Overview of the Six Far-Reaching Attitudes (Six Perfections)
Riga, Latvia, July 2004
Session Four: The Remaining Four Far-Reaching Attitudes
Riga, Latvia, July 2004
The next far-reaching attitude is that of patience or tolerance. This again is an attitude, a state of mind, with which we don’t get angry but we’re able to endure various difficulties and suffering. We don’t become disturbed or upset by suffering or by those who do harm. That’s the definition. And its effect – it doesn’t mean we no longer have any enemies or people who will try to hurt us, but it means we don’t become angry or discouraged or reluctant to help; we don’t get frustrated. We really can’t help others if we’re always losing our temper.
So the first is – there’s three kinds – the first is the patience of not becoming upset by those who do harm. So this involves people who not only are acting negatively – not getting angry with them – but, more specifically, people who hurt us or who are nasty to us or who treat us badly. And that doesn’t mean just simply hitting us – others who beat us – but it could be people who don’t thank us, who don’t appreciate us, all of these things. People who don’t like us, and we get angry: “Oh, this person didn’t like me!”
And especially when we are helping others, it’s very important not to get angry with them if they don’t take our advice – to be patient – or if it doesn’t work. There are a lot of people who are very, very difficult to help. We must try not to get angry with them, lose our patience, but to endure all these difficulties.
It’s especially important for a teacher not to lose patience with the students. Even if somebody is extremely slow or very stupid, it’s up to us as a teacher – not even necessarily teaching Dharma, but teaching anything – to be patient, not get angry, not get frustrated, but to be skillful in teaching. It’s like teaching a baby something. We can’t expect a baby to be able to learn it as quickly as an adult.
And there are many, many different ways of developing patience here. Shantideva, in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, explains many, many different ways. We don’t really have time to go into all of them, but just one or two of these.
If we burn our hand in a fire or on the stove – well, you can’t get angry at fire for being hot; that’s the nature of fire. And so, similarly, what do we expect from samsara? Of course people are going to let us down, people are going to hurt us, things are going to be difficult – what do we expect? If we ask somebody to do something for us, we should expect that they’re going to do it incorrectly. And if they do it incorrectly, the way that we didn’t like, whose fault is it? It’s our own fault for being lazy and asking them in the first place and not doing it ourselves. So if we should be angry with anybody, we should be angry with our own laziness. Because what do you expect from samsara?
This is a very, very helpful line to remember for all the different types of patience that we need to develop, which is basically: What do I expect from samsara? What do you expect? That it’s going to be easy, that everything’s going to work out nicely? What do I expect? The nature of samsara, which is every moment of our lives, is suffering and problems, and things not working out exactly the way that we would like, and people being very difficult and disappointing us, and so on. So what do you expect? Don’t be surprised. That’s why we want to get out of it.
It’s like complaining here in Latvia that the winter is cold and dark. Well, what do you expect from winter – that it’s going to be lovely, warm, and we can walk around sunbathing in a bathing suit? What do you expect? It’s like the nature of fire. The nature of fire is that it’s hot. What do you expect? Of course you’re going to burn yourself if you stick your hand in it, if you pick up the hot pot from the stove with your hand. What do you expect? So no point in getting angry.
And then just one more, which is the patience that we are able to develop by viewing other people as if they were crazy persons or babies. If a crazy person or a drunk person yells at us, we’re even more crazy to yell back at the drunk. Or if our two-year-old says… when we tell them it’s time to go to bed and shut off the television, and they say, “I hate you!” Do we really take it seriously and get angry and upset that they hate us? It’s a baby. The baby is tired; you put the baby to sleep, to bed. And so, likewise, by viewing other people when they’re acting in these sorts of ways, and they’re overtired, they’re cranky – “They’re like a baby or they’re acting like a crazy person now.” It helps us not to get angry with them.
