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The Lion's Roar: The Challenge of Dharma

May all beings everywhere with whom we are connected like one family, and who want and need the same as we do, may all be awakened, enlightened, fulfilled, and free. Let there be peace in this world, and an end to war and conflict. And may we all together complete the spiritual journey. Homage to the Great Perfection, the Buddha within each of us. May all realize and actualize that.

Tonight on this first snowy evening of winter, when the trees are still red and gold yet the snow is falling, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the change of seasons; on impermanence; on death and rebirth; on loss and the opportunity for learning from loss. These themes are all part of the Buddha's liberating teaching. Looking around the room, I always get inspiration and teachings for subjects for the evening, especially from over on my right side, from Lloyd's t-shirts. Tonight it says "Don't panic." As you know, we all teach what we most need to learn. So, don't panic.

We have been chanting Om Mani Padmé Hung tonight, the Mantra of Love and Compassion, the mantra of the Buddhist deity Avalokiteshvara. Avalokita is the personification of love and compassion, truth and love, wisdom and love joined, the Buddha of Compassion. Often imaged as a female, he/she actually is beyond gender; is male and female both. This kind of emphasis on loving-kindness, compassion, empathy, tenderheartedness, warmth-Bodhicitta as we say in Sanskrit-awakened heart-mind, unselfish wakefulness, helpfulness, and so on is the heart of the living Dharma, of enlightenment. It is the high ground, according to enlightened vision. Of course, we ourselves must choose how to be and how to live; the enlightened ones only serve to remind us how loving, how open, how connected, how warm and unselfish we actually can be. We could serve others, not harming or exploiting them. We could help others and bring forth good in the world. We could be like a light in the world, not a troublemaker. (I know. I've been there. I wasn't always Mr. Goody Two Shoes.)

This meditation of loving-kindness is called Chenrezi's Meditation in Tibetan, Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit, Kwan Yin in Chinese, Kannon Bosatsu in Japanese. It is a way of warming up, of melting some of our frozen separateness, our hard-heartedness; a means of communing together, of realizing our oneness. And I don't mean oneness in a superficial way, like we are all one, everything is everything so that nothing matters. That's superficial. That's stoned drug talk. However, let's explore how different are we, really? Don't we all want and need more or less the same things? This kind of practice helps us realize that. Buddhism has a genius for method, for path, for the way to get there. Not just to believe in something, to accept and follow dogma, but to travel there ourselves and experience it, to confirm it for ourselves; not just to believe dogma, but to discover it for ourselves. This kind of practice brings us to the place where we can, as it says in the Bible, treat others as we would be treated. Love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the way to that ideal. That's a great ideal, but how to be like that? That's the question. Is it just Jesus and Buddha and a few saints and sages who can be like that?

Buddhadharma is called the Lion's Roar. It is a challenge. It is a call to awakening. As the lion's roar awakens and even intimidates all the little animals in the forest, the Lion's Roar of Dharma awakens and challenges us to be all that we are. Not to become somebody else. Not to live somebody else's life. Not to imitate somebody else's way of dress or diet or thinking. But to be our true self. To be genuinely ourselves. How to become what we are? That's a conundrum.

To do that, we really have to know ourselves. We have to be more aware of ourselves. We have to be able to see things as they are, not just see everything through our projections and distorted egocentric perceptions. No offense; I'm really just talking about myself. But you know what I mean. Things are not what they seem to be; we are not exactly who we think we are. These practices are introducing a sane and lovely way of being, a way of clarity, of purification. It will help us to see things as they are; to be who we are; to treat others and ourselves accordingly. Not harming others, but helping others. Not exploiting others, but serving others. Being close kin to one and all, in deeds as well as intentions.

It is easy to speak those ideals, but it is a challenge to live in accord with those ideals. Therefore, we train ourselves. The path is nothing if it is not training. In Tibetan Buddhism it is called Lojong, sometimes translated as mind training. But there is too much mind-talk in our Buddhism today. Lojong is really attitude transformation, not just mind-training. We can train the mind, like a dog, but what about the rest of us? What about where we really live: in the body, emotions, feelings, attitude, intention, motivation, highest life-dreams, relationships, and the rest.

