The Two Bodhichittas in The Seven-Point Attitude-Training
Session Four: The Eleven-Round Bodhichitta Meditation
In our discussion of the Seven Points for Cleansing Our Attitudes, we’ve discussed the first of these, the training in the preliminaries, which prepare us to follow the Mahayana training. And the second point, the actual training in bodhichitta: we’ve discussed the training in deepest bodhichitta (the understanding of voidness), and we’ve started the discussion of relative bodhichitta, and we’ve seen in many ways how important the understanding of voidness is (at least some level of it) for not only tonglen but the steps that come before it as well. So that when we try to develop our hearts and minds to sincerely wish to benefit everyone, and to take on the responsibility to do that, and to aim for enlightenment to be able to do that as fully as is possible – when we do that, we do that with the conviction that it’s possible and with some understanding, based on reason, of why it’s possible, and why it’s possible to relate to everybody and deal with everybody. This voidness helps us very much with that.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that there are two different types of love and compassion. There’s the love and compassion which are based on unawareness of reality, on other disturbing types of emotions which could in many cases automatically come up, based on previous attachment and so on. So this is a very (in a disturbing sense) emotional type of love and compassion. And this type of love and compassion is not stable, not dependable, because there’s quite a lot of ego involved here. And so part of it is being dramatic, to show off ourselves like a peacock putting out his feathers; we put out this emotional show of “Oh, I love you!” and these type of things.
I’m sure many of us have experienced this, that we love somebody and we feel compelled to have to always say it to them. “I have to express my love.” I mean it’s really quite interesting when we start to analyze that, because why do I have to express my love in words; why do I have to tell you? And of course sometimes it’s beneficial to tell the other person if they need reinforcement, and feel low self-esteem, and like that. But often we do that not because of a need of the other person, but for a need within ourselves. It’s almost as if by saying it, it makes it more real. I’m sure most of us can recognize that. So voidness helps us, of course, in this – that saying it certainly doesn’t make it more real. And not only does it not make the love real, but often it – you know how we have the expression from Descartes in the West, “I think, therefore I am,” it’s almost as if, “I love, therefore I am.” That somehow we think that this affirms my true existence: if I love somebody. And this really gets far out when we start to analyze it, because then if I’m not in a loving relationship with somebody, I don’t really exist. I can only be fulfilled, in terms of being an existent being, if I love somebody – of course, if I’m loved as well – and if I express it. It’s very subtle and really it’s very helpful when we start to realize that.
Sometimes I like to make up new Zen koan, and we have of course the Zen koan in the West: “I think, therefore I am.” So another Zen koan, a voidness Zen koan, would be: “I think, therefore I’m not.” And, likewise: “I love, therefore I’m not.” This is the same principle as if I was encased in solid plastic – I couldn’t move. If there were walls, you couldn’t walk. If there were walls around there, you couldn’t walk; but because there are no walls, I can walk. And so it’s exactly the same in terms of “I love, therefore I’m not.” “I think, therefore I am not.”
So if we try to develop love and compassion in a stable way, then it’s not going to work – we’ll get a little bit of something, but it’s not really going to be stable if it’s on the basis of “I love you, therefore I am.” “I’ll help you in order to establish and prove my own existence, my being worthwhile.” “I’ll help you in order to prove my being a worthwhile person.” That’s Sautrantika, what establishes that something is truly existent – it functions. So we must not work on the Sautrantika level. And actually Vaibhashika and Chittamatra say the same thing.
And so His Holiness explains that this type of love and compassion, based like this, is unstable because when we have this samsaric up and down – the eight transitory feelings or attitudes, the eight worldly dharmas – somebody is actually helped by us and we get all excited and feel wonderful, and if they’re not helped, or they don’t say “thank you,” or they criticize what you’re trying to do, then we get all depressed and we’re not stable. Our emotions go up and down, up and down. It’s called the “eight transitory things in life” (I just remembered how I translate it). And especially if our grasping for a solid “me” is reinforced by a culture that emphasizes guilt, if we try to help somebody and it doesn’t work or things still go badly with the person, we feel guilty, which is again a very heavy self-centered trip.
And so in this cleansing of our attitudes, why it comes so early in the text (this teaching on deepest bodhichitta) is that in order to develop our hearts emotionally (later on I give another reason) and to do it in a stable way, we need to cleanse our attitudes in terms of “I love, therefore I am,” and “I help, therefore I am.”
And so His Holiness always emphasizes that the second type of love and compassion, which is based on reason, is far more stable. When we understand through reason that nobody is special, especially myself, we are all equal, everyone has been equally kind and so on, and that ego, ego-gratification, all these things are really based on total unawareness and projection (that it’s not referring to anything real) – when our love and compassion is based on this type of reason and this type of understanding, then it develops and grows more and more in a very stable way. And we shouldn’t be prejudiced into thinking that love and compassion based upon reason is just dry and intellectual, you don’t really feel anything or feel any emotion – that’s a preconception which is false.
