The Teachings of Ven.Geshe YesheTobden during a seminar in Turin, November 1-3, 1985. by Mariangiola Fracasso
REALITY: SUFFERING AND ITS CAUSES
Ven. Geshe Yeshe Tobden.
We will talk about the practice of Dharma. If we analyze the reality of our condition, we see that we want happiness and of course we do not want misery and suffering. We can have the happiness that comes from material things, but the eternal happiness can not be obtained through them.
You can say the same thing about suffering and misery: we can partially get rid of them through material objects, but not completely.
By practicing Dharma instead, we can get all the happiness we want as well as get rid of all the suffering and unhappiness, and that’s because happiness itself has a cause, and if we prepare for it, its effect will necessarily follow, irrespective of our want.
If we prepare for planting with seeds, irrigation, fertilizers etc, therefore creating all the conditions necessary to grow a certain type of plant, it will grow even if we didn’t want it to. Likewise, the undesired suffering has a cause. If we eradicate the poisonous grass from the root, the grass could no longer grow; in the same manner, if we succeed in eradicating the causes of suffering, it disappears naturally. From the moment we realize that what we want is happiness, we have to try to build up the conditions that produce it.
To achieve this we should not involve our body, mind and our speech in negative actions, but instead we should try to direct them towards positive action.
These positive actions produced through our mind, speech and our body, are those generated by a good heart, a good motivation. Negative actions, always produced through our body, speech and mind are instead generated by bad motivation. In any case, it is impossible for a negative action to give positive results and for a positive action to produce negative results. If we want to get good results, we have to build up their causes.
The teaching of the Dharma is to engage the body, speech and mind into positive actions and never in negative actions.
This is all part of the first stage.
The second stage explains how it is possible to remove the afflicting emotions whose only function is to create negativity which harms us and the other sentient beings.
In the third stage one realizes that having happiness only for oneself is not enough and that we all must work to ensure that all sentient beings are happy and free from suffering. To achieve this goal, the first thing to do is meditation to achieve the great compassion, great love. For the moment we may be able to generate some compassion and love for friends and family, and we can’t have great compassion and love, for strangers. If we were able to wish that people who are strangers to us and our enemies, be free from their suffering and achieve happiness that lasts forever, then we would have generated great love and great compassion.
However, there must be a differentiation between the love that we have to generate and the attachment from which we must be liberated. To be able to generate love and compassion towards friends, enemies or strangers, we first meditate on equanimity. Usually if we have a strong desire to liberate a friend or family member from suffering and have them obtain happiness it is just because that person is our friend, or a relative. In fact we always consider as friend someone who is good to us and as enemy someone who is bad to us.
To free ourselves from being attached to our friends we should think that they have done and do us good in this world, but probably in previous lives they have hurt us, they were our enemies and could still be such in future lives.
We should also try to eliminate any feelings of hatred towards our enemies although, they may have done or still do evil to us, by thinking that these enemies are hurting us in this life, but surely have done us good in the past lives and probably will do the same in future lives.
As both friends and enemies have brought us sometimes good, sometimes evil, both are equal and therefore there is no reason to be attached to a friend, or have hatred for an enemy.
For example, if a person is good to me today and yesterday was bad to me and vice versa, someone hurts me today but was good to me yesterday which one should I love and which one should I hate?
We can create equanimity thinking that just as our friends are subject to constant change, so are our enemies and even ourselves; so we conclude that our enemies, friends and ourselves, are all impermanent beings. For example, we can compare human beings to the sick in the hospital that will die within a few days: would it make sense in this case to consider someone a friend or an enemy?
Another way to create equanimity is to think that even the enemy, just as the friend, wants happiness and not unhappiness and suffering, and that friends are the same as enemies because both are suffering, since both are in uncomfortable conditions; it is wrong to entertain feelings of hatred towards one and consider the other a friend.
If, for example, a doctor in the hospital takes good care of some patients but not of the others, anyone would think that he is not a good and decent person. Our mistake is this: although friends and enemies are both suffering, we think of some in one way and of the others in another way, though friends and enemies both want happiness, our mistake is to help some and not care for others.
For this reason it is also called ‘the contaminated aggregate’. But, the body of Buddha, those of Arhats and those of the Bodhisattvas are not contaminated aggregates. Our body feels the cold, heat, thirst, hunger and so on; it is subjected to many sufferings that come from a well defined cause. If we eliminate this cause, the suffering itself will be eliminated.
The first and most important of these causes is given by the afflicting emotions; to understand how important these afflicting emotions are, it suffices to say that the day when we would have eliminated them, not even our Karma will be able to react. It is as if the seeds never had water and fertilizer and therefore, could never grow.
The first afflicting emotion is attachment (when we see a beautiful object and we want to possess it) and the second is hate (when we see something or someone unpleasant, like an enemy, and we want to harm it), the third is arrogance, feeling superior, more than the other, and the fourth is doubt (e.g. doubting the liberation of all beings, the validity of Dharma, cyclic existence). Other afflicting emotions are the transitory view (to think that “I” can exist independently from the body and mind); ignorance in grasping the inherent existence of phenomena thinking that they exist in themselves. Ignorance really is the root of all afflicting emotions and it is possible to eliminate it, it is a kind of non appreciation. In reality there is no phenomenon that exists in itself, but you grasp the phenomena as inherently existing. Similarly, when we realize that the phenomena do not exist inherently, the contrary illusion will disappear naturally. For example, a friend exists only by the virtue of the fact that we conceive and think of him as a friend. If the mind or the thought did not conceive such a person as a friend, he would not be such.