The Buddhist teaching is always taught according to the three main themes, as you know. I have been speaking all year here in Cambridge about this: sila, samadhi, and prajna-ethics, virtue, morality, which means basically non-harming; meditation, contemplation, or awareness; and wisdom. This is the way of training ourselves, of taking the path of awakening, of enlightenment. That's why the Buddha said, "I only point the way. You have to walk it yourself. Be a light unto yourself." Use the miner's light in your own forehead. Don't just follow my candle, because it will go out soon anyway. Make your own light. For your own benefit, and for the benefit of all.

If we really look inside, I think we'll find there is plenty of light there. We don't need somebody else's light, at least not for long. Maybe another can help jump-start us, but we have to move under our own steam eventually. We should be able to outgrow our parents eventually, and eventually even be able to take care of them. In Buddhadharma, wisdom and compassion always go together. When we talk about mind training or attitude transformation, what are we talking about? Just making ourselves smarter? No. Rather, transforming our attitude of selfishness, which is like lead, into the gold of altruism, of connectedness, of pure unselfish helpfulness, of Bodhicitta, loving-kindness, and compassion. Empathy is very relevant: Feeling what others feel. Sympathizing with them, so we can treat them accordingly.

What is all the occult mumbo-jumbo and fuss about? It need not be so complicated, mysterious, or fancy. Buddhadharma is ordinary life. My own teacher, the head of the Nyingmapa sect of Vajrayana Buddhism, the late Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche-author of twenty books, a teacher of the Dalai Lama-said, "The Dharma is not fancy. It's like blue jeans: Good for every occasion, every day. It's good for work. It's good for school. You can wear blue jeans to a wedding, to ride horses, whatever." Dharma is everyday Dharma. That's where it counts. Not mysterious, trippy, weird Dharma, but sane, grounded, wholesome Dharma.

Any questions or comments tonight?

Can you give a ceremony for people wanting to take refuge?

I'll have to think about when we could do that kind of Buddhist ceremony and make those commitments. If anybody else is interested, you should speak up or let me know. We will find the time. We can do a refuge and Bodhisattva ceremony. Everybody's invited.

Trungpa Rinpoche says taking refuge in enlightenment is like becoming a refugee. You go forth from your home or rut and let go of everything. That's why Trungpa said, don't do it! But for some reason, nonetheless, he got thousands of people to do it. Homelessness means nowhere to get stuck and to stand. It introduces the possibility of dancing in openness. It sounds good put that way, but it is very challenging. No props. No promise. It takes a lot of trust, doesn't it, to just be-and not to be looking forward to anything. Standing firm upon the groundless ground of being.

In your teaching, what is the role of so-called supernatural experiences?

All experiences are illusory and they pass away, like the weather. Space never changes, but the weather in space changes all the time. Therefore, to rely on the weather is unreal and illusory. Those experiences are like drug experiences or alcohol experiences. They're a little more inner, but they are still outer. Such experiences might have a lot of shakti, power, energy, learning content, and thrills; they might sort of overwhelm you and give you a charge, but those experiences are very tricky and unreliable. What is reliable is more the values that we have been talking about, like cultivating virtuous states of mind, helpfulness, and unselfishness.

The problem is that we can get very involved in these things, and even entirely lose our perspective. Then we don't know up from down anymore. We just get carried away in all sorts of things, where we would not necessarily go if we had the presence of mind to make a conscious choice. That's why we were talking about going for refuge. It's a way of entering the Buddhist teaching. You find a sanctuary in perfect enlightenment-not in people, not in gods, not in shamanism, not in powers, not in bottles, not in pills. It draws us deeper towards finding a real sanctuary or place to be; in integrity, in peace, in harmony, in non-harming (ahimsa), non-violence, in wisdom, and unimpeachable values like that. Not just believing in the dogma, but genuinely discovering the possibility of living those things ourselves. Not trying to get to Nirvana through special experiences, but realizing that it is Now and we are simply overlooking it. For we can experience Nirvanic peace right now, through enough awareness, presence, clarity. Through purifying the veils obscuring the inner light of reality.

Spiritual authenticity is a very big question these days. We all have to look into it. This is not just a problem surrounding cult members, cult leaders, and charlatans. But what is genuinely our deepest life, and profoundly real and true for us? Not just seeking truth like an abstraction, but being honest, living in integrity, developing character. Not just getting enlightened, but finding our true vocation. Finding our true way. Not just imitating the teacher. Not just sitting on the floor like an Oriental or a frog all the time. An old Japanese Zen master came to Cambridge University in England in the early 1970's, in the early days of Zen in the West. His name was Sasaki or Suzuki. Cambridge University is very formal. First he said, "You cannot meditate on a chair. You have to get on the floor." Then he said, "You cannot meditate with pants. You have to take off pants." So what's next? You can't meditate and get enlightened with blue eyes and blond hair?

