Self-Transformation through Attitude-Training
Morelia, Mexico, October 2008
This evening I want to speak about self-transformation in or through attitude-training, or mind-training. This is the Tibetan tradition of “lojong.” I don’t want to cover this in terms of a specific text this evening, but rather speak in general about the method that’s used. In general, when we look at what Buddha taught, Buddha taught on a very practical level of how to overcome problems in our lives, and in fact, everything that he taught was aimed at this purpose.
We all have many, many different levels and types of problems. There are some that are very gross and hurt us very much, give us a lot of pain, either physical, or mental, or both. There are other problems that are a little bit more subtle, but are very painful nevertheless. We enjoy various things in life, but we’re frustrated, because they don’t fully satisfy us, they don’t last forever, they change. Things in our life are never stable, they go up and down. Sometimes things go well, sometimes they don’t, and what’s really unstable is how we feel. Sometimes we feel happy, sometimes we don’t feel happy, sometimes it seems as though we don’t feel anything, and we have no idea how we’re going to feel in the next moment. It doesn’t seem to be so dependent even on the people that we’re with, or what we’re doing – all of a sudden our mood changes.
We all have, obviously, emotional problems as well, and that brings on different problems in life. What’s really frustrating is that they seem to repeat. We seem to be making more and more problems for ourselves, even though sometimes it appears as though they’re coming from others. But if we examine more closely and more honestly, we see that the source of a lot of our problems is ourselves.
But Buddha saw all of this. He realized this in his own life; he saw this in lives of others. He saw that everybody was in the same predicament. On a gross level, we have the difficulties of just our lives – being born, growing up, getting sick, getting old, and dying, and the day-to-day problems that we just mentioned. But he said that these problems arise from causes, they don’t just come from nowhere at all. They’re not coming from some external superpower that is sending these to us – whether we call that external power “God,” or our destiny, our fate, we make it a little bit more impersonal, whatever it is. That’s not really the source of our problems.
But the true source of our problems lies within, and when we say it lies within, it doesn’t mean that I am inherently bad, or guilty. Buddha wasn’t saying that, that you’re born bad, with sin; but rather Buddha said that the source of our problems is our confusion about reality. It’s not that we’re stupid, but it’s just that in our everyday experience things seem to exist in impossible ways that don’t really correspond at all to reality. On a very simple level, I think we can understand this in terms of how much of what we experience is based on our projections, and not really on the actual situations that we encounter.
But Buddha said that it was possible to end this situation, to stop having these problems in such a way that they don’t even ever recur. It’s not that we’re condemned to suffer these problems forever. It’s not that the only solution would be to drug ourselves, or something like that, or get drunk so that we can escape, or at least feel that we have escaped from our problems, or even just sink into a deep meditative state of thinking nothing, and that as well would solve our problems. Such solutions are only temporary, and they don’t really rid us of our problems at all. But if we want to get rid of our problems, we have to get rid of the cause of those problems. We have to get rid of our confusion. We need to replace confusion with correct understanding. If we do that, then slowly, slowly, as our understanding gets deeper and deeper, our emotional states will change as well.
We use terminology like “emotional understanding” versus “intellectual understanding,” and then we think that somehow there’s a big distance between these two aspects. In other words, we sometimes can understand what our problems are, we understand why we’re experiencing that type of problem, but – I’m talking about an emotional problem – but it doesn’t seem to change our emotions. We feel that our understanding can’t really affect the way that we’re feeling. But the problem here is that the understanding isn’t really deep enough. Not only is it not deep enough, but it hasn’t “sunk in” over a long enough period of time in order to make a change.
Let me use an example to illustrate this – from physical health. We may feel, in general, very weak, not very well in general. We’re tired all the time. We feel very heavy all the time, and we start then going to some sort of exercise club, a fitness club. We start doing exercise on a regular basis. But once we start this type of exercise program, it doesn’t change the way that we physically feel instantly. It takes quite a while, usually several months, before we start to feel the effect in general in terms of our health, how we feel. The longer and longer we do this exercise, and it becomes a regular routine, a part of our lives, then after a while we start to feel great. It really has changed the way that we feel. In fact, we often find that even emotionally we feel better. We feel better about ourselves and that helps us to feel better in terms of how we deal with others.
