Developing Our Buddha-Nature Factors through Sutra and Tantra
Moscow, Russia, April 2011
Session Two: The Two Networks
We’ve been speaking about the Buddha-nature factors that will enable us to attain the various bodies of a Buddha. And we’ve seen that there are three types:
- The evolving factors, which transform into the nonstatic Buddha-bodies – the two Form Bodies, Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya. And that refers to our network of positive force (sometimes called collection of merit) and to our network of deep awareness (sometimes called the collection of wisdom), which transforms into the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya (or Jnana-dharmakaya) of a Buddha, Buddha’s omniscient mind.
- And in addition to these evolving traits there are the abiding traits: the voidness of our mental continuum, which accounts for the voidness of the mind of a Buddha. It’s the static Essential Nature Body of a Buddha.
- And the third type of Buddha-nature factor is the facet of our mental continuum that allows for the various things built up on it to be stimulated and inspired to grow.
And we looked a little bit more closely at these evolving factors – these two networks, two collections. And now we’re going to need to look at these networks a little bit more closely.
When we speak of these networks, we can speak of them on two levels: the samsara-builder networks and the pure-builder networks. The samsara-builder networks are the ones that contribute to our continuing samsaric rebirth. In general, if you build up a lot of positive potential, it leads to better rebirths, one of the better rebirths. And although we don’t think in terms of a network of negative force, negative karmic force, that is analogous here. So if you build up a lot of negative potential, negative force, it results in a worse rebirth state.
But we also have pure-builder networks, and these are differentiated according to the motivation and dedication with which they’re built up. This word motivation (kun-slong) is a complex of two things; actually it is our aim and the emotional state of mind that is behind our intention (’dun-pa) to achieve that aim. That’s important to understand. Whenever we speak about motivation in Buddhism, we always mean these two aspects: our aim and the state of mind that drives us to achieve that aim.
So there are two levels of pure-builder networks. If our aim is to attain liberation and the emotion behind that is renunciation – the determination to be free of samsara, samsaric rebirth – and our constructive behavior, or our meditation on the four noble truths or voidness, is dedicated afterwards toward our attainment of liberation, then this type of pure-builder set of networks could be called “liberation-builder networks.” They’re building up toward liberation, toward our attainment of liberation. And on the other hand, if our aim is to attain enlightenment and the state of mind behind that is love, compassion, taking this universal responsibility to bring everybody to enlightenment, and then bodhichitta, and after doing some constructive type of activity or meditating on the four noble truths or voidness, we dedicate the positive force from that toward attainment of enlightenment, then these are “enlightenment-builder networks.”
These networks are involved with perpetuating our samsaric existence and also our attainment of liberation and also our attainment of enlightenment. Everything depends on our motivation. In other words: What is our intention – what is our aim? What is the state of mind or emotion that’s behind it? And what we dedicate it to, if we dedicate it at all.
So we have four possibilities:
- We have no aim, no dedication, so we do both positive and negative types of things, and that just perpetuates the up and down situations of samsaric rebirth, uncontrollably recurring rebirth – sometimes worse rebirth states, sometimes better rebirth states. This type of building up of these networks would not be considered spiritual practice at all from a Buddhist point of view. So whether we have no aim, or even if we aim for this type of practice – let’s say constructive behavior – to help us in this lifetime, it’s not considered spiritual practice from a Buddhist point of view. Only if it’s with our interest in improving future lives is it spiritual according to Buddhism. “Spiritual” is a funny word to use. “Dharma” is the word that is used – is it a Dharma practice.
- But if we’re talking about Dharma practice, then, we have the three levels of lam-rim (graded stages of the path). So we could build up positive force and meditate – four noble truths, voidness – with the aim to improve future lives, and dedicate it toward that. We are motivated, we are moved, by fear of worse rebirth states – “I’m really afraid of that. I really don’t want that.” Then that is parallel to the initial scope, isn’t it?
- And if we do these various types of practices and meditation with the aim for liberation, moved by renunciation (the determination to be free), dedicate it toward liberation, then that would be equivalent to the intermediate level of motivation in lam-rim.
