Q: In your teaching, you always emphasize the importance of having a right motivation based on loving-kindness and compassion. Why is this so important?
Thrangu Rinpoche: The main concern for Buddhists is one's own mind and its possible transformation. These days most other religions or philosophies accentuate the need for their followers to develop through social work or service of some sort--healing the sick, helping the aged, the lonely, etc. They often think that Buddhists are rather lacking in those areas. This is not particularly true because concern for others and the effort to help them is a living part of the Mahayana teachings. However, the main "function in society" of a Buddhist is to work on one's own inner purification--and as a result of that, then there will be a very natural flow of all the good and useful things around one. Such a happy, peaceful, contented person cannot emerge through changing externals--those inestimable qualities emerge from an inner work upon the mind. In order to change the mind then, one needs to be aware of one's mental processes and work upon increasing those that are wholesome whilst eliminating those that are unwholesome. In such purification the motivation of loving kindness and compassion is absolutely vital.
In particular, when there are lectures it is possible for one to really gain a lot from what is being taught and the presence of the bodhicitta motivation will stop the possibility of such goodness becoming polluted by pride, since one is always directing one's mind to the good of all other beings.
Q: I was interested in your comments this morning about the relationship between self-confidence and compassion. Could you speak about this in a little more depth? In our culture, and, I guess, in all cultures, we often see people who become overly self-confident. A lot of people who we think of as being self confident become arrogant and seem to lack the qualities of compassion. Sometimes compassion is associated with someone who is rather passive and meek, so I am interested to know more about this relationship.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: There is the possibility of confusing self-confidence and arrogance, so I must make it clear that the two qualities are very different. The kind of self-confidence I mean here is having confidence in yourself, first, in the sense that you want to provide happiness to not only a few people, but all sentient beings, and second, that you are also able to do so. Seeing that possibility in yourself is self-confidence. Arrogance is very deceptive. With arrogance, you feel good, but you look down on others. With self-confidence, you do not look down on anyone; you believe you have the capacity to help everyone and that everyone is equal. In that sense, the feelings are very different.
Concerning compassion, according to the dharmic understanding, it is explained as realizing that the greatest deception is self-centeredness. Therefore, we try to break through that self-centeredness, realizing that we are not the only ones who are experiencing suffering, but that every living being experiences suffering. We are not the only ones trying to obtain happiness, but every living being is longing for happiness. With that knowledge, we try to do whatever possible within our physical capacity to benefit others, and spiritually we try to grow and develop our capacities. The union of spiritual and physical benefit for others is done through the true knowledge of compassion.
Q: Could you elaborate on your remarks this morning about how compassion and wisdom work together?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The union of compassion and wisdom is like the union of skillful means and wisdom. Skillful means is actually equivalent to compassion. For example, those of you who take the refuge vow, if you think, "I am taking the refuge vow for the benefit of all living beings," that is compassion. In order to include all living beings in your heart, you must have some compassion, understanding, and acceptance. That acceptance and understanding becomes a part of compassion, which is skillful means. If you do not understand the ultimate goal or ultimate destination is enlightenment, and if you think, "I want to take refuge for the benefit of all living beings," but enlightenment is not included there, then you are missing the wisdom part because it is very temporary. You can be helpful to beings, but whatever help you provide is subject to deterioration, and the beings can return again to further suffering. To accomplish their being truly finished with suffering, we aspire to establish all of them in the ultimate realization which is buddhahood.
Compassion does not mean that we include only people we know personally, or those of our own nationality. It does not mean that we are only thinking of liberating human beings. It means including every living being: birds, insects, and every other sort of being. That is unconditional compassion.
Q: My question is about having anger or intense anger without hatred. If a person has great anger, maybe for a short period of time, toward another person, but without hatred, how would that relate to keeping vows or accumulating negative karma.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Anger itself is definitely not a positive thing, but it is not as intense or unvirtuous as hatred. The cause of anger is often that we are unable to accomplish something--we have some expectation or wishes that are not met. Such anger can stimulate hatred toward others. Since it can arouse hatred, anger is definitely not a comfortable experience.