And I think we can get a bit of a glimpse of the difference here, although it might not be exactly the same, but by analogy. The difference between when we fall in love with somebody and we’re so sexually attracted, and we become partners or we become a married couple; and this type of love is very exciting, and so on, but that’s not very stable and eventually – because it’s usually based on not really accepting the reality of the other person, that they’re not the most fantastic beautiful being in the world, Prince or Princess Charming, but we find out that they snore, or whatever, you get the reality of both the positive qualities and the negative qualities of the person – and then after that initial, what we call “romance” in the West (it’s interesting there’s absolutely no word for that in Tibetan), but this romance wears off. Then if the people are mature – and it doesn’t always happen – if the people are mature, there’s a much, much more stable, long-lasting love which is based on understanding the reality of the other person: their shortcomings, my shortcomings, and so on. It’s emotional, but it’s a different type of emotion; it’s a stable type of emotion, a type of “meta-emotion,” and although it’s not exciting it’s far more satisfying.
When we have this fantasy of Prince or Princess Charming that we project onto the other person, then, although it may be exciting and although it may make us feel good, we also need to recognize that it is a very disturbing state of mind. It makes us feel very bad. I mean nobody can hurt us more and cause pain than somebody that we’re in love with who ignores us, or does something that we don’t like, or criticizes us, and so on. Our mind is distracted, we can’t really concentrate and do other things, because we’re always thinking of the other person. And although we think and we label this “True happiness. I’m in love,” we need to be a little bit more objective about it.
And if we analyze this state, then what we discover is that why do I feel so badly and it hurts so much when this person ignores me, doesn’t call, or doesn’t kiss me in the morning when we wake up – it is because we’re insecure. Again it’s a very strong example of “I love, therefore I am.” You love me and show your love to me, therefore I am.
The other extreme, what’s called the eternalist extreme, and the nihilist extreme goes hand in hand with that – if you don’t show me that I love you and if I’m not in love, therefore I totally do not exist at all – and that really freaks us out, that really disturbs us, the nihilist extreme. Not existing at all. So it’s very important to analyze this state of mind that we’re so attracted to and spend so much effort trying to find and repeat. Like people who have this middle age crisis when they feel: if I don’t do it again, it’s my last chance – which is yet another manifestation of insecurity and “I love, therefore I am.” Those who are older among us recognize that, I’m sure. Nobody will love me anymore because I’ll be fat, ugly, and old.
So if our love is more stable, and not for ego-gratification, and based on understanding reality, then our mind isn’t disturbed; we can feel more secure, and that gives us a basis for being more productive, more creative, really doing things in life. Otherwise we’re so distracted we can’t do anything.
So although I’ve actually jumped ahead a little bit here, what I’m discussing is some of the later points in the eleven-round bodhichitta meditation – the disadvantages of self-cherishing and the advantages of cherishing others. And cherishing others means this type of love and cherishing which is based on reason, not based on ego-gratification. “Cherish” means to feel very close to someone, and we consider them very, very precious, and so I really want to benefit and help this person – so that could be just ourselves or it could be others. This is the connotation of the word “cherish.”
So having this cherishing of others based on stable love and compassion, which is based on reason and so on, the benefits – not only for the other person, because we don’t scare them, frighten them – the benefits of such a mature type of love and compassion, cherishing, to the other… I mean, not only is that far more beneficial, because they’re not frightened by us, they’re not overwhelmed by us, we don’t make any demands (it’s not that we’re asking for anything in return), we just love them for their reality – no projections. So the benefits are not only to the other person, but to ourselves in terms of being far more stable, not disturbed by the relationship, able to help so many others and so on – not just be so focused on one, and if they don’t thank us we’re in a complete depression.
So when trying to help others and so on – I introduced this image yesterday: Don’t be this huge, hideous, frightening-looking mother spider, “Raargh! I’m going to help you! Love me back.” This type of thing. But it’s very helpful to bring that image up when we catch ourselves starting to act like that, but to act in a different way as Shantideva gives the very, very beautiful image for this in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (Bodhicaryavatara) – he says, “In helping others, be like a honey bee.” A honey bee goes to these beautiful flowers all the time and has a very close loving relation with the flower, but doesn’t get attached, doesn’t get caught to the flower, and then goes on to the next beautiful one. This is a very helpful image.
So let’s go back a little bit here to the eleven stages of the eleven rounds, one by one. And I don’t want to go into great detail about these, you can study these here. But what I wanted to emphasize is how to develop these in a stable way, not on the basis of a disturbing emotion, ego-gratification type of love and compassion. That’s not the bodhisattva path.