It’s the same thing, or an analogous thing, when we have deeper and deeper understanding of what’s going on inside our minds, our emotions, and so on. The longer that we’re used to this, and the more and more that understanding grows, and we repeat it, and remind ourselves over and over again, then although the emotional change will not be immediate, it will start to happen.
Going to the fitness club of course requires self-discipline, and mindfulness, which means to remember to go, don’t forget to go. And underlying it all is what we call the caring attitude – we care about ourselves, we care about how we look, how we feel, etc., we take ourselves seriously and respect the – in a sense almost the – “right” that we have to be happy and to feel good. The same thing is true here in terms of understanding ourselves, understanding how our emotional lives work. That too is dependent on caring about ourselves, and feeling that, yes, we do have a right to better emotional health as well.
Now of course there are many levels of motivation for working on ourselves in this manner. When we analyze what we mean by motivation, we’re talking about what is our goal in working on ourselves, and what is the emotional force that drives us toward this goal. These levels of motivation have been outlined in the Buddhist teachings in progressive levels. We can be working simply to try to improve our situation in this life, because basically we don’t want it to get worse. Whereas if it’s not satisfactory now, not only do we want it to stop continuing to be unsatisfactory, but it would be very good if it didn’t get worse, in fact if it got better. We’re really dissatisfied with how it’s going, and we’ve reached a point at which we want to do something about it.
We can also, on a more advanced level, think in terms of not just this lifetime, but future lifetimes. We don’t want things to get worse in future lifetimes as well. We are driven by the same emotional force as in wanting to improve things in this lifetime, we’re just looking at a longer period of time. We can have even a intermediate step between these two, which is thinking in terms of not wanting to have the various problems that we have in our family, or in our ways in dealing with things, carry on to future generations within our family.
Beyond thinking of future lives we could be motivated to want to get out of the whole unsatisfactory, frustrating cycle of rebirth completely, or moved by compassion, we could think in terms of helping everybody overcome all these levels of problems, in which we’re working then to become a Buddha. Now, all of these levels are not so easy to relate to, and to really, really be a person with these more advanced levels of motivation is something that is going to require a tremendous amount of training. Nevertheless, at whatever level we’re at, we find many methods in the Buddha’s teachings that can be helpful, and one of these is our topic for this evening, the attitude-training, or mind-training methods.
Optimally we would be moved, even if we’re thinking in terms of this lifetime, by not just thoughts of ourselves and overcoming our own problems, but also by compassion, thinking of others. In other words, we’re not aiming to overcome our problems simply because they give us trouble, and are very painful for us, but also because they prevent us from being of best help to others.
We can think of a little bit of an extreme example. Let’s say we’re an alcoholic. Then, from one point of view, we could be motivated to try to overcome our dependency on alcohol, because it’s so damaging to us, to our health, to in general everything about us. It makes us feel bad when we have a hangover in the morning. But we could also be even more strongly motivated to overcome our being an alcoholic if we think of our family, how it is really preventing me from being a good parent, for example; how I am so often acting in a crazy way because I’m drunk, and this is really damaging my family, my friends etc. When we realize that our family needs us, and the problem that we have of alcoholism is really preventing me from fulfilling that real need that they have, then it gives me more strength to try to overcome that dependency.
So even if we’re practicing these Buddhist methods in the context of trying to improve this lifetime, the motivation of compassion, love and compassion, for others, is very important. That is emphasized in these attitude-training teachings, that although we could apply many of these methods just for our own sake of feeling better, that it is certainly far superior to apply these methods so that we can be of better help to others.
Now, in our lives we face various difficult situations. They may be difficult in the sense that they’re painful. That doesn’t need to be in a physical way; that can also be in a mental way. That can be understood in terms of facing situations that cause our disturbing emotions to arise strongly. These disturbing emotions could be, on the one side, anger, but it could also be, on the other side, strong attachment. We all know how uncomfortable we feel when our minds are filled with anger or hostility, or when they’re filled with great attachment and longing desire.
Some situations are particularly difficult and they’re enumerated in a Buddhist list of eight so-called “transitory things in life.” At times that’s just simply translated as the “eight worldly dharmas,” but they’re talking about things that happen to us in our lives which are transitory, they’re not stable, they pass. We have these in four pairs.
