A late Thai master's final advice on walking the path to enlightenment
By Ajahn Chah
People may look at you and feel that your way of life, your interest in dharma, makes no sense. Others may say that if you want to practice dharma, you ought to ordain. Ordaining or not ordaining isn’t the crucial point. It’s how you practice.
Laypeople live in the realm of sensuality. They have families, money, and possessions, and are deeply involved in all sorts of activities. Yet sometimes they will gain insight and see dharma before monks and nuns do. Why is this? It’s because of their suffering from all these things. They see the fault and can let go. They can put it down after seeing clearly in their experience. Seeing the harm and letting go, they are able to make good sense of their position in the world and benefit others.
We ordained people, on the other hand, might sit here daydreaming about lay life, thinking how great it could be. “Oh yeah, I’d work my fields and make money, then I could have a nice family and a comfortable home.” We don’t know what it’s really like. The laypeople are out there doing it, breaking their backs in the fields, struggling to earn some money and survive. But for us, it’s only fantasy.
The laypeople live in a certain kind of thoroughness and clarity. Whatever they do, they really do it. Even getting drunk, they do it thoroughly and have the experience of what it actually is, while we can only imagine what it’s like. So, because of their experience, they may become tired of things and realize the dharma quicker than monks can.
You should be your own witness. Don’t take others as your witness. This means learning to trust yourself. People may think you’re crazy, but never mind. It only means they don’t know anything about dharma. But if you lack confidence and instead rely on the opinions of unenlightened people, you can easily be deterred. In Thailand these days, it’s hard for young people to sustain an interest in dharma. Maybe they come to the monastery a few times, and then their friends start teasing them, complaining: “Since you started going to the monastery, you don’t want to hang out or go drinking anymore. What’s wrong with you?” So they often give up the path.
Others’ words can’t measure your practice, and you don’t realize the dharma because of what others say. I mean the real dharma. The teachings others can give you are to show you the path, but that isn’t real knowledge. When people genuinely meet the dharma, they realize it directly within themselves. So the Buddha said that he is merely the one who shows the way. In teaching us, he is not accomplishing the way for us. It is not so easy as that. It’s like someone who sells us a plow to till the fields. He isn’t going to do the plowing for us. We have to do that ourselves. Don’t wait for the salesman to do it. Once he’s made the sale, he takes the money and splits. That’s his part.That’s how it is in practice. The Buddha shows the way. He’s not the one who does it for us. Don’t expect the salesman to till your field. If we understand the path in this way, it’s a little more comfortable for us, and we will do it ourselves. Then there will be fruition.
Teachings can be most profound, but those who listen may not understand. Never mind. Don’t be perplexed over profundity or lack of it. Just do the practice wholeheartedly, and you can arrive at real understanding—it will bring you to the place the teachings talk about.
Don’t rely on the perceptions of ordinary people. Have you read the story about the blind men and the elephant? It’s a good illustration. Suppose there’s an elephant, and a group of blind people are trying to describe it. One touches the leg and says it’s like a pillar. Another touches the ear and says it’s like a fan. Another touches the tail and says, “No, it’s not a fan, it’s like a broom.” Another touches the body and says it’s something else again from what the others say.
There’s no resolution. Each blind person touches part of the elephant and has a completely different idea of what it is. But it’s the same one elephant. It’s like this in practice. With a little understanding or experience, you get limited ideas. You can go from one teacher to the next seeking explanations and instructions, trying to figure out if they are teaching correctly or incorrectly and how their teachings compare to each other. Some people are always traveling around to learn from different teachers. They try to judge and measure, so when they sit down to meditate they are constantly in confusion about what is right and what is wrong. “This teacher said this, but that teacher said that. One guy teaches in this way, but the other guy’s methods are different. They don’t seem to agree.” It can lead to a lot of doubt.
You might hear that certain teachers are really good, and so you go to receive teachings from Thai ajahns, Zen masters, Vipassana teachers, and others. It seems to me that most of you have probably had enough teaching, but the tendency is to always want to hear more, to compare, and to end up in doubt as a result. Each successive teacher might well increase your confusion further.
Thus the Buddha said, “I am enlightened through my own efforts, without any teacher.” A wandering ascetic asked him, “Who is your teacher?” The Buddha answered, “I have no teacher. I attained enlightenment by myself.” But that wanderer just shook his head and went away. He thought the Buddha was making up a story and had no interest in what he said. He believed it wasn’t possible to achieve anything without a teacher or a guide.
You study with a spiritual teacher, and she tells you to give up greed and anger. She tells you they are harmful and that you need to get rid of them. Then you may practice and do that. But getting rid of greed and anger doesn’t come about just because she taught you; you have to actually practice and accomplish that. Through practice you come to realize something for yourself. You see greed in your mind and give it up. You see anger in your mind and give it up. The teacher doesn’t get rid of them for you. She tells you about getting rid of them, but it doesn’t happen just because she tells you. You do the practice and come to realization. You understand these things for yourself.
It’s like the Buddha is catching hold of you and bringing you to the beginning of the path, and he tells you, “Here is the path—walk on it.” He doesn’t help you walk. You do that yourself. When you do travel the path and practice dharma, you meet the real dharma, which is beyond anything that anyone can explain to you. So one is enlightened by oneself, understanding past, future, and present, understanding cause and result. Then doubt is finished.
We talk about giving up and developing, renouncing and cultivating. But when the fruit of practice is realized, there is nothing to add and nothing to remove. The Buddha taught that this is the point we want to arrive at, but people don’t want to stop there. Their doubts and attachments keep them on the move, keep them confused, keep them from stopping. So when one person has arrived but others are somewhere else, they won’t be able to make any sense of what he may say about it. They might have some intellectual understanding of the words, but this is not real knowledge of the truth.
Usually when we talk about practice we talk about what to develop and what to renounce, about increasing the positive and removing the negative. But the final result is that all of these are done with. There is the level of sekha, the person who needs to train in these things, and there is the level of asekha, the person who no longer needs to train in anything. When the mind has reached the level of full realization, there is nothing more to practice. Such a person doesn’t have to make use of any of the conventions of teaching and practice. It’s spoken of as someone who has gotten rid of the defilements.
The sekha person has to train in the steps of the path, from the very beginning to the highest level. When she has completed this, she is called asekha, meaning she no longer has to train, because everything is finished. The things to be trained in are finished. Doubts are finished. There are no qualities to be developed. There are no defilements to remove. This is talking about the empty mind. Once this is realized, you will no longer be affected by whatever good or evil there is. You are unshakable no matter what you meet, and you live in peace and happiness.
In this realm of impermanence, there will be times when we cannot find spiritual teachers to point out the path to us. When there is no spiritual guidance for people, we become thickly obscured by craving, and society in general is ruled by desire, anger, and delusion. So at the present time, though the Buddhist religion may be struggling to survive, though in general the way it’s practiced is far from the truth of what really is, we should make the most of the opportunity we do have.
When the Buddha passed into final nirvana, the different types of disciples had different feelings. There were those who had awakened to the dharma, and when they saw the Buddha enter nirvana, they were happy: “The Lord Buddha is well-gone; he has gone to peace.” But those whose defilements were not yet finished thought, “The Buddha has died! Who will teach us now? The one we bowed down before is gone!” So they wailed and shed tears. That’s really bad, crying over the Buddha like a bunch of bums. Thinking like fools, they feared no one would teach them anymore. But those who were awakened understood that the Buddha is just this dharma that he has taught us; though he passes away, his teachings are still here. So their spirits were still strong, and they did not lack for means of practice, because they understood that the Buddha does not die.
We can easily see that except for the dharma, there is nothing that will relieve the trouble and distress in the world and cool the fires of beings’ torment. Ordinary people of the world are struggling, fighting, suffering, and dying because they are not following a true spiritual path. So let’s make efforts to devote our minds and bodies to discovering virtue and spirituality, to becoming real human beings who live according to the dharma of humans. We don’t have to look at others and be critical of their lack of virtue. Even when those close to us can’t practice, we should do what we can first. Before we worry about the deficiencies of others, those of us who understand and can practice should do that straightaway.
Outside of the dharma, there isn’t anything that will bring peace and happiness to this world. Outside of dharma, there is only the struggle of winning and losing, envy and ill will. One who enters the dharma lets go of these things and spreads lovingkindness and compassion instead. Even a little bit of such dharma is of great benefit. Whenever an individual has such qualities in the heart, the Buddha’s way is flourishing.
Ajahn Chah (1919—1992) was a beloved Thai Buddhist master who was an important influence and spiritual mentor for a generation of American Buddhist teachers.
From Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away by Ajahn Chah, ©2005 by Paul Bretier, translator. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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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
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Let it go and be spontaneous,
Experience no going or staying.
Accord with your nature, unite with the Way,
Wander at ease, without vexation.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in practice is to be natural and spontaneous. Being natural does not mean neglecting everything. It requires careful attention. In meditation, you should sit in a natural posture and use your mind in a natural way. Sitting in a natural posture means sitting just right. If you are comfortable when you first assume the sitting posture, even if pains develop in your legs later on, that is still natural. It is unnatural, however, to sit bent over or leaning to one side, or tipping your head back. A natural posture should follow the demands of your physiology. It is not natural to tighten your stomach muscles or to straighten your back by protruding your chest.
To use your mind in a natural way means to avoid trying to control it. The more you try to control your mind, the more stray thoughts will come up to botheryou. In fact, the very fear of stray thoughts is another stray thought. Therefore, if you have many stray thoughts, consider it a natural phenomenon and do not despise them. But on the other hand, if you completely give in to a train of wandering thoughts, that is not correct either. What is the best approach? Pay close attention to the method. If you do that, stray thoughts will be kept to a minimum. It is not that they will not arise, but you will not worry about them. If you are really paying attention to the method, you will be aware of a stray thought as soon as it arises. When it comes up, just let it go. Do not be afraid that another thought may follow it. That fear is an extra stray thought. It is just like a person who is carrying a stack of bowls. If someone says to him, "Be careful! You're going to drop them!" he will drop them. But if nobody said anything, he would just keep going.
Do not fear failure. Whatever happened in the past is past; do not worry about it happening again. Before you meet with success, failure is natural and necessary. As a baby learns to walk, it keeps falling down. Is this failure? Throughout our life we go through similar processes: going to school, pursuing a career, practicing Ch'an. After my first book, someone said to me, "Now you're a success." I said, "No. That book was a failure. I would write it much better if I had to do it again." It is the same with practice; there is never a successful conclusion. When you are working hard, failure is natural. If you have never failed, you have never tried.
ON THE OTHER HAND, you should not have a defeatist attitude, thinking: "As long as I'm going to fail, let me fail." According to Buddhism, nothing can be a success. If you were elected president of the United States, would that be a success? Later on, you would most likely be criticized as a failure. Even President Lincoln would probably consider himself a failure. This is natural. It is when you do not feel successful that you put in the effort. When you no longer need to make an effort, that is success, or liberation. At that point, there are no more vexations. Nevertheless, you have neither thrown away vexations nor grasped liberation. If you want to hold on to enlightenment and keep away vexations, that is not the true natural state.