And also if somebody is giving us a very hard and difficult time, it’s always very helpful to view them as our teacher: “This is my teacher of patience. If people didn’t give me a difficult time, I would never be able to learn patience or I would never be challenged. So they’re very kind to give me this difficult time.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says that the Chinese, the Chinese leaders are… Mao Zedong is his best teacher, his teacher of patience. The annoying person in the office – teacher of patience.
Then the second type of patience is the patience of accepting and enduring our own sufferings. Shantideva speaks quite a bit about this, and he says if we have suffering, a difficult situation, if there’s something we can do about it, just do it – without getting angry or upset, because that’s not going to help. And if there’s nothing we can do about it, then why get angry or upset, because that’s not going to help either. So if it’s cold and we have warm clothing, why get angry and complain that it’s cold? You put on the warm clothing. And if we don’t have the warm clothing, why get angry and upset, because that’s not going to make us warm anyway.
Also we can look at our own suffering as… be very happy about it, in the sense that it’s burning off negative obstacles – negative karma is ripening – and remembering that it’s good to get rid of it now because in the future it could be even worse. And also to think that it’s very good that it’s ripening now in this form, because no matter how much suffering that we have, it could always be worse. So, in a sense, we’re getting off lightly.
If we bang our foot against the table in the dark and it really hurts – well, that’s very good, because I could have broken my leg. “It’s better that this happens than breaking my leg.” So that helps us to not get angry. And after all, jumping up and down and making a big scene when our foot hurts because we banged it – that’s not going to help. Even if our mommy comes and kisses it, it’s not going to help; it still hurts.
Also, if we are trying to do something really very positive and very constructive, if there are a lot of obstacles and difficulties at the very beginning, then this is great. Trying to do something really very positive, like you want to do a long retreat or you want to do some positive Dharma project or go on a journey to help others, and so on. If in the beginning it starts off with big obstacles and problems – not necessarily huge things (you break a leg or something like that), but if there are difficulties in the beginning – this is very good because one can look at it as: “OK, this is burning off the obstacles so that the rest of the undertaking will go well.” And so we can be happy that it’s being burnt off now rather than making a big problem later.
Participant: Even from the beginning…
Alex: In the beginning, it’s a good sign if things are difficult.
Participant: And if in the beginning everything’s OK, then the obstacles are ahead of you.
Alex: That’s right. Because when we try to do something positive, there are always obstacles.
As Shantideva says, suffering and problems have good qualities as well. It doesn’t mean that we go out and seek them because the path that we have to take is torturing ourselves and having suffering. It doesn’t mean that. But if we have suffering, then there are various good qualities that we can appreciate, because with suffering it lowers our arrogance, to start with; it makes us more humble. It also helps us to develop compassion for others who are suffering similar types of problems. Say if we get a certain disease or something, then we can appreciate other people who have that same disease; otherwise we have no idea what they’re suffering. By growing old and having the pains of old age – you don’t really have compassion for old people very easily when you’re sixteen years old, but when you’re sixty years old and you’re starting to experience all of that yourself, then you have a great deal of compassion and understanding for old people. And also if we understand karma (behavioral cause and effect) if we’re suffering, it really causes us much more strongly to avoid acting destructively and negatively, which is the cause of suffering, and to engage more strongly in positive, constructive actions, which will be the cause of happiness. It gives us encouragement.
The third type of patience is the patience of determining to endure the hardships involved in studying and practicing the Dharma. When we’re trying to meditate, work to reach enlightenment, and so on, it’s going to take a very long time and a tremendous amount of work and effort, and we have to be very realistic about that and not get discouraged. Be patient with that. Be patient with ourselves. It doesn’t mean to treat ourselves like a baby, but to be patient.