The first pair is receiving praise, or receiving criticism. If we receive praise, then we get all attached, and when we get criticized we get all upset.
The next pair is when we hear good news, or we hear bad news. When we hear good news we get very excited, and of course we’re attached to that, we want it to last, which it never does. When we hear bad news we get very upset, and often depressed and angry.
The next one is gains, or losses. When we gain something, when we get something that somebody gives us, we’re all happy and excited and think, “Oh, how wonderful.” Then, when we lose things, or people take them away from us, or they break, like my website going down for example, then we get all upset. Gains and losses can be in terms of people coming into our lives. We gain a friend, or we lose a loved one, or obviously it can also be financial.
The last pair is things going well, or things going poorly, so we get all excited and attached, or we get depressed and angry.
Buddha taught many different methods for overcoming these disturbing emotions that arise in these difficult situations. One method is to apply opponent forces. This is a provisional method that we can use; it’s not going to get rid of the disturbing emotions forever. It doesn’t go deeply enough, but it’s very, very helpful. Let’s say things are going poorly for us. We have somebody in our life that’s treating us in a very nasty, unpleasant way, and we’re always getting angry with this person. What we would apply here, the opponent for anger, is love. Now, we’re not just saying here in a very simplistic way, “Well, don’t be angry with this person, love them.” Obviously that’s not possible for most of us to just change like that, but here’s a good example of using understanding in order to be able to change our emotional state.
This person is acting horribly toward us, and why are they acting that way? Probably because they’re very unhappy. Something is bothering them. I’m sure you have people like this in your life who, for instance, are always complaining. So whenever they’re with you, all their conversation is complaining about this and about that, and they’re always just talking about themselves, and being with them is just a complete “down-experience.” If we analyze it, the person is acting like this obviously because they’re extremely unhappy. “If they could only be happy, then they would stop complaining all the time, and giving me a hard time.” The definition of love in Buddhism is the wish for the other person to be happy and to have the causes of happiness. So, if instead of wishing this other person would just go away and not bother me, if instead we develop the wish that may they be happy, that whatever is bothering them go away so that they stop bothering me, [we will be less upset.]
The same thing if we’re very attracted to somebody: we apply various methods of using our imagination. We can imagine what their insides look like, so their stomach, and intestines, and brain, and these sort of things. Or especially helpful is when we look at their head, at their face, to imagine the structure of the skeleton of their skull. Of course that’s true, that is what’s underneath the skin of this person. Or another effective method is to imagine them as a baby, to imagine them as a very old person, what they will look like, and in this way to dampen our attachment, especially if it’s a sexual attraction, by seeing that what we see is just a surface appearance, and it’s certainly not going to last. Or if they had some horrible skin disease, or were covered with very heavy acne, would we still find them so attractive? We use these various methods as an opponent force to quiet down our anger, or longing desire. Again, the more that we understand that in fact there are intestines and a skeleton inside this person, the more our attitude toward them is more quieted down, more stable.
We can use less drastic methods, of course. Regarding this person that we feel such strong sexual attraction toward, we could see that when we have such strong attachment and attraction to a person, usually it’s focused just on their body. We lose sight of the fact that they’re a human being who wants to be happy, doesn’t want to be unhappy, doesn’t want to be treated just as a sexual object, for example. This person has their own insecurities, their own emotional problems, their own family problems, and in this way it’s an opponent to just seeing them as a sexual object. We actually see them as a real human being.
That also is extremely effective when we see somebody whom we find rather ugly or repulsive. This is particularly helpful for when we encounter beggars, extremely poor people in very low positions, in countries like here in Mexico, or in India one would encounter more frequently than in other countries, or people who are severely handicapped, whether blind, or deaf, or paralyzed.
I remember in Berlin there was an exhibition once regarding handicapped persons, and one part of this had a series of video interviews with people who had palsy, who were constantly shaking, and their mouth was all to the side, and they couldn’t speak properly. These people were talking about their sexual lives, and relating just that they in fact have the exact same type of emotions, the exact same type of sexual needs, and wish for relationships, and the type of relationships that they do have and so on. And it was required for all the school children in the city to go to this exhibition, which I thought was wonderful, to show that these people were real people, just like everybody else. So, this is a very helpful way for overcoming our repulsion, or indifference, or just discomfort when being with such persons.
