by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
he text The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, by Langri Tangpa, explains the Paramitayana practice of method and wisdom: the first seven verses deal with method—loving kindness, bodhicitta—and the eighth deals with wisdom. (10)
Those who have the attitude of cherishing others regard all other beings as much more important than themselves and value helping others above all else. And, acting in this way, incidentally they themselves become very happy. Even politicians, for example, who are genuinely concerned with helping or serving other people are recorded in history with respect, while those who are constantly exploiting and doing bad things to others go down in history as examples of bad people.
Leaving aside, for the moment, religion, the next life and nirvana, even within this life selfish people bring negative repercussions down upon themselves by their self-centered actions. On the other hand, people like Mother Teresa, who sincerely devote their whole lives and all their energy to selflessly serving the Door, the needy and the helpless, are always remembered for their noble work with respect; others never have anything negative to say about them. This, then, is the result of cherishing others: whether you want it or not, even those who are not your relatives always like you, feel happy with you, have a warm feeling towards you. If you are the sort of person who always speaks nicely in front of others but behind their backs says nasty things about them, of course nobody will like you. Thus even in this life, if we try to help others as much as we can and have as few selfish thoughts as possible we shall experience much happiness. Our life is not very long: 100 years at the most. If throughout its duration we try to be kind, warm-hearted and concerned for the welfare of others, and less selfish and angry, that will be wonderful, excellent; that is really the cause of happiness. If you are selfish, if you always put yourself first and others second, the actual result will be that you yourself will finish up last. If mentally you put yourself last and others first, you will come out ahead.
So don't worry about the next life or nirvana: these things will come gradually. If within this life you remain a good, warm-hearted, unselfish person you will be a good citizen of the world. Whether you are a Buddhist, a Christian or a, communist is irrelevant; the important thing is that as long as you are a human being you should be a good human being. That is the teaching of Buddhism; that is the message carried by all the world's religions. However, the teachings of Buddhism contain every technique for eradicating selfishness and actualizing the attitude of cherishing others. Shantideva's marvelous text, the Bodhicaryavatara, for example, is very helpful for this; I myself practise according to that book; it is extremely useful. Our mind is very cunning, very difficult to control, but if we make constant efforts, work tirelessly with logical reasoning and careful analysis, we shall be able to control it and change it for the better.
Some Western psychologists say that we should not repress our anger but express it—that we should practise anger! However, we must make an important distinction here between mental problems that should be expressed and those that should not. Sometimes you may be truly wronged and it is right for you to express your grievance instead of letting it fester inside you. But you should not express it with anger. If you foster disturbing negative minds such as anger they will become a part of your personality each time you express anger it becomes easier to express it again. You do it more and more until you are simply a furious person completely out of control. Thus in terms of our mental problems there are certainly some that are properly expressed but others that are not. At first when you try to control disturbing negative minds it is difficult. The first day, the first week, the first month you cannot control them well. But if you make constant efforts, gradually your negativities will decrease. Progress in mental development does not come about through taking medicines or other chemical substances; it depends on controlling the mind.
Thus we can see that if we want to fulfill our wishes, be they temporal or ultimate, we should rely on other sentient beings much more than on wish-granting gems, and always cherish them above all else.
Question: Is the whole purpose of this practice to improve our minds or actually; to do something to help others? What is more important?
Answer: Both are important. First, you see, if we do not have pure motivation, whatever we do may not be satisfactory. Thus the first thing we should do is cultivate pure motivation. But we do not have to wait until that motivation is fully developed before actually doing something to help others. Of course, to help others in the most effective way possible we have to be fully enlightened buddhas. Even to help others in vast and extensive ways we need to have attained one of the levels of a bodhisattva, that is to have had the experience of a direct, non-conceptual perception of the reality of voidness and to have achieved the powers of extra-sensory perception. Nonetheless, there are many levels of help we can offer others. Even before we have achieved these qualities we can try to act like bodhisattvas, but naturally our actions will be less effective than theirs. Therefore, without waiting until we are fully qualified, we can generate a good motivation and with that try to help others as best we can. This, I think, is a more balanced approach, and better than simply staying somewhere in isolation doing some meditation and recitations. Of course, this depends very much on the individual. If someone is confident that by staying in a remote place he can gain definite realizations within a certain period, that is different. Perhaps it is best to spend half our time in active work and the other half in the practice of meditation.
Question: Tibet was a Buddhist country. If these values you are describing are Buddhist ones, why was there so much imbalance in Tibetan society.