But to follow your own nature, in this sense, is not the same as following your personal habits or whims, as in the expression "be natural." Nature here refers to your self-nature, or Buddha-nature. Some people think that one can become a buddha through meditation. This is wrong. The potential for Buddhahood is within your own nature. If it were true that Buddhahood depended on meditation, then if you stopped meditating after becoming a buddha, you would become a common person again. The objective of practice is to be in accord with the natural way, so that your true nature can manifest itself. Just practice according to the methods taught by the Buddha and do not worry about being a success. The Heart Sutra says, "There is no wisdom and no attainment." Although practice may be trying, even physically painful, if your heart is carefree, nothing will bother you. A carefree approach does not mean not caring about how you practice; it means considering anything that happens as natural. There may be some pain, but there will be no suffering. There is nothing in your mind that you cannot put down.
Master Sheng-Yen is the Resident Teacher at the Ch'an Meditation Center in Elmhurst, New York. Excerpted from Faith in Mind: A Guide to Ch'an Practice by Master Sheng-Yen, reprinted with permission from Dharma Drum Publications.
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Image © Carol Royce-Wilder
Lama Yeshe teaches the importance of regular mental check-ups.
By Lama Yeshe
Lama YesheWHEN I TALK ABOUT MIND, I'm not just talking about my mind, my trip. I'm talking about the mind of each and every universal living being. The way we live, the way we think-everything is dedicated to material pleasure. We consider sense objects to be of utmost importance and materialistically devote ourselves to whatever makes us happy, famous, or popular. Even though all this comes from our mind, we are so totally preoccupied by external objects that we never look within, we never question why we find them so interesting.
As long as we exist, our mind is an inseparable part of us. As a result, we are always up and down. It is not our body that goes up and down, it's our mind-this mind whose way of functioning we do not understand-not just our body, but our mind. Therefore, sometimes we have to examine ourselves-not just our body, but our mind. After all, it is our mind that is always telling us what to do. We have to know our own psychology, or, in religious terminology, perhaps, our inner nature. Anyway, no matter what we call it, we have to know our own mind.
Don't think that examining and knowing the nature of your mind is just an Eastern trip. That's a wrong conception. It's your trip. How can you separate your body, or your self-image, from your mind? It's impossible. You think you are an independent person, free to travel the world, enjoying everything. Despite what you think, you are not free. I'm not saying that you are under the control of someone else. It's your own uncontrolled mind, your own attachment that oppresses you. If you discover how you oppress yourself, your uncontrolled mind will disappear. Knowing your own mind is the solution to all your problems.
One day the world looks so beautiful; the next day it looks terrible. How can you say that? Scientifically, it's impossible that the world can change so radically. It's your mind that causes these appearances. This is not religious dogma; your up and down is not religious dogma. I'm not talking about religion; I'm talking about the way you lead your daily life, which is what sends you up and down. Other people and your environment don't change radically; it's your mind. I hope you understand that.
Similarly, one person thinks that the world is beautiful and people are wonderful and kind, while another thinks that everything and everyone is horrible. Who is right? How do you explain that scientifically? It's just their individual mind's projection on the sense world. You think, “Today is like this; tomorrow is like that; this man is like this; that woman is like that.” But where is that absolutely fixed, forever-beautiful woman? Who is that absolutely forever-handsome man? They are nonexistent-they are simply creations of your own mind.
Do not expect material objects to satisfy you or to make your life perfect; it's impossible. How can you be satisfied by even vast amounts of material objects? How will sleeping with hundreds of different people satisfy you? It will never happen. Satisfaction comes from the mind.
If you don't know your own psychology, you might ignore what's going on in your mind until it breaks down and you go completely crazy. People go mad through lack of inner wisdom, through their inability to examine their own mind. They cannot explain themselves to themselves; they don't know how to talk to themselves. Thus they are constantly preoccupied with all these external objects, while within, their mind is running down until it finally cracks. They are ignorant of their internal world, and their minds are totally unified with ignorance instead of being awake and engaged in self-analysis. Examine your own mental attitudes. Become your own therapist.
You are intelligent; you know that material objects alone cannot bring you satisfaction, but you don't have to embark on some emotional, religious trip to examine your own mind. Some people think that they do; that this kind of self-analysis is something spiritual or religious. It's not necessary to classify yourself as a follower of this or that religion or philosophy, to put yourself into some religious category. But if you want to be happy, you have to check the way you lead your life. Your mind is your religion.
When you check your mind, do not rationalize or push. Relax. Do not be upset when problems arise. Just be aware of them and where they come from; know their root. Introduce the problem to yourself: “Here is this kind of problem. How has it become a problem? What kind of mind feels that it's a problem?” When you check thoroughly, the problem will automatically disappear. That's so simple, isn't it? You don't have to believe in something. Don't believe anything! All the same, you can't say, “I don't believe I have a mind.” You can't reject your mind. You can say, “I reject Eastern things”-I agree. But can you reject yourself? Can you deny your head, your nose? You cannot deny your mind. Therefore, treat yourself wisely and try to discover the true source of satisfaction.
When you were a child you loved and craved ice cream, chocolate, and cake, and thought, “When I grow up, I'll have all the ice cream, chocolate, and cake I want; then I'll be happy.” Now you have as much ice cream, chocolate, and cake as you want, but you're bored. You decide that since this doesn't make you happy you'll get a car, a house, television, a husband or wife-then you'll be happy. Now you have everything, but your car is a problem, your house is a problem, your husband or wife is a problem, your children are a problem. You realize, “Oh, this is not satisfaction.”
What, then, is satisfaction? Go through all this mentally and check; it's very important. Examine your life from childhood to the present. This is analytical meditation: “At that time my mind was like that; now my mind is like this. It has changed this way, that way.” Your mind has changed so many times but have you reached any conclusion as to what really makes you happy? My interpretation is that you are lost. You know your way around the city, how to get home, where to buy chocolate, but still you are lost-you can't find your goal. Check honestly-isn't this so?
Lord Buddha says that all you have to know is what you are, how you exist. You don't have to believe anything. Just understand your mind; how it works, how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, and where emotions come from. It is sufficient to know the nature of all that; that alone can bring you happiness and peace. Thus, your life can change completely; everything turns upside down. What you once interpreted as horrible can become beautiful.
If I told you that all you were living for was chocolate and ice cream, you'd think I was crazy. “No! no!” your arrogant mind would say. But look deeper into your life's purpose. Why are you here? To be well liked? To become famous? To accumulate possessions? To be attractive to others? I'm not exaggerating- check yourself, then you'll see. Through thorough examination you can realize that dedicating your entire life to seeking happiness through chocolate and ice cream completely nullifies the significance of your having been born human. Birds and dogs have similar aims. Shouldn't your goals in life be higher than those of dogs and chickens?
I'm not trying to decide your life for you, but you check up. It's better to have an integrated life than to live in mental disorder. A disorderly life is not worthwhile, beneficial to neither yourself nor others. What are you living for-chocolate? Steak? Perhaps you think, “Of course I don't live for food. I'm an educated person.” But education also comes from the mind. Without the mind, what is education, what is philosophy? Philosophy is just the creation of someone's mind, a few thoughts strung together in a certain way. Without the mind there's no philosophy, no doctrine, no university subjects. All these things are mind-made.
How do you check your mind? Just watch how it perceives or interprets any object that it encounters. Observe what feelings-comfortable or uncomfortable-arise. Then check, “When I perceive this kind of view, this feeling arises, that emotion comes; I discriminate in such a way. Why?” This is how to check your mind; that's all. It's very simple.
When you check your own mind properly, you stop blaming others for your problems. You recognize that your mistaken actions come from your own defiled, deluded mind. When you are preoccupied with external, material objects, you blame them and other people for your problems. Projecting that deluded view onto external phenomena makes you miserable. When you begin to realize your wrong-conception view, you begin to realize the nature of your own mind and to put an end to your problems forever.
Is all this very new for you? It's not. Whenever you are going to do anything, you first check it out and then make your decision. You already do this; I'm not suggesting anything new. The difference is that you don't do it enough. You have to do more checking. This doesn't mean sitting alone in some corner contemplating your navel-you can be checking your mind all the time, even while talking or working with other people. Do you think that examining the mind is only for those who are on an Eastern trip? Don't think that way. Realize that the nature of your mind is different from that of the flesh and bone of your physical body. Your mind is like a mirror, reflecting everything without discrimination. If you have understanding-wisdom, you can control the kind of reflection that you allow into the mirror of your mind. If you totally ignore what is happening in your mind, it will reflect whatever garbage it encounters-things that make you psychologically sick. Your checking-wisdom should distinguish between reflections that are beneficial and those that bring psychological problems. Eventually, when you realize the true nature of subject and object, all your problems will vanish.
Some people think they are religious, but what is religious? If you do not examine your own nature, do not gain knowledge-wisdom, how are you religious? Just the idea that you are religious-“I am Buddhist, Jewish, whatever”-does not help at all. It does not help you; it does not help others. In order to really help others, you need to gain knowledge-wisdom.
The greatest problems of humanity are psychological, not material. From birth to death, people are continuously under the control of their mental sufferings. Some people never keep watch on their minds when things are going well, but when something goes wrong-an accident or some other terrible experience-they immediately say, “God, please help me.” They call themselves religious but it's a joke. In happiness or sorrow, a serious practitioner maintains constant awareness of God and one's own nature. You're not being realistic or even remotely religious if, when you are having a good time, surrounded by chocolate and preoccupied by worldly sense pleasures, you forget yourself, and turn to God only when something awful happens.
No matter which of the many world religions we consider, their interpretation of God or Buddha and so forth is simply words and mind; these two alone. Therefore, words don't matter so much. What you have to realize is that everything-good and bad, every philosophy and doctrine-comes from mind. The mind is very powerful. Therefore, it requires firm guidance. A powerful jet plane needs a good pilot; the pilot of your mind should be the wisdom that understands its nature. In that way, you can direct your powerful mental energy to benefit your life instead of letting it run about uncontrollably like a mad elephant, destroying yourself and others.
I think you understand what I'm talking about. What I want is for you to check up. A simple way of checking up on your own mind is to investigate how you perceive things, how you interpret your experiences. Why do you have so many different feelings about your boyfriend even during the course of one day? In the morning you feel good about him, in the afternoon, kind of foggy; why is that? Has your boyfriend changed that radically from morning to afternoon? No, there's been no radical change, so why do you feel so differently about him? That's the way to check.
[Also] before you do anything, you should ask yourself why you are doing it, what is your purpose; what course of action are you embarking on. If the path ahead seems troublesome, perhaps you shouldn't take it; if it looks worthwhile, you can probably proceed. First, check up. Don't act without knowing what's in store for you.
Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-84) was educated at Sera Monastic University in Lhasa, Tibet. After fleeing Tibet in 1959, he began teaching Buddhism to Westerners at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu and in 1974 began teaching around the world. He was co-founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. This is an excerpt from Make Your Mind an Ocean: Aspects of Buddhist Psychology (1999). Used with permission of Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, Boston.
