Page 1: The Profound
Essence of Spiritual Practice
Im very happy to have this opportunity to return to New York, after three or four years. I believe many of you here are practitioners, meditators, either from this particular Shambhala Center or from other buddhist centers. This is very nice to see. In seeing some of the dharma centers around the world today, we can really begin to feel the growth of Buddhist meditation and philosophy. Its always nice to see that the profound teachings are spreading and flourishing, and that a growing number of people are practicing.
And I feel that we need to really appreciate the hard work of so many students, so many practitioners, for the teachings and [dharma] materials that are available to the western world today. Andwhile the modern world can be harmful in many wayswe also need to appreciate how much the media and modern technologies have truly helped in transferring the teachings [to the West]. It took so many hundreds of years for Buddhism to travel from India to Tibet; today, the same amount of work has been accomplished in the westernization of Buddhism in, roughly, forty years. So, a great deal of appreciation and encouragement and confidence arises seeing practitioners practice very sincerely and well.
There is also [however] one concern among all of us. Something as profound as the philosophy and teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha needs to be completely understood as an inner growth practice; with individual responsibility to practice [in order] to truly understand the meaning and main motivation, or main intention, behind such a practice.
As I said before, media and modern technology can be harmful in some ways because of how things become popular. Because of popularity, when a person chooses a spiritual patheven as profound or pure a path as the buddhist traditionwe find that certain faults, or difficulties, arise. And so anyone who chooses to be on a spiritual path [and to] actually pursue and study buddhadharma, must do so realizing what its true meaning is. If your spiritual practice is only for some kind of temporary benefit or temporary relief, its far better to waste your time somewhere else. (Laughter.)
So spiritual practice must be completely understood. And perhaps many people do understand it properly, nevertheless this is not only for beginners. Buddhist practitioners who have spent many years in meditation and study talk constantly about absolute truth and the emptiness nature of inner and outer phenomena; yet we find they are still not able to "be" that person, that genuine person, who should arise out of any spiritual pathespecially if ones claiming to be a buddhist meditator.
The entire philosophy of Buddhism rests in, first of all, being able to truly realize the responsibility of being a human being. Then, through understanding the interdependence of all sentient beings, were able to develop some sanity in life, some common sense. Using our brains, or common sense, and perfecting that [understanding], we can live our lives fully and have sensible lives, lives that are a little different. If were going to call ourselves the most intelligent of all species, then [we should] show some example that thats so. (Laughter.)
So the spiritual path needs to be understood as something very simple, rather than making it as complicated or complex as we want it to beand not recognizing the true meaning, or true nature, of whats being taught.
Venerable Khandro Rinpoche
New York public Talk 10-20-98
Page 2: Learning What
Needs to Be Abandoned & What Needs to Be Cultivated
Now most of you who have studied buddhist texts especially those who have read The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche realize that the essence of all the teachings is something that points out certain faults. Most of this text seems to very strongly criticize or find faults in practitionersand I think rightly so. Atishas instructions within this text talk about the kindness of one who is truly able to point out our hidden faults, [and how] that enables us to truly learn what needs to be abandoned and what needs to be cultivated.
This textand the general buddhist point of viewbegin most instructions with the intention of developing [more] openness and mindfulness within ourselves. If we sit down and think about it carefully, we human beings live our entire lives indulging in activities that do not really make that much sense or are that useful. When I examine my own self, I say "thirty years of my life, and what has this life attained that is really beneficial or useful?" There is nothing to show, nothing much that actually says "this is the true essence of having lived so many years."
So, with our pride and our egos and mainly our mental assumptions that we have done something, we tend to fabricate that examination. And out of that fabrication, or pretense, we may assume that weve lived full lives, that weve touched peoples lives, that weve said this and done that. But this is mainly a kind of condolence we give ourselves to satisfy ourselves.
When I open my own diaries, I say, "Oh, in 1996 things were done, almost all the pages are full." And we take great pride in that. And nowadays most of us buddhist teacherswho are said to be renunciatestalk about "what are we going to do...," and "will we have time in July...," and things like that. In this way we are said to be practicing. Nevertheless, if you truly examine this, theres a real hollowness in terms of seeing a human life and its true meaning. Apart from some kind of thought or mental assumption [about] essence, or true depth of meaning, not many of us are really able to do [it].
Therefore, [lets] examine and see how were ending up as human beings. Were doing things from early morning until we crash into our beds [at night]. With our bodies we try to accumulate, to do, various physical actions; our speech is always very busy; and our thoughts are always very busy with some form of activity or other. Nevertheless, if at this moment anyone of us were to die, sit down and examine what truly remains. About what could you say "this is the essence," "this is what Ive achieved," or "this is what I can give to somebody else"? Whether youve lived thirty or sixty or seventy years, if its condensed down to the one happiness, or one valuable opportunity, or one really helpful thing that you leave behind for another sentient beingother than a lot of mental assumptions of having done this or thatin reality, we dont end up accumulating anything.
That is one way to look at it: examining [our lives], we find "unnecessary-ness." There isnt much meaning, or essence, which is nyingpo in Tibetan; in terms of "essence," there isnt much of value. And so, its very necessary to understand that when we talk philosophically about "illusorylike existence," [we are talking about] this way of living where so many of our activities have no truly meaningful essence. Yet we end up being busy our entire lives and having no time.
We hear this all the time: "I have no time, I have no time." If we ask Buddhist meditators if they meditate, they say "I have no time." If we ask parents, they say "I have no time for the children," and children have no time for their parents. Friends have no time for one another, we have no time on the job, and we have no time at home. (Laughter.) So in running from one place to another, it seems, an entire life passes away.
In the middle of all that, we find that nothing actually stops. The movement of life continues, the movement of time continues, and so with time and our lives, some kind of action is being accumulated. When we talk about this from a buddhist contemplative point of view, we talk about four main thoughts, or reminders.
The Four Reminders
In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche talks about four main thoughts that should precede every meditation, every moment of contemplation: first, the preciousness of human existence; second, impermanence; third, the suffering of samsara; and fourth, karma, or cause and effect. These four reminders are said to be the main foundation of contemplation. Contemplating them, the meditator is truly able to remain without fabrication, or fabricated beliefs about his or her own spiritual path and spiritual motivation. They should truly enable practitioners to be completely honest with themselves.
In spiritual practices, we sometimes talk about benefiting sentient beings, or making life more meaningful, or being able to truly do something that is good. In the beginning, our motivation may be very clear, but very soon our habitual patterns return. These habitual tendencies re-create the same patterns of living, thinking, doing, or saying things. Because of this[while] we may be doing a lot of meditation or contemplation in our hearts, and we may have a very pure intention to help sentient beings or to do something beneficialthe pull of our habitual patterns, or tendencies, does not allow us to remain in touch with that pure motivation, with what is really beneficial and good. To overcome such tendencies, the Four Reminders, again, are very beneficial.
Venerable Khandro Rinpoche
New York public Talk 10-20-98
Page 3: The Four Noble
The first reminder talks about the preciousness of human existence. Now when we study Buddhist doctrine, the first teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha are the Four Noble Truths. And he talks, first, about the noble truth of suffering. As meditators, we are able to understand that all sentient beings have some form of suffering. Because of that suffering, its necessary to contemplate how interdependent we are with all sentient beings. With all the different layers and masks we put on ourselves and others, we tend not to feel how much sameness, how much interdependence, we have among ourselves.
First Noble Truth of Suffering
The first noble truth of suffering is an effective way of allowing mind to settle down in the very beginningand to understand that you are not the only one who wants to be happy. Happiness is desired by all sentient beings; any living being who has senses desires the same happiness and does not want suffering. If we sit down and think about that, what is it that we call "happiness"? What is "suffering"? And what causes that suffering?
We should also question why we think about it in this way. If a spiritual path is one that we can follow in a general, simple way, then being a sensible human being shouldnt [have to] come from an eastern philosophy about feeling happiness and knowing the cause of happiness, or feeling suffering and knowing the cause of suffering. Common sense should enable us to sit down and understand that. However, if [it makes] you comfortable, if you feel the need of inspiration from a philosophy or spiritual path to understand that, that is why spiritual paths and philosophies arise and spread.
When we talk about Buddhismwhich is just a title, a namemuch has to do with mind: how to use that common sense in the intellect, how to truly fulfill the responsibilities of being an ordinary human beingand how to work with that responsibility. We can call it "buddhist thought" or simply "human thought," as long as its purpose is to sit down and understand what suffering is, and what the cause of suffering is. And then knowing that just as much as we dont want [suffering], similarly no other sentient being wants it either. So what is it that does not allow us to cut through the tendency to inflict harm on another sentient being, to inflict pain on another sentient beingmost of the time, unintentionally?
We call ourselves "human beings," with a spiritual base that we could call "buddha nature," or "primordial wisdom"or simply "common sense."
With that as our basis, logically speaking we should have some amount of control over our own bodies, our speech, and our minds. Mind is contained within the body; this mind and body function together all the time. If there is such a thing as mind with which we are thinking, those thoughts are generated by ourselves. It shouldnt be that difficult to control, or to discipline, our thoughts. And our speech is very much our own, [as are] the actions of our bodies. Since wanting happiness and not wanting suffering is the same for all sentient beings, logically speaking it shouldnt be difficult not to harm someone else physically; and not to say things that are not truthful, that were not sure of, or that may be exaggerated, harmful, or painful to someone else.
If we are going to call ourselves "skeptics"as most Buddhists are trained to bewe must only believe in the most absolute truth, and not believe in anything that may be just a dream, a mirage, or an illusion. To have so much faith in a formless thought that we let a single thought rule our lives, and to make it such a big, important issue that we spend entire lives meditating to dissolve that thought, thats a little bit... (laughter). If we look at it carefully, thats what meditation is all about.