I think it’s very important to really understand and accept that the nature of samsara is that it goes up and down. And that doesn’t mean simply that we have higher and lower rebirths, but it goes up and down all the time. So sometimes we feel like practicing; sometimes we don’t feel like practicing. Sometimes our practice goes well; sometimes it doesn’t go well. What do we expect? This is samsara. It’s not going to get better every day, and so we have to be patient with this and not get frustrated, not get angry and give up. “I thought I had taken care of my anger and I would never get angry again,” and then, all of a sudden, something happens and we get angry again. It happens. We’re not going to get rid of it until we become liberated as an arhat, so be patient.
Then the fourth far-reaching attitude is called joyous or joyful perseverance. This is defined as taking joy… it is a state of mind, again, which takes joy in acting positively and constructively. And it involves... it’s not taking pleasure in playing video games or hunting. We’re talking about taking joy in something which is positive and constructive. And it’s not talking about just simply having a hard-working attitude in which we hate our work but we do it anyway out of a sense of duty or guilt, obligation, or something like that, or just mechanically. You know, a workaholic. And it’s not what is called “short-term enthusiasm,” which is: we get all excited about doing something and we put a tremendous amount of effort into it, like a fanatic, and then we burn out after a week and then give up. We’re not talking about that short-lived enthusiasm. But what we’re talking about is a sustained… That’s why we call it perseverance: it’s sustained; it goes on and on and on and on. And one of the reasons why it goes on and on and on is because we enjoy what we’re doing and it’s positive. This joyous perseverance is the opponent to laziness, the opposite of laziness.
There are three kinds of joyous perseverance. The first is the joyous perseverance which is like armor. This is the willingness to go on and on and on. No matter how difficult it is, no matter how long it takes, we’re going to go on and not get discouraged and not be lazy. If we expect that the Dharma path (or whatever positive thing that we’re doing) is going to take forever and we’re willing to even go to the hells for being able to help others and so on, then we’re not going to get lazy or discouraged by any smaller problem that might come up. “Nothing is going to shake me.” It’s like armor; it protects us from any difficulty that comes up. “I don’t care how difficult it’s going to be. I don’t care how long it takes. I’m going to do it.”
The longer we expect enlightenment to take before we reach it, the quicker it’ll come. If we expect it to come immediately and quickly, it could take forever. If we’re very anxious for instant, quick enlightenment and find the easy, quick path, and so on, this is basically – as it says in some of the great texts, and great teachers explain – this is a sign of selfishness and laziness basically, that we don’t want to really spend a lot of time helping others and so on. “Let’s just get enlightenment. It will be great.” And basically we’re lazy. We don’t want to put in the hard work that’s involved. We want it on sale, cheap, as cheap as we can get it. We’re looking for a bargain. That doesn’t work.
So if we have this compassion that: “I’m going to work for three zillion (grangs-med, countless) eons building up positive force in helping others,” that enormous scope of compassion is what will bring us enlightenment much more quickly.
Then the second type of joyous perseverance is the joyous perseverance in doing constructive, positive actions to build up a positive force that will bring us to enlightenment. In other words, taking joy and not being lazy in terms of doing the preliminary practices (the prostrations and so on) and studying and learning and meditating, and all these things that we need to do, and being happy to do them.
Then the third type of joyful perseverance is the joyful perseverance that is involved in working to help or benefit others. That joyful perseverance in working to help others – that’s also explained in terms of these four ways of collecting or making others receptive to us and the eleven ways of helping others (the eleven types of persons that we would help). Remember, we had the ethical self-discipline to help in these eleven types of situations. The patience that’s involved in practicing the Dharma is also… we can discuss that, the patience, in terms of helping in these eleven ways. And we have here the joyous perseverance of helping in these eleven ways. So what this means is that they’re not identical. What we’re referring to is when we’re actually helping these kinds of people in the various ways that would be appropriate, then with this joyful perseverance we take pleasure… we’re really happy to put effort into helping them. And, with patience, we’re going to endure whatever hardships are involved. And, with the ethical self-discipline, we’re going to avoid all the disturbing emotions that would prevent us from actually helping them. So they support each other.