Q: I am asking this because--not here but some places--I have seen a tendency for some people to, I think, feel anger, but they think, "Well, I don't want to be attached to anger," so they do not acknowledge their anger. They think "I'm not attached to the anger," but they still have it. They do not experience it, or they are afraid to experience it and let it go, and they would rather just pretend that they are not attached to it.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The remedy here is to have patience, which Shantideva explained in his teachings by saying, "If you could do something with the cause of your anger (to your mind, behavior, and so forth), it is important for you to do that. If the cause of your anger is such that, from the side of both object and subject, there is nothing you can do, there is no point in getting angry, because you cannot do anything." That is the teaching of Shantideva. To the last sentence, I would add that what we really need is to have patience.
Q: Sometimes we have compassion for people, but it is very harmful for them, in a way. It is not in their best interest. Without being enlightened, how can we have the wisdom to know whether we are really acting in their interest, or if it is more our own interest that is motivating us?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Real compassion is such that it is always harmless. Even if there is some mixture of self-interest in the compassion, still it is harmless. As a beginner in the practice, since our mind is not fully pure right now, self-interest may be mixed in. That happens--we may go back and forth with that situation. If you really want to know if your compassion is authentic compassion, if the being for whom you have compassion punches you, slaps your face, and even then you have no anger, then you have authentic compassion. The remedy for anger is compassion.
Q: When talking about the limitations of negative emotions, Rinpoche said that there was an antidote for anger. What is it?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The antidote for anger is, of course, patience. As long as one works at cultivating the root antidote of patience, then one can prevent constant upheavals of anger from taking place. During the actual moment of emotional upheaval, when one has already given in to anger, the antidote cannot be applied because one has let anger take the place of patience. This is why it is important to make preparations beforehand. For instance, you are not currently experiencing anger, but since you know that you have that limitation, there is every possibility that you will unnecessarily become very angry at some time in the future. Furthermore, it is important to realize that without anger there is no such thing as the realm of hell, since it is the accumulation of negativities through anger that causes one to experience the psychological and phenomenal manifestations of hell. In reality, there is no mandatory hell, it is only because of anger that people experience such sufferings. As you can see, you really can't afford to get angry.
Another aspect of the limitation of anger is that it causes great disruption and disturbance to yourself as well as those around you. When you are angry, you cannot do anything well and you feel very uncomfortable. In addition, you send out this emotion to others and make them feel uncomfortable as well. Obviously, you don't want to constantly experience this discomfort, nor do you want to make others feel that way. In this way, you can use a meditation on the negativities of anger as an antidote.
Ultimately, the opposite of anger is patience, and the perfection of patience is essentially the attainment of enlightenment. So, once you have perfected the practice of patience, you have actually achieved liberation from the sufferings of samsara. Then, if somebody becomes angry with you, you have no desire to get back at this person because you will understand the nature of anger. You will realize that to make someone else angry and to cause anger to arise in yourself would only create tremendous suffering for the both of you, and so you would respond with the sanity of patience. Moreover, by the practice of patience, it is actually possible to purify the negativities you have accumulated through anger in the past.
If you work on understanding the benefit of patience and the defect of anger, constantly reminding yourself of this reality, then at some point in the future--not immediately--when anger arises, this wisdom will help you to see around it. Instead of rushing headlong into this negative emotion, you will be able to slow down and pull yourself out of it. Gradually, you will see no point in getting angry at all. This is an effective means of developing an antidote to anger.
Those who are practitioners of the Dharma, and who have some understanding of the Dharma, definitely have a much greater element of sanity than those who do not. This is because non-practitioners of the Dharma generally see upheavals of negative emotions as a positive quality. For instance, anger is often encouraged because it shows that you are able to stand up for yourself and protect what is yours. As practitioners of the Dharma, however, although we may not immediately be able to uproot such negative patterns, we don't encourage them because we know how harmful they are. We may become caught up in them as they arise, but afterwards we realize that they were actually very unpleasant and brought no benefit to anyone. For this reason we don't encourage these emotions, and we don't congratulate ourselves for having been completely taken by our anger. And if you are able to remain always mindful of the defects of anger and the benefit of patience, then not only will you be able to control yourself in the face of these emotions, but you will also discourage them from even arising.