We started with the equanimity with which we are neither attracted nor repelled, or ignore, or indifferent to anyone – every being that experiences the consequences of its actions, his or her actions. And it means everybody, including all the insects and so on. Actions based on intention, that’s what builds up karma. Right, that’s a sentient being – I prefer “limited” being. So a Buddha is not a sentient being. A being with a limited mind, limited body, not in terms of someone being crippled with disease, we’re not talking about that, but limited in what it can understand, what it can do, and limited by its own experiencing of karmic consequences, its own disturbing emotions and so on. That’s what a sentient being is. Buddha is not one. You know what I’m referring to. Limited because you’re poor, it’s the result of the consequences, or you’re always in difficult situations or relationships. And then we saw the importance of the understanding of voidness for clearing out this attraction, repulsion, and indifference. Equalizing in that sense – that now we’re open to everyone. It sets the ground, clears the ground.
So we shouldn’t trivialize this step at all. It’s unbelievably difficult to achieve, because obviously we have attraction based on desire and attachment, and we have repulsion based on anger, and we have indifference based on naivety. So we’re not arhats yet; we haven’t gotten rid of all of that. So to be able to have that perfectly of course we have to be liberated beings, but what we can do to advance at our stage now is to not act on it, to not be uncontrollably compelled by these disturbing emotions so that we’re biased toward one or to the other. It’s very difficult, unbelievably difficult. This first step of bodhichitta is extremely advanced.
And so the standard way of developing this type of equanimity is to think of past lives, that everybody’s position has changed. I mean as there’s infinite time, beginningless time, then everybody sometimes has been our friend, has been our enemy, has been a stranger – every friend that we ever had started out as a stranger – and so, like this, we gain equanimity.
There are of course many other Dharma ways to deal with these three poisonous attitudes, these three disturbing attitudes. We’ll find one here in the tonglen practice. Attachment, repulsion, and indifference. Desire, anger, and naivety. And so I think it’s most appropriate that we try to apply every Dharma method that we know to deal with this issue of equanimity, and don’t just follow the one which is the standard meditation. Of course we practice the standard meditation, but it’s much better, much more effective, to try to apply as many different opponents as we can to deal with these type of issues. Whether, you know, looking at the ugliness of what’s inside the body of someone we find so attractive, or seeing the underlying type of deep awareness – you’re so attracted to someone, so it’s just the individualizing awareness that specifies one person – these type of things you apply. Whatever you can. It’s like if you have HIV, you don’t just apply one drug, you really need a combination, a cocktail of many things. So whatever we can learn from the Dharma, we apply in every difficult situation and step of development.
But on a practical level, who is it that we try to help? Who can we, especially when we’re limited, we don’t have the capacity to help everyone. Then of course we would choose the ones who we feel some sort of connection with and who feel some connection with us, so that they’re open and receptive. So, I mean, sure, that’s where you start, because this is where we can be most effective. But then you have to watch out not to be attached and not to be indifferent to others, to watch out for the dangers of the disturbing emotions there. But somebody who is really aggressive and hostile toward us, it’s very difficult for them to be open to anything that we could try to do to be of help to them. We have wishes: I hope that I can be able to help you in the future; I’m not repelled by you, but my time is limited and my capacity is limited. So this is on a very practical level. You’re not open to only this one, always be open to more and more and more. It’s like more people joining the class – you always have to be open to more who would like to come.
So no matter how old they are, how much we are involved in our family and so on, it’s very important to have our hearts open to new people coming into our lives, but not on the basis of ignoring those who are close to us. But also we have to be practical in terms of the amount of time that we have, the amount of things that we can do. And even if the other person, the new people, make tremendous demands on us that are impossible, if we are free of these disturbing emotions (or at least not compulsively under their influence) we can set limits with the other person in such a way that they don’t feel rejected by us. That’s the only way to set limits. Give them a little bit of time. “Hey, I can’t give you everything.”
And also, when we’re on the other side of this type of relationship, we have to also work really hard to accept the limitations that the other person has – in terms of their time, their availability, their emotional maturity – and not make demands beyond what is realistic. That also requires a tremendous amount of emotional maturity. And it’s necessary not only when we are on the receiving end of help from somebody, but also in terms of how that person is going to respond back to us. Don’t expect anything – it says that here in the training.
One image which is perhaps helpful in terms of helping those that are receptive and around us, even though we have the wish to be able to help everybody, and having equanimity, is the image of putting a bird feeder in the garden – some sort of thing that the birds can come and eat from. Well, it would be very nice to be able to feed all the birds on this planet, but we don’t have that capacity at the moment, and so we put out what we can for the birds that are near us, but it doesn’t matter which birds come – it’s not only for our favorite birds, it’s open to everybody. That’s a very nice image. And we don’t expect anything back from the birds. I mean unless of course you’re attached to having them around so you can spy on them and watch them. I’m talking about doing it with a more pure type of motive.