- And if we’re doing these practices and meditation with the aim to achieve enlightenment, moved by love, compassion, universal responsibility, bodhichitta, dedicate it toward enlightenment, then, whether we’re doing that type of practice on the basis of sutra or tantra methods, that would be equivalent to the advanced scope of motivation in lam-rim.
Well, these networks are involved throughout this entire process of either perpetuating samsara, helping us to improve samsara, helping us to get out of samsara, helping us to attain enlightenment. OK? Let that sink in; meaning that we look at ourselves in terms of what type of practice that I do: Do I do anything constructive, whether it is just merely refraining from destructive behavior or actually going out and helping others? And do I bother to dedicate the positive force at all? And if I do dedicate it, what do I dedicate it for? And examining ourselves in this way, on the basis of understanding that these networks are involved with all of these aims, helps us to not only be clear about what we’ve been doing but perhaps improve, if we find that what we’ve been doing has not been so effective.
Having a proper intention and proper dedication are not very simple matters. We can mouth very easily the words, “I dedicate this to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings,” or even better, “for everybody to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.” Easy to say that, but for the aim to be proper and the dedication to be proper it has to be with correct understanding of what actually does it mean: Gain liberation? What does enlightenment actually mean? And we have to be very decisive not only about what it means, its correct understanding, but also decisive about my ability to achieve it. And that emotion which is behind it, that constructive positive emotion that is driving us there, that has to be really heartfelt and sincere, not just mechanical.
So we have to be very careful not to just leave this intention, aim, motivation – whatever you want to call it – and dedication just on the level of mouthing jargon words, whether they are in our own language or in Tibetan language (which we don’t even understand). So consider that, please, in terms of how you actually have this motivation or aim and how you actually have the dedication. How really convinced am I about the existence of rebirth, the existence of liberation, the existence of enlightenment, all these sort of things? Which basically comes down to our understanding and conviction in the four noble truths. Otherwise, we’re aiming for something that we don’t even understand, we don’t even know if it exists, and we’re not even sure that we can get it – which is not very effective, is it? Please reflect on that in terms of your own behavior. OK. And please be aware that just to feel, “Yes, yes, I believe. I believe,” without really understanding anything, is not sufficient.
If we are aiming to have these networks, these aspects of our Buddha-nature, function as pure-builders, then are we able to do anything with it now, at our level? It’s a big question, isn’t it? So it’s very important to know what are the boundaries, what are the borders, for when our positive action becomes a pure-builder or when it’s just a samsara-builder. For this, whether we’re talking about liberation-building networks or enlightenment-building networks, they are divided into what’s known as facsimile pure-builders and actual pure-builders. “Facsimile” means it resembles – it’s sort of like it, similar to it, but not quite the actual thing. To understand the difference here, between the facsimile ones and the actual ones, we need to understand a few variables that are involved. Remember the state of mind, the emotion, that drives us to aiming for liberation or enlightenment is, on the one hand, renunciation (a determination to be free), on the other hand, bodhichitta.
Bodhicitta – just to remind ourselves what that actually means – bodhichitta is… our aim is at our own individual enlightenment which has not yet happened but which can happen on the basis of our Buddha-nature factors, supported by love (the wish for everybody to be happy), compassion (the wish for everybody to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering), and the exceptional resolve (lhag-bsam), which sometimes can be called “universal responsibility,” which is taking the responsibility, the resolve, that “I am going to help everybody to achieve liberation and enlightenment.” That’s bodhichitta.
So we have two stages of – I’ll use the simple words – renunciation and bodhichitta: what’s called labored (rtsol-bcas) and unlabored (rtsol-med). Labored means we have to build up to this state of mind through some sort of line of reasoning. This could be, for example, in the case of bodhichitta, the seven-part cause and effect meditation – on the basis of equanimity, everybody’s been my mother, remembering the kindness of motherly love, etc. etc. That we have to work ourselves up to actually feeling this bodhichitta or renunciation. It’s not so deeply ingrained in us that automatically it just comes up without having to work ourselves up to it. When we have this feeling, this motivating drive and so on, without having to labor – to put effort into – building it up, then that’s known as unlabored renunciation (rtsol-med nges-’byung) or unlabored bodhichitta (rtsol-med byang-sems). So that’s a pretty advanced level when we have these in an unlabored way.
