the world's problems would take a lot longer to solve, and perhaps weren't as immediately life-threatening as I'd once thought. This was all part of my move towards Buddhism. I felt less need for a vision and less threatened by the visions of others.
But also, I found understanding from the society around me. As a visionary, I needed to be offered a new, more compassionate vision. I needed to be involved, not swept aside. I began to talk to people, to explain my point of view, and to listen to others.
As I emerged from my own cocoon, I realized others could be loving and giving as well. I also had to learn patience. To some extent, I had to accept the defeat of my ideals. While I realized I had to accept compromise, it was the compassion of others that gave me the strength to emerge from fundamentalism, not as a twisted mutant Ninja Turtle, but as what, I hope, is a passably beautiful butterfly.
But many people don't want to give up their ideals. They feel so endangered, so disempowered, that they have no alternative but to fight back. As long as those in power continue to turn their backs on those without, they will have to face the frustrated explosions of fundamentalism. And now, as I count myself as one of those in power--I have a well-paid job in California, I'm one of the world's elite--I have to remember what it was like to be disenfranchised, and reach out to understand their position. Fundamentalism is a plight, a plea to be heard, not an evil to be destroyed.
What am I going to do about the impoverishment of Palestinian families? What am I going to do about the spiritual degeneration of society, and the pollution of the planet? What am I going to do about crime and the crisis of morality in the West, the violence on TV, and the ruthless indoctrination of the world into Western cultural values, so that multinational corporations may sell it more consumer goods? How am I going to reach out my hand to those who turn to Christian or Muslim "fundamentalism"? How am I going to change my life to accommodate theirs?
"Fundamentalists" are visionaries who feel their vision is in dire danger. We need to communicate our vision and listen to theirs. We need to compromise and not fear. We need to have compassion in our hearts and work with the compassion in theirs.
Tenzin Sherab (Tim Lewis) is a born-again Buddhist.
A Buddhist Response to Fundamentalism
human brain's infinite dimensions
by Danai Chanchaochai, Bangkok Post, Dec 1, 2004
There are two quotes about the brain that I like. One is the well-known remark by Robert Frost, "The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up and does not stop until you get into the office." The other is by an unknown author who no doubt was inspired by the original. "The human brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment we are born and stops only when we are about to make our first public speech." I suppose this kind of plagiarism is excusable because it rings true. It's also mildly amusing.
Woody Allen has famously said that his brain is his second favourite organ. What he did not say is that without a functioning brain he would not be able to enjoy the capabilities of his first favourite. The human brain is indeed a wonderful organ and its amazing capabilities are still being explored with yet more new discoveries confounding long held scientific ideas.
The brain is an organ that is designed to change in response to experience. Neuroscience and psychological research over the past decade on this topic has burgeoned and is leading to new insights about the many ways in which the brain changes in response to experience. This basic issue is being studied at many different levels, in different species, and on different time scales. Yet all of the work invariably leads to the conclusion that the brain is not static but rather is dynamically changing and undergoes such changes throughout its entire life.
This flexibility of the brain, which allows it to adapt to the ever changing variety of challenges that we constantly throw at it, is referred to by the cognitive neuroscientists as neuroplasticity, a neat and concise explanation that should require no further explanation, but which in fact describes highly complex processes that change constantly. Those neuroscientists will tell us, by the way, that this synaptic plasticity forms the basis for adaptation within the brains neural networks.
Synaptic plasticity neural networks, are, of course, wonderful conversation stoppers. It's all a question of synaptic plasticity of course, and how this makes possible the amazing adaptation that takes places within the neural networks.
In other words, the brain is indeed a wonderful organ which works continuously throughout our life. It is also highly adaptable and changes all the time.
What do we mean when we say it changes all the time?
According to most neuroscientists, it means that the brain is constantly changing in its physical form and the way it organises itself. Those same scientists have made many discoveries recently about how the brain works and how it develops. They point out that at birth, the brain is very immature. In fact, the human brain is not fully mature until at least twenty years after birth. Moreover, during this long development the human brain is highly dependent on and is modified and shaped by experience. For example, in people born blind the parts of the brain that normally process visual information are rewired and come to process sounds, including language. In those born deaf, the areas of the brain that normally process sounds come to process vision. In this sense, those individuals see with their ears.
The language relevant brain systems are also shaped by experience. In people who learn a language later than six years of age, the brain systems that normally process grammar are not used. However, the brain systems that process the meanings of words are normal in late language learners. Children whose parents or teachers talk to them regularly display good language skills and well organised language brain systems. However children who are rarely spoken to have stunted language development and immature language brain systems.
Typical human and animal environments are complex and research has shown that such stimulating environments lead to enhanced brain growth, learning and intelligence. Furthermore, studies of animals and humans have shown that nurturing caregivers and low levels of stress are important in producing appropriate levels of the brain chemicals that are necessary for healthy emotional control. High levels of stress and the absence of nurturing caregivers result in high levels of the chemicals that are harmful to these systems.
In summary, contrary to what many people used to think, the human brain is a constantly changing, highly dynamic organ.
All this talk of neuroplasticity may seem a little too technical for some of us but it's a fair bet that many of us familiar with Vipassana meditation will already be saying to ourselves that we may not be familiar with the scientific terminology but that we have along understood that our brain is much more than neural pathways and complicated circuitry. And we are well aware of its ever changing nature.