And also I think a very good example is the example of the Buddha. Not everybody was open and receptive to Buddha when he was here on the earth. And also Buddhas don’t appear all the time; they only appear when beings are open and receptive. It’s not that they don’t want to help beings during the so-called “dark ages” when nobody is open or receptive, it’s just that it’s in many ways a waste of time to come if nobody wants their help. That’s a good example. And a line that I always, always remind myself that is so helpful: “Not everybody liked Buddha, so what do I expect for myself?” It’s very helpful when somebody doesn’t like us, or rejects us, or criticizes us, or whatever. So please remember that.
So we have equanimity. And then we spoke about recognizing everyone as having been our mothers, which Atisha also pointed out as one of the most difficult points possible: to actually sincerely feel that with absolutely everybody – this by no means can be trivialized. So it can only be directed toward everybody on the basis of equanimity, not being attracted to some, repelled by others, or indifferent to others. We weave about what their previous lives could have been.
First of all, we saw yesterday that if we can prove with reason that it’s impossible that somebody has not been our mother, if we can prove that, that gives us a little bit more stable reason for trying to develop this attitude. Otherwise it’s just based on a fiction. If it’s based on a fiction, how can we really be sincere about it? Remember the line: “If one person, if one being, has been my mother in this lifetime, and everybody is equal, then everybody has been my mother – because if one were never my mother then, since everyone is equal, everybody was never my mother and I didn’t have a mother in this lifetime.” I mean I haven’t seen this line of reasoning in Buddhist texts, but we worked it out. It seems to make sense.
Then on the basis of recognizing and distinguishing them…. so we distinguish. What does distinguishing mean? We had this in the five aggregates – it means to distinguish a conventional characteristic feature. So one of the conventional characteristic features of everyone (not that it’s a hook on their side) is that they’ve been our mother at some point or another. So when we meet them, this is the distinguishing characteristic that we want to focus on.
And then the third step is that we remember the kindness of motherly love: how much our mother helped us. Even if our mother in this lifetime is quite disturbed, well, in a previous lifetime she might have been our mother and not so disturbed. And also, I mean, she didn’t abort us – that’s at least something.
So if we have approached this bodhichitta meditation without having this strong egocentric type of identification with “me” and this particular lifetime and this particular mother that I have [now], then I think that we don’t have so much of a problem in meditating on the kindness of motherly love – because we don’t just localize it in terms of “Well, what did my mother give me when I was a child?” Otherwise, I mean a lot of people have problems with this and it’s found in some texts, you can also think of the kindness of your father, your best friends, and so on. But it’s found in some texts. But I think if we have problems with our mother, this specific mother in this lifetime, then you need to work on it. How are you going to help everybody, all your mothers, if you can’t deal with this mother? That doesn’t mean that our mother in this lifetime is receptive to us and is open and is an easy case, but at least try to have the attitude of equanimity without resentment and repulsion.
They don’t say if you have difficulty with your mother in this lifetime in the classical texts, because I was present with His Holiness when this was discussed, beside him, and he was quite amazed that people have difficulty with their mothers. In traditional Asian families maybe you had some difficulties with your father; but in the traditional Asian family a mother’s stability is of love and warmth and acceptance. Tibetans don’t have this kind of problem. We can also think of the kindness of the father, best friends, and so on, which is a very helpful meditation if you get into this state of mind that “nobody loves me.”
And if we have one of these types of mothers that is overprotective and constantly worrying about us and really being very heavy about that, we need to try to apply some of the Dharma methods. And one that I’ve found is most effective with that is trying to deconstruct the emotion behind the mother’s behavior: that there is basically, underlying this, the individualizing awareness that’s focusing on us and really caring about us and about our welfare. Now, of course, in addition to that there’s tremendous insecurity, and ego grasping, and all of that, but try to see the positive component of the emotion that the mother is feeling and recognize that, acknowledge that. That’s not something that we want to reject. She’s not indifferent; it’s not that she doesn’t give a damn and she doesn’t care.
Then in terms of what’s added here in the eleven rounds is that people have been kind to me not just when they were my mother, beings have been kind at all times. And then we look at everything that we have in life, it’s dependent on the work of others: the food, and the roads that bring the food, and the animals – our lives are sustained by an incredible network of effort and work by so many others, that you really extend it to absolutely everybody. And so whether or not they intended to be kind to us or help us, it doesn’t matter. If it weren’t for what they did, we couldn’t survive, couldn’t live. So this opens our mind even more – our heart even more – to the kindness of others and the relation with others, the interdependence with others. This is very important, that aspect of it. And one way of working with this is to look at every item in our house, in our room, and think. “Where did this come from?”
Let’s have our coffee break and then we’ll continue.
The fourth step of this eleven-step meditation is to remember the motherly love and the kindness we’ve received from everybody even when they’ve not been our mothers. We develop a feeling of gratitude, and based on that feeling of gratitude and connection with everybody, then we wish to repay that motherly love.