Answer: Human weakness. Although Tibet was certainly a Buddhist country it had its share of bad, corrupt people. Even some of the religious institutions, the monasteries, became corrupt and turned into centres of exploitation. But all the same, compared with other feudal societies, Tibet was much more peaceful and harmonious and had less problems than they.
When we compare ourselves with animals, for instance, we might think, "I have a human body" or "I'm an ordained person" and feel much higher than them. From one point of view we can say that we have human bodies and are practising the Buddha's teachings and are thus much better than insects. But from another we can say that insects are very innocent and free from guile, whereas we often lie and misrepresent ourselves in devious ways in order to achieve our ends or better ourselves. From this point of view we have to say that we are much worse than insects, which just go about their business without pretending to be anything. This is one method of training in humility.
Question: Which dependent arising?
Answer: The twelve links of dependent arising, or interdependent origination. They start from ignorance and go through to aging and death. (11) On a more subtle level you can use dependent arising as a cause for establishing that things are void of true existence.
Question: Why should we meditate on ugliness to overcome attachment?
Answer: We develop attachment to things because we see them as very attractive. Trying to view them as unattractive, or ugly, counteracts that. For example, we might develop attachment to another person's body, seeing his or her figure as something very attractive. When you start to analyze this attachment you find that it is based on viewing merely the skin. However, the nature of this body that appears to us as beautiful is that of the flesh, blood, bones, skin and so forth of which it is composed. Now let's analyze human skin: take your own, for example. If a piece of it comes off and you put it on your shelf for a few days it becomes really ugly. This is the nature of skin. All parts of the body are the same. There is no beauty in a piece of human flesh; when you see blood you might feel afraid, not attached. Even a beautiful face: if it gets scratched there is nothing nice about it; wash off the paint—there is nothing left! Ugliness is the nature of the physical body. Human bones, the skeleton, are also repulsive. A skull-and-crossed-bones have a very negative connotation.
So that is the way to analyze something towards which you feel attachment, or love, using this word in the negative sense of desirous attachment: think more of the object's ugly side; analyze its nature—the person or thing—from that point of view. Even if this does not control your attachment completely, at least it will help subdue it a little. This is the purpose of meditating on or building up the habit of looking at the ugly aspect of things.
The other kind of love, or kindness, is not based on the reasoning that "such and such a person is beautiful therefore I shall show respect and kindness." The basis for pure love is, "This is a living being. It wants happiness; it does not want suffering; it has the right to be happy. Therefore I should feel love and compassion towards it." This kind of love is entirely different from the first, which is based on ignorance and therefore totally unsound. The reasons for this loving kindness are sound. With the love that is simply attachment, the slightest change in the object, such as a tiny change of attitude, immediately causes you to change. This is because your emotion is based on something very superficial. Take, for example, a new marriage. Often after a few weeks, months or years the couple become enemies and finish up getting divorced. They married deeply in love—nobody marries with hatred—but after a short time everything changed. Why? Because of the superficial basis for the relationship; a small change in one person caused a complete change of attitude in the other.
We should think, "The other person is a human being like me. Certainly I want happiness, therefore he must want happiness too. As a sentient being I have the right to happiness; for the same reason he, too, has the right to happiness." This kind of sound reasoning gives rise to pure love and compassion. Then no matter how our view of that person changes—from good to bad to ugly—he is basically the same sentient being. Thus since the main reason for showing loving kindness is always there, our feelings towards the other are perfectly stable.
The antidote to anger is meditation on love because anger is a very rough, coarse mind that needs to be softened with love.
When we enjoy the objects to which we are attached, we do experience a certain pleasure but, as Nagarjuna has said, it is like having an itch and scratching it; it gives us some pleasure but we would be far better off if we did not have the itch in the first place. (12) Similarly, when we get the things with which we are obsessed we feel happy, but we'd be far better off if we were free from the attachment that causes us to become obsessed with things.
Where it says that we should accept defeat and offer the victory to others, we have to differentiate two kinds of situation. If, on the one hand, we are obsessed with our own welfare and very selfishly motivated, we should accept defeat and offer victory to the other, even if our life is at stake. But if, on the other hand, the situation is such that the welfare of others is at stake, we have to work very hard and fight for the rights of others, and not accept the loss at all.