Now, working toward achieving liberation or enlightenment has a presentation of what’s usually called the five paths. Path is a little bit incomplete a way of translating, because that implies a road that you walk on, but rather we’re talking about five levels of mind that are pathways that lead from one to the next, all the way up to liberation or enlightenment.
We only attain the first of these when we have unlabored renunciation or unlabored renunciation and unlabored bodhichitta. That’s the starting point of these five. And we can develop our minds in two tracks. One track is aiming for liberation, either as a shravaka (nyan-thos) (somebody who’s listening to the teaching of the Buddha) or as a pratyekabuddha (rang-rgyal) (someone who’s practicing on the basis of instincts during the dark ages when the Buddha’s teachings are not available). Or we can progress through these stages on the track aiming for enlightenment, and along that way we will also attain liberation (or according to some Indian tenet systems, we’ll attain liberation and enlightenment simultaneously). So, regardless of which track we’re following, we develop ourselves through these five levels of pathway mind.
When we have labored renunciation and labored bodhichitta, which we can attain now – with a great deal of effort, of course (it has to be sincere, with understanding, as I said) – then we would have facsimile pure-builder networks; we would build them up. It’s a facsimile; it will contribute toward our liberation or enlightenment – even if we’re doing these positive things and meditating on voidness as best as we can now – it will still contribute toward our liberation or enlightenment so long as we have at least a labored level of renunciation and bodhichitta as part of the intention and dedication. So really put in effort at the beginning of my meditation. It’s always emphasized: “Set the intention before your meditation. At the end, give the dedication.” This is mentioned in the lojong texts (the attitude training texts); it’s mentioned everywhere – lam-rim, everybody says this. It’s very important. Why? Because then positive force and deep awareness that we build up will actually act as a facsimile pure cause for liberation and enlightenment; it’ll contribute. Otherwise it won’t. So even now we can work on building up these facsimile pure-builders.
Then the actual pure-builders. We start to build them up when we have unlabored renunciation or both unlabored renunciation and unlabored bodhichitta. And when we have that unlabored stage, then, as I said, we attain the first of these five pathway minds, usually translated as path of accumulation (tshogs-lam). It’s a building-up pathway mind; we’re building up, basically, shamatha (zhi-gnas) and vipashyana (lhag-mthong). Shamatha, if we haven’t achieved it before, is a stilled and settled mind, just focused single-pointedly (rtse-gcig) on the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths or voidness, with a sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs) – we can focus on anything. And vipashyana is an exceptionally perceptive state of mind which, in addition to being stilled and settled and having this sense of fitness of being able to concentrate on anything, has an additional sense of fitness of being able to perceive – to understand – anything with all the fine distinctions and distinguishing, and so on (dpyod-pa, scrutiny, analysis, subtle discernment). And in the context of this building-up pathway of mind, again it’s focused on the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths or on voidness. So from that point, when we first attain this building-up state of mind, all the way up to the last moment of the fourth pathway mind – right before we attain liberation or enlightenment – during that period, we have the actual pure-building networks.
So if we know the details of these five pathway minds, which is rather complicated, even with the actual pure-building networks… If we talk about the network of deep awareness now, that deep awareness of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths or of voidness does not need to be nonconceptual; it becomes nonconceptual when we achieve the third of these five paths, the so-called path of seeing or seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam). And it doesn’t need to be even total absorption (mnyam-bzhag) on the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths or of voidness – that’s sometimes translated (by Jeffrey Hopkins, for example) as “meditative equipoise” – and what that means is a joined state of shamatha and vipashyana. That we attain with the attainment of the second of these pathway minds (sbyor-lam), what I call the “applying pathway mind”; it’s often translated as the path of preparation. And we don’t even need to have shamatha or single-minded concentration (ting-nge-’dzin, Skt. samadhi, absorbed concentration), because unless we have attained this before, this first of the pathway minds of the five pathway minds, we could attain it during the course of that first one. That’s very, very encouraging, if you think about it.
All we need, the only thing we need – as if it were easy (it’s not) – the only thing we need for it to be an actual pure enlightening-building network is that our building up positive force, and our deep awareness, and our meditation on the four noble truths and voidness has to be in the context of unlabored renunciation and bodhichitta. Before, the renunciation and bodhichitta is labored, so that’s facsimile; now it just has to be unlabored. We don’t necessarily have to have shamatha. We don’t have to have single-minded concentration, we don’t have to have shamatha, we don’t have to have combined shamatha and vipashyana, we don’t have to have nonconceptual cognition of voidness, or anything like that; that will come along the way.