Q: You said that one person cannot take on the karma of another person. Is there still some value in the practice or attitude of exchanging oneself for others? For instance, people were talking yesterday about eating meat. When eating meat, I was thinking of trying to take on the karma of the person who might have been responsible for killing the animal. Is that possible? Is that something to keep in mind, for instance, when eating or during any other kind of activity?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: It is ordinarily almost impossible to shift any karma from one person to another. The sending and receiving practice, or tonglen, is given quite freely to those who are beginners in the practice of dharma. However, a beginner does not have the power or ability to take on the karma of others and, at the same time, transfer good karma to others. If we do not have that power, why do we practice tonglen? By doing tonglen effectively, we are primarily cutting through our arrogance, our attachment to self or ego. Whatever merit we accumulate by overcoming attachment (particularly the attachment to self) and arrogance, and because that selfish notion has been removed, we are able to dedicate that merit quite freely or openly. The pure dedication of merit is very helpful in the long run. Therefore, there is some connection, but it is not the case that by doing tonglen we are actually taking away negative karma and giving out positive karma.
Concerning eating meat, there are great bodhisattvas (yogis and yoginis), those who are quite advanced in the practice who with their intolerable love and compassion, by eating meat are able to concentrate their blessings on the being who is dead as well as the one who did the killing, benefiting both individuals. There is that possibility, but those are quite advanced beings who can do such things.
Q: I began the tonglen practice using my grandmother as the specific focus, and it became very emotional, which seems paradoxical. For instance, in shamata, you are not supposed to concentrate on the emotions or become involved in them as they arise. Is this practice expected to stimulate emotions? How should I deal with them? Am I approaching this incorrectly?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: At first the shamata and tonglen practices may seem contradictory, but after closer examination, you will see that it is not so. It is like when you peel something which has two layers--both are of the same thing. There may seem to be contradiction in that one layer is outside and one inside, but if you think about it, this is not paradoxical. Shamata meditation is crucial because otherwise we are overwhelmed by all kinds of emotions and distractions. We will cling to anything; anything can tear us apart. Almost all of these indulgences do not benefit us, even if they are beneficial, because of our destructive relationship to them. No matter what the circumstances are, if we approach them with a neurotic attitude, we merely intensify the neurosis. In this case, we do the shamata practice in order to avoid being inundated by confusions, negativities, and preoccupations.
Tonglen practice will definitely evoke some emotion; it should do this. But the quality of the emotion is quite different. Before beginning your shamata practice you may have been totally engrossed with certain attitudes, but the quality of the emotion that you begin to notice and experience in the tonglen practice is quite different. It is important to develop this kind of emotion to some extent, and this sensibility as well. If you are just doing shamata practice, although it is absolutely important, it is very easy to mistake it for the be-all and end-all. Therefore, you must realize the limitations and the importance at the same time. In order to appreciate the main benefit of the practice, you need to integrate something else. Many times shamata practice becomes a form of security; for instance, when you hear people saying, "Today I did well at work because I did my practice."
Certainly it is good to do the practice and to have a good feeling from that. But on the other hand, if that is the reason you are doing the practice, you are not going to get very far. Sometimes you may feel very happy and calm and think "Oh, this is really great!" and you will want to continue with it, but that is just another form of clinging. As mentioned earlier, if you are tied up with either a black or a white rope, it amounts to the same thing. You might have a sense of immediate satisfaction, thinking that because the rope is white, it will be looser. But in fact, you are still immobile. In this way, it is important to use shamata meditation to clear things up and not to get caught in them.
But the possibility is very real of getting caught up in some of the experiences we encounter in shamata practice. Therefore, we must avail ourselves of the tonglen practice, which involves a lot of emotion and will supply us with many things to work with. These have been neglected, and you may not have even known you had those things to work with. This gradual refinement is quite necessary.
In a very literal sense, you may step from an unwholesome, confused attitude to an attitude which embodies a subtler shade of confusion, but it is still a matter of clinging and a continuation of the confusion. The bias still remains, which is why you should begin the practice by focusing on somebody you know well, somebody you love. You may not be able to begin with other beings, like somebody you really hate, because the idea of giving benefit and of accommodating that person's neurosis may freeze you. As you can see, the dualism is very powerful, and the clinging, of course, is very predominant. But this is all right, you will be working at it.
There will be many things to work out, many emotions to deal with and refine. The emotions of this practice will have a different quality and taste, because as you work with them, they shift and change, and you will find that it is really not that difficult to participate in situations and work with beings in general. You will begin to willingly relate to everyone with feelings of confidence, capability, and responsibility. So the sense of duality you feel will change, and you will be able to bridge those distinctions.
Q: So these emotions help to cultivate bodhicitta?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Yes. For those in whom bodhicitta has not arisen, such training could help the arising of bodhicitta. For those who have generated some bodhicitta, this training will aid in the further cultivation and development of bodhicitta. A great deal depends on how well you are able to work with these emotions and how sensitively you handle situations. And of course, taking the bodhisattva commitment by receiving the transmission of the bodhisattva vow plays a most important part in the practice.