This perhaps inevitable link between Buddhist meditation has recently become even more meaningful, highlighted by a report of the 12th Conference on Mind and Life, an ongoing dialogue between scientists and Buddhist scholars. The topic of this latest conference in the presence of the Dalai Lama was none other than neuroplasticity or more fully, "Neuroplasticity: The Neuronal Substrates of Learning and Transformation".
The Dalai Lama has long been encouraging Buddhist practitioners to blend their spiritual knowledge with modern scientific knowledge. The Mind and Life Institute says, "Along with his vigorous interest in learning about the newest developments in science, His Holiness brings to bear both a voice for the humanistic implications of the findings, and a high degree of intuitive methodological sophistication. As well as engaging personally in dialogue with Western scientists and promoting scientific research into Buddhist meditative practices, he has led a campaign to introduce basic science education in Tibetan Buddhist monastic colleges and academic centers, and has encouraged Tibetan scholars to engage with science as a way of revitalising the Tibetan philosophical tradition. His Holiness believes that science and Buddhism share a common objective: to serve humanity and create a better understanding of the world. He feels that science offers powerful tools for understanding the interconnectedness of all life, and that such understanding provides an essential rationale for ethical behavior and the protection of the environment."
At the conference with the encouragement of the Dalai Lama, neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, scanned the brains of Buddhist monks.
The brain activity in volunteers who were novice meditators was compared with that of Buddhist monks who had spent more than 10,000 hours in meditation. The task was to practice "compassion" meditation, generating a feeling of loving kindness toward all beings. "We tried to generate a mental state in which compassion permeates the whole mind with no other thoughts," says Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk at Shechen Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In yet another scientific confirmation of the power of meditation, the results of the scans of the monks showed dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity called gamma waves during compassion meditation. Gamma waves underlie higher mental activity such as consciousness. The novice meditators "showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature," said Prof. Davidson.
This latest scientific validation of the yet to be realised power of meditation is naturally welcome news for all practitioners of Vipassana meditation. For most of us, it is also no surprise.
Wonders of Pomegranate Flower Essence
by Kevin Ferdowsian
I have seen firsthand what flower essences can do. Their vibrational message is received by the most subtle form of energy awareness. While flower essences share a vibrational link with its sister, Homoeopathy, flower essences are much easier to pick for a given set of symptoms and they can never cause harm. The strength of flower essences is that they are not a substantive change to your body chemistry, beyond what your body would naturally do to heal itself. Primarily, flower essences work on the mental and spiritual levels, and this effect is "felt" on the physical level. Flower essence therapists, and most homeopaths see the body as a template for the expression of symptoms. Whatever spiritual imbalance exists in the individual, it is manifested on the body--a way for the body to both sluff off the extra energy and a manner to convey to the conscience that something is out of whack. For example, if a person is surrounded by tension, either in their job, relationship, personal expectations or whatever, it can manifest itself in headaches, stomach pains, hypertension, heart disease or a host of other diseases. Allopathic medications seek to suppress or supplant these sets of symptoms in a trade for another set of symptoms that allopathic doctors call "side effects". While the original imbalance is suppressed, other imbalances manifest themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. Flower essences work by conveying the necessary information to overcome the anxiety, independently. That is, they boost the immune system so that the body can better deal with its dis-ease. The purpose of healing is to make whole again. Flower Essence therapy deserves its place in the holistic medical tradition because in finding the correct remedy, we are looking at the whole person, or what whole their self wishes to be. In this way, we are simply leading the self to where it wants to go already. I have seen Pomegranate work on three different people, and I am very impressed with the results. It helps with reproductive issues that commonly arise in women. There are other flower essences for this, and other symptoms must be taken into account when prescribing, but Pomegranate works well in this arena. My wife was having problems with her cycle. Irregular, sometimes scanty, and sometimes profuse, she was having a hard time getting a handle on what had always been very fluid. I suggested Watermelon, then Pomegranate. The watermelon didn't seem to be helping so we switched to Pomegranate. The next day, she felt better, and felt much relieved. She mentioned that she felt lighter, as if a burden had been lifted off her shoulders. Later in the month, after taking a daily dose of Pomegranate, she mentioned offhand that she felt younger and more in touch with her body than she had in years. She completely attributed it to the Pomegranate. A coworker was dealing with a Urinary Tract Infection. In fact, it has been a chronic issue since her early adolescence. When it would come on, she was miserable. She couldn't eat, was in severe pain, and couldn't go to work. Sometimes she said it was hard to get out of bed. One time, she called me, begging for something that would help her. I gave her Pomegranate flower essence. Within a few hours, she was eating and laughing again. It is amazing how well they work. She said to me, "Whever I feel one coming on, I just put a few drops in a glass of water and by the end of the day I'm fine." Reading this essay, she added, "I feel toxic when I have my UTI, and the flower essence helps to detoxify." I am also a middle school math teacher. Recently one of my students was starting her period. Her mom was relaying to me her painful symptoms, including vomiting, headache, fever, and painful cramps. I gave her Pomegranate and she was in school, feeling fine, the next day. Often, the healing transition is so natural, that people do not attribute the success to the flower essence. But an objective person can quickly see that an indicated flower essence works wonders on the spirit, which translates in an alleviation of physical and emotional symptoms.
Kevin Ferdowsian is a math teacher and holistic practitioner. He has been working with flower essences for four years, and operates the website, My Flower Essence and lives in Norman, Oklahoma with his wife and one child.