17th Gyalwang Karmapa's Teachings -- “Living The Dharma”(2)


English Translator: Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
Place: Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, India
Period: 1/12 ~ 1/14, 2009


Session: 1/13 AM Session

Notation: The ‘[HHK]’ at the beginning of a paragraph indicates that
it is His Holiness the Karmapa’s own words in English.

[HHK]: Good Morning. (Clears throat.) Maybe I have a little cold today. The blessing of Bodhgaya?

Yesterday I introduced to you a small booklet about environmental protection. I would like to say a few things about that.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION GUIDELINES IN FIVE AREAS

Last year at Kagyu Monlam, I had a chance to provide some instructions regarding environmental protection. In the booklet, I raise five points: protection of the forests, trees and plants; protection of water sources; wildlife protection; waste management; and climate change.

FOREST PROTECTION
For human beings as well as for all of the animals, life is the most important thing. All of the monasteries in both India and Tibet – especially in Tibet – are surrounded by many trees. Before we knew about environmental protection, the forests were sometimes cut and the trees were sold. Now, as a measure of protection and prevention, we have tried to curtail the cutting of trees around the monasteries and have also made an effort to plant more.

WATER PROTECTION

Tibet’s rivers are important sources of water for many people. Scientists refer to Tibet as the third largest pool in the world. In the Himalayas, there is so much ice and snow that the whole Himalayan region, including Tibet, is the source of water, and thereby the source of life, for millions of people throughout Asia. Mount Kailash is regarded as the source of the four great rivers that come to India. Also, there are many rivers going from Tibet into China. All of these rivers have become the life-giving source for the majority of people in a large region of Asia. Therefore, it is crucial that we protect these sources of water and prevent the pollution of these waters.

WILDLIFE PROTECTION

Protection of the animals is another topic I would like to address. A few years ago, it was considered fashionable to wear the skins of tigers and leopards as decoration, but because of instructions from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the number of Tibetans who wear animal skins has significantly decreased. Unless they are forced to wear skins, there is no longer much interest in this. This is a great help in preventing the extinction of animals such as tigers and some leopard species in Asia.

Vegetarianism is also relevant here. Even if we cannot completely become vegetarian, it is very important that we at least think about eating meat in connection with the environment. When we have to raise so many animals for human consumption, a lot of natural resources must be used to feed the animals and this has a direct impact on the environment as well.

WASTE MANAGEMENT

There is a movement taking place regarding waste management. It was discovered that, up until now, the monasteries have not had much training or background in waste management. Training sessions and demonstrations are now taking place, starting within the monasteries and then going public. The plan is for these mediations to occur in Tibet and then travel to the larger Himalayan region. From there, all Buddhists should try to become examples of good waste management.

ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE

The fifth point is climate change. We are discovering that there is a very serious crisis going on in the world as a whole and it is adversely affecting the Himalayan region in particular. I am told that the change in climate is happening more swiftly and intensely in the Himalayan region, some say perhaps five times faster. So therefore, the effects of climate change are dramatically affecting people from all over the world.

I have heard that the UN is planning some bold moves, following our lead. In our own individual efforts, it is also important for us to try and follow these examples in any way we can. We always say, “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” Now when it comes time for us to take responsibility for that, we can find out whether we are truly uttering these prayers from our hearts and actually putting this into action or whether it is just words we murmur through our mouths. We have this chance to do something for the happiness of sentient beings. We should try to work on that.

This morning I have a little bit of a headache, so maybe I will start with some questions and see what happens.

RECEIVING BLESSINGS THROUGH MEDIATED SOURCES

Q: “In listening to His Holiness’s teachings on CDs and DVDs, has the lung [Tibetan, meaning oral transmission] been received and have the practice instructions been received, or not?

A: [HHK]: And also the empowerment?

Today, for instance, I am talking to you, giving instructions, a lung, and so forth. Maybe this talk is also available on the internet and many people will tune in.

Now, the question is, when a teacher is instructing and students are listening, the teacher has the intention of explaining a particular teaching in a particular place, whether or not the student can be seen. There is a purpose, a deliberate intention on both sides. In that case, it could be that the transmission is received, because the teacher intends to instruct these students and the students are taking part in the teaching, whether the teacher sees the students or not.

But if that is not the situation, if people just happen to listen, I do not know whether or not they receive the transmission. CD’s and DVD’s were not there in the Buddha’s time, so I cannot say exactly how this would work. But I think that if there are deliberate intentions, then for some individuals, the transmission may be received through video and other mediums like that.