Q: When practicing sending and receiving, are you attempting to give something internal, such as your feelings or your desire to help other beings, or are you trying to send all of yourself by giving the positive elements of your identity, such as your intelligence or your upbringing?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: At this point in the giving and receiving, it is just an attitude, as you know. It is probably a very foreign attitude for us, because we are used to always wanting and taking for ourselves. The habitual pattern we have developed is to constantly feed our egos. Giving all good to other beings and receiving all of their negativities demands quite a dramatic shift from trying to give all our negativities to others and taking all the good for ourselves. But there is no cause to worry, because you are not actually giving anything at this point, nothing will be taken from you, and you do not need to concern yourself with where these things may be put. There may be a point where it might be relevant to know what you should give and to whom, what they are going to do with it and how well they are going to take care of it. But at this point, it is simply an attitude. Initially, one must cultivate this attitude, hoping it will make some sense, because it will be quite foreign to you.
Thus, the primary thing is to give whatever goodness you have, completely and without hesitation or expectations. And whatever negativities there may be, close by or distant, you welcome all of them. That is the essential attitude. If there is anything you have reservations about giving, give it all the more. If there are any sufferings that you really do not want to receive, welcome them all the more. That is the correct way to deal with it.
Q: While practicing tonglen, should the eyes be angled down as in shamata meditation?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: As long as you maintain a meditative body position, it does not matter where the focus of your eyes is, or whether they are open or closed. The important thing is the awareness of sending out all goodness with the exhalations and taking in all the negativities and confusion with the inhalations. That is the basis of this meditation practice. Sometimes you might remind yourself of a couple of specific incidents, to make it more real or to clarify what you are doing, instead of merely following the breath, unaware of what you are doing.
If you are able to handle the practice of giving and receiving with all sentient beings, that is very good. But to begin with, it might be helpful to choose a specific target. You can start with a person as the focal point, somebody that you are fond of and want to help experience goodness and happiness, and then expand it to include groups, such as your community, your country, the human species, and so on. Slowly, you can focus on those whom you dislike or hate, welcoming them as foremost among beings that you are going to work with. Extend to them all goodness, health, happiness, and awakening, and take all their negativities and limitations of whatever kind. In gradually expanding the focus to include greater and greater numbers, after a while you will be able to send and receive for the benefit of all sentient beings, without reservations. This practice incorporates both loving kindness and compassion: loving-kindness in your desire for and rejoicing in the happiness, liberation and sanity of all beings, and compassion in your desire to uproot the sufferings, problems, and negativities of others.
Q: Sometimes, when I am doing tonglen, it seems so real that I do not want to do it. That is silly, because I made vows to help all beings. But it is difficult to pick up someone else's pain and actually feel it. It is like thinking about all the people with hangovers on New Years Day, and getting a bad headache. I know that is an emotional response, but how do I develop the correct exertion?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: As far as the experience is concerned, it is a very, very good experience. Now you have to deal with the resistance you feel. It sounds as if you have really worked on this practice to be able to do this, which is excellent. In a sense, this is a good habit, and we encourage it. You are not going through the pain, but you are watching it and you can see it very clearly. This is fine for a particular situation or person. But the emotion here is so strong that you are getting caught up in the emotional pattern. It becomes a situation of great worry and concern. Instead of allowing it to become like that, the reality of this particular experience should be an instrument of encouragement for you, helping you to overcome this resistance. And this is but one of a thousand cases.
You also mentioned that you have taken a vow to work and to generate something totally sane for all beings. Right now you may find it very difficult, but you have a lot more work to do and you cannot stop here. Taking into account the reality of the suffering that all sentient beings are going through, your practice needs immediate attention. It should not be delayed. You develop exertion by paying sincere and immediate attention to what your practice requires. At this point, nothing is happening--you are just watching these sufferings, and it is very moving. Ordinarily there are many veils and pretensions, and we do not see sufferings very dearly. But you have cultivated the ability to go beyond that.