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Posted by Colin at 5/06/2010 10:09:00 AM
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
The most important thing for this life’s happiness, especially for the sentient beings you meet, is to have the thought: “I’m the servant and they are the masters, I’m the servant and they are the kings, they are the masters and I am like the dog. Sentient beings are the ones from whom I have received all my happiness. They are the dearest and most kind. They are the ones from whom all opportunities come, in relation to whom I have the opportunity to purify all my negative karma, create all the merit and attain enlightenment. So they are the kindest of all. I should use my body, speech and mind to serve others, especially the people of the center, as well as all the animals and insects.” This is also the attitude one should have with one’s family, or if you are a teacher or leader of a company, etc.
The purpose of a meditation center is to take care of the minds of others, to keep the mind in virtue as much as possible. This means keeping your own mind in virtue. You have to try. It is very good to try. If you can’t do that, you can’t help others. So your motivation should be to use your body, speech and mind to create even the smallest happiness in others. Many people in the world waste their lives. People try to climb mountains no matter what risk to their life. Some people use themselves as bullets, getting fired from cannons, and so forth, unbelievable things, putting their lives in danger to achieve such insignificant happiness in this life.
The Ornament of Sutra by Maitreya Buddha says, “The child of the victorious one who has stabilized the supreme perseverance of thoroughly ripening the multitude of sentient beings will work to have even one virtuous thought arise in a sentient being’s mind, even if it takes 10 million thousand eons, without getting upset.”
When you train the mind in positive virtue, especially a good heart trying to benefit others, it creates very good communication. There is no Great Wall of China or Germany between yourself and others. It brings so much happiness to you and others, and brings world peace.
Every sentient being has buddha nature. Even a mosquito can achieve enlightenment and liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering if it practices Dharma. So especially for us who now have this precious human body with which can do so many things to liberate from any problem or circumstance that gives rise to problems, especially having a perfect human rebirth on top of buddha nature, we are able to achieve all the happiness for all future lives, even for insects, ants, cockroaches, spiders and snakes, even for a mouse. You can cause the mice and the ants to achieve all the happiness in future lives, and ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara and enlightenment. You are able to cause the four levels of happiness for all sentient beings, not only to liberate them from the oceans of suffering and bring them to enlightenment, but to do that as quickly as possible through tantric practice …
Taking refuge with renunciation to this life, with morality as the foundation (living in the ten virtues and abandoning the ten non-virtues), causes future good rebirth as a deva or human, especially perfect human rebirth with seven qualities, rebirth with the four Mahayana Dharma wheels, the eight ripening qualities or to be in a pure land.
Renunciation of samsara and living in the three special higher trainings causes liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering. Then, with bodhichitta, taking bodhisattva vows and living in the six paramitas and the four methods of drawing in the sentient beings in order to achieve enlightenment.
Having taken initiation, living in the tantric vows, practicing pure appearance, generation and completion stages, causes one to achieve full enlightenment much quicker, within one brief lifetime of these degenerated times.
Contentment is not for others but with your own needs. Usually, we have attachment to so many different things, or to having many of a similar object (e.g., wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend, sexual relationships) and not content with one. Or wanting more money – when we have $1000, wanting $10,000, then a million, then a billion, it is endless. Then to get more, one engages in the ten non-virtues, cheats or even kills others. Then one gets into trouble and receives punishment, is sent to prison, becoming famous for negative mind – a bad reputation. Contentment means not needing more than you have or what you don’t have. You can understand better if you think of renunciation, it is similar, bringing peace in the heart by healing the mental sickness of attachment …
Virtuous actions and virtuous thoughts need to be developed until enlightenment is achieved. Always continuously develop completing the great works, as much as one can, like collecting merit, the cause of happiness, developing realizations, and achieving liberation and enlightenment. One should never be content regarding developing positive actions, virtue, which lead to one’s own and others’ ultimate happiness, enlightenment – always strive to do more. Apologize immediately if one did some mistake, harmed others, was disrespectful or said hurtful words. Forgive immediately if somebody gets angry, is disrespectful to you or harms you. Develop courage by thinking of the benefit to others, serving others. This is the best offering to the buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Excerpted from Letter to All Center Directors and Coordinators dictated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to Ven. Roger Kunsang and Ven. Trisha Labdron, Nov 5, 2009, Dehradhun, India, and edited by Ven. Trisha Labdron. Lightly edited for FPMT eNews.
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Saturday, May 01, 2010
We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out, either way making things worse for ourselves and others. Or we can practice patience: wait, experience the anger and investigate its nature. Pema Chödrön takes us step by step through this powerful practice.
The Buddhist teachings tell us that patience is the antidote to anger and aggression. When we feel aggression in all its many forms—resentment, bitterness, being very critical, complaining and so forth—we can apply the different practices we’ve been given and all the good advice we’ve heard and given to other people. But those often don’t seem to help us. That’s why this teaching about patience caught my interest a few years ago, because it’s so hard to know what to do when one feels anger and aggression.
I thought, if patience is the antidote to aggression, maybe I’ll just try that. In the process I learned a lot about what patience is and about what it isn’t. I would like to share with you what I’ve learned, to encourage you to find out for yourself how patience works with aggression.
To begin with, I learned about patience and the cessation of suffering. It’s said that patience is a way to de-escalate aggression. I’m thinking here of aggression as synonymous with pain. When we’re feeling aggressive—and in some sense this would apply to any strong feeling—there’s an enormous pregnant quality that pulls us in the direction of wanting to get some resolution. It hurts so much to feel the aggression that we want it to be resolved.
So what do we usually do? We do exactly what is going to escalate the aggression and the suffering. We strike out; we hit back. Something hurts our feelings, and initially there is some softness there—if you’re fast, you can catch it—but usually you don’t even realize there is any softness. You find yourself in the middle of a hot, noisy, pulsating, wanting-to-just-get-even-with-someone state of mind: it has a very hard quality to it. With your words or your actions, in order to escape the pain of aggression, you create more aggression and pain.