On the other hand, I do not believe this works in situations where a lama confers a lung without knowing who is receiving it, or when a lama gives a lung to students who are not aware of receiving it. One does not know who is getting and who is giving. The lama should know that people are receiving the lung, and the people should know that they are being given a lung. There must be some kind of connection. Otherwise, it does not seem to work.

Looking at the questioner, he seems to have some doubt whether it is possible. If there is any doubt, then usually it does not happen.

THE ORIGIN OF FEAR

Q. His Holiness, how does Buddhism explain fear? Where does it come from, how does it grow in our mind, and how can we stop this?

A: Sometimes, we are attached to negative or harmful things and we cannot give them up. Ultimately, we come to view the five aggregates as the self. Each of them is not the self, but we believe that all of them put together form “I” or the self. Consequently, we take this aggregated self as something real and solid. Because of this, we develop a fear that this entity which I call “myself”, these aggregates, is something that I might lose, something to which bad things may happen. This is how fear develops within us.

The true source of fear is this: the clinging to self, to identity. Because I see self as something separate, something whole, something that is solid and independent, therefore, I fear losing that independent self; I fear being sick, I fear something bad happening to “me”. This is the true source of all fear.

Now, if you can look deeply, you will see that these aggregates do not exist like that; they are not something independent, not something totally solid or one. They are like an illusion, and the more you can see them as an illusion, as interdependently arising, then you begin to see that there is little need for fear. If, for instance, we see ourselves, the aggregates, as a reflection of the moon in the water, the reflection of the moon in the water does not get damaged, no matter what you do. You can beat it, you can do whatever, yet nothing is lost, nothing is destroyed. So therefore, when you better understand interdependence and dependent origination - when you experience it deeply - then these fears diminish.

The essential point that we must clearly understand is cause and effect. The remedy to fear is seeing things as they actually are. For instance, when I was a young child, I feared thunder and lightning. However, once I was able to understand how these occur - many different things coming together, such as summertime, clouds, etc. – I did not need to be afraid anymore.

This shows that the more you understand causes and conditions, how things really are, the less reason there is to have fear.

PURPOSE SHOULD OVERSHADOW NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES

Q: How do I deal with the negativity I’ve experienced in my mind due to conditions in India? Physical discomfort causes mental unhappiness. I am no sooner here than I want to go back home to my comfortable existence. This attachment to comfort, cleanliness, non-pollution and no crowds, noise, etc, etc, makes me feel like I am punishing myself and making myself suffer by coming to India, and especially to Bodh Gaya. So much back pain, stomach troubles, headaches, etc, etc.... It used to be a great adventure to come to India, but now, the negativity it brings up far outweighs the positive mind state I seek. What should I do?

A: I have already told you that you are fortunate to have the opportunity to come to Bihar. Probably, none of you has come here for a picnic.

If you came here for a picnic, maybe it is not the right place to come. But you all came for another purpose, a spiritual purpose. Your primary purpose should be to discover a spiritual experience. These things that come up along the way, like colds and stomach trouble, are all part of the journey, part of the experience. For example, when you are traveling somewhere, you must go through the hassle of taking airplanes, trains, cars; there are many things you go through which are part of the journey, but do not constitute the main purpose. The main purpose of this journey is not about getting a headache or stomachache, but rather to obtain the mind training instructions through these experiences. Therefore, this is what we have to understand in order to work on the spiritual experience. If anybody came here for a picnic, they better look more carefully at the tour guide.

When I came to Bodh Gaya, I also struggled with a little bit of fear. I was worried that I might get sick. Generally, I have many attendants and plenty of good food. That is not the case here, though. However, I do not worry much because there are so many things for me to do here. I have to teach, among many other things. Therefore, when you are busy with things like that, you generally forget to worry about what might happen and what might not happen. Sometimes I even wish that I would become sick, because then I would feel like I am really here; I would truly feel the signs of being in Bihar. But it does not often happen.

I feel that when your mind is happy, in a joyful state, then even the discomforts you experience can sometimes become like an ornament, not causing you much suffering. But this does not mean to say that you should get sick. You should not get sick, so please be careful. Here in Bihar, in India, it is not the same as in your countries, so you have to be careful in how you eat, drink and act. You must take care of your health.

COMTEMPLATE THE REASONS TO BE COMPASSIONATE

Q: Is it really possible to become compassionate by simply deciding to be?

A: You can test yourself to see whether or not it works.

