(Bristol U.K., August 1998)
Spiritual practices are taught in many different religions and I personally believe that each of the major world-religions has its own beauty, its own way to help mankind. We are now approaching the twenty-first century and during this present century we have made tremendous progress in the field of science and technology. This material progress has in many ways been of great benefit. For instance in the field of medicine many diseases which were formerly incurable can now be cured. However mere material progress alone is not enough. Through material progress alone we can not accomplish what we want. What is our goal? Whether one is a believer or non- believer, whatever ideas we hold, whether we are in the East or in the West, whatever religion, philosophy, or tradition we hold, the one thing common to all of us is the wish to be free from suffering. Nobody wishes to suffer. And everybody wishes for happiness. So it is for the sake of happiness that we make effort. Our whole life is spent busily doing things in order to find happiness. Each individual strives to find happiness and so does every group, every organisation, every country. So it is for the sake of happiness that we make progress. But it is very clear that we cannot achieve the real goal, that of mental peace and happiness, through outer material progress alone, whatever its benefits. To find inner peace and happiness it is very important to work on inner spiritual progress. As for this inner spiritual progress, I have said before that there are many different religions. I as a Buddhist will present ideas as to how, as Buddhists, we should face this situation.
In Buddhism there are various different schools, but basically all these are the one Buddha Dharma. The Lord Buddha who possessed infinite wisdom and compassion, bestowed through his skilful means an enormous number of teachings to suit every type of mentality and to suit different propensities and defilements. Just as we need many different medicines to cure different diseases, so we need many different types of teaching. One medicine is not enough. Even one kind of medical practice is not enough. For example in the case of certain diseases allopathic methods are very effective; for others homeopathic treatment is more effective. Similarly the Buddha gave many different levels of teaching. But the main point in all of these different teachings is that if one wishes to be free from suffering one must abstain from negative deeds, non-virtuous deeds. What are these? Non-virtuous action means any action which arises from defilements such as ignorance, attachment and anger. These are the three main root defilements. From these arise others such as pride, stinginess and jealousy. Any action arising from such defilements, whether these be physical, verbal, or mental, are non-virtuous. When one creates these negative activities the result is always suffering.
Each and every situation arises from its own cause and its own conditions. Things do not appear without cause, just out of space. If they did, then of course anything could appear out of space, but they do not. Nor do things appear from unrelated causes. For example to grow rice, one needs rice seed. One cannot grow it from wheat seed. Not only does one need the right seed, but also the right conditions, such as a certain temperature and a certain degree of moisture. Similarly our suffering does not come out of space, it does not happen accidentally. Nor does it come from an unrelated cause. All suffering comes from negative mind. So in order to avoid suffering one must abstain from non-virtuous action,- negative deeds. Everybody wishes to be free from suffering but most of us experience it owing to our lack of wisdom, and owing also to our ignorance of where it comes from. Although our goal is happiness, most of us are creating more and more causes of suffering. So it is very important, if one does not wish to suffer, to abstain from negative deeds. This is of course not easy because the defilements are very much a part of our mind. Having associated ourselves with them it is very difficult to give up the defilements. So the first step is to realise from where suffering comes. It has not come from any outside force but from our own defilements. Any person who creates trouble for us is seen as our enemy. But the enemy is not outside. The enemy is actually within our own mind. Our own negative mind - ignorance, attachment, hatred, anger and so forth - destroys our happiness and creates the cause of suffering. And so therefore the first step is to see the defilements - our own negative mind - as the true enemy, the main enemy, and to avoid being controlled by these defiled states of mind. Instead we must work to make the mind strong, so as to not be controlled by these negative states, and we should try to abstain from negative deeds.
So the first step is to abstain from negative actions. In order to avoid suffering we must avoid the causes of suffering. Without giving up the cause one cannot expect the result to disappear. For example when we are physically sick we undergo investigations - we see the doctor and we have examinations, check-ups, different tests and so forth. Then after finding out the exact nature of the sickness we can take treatment, but while taking this it is very important to abstain and avoid the causes of the sickness. The sickness may be caused for example through food, certain behaviour patterns, or through climate, and such causes have to be avoided - otherwise even if one has the best doctor, the best medicine, and the best facilities, one will never recover. Similarly in order to avoid suffering we must eliminate the cause of suffering. We all want to be free from suffering but we are creating more and more of it. The great Indian master Shantideva, a very great master, said all suffering in this universe comes from selfish thought, from wanting oneself to be happy. If we just think of our own welfare, our own well-being, our own interests, then of course all we accomplish is suffering. Even in the worldly or ordinary sense we can see that people who are very selfish, who only think of themselves, are loved by no one. Selfish people never become popular. Those who become popular are those people who are kind and gentle to others, who care for other people. In these ways they become popular. So anyone who thinks only of his own sake will accomplish only suffering.