Excuse me, I will make a pronouncement: There is really no such thing as an unmixed good or unmixed bad. Nothing is that simple. Totalizing anything-totally good or bad-is illusory. The light is within the dark, and vice versa. Things are not as black and white as they might sometimes seem.

I read that you can't be altruistic until you stop wanting. That sounds impossible.

You've been reading those dry old translated Buddhist books again. Those books make it sound like there's no way. And even if there is, you certainly can't do it! Why don't you read Mad magazine instead? There is no way, and there's no way to miss it. If you have a pure heart, then no problem. Read It's Easier Than You Think, by Sylvia Boorstein, the Jewish grandmother Bodhisattva. And cheer up!

This is how it is taught traditionally by Buddha: We can take the Bodhisattva Vow and aspire to alleviate suffering and to get enlightened now, not just waiting until after we get enlightened. This vow is for practitioners, who-by definition-desires. It is part of the practice of going beyond attachment and too much desire and finding the Middle Way, the way of moderation. There is a poem by Rick Fields, "Buddha and The Goddess." You might want to read it. At the end of the poem, it says, "Just remember this. You can't miss." That's the Goddess speaking. Be genuine. Purity of heart is there already. All karma is workable; it can be purified and transformed. That's Buddha's teaching.

If everything is groundless, how do you direct your life?

That's a multifaceted question. Do you direct your life? Who's directing your life? What about the teachings of anatta, no-self, ungovernable, impermanent, out of control? Who's directing? God? Me? You? The impulse of the moment? Who's in charge? That's the anatta side; the deepest, steepest, most mysterious side of it. There one can let go a little and realize that we are not in charge and directing. We just do the best we can and let go. Whatever happens, happens. Self-mastery does not mean becoming the ultimate control freak; it's a little more spontaneous and free than that.

But on the other side, the Buddha is in the palm of one's hand. It is up to each of us. According to the law of karma, it depends on you. Your karma, your world, how you experience life depends on you.

On one side is the groundless, the emptiness. The other side is karma, very meticulously calibrated causes and effects. You reap what you sow. Positive things get positive results, and negative things get negative results. You get to choose. It is all in one's own hands. One is responsible for oneself and for the world. It's all connected. You are responsible for your patch, which is part of the big patch. Cultivate yourself-cultivate your private patch-and the entire world is better for it.

A Zen poem says, "The Great Way is not difficult for those who have few preferences." That doesn't mean we don't have preferences. But we don't need to have a tantrum if we don't get what we want. A bigger perspective is possible. We have preferences and a personality, but that's not the whole story. So we are not so invested in it, not so identified with it, not so burdened by it. It is just part of the whole spectacle.

You asked about directing one's life. There is another whole side to things, besides taking charge, like softening and trusting and opening. Do we have to have every day all strategically planned out? Can we just drift a bit? Just sniff the breeze and decide which way to walk? Anything might happen. Of course, anything does happen; but we close it off a little by how we hold our experience, how we psychologically organize and frame it with the stories we tell ourselves about life and ourselves.

I think we could all go a long way in the direction of trust. Not just to trust someone else, but to trust ourselves, trust our intuition, to follow our heart, to be genuinely ourselves. Why are we always looking for the ultimate authority or teaching to tell us what to do? Maybe we don't have to do anything special. We can just be, and do whatever we have to do in a beautiful, creative, spontaneous way. As we get more used to that, we unfold more of our own wisdom, autonomy, completeness, and inner directedness. Not necessarily selfish, but we are not so reactive. Again, I'll quote our late guru, Dudjom Rinpoche: "May I tie around my own head (he's thinking about oxen; he lives in Tibet) the rope that leads from the tip of my nose." Meaning, I am like an ox but may I not give my nose-rope to anybody. How much are we like dumb oxen, looking for someone to pull our nose rope? Isn't that interesting? Not to hand over responsibility to somebody else.

What happens in the codependent triangle? You think someone is going to rescue you and it doesn't exactly happen that way, and you begin to feel that they are persecuting or abusing you, as if they ripped you off. You give them too much power, then you're pissed off and disillusioned that they ripped you off. Whose fault is that?

So beware of who's doing what to whom around here. Don't pass the buck onto others. It just doesn't work that way.

November 13, 1995

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