It is, indeed, important to make the decision to be compassionate. However, prior to that decision you must contemplate the reason for this resolve. Why must you be compassionate? When you understand the reasons, then the seeds of compassion can take root and begin to grow in your mind. Only then do you have the choice to make the decision to be compassionate. Being compassionate is not like working, where you decide to do something and then you go ahead and do it. It is not something that is external to us. Rather, it is something that we give rise to or cultivate internally. Therefore, progressive training is required. For instance, once you have gone through preliminary practices and preparations, then the seeds of compassion have taken root. Only then, when you encounter a situation where compassion is needed, will you be able to give rise to compassion spontaneously, without deliberately making the decision to do so. It becomes innate. Your practices, contemplations and cultivation of compassion during normal times allow this spontaneous rise of compassion to be possible.

BUDDHADHARMA IS TO PURIFY THE MIND 

Q. What exactly is ‘transforming emotions’ in Vajrayana? For example, how do we do it in the Chenrezig sadhana and practice?

A: Buddhadharma is for clearing all of the impurities from the mind. Therefore, all Dharma can be seen as a direct antidote for negative emotions and kleshas. Different teachings and methods target different emotions. The main focus of a practice might address attachment, ignorance, aversion, or anger. This depends on people’s needs and their individual stage of practice.

Generally speaking, there are three ways of dealing with the mind. For beginners, we try to evade the kleshas or mind-poisons. We avoid involvement with them; we run away. That is the first stage. Second is to actually confront these emotions. We challenge them and work directly with them, with the intention of ridding ourselves of these negative emotions. The third stage is where wisdom illuminates with much more clarity and strength. Here, our wisdom and skillful means are more mature and our mental power becomes stronger. At this stage, we develop the skills to view these kleshas as friends, not as enemies. By befriending negative emotions, we can skillfully use them to gain insight into the true nature of mind. By applying our awareness, we can see that the nature of these kleshas is no different from the true nature of our mind. Therefore, there are different levels. You must work on it step-by-step as your mental strength develops.

HOW TO DEAL WITH ATTACHMENT IN RELATIONSHIPS

Yesterday, we talked about working with attachment, anger, and other kinds of negative emotions. Today, I will touch on that a bit more and maybe this question can become the subject of my teaching this morning.

Yesterday, when I talked about attachment, I said that it has a quality which can be described as holding on strongly, or clinging, to something. That is because attachment has that aspect which says, “This is something very nice and I alone must have it. Nobody else should have it. It should be completely mine.” That is what naturally comes with attachment.

I will give an example. Imagine there is a couple who is in love. One day the husband is seen talking to another lady, one more beautiful than his wife. What does the wife think? Even if she does not say anything, she feels a certain jealousy. That is attachment.

Attachment is something in which I and me are most important. “It is for me. It is mine. I own this.” Attachment is closed. It doesn’t tolerate freedom or space. Love, on the other hand, is not like that. It is not about want and ownership. Love is generous, wanting joy and happiness for others. If the one you love wants something, you support it, and try to help them obtain it. However, one spouse may take ownership of the other and believe that their husband or wife should do whatever they want them to do. They feel their partner should speak and act in accordance with their ways. That is attachment, because it is about ME and being under MY control.

Of course, when people get married, there is a sense of ‘mine’, of togetherness and belonging. You want to give him or her everything you own, so you go about making sure that everything you have is owned by both. If there is craving, though, it is very difficult to have a happy life together because each is only thinking of ‘me’, what I want and what I own. No one is offering space and freedom to the other. Love entails freedom, giving and openness within that sense of belonging. If you do not always think from your own perspective and do not try to control and possess the other person, but rather do your best to think from the other’s perspective, then things will eventually improve.

PACIFYING ANGER AND AGGRESSION

Aggression is essentially anger. When you are experiencing anger or aggression, it is expressed clearly in your face and your body language. Your demeanor becomes very rough. It is not difficult to recognize anger and aggression when it arises. However, to work with it, to find antidotes to it, you must rely on patience. Sometimes you might feel that someone has mistreated you or incited you to become angry. Therefore, you think that you have a right to be angry. You feel that you have reason to react in this way. When you have that mentality, it becomes very difficult to deal with aggression. You find it justifiable and necessary to react in an aggressive, angry way.

There are, of course, many different ways of dealing with this. One effective way is to work directly with the emotion through your own understanding of why it is harmful to be aggressive. You can apply reasoning, questioning the source and nature of your anger. Another method is to recollect certain words or teachers that are inspiring to you. For example, if you have a genuine master or lama, you can think of him or her when you become angry. You may recollect your lama telling you not to become so angry. Also, you may recollect certain teachings or books that were very impressive or inspiring for you. These can help your anger subside.

The third method you can try for pacifying anger is to divert your attention from the one, particular incident that angers you. We often focus solely on one point, on the one personal incident that brought us to this feeling of aggression. We concentrate our mind completely on that. As we maintain focus on this incident, our anger continues to become stronger until we feel we must do something, we must act on our anger.

So instead of focusing on one incident, you should divert your mind, shift your attention, even to other things that make you angry. Through this, you will see that your anger can be towards many things, even yourself. When you refocus to the many things about which you are angry, then your anger becomes diminished - because it is not solid. If you are not focused on one thing, if you recognize there are many things that incite anger in you, perhaps you will recognize that you do not need to be so angry about any one thing. I find this method to be particularly helpful.

Once, there was a shepherd who had many sheep to look after. However, these sheep were quite unmanageable. He had to milk them, but instead of behaving for him, they were running and jumping around. It was very difficult for him and he became very angry. So he hit one of the sheep. Upon this, all of the other sheep became even more unruly. He proceeded to hit many sheep. After he had beaten fifty or sixty sheep, he became exhausted and a little bit angry with himself. Then he started to laugh at himself and surrendered his anger towards the sheep. If he had had only one or two sheep maybe he would have beaten them to death, but because there were so many sheep to focus on, he could not continue to be angry. So therefore, if we can divert our anger to many things or many areas, we have a better chance of letting go.

USING RELATIVE TRUTH TO ARRIVE AT OUR ULTIMATE NATURE 

Q. How can we understand the ultimate nature if we only have the tool of relative reality?

A: You do have to understand ultimate truth through relative truth—otherwise there is no basis for understanding ultimate truth. When we talk about the ultimate nature of things, it has to be understood through the nature of interdependence. Everything is interdependent. For instance, when you think of something short, it is relative to something long. One object is shorter than the other object. If you say something is long, then there must be something shorter.

In the same way, we say East because there is a West and North because there is a South. There is nothing that can be established that is not relative to or based on something else. Therefore, everything is interdependent. For instance, we might say, “This is a cup” or “This is a vase”. We imagine that cup or vase is there on its own. But unless we make the designation that there is a vase, the vase does not exist. We must first say, “This is a vase because a vase has these certain characteristics”. The many attributes that designate the object is a vase are contributed by our mind. When we put water in the vase, then it becomes a water container. When we put tea in the cup, it becomes a tea cup. It was not a tea cup or water vase beforehand; these are dependently arising, dependently designated.

When we talk about emptiness, we are talking about interdependence, dependently arising, dependently designated. There is nothing that exists on its own, nothing that exists independently without many contributions and designations coming together. Without dependent origination, therefore, the nature of all things is emptiness.

When we talk about emptiness, is has to be based on an understanding of the relativity of all things. Looking at ‘the reflection of the moon on water’, we can see that there is nothing there. Even that is dependently arisen, dependent on the existence of the moon and the water, on the ability of water to reflect. All of these things must come together to enable us to see the reflection of the moon on the water. That is emptiness. Emptiness and interdependence are inseparable. Everything is dependently arising; nothing exists on its own. Therefore, the nature of everything is emptiness. And because everything is emptiness and everything is interdependent, then everything is possible.

We believe that everything is as it appears, as we see it, but it is not like that. When we think about poisonous plants, they are viewed as very negative because they can kill us if we eat them. However, if another animal eats these same plants, it will not die. It is not poisonous to the animal. So is that poison, that “poison-ness”, really existent on its own? If it did exist on its own, then it would kill everything.

As it is, nothing exists on its own. It is all interdependent. It is all dependently arising. Ultimately, it is all emptiness. To understand ultimate truth, we must understand the nature of relative truth. They are inseparable. If we think of ultimate and relative truth as two separate things, then that gives rise to nihilism. We tend to think of ultimate truth as ‘something out there’. However, that is not the case. This togetherness and inseparability, this notion that things are, by nature, empty, is actually quite wonderful. Because everything arises interdependently, anything is possible. This is the most essential and profound view of Buddhadharma or emptiness.



Session: 1/13 PM Session

Notation: The ‘[HHK]’ at the beginning of a paragraph indicates that it is His Holiness the Karmapa’s own words in English.

Today we will continue with the questions and answers. If I talk on one point for a long time, you may just get bored.

There are many questions, so we have picked some of the more interesting ones.

