June 2001 NEWSLETTER OF THE DONGYU GATSAL LING NUNNERY AND INTERNATIONAL RETREAT CENTRE Issue 5
of Dharma Teaching given by Ven.Tenzin Palmo in Tasmania, Australia in
We are all creatures of habit. We are all the creation of our upbringing, our environment and the general propaganda put out through the media, the government and through many different avenues. Everybody has habits and some habits are good ones. If we had to start anew every time we did something, we would be exhausted; apart from anything else, we wouldn’t be able to cope with life! The fact that we have habits is how we are able to live. We know how to eat, comb our hair, shave or brush our teeth. For example, you didn’t know how to brush your teeth the first time as a child and your mother taught you and so you learnt. Then you didn’t think about it the next time. It became a habit. And everything that we do-- driving cars, taking photos or working on the computer—is a habit. We would experience insufferable exhaustion if most of what we did during the day wasn’t routine and habitual.
If we think that we are basically evil and no
we talk about habits, it is of course understood that so much of what we
do is something which we have already learnt before, and which has now
become integrated into our bodily patterns so that the body knows what to
do. It doesn’t need much instruction from our mind. This is not a tirade
against habits -- even old ones -- but some habits are detrimental,
negative and counter-productive. When we are doing something with which we
are very familiar, if we are not careful, we become half asleep like
zombies when we do this action. If all our life is led on that plane, our
life becomes extremely stale and boring: what we think of as dull routine.
That’s one of the problems with habits. The other problem is that some of
our habits are, as I have said, very detrimental. We very rarely examine
these; we rarely examine our habitual modes of thinking and responding. We
say, “Oh, I am an angry person. I have always been angry since I was a
kid. That’s just the way I am.” And we accept that. “When somebody annoys
me, I flare up”, or “I am naturally very possessive and jealous, that’s
just the way I am. I always was. Even when I was a kid, I wouldn’t let
other kids play with my toys”, and so on: “I am naturally lazy”, “I am
Usually, we think of the negative qualities. It’s interesting how we cherish our negative qualities and cling to them as though they were something precious even while they cause ourselves and others so much harm and trouble. We do this for two reasons. One is that we are very lazy and don’t really want to change. The other more profound reason is that we identify with these qualities; we identify with our habits and think that these are ‘me’ and that they are ‘mine’ even when these qualities are detrimental and do not serve us. We cling to all our faults and failings as much as to our virtues, (if not more than to our virtues) and think, “This is who I am”.
I don't know how exactly this came about,
Many people, especially in the West, do not like themselves. One of the reasons we don’t like ourselves it seems, is that we identify with all the negativities within us. Even if we are not religious, we were brought up by our culture to think that somehow we are basically sinners, that we are basically evil, but that we can be redeemed by something outside ourselves. If we think that we are basically evil and no good, then of course we will cling to all these qualities which seem to go along with this view of how unworthy we are. It is a paradox that in the West we are so enslaved with the idea of the individual, the individual’s freedom and the individual’s right to do whatever s/he wants, yet along with this, we have an extremely low self-esteem; we think of ourselves as being so worthless, so useless and so hopeless. In the East where they are much more integrated with their families, their tribes, their caste and their societies, and where the individual has very little room to maneuver, they nonetheless have a very strong sense of dignity; the lowest Indian has a sense of inner dignity even if s/he is a beggar. So, it is an interesting paradox. I don’t know how exactly this came about, but the more we believe in the cult of the individual, the lower the sense of self-worth.
we have loving kindness and compassion for ourselves,
So, what can be done about this? In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition there is a lot of talk about destroying self-cherishing. Therefore sometimes, when Westerners come to the Tibetan tradition, as a first step they are presented with this teaching on destroying the ego and the sense of ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘I’. This is because the Tibetans on the whole are quite well-balanced and integrated. Because they have a strong sense of self-worth, they are very proud to be Tibetans. One of the reasons they have been able to thrive so successfully as refugees is that they do not feel inferior to anyone else on earth! But when you come to a culture like ours where ironically, we have such huge egos on the one hand and very fragile psyches on the other, it’s more tricky. We appear to be more proud and superior in our attitudes than anyone else in the world, but it’s a fragile veneer. Underneath and inside, it’s all soft and squishy. It’s not strong and firm. People are so sensitive underneath that armour. So, sometimes hitting away at self-cherishing with a sledge hammer doesn’t work for Westerners.
has to accept oneself and come to peace with oneself.