You see an older person begging on the street, and you imagine “my mother” there on the street begging, or “my father,” or a young runaway person who is also begging, you think of “my son,” or “my daughter” being in that situation. This changes the whole emotional way of relating. I must admit that I’ve never done it, but I know of one Western Zen teacher in New York who has his students – I mean they’re not forced to do this, but if they want to – go out with absolutely no money on themselves, and no credit cards, or anything like that, and be homeless, and beg on the street for – I forget what period of time it was – like five days, or a week, or something like that, just to experience what that was like.
These are very powerful “medicines” for overcoming our indifference to others in difficult situations. I’m just thinking how often, when we encounter people like this, we don’t even want to look at them. It makes us feel uncomfortable. So, imagine being on the other side of that, that “there you are,” struggling and nobody wants to even look at you, or acknowledge your existence, or they chase you away as if you were a mosquito. Anyway, this is one method of applying opponent forces, but these are provisional, they don’t get to the root of the problem.
Another method, which actually does get down to the root of it, is to apply a state of mind that will be the exact opposite, mutually exclusive with the troubling state. So, without going into a great deal of detail here, but if underlying our attachment or anger is basically our confusion about how things exist – like for instance, we see somebody, take an example in a nursing home, an old age home. You see an old woman in a wheel chair, who is all shriveled up, and doesn’t really recognize anything, and is just sort of dribbling, and pecking at a towel in her lap. You see someone like that, and you tend to think that they’ve always been like that, and of course then you feel very uncomfortable. Especially when they are in these wheel chairs along the side of the walls of the hospital corridor, and you walk down because your mother, or your father, or your grandparent has one of the rooms down there, and these people sort of grab out their hand to you, and try to touch you, and you freak out seeing all these people.
Although we could apply an opponent force here of trying to remember that this is a human being, they had a life, they were a young person, they had a family, a profession and so on, they didn’t always look like this, and they’re just grabbing out because they want some human contact, but we can use a deeper method, which is that the way that I imagine that they exist, just like that, you know without ever being anything else, just “There they are, old and decrepit,” that this is impossible, that that’s absolute garbage, nobody exists that way; then focus on, “There’s no such thing. That’s impossible.” This is a much stronger way of stopping this misconception.
Then another method is the method that we use in an advanced type of meditation called “mahamudra,” which is called “seeing the underlying deep awareness, into which the disturbing emotion automatically releases itself.” What this is referring to is that there’s a basic structure in which our minds perceive reality, “the way that our mind works,” to put that in simple language. So, I’ll use an example. When we have strong longing desire toward someone, if we can relax the tension in that emotional state, then what we find underneath that is what’s called the “individualizing deep awareness.”
In other words, all that really is going on in terms of our way of being aware of this person is that we’re specifying this person as an individual, as opposed to anybody else. That’s all that’s going on actually in terms of the basic structure of the mind. Then, we project onto that, “This person really is special.” We exaggerate certain qualities and then you get longing desire, or attachment. Longing desire is when you don’t have the object, you want to get it; and attachment is when you have it, you don’t want to let go. If we relax the tension and the exaggeration in all this – I mean there’s a lot of energy that’s involved in the exaggeration and clinging and so on – if you relax that, all that you’re left with is the basic structure of what the mind is doing toward this object, which is just specifying it. That’s all.
Okay, that’s a quite advanced method to use – very effective if you can really use it, but it requires a bit of maturity – not get carried away by your emotions, but be able to see what’s going on in your inner emotional way of dealing with something, and cool down. The emotion just automatically releases itself, the more that we see the basic structure underneath it.
The fourth method is the method that’s used – now we get to our actual topic, the attitude-training – to change negative circumstances into positive ones. In other words, situations that you think are not conducive for your practice, to change them into a circumstance that is conducive to your practice. This is not so different from the methods that we’ve been speaking about. Basically what it means is to change the way in which you regard that circumstance, or that situation. Usually it’s translated as “mind-training,” but that sounds as though you’re training in concentration. That’s not really what we’re talking about. The word here is not “mind.” The word means an “attitude.” The word “training” has two meanings, both “to cleanse,” so you cleanse away the negative attitude, and “to train,” which is to train in the positive attitude.
A verse from the great Indian master, Shantideva, in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, hints at, or indicates this type of approach. He writes,
Why get into a foul mood over something.
And, if can’t be remedied,
What help is it to get into a foul mood over it?
If you can do something to change the situation, why get upset about it? Just change it. And if you can’t do anything about it, why get upset? It’s not going to help. So, if we are in a circumstance that seems to us very detrimental, very difficult, like criticism, or things going poorly, and so on, and we can’t actually change the situation, why get upset about it? Just change your attitude toward it.
There are many different manners of changing an adverse situation into a positive one. A certain number of ways of changing our attitude has to do with how we view others in a different way when they’re giving us trouble, and others have to do with how we view ourselves in these difficult situations. For instance, in terms of how we would view others differently, one way is to view them “like a wish-granting gem,” it says in the text. “Here is somebody that is offering me a challenge; they’re offering me an opportunity to grow, to test how far I’ve developed. This is wonderful.” “Here’s this person who has invited me for lunch, and they’re always complaining, and they’re completely depressing to be with, and this is wonderful! How great that this person has invited me, because now I have a chance to really practice patience and practice some understanding,” and so on. So, it’s a wish granting gem. “How wonderful my neighbor has asked me to baby-sit with the baby that I know is going to cry and scream the whole evening. This is great.”
Shantideva said this very nicely, I don’t have the exact verse, but what gives a bodhisattva the most joy is when somebody asks them to do something for them, and if nobody is asking them to do anything, they feel very sad, they feel useless. I have a website and I get a lot of e-mails, asking questions, or to do things, and it’s very easy to get quite annoyed at the amount that comes in. But if I could really practice like this, I would be delighted. The more that comes in, the more opportunity I have to help people. If we’re praying in a Buddhist way, “May I be of benefit to all beings,” and then more and more beings actually come to us and ask us to benefit them, haven’t our prayers come true?
The next one is to regard this person – who is giving us so much trouble, and is so unpleasant to be with – like our sick child. When our child is sick, and is crying, and is cranky, and so on, they could give us a terrible time. But we basically still have a great deal of love for them, because we understand that they’re sick. So, maybe they need to be put to bed, or whatever. But if they say, “Oh, I hate you and I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that,” we don’t take it seriously, because they’re sick. So, it’s a matter of just changing our attitude toward this person, regarding them as a sick child, rather then regarding them as an annoying pest.
A third way is to regard them as our teacher. There’s this famous story that Atisha when he went to Tibet brought an Indian cook with him, and the Indian cook never followed instructions, and always was arguing back, and so on. The Tibetans said to Atisha, “Why don’t you send him back to India? We can cook for you,” and Atisha said, “No, no! He’s not just my cook; he’s my teacher of patience.” So, if we have an annoying relative in our life, for example, that we have to deal with, in any case it’s very helpful to regard this person as our teacher of patience.
In fact, people can teach us many, many things. By acting badly, they can teach us not to act like that, for example. Even our dog can be our teacher. Did you ever notice how, if you take your dog around, and the dog is able to just lie down on the ground anywhere, and relax, and even go to sleep, whereas we need, “Oh, it has to be a special bed, it has to be a special linen, and it has to be soft,” or it has to be hard, or this, or that. The dog doesn’t complain. The dog can just lie down anywhere. This is a great teaching. These are ways to view others differently, when they’re giving us trouble – see them as a wish-granting gem, or as our sick child, or as a teacher.
Then there are also methods of how we change, how we view ourselves differently, change our attitude towards ourselves in these situations. The first one is “give the victory to others and accept the loss on yourself.” In other words, we tend to always think of ourselves as, “I have to win, I have to get my way, and the other person has to give in,” whereas, if we accept the loss on ourselves, the argument is finished. Like, for instance, I mean just a simple example, you’re with your friend, or partner, and “which restaurant shall we go to? We’re going out,” and we insist on another, and we argue back and forth, and back and forth. What difference does it make? “We’ll go to your restaurant,” and the argument is finished. So the argument is finished if we give the victory to the others.