AN EXPLANATION OF REINCARNATION USING BUDDHIST LOGIC

The first question we have selected is:
Q: How do you explain reincarnation to people who are completely unfamiliar with Buddhist logic, teachings or concepts?

A: When we talk about reincarnation, rebirth, or afterlife, we observe one thing that is common to most people, regardless of what their particular religious or philosophical beliefs may be. We strongly feel that when someone dies, they are still present in some way. We do not believe that they are completely separated from us. If we allowed ourselves to think that we were forever separated from the ones we love, never to meet again, that would bring too much suffering. This feeling is universal. Many people hold this belief, no matter what background or culture they are from. That is the first point.

Secondly, in this world, new things are continuously being discovered, some of which were once believed to be impossible. Through research or other methods, we sometimes find that that which we had doubted in the past is actually possible. We can judge the situation of life after death in the same way. It is practical, and perhaps healthy, to have doubts about it, but it is not possible to completely dismiss this notion.

Thirdly, there are many people who remember, or think they remember, their past lives. This is not only something that happens in Buddhist countries or among the people who believe in an afterlife. Different types of people from various countries claim to have had this experience. The remembering of past lives is something people cannot totally explain. Therefore, we could put this in the category of doubtful occurrences as well.

So, if we view this notion from the Buddhist point of view, then the logic is as follows. Take the example of a baby who has just been born. This baby breathes and is aware and conscious. The breath, the body, and the consciousness of the baby have manifested due to certain causes and conditions. From the Buddhist point of view, things come into existence through the continuity of previous causes and conditions. In addition, these causes and conditions must be of the same quality and nature. That is, things can only be produced by a cause of the same nature that previously existed. Therefore, the consciousness of the baby has to be caused by another consciousness that previously existed. That is the Buddhist view of the continuity of consciousness.

Consciousness, by nature, is aware, clear, and luminous. We all individually experience the mind’s capability to be aware of things. The cause of it cannot be matter because consciousness itself is not matter. If that were the case, then all of the materials we see now might become consciousness one day! That would be impossible.

In other words, something that is awareness or consciousness cannot be caused by matter. It has to be caused by non-matter. Therefore, consciousness has to be caused by a similar cause and condition, which has to be another consciousness.

It is a general aspect of Buddhist logic to prove the existence of a previous consciousness such that the idea of reincarnation is truthful. There are many different approaches to this reasoning, but this is the main one in Buddhist logic. This approach utilizes reasoning to validate reincarnation. The major difficulty encountered by many people is that it is very hard to directly experience this, especially in the twenty-first century. People think they have to see things in order to believe it. Nevertheless, there are ways, like meditation, that can be used to experience it directly. It was recorded in the sutra that when one enters a deeper meditative state in which the gross consciousness has subsided and a more subtle consciousness has been uncovered, one can recollect one’s previous lives. Of course, there are many other methods used to achieve this, like hypnosis.

GIVING AND RECEIVING

Q: Your Holiness, please could you explain the meaning of the antidote giving victory to others and could you please give an example?

A: Here, there are two things. One is actually giving victory to others, and the other involves mind training: you allow your mind to give victory to others. For instance, when we perform the Tonglen (giving and receiving) practice in our meditation, it is a meditative experience. We take on all of the negativity of others, receiving it as a dark cloud of pollution. We take this in on ourselves. Then we give freely to all sentient beings our positive actions, good health, and all of the beneficial things that we possess. This is a form of mind training.

Some people fear that practicing Tonglen with those who are sick - maybe those with a cold or a headache - will in turn make themselves sick. They fear the sickness will transfer to their own bodies. However, Tonglen is not about getting sick. It is done to transform our way of experiencing the world; it is a training that is meant to change our mind.

One way of doing the receiving aspect of the Tonglen practice is to visualize your self-cherishing is as a burning lamp in your heart. The self-cherish here refers to that you place your own desires above all, do not care for others, and instead insult them in order to raise yourself up so that you can be superior. Taking care of yourself is not the error. The mistake is when you neglect or belittle the interest of others. This is the self-cherishing we talk about here. So in this particular way of Tonglen practice, you breathe in the problems, sufferings, and negative experiences of others in the form of a dark smoky cloud, and let that enter into you. That dark smoky cloud then extinguishes the lamp of your own self-cherishing, your selfishness. By doing this over and over again, little by little a shift starts to happen in your mind. That is the main purpose of the practice: to change your mind, to transform your attitude and your way of experiencing the world. Tonglen is not about directly experiencing everyone’s problems. Otherwise, Buddha Shakyamuni would be sick all the time. He would need a truck-load of tissue paper and Sariputta and Moggallana would be constantly busy supplying it for him. That would be too much. It is not like that.