Now it’s quite obvious that we need very clearly some understanding of voidness here. Otherwise it’s quite easy for this step to translate into guilt: “Everybody has been so kind to me and I’ve been such a terrible person; I haven’t done anything to help them back; I’m guilty, I’m no good, and so I’d better do something.” So this is acting out of guilt, holding on to this strong identity of “I’ve been such a terrible son or daughter.” So that – absolutely we have to clear out. This step can’t at all be on the basis of guilt.
So this is really essential – we wish to repay that motherly love. It’s really quite interesting when they describe this in the teachings. All they say is that it naturally will arise. That when you think of how much kindness that we’ve received, that just naturally we would want to be kind in return. And that’s something we have to examine. If there’s a block in that, where is the block? It’s very interesting that in the Indian and Tibetan context they would say that it naturally arises. That’s not so clear to me – and as I say, it’s not in the text – what the problem is for most of us. I think one of the aspects is guilt, but the more one analyzes, if we have really developed these first steps in a stable type of way, in a non-ego type of way, in which we don’t feel insecure, that if we’re already at some level of emotional maturity, that just sort of a natural sense of decency comes up.
It’s very interesting when you look at young children, that often they want to help. They want to help in the house or do things like that. That’s sort of naturally there, but if it’s constantly put down – “You’re going to break it!” or “I’ll do it for you,” this sort of control freak type of parent that doesn’t let the child do anything – then that reinforces this sort of low self-esteem which can be a big block, which says, “Well, I can’t do anything to repay it, I’m no good. Anything that I do will not be good enough, and so on.” So I think that has to be dealt with before this sort of natural feeling of just naturally wanting to repay, wanting to participate in this general atmosphere of kindness. Why do little children like to take care of a baby doll? Where’s that coming from?
It’s not just my idea. In fact it’s often recommended by psychologists and psychiatrists that one of the best ways to help somebody who has low self-esteem is to let them do something. Do something for you. It’s often the case with very difficult teenagers. Let them do something for you, doesn’t matter how poorly they do it, it really doesn’t matter. But if they can actually give, in some form or another, that helps to build up their self-esteem and unconsciously helps them to pay back some of the kindness that they’ve received without this feeling that: “I can never do anything good enough.” And if you can actually give and pay back, then there’s this feeling that – well, even if it’s an ego-based thing – that, “Well, I’m worthwhile, I can do something.”
It’s very important to let other people help us because often we have this control freak mentality. You know, “Oh, you’re going to break it. Certainly don’t touch my personal computer, because you’re going to break it.” We don’t let people do things for us when they offer. That’s really being very unkind to the other person, let alone the standard Dharma thing that, you know, let them build up the merit, the positive force of doing something. Just on a psychological level, it’s very important to help the other person – to let them help.
It’s quite interesting if you analyze and think these things out, that perhaps one of the reasons why this arises naturally in Indian or Tibetan families, or in Asian families in general, and probably was the case in medieval times as well in the West, is that for survival purposes the children have to help. And so they go and they help take care of the animals, or the farm, or the shop – I mean, little kids, four years old are already helping out in India in the parent’s shop. And so they get a feeling of self-confidence, that they’re actually able to do things. We always involve child labor and these sort of things, but actually, from a psychological point of view, I think that it is very helpful. Obviously, you don’t want to exploit a child, but we have to see that this can arise naturally. What are they doing that we are not doing in the way that they raise children, the way the families function, so that they don’t have a block at this step? If you look at the Asian families, a six-year-old girl is taking care of a two-year-old child.
Now if we’re doing the six-part cause and effect practice, these are the stages that belong to that particular tradition – the six causes, then the seventh one which is the result. Bear in mind that the first step, equanimity, is step zero in the seven steps. I love it in Berlin, the only airport that I’ve ever been to where they have Gate Zero. I love it, wonderful.
At this point you go to the step of love. Love is the wish for others to be happy and to have the causes of happiness, but actually there is a step in-between which is not counted in the count either – this is what I translate as “heart-warming love.” This is the step before wishing everybody to be happy and have the causes for happiness. It’s the type of love with which you feel close and cherish everybody equally and would be really upset if anything went wrong with them. It’s like that feeling that we have – I mean, if we can subtract the ego-gratification aspect of it – that feeling that we have when our closest loved friend comes into the room. That, “Ohhhh,” our heart just really feels warm and lightens and opens and we feel so happy to see this person. I mean, not the baby that’s come home to the mother spider. But this is what we want to cultivate as a result of all of this practice, is to feel that when we meet anybody.
If you look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it’s incredible. No matter who he meets, he’s just so happy to meet somebody, anybody. He just lights up completely to absolutely everybody that he meets. And for some, especially these very serious uptight politicians or leaders from other religions, you know, it’s really very shocking. His Holiness takes their hands, and these sort of things, and from a Western point of view it’s outrageous, but it puts people at ease because it’s so sincere.
