The following teaching was given in response to a two-part question presented during Lama Lodu's visit to Taos, New Mexico earlier this year.
Question: How does one live in the world and do spiritual practice skillfully when one has no spiritual teacher, and how does one who already has a path live and work in a world where others don't share it?
Answer: Those who have no spiritual guide and are motivated by a strong aspiration can practice on their own until a good spiritual guide is found. Those who have the intention to do good things will, sooner or later, meet a qualified teacher.
With the motivation to do beneficial things and to follow the spiritual path, body, speech, and mind can be used to generate right attitude and right actions through kindness and compassion. One should also be motivated to develop the constant wish that all beings experience happiness and freedom from suffering. As a result, oneís body, speech and mind will become engaged in expressing compassion. This is a basic preliminary spiritual practice that can be learned on one's own without the help of a spiritual guide.
As Buddhists, we believe that we shouldn't do anything to others that would hurt them. So you should always make an example of yourself. If someone speaks to you in a positive way, you experience well-being; therefore, you should speak to others in the same manner so they may also have that experience. When you meet someone who communicates, without words, purely motivated loving and compassionate mind-energy, you feel clear, more peaceful. In turn, you should cultivate that same kindness and compassion as much as possible, and then bring that attitude of speech, mind and body to all that you meet.
So this is my advice to someone who does not have a spiritual guide: It is not necessary for you to sit down and do formal meditation and visualization practice. Expressing loving-kindness and compassion can be done anywhere. There is always an opportunity for applying kindness and compassion to others and for using your body, speech and mind in right action. This attitude is very powerful and is the perfect preliminary spiritual practice. Sooner or later, through the power of your positive motivation, you will meet the right spiritual guide, and the door will open to the spiritual path.
In the second case, you are already in spiritual practice, and you are distracted by worldly concerns. It is important that you follow the spiritual friend, the teacher and not go from place to place. Stay with one spiritual guide, someone you really feel is true, and try not to change teachers until you get the true understanding within.
The Boddhisattva attitude is very important; without it, you cannot practice Vajrayana and Mahayana Buddhism. When your mind is motivated one hundred percent by this pure attitude, then your body, speech and mind naturally turn toward the positive. From the Mahayana and Vajrayana perpsective, even if you are not able to sit on your cushion in front of your altar because of children, because of a job, because you have all kinds of distractions in the world, you can still practice. You must get the true advice from your teacher and have confidence in him or her and also in the teachings. Then your activity in the world will offer the same opportunity for enlightenment as that gained on your cushion.
Question: Would you please explain how this is done?
Answer: For guidance in such situations, we can turn to one of the great Tibetan masters, Machig Labdron, the founder of the Chod practice. She was an extremely accomplished yogi and teacher. Although most Buddhist teachings travelled only from India to Tibet, hers was transmitted from Tibet back to India. She has a few great words of advice on this subject that for me seem full, rich and simple. She reminds us that we human beings alternate between happiness and suffering. One moment we are very happy, but the happiness does not last long; we grasp at that happiness and suddenly it becomes suffering which is hard to get rid of. Occasionally there is brief happiness again, but this causes more attachment and clinging, and thus more suffering. This is the experience of all sentient beings, but it is more acultely felt by humans.
So, Machig Labdron taught: Do not worry. If you are suffering, you have an excellent opportunity there to practice. Remember, "If I am happy, this happiness which I experience so pleasantly, I wish for all living beings without exception. May everyone experience this happiness just as I have." In this way happiness becomes purification, true practice, and accumulated merit. Secondly, "If I suffer physical or mental pain, may I take on with my suffering the suffering of all sentient beings, without exception." So our suffering also becomes useful as purification and gives us a deeper sense of the bodhisattva conduct. This approach is highly useful for those who have no time to formally practice in a world full of responsibilities and distractions.
One person may practice for years sitting and counting mantras, and another person may practice living in the world with the technique I have just mentioned. The second person may reach enlightenment sooner because he or she has dealt with daily life as a spiritual practice, transforming all worldly circumstances into spiritual phenomena. The person staying at home sitting all day may not be practicing correctly; they may be daydreaming, distracted and unable to accomplish realization.
We always have opportunities to be mindful. As we fulfill our responsibilities to our families, our love for them remains strong in spite of problems. If we think of all sentient beings as being equal to family, some day we will be able to serve all in the same way. For instance, at your place of work, because of karma, a person has a dispute with you. By accepting responsibility for the dispute, you take this suffering on yourself, you purify it, and the cause of the suffering is removed. If, instead, you more forcefully continue with the argument, you will create more suffering and pain. Therefore it is very important to take on the suffering of other sentient beings. As you do this, your selfishness will be weakened and you will become more selfless.
So those who have no time to practice should keep in mind Machig Labdronís words and try to think of their full and rich meaning as you go through daily life. You definitely have to be mindful, you must remind yourself morning and evening of these insights, and you have to apply their meaning daily. Also remember that being busy is not an excuse. This is especially true in the Mahayana tradition. Even in the Vajrayana, you think of yourself as the deity of the initiation, whatever sound you hear is the sound of the mantra, and all beings are the entourage of the deities. And yet all that is seen and all that is heard has no inherent existence.v This is, rather, the manifestation of the Dharmakaya, the manifestation of profound emptiness. If you are able to apply your mind in this way daily, then your work, your taking care of your family -- all these things become your practice, and you are progressing every moment. But sometimes our problems come from laziness, lack of confidence and trust, insufficient faith, and procrastination. We think daily practice is a good thing to do, but not today. Suddenly, something important comes up and we are willing to engage in practice seriously; only then we take a spiritual point of view. Instead, one should always dedicate all happiness to others and use every personal suffering to take on the suffering of all sentient beings.
Remember when taking the Vajrayana point of view: every form is inseparable from the form of the deities, every sound is inseparable from mantra; but every form and every sound is inherently non-existent, an expression of emptiness. That's the way Vajrayana is practiced.
Lama Lodu Rinpoche resides at Kagyu Droden Kunchab, a Dharma
center for the practice of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, located at 1892 Fell
Street (near Clayton) San Francisco, CA 94117. Lama has supervised the
translation of numerous practice texts (sadhanas) and has written several books:
Bardo Teachings (available through Snow Lion Publications), The Quintessence of
the Animate and Inanimate, Attaining Enlightenment, Maintaining the Bodhisattva
Vow, and Homage to Kalu Rinpoche (available from KDK Publications).