Therefore, a friend is a friend because of the strength of our mind sees him as such. If we do not conceive friends in our minds, friends do not exist objectively.
A friend exists as a friend as long as he is a friend in our thoughts and minds, in reality, the mind actually thinks that he is objectively a friend. He appears actually existent in our mind, meaning, he does not look like a mental invention. In fact in relation to the body and mind, a friend does not exist as a real object, but ignorance makes us conceive of him as existing in himself. When we realize that this friend does not exist inherently, ignorance will be eradicated.
It may happen that the same friend quarrels with us and so we immediately “unfriend” him: so a friend can become an enemy and vice versa, the situation could change without removing anything material from the person. This assessment therefore depends only on our minds.
So a friend is such because our mind has conceived of him as a friend; if he exists only for the power of our mind, a friend cannot exist objectively.
This concept is the concept of Emptiness.
A sentient being, therefore, exists only for the power of our minds, but doesn’t exist objectively, for example, a house exists only because someone thinks as of it as a home.
We can say that an earring exists because we put it on the ear but it does not exists by itself, the earring exists because we have put it there.
The phenomena exist because our mind labels them as such and they are empty of inherent existence.
Then, when we understand the ignorance that it is the grasping of the inherent existence of the phenomena, the erroneous conceptions will cease to exist as well. For instance, the friend depends on the thought that sees him as such, from the mind that thinks of him as such, the children exist because they are dependent on their parents, parents would not exist without the children.
Since all phenomena exist as dependent on something else, all the phenomena being without inherent existence would not exist without this dependency.
Being deprived of that inherent existence is called Emptiness and the mind that is aware of everything has achieved it.
Previously we talked about the mind that appears as Divinity: it comes from the mind that realizes Emptiness. The mind that has realized the Emptiness stands in opposition to the ignorance that clings at the inherent existence of phenomena. Since we have been able to realize the Emptiness, the mind, which still clings to the inherent existence of phenomena has found no opposition.
All afflicting emotions are like the limbs of ignorance’s body, when we realize the Emptiness, this ignorance will cease to exist. Since all afflicting emotions appear in dependence of ignorance, eliminating ignorance will cause afflicting emotions to cease naturally.
The mind that realizes Emptiness eliminates the ignorance that clings to the inherent existence of phenomena and when we have removed the afflicting emotions, we will have ended the suffering.
Finally, when our mind will be pure and clear, we will achieve liberation from the cyclic existence because at that time we would have freed ourselves from the source of suffering.
When we would have freed ourselves from cyclic existence we will achieve eternal happiness.
Answer: It is very true, but this kind of feeling towards our friends is something that we should eliminate. If we think superficially it seems like this attachment is helpful, but it really hurts us. Knowing the exact opposing strength it will not be difficult to eliminate it, but we need to know what is the right way to do it. The first stage to generate the opposing force to attachment is to meditate about impermanence. If, for example, we have a sense of attachment to our body because we are young and beautiful, we should think that it is like autumnal flowers: although they were beautiful, they tend to dry out and die. This can help reduce the attachment to the body. If you also consider the impurity of the body such as blood, urine, excrement, etc.. we should distance from this idea of attachment. But to be completely free of it we should meditate about emptiness, and on the non-inherent existence of phenomena.
Ghesce-là is very happy with the fact that, contrary to what happens in other centers where there are many young people, here there are some older people. Those who practice Dharma well, will not have a problem passing the days when they get old, the days won’t be so long. For an elderly person, who no longer works, it can be difficult to pass the days; someone who practices will use his time very well and, even at the moment of death may die quite happy. The lamas say that those who have practiced well at the moment of death feel like a child who returns to the land of his father.
The important thing is to study the Dharma, because a person can gradually obtain the state of Buddhahood.
Question: Geshe-la spoke of Emptiness as lack of inherent existence of things, persons and phenomena. I ask for clarification about the fact that in many Sadhanas, in many Buddhist practices there is the expression “from the Emptiness emerges a lotus, a syllable, a deity”. This expression gives the impression as if there is a space, a dimension, something that still seems a bit different from what Geshe-la explained.
Answer: Because all phenomena are devoid of inherent existence, through this meditation on the lack of inherent existence of all phenomena, rises, appears the deity, the syllable coming out of emptiness. The object of such meditation emerges from a mind that realizes the lack of inherent existence of phenomena.
Even if a person has not realized emptiness, a kind of visualization of this deity can rise through concentration, the desire that is within him.
Question: The practice of generosity was mentioned: I want to know how far it is right to follow the wishes of others.
Answer: If the required object is dangerous to the person who is requesting, we should not give him it. For example, if someone asks uor hard core drugs, we do not we give them to him. If we are asked something that can be pleasant or useful in the short run, but harmful in the long run harmful, in this case as well we have to answer negatively. But if it is harmful in the short run, but in the long run can be useful, then you can donate.
Question: How can you justify going beyond the concept of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, going so far as to consider the other more important than yourself?
Answer: If you consider others more important than yourself, you are easily involved into positive actions toward them, instead of harm, and these positive actions will return to you as a direct benefit. Certainly you will experience this benefit by helping others, but you have to do it selflessly, without thought of reward. If someone who is in a good situation, does not think about helping the others he is not a good practitioner of Dharma. On the contrary when everyone else is well, a good practitioner is not concerned with his own condition.
Dharma aims to improve the situation of a person, therefore, whoever helps the others is a good practitioner.
Translator’s NB. I am not a professional translator but a lucky old student of Geshe Yeshe Tobden. I apologize for any eventual mistakes.
I hope that this work can be useful to someone who is searching for his/her Dharma path.