Therefore, remind yourself of the commitment you have made and the sanity in that commitment. It may sound ironic, but that makes an excellent reminder. And you are going to do it. You may feel you lack something, but actually you do not lack anything, because you have taken refuge and have some understanding of the lineage. You know your teacher and your relationships well. If nothing else, you can revitalize your exertion by thinking of how silly and embarrassing it would be to the people you associate with to halt your forward progress. For this reason, supplicate your root guru and the lineage, and remind yourself of the situation of having taken refuge. Connect that with your own sincerity and strength and confidence, and nothing will be impossible for you.
Test yourself, as well, by working on different specific situations. If there are particular beings or people you do not feel very comfortable about, work on them. Realize how joyful you can feel working with them. If there are some people you have a discrimination against because of religious or professional background, maybe you should include them in your practice and see how well you are able to deal with them. If you feel that way about one person or group, think of how many other beings are going through similar torments. How sincere are you with them? Is your sincerity nondiscriminating? You can test yourself with these questions.
Q: Along the same lines as one of the previous questions, when I meditate I have been watching the negativities come into Dorje Chang [visualization of the primordial Buddha] and disappear as they enter his body. And then, all the goodness comes out from the void. Is this all right?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In the tonglen practice, please understand that the target of practice is simply you and your ego, and that is what you have to work with. You should not try to bring about any help or try to shield yourself--you simply work with the situation. You should face the work by yourself with confidence, knowing it is something you can and will do alone. It is like a battle with your own ego. The task is quite difficult, but it is possible. In some of the more advanced practices, deities are incorporated, but that is not relevant to this discussion. In the tonglen practice, you simply develop the attitude of giving and receiving, and just sit in that awareness, following the movement and riding the breath with your mind.
Q: I have been trying to do this practice for a while, and I find it very difficult to do, and I am able to get very little out of it. I become very spaced out, and, although I have had that experience with other practices, this particular one seems to be the one that gets me. I am wondering why that is. Is more exertion needed? Could a particular fixation be keeping me from experiencing it correctly?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: There is probably a certain lack of exertion, but this may result from a lack of understanding concerning the practice. You have to understand your practice, and the practice has to become, in some sense, realistic. But exertion is most important. And exertion does not necessarily mean being able to spend a long time with the practice. Exertion here means that you are very sincere about the practice, and do it with joy and willingness rather than with a feeling of being forced to do it. When there is sincere and willing participation, you are able to focus yourself and be right on the spot with the practice. If there is not that sense of sincerity and exertion, you could be spending a lot of time and be quite apart from the practice.
To have genuine exertion we have to understand the reality of the practice. That is why the emphasis of this talk has been on understanding of the practice. We must have confidence in the reality of the practice, because the suffering and confusion that beings are going through is quite real. Often we are not aware of or concerned about this. Sometimes we think about it, but it is upsetting and we try to forget it, especially since we want to believe that everything is just fine, and create a soft and cushy world for ourselves.
Usually we even fail to appreciate the sufferings that others have gone through for our own sake. For instance, the actual physical and mental sufferings that your parents went through have been tremendous, no matter how insincere you think they have been. If you examine it carefully, without trying to protect yourself, and allow yourself to nakedly see what has really happened, you will find that there is a lot to take into consideration and a lot to appreciate. Because of you, a great deal of confusion has been generated, and the intensity of the resulting sufferings that your parents are going through or will be going through is immeasurable. From that point of view, you have a great responsibility. Confidence in the reality of this is essential if you are to appreciate, in a real sense, the practice you are going to do.
If you incorporate this example into your practice, perhaps it will help you be mindful of what the limitations in your practice could be.
Q: When I do the practice, I imagine a big white light in my heart filled with love and compassion and so forth, and I send it out with my breath. When I breathe in all the suffering of the world, I imagine it as a black cloud which, when it meets the white light, dissipates. This makes it easier to breathe in the suffering and breathe out light, because instead of my heart turning black with the suffering, the light dispels the blackness. I was wondering if this is okay?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In some sense, it is fine, but still, it needs improvement. When you imagine that there is this white light, clinging to the notion of self is very evident because you are building a form of protection for yourself. This light acts as a protective barrier between you and the negativities you are supposed to be accepting. Instead of promoting the experience of egolessness, this allows you to remain involved with your ego, which misses the point. Although there is a sense of goodness and direction, it is not completely appropriate and needs to be refined.
It is not necessary to imagine a light or anything like that. Earlier, we used light to exemplify specific qualities of the practice. To elaborate on that, in the meditation practice you give out all the goodness that you have, that you are, and that you could be. Whatever is good--sanity, wealth, awakening, spiritual or mundane happiness--is given to all beings. This radiates out towards all sentient beings, just like when something is lit in darkness and light spontaneously radiates, dispelling the darkness in the whole room. But again, it is not necessary to imagine the light. Then all sufferings, confusions, and negativities, whatever they may be, you welcome to yourself, which is like nailing down your ego with the hammer of all these things. And that is where the actual work needs to be done.
At this point, however, when the negativities of others are welcomed in this way, we encounter what can be the most difficult problem: the fear of these negative things actually causing us harm. After all, if we are going to invite the sufferings and limitations of all beings to ourselves, what is going to happen? Who is there to get hurt? What can you complain about?
Furthermore, in the giving, we are giving every form of goodness we have. Usually we desire everything, but who is going to want anything now? It has all been given. You have decided to give everything, so what is there to want now? Fundamentally, we are training ourselves in the experience of egolessness. It may seem that what we are doing is making no difference, but actually it is making a difference to us and is indirectly benefitting beings. If you have not recognized or experienced some form of egolessness, your desire to benefit sentient beings is going to be very limited, if you have any at all, because of expectations of returns and so on. Ultimately speaking, it would just be words--there would be little practical benefit you could extend to beings. Thus, even though you have a very sincere desire to work for others, first you have to work on yourself in this way. That is how you should relate to the practice, instead of trying to shield yourself from something.
Q: As I practiced sending and receiving, I visualized a large plain filled with people and animals. To breathe over the whole plain, however, I had to be much larger than they were. And that was bothering me. Should I be more specific in my focus?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: For sending or for receiving, it is not necessary for you to become bigger. We are so attached to form that we can relate only to fixed, substantial objects. As a result, we feel the need to expand ourselves or to become like some kind of a container. In some respects, this is okay, but not with this fixed preconception that you need to be larger. The primary thing is the attitude. The embodiment of the negativity and suffering comes from everywhere, and keeps coming and coming. And the goodness and sanity starts from you and radiates out in all directions. You could be any size or shape. So you do not have to be bigger or smaller in that sense.
Right now, we are not working on envisioning lights coming out of our bodies, or anything like that. All we are dealing with is our need to feel protected and be the center of everything. We are working on our ego clinging, our clinging to the concept of self. This is why we welcome everything to this I, wherever it is, and give of the self to all. It does not matter whether you visualize yourself larger or smaller--nothing is coming into your body.
As for having specific focuses, this is done for a few different reasons. For instance, all of you here seem quite familiar with the Buddhadharma and have some grounding in the teachings, so you can understand and relate to it. Otherwise, this teaching could be so alien to our habitual way of thinking that it could initially frighten people. That is why we teach stage by stage, allowing time to integrate an experience before moving to another stage. Given all at once, it could be too overwhelming. Also, abilities vary, and some people are more courageous than others. All can do the work, but in different ways or in different stages. Some are not very courageous in accommodating the sufferings and confusions of all sentient beings, and especially of certain beings. Therefore, by working with a friendly situation, with those whom you really like, you could perhaps extend yourself from there. Gradually you become more and more outgoing and courageous.
Another reason for being specific is that when you have not developed the attitude of compassion and loving-kindness, it is likely that the practice will not really flow. It is as if sensitivity to the practice has not yet evolved. Our attention becomes spaced out, and losing interest rapidly, we focus wherever we think to, as if it does not matter. When you are specific, however, and deeply conscious of the suffering, then it becomes quite a sensitive situation. From there you can extend your awareness. Sensitivity to the reality of the practice thus seems to grow and expand.
Those who are more courageous, and have a stronger desire to be a conqueror, can begin working with the most unfavorable situations first. This would include beings that you hate or dislike, such as people from a country with which your own country is at war. There may be specific people in your everyday life you do not like to be around, and you can start with them first. You welcome whatever is most difficult first. After that, the rest will come quite easily. These are a few examples of the value of specificity to the tonglen practice.
Q: Is it all right to focus your Sending and Receiving on a particular person or group of people while you are doing the practice?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Actually this practice has to encompass all beings. Letting go and sending out goodness and virtue from yourself to all beings is done with a sense of contentment and with the intention that goodness, happiness, and well-being may penetrate all beings and that goodness may become all-encompassing. Inviting and receiving all the suffering, confusion, and negativity of all beings involves having the willingness, the courage, and the openness to take all of this upon yourself. This should be the general practice, but if you have a problem getting into that state of mind, you can work with individuals or groups where you can see specific sufferings that are definitely physical and very obvious. When you are able to have a one-to-one relationship with these people, there is naturally a strong feeling of wanting to send out every goodness to them and to take in every possible limitation they experience. Such people could include your parents, to whom you are grateful, or perhaps a friend, or someone you see in a very difficult situation. You can begin with them, but you must not get stuck with them. The more heroic way of performing the mahayana level of practice is to start with the more difficult task: to start with all beings.
By starting with those who are the most difficult, such as those you might regard as enemies or feel hatred for, whether human beings, animals, or whatever, the next level becomes more achievable. If you are able to deal with them, doing the sending out and taking in with those who are difficult for you, then it is certain you will be able to do it with all beings, which is very wonderful.
Q: What is a good thing to do when you take in the sufferings and you feel a kind of heaviness or fear, depending on how much you do it?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The Sending and Receiving practice is very healthy and sane. It is also a very powerful and heroic practice because we have always been caught up with doing everything for ourselves, with trying to get all the goodness for ourselves. Now, suddenly, we are going in the opposite direction. Yes, it may definitely be a shock at first. There may be a sense of, "How is this happening?" This is because our attachment has been so strong. Because of our clinging, we have always had the orientation that if we seek benefit for ourselves, that is how we will get it.
Now we are learning, however, that taking on the sufferings of others is the key to benefiting ourselves. Therefore, the more you are able to take in, the more you should rejoice. If you are able to take in the sufferings of all human beings, that is fantastic. But even if you are just thinking or imagining it, rather than actually taking in all sufferings, at least you are able to have the right kind of attitude: heroic and truly open and compassionate. There should be joy in that, because it is such a contrast to the way we are usually thinking, "I am good," "I am the best one," and so forth. The benefit of this practice is the purification of our own negative patterns, and also a greater sense of being able to respect other beings. That is actually what you incorporate, what you take in and develop, instead of something negative. If there are fears, if there is some hesitation or heaviness, it is actually very positive. Think, "Maybe I am able to take it--so why not take more of it?" In reality, of course, you will not be afflicted by anything at all.
The main reason human beings are caught up in samsaric patterns is a very strong sense of dichotomy: the sense of myself and my group, and desiring everything for my group, in opposition to the concerns and needs of others. Now suddenly you are going in reverse. At the beginning it may be uncomfortable because you really do not have the habit of doing much to benefit others, so we train mentally, by imagining we are doing something. Who is benefitted? We are, of course, because right now we are not enlightened beings, we are not bodhisattvas, and we are not actually able to take on anybody's suffering. It is not possible right now, even if we want to, because we do not have the ability at the moment. We can imagine it, though, which is a means of self-purification. We imagine we are taking in the sufferings of all beings, and at first this is most beneficial to just us personally. Then, gradually, the benefit spreads to all beings. However, it is important to be clear about what you are actually doing, or you might become confused and feel that you are taking in something that you are not.
Q: I was thinking that in doing the practice it would be easier for me to envision giving to friends whom I know and care about, or even animals, than to beings I see as my enemies. Mosquitos I see as my enemies--they take my blood and make me itch. Worms get into my system. Roaches infest my food. I'd like to kill these animals--so I have a question about that, about starting the practice off with beings you see as your enemies. It seems that I would be giving especially to those beings I feel aggressive toward, and I wondered at what point it would be harmful to do that. At what point would it make you sick?
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Actually it is very difficult, but it is also very important to work with beings or animals you see as your enemies. It is important to have loving-kindness and compassion toward such creatures, because they are very helpless. They are born in a situation in which they are able to cause harm--though totally helpless, they are still able to harm, which is to say that in the future these creatures will cause more harm for beings and more suffering for themselves. When you realize this, genuine compassion can arise. These creatures are harming you, yet it is almost certain that in past lifetimes they were in human form, or in some form in which they helped you. These beings are not aware of this now, yet they have been born into their present situations, and you have been born into yours. Now they do not know any better; they are very stupid and in a confused situation. You are now in a better situation to understand, in an enlightened situation to understand and to relate, and you have the freedom and the power to do so. Make use of the knowledge you have, and understand that there is no question about it: you must generate loving kindness and compassion to transform the situation. It will not cause you any harm to do so. Even when great harm or disturbance is being caused to you, there are gentle and skillful ways you can put the other beings into a situation where they are not harmed. It is best to do so to the degree of understanding that you have.
