May 2000      NEWSLETTER OF THE DONGYU GATSAL LING NUNNERY AND INTERNATIONAL RETREAT CENTRE              Issue 2

Patience and Effort
A Teaching from Ven. Tenzin Palmo
Part 1 - Teaching Effort

In order to receive any genuine transformation we have to transform everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, to the utmost of our ability, into a Dharma practice. If we use every action of body, speech and mind as our practice, by cultivating awareness, being present in the moment, seeing things with clarity and understanding, opening our heart in kindness and in love, thinking about other people and how they feel, then there is certainty that there will be a transformation. But if we think that Dharma practice is only what we do when we go to a Dharma centre or when some Lama is visiting, when we go to Dharma talks or we sit and meditate together or do some puja, if we think that is Dharma practice and the rest of the day is just so much extra time, then there will never, even after an aeon of time, be any transformation.

If we use every action of body, speech and mind as our practice ... 
then there is certainty that there will be a transformation.

We have this precious life now. This is our opportunity. If we let it go, who knows if the opportunity will ever come again. Now is when we have the freedom to practice, we have the teachers, we have the intelligence to understand, and we have a motivation to really, genuinely want to practice. This is so rare.

But itís not enough just to intellectually understand. We have to take the Dharma and use it. We have to take the Dharma and eat it and digest it until it permeates every cell of our bodies. What use is it unless it really takes over our life, unless we and the Dharma merge? Without this, itís just another -ism amongst all the many other different ways of doing and looking at things. At this moment, our mind is in one place and the Dharma is in another and theyíre looking at each other. Occasionally they touch. But thatís not enough. They have to become like one, so that itís impossible to see which is oneís mind and which is the Dharma. Itís like a dye going into a cloth: the mind has to be completely dyed with the Dharma so that every word, every thought, every action is an expression of our understanding of the way things really are.

In the beginning this is not so easy. We have to work at it, we have to be mindful, and we have to remind ourselves. That is what is meant by perseverance. It means moment to moment to moment, to the very best of our abilities, whatever situation comes up, we must really try to bring our intelligence and our heart into that situation. If we have that attentiveness in the moment then everything that happens to us will have some meaning. It will be an opportunity to make some progress on the path. This gives us tremendous freedom because whatever happens can help us. The Tibetan texts say that we should use all occasions as aids on the path. If we believe this then it doesnít matter what happens to us because whatever occurs we can transform into an aid on the path and so there is freedom.

But freedom from what? From hope and fear. This goes back to having a mind that is very open and spacious. When we talk about effort we donít mean huffing and puffing as though youíre in a marathon race. What weíre talking about is a very spacious effort, a very constant Ďalertness in the momentí type of effort. Itís just flowing like a river, from moment to moment to moment. Itís not doing push-ups, although sometimes push-ups and prostrations might be called for! Itís the effort to be here and now and to have a relaxed, open, alert mind which responds appropriately and with clarity to whatever is happening. Usually we are so absorbed in our own desires, our own thoughts and feelings that we donít see things very clearly. Whatís needed is to be able to step back and have this openness to see things as they really are and therefore to respond in an appropriate manner. The ability to do this, to integrate this with our life completely, is what is meant by effort.

Whatís needed is to be able to step back and have this openness to see things 
as they really are and therefore to respond in an appropriate manner.

The other application of this is what the Buddha called, I think, the four right efforts. These are: the effort to prevent the unwholesome from arising, the effort to discard that unwholesomeness which has already arisen, the effort to create the wholesome which has not yet arisen, and the effort to cultivate and maintain that wholesomeness which has arisen.

Wholesomeness, sometimes also translated as skilfulness, means those states of mind such as understanding, love, generosity and openness of heart which create within us and around us a state of harmony and peace. This is in contrast to the unwholesome, or unskilful, states of mind such as ignorance, greed and aversion which create within us and without us states of conflict. So, part of maintaining our awareness is to be aware of the states of our mind and where they are coming from. We must have discernment. We have to recognise those thoughts and emotions that are rooted in the negative factors. Itís not a matter of suppression; itís a matter of recognising them, accepting them and letting them go. We donít maintain them, we donít follow them.

As our awareness grows so we become more acutely conscious of our mental states and then we can see, for example, when aversion, when anger is coming into our mind. We can recognise it. We can even name it and say ĎThis is anger.í But we donít identify with it. We just see that this is an angry state of mind. We accept thatís what it is. But in knowing that itís not helpful, we can also drop it. On the other hand, sometimes very positive states of mind arise and because we are so busy we donít recognise them and therefore they fade away. If the mind is clear then when positive states of mind come, again we can recognise them, we can acknowledge them and we can try to help them remain, to grow, to be appreciated. So, itís not just a matter of blaming ourselves for all our negative thoughts. Thereís no blame here. Itís recognising what is and being able to let go. And when itís positive, itís recognising it and encouraging it. Itís dealing with knowing, knowing what is in the mind, without getting caught in our conflicts. v