These different types of joyful perseverance are interrupted by laziness, and so in order to practice them and develop them, we have to overcome laziness. And there are three types of laziness:
The first is the laziness of procrastination, putting things off until tomorrow. For this we need to meditate on death and impermanence – death can come at any time – and the difficulty of obtaining a precious human life that would give us the opportunity to do something constructive.
But in connection with this, makes me think of my favorite Zen koan: “Death can come at any time, relax.” Very good to think about that. What that means is that it’s true that death can come at any time, but if we are very uptight and nervous and tense about that, we’re never going to be able to accomplish anything – “I have to do everything today” – and you become a fanatic. Yes, death can come at any time. If you want to take advantage and do things now, you have to be relaxed about it, not this tense fear of death: “We’re not going to have enough time.”
Then the second type is the laziness of being attached to trivial matters. Right? We waste so much time watching TV, or just idle chatter with friends, and talking about sports,… All these sorts of things waste a tremendous amount of time, and it’s basically laziness. It’s much easier to sit in front of the television than to mediate. Or being attached to just ordinary, mundane things, because that we find fun, whether it’s astrology, whatever it might be – these types of things that, again, we’re attached to because it’s lazy, laziness, and we don’t want to try to do something which is perhaps more difficult and more significant.
This doesn’t mean that we never stop for entertainment or relax. Sometimes we need that in order to revitalize ourselves, but the point is not to be attached to all of this and overdo it because of laziness. You take a break, go for a walk or something like that, but don’t be attached to it. When we’ve had enough, go back to whatever other things that we were doing that are more positive.
And the way that we overcome this is to think about how the pleasures and satisfaction from these so-called mundane accomplishments and mundane activities can never bring us lasting happiness. Only really training ourselves with the Dharma methods are going to be able to do this. If we’re able to kick a ball in between two posts into a net, and we spend all our time doing that and training that, it’s not going to get us even a better rebirth. It’s certainly not going to get us liberation or enlightenment, to be able to kick a ball straight.
So the point is not to be attached. If we do that for relaxation or something, that’s one thing. But just to be attached to that and spend all our effort on that because we’re lazy to do something more constructive – this is laziness; this is an opponent, a hindrance, to really taking joy in doing something constructive.
Overcoming the laziness of not changing the battery in the tape recorder.
The third type of laziness is the laziness of delusions of incapability. “This is too difficult for me. I can’t do it. How can somebody as lowly as myself ever reach enlightenment or do any of these things?” That’s a form of laziness. We don’t even try, because we think, “I’m incapable.”
So for this we think of Buddha-nature, the various qualities that we have, and so on. There are many things that we can remind ourselves of that are going to help us to counter this. “If so many people are capable of spending all day working to just make a little bit of profit selling chewing gum or something like that, and they’re willing to sit there for hours and hours and hours a day, then I’m capable of putting in the time to be able to do something more significant. If I’m capable of standing in a line for hours and hours to get a ticket to go to a concert, or standing in a line to buy bread for many hours, I shouldn’t think that I’m incapable of doing something which is more constructive for being able to reach enlightenment.”
Shantideva explains four supports that are going to help us to develop joyous perseverance.
First is firm conviction in the positive qualities and benefit of the Dharma.
The second is steadfastness and stability based on self-confidence and Buddha-nature. If we’re really convinced of Buddha-nature – the basic abilities are there – then we have self-confidence; and if we have self-confidence, we’re going to be steady and stable in our effort. So this is a support.
Then the third is joy in what we are doing. A feeling of self-satisfaction. It’s very self-satisfying and fulfilling to work on developing ourselves and so on, work on helping others, so that gives us a sense of joy.
The fourth one is knowing when to take a rest. Not overexerting ourselves to the point where we just drop and give up and we don’t want to go back. Not pushing ourselves too hard. But on the other hand, not treating ourselves like a baby: and every time we feel a little bit tired, you lie down for a nap.
