WHEN SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA EXPOUNDED his wisdom to people to show them the noble and profound ways they could conduct their lives, his intention was not to impress them with how much he knew or how well he could express himself. It was because of his infinitely compassionate concern for the benefit and liberation of all beings without exception, that he revealed the way of liberation from all suffering. Like the love of a mother who cherishes her only child, this was the loving-kindness of the Buddha's teaching.
In his infinite wisdom the Buddha Shakyamuni recognized that although beings may be bewildered and struggling with the results of their bewilderment, their situation is not hopeless. As he saw the workability of the human condition, the Buddha's compassion became overwhelming. Had the plight of beings been hopeless, if there was nothing that could have been done, the situation would have been entirely different.
The Buddha had the insight to recognize that in essence all beings have the same potential to become equally realized, and to become fully awakened Buddhas. The Buddha saw that the potential of sentient beings is like a treasure hidden from sight. Unfortunately, we continually fail to recognize this potential, or Buddhanature as it is called, buried within each of us. Because of our habitual patterns and bewilderment, we find ourselves constantly involved with and entertained by the superficial appearances of pleasure and happiness. For instance, we usually think of increased popularity and fame or the accumulation of material wealth as sources of happiness. The Buddha pointed out that these aspects of the relative phenomenal world are perpetually subject to change, deceptiveness, and impermanence. As a result, while it is possible to be temporarily entertained or distracted, we constantly meet with obstacles and limitations in our pursuit of transitory pleasures. This is due to our failure to direct our efforts toward the unraveling of our own confusion and bewilderment.
Most of our confusion is caused by our assumption that the causes of liberation must come from somewhere or something outside of ourselves. We assume that only by accumulating this or that, or only through associating with someone or something else, can we gain the cause of happiness. Our preoccupation with external concerns causes a tremendous sense of impoverishment, as though we were devoid of the slightest possibility of enlightened intelligence. Our bewilderment derives from our failure to turn inward and really examine the workings of our own minds. It is only when we begin working with our minds through meditation practice that we become practical as far as the search for enlightenment is concerned.
It is very important that we have some understanding of our potential to awaken, that we understand the workability of our situation and the richness of our resources. And once we have some understanding of this, it is important that we begin the practice of the path.
Formal meditation practice is important because our minds are constantly involved with any number of preoccupations, misconceptions and fixations. There is a sense of having spread ourselves too thin. But through the practice of meditation we can begin to experience a sense of groundedness and simplicity. We can begin to have some idea of who we are and what it is we are doing. Fundamental issues, which were previously sources of confusion for us, can begin to take on clarity and certainty. When we practice meditation, we think and analyze more clearly and effectively.
Formal practice is made more effective through a proper application of discipline and conduct. Proper discipline in this sense means the constant practice of mindfulness; while proper conduct means the practice of generosity, proper motivation and so forth. These two can greatly increase the effectiveness of meditation practice.
If we consider how impermanent things are, then we must face the fact that we can die at any moment. If we were to die right now, what credentials, wealth or friends could we take with us? No matter what our plans for the future might have been, all of them will be meaningless at the time of death. The only thing that will matter is how much we understand ourselves and our own mental attitudes. How much we are able to unravel the bewilderment of our habitual patterns alone will be meaningful.
Some of you are already doing these practices. Some of you, however, may only be just beginning to show a sincere interest. This is very exciting. It is as if the sun were just beginning to appear from behind the clouds for you. Through your sincere interest you are for the first time beginning to appreciate how rich and resourceful your lives are. This is quite an historic event. This is also a very realistic and sensible interest. I am hopeful that you will find these words that I have spoken to be worthwhile to ponder. It is my deepest wish also that once you have thought about these matters, you will be able to take a sane and healthy direction for your own good as well as for the good of others.
From a talk given for the Columbus Karma Thegsum Choling
at Granville, Ohio, in 1982. Edited by Dona Witten, and published with the
assistance of David Barnes, Duane Harris, and Kathy Wesley. The complete
transcript is in its seventh printing. Contact the Columbus Karma
Thegsum Choling for more information.
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