So we have a good, good living example of this. That’s rare. There obviously are others as well, but with His Holiness it’s so strong – this warmth that he feels for absolutely everybody. When he goes to an audience – like in Berlin he gave a public talk last year, twenty-two thousand people came to this, and His Holiness comes on stage and just is waving and everybody instantly loves him. It’s extraordinary. How does that happen? What is the secret? It’s this, bodhichitta; it’s heart-warming love. Buddha’s hard to relate to. You want to become like His Holiness the Dalai Lama. How many times does he in all the texts have to say, “Develop bodhichitta.”
So it’s at this point in the eleven steps or eleven rounds that the stages from the other method, the second method of developing bodhichitta, the equalizing and exchanging of self and others, comes in. And the reason why it’s added here, it starts with that, is because up to this point this is where you get the basis actually for equalizing and exchanging self with others. That’s why it’s more advanced, because it’s based on this heart-warming love. And so normally with the second method you start with the step number zero – equanimity without attachment, repulsion or indifference – and then you jump to this first step. But it’s much more stable when these other stages are added.
So the next step is the step of having an equal attitude toward everyone. So it’s not the equanimity that’s discussed in step zero (or step one) here in the eleven rounds. It is the special Mahayana type of equal attitude, and that’s the equal attitude of closeness, of this heart-warming love, this closeness to everybody, equally. And of course it can be reinforced with many reasons, and this is why this second method is more stable: it doesn’t have the dangers, the ego dangers, of the first method if we’re not sufficiently prepared with voidness. So reasons like: everybody wants to be happy; nobody wants to be unhappy; everybody has the same right to be happy and not to be unhappy; and if you have food for people it’s not fair to just give it to the ones that you like, everybody is equally hungry; and so on. So there are many reasons to reinforce this view of everybody being equal. But it has also this emotional component to it of heart-warming love: a feeling of closeness for everybody and warmth.
Now in the classical presentation, when we speak about seeing equality of self and others, it is toward everybody on the basis that they have the same wishes as we do. So everybody wants to be happy and not to be unhappy – just as I do. Everybody has the same right to be happy and not to be unhappy – just as I do. So what is again quite interesting is that in the classical presentation, you don’t speak of directing this heart-warming love toward ourselves, but in terms of everybody being equal. It’s not just: “I love everybody else, but I hate myself. Because I’m a sinner I’m going to help everybody, because I’m no good” – this type of thing. Again I was there when His Holiness was first confronted with this Western low self-esteem, and people hate themselves, and His Holiness was shocked. This was a meeting with scientists and His Holiness went around the room and asked each of us individually, “Do you really hate yourself? I mean do you really not like yourself?” And everybody had to admit, “Yes.” His Holiness was shocked at this.
But I think it’s within the spirit of the teachings that we extend this equal warmth and happiness to be with ourselves, not just feeling, “Oh, my God, now I’m alone. And I don’t want to be alone! I can’t possibly be alone!” You know, people that constantly have to have, from the moment they wake up till the moment they go to sleep, they have the radio or the TV on – so that they’re not by themselves, God forbid. Or they have music constantly. God forbid that they have to be alone with their thoughts.
The next step, then, is the disadvantages of self-cherishing, and the following step will be the advantages of cherishing others. These we’ve spoken about already, so I won’t repeat. And it’s at this point where, after this, we get the tonglen, which is combined now with the steps that we find in the first tradition – the seven-part cause and effect.
Although in the seven-part cause and effect, love comes first (wishing everybody to be happy and to have the causes of happiness), and then comes compassion (wishing for them to be free of their suffering and the causes of their suffering), here the order is reversed. Because now we’re taking on some of that suffering – so imagining removing it from them so that we can then give them some happiness. So with compassion, take; and with love, give. Because it’s like if a pail, a bucket, is full of dirty water, well, not only is there no room to put clean water in, but even if you could put clean water in, it would just get dirty. You couldn’t get it filled with clean water. That’s not a precise example because we can’t take out all their suffering, but at least we imagine that we do, so that then they’re relaxed enough and not in such intense pain that they can really benefit more from the happiness. If you have somebody who is hit by a car and there’s bleeding, you don’t first give him a kiss and give him a meal and stuff like that. Obviously their intense pain – you have to take care of that first.
It’s very important to actually apply that in our interaction with others. Somebody comes to visit us and is very tired and very upset and so on – deal with that first before you start giving them all sorts of nice things, and doing nice things. That’s more nice, of course, to help them with, “Do you need a rest?” or whatever. If somebody’s had a long journey, and you want to immediately throw them at the table to eat a huge meal, after they’ve come from the airplane on which they’ve eaten all sorts of junk for hours and hours, that’s not what this person needs at that time. They need a little rest, to lie down for a while.
So we have this tonglen practice. I won’t go into detail now since that comes next, but what’s quite interesting here is that this step of love and compassion already is taking some level of responsibility to do something. His Holiness always says that compassion has an element in it of not just, “Well, I wish somebody else would help you,” but it has some sense of responsibility, as well, to help as much as we can with this particular suffering situation now.
