by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Article source: Gentle Voice Newsletter issue (#21) March 2004
In the previous issue of the newsletter we featured Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s straightforward approach to the Buddhist view from his recent public talk “View, Meditation, Action”. In this excerpt Rinpoche outlines how meditation and action help to enhance this Buddhist view.
We’ll talk about meditation now. I don’t know whether ‘meditation’ is the correct translation of the Tibetan word gom or the Sanskrit word yoga. Yoga is translated as naljor in Tibetan and naljor is such a very big word. Nal means normality. Jor means wealth. So when you are meditating, what you are ideally supposed to do is cultivate the wealth of normality. Now the very words yoga and gom imply that it has to do with getting accustomed to the view we were talking about earlier.
Picture source: flickr.com
Most meditation techniques are a bit like a placebo or a fake medicine. I’m not making this up - this was taught by the Buddha himself. He said the absolute and final challenge as a meditator is the very path that we are practising. That’s a very, very big statement. He even gave a good example: taking a boat to the other shore. If you are going to the other shore, you have to take a boat. Once you reach the other shore, you have to abandon the boat. If you are still standing in the boat, you are not on the other shore. You will find many Buddhists are very attached to the boat, Buddhism. They don’t even know that Buddha, for instance, was never a Buddhist. This Buddhism falls into the second category that I mentioned earlier - the whole, not the component bit.
But having said that, it’s the only way to go because we are like a patient and the Buddha is like a doctor. The disease we have is this confusion, such as looking at a mirage and believing the mirage is water. And we are so thirsty that we really need some water. Only a few of us get relief and feel no more disappointment when our teacher tells us, ‘Hey, look, that’s a mirage, not water.’ Even though our teacher is telling us it’s just a mirage, most of us don’t want to believe it. We want to believe it’s water. Therefore, out of compassion and skilful means, the Buddha and our teachers have had to cope with our expectations. For this reason you will find seemingly theistic prayers in Buddhism. Especially if you go to Tibet, it gets even more colourful and more chaotic - candles, butter lamps, prayer wheels, prayer flags, shrines and all of that.
Ashoka was one of the greatest Buddhist kings and he lived about four hundred years after Buddha passed away. In pre-Ashoka Buddhism there were no Buddhist statues or symbols because, I guess, they were all busy thinking about the view. But time gets degenerated and somehow we developed the notion that the path has to be complicated. We asked for these complications, so now we have many, many complicated paths – visualisations, mantras and so on. But one should never forget that this whole path is like a boat, just to help you reach the other shore. And in this case the other shore happens to be understanding that my hand is going to decay sooner or later, that there is no such thing as a hand and that my hand is a dependent reality.
Anyway, meditation is a technique that makes you get accustomed to this view again and again and again. It is a technique, not the goal. The path is not the goal. Meditation is a technique; it is a skin that you have to peel off. The whole Buddhist path is a bit like an onion. You see a layer of skin and as you peel off the first layer you think, ‘Oh, this is it. This is my moksha, this is my enlightenment.’ Then, after a while, you realise it’s just another of your own made-up fantasies and you peel that off. As you peel off layer after layer, you end up finding nothing inside. Once Buddhists find there’s nothing, they are happy. It’s very important to release ourselves from this burden of needing to find something inside such as the soul or something precious, which if we are lucky will travel to heaven and if we are not lucky will go to hell, because according to Buddhism that’s not the right view. According to Buddhism, we have to peel off these inhibitions or hang-ups that we have. And I stress that Buddhism is, for many Buddhists, a very sophisticated and carefully designed inhibition, but it is an inhibition that we have to use now.
Of course, you know what meditation is – sitting straight, breathing normally and so on. Anyway, when somebody is meditating, there’s a sense of somebody doing nothing. That’s quite good, actually. Meditation is basically doing nothing, absolutely nothing. That’s difficult! Thousands and millions of people want to do nothing. They haven’t achieved that yet because we need to do things, if not watching television, then reading a novel, throwing a party, chanting mantras, piercing our skin or dyeing our hair. We have to do something! The reason is that when we don’t do anything, we get left alone, don’t we? And that is something we don’t like because there’s a basic insecurity within us and that basic insecurity is actually not knowing whether we exist or not. And in order to convince ourselves that we exist, we need to have sex, shop or do something. Meditation is the opposite. Meditation is always facing the truth. So how do we face the truth? By doing nothing. That’s difficult! Another thing, why do we meditate? If you want to follow the path of the Buddha, your aim is not to be happy. Happiness is not our goal. The Buddhist goal is not happiness. It’s very important to know that. So this is why Buddhism should never be understood as therapy.
Buddhism is the opposite. Buddhism really, really deconstructs you! It’s so depressing. If you really want to practise Buddhism, it can really make you disoriented. But after a while you reach a certain level where you realise there’s nothing to be disoriented about and then you reach a certain confidence. Then, I guess, you will have a lot of joy, but I haven’t reached that stage. That’s just what I was told. But one thing I definitely know is that Buddhism has got nothing to do with happiness. Why? Because happiness is a very fickle, impermanent thing. Today’s happiness is not tomorrow’s happiness. Tomorrow’s happiness is something else the day after tomorrow.
When Buddhists say, ‘May all sentient beings be happy’, what are they saying? When we talk about happiness, we are talking about understanding the truth. It’s got nothing to do with a feeling. And you know that our happiness has changed a lot. There are people about whom we get so excited, to the point where we become kind of frisky when we first meet. After about a year or two even the sight of them bothers you. These things happen!
So now back to meditation. Doing nothing, that’s a very difficult job. There are two things that are difficult. Doing nothing and thinking that you can do whatever you like, living in a free society. That’s very difficult, very difficult! Even though there is somebody who’s giving you absolute freedom, you will not use it. We don’t have the guts. We don’t have the confidence to do whatever we like. You may think you’re a member of a free society. No, you are not free within your own inhibitions. That’s difficult. These are two difficult things.