So let that sink in, which means review it in your mind; see if you can actually remember that and confirm that “I have understood that.” I will not give you a test. By the way, if this were a group of Tibetans in a monastery, you would receive a lecture like this and then you would have to pair off two by two and debate, and you’d have to test each other’s understanding to make sure that you have understood. Nobody can get away with just sitting there passively with a nice smile on their face and not understanding or remembering anything.
OK. Little quiz. If you have shamatha, perfect concentration, focused on voidness, does that function as a pure-builder toward our liberation and enlightenment, building up a pure network of deep awareness? Does it? No. Why? Because we don’t have unlabored renunciation and bodhichitta. So just as an intellectual exercise, I could sit there and meditate and get perfect concentration on voidness; it will only function as a samsara-builder – I’ll be more clever in samsara. So motivation and dedication is really, really important. OK? Good.
Now, we can qualify these pure-builder networks even more finely. Let’s say I have unlabored renunciation and bodhichitta, and I’m doing constructive behavior – I’m going round helping people as an aspiring bodhisattva. Well, we would be a bodhisattva if we have unlabored bodhichitta. But I’m not yet an arhat; I’m not yet a liberated being. So what is accompanying my constructive behavior? What is going on in my mind? I’m not an arhat – I’m not liberated – so I still have grasping for true existence. I could still have some, certainly, unawareness. And there could even be attachment and so on, pride – some of these things might be there as well.
So within that whole network of all the mental factors and things that are occurring simultaneously, networking in each moment of my helping somebody, there are some factors – that grasping for true existence and the unawareness, and so on – that are not going to transform into the Form Bodies of a Buddha. Only the positive force (so-called merit) and the deep awareness aspects – that is what is going to transform the positive force into the Form Bodies, the deep awareness into the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya, not this other garbage that is also going on in your mind at the same time.
Why is that important? Because we can get very discouraged: “Well, I’m really trying. I even have this unlabored bodhichitta, and yet I’m still deluded.” Well, what do you expect? All the way into arhatship, you’re still going to be deluded and still have disturbing emotions. So be patient. So even though I might have attachment toward you, if I help you and dedicate, aim (the intention) that the positive force of it is going to act as a cause to reach enlightenment, and I dedicate it toward that – even if there’s attachment there, so long as I have either labored or unlabored bodhichitta, it acts as a cause for actually achieving enlightenment. That’s very important to understand; otherwise we get very discouraged – we think, “How in the world can I ever build up these causes that are pure?”
Let that sink in. That’s a very important point. Otherwise, we’re so hard on ourselves: “I can’t possibly do it, because I don’t have perfect concentration. I still have attachment,” and all these sorts of things. We’re still completely conceptual. Of course we’re like that. Still, we can build up these pure-builders, these actual causes or facsimile causes for liberation and enlightenment, so long as we have labored, or eventually unlabored, renunciation and bodhichitta. And then we work on these things along the path, these other things. Let that settle in. It gives us some idea of priorities in our practice.
OK. Quiz. If we’re doing lots of prostration and hundreds of thousands of mantras, and all sorts of activities of blessing the water, blessing this and blessing that, and we have no motivation of labored or unlabored bodhichitta, does that act as a cause – our mantras and prostration – act as a cause for reaching enlightenment? You build up positive force, but does that positive force contribute toward our enlightenment? Does it? No. If we do it with labored bodhichitta, but we are proud of ourselves and have a little bit of attachment to what we’re doing, and we’re not perfectly focused, does that positive force act as a cause for enlightenment? Yes.
So understand what is important as our priorities. Same action – saying the mantras or prostrating or helping somebody. Same action. So even though it may be a positive action and build up positive force, what it will ripen into – what it will result into – is very much dependent on our intention, motivation, dedication. Then even offering the Buddha a glass of water with a proper motivation has a much stronger effect than offering a thousand arhats and monks and so on the most fantastic meal with no motivation. (That comes from one of the sutras, one of the accounts of the Buddha.) Right? Even giving the dog a bowl of water, but with a proper motivation and so on, has a greater effect than doing all sorts of fantastic things, hundreds of thousands of prostration, with no motivation. So this we need to understand. OK?
