Patience and Effort

A Teaching from Ven. Tenzin Palmo: Part 3 

(continued from issue 3)

Most of us are complete slaves to our emotions and our thoughts.  When we are angry, we are the anger.  When we are jealous, we are the jealousy. When we are depressed, we are the depression. We are completely enslaved by our desires, our angers, our aversions, our jealousies, our hopes and our fears.  Weíre not in control at all.

The Buddha said that someone who kills 
a thousand times a
thousand men on the battlefield 
nothing compared with one who is master of himself.

First, we have to learn to be in control of our own minds. After all, our mind is the closest thing we have; itís how we perceive everything.  External circumstances are nothing compared to the internal circumstances of our mind. So if we want to benefit ourselves and others, we have to get our mind intosome kind of shape. The easiest and quickest way to do that is to develop this moment-to-moment awareness of the mind. By doing this we can find the space to see what is happening within us and to select that which is helpful. That which is not helpful, we can drop.  All our Dharma practices are directed towards attaining this mastery and understanding. First we have to understand then, through that understanding, we can gain mastery.

The Buddha said that someone who kills a thousand times a thousand men on the battlefield is nothing compared with one who is master of himself.  He who conquers himself is the greatest warrior. So we have to learn to conquer ourselves. But we donít conquer ourselves by creating an inner battlefield; we conquer ourselves through developing understanding, insight and awareness. This takes enormous effort because the inertia of our mind is so deep, so entrenched.

Sometimes people ask me what I gained 
from living for so many years in
a cave. 
I say, "Itís not what I
gained, itís what I lost."

I have talked about how genuine renunciation is to give up all our fond thoughts Ė daydreams, memories of the past, anticipations of the future, the inner mental chatter and commentaries with which most of us live our days and which keep us both stressed and entertained. To drop that as much as we can and to live nakedly in the present, just with what is happening in the moment, is very difficult. We are so attached to our memories, our daydreams, our fantasies and our interpretations. We think that they are who we are. We think that they are what make our life so rich. But in fact, they are exactly who we are not and they impoverish our inner life because we are caught up more and more in delusion. To drop all that, to really drop it as much as we possibly can, is a powerful practice.  That is the greatest renunciation. It requires enormous application at the beginning because thereís tremendous resistance in the mind to being in the present, to just being with what IS, rather than with all our fantasies and projections about how we want life to be.  Just seeing life as it is, without any of our commentaries is very hard. For example, when I look at an object, I immediately start thinking of others Iíve seen which were similar, of whether I like the shape or donít like the shape, of whether the workmanship is good or not good, of how I might have wanted one which was somewhat different. This goes on infinitely Ė elaborating, elaborating, and elaborating until we donít see the object at all any more.

First, you have to empty out the cup and clean it, 
and then you can pour in the ambrosia.

This might not seem very important. But when we relate it to situations, to people we know and with whom we interrelate, then these layers upon layers of opinions, interpretations, elaborations and memories distance us from what is actually happening, who is actually in front of us, what is actually occurring inside ourselves. Dharma practice is not a matter of learning more and more and studying more and more, although that can also be important. Itís not a matter of adding more and more; itís a matter of emptying out, peeling off layer after layer. Weíre already so full of junk, so stuffed to the top, that first we need to empty out.

A great Thai master was once asked what his main problem was with people who came to him for instruction. He said that the main problem with them was that they were already so full of their own ideas and opinions, they were like a cup filled to the brim with dirty water. You canít pour anything ontop because if you do, it will just become dirty too. First, you have to empty out the cup and clean it, and then you can pour in the ambrosia. And so, for us too, we need to clear out; we donít need to add more at this time. We need to start peeling off all our opinions, all our ideas, and all our cleverness and just remain very naked, in the moment, just seeing things as they are, like a small child.

If we do that then it gives some space for the innate intelligence to which we are all heirs to surface. And with that intelligence comes a genuine openness of heart. But if we try to do all these practices on top of all the junk which we already have in our mind, nothing is ever affected. We just distort; no real transformation will take place.

..during the day, as much as you can,
 try to bring the mind
back into the present and 
try to see things as if one is
seeing them for the very first time...

Sometimes people ask me what I gained from living for so many years in a cave. I say, "Itís not what I gained, itís what I lost." I think that in Dharma practice it is very important first to really have a period of dropping rather than building up. This is why a practice like Samatha, just quietly sitting, can be so very, very beneficial because it gives us space to begin to peel off and empty out. But also, during the day, as much as you can, try to bring the mind back into the present and try to see things as if one is seeing them for the very first time. This is especially valuable with people one is very connected to -- oneís spouse or oneís children, oneís colleagues at work. Try to look at them as if seeing them for the very first time with completely fresh, new eyes.

Moment to moment, we are.  After a while we become so heavily habituated we donít see any more. All we see are our own ideas and impressions and memories. Itís very important that we should practice now so that at the time of our death we can think, "Well, I tried. I did the best I could and so I can die without regrets.í"