At that point, patience means getting smart: you stop and wait. You also have to shut up, because if you say anything it’s going to come out aggressive, even if you say, “I love you.”
Once, when I was very angry at a colleague of mine, I called him on the telephone. I can’t even remember now what I was angry about, but at the time I couldn’t sleep because I was so furious. I tried meditating with my anger and working with it and doing practices with it, but nothing helped, so I just got up in the middle of the night and called him. When he answered the phone, all I said was, “Hi, Yeshe.” But he immediately asked, “Did I do something wrong?” I thought I would very sweetly cover over what I was really feeling and say something pleasant about all the bad things he had done, whatever they were. But just by the tone of my greeting to him, he knew. That’s what it’s like with aggression: you can’t speak because everyone will feel the vibes. No matter what is coming out of your mouth, it’s like you’re sitting on top of a keg of dynamite and it’s vibrating.
Patience has a lot to do with getting smart at that point and just waiting: not speaking or doing anything. On the other hand, it also means being completely and totally honest with yourself about the fact that you’re furious. You’re not suppressing anything—patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself. If you wait and don’t feed your discursive thought, you can be honest about the fact that you’re angry. But at the same time you can continue to let go of the internal dialogue. In that dialogue you are blaming and criticizing, and then probably feeling guilty and beating yourself up for doing that. It’s torturous, because you feel bad about being so angry at the same time that you really are extremely angry, and you can’t drop it. It’s painful to experience such awful confusion. Still, you just wait and remain patient with your confusion and the pain that comes with it.
Patience has a quality of enormous honesty in it, but it also has a quality of not escalating things, allowing a lot of space for the other person to speak, for the other person to express themselves, while you don’t react, even though inside you are reacting. You let the words go and just be there.
This suggests the fearlessness that goes with patience. If you practice the kind of patience that leads to the de-escalation of aggression and the cessation of suffering, you will be cultivating enormous courage. You will really get to know anger and how it breeds violent words and actions. You will see the whole thing without acting it out. When you practice patience, you’re not repressing anger, you’re just sitting there with it—going cold turkey with the aggression. As a result, you really get to know the energy of anger and you also get to know where it leads, even without going there. You’ve expressed your anger so many times, you know where it will lead. The desire to say something mean, to gossip or slander, to complain—to just somehow get rid of that aggression—is like a tidal wave. But you realize that such actions don’t get rid of the aggression; they escalate it. So instead you’re patient, patient with yourself.
Developing patience and fearlessness means learning to sit still with the edginess of the energy. It’s like sitting on a wild horse, or on a wild tiger that could eat you up. There’s a limerick to that effect: “There was a young lady of Niger, who smiled as she rode on a tiger. They came back from the ride with the lady inside and the smile on the face of the tiger.” Sitting with your discomfort feels like riding on that tiger, because it’s so frightening.
When we examine this process we learn something very interesting: there is no resolution. The resolution that human beings seek comes from a tremendous misunderstanding. We think we can resolve everything! When we human beings feel powerful energy, we tend to be extremely uncomfortable until things are resolved in some kind of secure and comforting way, either on the side of yes or the side of no. Or the side of right or the side of wrong. Or the side of anything at all that we can hold on to.
But the practice we’re doing gives us nothing to hold on to. Actually, the teachings themselves give us nothing to hold on to. In working with patience and fearlessness, we learn to be patient with the fact that we’re human beings, that everyone who is born and dies from the beginning of time until the end of time is naturally going to want some kind of resolution to this edgy, moody energy. And there isn’t any. The only resolution is temporary and just causes more suffering. We discover that as a matter of fact joy and happiness, peace, harmony and being at home with yourself and your world come from sitting still with the moodiness of the energy until it rises, dwells and passes away. The energy never resolves itself into something solid.
So all the while, we stay in the middle of the energy. The path of touching in on the inherent softness of the genuine heart is to sit still and be patient with that kind of energy. We don’t have to criticize ourselves when we fail, even for a moment, because we’re just completely typical human beings; the only thing that’s unique about us is that we’re brave enough to go into these things more deeply and explore beneath our surface reaction of trying to get solid ground under our feet.
Patience is an enormously wonderful and supportive and even magical practice. It’s a way of completely changing the fundamental human habit of trying to resolve things by going either to the right or the left, calling things right or calling things wrong. It’s the way to develop courage, the way to find out what life is really about.
Patience is also not ignoring. In fact, patience and curiosity go together. You wonder, Who am I? Who am I at the level of my neurotic patterns? Who am I at the level beyond birth and death? If you wish to look into the nature of your own being, you need to be inquisitive. The path is a journey of investigation, beginning to look more deeply at what’s going on. The teachings give us a lot of suggestions about what we can look for, and the practices give us a lot of suggestions on how to look. Patience is one extremely helpful suggestion. Aggression, on the other hand, prevents us from looking: it puts a tight lid on our curiosity. Aggression is an energy that is determined to resolve the situation into a hard, solid, fixed pattern in which somebody wins and somebody loses.
When you begin to investigate, you notice, for one thing, that whenever there is pain of any kind—the pain of aggression, grieving, loss, irritation, resentment, jealousy, indigestion, physical pain—if you really look into that, you can find out for yourself that behind the pain there is always something we are attached to. There is always something we’re holding on to.
I say that with such confidence, but you have to find out for yourself whether this is really true. You can read about it: the first thing the Buddha ever taught was the truth that suffering comes from attachment. That’s in the books. But when you discover it yourself, it goes a little deeper right away.
As soon as you discover that behind your pain is something you’re holding on to, you are at a place that you will frequently experience on the spiritual path. After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you’re there, at a point where you realize you actually have a choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften.
That choice is presented to you again and again and again. For instance, you’re feeling pain, you look deeply into it, and you notice that there’s something very hard you’re holding on to. And then you have a choice: you can let go of it, which basically means you connect with the softness behind all that hardness. Perhaps each one of us has made the discovery that behind all the hardness of resistance, stress, aggression and jealousy, there is enormous softness that we’re trying to cover over. Aggression usually begins when someone hurts our feelings. The first response is very soft, but before we even notice what we’re doing, we harden. So we can either let go and connect with that softness or we can continue to hold on, which means that the suffering will continue.
It requires enormous patience even to be curious enough to look, to investigate. And then when you realize you have a choice, and that there’s actually something there that you’re attached to, it requires great patience to keep going into it. Because you will want to go into denial, to shut down. You’re going to say to yourself, “I don’t want to see this.” You’ll be afraid, because even if you’re starting to get close to it, the thought of letting go is usually very frightening. You may feel that you’re going to die, or that something is going to die. And you will be right. If you let go, something will die. But it’s something that needs to die and you will benefit greatly from its death.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s easy to let go. If you make this journey of looking to see if there’s something you’re holding on to, often it’s going to be just a little thing. Once when I was stuck with something huge, Trungpa Rinpoche gave me some advice. He said, “It’s too big; you can’t let go of it yet, so practice with the little ones. Just start noticing all the little ways you hold when it’s actually pretty easy and just get the hang of letting go.”
That was extremely good advice. You don’t have to do the big one, because usually you can’t. It’s too threatening. It may even be too harsh to let go right then and there, on the spot. But even with small things, you may—perhaps just intellectually—begin to see that letting go can bring a sense of enormous relief, relaxation and connection with the softness and tenderness of the genuine heart. True joy comes from that.
You can also see that holding on increases the pain, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to let go, because there’s a lot at stake. What’s at stake is your whole sense of who you are, your whole identity. You’re beginning to move into the territory of egolessness, the insubstantial nature of oneself—and of everything, for that matter. Theoretical, philosophical, distant-sounding teachings can get pretty real when you’re beginning to have an inkling of what they’re actually talking about.
It takes a lot of patience not to beat up on yourself for being a failure at letting go. But if you apply patience to the fact that you can’t let go, somehow that helps you to do it. Patience with the fact that you can’t let go helps you to get to the point of letting go gradually—at a very sane and loving speed, at the speed that your basic wisdom allows you to move. It’s a big moment even to get to the point where you realize you have a choice. Patience is what you need at that point to just wait and soften, to sit with the restlessness and edginess and discomfort of the energy.
I’ve come to find that patience has a lot of humor and playfulness in it. It’s a misunderstanding to think of it as endurance, as in, “Just grin and bear it.” Endurance involves some kind of repression or trying to live up to somebody else’s standards of perfection. Instead, you find you have to be pretty patient with what you see as your own imperfections. Patience is a kind of synonym for loving-kindness, because the speed of loving-kindness can be extremely slow. You are developing patience and loving-kindness for your own imperfections, for your own limitations, for not living up to your own high ideals. There’s a slogan someone once came up with that I like: “Lower your standards and relax as it is.” That’s patience.
One of the Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha’s slogans says, “Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.” It means that if a painful situation occurs, be patient, and if a pleasant situation occurs, be patient. This is an interesting point in terms of patience and the cessation of suffering, patience and fearlessness, and patience and curiosity. We are actually jumping all the time: whether it’s pain or pleasure, we want resolution. So if we’re really happy and something is great, we could also be patient then, in terms of not just filling up the space, going a million miles an hour—impulse buying, impulse speaking, impulse acting.
I’d like to stress that one of the things you most have to be patient with is, “Oops, I did it again!” There’s a slogan that says, “One at the beginning and one at the end.” That means that when you wake up in the morning you make your resolve, and at the end of the day you review, with a caring and gentle attitude, how you have done. Our normal resolve is to say something like, “I am going to be patient today,” or some other such set-up (as someone put it, we plan our next failure). Instead of setting yourself up, you can say, “Today, I’m going to try to the best of my ability to be patient.” And then in the evening you can look back over the whole day with loving-kindness and not beat yourself up. You’re patient with the fact that when you review your day, or even the last forty minutes, you discover, “I’ve talked and filled up all the space, just like I’ve done all my life, as long as I can remember. I was aggressive with the same style of aggression that I’ve used as long as I can remember. I got carried away with irritation exactly the same way that I have for the last...” If you’re twenty years old, it’s been twenty years that you’ve been doing it that way; if you’re seventy-five years old, it’s seventy-five years that you’ve been doing it that way. You see this and you say, “Give me a break!”
The path of developing loving-kindness and compassion is to be patientwith the fact that you’re human and that you make these mistakes. That’s more important than getting it right. It seems to work only if you’re aspiring to give yourself a break, to lighten up, as you practice developing patience and other qualities such as generosity, discipline and insight. As with the rest of the teachings, you can’t win and you can’t lose. You don’t get to just say, “Well, since I am never able to do it, I’m not going to try.” You are never able to do it and still you try. And, interestingly enough, that adds up to
something; it adds up to loving-kindness for yourself and for others. You look out your eyes and you see yourself wherever you go. You see all these people who are losing it, just like you do. Then, you see all these people who catch themselves and give you the gift of fearlessness. You say, “Oh wow, what a brave one—he or she caught themselves.” You begin to appreciate even the slightest gesture of bravery on the part of others because you know it’s not easy, and that inspires you tremendously. That’s how we can really help each other.
Pema Chödrön was ordained in 1974 as a nun in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and in 1985 became director or Gampo Abbey, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West. She has gone on to become one of the West's most prominent teachers of the Mahayana path. Her many popular books include The Places That Scare You, When Things Fall Apart, and Start Where You Are.