Any questions before we go on?
Question: Can you give a little bit more of an example of unlabored renunciation? Because you gave a number of examples of bodhichitta.
Alex: So, without going through all the line of reasoning of thinking of all the sufferings of samsara (the whole list of the sufferings of samsara, the suffering of each of the rebirth states, and so on), unlabored is when – I think it is in one of these verses – when, for even a moment, I never have the slightest attraction to anything of samsara, and I view everything like a burning house or whatever, and I just want to get out all the time. That is unlabored. We view everything like a prison. Not a very easy state of mind to develop.
And we can misinterpret that state of mind to mean that we no longer can enjoy anything. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal, or whatever, that we have, so long as we don’t grasp at it and make it into: “Oh, this is the most wonderful thing in the world,” and so on. You can experience it with happiness, with pleasure; there’s nothing wrong with that. If we’ve built up a tremendous amount of positive force we will experience happiness all the time, though it’s certainly not the untainted bliss of a Buddha – it’s just our ordinary suffering of change, the ordinary happiness that doesn’t last, etc. Nevertheless, we will enjoy a good meal. “May I take this food not out of pleasure or attachment, but as a medicine to sustain me so that I may be able to help others more. And may everybody enjoy such a wonderful meal.” All these things are very helpful, but still you enjoy the meal. And equanimity: I have nice food, I have horrible food; same, same.
Question: So if doing ngondro without correct motivation will not lead us to enlightenment, doesn’t it imply that if we are doing some other actions – like jumping or let’s say feeding somebody – with correct motivation then that can lead us to enlightenment?
Alex: It can contribute as a cause for reaching enlightenment, sure. “I will jump up and down. I will do one hundred thousand pushups, dedicating it toward enlightenment.” Well, it is an unspecified action.
Remember, phenomena can be divided into destructive (mi-dge-ba), constructive (dge-ba), and unspecified (lung ma-bstan). Constructive is going to build up positive force and result in happiness. Destructive builds up negative force, results in unhappiness. Like the example of refraining from killing the mosquito and killing the mosquito. Prostration is a constructive action because we’re not just talking about the physical action – although the physical action itself is considered constructive – but all the respect and so on that is done together with it. When you do prostration, there’s all sorts of visualization and things you repeat, and so on, that go together with it.
An unspecified action is sort of a neutral action that can go either way, constructive or destructive, depending on the motivation. So if you do an unspecified action with the constructive motivation of bodhichitta, then sure, it would act as a cause for enlightenment. I’ll give the classic examples: I walk through the door into the other room, so I am leaving samsara and I am going to enlightenment, and I am leading all beings with me to a state of enlightenment when we go through the door. Going through the door is an unspecified action and it can be turned into a cause for enlightenment. However, to walk back and forth through the door a hundred thousand times with the proper motivation as our preliminary practice is probably a little bit less effective than doing a hundred thousand prostrations with a proper motivation.
I was the interpreter and secretary and assistant, etc., of my main teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, for nine years, and I always looked at what I was doing for him as a ngondro, a preliminary practice. Writing a hundred thousand letters, going and getting all the visas, and all these things – this was part of my preliminary practices. Making a hundred thousand telephone calls to arrange his teaching schedule and his travels; going to get visas for teachers, etc., to come here to Russia, for example; making all the arrangements. That could be made into a preliminary practice with a proper motivation.
Question: How can you ascertain that your motivation is correct? Because sometimes our mind says it’s very good, our motive, to do that – to help somebody, for example. But after some time, we understand it was wrong.
Alex: Right. It’s a very good question. Several things here. Always several things.
First of all, even if we have the absolute best motivation, unless we are an arhat, a liberated being, it’s still going to be mixed with grasping for true existence, with self-cherishing, with some disturbing emotions perhaps. So it’s never 100% pure until we are an arhat. So we have to examine what is the strongest factor that’s involved and try to minimize these other factors that are there because I’m not yet liberated from them.