Buddhists take great pride in saying that one should be "nontheistic," and not believe things like a creator or being born in a heaven. Yet our meditation doesnt seem to reflect that at all. We sit in meditation still hoping something will happen from the outside, [still] believing so many extraordinary things will happen. These are the same people who are supposed to be meditating on nature of emptiness! (Laughter.) But within the nature of emptiness, we try to find form, we try to see things, hope for things.
We all know that nirvana, or enlightenment, is no other than mind; and that from cutting through all tendencies of fabricationwhen illusion is completely shatteredfrom that arises primordial wisdom. Yet we [still] have some hope and expectation that we might be the exception, the chosen one who can actually enjoy the splendors of nirvana, then turn back to people who are still ignorant saying "Im going to save you all." In this way, a kind of duality arises within the spiritual path. No matter how many years such a person has mediated, he or she has never understood the noble truth of suffering, from the very beginning.
Most of us just end up very lucky, very fortunate. Someone like me, for example, might never understand what suffering is: being born in a very good family, raised up in this particular way, much of our knowledge of suffering is book knowledge, intellectual knowledge. But then, all of us have some difficulty in our lives, [and] suffering is not so different for us. If we sit down and count [them], most of us have quite a lot of difficultiesdivorces, loss of jobs, children growing up not according to our wishes, or simply [living in] New York City (VKR laughs; laughter). There are all different forms of difficulties. But the noble truth of suffering is talking about something else entirely.
Most of our lives are very comfortable and, while there may be difficulties, if we count them, there are more happy moments and fewer moments of suffering. Because of that [our] aversion to samsarathe great wish to actually be free from this existenceis not very strong.
Now traditional buddhist texts, such as The Words of My Perfect Teacher, talk about a variety of existences, or Six Realms, where each realm has its own difficulties or sufferings. In the Human Realmthis particular existence in which we livethey talk about birth, old age, sickness, and death, and the various sufferings that arise. Yet from the inner sense of meditation and contemplation, [we could] look at our lives simply, as we said before.
How very solid, how very fixated, how very attached we become to things that are not as useful or solid as we assume they are. When we look at the moments of our livesespecially in terms of our emotions and feelingsmost of the things we hold on to are based on some kind of mental assumption.
I always think of this example: lets say I tell you that were going to do an elaborate ceremony to demonstrate the power of my horns. And I say "Look at my horns. Only those with great devotion will be able to see them; only those fortunate enough will be able to see the magnificent quality of my horns, which are from the East, and which Ive carried with me throughout many lifetimes. How beautiful they are, how sharp, how bejeweled, how very nice they are!" If I go on like this, those of you sitting there might soon come to some understanding that there are no horns, no horns at all! And yet I could go on and on, making them as solid, as important, as magnificent or as valuable as I want them to be. And, just as there are no horns to be totally convinced of, similarly I could go on with my emotions: my anger, my desire, my hatred, my jealousy, and so forth.
In examining and dissecting thoughts, all of us whove done a little meditation will be able to see that those thoughts we fixate on are none other than the horns Im talking about. They dont have any form or solidity. What arises, however, when we meddle with them, fiddle with them, then becomes important. Just as I could describe my horns, similarly I could sit here and describe why my anger came [up], why its so important, why it needs to be demonstrated, who is to blame for it, how powerful it is, how stagnant, how it doesnt go away, and what needs to be done about it, and the nature of its antidotes (laughter). We could go on and onbut the fact is that it doesnt exist. It exists only as much as we hold or grasp onto it.
And the rest of our
existence is the same: we make meaning out of meaningless things. Trying to
see the essence and the use of things, we spend our entire lives [driven by]
a kind of force which we call "karma," or "habitual pattern."
When we take the time to sit down quietly, look around us and think, [we see]
an entire world system functioning in this way. Nobody is telling us to do things,
yet we all do them; nobody is telling us to say things, but we all say them;
nobody teaches us what anger is and how to demonstrate it, yet [there is] so
much manifestation of anger. [We live] entire lives doing, saying, and reacting
to things in the same ways; protecting, defending, and holding onto the same
things; and then moving along in the same ways, day in and day out. [This is
how] we live our lives!
Suffering is very much being able to know this. We have a body, and yet how much control [do we have]; we have speech, but how much control [do we have of our] speech; we have minds, and how much [are they] under control?
The lives of human beingswhich are very difficult to attaincan be so very beneficial, if used properly. Understanding their potential, [our lives can] make life happy and peaceful for as many as come in contact with us. For what reason [then, do we] hold onto things that dont even have form, that dont have any kind of existence other than our own grasping mind? [For what reason do we] allow them to become so very important, so very necessary, that then we have to rely on 84,000 tenets to teach us how to be kind, how to truly let go of useless anger?
Spiritual development, within this relative existence, is so very beneficial for all of us. It is also a very clear reflection, like a mirror that we should keep in front of us, to see that which is so easy to do. And yet we do not want to see that. Because of our strong attraction and grasping to complexities, we tend to attach ourselves to those things that are more complicated.