Q: Rinpoche, can you discuss how one can use anger in a positive and constructive way in practice?
H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche: If you learn about the different principles of the different Buddha families, there is a lot to say about that. Practically, though, I'm not too sure about the use of anger for most people. I personally think anger, as most people see it, is one thing. Some people have a concept about anger, and when they say they have anger their behavior differs from their concept. It is not the same kind of anger.
Let's assume the majority of people would say anger occurs when something happens that you don't like. For example, somebody does something quite selfish and inconsiderate towards you or towards someone that you care about, and that makes you upset and angry. That is one thing. But in our community there are people who have lots of anger for no reason. In the West there are a lot of them. So that's another thing, which is coming from some kind of disappointment, like when something happens and it doesn't work out the way you want and you cannot do any thing about it. Then it becomes a sort of imprint in your conscious thought or even at the subconscious level which builds up, making it much easier for some people to be angrier than other people.
Some people are very slow to anger but some people are very, very easy to anger. And this type of anger has some sense of impatience about it. There is not much tolerance and patience in that person. Sometimes it is negative; sometimes it could even be positive, because for people like that, if they really manage to transform it, it is a kind of energy. For example, there is a big river flowing through a gorgeous Himalayan valley and the power of the river is all wasted, yet if somebody thought about building a power station right there, it could light up the whole city.
So in the same way, when a person has that kind of characteristic, and that person manages to use it and direct it correctly, that is energy. I don't think that person can be lethargic. That person will be very active and have a lot of ability to do many, many things. So I would look for a way to use this anger or to transform this anger in a more practical way then looking into the five Buddha families and five wisdoms. That is really more of a result than a cause. You have to have a lot of practice, a lot of realization in order to transform anger in that way. If you are not at that level of transformation, then use it in a more practical way. Do things, become a more active person. You should get involved mentally and physically in projects so that this energy is utilized. You can direct it into effective works and generate many outcomes from it.
In this way, there is a great possibility that you can even become a totally different person after a long enough period of doing things and seeing their results. Then you will not be disappointed, because you will see what you have done, you will see its results, and then you will learn to let this make you happy. When you learn to appreciate things, then this negativity is not there. It becomes much, much less.
If I were a psychologist I would have much more to say besides this. But unfortunately, I am not [laughter] so I really don't know. But what psychologists say is quite accurate. They can tell you exactly how this is developed, and then, if they are really skillful, they can actually work on the kleshas, like anger and jealousy, and some how cure them--sometimes permanently, but most of the time temporarily. But that's good enough. Many times temporary improvement can lead to a more long-lasting result.
Q: I experience a great deal of passion, and I find myself constantly being drawn into situations because of this. Initially there seems to be some genuine interest in relating with the world, but once I am involved in the situation it's like my fingers have glue on them and everything sticks. As an aspirant on the bodhisattva path, I would like to know how you balance a sense of openness with the attitude of letting go, especially in a situation you've already committed to. And at the same time, how do you practice this detachment while maintaining enough passion to feel compassion for the world? I have just begun vajrayana practice, but I am already involved in a situation, and I seem to be stuck. I have vowed to work with people, but I feel like I should be more devotional...
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Well, if
Rinpoche understood your question properly, which is to say, if I
translated it clearly, it is a very, very good question. Rinpoche feels it
might be more helpful, because of the nature of your practice, to talk to
Rinpoche privately if there is an opportunity. Then we can talk in a
little more depth. But, to address the question generally, on the
bodhisattva path there are two aspects, that of the mental aspirations and
that of the actual responses and actions. You should, of course, always
have the best and highest motivations. But when it comes to actually
living up to those motivations with your actions, you have to see what it
is you can do, and what further experiences you may need first. If you
overzealously jump into things and let your motivations push and pull you
this way and that, it would not be very skillful. For example, say there
was a river, and if you could swim across to the other side, you could
accomplish tremendous good for yourself and others. However, you would
first have to know how well you can swim, and how strong the current is.
If you were like Rinpoche, who does not know how to swim and is
short-legged as well, and you got all excited and jumped in the water
anyway, not only would you not benefit anybody, you would be in trouble.
Now, it is exciting that there is water and that there is also the
possibility of swimming across to the other side, because there could be a
lot to discover over there. But how well-equipped are you with the
experience that is necessary to go through with it? This is just a general
point to keep in mind.
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