So we must not allow our minds to be controlled by these defilements. Not only that - one should abstain also from non-virtuous deeds and practice virtuous deeds. This because we all want happiness. It is for the sake of happiness that we all work so very hard, we all make so much effort. But real happiness cannot be achieved by outer effort. Happiness has to come by practising virtuous deeds. Without a cause one again cannot expect to enjoy the result - one cannot have happiness without creating its cause, and the cause here is practice of virtue. Virtuous deeds are actions which are not created by the defilements - actions that are created out of love and compassion. It is through such actions, Shantideva said, that all happiness in this universe comes - from wanting other people to be happy. Through our own example we can learn very clearly how much we long for happiness and how much we want to be free from suffering. Every other sentient being also feels the same way. So therefore we must make the effort. It is wrong just to care for ourselves alone. We have to care for others. So just as we try not to be controlled by negative mind we try also to develop positive aspects of our mind such as loving kindness and compassion. Actions created out of loving kindness and compassion are the source of all happiness and benefit and we must try to make every effort in this. By so doing one can really enjoy true peace and true happiness in this life.
In Buddhism we talk about rebirth. According to Buddhism we have rebirth, we have a life before this present life and a life after it - not just this life. We have a body and the mind. The body is something that is solid and visible. We know where this present physical body comes from: it comes from our parents. And also for the time being we can see this body with our eyes, we can touch it with our hands, and we can describe it as to its size, colour, shape and so forth. In the end, when we leave this world this physical body will be of course be discarded in one way or another. This is very clear. But the mind is something very different. The mind cannot appear without cause, it cannot appear out of space, and it cannot arise from an unrelated cause. Mind is very different from the physical body, very different from matter. Mind is something which we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands. It cannot be measured or described as to any colour or any particular shape. Something which is so totally different from the physical body cannot arise from some such material substance. It cannot arise from the elements or from other visible things. So where does it come from? It has to come from causes of a similar nature, just as rice grows from rice seed and wheat from wheat seed. Similarly the mind also has to arise from its own same kind of continuity. In this way our present mind, our present consciousness has to come from the previous mind, and that itself comes from the mind before that. However far we look backwards in time, we can find no beginning to it. So it is called beginningless. One cannot say that this particular person’s consciousness began at this date, at this time. It is a beginningless continuity. Our consciousness is presently within this physical body but when we dispose of this body we cannot dispose of the mind, we cannot cremate mind, we cannot bury it. Mind is something very different. So although this body will be disposed of one way or another, the mind cannot disappear in that kind of way. It continues, it takes another form. In this way it goes on. Thus the life we experience now is called Samsara, which means the round or the cycle of existence. Throughout beginningless time until now it has been turning again and again like a wheel. The wheel of life, as we call it, continues endlessly for as long as we remain in this circle of existence. In this way we can deduce logically that there is a life before and that there is a life after. There are of course other factors too: there are many people who can remember their past lives, who can recognise their parents and so forth.
So from the logical viewpoint the mind cannot arise from something totally different and we know also that it cannot arise without a cause or from the wrong cause. So the mind has to have its own same kind of continuity. Although the mind is changing all the time it is the same continuity that goes on without ever ceasing. In this present life for example, when we are adults the mind is very different from when we were children. The mind in childhood and the mind in adulthood is very different, but it is the same continuity, without ceasing. So although it is very different now, we can still remember the things we did when we were children. In this way the mind goes on, - not just for this life only, but for many lives to to come.