The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala Sun, March 2005.
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By Pema Chödrön
Rather than feeling discouraged by laziness, we could get to know laziness profoundly. This very moment of laziness becomes our personal teacher.
Traditionally, laziness is taught as one of the obstacles to awakening. There are different kinds of laziness. First, there’s the laziness of comfort orientation, we just try to stay comfortable and cozy. Then there’s the laziness of loss of heart, a kind of deep discouragement, a feeling of giving up on ourselves, of hopelessness. There’s also the laziness of couldn’t care less. That’s when we harden into resignation and bitterness and just close down.
Comfort orientation comes in a variety of forms. Sogyal Rinpoche writes that in the East, for example, laziness often manifests as flopping down in the sun with one’s cronies, drinking tea, and letting the days pass by. In the West, he observes, laziness frequently manifests as speed. People rush from one thing to another, from the gym to the office to the bar to the mountains to the meditation class to the kitchen sink, the backyard, the club. We rush around seeking, seeking, seeking comfort and ease.
Whether we flop or rush, and wherever on the globe we happen to be, the comfort-orientation brand of laziness is characterized by a profound ignoring. We look for oblivion: a life that doesn’t hurt, a refuge from difficulty or self-doubt or edginess. We want a break from being ourselves, a break from the life that happens to be ours. So through laziness we look for spaciousness and relief; but finding what we seek is like drinking salt water, because our thirst for comfort and ease is never satisfied.
Loss of Heart
The laziness of loss of heart is characterized by vulnerability, woundedness, and not knowing what to do. We tried just being ourselves and we didn’t measure up. The way we are is not okay. We chased after pleasure and found no lasting happiness. We took time off, went on vacation, learned to meditate, studied spiritual teachings, or spent years dedicated to certain political or philosophical views. We helped the poor or saved the trees or drank or took drugs, and we found no satisfaction. We tried and we failed. We came to a painful, hopeless place. We don’t even want to move. We feel we could gladly sleep for a thousand years. Our life feels meaningless. Loss of heart is so painful that we become paralyzed.
Couldn’t Care Less
Couldn’t care less is harder, more icy, fatalistic. This particular flavor of laziness has an edge of cynicism and bitterness. We feel that we just don’t give a damn anymore. We feel lazy and mean at the same time. We feel mean toward this disappointing and lousy world, and toward this person and that person. Mostly we feel mean toward ourselves. We made a mistake. We’re not exactly sure what this mistake was, but we got it all wrong; and now, to hell with it! We try to forget in any way we can. We stop doing much. We feel as if we can’t do much anyway, and frankly, we don’t care.
So What To Do?
Built into the human predicament seems to be the assumption that we should eliminate our failings; as adequate and worthy people, we should be able simply to leap over our weaknesses. So perhaps the grown-up thing to do would be to blow up laziness with a bomb, or drop it into the Atlantic Ocean with a huge weight so it would never reappear, or send it off into space so that it would float out into infinity and we’d never have to relate to it again.
But if we ask ourselves, Where does joy come from? Where does inspiration come from?, we will find they do not come from getting rid of anything. They do not come from dividing ourselves in two and struggling against our own energy. They do not come from seeing laziness as an opponent, or something out there that we should leap over. They do not come from denigrating ourselves.
The path of awakening is a process. It’s a process of gradually learning to become intimate with our so-called obstacles. So rather than feeling discouraged by laziness, we could look into our laziness, become curious about laziness. We could get to know laziness profoundly.
We can unite with laziness, be our laziness, know its smell and taste, feel it fully in our bodies. The spiritual path is a process of relaxing into this very moment of being. We touch in with this moment of lethargy or loss of heart, this moment of pain, of avoidance, of couldn’t care less. We touch in and then we go forward. This is the training. Whether in formal meditation or throughout our days and nights, we can train in letting go of our commentary and contacting the felt quality of our experience. We can touch our experience without getting hooked by the story line. We can touch this very moment of being and then move on.
We are sitting in meditation or going about our usual routine, and it occurs to us to listen to what we’re saying. What we hear is, Oy vey, oy vey! Woe is me. I’m a failure. There’s no hope. We look at what we do to ourselves, what we say to ourselves, how we lose heart or try to distract ourselves. Then we let those words go and touch the heart of this moment. We touch the very center of this moment of being and then we let go. This is how we train. Again and again, this is our practice.
We join our loss of heart with honesty and kindness. Instead of pulling back from the pain of laziness, we move closer. We lean into the wave. We swim into the wave.
Somewhere in the process of staying with the moment, it might occur to us that there are a lot of unhappy brothers and sisters out there, suffering as we are suffering. In becoming intimate with our own pain, with our own laziness, we are touching in with all of them, understanding them, knowing our kinship with all of them.
We are sitting in front of the television eating chips, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes. Hour after hour after hour we sit there. Then for some reason, we see ourselves clearly. We have the choice to eat the tenth bag of chips and watch the sixteenth sitcom, or to relate with our depression and laziness in an honest and openhearted way. Instead of continuing to zone out and shut down and close off, we lean in and relax. This is how we practice.
So maybe we open the window or go out for a walk, or maybe we sit silently, but whatever we do, it occurs to us to stay with ourselves, to go behind the words, behind the ignoring, and to feel the quality of this moment of being, in our hearts, in our stomachs, for ourselves, and for all of the millions of others in the same boat. We start to train in openness and compassion toward this very moment. This very moment of laziness becomes our personal teacher. This precious moment becomes our profound and healing practice.
Pema Chödrön is the director of Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and author of The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
Looking into Laziness, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala Sun, November 1998.
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