When you practice the giving aspect of the Tonglen, there is also an important point to be noted. You do not offer something that you do not intend to give. If you were to give something that you did not mean to offer, then it would not be given; it would be stolen, robbed, or lost. But Tonglen is not like that. You give what you want to give. And when you do this, you do not lose it; you get something out of it. For instance, say you give a very nice gift to somebody, something that you really want to give to them. Once you present it, you do not feel lost, but rather happy, satisfied that you could give the person what you wanted to give to them. In the end, there is something left within us, a satisfaction, a joy, a certain gratification. So even though you have relinquished this nice thing to someone else, you obtain a similar type of satisfaction and joy in yourself, too. In this way, when you practice Tonglen, it is not that you have lost something. When you give all of your merits, all of your positive deeds, it is not that there is nothing positive left in you. In fact, you never actually lose anything. Tonglen practice is simply about training the mind.

Now if we actually practice this in our lives, then we must clearly understand it. It is not that we must always give victory or benefits to others and take on defeats or loss. We have to see; we have to examine the time, place and situation. For example, many people give such things as their kidneys. Even though some people have only one kidney, most have two. It is, of course, good to have two kidneys. However, if someone has lost function in both kidneys, and you are in a position to give them one of yours, you may choose to do so. Giving such a lifesaving gift without any regret will bring you joy. You do not feel that you have lost a kidney, but rather that you have been able to use your kidney in a positive way. That is very satisfying. On the other hand, if you just give without a purpose, then it is not beneficial.

Another instance of giving victory to others involves two people who both want the same thing. Imagine that you are vying for a position with another person. If you truly believe that the job would be positive for and helpful to this other person, then you might turn down the position so that the other person may have it. That is also very beneficial because you have given it to the other person. It is not that you have lost it, because you have given it away freely. You have given the benefit to the other person. It is a gift, a form of generosity.

However, you shall act according to your level of mind. It’s not that “I am practicing Tonglen, so I have to give it, even if I don’t want to.” It is beneficial to give only if you are convinced that you are able and willing to do so without regret and that this gift will be useful. However, if you feel you will only have regret, then you should not give it. Giving only because you feel you are supposed to is not right. It is almost like doing positive things simply to avoid going to hell.

The motivational factor should be to benefit other people. If the act is beneficial, and if you are prepared to make that sacrifice (knowing that your level of experience and practice have prepared you for this), then only under these circumstances should you perform this practice. It is not only about you giving all of the benefit and victory to others and taking in all of the losses and suffering. It has to be based on the timing, the need, and the level of your own practice.

MINDFULNESS AS AN ANTIDOTE TO STRESS

Q: How can it be possible to live happily in a busy city with millions of people without becoming lonely?

[HHK] New York.

Q (continued): The trees are sad; the water is full of chemicals, and the air seems dead. People do not talk to each other and I am afraid. What can we do? What can I do?

A: When you are in New York, you do not need to look at the calendar to figure out if it is Saturday or Sunday because people’s behavior will inform you. On Saturday and Sunday, people stop and talk to each other when they walk. The atmosphere is much more leisurely. But on weekdays, they just hurry about, not talking to anybody. People are just too rushed to engage in any sort of unhurried activity.

I think that our lives have become very fast-paced. Before, there was no advanced technology. Then came trains, cars, airplanes, etc. and life, in turn, became much faster. It has, in fact, become so fast, so advanced, that we just spend our time catching up. Technology is making life so rapid that everything becomes immediate. It is difficult. It seems that as soon as you start a journey, you have arrived. When I traveled to America this year, I arrived before my mind was totally prepared to be there. The first stop of my American trip was New York. We were staying on the top of a building that was many stories high. You could not see the ground. It was a funny feeling.

Therefore, I think the most important thing here is what I previously discussed: you must try to give your mind some rest, some relaxation. Of course, you have to work, like everybody else. You might question why it is that you have to work. The work provides you with livelihood; it allows you to live. Since you need to work, it is essential to keep your mind relaxed while you are working just as the meditation instructions I mentioned before. If you know how to let your mind rest, then no matter how busy you are with body or speech you will be able to cope with it.