As for future lives and the present life, which is the more important? Of course future lives are more important. This present life at the longest lasts for about a hundred years, whereas the future is endless. Many, many lives lie ahead. So the future is of course more important. And for those future lives the Dharma, spiritual practice, is the most important thing. No matter how much wealth we have, no matter how much power, no matter how many friends, no matter how much strength we possess, the day we die is the day we have to leave everything behind. Even people surrounded by bodyguards cannot protect themselves from this. When the time comes they have to go alone. Even this very precious body which we always care about so much has to be left behind. We eat food to relieve its hunger, we drink to relieve its thirst, we wear clothes to protect it from the cold, we have fans and other things to cool it, we constantly care for it, - this body which has been with us, with our present mind, ever since we were conceived in our mother’s womb , even this has to be left behind. Only consciousness alone has to travel to an unknown destination. At that time nothing will be of help, whether it be wealth, power, strength, friends, relatives, or possessions. We will not be able to take any of these things with with us. The only thing one can rely upon at that time is spiritual practice. This is the most important thing for the next life. So for the sake of this life, as well as for the next, spiritual practice is the most important thing. We must engage in it now while we are still young and still healthy. This is very important.since otherwise we never know when we will lose such an opportunity.
The Buddha said ‘all compounded things are impermanent’. "Compounded" means anything created in dependence on causes and conditions. Many such conditions are needed together. For example many different conditions are necessary for a flower to grow - fertile ground, water, fertilisers, and so on. And when these different causes and conditions come together then the flower grows. So all compound things are impermanent, which means that whatever things arise out of causes and conditions, all these are impermanent. Everything is impermanent - particularly our human life. We do not have a definite life span. As we can see, many die before they are born, many dead babies are born. Some die right after birth, some die as they are infants, some as children, some as teenagers, some as adults, and so forth. So none of us can be sure as to when we will lose this opportunity. So everything is impermanent. Thinking about impermanence is of great benefit. By contemplating it we give up attachment to possessions, and it will also help us to enter the spiritual path. After entering the spiritual path it enhances the qualities of our spiritual practice. Eventually it ensures success in reaching our spiritual goals.
Thus for the sake of this life as well as for the next, it is very important to abstain from non-virtuous deeds and practice virtuous deeds. But to abstain from physical and verbal non-virtue, and to practise physical and verbal virtue is not easy without taming the mind. As I have said, the defilements are very strong. The defilements are very much part of our mind. For example people who are used to bad habits, find it hard, even in this life,to give them up. Smoking is very harmful from a health point of view and also from a money point of view but for people who are used to smoking it is difficult to give up. But the defilements are much stronger than that. The defilements come not only in this life - we have been associated with them from beginningless time. So it is very difficult. Even when one knows that one is indulging in physical negativity and verbal negativity and that these are harmful, it is difficult to abstain. They arise so easily. Even small negativities.- one word, one piece of behaviour, - can cause much anger. Similarly other defilements such as jealousy and pride, all very easily arise. So to abstain from them we have to train the mind.
The Buddha gave an enormous number of teachings for purpose of taming our wild mind. It is on account of this very wild mind that we have been indulging in negative activity and are therefore here in Samsara, experiencing many different kinds of suffering.. And so if we wish to be free from suffering in this life as well as in future lives it is very important to abstain from non-virtuous deeds. It is in order to avoid them that we have to tame the mind. To do this we must investigate its nature.
And so now to investigate the mind from which suffering comes. The source of all faults and all suffering is the incorrect notion of self-clinging. According to the teachings, every living being possesses Buddha Nature. We all have the Buddha Nature. It is like a seed which has the potential to grow into a crop if it meets with the right conditions. But if it does not meet with the right conditions, - if for example you keep the seed in a dry box, - then even if you keep it for a thousand years it will not grow. Similarly if we ourselves do not meet with the right conditions we will not become Buddhas. But if we meet with the right conditions, every sentient being has the potential to become a fully enlightened Buddha. The true nature of mind is never stained with the defilements. The defilements are not the nature of mind, they are outside the the true nature of the mind. Therefore there are right methods for eliminating these outer defilements.
So the negative deeds which we all commit again and again come from the defilements, and from where do the defilements come? They come from the wrong notion of self- clinging. Instead of seeing the true nature of mind, which is pure and which is the Buddha nature, instead of seeing this, we cling without any logical reason to the self.