Now, we’re not talking about really drastic situations, in which the other person is suggesting something very negative and destructive, but when it really doesn’t make any deep difference, give the victory to the other. Of course there can be objections in terms of this, if you’re always giving in, and the other person takes advantage of you, and so on, so obviously, one has to be sensitive when to use this type of method. But there are many situations, in which this is the best way of dealing with the problem.
I’ll give you an example from my own experience. I live in a part of Berlin which is the restaurant district, on a busy corner. And on the ground floor of my building – I live in an apartment building – there used to be a very quiet tavern, but then a new restaurant came there – a very, very popular Spanish restaurant, and that restaurant is open from seven o’clock in the morning until three o’clock in the morning, seven days a week. I live on the corner, this restaurant then is on the corner, and when it’s warm weather they have tables outside on both sides of my house. People sit outside and drink beer or wine, and talk loudly, and laugh, etc. until three o’clock in the morning. So, when they first moved there and opened the restaurant, and this is right outside the window of my bedroom, I used to lie there and be very, very annoyed, and frustrated, and have all sorts of fantasies of being in a medieval castle and having a big vat of boiling tar and pouring it down on people. But I couldn’t just be the grouchy old man that’s always calling up, and saying, “Shut up!” and “I’m going to call the police,” and stuff like that. This wouldn’t work.
So I decided that the only way to deal with this problem was to give the victory to the others, and accept the loss on myself. The only room in my house that doesn’t face the street is the kitchen. I have a very, very large kitchen, and there’s a raised platform in the kitchen, which is where the breakfast table is, and there’s plenty of space there, and I sleep there in the warm months. I have my mattress against the wall. I put it down on the floor in the evening, and I sleep in the kitchen. It’s perfectly quiet and in fact it’s the coolest room in the house as well. So, I’m very happy to sleep there, and I’ve given them the victory, and I don’t care how loud they are, because I don’t hear them. This is also very good at the time right before New Years, because Germans like very much firecrackers. It’s very, very loud from the street, but again, if I sleep in the kitchen, no problem.
A second method is to view these negative things that are happening as “burning off my negative karma.” So, this doesn’t mean we accept it as a punishment, but we think, by this difficult thing happening, it is burning off some negative karma in a smaller way that is preventing it from ripening in some really more terrible thing in the future. A simple example: we’re caught in traffic and we can’t move – a long time. So, we think, “Great! This is burning off the karma to be paralyzed, where I really can’t move, say if I have a stroke later in life.” So like this, we rejoice in fact that these negative things are happening, because this is clearing the way for things to go much, much better in the future.
If we look at the Buddhist tradition, in which there’s a belief in harmful spirits, then one takes this even a step further and you ask the harmful spirit, you know, “Send me more harm. Do more.” I had a very nice experience of this recently. Starting in around the middle of July for about two months everything was going wrong. Everything was breaking. I got an infection on my back, and I couldn’t go to the fitness club for about two months, because they had eventually, when the infection went away, they had to cut it off. I got a terrible virus on my computer, it even destroyed a hard disk, so I was a month without my regular computer. Then the printer broke; and I had two video players, both of them broke. I’m a great fan of astrology – for some unexplained reason, the database of all the horoscopes that I have collected of people disappeared, finished. I have no possibility of getting that information back. Then I broke my favorite cup that I always drink out of, and then – in the middle of this – I went to France for teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the airline lost my luggage.
This was the last thing that happened. When my luggage was lost, I just laughed at this. This was just so totally ridiculous, and then I started with, “Take more, harmful spirits! What else are you going to cause to go wrong?”
I had an infection underneath a root canal that had gone to the jaw underneath the tooth, and I had to have dental surgery to cut off a piece of the jaw bone. This was a few years ago, and I went to the dentist, and the dentist gave me the delightful news that the infection had come back in the scar tissue, and I had to have another dental surgery to cut it out again. So I was looking at this very much like, “Well, great! This is burning off the obstacles for putting up the Spanish and Portuguese sections of my website,” and the Polish as well, which we’re in the process of doing, and “Wonderful!” because the more positive the thing is that you’re trying to do, the more obstacles there are to it.