The next step is what’s called the “exceptional resolve” and “extraordinary wish,” which is to take the responsibility – sometimes His Holiness says “universal responsibility” – to remove the suffering from everybody and help everybody, which of course is already included in great compassion as we had in the homage. It’s extended to everybody, but let’s take them all the way to enlightenment – which could also of course be included into the tonglen practice, but here it’s made a separate step because that really is quite extraordinary. Extraordinary resolve – I’m going to take responsibility to not just feed everybody, but bring everybody to enlightenment, liberation and enlightenment.
Then we finally get to develop the bodhichitta, which is that we examine to see, “Well, am I able to bring everybody to enlightenment – obviously not – the only way that I can do that is to reach enlightenment myself.” And so the first motivating emotion that’s based on all these steps: the connection with everybody, and love and compassion, and responsibility to help everybody to enlightenment. And also, as I stress very much, based on understanding that it is possible for me to reach enlightenment, that it is possible for everybody else to reach enlightenment, then our focus is on (and we understand the imputability of) a not-yet-happened enlightenment. Individual, my individual not-yet-happened enlightenment on my mental continuum – that we recognize that’s a valid imputation. Then we aim for that, and then we have the second intention which is to achieve that. Why? Because we have the initial motivating emotion to be able to help everybody as fully as possible. That’s bodhichitta. It’s not just, “I love everybody!”
I just want to mention this as an aside because I know a few of you have been studying here about negation phenomena, but this is what we mean by “future” in Buddhism. Not yet happened. Not-yet-happening of something. So that not-yet-happening of our future enlightenment – that exists; that can be known. The not-yet-happening of it. That doesn’t mean that our future enlightenment, the not-yet-happened enlightenment, is happening now. But it exists and can be an object of valid cognition. And that requires a very delicate understanding of what are we talking about now. And what does it mean for a Buddha to know the future? The not-yet-happening of something. And that, of course, can only be known conceptually – we’re not there yet, we’re not a Buddha. But it’s very helpful to have an idea (and this is really complicated) what in the world are we are focusing on with bodhichitta? What’s the object of focus? The negation phenomenon, not-yet-happening of something, it’s not yet happened. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, just means it’s not happening now. It’s not happening somewhere else, over there. This means it’s validly known.
Because actually it is quite difficult to meditate on bodhichitta with single-minded concentration. What in the world appears in our concentration? What are we focusing on? That’s not a simple question, and most of us, I think, have no idea what in the world to do. So we sit and we just meditate on loving everybody. That’s not bodhichitta. So, often meditating on a visualized figure of a Buddha, or in tantra ourselves as a Buddha-figure – that’s what directly appears, what we explicitly know. Implicitly, without it appearing, we know the not-yet-happened enlightenment and the not-yet-happening of it. Those are two different things. The enlightenment itself which has not yet happened and the not-yet-happening of it. So as I say, it requires a great deal of instruction and sensitivity to these distinctions in order to meditate correctly on bodhichitta. Each of these steps is very advanced, but bodhichitta itself is incredibly advanced.
If we are focusing on a Buddha in front of us and we think of the great qualities of a Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni, how wonderful that is – this is refuge. This is safe direction. Because we’re inspired by that to put this safe direction in our life. That’s not bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is not focused on the enlightenment of somebody else. It’s focused on our own enlightenment which has not yet happened. That’s an important distinction between safe direction and bodhichitta. We can’t achieve Buddha’s enlightenment; we can only achieve our own enlightenment. It’s individual. And we’re not focusing either on just a general category of enlightenment. It’s an individual item, individual enlightenment – our own – which has not yet happened. And we’re not talking about the enlightenment of an impossible soul, of the impossible “me,” but the not-yet-happened enlightenment of the conventional “me.” That’s why this distinction has to be quite clear, otherwise working for enlightenment to be a Buddha becomes a big ego trip.
So I think we can appreciate from this how delicate the proper development of bodhichitta is. And it’s not something that can be oversimplified and trivialized. It’s a very, very sophisticated advanced step. As Shantideva and Tsongkhapa and everybody says, it’s incredible, this is the most incredible wish-granting gem, they say. It can fulfill everything if we can do it properly and really be sincere about it. As they say in some of the texts, if we’re going to ask the great masters and so on to say prayers for us, don’t ask them to say prayers that may we have worldly success – may my business succeed, may my daughter find a good husband, or these sort of things. But the most wonderful prayers that we can ask a lama to make for us is, “May I be able to develop authentic bodhichitta.”