And second of all, even with the best and purest of intentions and motivation, we may do something that causes harm. It doesn’t result in what we hope it will result. Why? Because a million different factors are involved with bringing about a result. Classic example: You give somebody a million rubles with the intention to help them and so on, and the next day they are robbed and murdered to get that money. That was not our intention, was it? So this is why the motivation, these sorts of things, are things that we need to emphasize; and why we have to become a Buddha. Because only a Buddha would know all the causal factors that will affect the outcome of something, so only a Buddha knows really what is the best thing to do to help others. At our stage, in any stage before being a Buddha, we just try our best, based on as much information and experience as we can have.
Question: When we want to do some positive action, do we need to set this intention every time? For instance, we are going to buy food for some old person who can’t afford to buy food for himself or herself, and we feed this person. So do we need to always think, “I’m trying to do this in order for my achieving liberation and my achieving enlightenment.” Isn’t this just sort of spiritual materialism when we’re always thinking about our accumulations, gatherings, and so on. Isn’t it better just to do it?
Alex: There are two aspects to your question. First of all, as Shantideva emphasizes, when we make a dedication it is “May all beings attain enlightenment,” not just me and forget about everybody else attaining enlightenment.
And second of all, we are aiming for the unlabored state of this motivation, where it’s just there automatically. We don’t have to actually, in a sense, artificially or with labor build up the motivation beforehand. In the beginning, sure, you have to go through all the steps. Later on, we need to just remind ourselves of the motivation; you don’t have to go through all the steps. And then eventually it just comes through automatically.
What’s the practical aspect of this? The practical aspect is: If it’s somebody that I have a great deal of attachment to, sure I want to help them, because I like to be with them and spend time with them, but then we have to be very careful because there’s no pure motivation that’s part of this; it’s just purely attachment.
But where is it important to build up, with labor, the motivation? You see a beggar, an old babushka, an old lady, on the Metro begging. And you do have change in your pocket, and you really don’t feel like giving her anything: you’re in a hurry or whatever. And then you remember, “This could be my mother. This could be my grandmother. This could be me sitting there begging.” And then we start going through this line of reasoning – everybody has been our mother, etc., etc. – so that we motivate ourselves to actually take a few moments to give the coins that are in our pocket to this old woman. So these are the practical examples where we need to apply this and not just: “I want to be a good girl (or I want to be a good boy) and so I’ll give.” That becomes spiritual materialism.
Question: When other people help us, what motivation should we have when we accept their help?
Alex: As it says in the auxiliary bodhisattva vows, we are giving them the opportunity to build up some positive force; and so we accept their generosity, so it helps with our development of generosity.
To get back to what I was saying in response to the question just before: It is a very, very helpful training when you are going around in the city and so on, to… For instance, in the Metro. You have these shops here in the Metro underground in Moscow where they’re selling all sorts of little things. And these people are standing inside or sitting inside and they can hardly move – it’s such a tiny, tiny space for them to stand in – and horrible air, and they’re standing there all day to make a few pennies. Or the lady who’s by the public toilet collecting a few pennies to go in. And to always think in terms of these people there – “My goodness, it could be my mother working there or my grandmother working there. It could be me working there” – and to develop some sort of, at least, compassion. This is a way, a labored way, of building up this type of compassion, this appreciation for others. And notice everybody around you, the suffering that they have. Very, very helpful.
Participant: When we are materially helping other people, maybe it will be harmful for them because it will give them hope that samsara is not so bad and it can be a reason for attachment to samsara.
Alex: The absurd conclusion that would follow from that is that we should never help anybody – never give food to the starving, never give medicine to the sick, never do anything – because then they’ll be attached to the comfort of samsara. Never feed your dog. Never feed your children. I’m using here the Buddhist method called prasanga – Prasangikas use this method – which is to take something to its logical absurd conclusion. It helps us to understand. And, as I said, you never know what the result of your action is going to be.
And I think you’re referring to spoiling somebody, what we would call spoiling them, by always giving your kid toys and chocolate and all these things, all the time. Sure, you could overdo it. So one has to use discriminating awareness to discriminate what’s helpful, what’s harmful.