So, I looked at the whole thing as a wonderful situation that was burning off the obstacles, and so I asked the harmful spirits, “Take more. Cause more obstacles,” and I was not unhappy at all during this whole period of everything breaking and going wrong. So, if you can actually apply this, it really does work. Instead of looking at a situation as being so difficult, and so horrible and depressing, you change your attitude, and you look at it, “This is a wonderful situation.”
The last one that I wanted to mention is probably the most advanced and difficult of these. It’s the practice of tonglen, giving and taking, which is when we are experiencing tremendous difficulty, to think at that time, “May everybody’s difficulty ripen on me. May I be able to take it away in my experiencing all of this. May they not have to suffer what they’re suffering,” and “I will dissolve all of that pain and suffering, and tap into the basic happiness of the mind, and send that out to them.” Now, one has to be very careful not to adopt the pose of being the martyr, “I will suffer for you,” in a sense an aggrandizement of the ego in the process of doing this. I must confess I’m not terribly good at this method. To do it sincerely requires a tremendous amount of courage, but I did try it recently.
I mentioned that I had to have the second surgery on my jaw which is, because you’re awake during the thing and it’s delightful, they slice open the whole gum, and peel it down, and then take something like an electric saw, and go in and cut out a piece of the jaw bone and a little tip of the root of the tooth and some flesh around it. It really is quite almost medieval in this manner. The first time that I had it done, I really just found it very, very interesting what they were doing. It was actually not so painful, but the anesthesia was quite good, although in the middle I had to have more. But the second time that I had it done, the infection was much more, and when you have an infection the Novocain doesn’t actually work in that area, so it was extremely painful.
I tried the method that also is used in mahamudra – it’s just a sensation, no big deal. Whether you tickle your hand, or you pinch it, or scratch it, or cut it, it’s just a physical sensation, nothing more, so don’t make a big deal out of it. But then I finally remembered tonglen – at this time so much persecution and torture was going on in Tibet, and still is – and I started thinking about the incredible torture that the people there were experiencing, and compared to that, what I was experiencing was nothing – minor. It would last for two minutes and then it would be finished.
So, rather then thinking “Poor little me, I’m suffering,” you expand your mind to think of absolutely everybody else and think, “The amount of suffering that they have is far greater than this little suffering that I have,” and so it puts your own suffering in a completely different perspective. And then you think, “May all their suffering and pain be sucked into this pain in my jaw, and by me staying calm and happy through this, may I be able to give that to them.”
Although I certainly didn’t do it 100% properly, it helped very, very much in dealing with the situation, very, very much. I must confess I didn’t do it completely properly. If you do it properly, then you really want to feel their pain, have it aggravate your pain worse. Honestly speaking, that really is very advanced to do that sincerely. You can say it in words, but it doesn’t mean anything. But to actually really want that to happen is something else. But at least the feeling of sucking away their suffering, and having this suffering be sufficient for the suffering that they have, at least at that level, it’s possible to do. One shouldn’t confuse it with the real thing. The real thing is much, much more radical, because the state of mind that you’re developing here, that you’re using here, is one of instead of fighting the pain, you are voluntarily accepting it, with self-confidence that you can deal with it. And if you’re doing this on this large scale of everybody’s suffering, then of course you have the self-confidence to accept and deal with your own pain, and not fight it, and not be freaked out by it, and so on. So, it is not a magical type of method, if you analyze what’s going on with it, it makes tremendous sense.
So, these are some of the methods that are used with the attitude-training, with lojong. I think that regardless of our level of motivation, of what the ultimate spiritual goal we’re aiming for, whether we’re doing this so that we’re not prevented from helping others, or we’re doing this so that we avoid lower rebirths, or we’re just doing it to deal with things in our life better, that on any level it’s very, very helpful. The self-transformation that comes about from this is that, “No matter what type of adverse, difficult circumstances comes up, I’m not going to let it harm me. I’m not going to let it depress me,” and to have that general attitude in life, that “No matter what happens, I can transform it. I can use it. It’s not going to be a hindrance.” It gives you tremendous courage in life.
So, we think whatever positive force, whatever understanding comes from this, may it go deeper and deeper, and act as cause to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all. That takes us to the end of our talk. Thank you.
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