One of the forty-six secondary vows of a bodhisattva refers to a situation in which someone is doing something very harmful and you have to use forceful methods or whatever else is necessary to stop that person's actions immediately: if you don't you have transgressed that commitment. It might appear that this precept and the fifth stanza, which says that one must accept defeat and give the victory to the other, are contradictory but they are not. The bodhisattva precept deals with a situation in which one's prime concern is the welfare of others: if someone is doing something extremely harmful and dangerous it is wrong not to take strong measures to stop it if necessary. Nowadays, in very competitive societies, strong defensive or similar actions are often required. The motivation for these should not be selfish concern but extensive feelings of kindness and compassion towards others. If we act out of such feelings to save others from creating negative karma this is entirely correct.
Question: It may sometimes be necessary to take strong action when we see something wrong, but whose judgment do we trust for such decisions? Can we rely on our own perception of the world?
Answer: That's complicated. When you consider taking the loss upon yourself you have to see whether giving the victory to the others is going to benefit them ultimately or only temporarily. You also have to consider the effect that taking the loss upon yourself will have on your power of ability to help others in the future. It is also possible that by doing something that is harmful to others now you create a great deal of merit that will enable you to do things vastly beneficial for others in the long run; this is another factor you have to take into account.
As it says in the Bodhicaryavatara, you have to examine, both superficially and deeply, whether the benefits of doing a prohibited action outweigh the shortcomings. At times when it is difficult to tell you should check your motivation. In the Sikshasamuccaya, Shantideva says that the benefits of an action done with bodhicitta motivation outweigh the negativities of doing it without such motivation. Because it is sometimes very difficult yet very important to see the dividing line between what to do and what not to do, you should study the texts that explain about such things. In lower texts it will say that certain actions are prohibited, while in higher ones it will say that those same actions are allowed. The more you know about all of this the easier it will be to decide what to do in any situation. (13)
Of course, it is most unlikely that we shall actually be able to take on the sufferings of others and give them our happiness. When such transference between beings does occur it is the result of some very strong unbroken karmic connection from the past. However, this meditation is a very powerful means of building up courage in our minds and is therefore a highly beneficial practice.
In the Seven Point Thought Transformation it says that we should alternate the practices of taking and giving and mount them on the breath. (15) And here, Langri Tangpa says these should be done secretly. As it is explained in the Bodhicaryavatara, this practice does not suit the minds of beginner bodhisattvas—it is something for the select few practitioners. Therefore it is called secret.
Question: In the eighth chapter of Bodhicaryavatara, Shantideva
Answer: This does not mean that you have to hit yourself on the head or something like that. Shantideva is saying that at times when strong, self-cherishing thoughts arise you have to argue very strongly with yourself and use forceful means to subdue them; in other words, you have to harm your self-cherishing mind. You have to distinguish clearly between the I that is completely obsessed with its own welfare and the I that is going to become enlightened: there is a big difference. And you have to see this verse of the Bodhicaryavatara in the context of the verses that precede and follow. There are many different ways the I is discussed: the grasping at a true identity for the I, the self-cherishing I, the I that we join with in looking at things from the viewpoint of others and so forth. You have to see the discussion of the self in these different contexts.
If it really benefits others, if it benefits even one sentient being, it is appropriate for us to take upon ourselves the suffering of the three realms of existence or to go to one of the hells, and we should have the courage to do this. In order to reach enlightenment for the sake of sentient beings we should be happy and willing to spend countless eons in the lowest hell, Avici. This is what taking the harms that afflict others upon ourselves refers to.
Question: What would we have to do to get to the lowest hell?
Answer: The point is to develop the courage to be willing to go to one of the hells; it doesn't mean you actually have to go there. When the Kadampa geshe Chekawa was dying, he suddenly called in his disciples and asked them to make special offerings, ceremonies and prayers for him because his practice had been unsuccessful. The disciples were very upset because they thought something terrible was about to happen. However, the geshe explained that although all his life he had been praying to be born in the hells for the benefit of others, he was now receiving a pure vision of what was to follow—he was going to be reborn in a pure land instead of the bells. In the same way, if we develop a strong, sincere wish to be reborn in the lower realms for the benefit of others, we accumulate a vast amount of merit that brings about the opposite result.