This self has to be either a name, or a body, or the mind. A name is empty by itself and any name could be given to anybody at any time. And we can investigate the physical body from head to toe, each and every part of the body, without finding anything called self anywhere within it. Mind also, as I have said, changes from moment to moment. The past mind is already gone, the future mind has yet to arise, and the present mind is also momentarily changing. Something that is momentarily changing cannot be the self. Besides, even in our normal usage of language at the worldly level we talk about "my house", "my car", and "my possessions". But when we say "my house", this means that the house belongs to myself and that the house is not myself. Similarly when we talk about "my body", this means that the body belongs to myself and that the body itself is not myself. This implies that the body belongs to oneself just as one's house belongs to oneself. Similarly when we say ‘my mind’ we imply that the mind belongs to us. So who are we? Where is the real self? It is not the body, nor is it the mind. So who is the real owner? Who owns the house, the body and the mind? We cling to the body and mind together as a self. This of course has no logic. It is a wrong notion. But on the basis of this notion, of thinking "I", then in relation to that you have "others". This is just like "right" and "left". If one has a right side then one has to have a left side. One cannot have the right side alone, without the left. If there is a right side then there has also to be a left. Similarly when one has the self and one thinks "I" then one has to have "others". When we have self and others, this is a duality. Thus when one has the notion of self, then one has attachment to one’s own side, and when one has the notion of others one has hatred for others, anger for others who do not agree with one's own ideas, for others who do not have the same views and so forth.
In this way the defilements arise. Basically they come from ignorance. Instead of seeing the true nature of mind, we think of it as a self. So it is due to lack of wisdom and due to ignorance that we cling to a self and then from this ignorance arises attachment and anger. So the three main poisons, the three main defilements arise in this way. Then from those arise the other defilements such as pride, jealousy etc. And when these defilements are present, then any actions we create under their influence are non-virtuous. For example if the seed of a tree is poisonous then anything growing on that tree, such as flowers, trees and branches, is likewise poisonous. Similarly any non-virtuous action arising from the defilements creates suffering both in this life as well as in future lives.
In order to abandon non-virtuous deeds we must abandon the defilements. And in order to abandon the defilements we must abandon self-clinging. So the root of all faults and suffering is self clinging. The way to conqueror this is to counteract it with positive aspects of mind such as loving kindness and compassion. Although we all have a certain amount of loving kindness and a certain amount of compassion, our present loving kindness and compassion is very limited. And it is based on selfishness. We love someone because that person is either our relative or our friend or someone with whom we have a strong connection. It is because of these things that we love somebody. And again we have compassion for someone because that person is related to us or a friend. Compassion of course means wishing someone to be free from suffering . Such compassion and loving kindness is not enough. True loving kindness and true compassion is that which is felt towards all sentient beings without any discrimination. One loves one's friends and one also loves one's enemies; people one knows and people one does not know - even beings of whom one has never heard or never seen, any and every living being. We have to try to develop loving kindness and compassion in this way.
In this way we create what is called the Enlightenment Thought. When we have loving kindness and compassion, there then arises the Enlightenment Thought. Just wanting everybody to be happy and everybody to be free from suffering, just merely wishing this is not enough. Actually we literally need to rescue sentient beings. And the way to rescue sentient beings is to attain enlightenment. Because once we attain enlightenment then we can help. Then we can rescue sentient beings, millions of sentient beings, even in a single moment. It is in this way that we develop the Bodhicitta or the Enlightenment Thought. It is in this way that we create tremendous merit.
But merit alone is again not enough. Merit, loving kindness, compassion and the Enlightenment Thought, all of these suppress self-clinging so that it does not become active. But the root of self-clinging is still there and will again grow. To dig it out we need to develop wisdom - the wisdom of realising the true nature of mind. But such wisdom very much depends on merit. It cannot be gained just through study, through exams, through reasoning or through contemplation. This wisdom can of course basically be gained through meditation but at the same time it is necessary that we accumulate an enormous amount of merit. So merit and wisdom are both most important. In order to accumulate merit effectively we need wisdom. In order to give rise to real wisdom, the wisdom to see the true nature of mind, the wisdom that realises selflessness we need merit. For example in order to see the top of a mountain in the west one needs to climb to the top of a mountain in the east. Similarly, in order to accumulate wisdom (which is like the mountain in the west) we need to accumulate great merit (which is like the mountain in the east). Through the accumulation of merit there then arises wisdom through meditation - in this way we can accomplish the wisdom to realise selflessness. And that is the true nature of the mind. So with the two together, method and wisdom, one accomplishes the goal. Just as birds can fly in the sky with two wings but not with one wing only, so similarly to accomplish enlightenment we need both merit and wisdom together.
So the first step for beginners is to accumulate the merit. The way to do so is to abstain from non-virtuous deeds. Then after abstaining from non-virtuous deeds we have to practise virtuous deeds. And through such practice of virtue we then accumulate merit. It is through accumulation of merit that wisdom arises in us.
This very briefly is the main teaching of the Buddha. With this I conclude this talk and wish that you all fulfil your wishes - and especially that you have complete success in your spiritual path.