Question: I want to say something about the beggar in the Metro station, because it’s something that everyone is familiar with. If I see, for example, a young lady beggar asking for money with a baby, I suspect, and I’m almost sure, for 90% it’s a kind of business. Because everybody knows about it – so many articles in the newspapers and so on. It’s a kind of crime organization. They ask for money, not for themselves, but maybe they have some sort of salary and so most of the money they collect is passed on to the chief. In this case, if I understand, or in other situations, when I see in my city there’s very heavy traffic crossing the streets and there are some legless people asking for money… Because I am afraid somebody will push him. So what should I do in this situation? If I give them money then I’m making a contribution to stimulate them to continue this type of business. What should I do in this case?
Alex: OK, this is a very difficult question. What he says is that when we find the beggars who are basically working for some sort of syndicate… This happens in many countries, that they have to give a certain percentage, usually a very, very large percentage to the boss, as it were. And they go around with a baby, almost like rent a baby – it’s not even their baby – in order to make money. Or cripples and so on. And in some places the bosses even cripple children in order to use them for begging. Then what do we do in that situation? Do we give (which is going to support the boss) or what?
Let’s expand your example to an international level – that you give foreign aid for people in a very, very poor country, or in a war zone, and 80% of it goes into the pocket of the corrupt officials. But 20% does go to the people. So do you punish the people by not giving anything at all? Is it better to give them 20% and feed the pocket of the corrupt officials? Or is it better to give nothing? It is a very serious dilemma in terms of international aid organizations and governments, isn’t it? It’s the same problem.
There’s no simple answer to the beggar who is forced to work for the syndicate. If you give that beggar food – an apple, or a bottle of water, or something like that – then that’s something that they can directly benefit from. However – this is often the case in these things – if they don’t bring in a certain amount of money every day to the boss, they get punished. So that’s quite difficult, isn’t it? And with international aid, there are many countries with a great amount of corruption that will not let you go in personally and distribute your medicines or whatever: you have to give it to the government officials. So, again, very difficult.
So I don’t think there’s a very easy answer to that. It is better undoubtedly, if the beggar at least gets something, to give to the beggar, especially if the beggar is going to be punished severely for not bringing in enough. And certainly try to give them some food if you have. Much more difficult is when you have a beggar who is smoking a cigarette, carrying a bottle of beer, something like that, or is just drunk or obviously stoned on some drug, and they’re begging for more money to buy more cigarettes and alcohol and drugs. Then not so helpful to support their habit. Again, you can give them food. But all of these are very difficult examples.
I think in Berlin… We have beggars in Berlin as well, and there are some who are perfectly healthy and they’ve been begging in the Metro system for years and years, and so they’re like professional; they’ve made this their livelihood. And that… one starts to question whether or not it’s worthwhile to support that.
Remember what Shantideva wrote, that the perfection of generosity is not the elimination of all poverty in the world – if that were the case then the Buddha didn’t achieve this – that the perfection (the far-reaching attitude, paramita, whatever you want to call it) of generosity is the willingness to give. Then you have to discriminate will it be helpful, will it be harmful, etc. These are very difficult questions. However, even these beggars who are being forced into begging, they’re still a human being, they still have been our mothers in past lifetimes, and it’s not helpful at all to look down at them and give them dirty looks and be nasty toward them, or pretend that they don’t exist, ignore them.
But if we do something to help somebody else, not only is it important, the motivation: “By the force of this, may everybody attain enlightenment,” but also “May it be of benefit to this person.” Don’t forget that. Love and compassion: “May they have happiness. May they be free from suffering.”
So with that lovely thought, why don’t we end for today with the dedication: So whatever positive force (and that’s on the side of the network of positive force), whatever understanding (that’s on the side of the network of deep awareness), may it act as a cause for everyone to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all.
And making the dedication, it’s sort of in our minds we are, in a sense, pushing that understanding and positive force in the desired direction. It’s not just reciting words. The sort of joking analogy that I use is that we have to very consciously save it in the folder of enlightenment-building; otherwise, automatically it’s going to go into the samsara-building folder.
OK. Thank you very much.
Join us in trying to benefit others.
Support our work!
This website relies completely on donations. Its maintenance, preparation of the remaining 70% of our planned material, and further translating is costly. Although we currently have 80 volunteers, 23 essential team members require payment. Help us raise the 100,000 euros (US $150,000) required each year
to continue providing our website free of charge.
Reaching Our Goal (15%)