Take myself as an example. When I look at my own life, I see that I am usually quite busy. I don’t have to run around, but I have many things to do. But because I maintain a certain peace of mind, even if I am busy with my body and speech, my mind sustains the lead. Therefore, it lessens the pressures I feel. The responsibility is outside; it is external. The mind, resting in a peaceful state, provides ease to our day. In other words, when our mind is very peaceful and pliable, it will be able to react at any times or catch up at any circumstances.

Let me illustrate this point by another example. Take a man and a horse racing. The horse is definitely faster than the man. Because the horse moves more swiftly, it can run a little bit and then rest, run a little bit and then rest, and slowly the man catches up. Your pliable mind is like that horse. When your mind becomes more pliable, or becomes more aware, maybe through meditation practices, you can always be the lead, always surpass all business and responsibilities.

Therefore, the busy activities of the body and speech are less likely to stress you, and you can always find a space inside of you. If you have that relaxed and pliable mind, just like the all-surpassingly fast horse, then it will free you from the strains of pressures.

We usually are very busy in our daily life. However, no matter how busy I am, I often recollect what the Buddha said: you need to have mindfulness and awareness. It is really important! So what is mindfulness or awareness? It is as if you are looking from above, seeing a clear picture of what is going on around you. When that awareness is present, then you will not be drowned or overwhelmed by those activities. When you possess this mindfulness, you feel that you are in charge. Things become much clearer and less stressful.

Here I will give another example to make it even clearer. For instance, if somebody falls in water and becomes completely overwhelmed and frightened, then that person can drown. But if that person can retain his awareness, meaning he can start to recollect - “Who am I? I am a person, who knows how to swim.” “Where am I? I am in water, but I don’t want to stay here. I need to be back to the land” etc. - that awareness dispels the overwhelming fear of the moment and then the person would start to swim to the land. Therefore, awareness is extremely important!

ENTERING VAJRAYANA PRACTICE

Q: Can beginning Dharma practitioners do the Chenrezig puja immediately, or should they get some instructions first? If yes, which ones are necessary?

A: If you know someone who can instruct you in this practice, then that is fine. You can practice because you have received the instructions. You can ask for clarifications and things like that, so you can continue to practice and learn at the same time. For all Vajrayana practices, though, you must first get the empowerment. The empowerment is, in essence, an instruction; it is the teaching in itself. If you receive the instruction at the time of the empowerment, then you do not need an additional instruction. You can use that instruction. You can practice and meditate on that. However, if you did not grasp the meaning of the instructions from the empowerment, and you do not have anybody to instruct you, then it may not be useful to practice Vajrayana.

ACTING AS EXAMPLES OF LOVING KINDNESS

Q: The cause of attachment is the sense of self. The purpose of dharma practice is to benefit all beings. Correct? How can we deal with other people’s attachment in the work place? Very often, self-interests, attachment and conflicts co-exist. How can we deal with this situation?

A: If we look to the Buddha, we will see that he has completely done away with kleshas. So therefore, when the Buddha goes into a crowd, by the power of his own state of mind - his Samadhi, his realization - everybody’s kleshas appear to be completely pacified. Nobody gets totally emotional or disturbed; no one directly experiences or feels disturbed emotions while in the presence of the Buddha. For great Shravakas or Arhats, this placation does not happen as frequently for them as they do not have as much power as the Buddha. Before going to the town, they usually make a strong aspiration that nobody who is around them feels disturbed, or experiences overwhelming emotions. Due to these aspirations, it is mostly expected that people who meet them do not get too much affected by their negative emotions.

For most of us, when we go out, we try as much as possible to show our best. I have a friend who often tells me that he needs to be taller. I tell him that he is tall enough; he is as tall as me. But he replies, “No, no. I must be very tall, because when you’re tall, then people look at you. You’re more noticeable. You’re looking good.” Most of the time when we go out, we are concerned with our appearance. We try to make ourselves up so that people will be attracted to us. Sometimes people even become envious of us. We view that as the typical way of presenting ourselves. When we engage in this, however, it is difficult for the people we meet to break away from their kleshas because we are actually provoking them with our appearance. Therefore, I think it is very important that we try to present ourselves in such a way that loving-kindness or caring for others predominates. Then it is less likely that mental disturbances or negative emotions will arise in those around us. Sometimes we do not need to express how we actually feel. If we present ourselves in a positive and compassionate way, the people around us will feel less negativity. That is very important.

For example, in Bihar, cleanliness is lacking and people do not have very good hygiene. So when you put your garbage in a trash can, it may have an effect on the people who see you do this. They may realize that this is something they should be doing also. So your own actions, your own examples, can sometimes influence others as well.