That's why I always say, if we are going to be selfish we should be wisely selfish. Real, or narrow, selfishness causes us to go down; wise selfishness brings us buddhahood. That's really wise! Unfortunately, what we usually do first is get attached to buddhahood. From the scriptures we understand that to attain buddhahood we need bodhicitta and that without it we can't become enlightened; thus we think, "I want buddhahood, therefore I have to practise bodhicitta." We are not so much concerned about bodhicitta as about buddhahood. This is absolutely wrong. We should do the opposite; forget the selfish motivation and think how really to help others. If we go to hell we can help neither others nor ourselves. How can we help? Not just by giving them something or performing miracles, but by teaching dharma. However, first we must be qualified to teach. At present we cannot explain the whole path: all the practices and experiences that one person has to go through from the first stage up to the last, enlightenment. Perhaps we can explain some of the early stages through our own experience, but not much more than that. To be able to help others in the most extensive way by leading them along the entire path to enlightenment we must first enlighten ourselves. For this reason we should practise bodhicitta. This is entirely different from our usual way of thinking, where we are compelled to think of others and dedicate our heart to them because of selfish concern for our own enlightenment. This way of going about things is completely false, a sort of lie.
Question: I read in a book that just by practising dharma we prevent nine generations of our relatives from rebirth in hell. Is this true?
Answer: This is a little bit of advertising! In fact it is possible that something like this could happen, but in general it's not so simple. Take, for example, our reciting the mantra Om mani padme hum and dedicating the merit of that to our rapidly attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. We can't say that just by reciting mantras we shall quickly attain enlightenment, but we can say that such practices act as contributory causes for enlightenment. Likewise, while our practising dharma will not itself protect our relatives from lower rebirths, it may act as a contributory cause for this. If this were not the case, if our practice could act as the principal cause of a result experienced by others, it would contradict the law of karma, the relationship between cause and effect. Then we could simply sit back and relax and let all the buddhas and bodhisattvas do everything for us; we would not have to take any responsibility for our own welfare. However, the Fully Enlightened One said that all he can do is teach us the dharma, the path to liberation from suffering; it is up to us to put it into practice—he washed his hands of that responsibility! As Buddhism teaches that there is no Creator and that we create everything for ourselves, we are therefore our own masters—within the limits of the law of cause and effect. And this law of karma teaches that if we do good we shall experience good results; if we do bad things we shall experience unhappiness.
Question: How do we cultivate patience?
Answer: There are many methods. (16) Knowledge of and faith in the law of karma itself engenders patience. You realize, "This suffering I'm experiencing is entirely my own fault, the result of actions I myself created in the past. Since I can't escape it I have to put up with it. However, if I want: to avoid suffering in the future I can do so by cultivating virtues such as patience. Getting irritated or angry with this suffering will only create negative karma, the cause for future misfortune." This is one way of practising patience.
Another thing you can do is meditate on the suffering nature of the body. "This body and mind are the basis for all kinds of suffering: it is natural and by no means unexpected that suffering should arise from them." This sort of realization is very helpful for the development of patience.
You can also recall what it says in the Bodhicaryavatara:
If it can be remedied?
And what is the use of being unhappy about something
If it cannot be remedied?
Something else you can do is contemplate the disadvantages of getting angry and the advantages of practising patience. We are human beings—one of our better qualities is our ability to think and judge. if we lose patience and get angry we lose our ability to make proper judgments and thereby lose one of the most powerful instruments we have for tackling problems: our human wisdom. This is something that animals do not have. If we lose patience and get irritated we are damaging this precious instrument. We should remember this; it is far better to have courage and determination and face suffering with patience.
Question: How can we be humble yet at the same time realistic about the good qualities that we possess?
Answer: You have to differentiate between confidence in your abilities and pride. You should have confidence in whatever good qualities and skills you have and use them courageously, but you shouldn't feel arrogantly proud of them. Being humble doesn't mean feeling totally incompetent and helpless. Humility is cultivated as the opponent of pride, but we should use whatever good qualities we have to the full.
Ideally one should have a great deal of courage and strength but not boast about or make a big show of it. Then, in times of need he should rise to the occasion and fight bravely for what is right. This is perfect. Someone who has none of these good qualities but goes around boasting how great he is and in times of need completely shrinks back is just the opposite. The first person is very courageous but has no pride; the other is very proud but has no courage.
To explain the meaning of "illusory" here: true existence appears in the aspect of various objects, wherever they are manifest, but in fact there is no true existence there. True existence appears, but there is none—it is an illusion. Even though everything that exists appears as truly existent, it is devoid of true existence. To see that objects are empty of true existence that even though true existence appears there is none, it is illusory-one should have definite understanding of the meaning of emptiness: the emptiness of the manifest appearance. First one should be certain that all phenomena are empty of true existence. Then later, when that which has absolute nature (19) appears to be truly existent, one refutes the true existence by recalling one's previous ascertainment of the total absence of true existence. When one puts together these two—the appearance of true existence and its emptiness as previously experienced—one discovers the illusoriness of phenomena.