Student: Is the reason why people are so afraid of being free that they have to face their real self with whatever evil or goodness it may have?
Happiness is a very fickle, impermanent thing.
Today's happiness is not tomorrow's happiness.
Tomorrow's happiness is something else
the day after tomorrow.
Rinpoche: First of all, Buddhists do not really believe in somebody giving you freedom. Secondly, we do not use freedom because we have an ego. For example, I know some people who spend so much money, buying different kinds of ties. Each tie would feed at least five hundred Ethiopian people. I don’t know why they wear ties because of all the garments we have it’s the most useless, isn’t it? You can’t keep money in it – it doesn’t have pockets. It doesn’t keep you warm. It looks like a fish hanging from your neck. We are completely free to not wear one, but because we want to look good, we need to fit into a certain society or we need to be invited to a certain party that requires us to wear a tie, we wear one. And this is how we end up doing everything that binds us.
S: You were talking about not wearing ties and I completely agree with you. But I’ve read somewhere that the colour of the robes that monks wear means something. Why is it that you must wear a specific kind of dress code?
R: As Buddhism has travelled to different parts of the world, all these cultural aspects have contributed a lot and that very contribution can also mislead people. It’s very interesting. First of all, there’s no such thing as hierarchy. Secondly, if you really need to have a hierarchy, the highest entity in Buddhism is the truth or the dharma, then Buddha, the one who taught, then the sangha or the community. So there’s that institutional arrangement. That’s one of the few institutions or symbols that theoretical Buddhism has.
But on top of that, there are robes. When Buddha was alive, he told his monks to wear one of three colours. They could choose blue, red or yellow. And ideally the material should be material discarded by people. You then have to dye it with one of these three colours, just to remind yourself that you have taken such and such a vow and to help you maintain your discipline. Other than that there’s no other significance in it. When you meditate, normally you are advised to sit straight. There is no reason why you cannot lie down and meditate. But you are encouraged to sit straight and meditate. Why? It helps to discipline yourself. There’s more chance that if you are lying down and meditating, you will fall asleep, basically. Most of the classic or theoretical Buddhist symbols or traditions have to do with discipline.
S: I’m wondering how important the view really is. Cannot someone be a perfectly normal person, without having such and such beliefs, without following such and such a view? Or is it really important and one has to try and structurise one’s view to actually attain a certain normality?
R: When we are talking about the view, there are many different levels of view. Of course, everybody has a view. A view is basically an idea and based on that idea we function. For instance, BMW is a great car. That’s a view. Then for days and nights you work hard to buy one. That’s meditation. And finally you get one; then you’re always worried about how it will or won’t get scratched. That’s action. View, meditation and action. Everything has that. But, of course, Buddhists would dispute all the other views. They would say an ordinary view has a lot of faults. That’s why they call it the relative view. Why? Because maybe a year later you will not like your BMW; you will like Ferrari instead. Now that proves that BMW is not the ultimate happiness or the ultimate truth. So what defines the ultimate view is something that will not change, something that is not dependent on any other cause and condition.
The Buddhist view of looking at phenomena is that everything is impermanent, interdependent and there's no such thing as a whole.
So this is what I mean. Our view about our hand is totally wrong. We think this is the same hand as yesterday’s hand. If I ask you, ‘Were you there yesterday?’ you answer, ‘Yes’, as if yesterday’s you and today’s you are the same. But they are not. There you go. You have a wrong view there! It’s a habit. And then when I ask, ‘Who’s this you?’ you point everywhere – to your toes, your nose, your chest. You have a whole abstract idea of you. That’s a wrong view again because there’s not a solid, tangible entity that you can refer to as you.
Anyway, let’s talk about action now. Again, the action has to be based on the view. The view is the most important thing, okay? Meditation is to get accustomed to this view that we have established. Action is also to enhance this view. There are many Buddhist actions, such as meditation, visualisation, compassion, generosity and so on. But all these Buddhist actions can be abbreviated into two things based on the view: outrageousness and elegance. Why outrageousness? It’s very necessary because if you are not outrageous, you will become a slave of this wrong view. You will want to wear a tie and then you will spend the whole evening not knowing which tie to wear. You are losing it again here! Not being outrageous enough!
If you are outrageous and you are maybe meeting the prime minister for dinner, you could wear a live fish because, based on the view, a live fish would be much more valuable than this useless piece of fabric. But, then again, action has to be accompanied by elegance. Why? Because as a Buddhist, as someone who knows what the view is, you have a responsibility. Compassion has to be there. You should not go to dinner with a dead fish hanging around your neck. As a Buddhist you should not! You should wear a very elegant tie that will match your shoes and your belt. You should put it on properly and all along you should know, ‘I’m doing the most pathetic, useless thing that exists.’ These two things are the Buddhist action.
So now just to summarise. The Buddhist view of looking at our hand and at phenomena: everything is impermanent, interdependent and there’s no such thing as a whole. That’s the view. Meditation is to enhance this view. To get accustomed to this view you try to cut all these inhibitions. But how? By doing nothing. Action is to enhance even more that view. You try to practice outrageousness and elegance together. You can’t practice them one after the other. You have to practise them together.
Of course, I didn’t do justice to the vast and deep wisdom of Shakyamuni. But I hope some of you can use this approach as the door to the infinite path of Buddhism. Thank you.
(This teaching is also available as an audio tape from
Siddhartha’s Intent Southern Door, P.O. Box 1114, Strawberry
Hills, NSW, 2012, Australia.)
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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”
~ Amitabha Sutra
When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.
~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche