Listening to, Thinking about, and Meditating on the Dharma
Moscow, Russia, May 2009
Session Four: Questions and Factors Needed for Meditation
This morning we were speaking about the second step in the process that leads up to meditation, the step of thinking about the teachings. And we saw that we need to examine the teachings from four points of view. We examine to see
- what do the teachings depend on, in other words what are the stages that we need before the particular teaching that we’re receiving;
- how the particular state of mind that the teaching is instructing us about: how it will function once we develop it;
- what will be its benefits, and the disadvantages of not having it?
- And then we examine do the teachings make sense, are they logical and do they conform with the rest of the Buddha’s teachings and with our experience? And then we see does it conform with the nature of things in general.
And at the end of this process, we have the discriminating awareness that arises from thinking, with which we understand the teaching at least to some level, although of course there can be deeper and deeper levels of understanding it.
And we are basically convinced that it is true, although as we spoke that to have a hundred, a hundred percent conviction is quite difficult, to really ascertain unless we have a very, very deep experience of internalizing the teaching. But we are convinced enough so that we wish to internalize it. So, I think that’s a good guideline of when we are convinced enough, that this is worthwhile, this is something that I want to achieve and it will be of benefit to me. And at least most of our questions about it have been settled.
Now we haven’t really spoken about the issue of whether or not I think it’s possible to achieve this, and am I capable of achieving this. That is actually quite a large discussion. And yeah, I’m not just talking about the people in this room, people in general. So, to go into that discussion really gets into a big discussion of Buddha-nature, which is not a very good way of translating the term that is used here. Rather, when we learn about Buddha-nature, what it’s talking about are the factors that all of us have that will allow for transformation to becoming a Buddha. And this deals primarily with the characteristics of the mind.
Are we capable of understanding things? Well, I think we are. Am I capable of remaining aware of something all the time? Well, I don’t know, are we? We can be aware of something a lot of the time and the amount of time that we’re aware of it could increase. What would cause it to increase? Anybody?
Participant: Through the power of familiarity.
Alex: Right, with the power of familiarization. That’s the method. But something more basic than that.
Alex: Well, that's the method again, meditation. The Buddha-nature is what allows for it to be possible, but I’m talking about our attitude, our state of mind that would cause us to be aware of it and remember it more and more.
Participant: Confirmation through reading.
Alex: Confirmation, reading; even more basic, it has to be important to us. We have to consider it important and relevant
Alex: And that’s part of motivation. But motivation is: “Why it is important?” So that’s even more basic. But it has to be, like for instance, if we’re going shopping then it’s important to us how much money we have with us because we can’t spend more than that. So it’s relevant and it’s important. And other times it doesn’t matter how much money I have in my pocket while I’m sitting in my house. So when we think about the teachings we also have to understand in terms of its function, why is this important? Why would I want to be aware of this? And we have to really be interested in it. And this comes down to an even more basic state of mind which is a “caring attitude.” Caring attitude here – that’s a difficult word to translate. What it means is that I am concerned about myself and what happens with me and what I experience. I take it seriously.
For instance, we use it when it’s directed at other people. If I don’t care about you, then it doesn’t matter if I come late. It doesn’t matter what I say, I don’t care. It makes no difference to me whether you like it or you don’t like it, I don’t care. But if I care about you, I consider you important, I take you seriously, then I’m concerned about how I behave is going to affect you. So we need to develop that same caring concern about ourselves. That in this example, if I waste all my time and don’t take advantage of my precious human life, I’m going to lose it some time and I’m going to die with an unbelievable regret of what a waste I made of my life.
And we can direct this toward normal things of everyday life. I care about how I raise my children, I care about how I do my work, my job and I care about my state of mind, my general state of welfare, how I am, not just health but mentally and emotionally. So, with this type of caring attitude, then we will consider the teachings important and if they are important to us then we will remember them. And I am capable of remembering them and remembering to apply them. So, in this way we gain a little bit of confidence that it is possible for us to develop these insights and to remember them, at least if not all of the time, a lot of the time. And then meditation is to familiarize ourselves with it over and over again so that it becomes a very natural part so we don’t even have to use effort to remember it; we just remember it all the time.
So if we are convinced that we are capable of gaining this insight or this realization, then we can put our full heart and effort into trying to do it, otherwise what are we doing? It’s a waste of time. It’s like trying to flap our arms and be able to fly. Why would you even want to try to do that? And, step by step – which means that at this stage we probably really don’t understand what liberation means or what enlightenment means, but okay, my long term goal is to understand it so that I can put effort toward that – but now, just the awareness of death is going to be helpful even now in this life when I don’t waste all my time.
Okay, now I had said at the end of the morning that we would have time for questions now, so let me invite questions; otherwise, I’ll just keep on talking which is not too good.
Participant: We use the debates for checking if we are successful at the second stage, at the thinking on the teachings, so we are sure that we don’t have any doubts and so on. Are there some tools or methods for checking our success in the first stage, hearing or learning the teachings? Could we apply the traditional Western method for this: we give the definition and if we give a good definition and if in this definition there are no contradictions, then it shows that we are successful at hearing or learning. For instance, if one says: “Buddha is a being who completely eliminated all obscurations and actualized all potentials,” so if a person gives this definition, does it mean that this person is successful on the first stage?
Alex: Well, I think it’s more than that actually. There are several problems involved with getting the correct teachings, the correct information. The first one is the actual textual reference in the original language, Sanskrit, or in some cases, depending on which aspect of Buddhism we are studying, Pali, and some texts have been composed originally in Tibetan or in Chinese. I think it’s very important to apply the scholarly methods to edit the original texts because there are many different additions and many mistakes have come into the version of the Sanskrit, for example, that we have now.
They were copied by hand, to start with, centuries ago, in the beginning, and people made mistakes in copying it – water fell on the manuscript and it blurred the letter, and so some scribe who didn’t know any better just wrote something. They wrote it wrong. You know? This happens, come on – reality. And so there are many different printing editions and slightly different versions of almost all of the texts, and the more we study this in a scholarly fashion, the more mistakes that we find. It’s really quite surprising.
Secondly, the translation of these texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan, for example, Tibetans made mistakes. Either the mistake is because they translated the mistake that was already in Sanskrit – I’ve noticed that – in terms of one letter obviously was changed and it could easily happen if a drop of water or tea fell on the manuscript and the Tibetans translated the word with another letter in the middle. I mean you could figure out why they made the mistake.
Also, when you study these languages, then Sanskrit is a very, very extremely inflected language, which means it has many, many endings, many cases – I mean you have this in Russian as well. It’s a very inflected language, many different verb tenses. Tibetan doesn’t have that. Tibetan is a very simple grammar. It is incapable of expressing all the different tenses of Sanskrit verbs for example. They don’t even have singular and plural very clearly. I mean there is a way of showing plural, but it’s not always used. And classical Chinese is even less inflected. From classical Chinese it’s very difficult to compare it to the original and see how they derived that. Tibetan you can; you can see how they were trying to say what it says in the Sanskrit; but unless you really see the verb tense in Sanskrit you wouldn’t be able to determine that solely on the basis of the Tibetan.
And now when you go from these traditional Buddhist languages into our European languages, my goodness! So many mistakes come in. And the biggest source of the mistakes that I found in my many, many years of translating – and translating for different lamas all over the world – is the terminology. So much of the terminology that has been adopted doesn’t actually mean what the original words mean. Especially when the people who wrote the dictionaries come from a missionary background, or something like that, and they use Christian words like “sin.” To translate a Buddhist concept as “sin” is completely misleading.
And so what you say is very important. We need the definitions and, as translators… I mean this is what I try with my website and my work and with the people who translate it into other languages like Russian, is to give the definition and please find some way of saying it in your language that actually means what the definition is saying and not just use a term that some missionary made up 150 year ago. And the problem of course is that different Buddhist authors are going to define their terms differently in different works. Even the same author will use the same word with a different definition in different books that they write. So you really have to find out the specific definition in that context.
So, how do we know, the original question, that we have the correct teaching? One criterion that we need to use is: Does it make any sense? And, if something seems strange, then you have to ask and search what is the definition of the term here. I always give one example which I think is a wonderful clear example for this. In some texts we read that the mind is permanent and in other texts we read the mind is impermanent. And so this seems really strange; it's contradictory, but it’s not contradictory because in these two teachings “permanent” and “impermanent” have a different meaning. They’re not using the word with the same meaning in both statements.
So in one case, when we read the mind is permanent, that means that the mind is eternal, it has no beginning and no end. Everybody accepts that. Everybody agrees. When it said that the mind is impermanent, that means that the mind doesn’t stay static. Permanent can mean either eternal or static and everybody will agree in each moment our mind knows something different and so it changes from moment to moment. So all Buddhists would agree with that as well. But if we don’t know what definition the author is using for the word “permanent” and for the word “impermanent,” then we get very, very confused. It doesn’t make sense.
And this is one of the most fundamental things that we have – part of our precious human rebirth that we have as human beings, much better than animals – is that we have the intelligence that enables us to differentiate between what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. You don't have to be a genius for that. And when it doesn’t make sense, ask, look up in different books, and even better ask a teacher, but ask a teacher who is qualified, who knows what their talking about; and not a teacher that only knows one narrow little set of teachings, but one that has a broad education.
I really have to apologize, whenever I answer questions I speak much too long. But there are no easy answers to some of these questions. A very good question.
Now another question, how do you check that your meditation is going properly? And here you don’t usually have, for most people, a personal teacher that you can check with. But as it says in the attitude training, the mind training teachings, lojong, that we are the best witness ourselves, to witness: “Have I really been able to concentrate well or not? Do I really have a lot of mental wandering or not?” Nobody else can judge that for us. We have to be able to judge ourselves. The teachings and the practice is intended to change our emotional states, to improve us. We’re working on ourselves, so we are the best judge to see: “Am I still getting angry or am I getting angry less?” And this is the way that you judge whether or not we are making any progress. “Am I able to relate to other people in a much better way?” You get feedback from different friends or our family, people we live with.
Now one principle though is very, very important to remember. The nature of samsara is that it goes up and down. So progress is never linear. It’s never going to get better every day. Until we are a liberated being, an arhat, it’s going to continue to go up and down. So even if we’ve been practicing for a long time and most of the time we don’t get angry, something can happen and we do get angry. No reason to be discouraged. This is the natural way that things are.
The axiom: the nature of things, the nature of samara, it goes up and down. So His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, in judging yourself, in estimating how we, the progress we’ve made, don’t look at just a short period of time. Look in terms of at least five year periods. How am I now compared to the way I was five years ago and if I’m better able to deal with difficult situations without getting so upset and the up and down is not so extreme, then I’ve made progress.
What’s very important with meditation practice is do it every day without fail. You never forget to brush your teeth; you never forget to go to the toilet; you never forget to meditate. It becomes a very steady part of your life. And schedule it, even if we’re only talking about meditating for five minutes. No matter whom we are, we can get up five minutes earlier and include that in our morning routine. It doesn’t have to be a big long event or ordeal, just something short, but at least be steady with it and what you find is that it adds a great deal of stability to your life. No matter how crazy the day might be there’s a least this one stable part of our life that provides continuity – very, very helpful.
And although some people like to put their main meditation practice before they go to sleep, for many people that becomes an ordeal because often they’re just too tired and they’re falling asleep and struggling to stay awake to finish their practice. That’s not so helpful; better to do it when you’re fresh. And also it’s better to do it at the very start of the day because if you try to take time out in the middle of your busy day to meditate, often you’re too busy, and secondly, you’re too distracted by what you’re doing during the day. And you don’t need to have a special place, as I was saying. The best is if you have a quiet place and you are able to keep it clean; but if you don’t have that you have to be flexible.
I remember one friend of mine lived in a very, very small little apartment with her mother. It was a one room apartment and with the mother’s television and the radio. And the mother got upset if she tried to meditate or anything like that; and her only possibility was to meditate while sitting on the toilet. And so that’s where she did her practice every day. And that’s fine. You don’t need candles and incense, and all this stuff. That’s only stuff, that’s only things. The important thing is what you are doing with your mind and be respectful of what you are doing. And if we look at meditation in terms of – we are practicing to apply a certain state of mind – then you can do that any time. In fact, there are some of these states of mind that are more appropriate to try to develop it while we are on the metro. To develop patience, to see everybody as wanting to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy, to develop concern for everybody. What better place than the metro, rather than just sitting in your room by yourself and imaging people?
I entered Russia on Wednesday night. To go through passport control, I had to wait on line for one hour. It was such a crowd and it was so slow. This was the perfect place to meditate and practice on patience and not get angry and it’s really difficult, really challenging. And I must confess, I wasn’t totally successful, that hour, but I’m not a Buddha. And so one has to, on the one hand, work very hard to improve; on the other hand, not feel guilty and punish yourself because I was getting itchy, you know, well, one hour already. And also I can laugh at myself because I seem to have this amazing karma that always repeats, which is that I always get on the wrong line, the line that’s the slowest. I inevitably chose the slowest line. And then you watch the other line going more quickly and you think, “Should I leave this slow line and go on that line?” But then you’re all the way at the end of that line. So, a great test of patience. What other questions?
Participant: A special line for Buddhists.
Alex: A special line for Buddhists.
Participant: Buddhist meditation seems to be a therapy. Is there the aspect of understanding of some subtle things or isn’t it the Buddhist meditation at all, or is it just a meditation that we don’t discuss now.
Alex: Well, the Buddhist meditations are… first of all, you say, it’s a type of therapy. Everything depends on the motivation. What is the aim; and what is the emotion driving us? If we were just aiming to improve this life then yes, it’s a therapy. If we’re aiming for liberation and enlightenment, it’s not just a therapy. If we’re aiming for liberation and enlightenment, of course it’s going to help in this life as well. But remember, in the very beginning, I said one of the ways to listen to the teachings is in terms of: “I’m a sick person, the teachers are the doctor, and the teachings are the medicine.” So a type of therapy, a type of treatment.
Now are the teachings more subtle than what I’m explaining? Yes, very, very, very much more subtle – I’m explaining on a very simple beginning level, using the example of meditation on death – but when we get to meditations on voidness, it’s called, then it becomes extremely, extremely subtle; or meditations on the nature of the mind, it’s extremely subtle. Dzogchen, and mahamudra, these are unbelievably subtle. It’s very difficult to know even what they’re talking about. So with voidness, we have to recognize how our minds project all sorts of nonsense on to everything that we experience, every moment. And there are deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper levels of subtlety of what we project, we don’t even begin to recognize in our usual daily lives. Then we… because we believe that these projections are corresponding to reality, then we react to it.
In terms of, if you use a very simple example, paranoia: you project everybody is against me and then you get very frightened. We project so much, that it is very difficult to recognize how subtle it is. We believe that our projection corresponds to reality and then we respond with a disturbing emotion. And so, yes it’s unbelievably subtle to recognize the projection, to realize that voidness means that a real correspondent to this projection doesn’t exist. It’s not referring to anything real. So that’s what’s void, that’s what’s absent, and then to be able to focus on what actually exists – this is unbelievably subtle.
And the nature of the mind and what provides the continuity of the mind, that’s extremely, extremely difficult to recognize what it is. What in the world are they talking about? So it’s very, very subtle and to say – just quiet down and then it will be obvious to you – well that’s misleading. It’s not obvious. I mean, it’s there all the time, but that doesn’t mean that automatically it’s going to be easy to recognize.
Participant: The question is regarding enlightenment itself. So could you please explain the fundamental Mahayana view on what happens when there are more than just one enlightened mind? We know there are a lot of sentient beings becoming Buddhas in the universe. So are they becoming like this one Dharmakaya on a certain point or certain label or it goes on some different way.
Alex: Ah, good question, very difficult question. Could I explain what happens with when we become enlightened, especially when there’s more than one enlightened being in relation with Dharmakaya? Do we all become one, etc? Now I have to control myself because to answer your question probably would take at least an hour. There’s no simple answer to that. First of all, when we speak about a mental continuum, they’re all individual. So even after we become enlightened, we still maintain our individuality. Shakyamuni Buddha is not Maitreya Buddha. Now, they’re not identical; but they’re not totally unrelated either.
Now it is a Hindu teaching that when we achieve liberation, we become one with Brahma, one with the universe, universal mind type of thing. Very nice, but that’s not the Buddhist teachings – that’s one of the brands of Hindu teachings, so we have to distinguish: that’s not what Buddhism says. You still retain your individuality. Buddhism doesn’t say that we all become one. That’s what Hinduism says. As one of my friends puts it: “We all don’t all become one big undifferentiated soup.” The danger of thinking like that is that we then give up any individual responsibility for our actions – if we are all one, in one big soup.
So, what is an illusion is not our individuality. What is the illusion is that we exist totally separately from everybody and everything else. That’s an illusion. It’s not an illusion that I’m an individual. I’m not you. I’m not this room. But it is an illusion that I exist separately, independently of everybody and everything else. The reality is that we are all interdependent, interrelated. So when we think of an enlightened mind, and I’ll try to keep it simple and not too long since we have many other things to talk about, we can think of some sort of universal mirror. A universal mirror reflects and takes in all the information of everything and it reflects everything equally, but we can have many different universal mirrors. They all reflect everything equally but they retain their individuality. They’re individual universal mirrors. I think it’s a little bit analogous to that. One aspect of Dharmakaya… I mean there’s many aspects… but one aspect is this omniscient mind that’s aware of everything of everybody equally.
Last question, then we go on.
Participant: If we take two different mirrors, are the reflections in these mirrors the same?
Alex: Are the reflections the same? The content is the same, but then it becomes a very difficult question. Where is a Buddha located? Now we start to get more complicated, now we have to go into our one hour discussion, because now we’re talking about the energy of the enlightened mind and if the enlightened mind pervades everywhere, then so does the energy. So can you have more than one set of energy in the same place at the same time? Now it gets very complicated. If the mind pervades everywhere, the flipside of the mind, the awareness, is the energy of that awareness. This is the subtlest body of a Buddha.
When we talk about mind, the subtlest mind, from one point of view; it is a way of knowing things. The very subtlest level that is underlying each moment, more subtle than conceptual mind, more subtle than any of the level of where you have disturbing emotions and so on, that’s referred to as clear light mind. And in its unstained level, it’s known as “rigpa” in dzogchen. It’s very, very difficult to recognize; really, really difficult. But that’s just looking at this phenomenon from one point of view. From another point of view, when you look at the same phenomenon, there’s an energy which is involved with this. So if that awareness is of everything simultaneously, then you would have to say that energy is everywhere simultaneously. So, then I was asking the question, which of course our scientific friend is asking, which is: “Can you have two things that are both everywhere at the same time?” Can they occupy the same space at the same time, if we want to be very scientific about it? If one Buddha is filling the universe, is there room for anything else?
And yes there is. So we now have to investigate much, much more deeply what in the world do we mean by subtle energy, what in the world do we mean by occupying space and are we thinking in terms of very concrete solid objects that cannot be in the same space at the same time? Can you have two radio waves intersecting each other? Or, that’s maybe not a good example because you get interference, but you know what I mean, can things somehow intersect? Are there clear boundaries and big solid lines around things? No.
So the problem here in understanding is projection. The projection that things like Buddha bodies and mind and omniscience and all these things are solid, concrete objects, and when you think in those terms, then of course it doesn’t make sense. So, one has to always bring in the teachings on voidness, and, you know, the type of projections we have about how things exist and so on. It’s like a Buddha just communicates, and everyone understands it in their own language. So then you ask the question: Well what actually is the sound that Buddha is making? Is it just noise and then everybody hears it in their own language? And you’d have to say, “No, stupid, it’s wrong. You can’t ask that question. That’s an irrelevant question because sound only makes sense in terms of somebody hearing it, and if somebody hears it, they hear it in their own language. It doesn’t just exist by itself.” So, we have to, at some point, say: “I really don’t understand what enlightenment actually could be and I need to understand more. I need to study more; I need to build up some more positive energy so that somehow my mental blocks can be overcome so that my mind can think in more abstract ways and not such concrete ways.” These are very difficult questions. Okay.
Now we’re ready to look at the third step, meditation and I would like as an introduction to this, before we really get into this discussion of meditation, to just go through a passage that Tsongkhapa wrote about how to meditate. Tsongkhapa was a great Tibetan Buddhist master and he wrote a letter to a friend; and although it has a different title, to make it a little bit easier since its title is so similar to many other things that Tsongkhapa wrote, that I call it A Letter of Practical Advice on Sutra and Tantra. It’s what I’m teaching nowadays in Berlin, and the classes are on the website. You can even listen to them as podcasts. And Tsongkhapa says, “We have to discern” – in order to meditate, you have to be able to discern – “what are the causes for the state of mind that we are trying to achieve.” Like for compassion; you have to know the causes for it.
This is the axiom of dependency, that to develop the wish for others to be free from suffering we have to recognize that we’re interrelated with them, otherwise we don’t care about them: how everybody’s been our mother and I mean there are so many different stages that we could add before this, before compassion. And compassion depends on having renunciation, which means recognizing our own suffering, being determined to be free of it, and then realizing that everybody else has that same suffering and the same wish. Determination to be free, that’s usually called “renunciation,” now focused on others, this is what it depends on – compassion depends on.
So you have to know that. So, if we’re actually going to try to generate now the state of compassion in our meditation, to accustom ourselves to it, then this point of dependency is very important because – although eventually with a great deal of practice and familiarity we will be able to generate compassion just like that in a moment – at the beginning we will have to go through the steps to build ourselves up to that so that we actually feel it sincerely. So, like this, to be able to meditate, to actually meditate with compassion, we need to know the steps, the causes, what will it depend on.
And then he says, “We need to know the aspects.” So what does that mean? The “aspects” means that if we are to generate compassion, the wish for others to be free from their suffering and the causes for suffering, well we have to know all the different aspects of suffering and the different aspects of the causes of suffering if we’re going to want them to be free of that. To meditate with love and compassion, you just don’t sit there and go, “Ah how nice, I love everybody.” It’s not like that. That’s much too vague; it’s very, very specific. Every state of mind that we are trying to develop through meditation practice is specified very, very precisely. And Tsongkhapa here is mentioning all the things that will enable us to specify the state of mind that we are trying to work with.
And then we have to know – very, very important – “What is it that we are focusing on when we are practicing developing this state of mind or practicing being in this state of mind?” What do you focus on? What actually appears in our minds?
So, with compassion, what we’re focusing on is other beings and their suffering. If we are meditating on bodhichitta, for example, it’s completely different. Compassion is something that bodhichitta depends on, that’s part of the causes of how you build up to bodhichitta. With bodhichitta, we’re focusing on our own individual enlightenment which has not happened yet, but it can happen on the basis of our Buddha-nature factors.
Now how you focus on your enlightenment which has not yet happened becomes very subtle. So we can focus on a Buddha image to represent that. There are many ways of focusing on that, but we have to understand what is it that we focus on. Otherwise we’re told meditate with bodhichitta, and you sit there and have no idea what in the world to do. And then it just degenerates into sitting there and: “Oh I love everybody I wish everybody’s happy,” but there’s nothing specific about it. It’s too vague.
And in addition to what we’re focusing on, what appears to the mind, we have to know how the mind is relating to that. When we are meditating on compassion or with compassion, we’re focusing on the suffering of others, and we’re not just watching it in our minds – how interesting – but the way that the mind is relating to it is with the wish that they be free from this, that it be gone, that suffering be finished, be gone, that they be free of this suffering. And that is not just the wish that somebody else help them with their suffering or that just it be gone in general, but that I’m going to try to help them to overcome that. So there’s some responsibility there. It’s not yet the responsibility to bring them all the way to enlightenment, but responsibility to help them overcome their suffering.
Translator: Not enlightenment, but what about liberation?
Alex: No, what I’m saying is that we’re not yet at the step, just with compassion alone, of wishing to bring them all the way to enlightenment. We’re not yet at that step. That’s a different meditation. Now with compassion we just want them to be free of suffering and take responsibility to help everyone be free from suffering. There’s another state of mind called the exceptional resolve. It’s the next step in bodhichitta meditation in which we take the responsibility not just to help them to be free of suffering, but the responsibility to bring them all the way to enlightenment. It’s a bigger step.
So, again, we have to know what all this relies on: compassion, great compassion that’s directed equally at everyone. That’s a lot of beings, everyone. We can’t even begin to imagine everyone and understanding that we’re talking about: “I’m going to help every insect in the universe.” We’re talking here about every individual mental continuum that in this particular lifetime, because of their karma, are manifesting an insect life. That doesn’t mean that they are permanently an insect. I’m not going to liberate the insect, but that being. So, I’m going to help that being who because of unfortunate circumstances in this lifetime is born as an insect, but last lifetime was my mother. And even my mother in this lifetime, last lifetime she might have been a worm.
So to have this universal compassion equally toward everybody, that’s unbelievable. And the basis for it is equanimity, opening our minds out to all others, etc. So we have to know all of that in order to be able to actually meditate on compassion in the proper way. It’s not just meditate on our friend: “I wish they could find a job.”
So, bodhichitta; we’re focusing on our own enlightenment which has not yet happened, but which can happen, and the way our mind is relating to is with the intention: “I’m going to achieve that; and what I’m going to do when I’ve achieved that is benefit everybody as much as possible.” That doesn’t mean I wait until I become a Buddha before I help anybody. I help them as best as I can all along the way.
So, again, what does this depend on? Compassion. We have to be convinced that, it is possible to, for people to actually be free of their suffering. If we aren’t convinced that it’s possible for them to be free of it, how can we wish for them to be free of it?
And what really is compassion? It’s not just for them to be free temporarily, but we want them to be free… so you have to know the aspect… we want them to be free of it so that the suffering never happens again. So we have to know that, in order to be able to actually do the Buddhist meditation on compassion. What are we actually wishing them? And we think that it’s possible for that, for them to be free and that is based on having become convinced that I can become free from my suffering. And being convinced that I am capable of helping somebody else to overcome their suffering. And then having the realistic understanding of what I am capable of, what even a Buddha is capable of, and what we’re not capable of. So a realistic attitude of how can you actually help somebody.
So, all of these are necessary to know very specifically before we sit down and try to generate this state of mind and make it into a habit. Otherwise, it’s too vague. So we start to appreciate how precise and sophisticated meditation actually is, the real thing, how sophisticated it is. Perhaps we can even use the word “scientific.” It’s very scientific and we get precise. I know exactly what I’m doing and what I’m generating.
So it’s not necessary for me to read this text, to read it to you, it’s on my website, but these points are all explained here by Tsongkhapa. He lays it out very carefully. That’s why it’s a text of practical advice; how you actually do it. So now we can appreciate even more why we have to listen to the instructions, you have to get the instructions, you know, exactly what we’re doing in this meditation. If you don’t have all the instructions, and you don’t have the correct instructions, you’re going to do something different, something that is not what Buddha’s talking about. And you have to think about it, because we have to become convinced, as in the case of compassion, that it is possible to be free of suffering and that I am capable of helping somebody and what help can I actually give. So all of that’s taken care of in the first and second steps before the meditation.
And then Tsongkhapa also points out its very important what we do in between our meditation sessions. He says we need to read various scriptural texts that deal with this topic of what we’re meditating on. So on the one hand it confirms our appreciation that “Yes, this is really what Buddha taught” – we have more confidence in the teaching; and it gives us some inspiration by reading about other great masters who have developed compassion, what it actually is like and so on. And between sessions, Tsongkhapa emphasizes, everybody emphasizes this, we need to build up positive force and cleanse ourselves of negative force: purification practices.
I use the term “positive force.” That’s often translated as “merit” but merit I think gives the wrong idea. Merit sounds as though collecting points and if you get a hundred points, then you win. It’s not like that. What I think is a closer example or analogy is we’re building up a charge, a positive charge, like charging your cell phone, your mobile phone, so that it will work. If you get enough energy into it, then it will work; with not enough energy it’s not going to work. And so it’s very much the same thing in terms of our minds. So it’s not our punishment or the price we have to pay to use the mobile phone that we have to charge it at night. It’s just obviously that’s how it works. It’s not a punishment that we have to charge the phone. If you want to use the mobile phone you have to charge it; simple as that.
So the same thing that we have to do, as I say, with our mind; and these cleansing practices, these purification processes, help us to overcome our mental blocks. That’s what we’re basically dealing with here. You know what a mental block is? You feel: “I just can’t understand that” or it can be an emotional block. And building up more and more positive force and doing the various purification practices enable us to break through these blocks so that we can gain insight and understanding.
So, on a practical level what does that mean? On a practical level it means: when we are trying to understand something even in our work, and we can’t understand, we take a break, and we go and we try to do something helpful to others. And by working to help others in some sort of way, then usually when you come back, the mind is in a more positive state. I mean even just in a very superficial level, the mind is in a more positive state, and we are usually able to understand a little bit better.
I find this very true from my own experience. I get stuck in my work, difficulty in writing something or explaining something or whatever it is that I’m doing. And then I go on a teaching tour, which is not just stimulating but if we look at it from a Buddhist point of view, it’s building up some positive force – by trying to help people. And I come back and maybe the first hour or two I’m tired, but in general I’m very much energized and it’s much easier to then break through whatever was blocking me before, and write, or whatever it is that I am doing much better. This I have found is true from my own experience. So, we may not go out on teaching tours, but whatever is normal in our lives, there must be some activity that we can engage in which is beneficial to others; whether it is spending more time with our children, or whatever, going visiting a sick older relative who’s lonely, whatever it is. Something positive is very important to do. Although there are many ritual practices that we can do, a real life practice I find is much stronger. Okay.
So, I have been told that we need to bring our session to a close, so I guess that’s it for today. We end with the dedication and dedication is very important actually because we build up some positive energy, some positive force through listening to teachings. And what we try to do with the dedication is… it’s like pushing the energy in a certain direction which on a more practical level is making a deeper impression on our minds, on our mental continuums. It doesn’t just disappear.
So we think whatever positive force, whatever positive energy and whatever understanding we have built up, may it go deeper and deeper so that it enables me to reach enlightenment and be of best help to everyone; and not just me, that I may be able to reach enlightenment, that everybody is able to reach enlightenment.
Shantideva in his great text, Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, has two types of dedication in different parts of the text. One part he’s saying as a dedication, “May I be a doctor for all beings, may I be a bridge to help everybody go across to liberation and so on.” So it’s more in the sense of may I be able to do that. But the last chapter, it’s more in terms of “May everybody be free, may all the hell realms be emptied.” It’s a vast dedication for everybody not just for me, “May I be able to help them,” but form the point of view of others.
So when we make dedication at the end of the day or any positive activity, it’s important to be aware of these two aspects, two ways of dedicating. Alright? May everybody become enlightened and may I be able to help everybody to become enlightened. Not talking about may you become enlightened and then you help me; That’s not quite it. So, dedication.
Join us in trying to benefit others.
Support our work!
This website relies completely on donations. Its maintenance, preparation of the remaining 70% of our planned material, and further translating is costly. Although we currently have 80 volunteers, 23 essential team members require payment. Help us raise the 100,000 euros (US $150,000) required each year
to continue providing our website free of charge.
Reaching Our Goal (75%)