In our weekend we obviously have not gotten terribly far in the text, we haven’t even gotten to the discussion of tonglen, but I think that this is quite okay because tonglen is a very, very difficult thing to do. I mean, developing bodhichitta is very difficult to do. But if we have some idea of what to work on, to prepare, then we can do tonglen practice properly. Because to do it improperly cannot just simply be a joke; it’s not a joke because these are very heavy practices – that’s not a very nice word, but it’s very heavy what we’re doing with it – and it’s not something to play around with, because it can really freak you out. Some of the visualizations and things, it just reinforces fear and push – it’s like these days I’m going to chiropractor, trying to loosen up something in my lower back, and I’m very, very stiff, and he can’t push too hard because if he pushes too hard for the bone and the muscles, if he pushes too hard to make the bones and muscles crack and move, it can do a tremendous amount of damage. And so you have to be very gentle, work up to it gradually so that you get that flexibility. So the same thing with practicing tonglen. Our minds and our hearts are incredibly stiff, and you can’t just push it: “Stop being selfish and think of everybody!” Because it can do some emotional damage here. It can really freak you out. So this tonglen needs proper preparation in order to practice it.
So that’s fine. What I’ve shared with you this weekend is some ideas about the preparation, then you can prepare and prepare and try to get some sort of stability in some of these steps, and then next time when I come we can continue the text.
We have about ten minutes. If there are any questions, I’ll try to keep my answers short so that we can have a few questions. This looks like a list of many questions! One at a time, please.
Question: We talked about the mind being beginningless and also ignorance is beginningless. So why is the nature of the mind pure and clear since beginningless time?
Alex: Mental activity (mind) and unawareness have no beginning, that’s true, but unawareness is a fleeting stain – it’s not the nature of the mind, in the sense that it’s not an essential part or nature of the mind, because it can be removed. Why? Because unawareness can be totally opposed with awareness. You can’t have unawareness and awareness simultaneously, they’re mutually contradictory – because if I understand a little bit, but I still don’t really know, that understanding a little bit is not correct understanding. You still have a little bit less confused unawareness, but it’s still just unawareness. When you have absolutely correct and decisive understanding, you can’t have unawareness or ignorance, simultaneously.
And so because of that and because although the habit of unawareness is stronger than the habit of awareness, of understanding, there’s no support behind – this is the word that is used in Tibetan – there’s no support behind the unawareness that would make it valid. Whereas there’s a great deal of supporting evidence for valid understanding and so, because of that, valid understanding can – again the Tibetan word – it can hold its position. It doesn’t fall apart when the unawareness starts to come again, it doesn’t shatter it, although you might not remember it anymore for a while. And so if you can reach the stage where that unawareness is totally replaced by awareness, then it’s not going to come again. So it can be removed.
Now what’s really important here is that it follows from this that all the disturbing emotions and attitudes are also fleeting, and can also be removed forever, because they all rely on unawareness. Whereas all the good qualities – love, compassion, and so on – these can’t be removed, because what is underlying and validating them, what supports them, is valid correct understanding of reality. And so, although the negative qualities can be removed forever, the positive qualities can’t be removed. The more understanding we have, the more they’re reinforced. This is very important to understand.
And – although I will go over a few minutes here, but I think this is important to say – so these are the obscurations preventing liberation. So likewise the obscurations preventing omniscience are possible to get rid of. What is that? That’s the appearance-making of true existence due to the habits of grasping for true existence, and so automatically the mind makes mental holograms in which it appears as though everything has a line around it. We may not believe it, we know that’s just garbage, but it still appears like that. And that prevents us from being able to know everything: all the interrelations of cause and effect. I’ve explained it before, there’s no time to go into it, it’s like we have periscope vision – we only see a little bit, because our minds are limited because of beings appearing to have these solid circles around them, these solid lines around them.
Now that can be replaced by – when you have the nonconceptual cognition of voidness, even as an arya, at that moment there is no appearance-making of true existence. And so if we can sustain that forever, without any break, which only a Buddha can, then that periscope vision will never return. Then we’re aware of everything, there’s no limitation in terms of seeing the interconnectedness of everything, which is what omniscience is all about. So this is part of the proof of omniscience, that it is actually possible. And again that reinforces our aim of bodhichitta, that it is possible to achieve enlightenment. So that it’s not, “How in the world is it possible to be omniscient?” You have to sort of chew on that before you can actually aim for it.
And one last point, that when the unawareness, the habits of unawareness, are removed forever from the mental continuum, the mental continuum still retains its essential nature as a mental continuum. In other words, the ignorance, the unawareness, and the deceptive appearance-making are not defining characteristics of a mental continuum. They can be removed. Whereas the essential nature, defining characteristic of a mental continuum, which is (in simple words) the mere clarity awareness – the arising of appearances and cognizing them – that can’t be removed. If that were removable, then a mental continuum would no longer retain its essential nature as a mental continuum. You have to think about that. And so, because of that, a mental continuum never ends. There’s nothing you can do to make it end.
I’ll just put it in a very simple way and then we’ll end, is that if there was a mutually exclusive state of mere arising and cognizing – making appearances and cognizing them – if there was a mutually exclusive state of that, of not making mental holograms and not cognizing them, how could you ever know that? So with that koan to think about, let’s end with a dedication:
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