And actually that’s a very interesting point. Trijang Rinpoche, the late Junior Tutor of His Holiness, gave the following piece of advice. He said that when we’re in a really, really bad mood and feeling very negative and so on, and none of the other Dharma methods really seem to be working or helping us, the best thing is to take a nap. Take a short nap, and when we wake up, our mood will be different, just by the nature of taking a nap. Very practical. You like that one?
Translator: I proved it many times.
Alex: Together with these four supports for joyous perseverance, Shantideva points out two more factors that help. This is to (a) accept what we need to practice and accept what we need to stop doing, and (b) accept the hardships involved – all of this based on realistically examining the three and our abilities to deal with them. To accept it.
Translator: To accept…
Alex: To accept that I need to do this and this and this in order to help others, or reach enlightenment, or do whatever constructive thing I want to do. And I accept the fact that I’m going to have to stop doing this and that, and I accept the fact that there’s going to be hardships involved. And we accept it, taking it on ourselves, having examined very well, realistically, what is involved in doing this and my ability to do it.
Don’t have an unrealistic attitude. If we’re going to do prostrations, a hundred thousand prostrations, look at it realistically. There are going to be hardships involved – my legs are going to hurt, I’m going to get tired, all these sort of things – but we remind ourselves of the benefits. And what am I going to have to stop doing? I’m going to have to make time in order to do it, and it’s going to be difficult. And so we examine ourselves realistically to see: “Can I do this?” – do I have arthritis or rheumatism that’s going to prevent me from doing this, these sort of things – and then we accept this is the reality of what’s involved. If we accept that, then we can put our hearts into it with joyous enthusiasm.
Then the second of these is that we need to then, based on this realistic attitude of accepting what’s involved, take control to apply ourselves. In other words, with willpower, this type of thing. Don’t just let ourselves act in any old way, in any type of way, but really: “OK, I’m going to not come under the control of my laziness and so on.” Take control and really apply ourselves to this positive thing that we want to do. “Put your heart into it,” we would say in English.
Now it’s rather late and we don’t have too much time for the last two far-reaching attitudes. And each of them, particularly in the lam-rim literature, are just treated very, very briefly. And then there’s the huge section dealing with how do you develop concentration and meditation and how do you develop the understanding of voidness. So obviously there’s no time to go into that. That would require many days for each. So that can be for another time.
But the mental stability… In some texts, it talks about that as the state of mind that’s able to focus our attention single-pointedly on any suitable positive, constructive object without allowing that attention to wander or getting dull, sleepy, and so on. So whether we’re doing meditation or we’re just helping somebody or listening to what they say.
And the way that Shantideva explains it is in terms of mental stability. That in addition to this, what really is involved to get that type of concentration is the mental stability in which we are not going up and down with the disturbing emotions. Because it’s the disturbing emotions that cause us to become… mental wandering to fly off to something that’s attractive, or to get dull and heavy. And so he describes it in a larger scope of mental and emotional stability. And there are many divisions, many different ways of dividing the different types of mental stability. Almost every text and tradition divides it differently, so no point in going into a huge long discussion of all the different ways in which it can be divided – in terms of what we’re focusing on, concentration in terms of doing this, in terms of doing that, and so on.
And discriminating awareness, sometimes translated as wisdom, is the state of mind with which we can discern correctly and decisively all knowable phenomena, the actual way in which they exist. We can discriminate between what’s helpful, what’s harmful, what’s appropriate, what’s inappropriate, and all these things. So it can be applied to discriminating between the way that things actually do exist and the way that they don’t exist (what’s impossible). But it can also have a much broader scope, not just concerned with understanding voidness.
That again can be divided in many different ways, and various texts do it differently depending on what we have this discriminating awareness directed at, whether it’s in terms of reality, whether it’s in terms of conventional things – what’s the appropriate medicine to give and the inappropriate medicine to give if we’re a doctor, and so on. There are many schemes to divide it, so no need to go through all of that.