THE EFFECT OF BODY, SPEECH, AND MIND ON OUR APPEARANCE

Q: I have wondered why people look the way they do? Why are some blessed with beauty while others are not? What are the causes of our physical characteristics? Some people have small ears, and some have large ones, etc. I have never heard any explanations of this.

A: In Tibet, we say that those people with big ears have this characteristic because the teacher pulled their ears too much when they were young. Therefore, their ears became very big. According to the Chinese, the Buddha has big ears. So if you have this quality, you are supposed to be very grateful.

These aspects of appearance also depend on your race. Different races have different characteristics. Environmental surroundings also play a role. And finally, it also has something to do with karma. Karma has three aspects: the karma of body, speech and mind. Your appearance has a lot to do with these three aspects of karma. It is said that usually if you do something good with your body and speech, then that creates the circumstances or conditions to have a better looking body. The positive deed of your body and speech result in a positive appearance of you. For instance, you may wonder why Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara is always smiling. It is not only that Avalokiteshvara has a very positive mind, but also that he has committed many positive deeds with his body and speech. Therefore, it is not only that your mind has to maintain a positive state, but your body and speech must create positive deeds as well. It is very important. For instance, it is said that usually I do not smile much; my expression tends to be more sober. I am actually a little worried about what kind of appearance I will have in the future. But I think I have a positive mind. So I hope it will be ok.

EARTH AS THE BUDDHA’S WITNESS

Q: What is meant by the Buddha when he said that the earth was the witness of his enlightenment?

A: Buddha said that the earth is the basis of all the beings, moving or unmoving. Therefore, the earth has no preference. It views all phenomena as completely equal, and is thus like a mother to all. So one reason why it is taken as the witness is because it holds no bias. Secondly, all of the practices and positive deeds that the Buddha accomplished were done on the earth. Therefore, the earth was a witness to those.

Generally, there is no need to have a witness. But the Buddha declared the earth as his witness to make these qualities of the earth clear. When he touched the earth after saying this, the earth shook in six ways.

PROVIDE OTHERS WITH WHAT YOU ASPIRE TO

Q: Half of the people at the Monlam are women. It is the 21st century now, and you have spoken so much about Tara and her promise to always be reborn as a woman. How can you hand out such a sutra as the Sutra of Dharani that Thoroughly Liberates from All Sufferings and Obscurations? This states that whenever people who venerate Durgati-shodhana-raja are born, they will have a male body. Some of us do not ever want a male rebirth. Please can you explain?

A: Tara made this kind of aspiration is because of the needs of beings, and thus her such aspiration becomes a benefit to beings. Therefore, the main definition of aspiration is “to provide others with what you aspire to”. Then why is there such an aspiration of “to be reborn with a male body” in many sutras? It is because of the social condition under which those sutras were written. In ancient India, the female’s social status was very low. Therefore many females did not want to be females, and they would then make such an aspiration as that “May I be reborn as a male.”

Of course, for Tara, she made a different aspiration that she wanted to continuously benefit beings life after life, in a form of a female not a male. This is due to her special aspiration, and she knows the importance of the equality between males and females. Particularly, she is aware of the suffering of women and that it is of no benefits when the inequality between males and females becomes prominent. Therefore she aspires to benefit beings in a female body until she reaches enlightenment.

Over all, this illustrates a great point here that making aspirations is very important. At the same time, one should make aspirations that can actually benefit beings. Naturally, different social backgrounds will stimulate different aspirations. Therefore, you do not necessarily aspire to be reborn as a male, nor should you be like Tara to always be reborn as a female.

Judging from the statement of this question, it seems to me that the questioner wishes to be reborn as a female but is troubled by the “to be reborn as a male” appeared in many sutras. What is avowed in a prayer is not something that automatically must be the standard Buddhist way of thinking. What you pray for is what you aspire to. It is not as if whatever is found in a Buddhist prayer necessarily constitutes the Buddhist view. This has to be very clearly understood. You can pray for whatever you aspire to. For instance, although those words are written in the Dharani Sutra, you need not to worry about that. It really does not matter. When reciting such sutras, you can still recite this aspiration as it is written, but in your mind you make a different aspiration that you want to be reborn as a female just like Tara did.

On the other hand, even when being inspired by Tara or practicing the sadhana of Tara, it does not mean that you shall benefit females as Tara did, or you shall do things simply because Tara had done the same. This is not like that. You should be proactive and enthusiastic in your own right. And if you can really feel that you can better benefit females by being reborn as a female, only then such aspiration of yours can really be accomplished!


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