Now there is no need for an explanation of the way things appear as illusory separate from that just given. This text explains up to the meditation on mere emptiness. In tantric teachings such as the Guhyasamaja tantra, what is called illusory is completely separate; (20) in this verse what is called illusory does not have to be shown separately. Thus the true existence of that which has absolute nature is the object of refutation and should be refuted. When it has been, the illusory mode of appearance of things arises indirectly: they seem to be truly existent but they are not. (21)
Question: How can something that is unfindable and that exists merely by imputation function?
Answer: That's very difficult. If you can realize that subject and action exist by reason of their being dependent arisings, emptiness will appear in dependent arising. This is the most difficult thing to understand. (22)
If you have realized non-inherent existence well, the experience of existent objects speaks for itself. That they exist by nature is refuted by logic, and you can be convinced by logic that things do not—there is no way that they can—inherently exist. Yet they definitely do exist because we experience them. So how do they exist? Merely by the power of name. This is not saying that they don't exist; it is never said that things do not exist. What is said is that they exist by the power of name. This is a difficult point; something that you can understand slowly, slowly through experience.
First you have to analyze whether things exist truly or not, actually findably or not: you can't find them. But if we say that they don't exist at all, this is a mistake, because we do experience them. We can't prove through logic that things exist findably, but we do know through our experience that they exist. Thus we can make a definite conclusion that things do exist. Now, if things exist there are only two ways in which they can do so; either from their own base or by being under the control of other factors, that is either completely independently or dependently. Since logic disproves that things exist independently, the only way they can exist is dependently.
Upon what do things depend for their existence? They depend upon the base that is labelled and the thought that labels. If they could be found when searched for, they should exist by their own nature, and thus the Madhyamika scriptures, which say that things do not exist by their own nature, would be wrong. However, you can't find things when you search for them. What you do find is something that exists under the control of other factors, that is therefore said to exist merely in name. The word "merely" here indicates that something is being cut off: but that is not that which is not the name but has a meaning and is the object of a valid mind. This is not saying that there is no meaning to things other than their names, or that the meaning that is not the name is not the object of a valid mind. What it cuts off is that it exists by something other than the power of name. Things exist merely by the power of name, but they have meaning, and that meaning is the object of a valid mind. But the nature of things is that they exist simply by the power of name.
There is no other alternative, only the force of name. That does not mean that besides the name there is nothing. There is the thing, there is a meaning, there is a name. What is the meaning? The meaning also exists merely in name.
Question: Is the mind something that really exists or is it too an illusion?
Answer: It's the same thing. According to the Prasangika Madhyamika, the highest, most precise view, it is the same thing whether it is an external object or the internal consciousness that apprehends it: both exist by the power of name; neither is truly existent. Thought itself exists merely in name; so do voidness, buddha, good, bad and indifferent. Everything exists solely by the power of name.
When we say "name only" there is no way to understand what it means other than that it cuts off meanings that are not name only. If you take a real person and a phantom person, for example, both are the same in that they exist merely by name, but there is a difference between them. Whatever exists or does not exist is merely labelled, but in name, some things exist and others do not." (23)
According to the Mind-only school, external phenomena appear to inherently exist but are, in fact, empty of external, inherent existence, whereas the mind is truly existent. I think this is enough about Buddhist tenets for now. (24)
Question: Are "mind" and "consciousness" equivalent terms?
Answer: There are distinctions made in Tibetan, but it's difficult to
say whether the English words carry the same connotations. Where "mind"
refers to primary consciousness it would probably be the same as
"consciousness." In Tibetan, "awareness" is the most general term and is
divided into primary consciousness and (secondary) mental factors, both of
which have many further subdivisions. Also, when we speak of awareness
there are mental and sensory awareness, and the former has many
subdivisions into various degrees of roughness and subtlety. Whether or
not the English words correspond to the Tibetan in terms of precision and
so forth is difficult to say.
|From Second Dharma Celebration, November 5th-8th 1982, New Delhi, India. Translated by Alex Berzin, clarified by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, edited by Nicholas Ribush. First published by Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre, New Delhi, 1982|
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