There are many, many other points that can be discussed in terms of these six far-reaching attitudes – or, as I said, there’s a list of ten, in which there’s another set of four, which are basically subdivisions of this discriminating awareness – but this will, I think, be sufficient for our introduction this time.
So perhaps there’s a little bit of time for one or two questions, but it’s quite late, I know, so we won’t go too far in this direction.
Question: What is voidness?
Alex: Voidness doesn’t mean nothingness; it means an absence, a total absence. There never was such a thing; there never will be. And so what it is that is totally absent is impossible ways of existing, ways of existing of things which are just not possible. That things exist with… I was giving a very simple example: with the solid line around them, encrusted in solid plastic, sitting out there all by itself, independent of everything else. That’s impossible. No such thing. This is what voidness means. There’s no such thing – there never was; there never will be. Impossible. And that’s what we have to realize, because we project… we imagine that things exist like that and our mind makes things appear like that.
Well, what is impossible? The different Indian Buddhist philosophical systems refined them, more and more subtle, what’s impossible. So there are many different ways that are impossible. The first one.
And the second point is that some of the Tibetan traditions make a distinction between what’s called self-voidness (rang-stong) and other-voidness (gzhan-stong). Self-voidness is what I just explained. And other-voidness is talking about the clear light nature of the mind (’od-gsal, clear light awareness), which is devoid of and never has been stained by these grosser levels, where all the disturbing emotions and these ways of appearing that the mind makes, which are impossible – it has never been stained by that. So that is totally void or absent from that. So these fleeting stains (glo-bur-gyi dri-ma) are totally void or absent from being the nature of the mind, the clear light mind. That’s another usage of the word voidness. You come across that in, certainly in Karma Kagyu and many of the Nyingma authors and several others, some of the Sakya.
So, any other question?
Question: How is it possible that the mind can create the impossible image? The fact that it already created this image means that…
Alex: The question was: How can there arise an appearance of what’s impossible? What is arising is not what’s impossible. What’s arising is an appearance or a feeling of it, so a representation of it, but not the actual impossible thing.
The mind could give rise to the appearance of an invader from the fifth dimension, but it can’t give rise to that actual invader, but we could imagine that there is. Or the child thinking that there’s a monster under the bed. So it has the mental representation and the feeling, and of course the fear that comes with it and the paranoia or whatever. It doesn’t mean that it creates the monster under the bed.
So we’re talking not just making an appearance of an impossible thing – like the monster under the bed – we’re talking about the appearance of an impossible way of existing. So our mind gives rise to the appearance that, for example, just a very simple example, that things are solid: this body is solid, the table is solid, the floor is solid. Well, it’s not solid. It’s made up of atoms – and there’s a lot of space in between the atoms – and energy fields and stuff like that. It’s impossible that it’s some solid thing, but the mind makes it appear like that. Whether you look under a microscope or not, it’s still made of atoms – it doesn’t matter.
It appears – our mind makes it appear – that the liquid in this bottle is pink: from its own side, it’s pink. Well, that’s impossible. If you look at it in the dark, it’s not pink at all. If you look at it under a blue light, it’s not going to be pink at all. It all depends on the light. And if we’re color-blind, it’s not pink at all. So it doesn’t exist as pink from its own side; it depends on the lighting and the eyes and so on.
Participant: The technology itself of the mind imagining things.
Alex: The technology. Well, as we explained the other day, the mind… we’re talking about mental activity. And the mental activity is not a machine called the mind that’s doing this. Mental activity is simply the arising of appearances, and that is what perception is. And so the arising of appearances is because of the habits of our naivety, our ignorance, and so on. It gives rise to deceptive appearances all the time. It’s deceptive: it seems as though it exists in a certain way, but it doesn’t.
Participant: Voidness is a natural way of existence of all things.
On that very happy note, let’s end with the dedication, before we get into any more trouble. Dedication: we think that whatever understanding we’ve gained, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.
OK, thank you very much.
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