4 – Praise of dependent origination. Teaching by Ven. Geshe Yeshe Tobten in Bodh Gaya, 13-17 December 1996.
Part 4 – The Map and the Path
Having that Nirvana or freedom in mind, the Buddha said you should come to terms with suffering and get rid of what causes your suffering, to bring into actuality the cessation or freedom from suffering by meditating on the way to cease suffering. The four noble truths, that is to come to terms with suffering or to know suffering to be suffering, and get rid of it’s cause.
What’s the cause of suffering that one is to get rid of? That’s these klesas or cankers in ones mind. So one works then to get rid of these cankers within oneself. We properly need and properly want that state of freedom in which suffering has cooled down. That state of freedom is to be actualized, and to have that come about we have to follow and meditate on the path that leads to it. If you’ve got some disease, you have in your mind a state of health and you want to be healthy. So like that, by knowing suffering one wants freedom. You can see health in this sense as the cooling down of the disease. When a disease that afflicts one cools down or is cured, one is in a state of freedom from disease. And to get to this state of health, one has to get rid of the cause of the disease. To get rid of what’s causing the sickness one relies on medicine, but you don’t just go and take any prescription, no, the medicine has to be a prescription by a knowledgeable doctor.
One therefore needs a prescription of spiritual practice which will cure these klesas or cankers. And such a prescription is written out, as it were, by a doctor who is knowledgeable about the medicine or spiritual practice which gets rid of klesas or cankers. Thus one needs to have good Spiritual Friends or Gurus. Like the great hermit-meditator Milarepa said, ‘If you just break your back trying, without any access to spiritual advice, all you do is break your back and get nowhere’.
These things then, to know suffering to be suffering, to get rid of what causes that suffering, to bring into being a state of freedom and to meditate on that path that brings that freedom into being, were uttered by the Buddha from within understanding. It could not be that they are statements which will lead us stray, since they came forth from within understanding. Like I said yesterday, having this in mind, it’s this ignorance or bewilderment that we have to get rid of. I’m not sure whether it was Nagarjuna or his disciple Arideva that said the Bhagawan uses the word ignorance in reference to the belief in an absolute being in things, when in actual fact things come into being through causes and conditions.
Whatever the phenomena may be, the seed which ripens into this stream of existence is settling on that phenomena as truly being the way it looks. Thus, when one sees the emptiness of that phenomena, the seed which ripens into this stream of existence is destroyed. As the great Dharmakirti said, ‘If you don’t punch a hole through the thing which you believe in but which is not there in reality, you can never get rid of the thing which is causing all the problems. Even love, even compassion can not function within the mind to make the breakthrough’.
In other words, whatever you take as your spiritual practice or meditation, you’ll never find freedom from an ongoing stream of existence until included in that meditation or spiritual practice, is the meditation of absorbing oneself on emptiness. It’s not just intellectual understanding of emptiness, one has to ingrain it into one’s way of seeing things. So that knowledge directed towards one particular focus, into which one finds a capacity to absorb oneself for long periods of time, that adsorption is what is meant by Samadhi.
That then is the knowledge together with the absorption or Samadhi. Such Samadhi or adsorption requires an ethical standard to attain, so thus one has three higher trainings. Based upon keeping strongly to an ethical standard in a high fashion, the ability ripens for the mind to be absorbed into a particular focus on the emptiness of a particular object. That’s how you get freedom or Nirvana, the three higher trainings are called wisdom, morality and meditative stabilization or Samadhi.
So perhaps one has achieved freedom. Is that OK? No, because everybody else is not free. They matter too, don’t they? So I have to become Enlightened for them. That thought, chitta, to get Enlightened, bodhi, would be Bodhichitta. One could never get that depth of inspiration without having long cultivated a feeling of love and compassion for all living beings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every living being was happy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every living being were free from their suffering. Those are what’s meant by love and compassion, and from those two comes about a special commitment or aspiration, that ‘I can do it, I must do it, I will do it, it’s my work’.
It’s true it would be wonderful if all beings were happy, if they all could get the happiness they need and be free from the sufferings that they experience. I’ve now committed myself, I feel that it’s my concern, not somebody else’s. It’s me that has to do it. Within that, one then looks at oneself and thinks, ‘I cannot do it right now. I’m not in a state which will allow me to fulfill that aim’ and thus one looks at a future state of oneself as an Enlightened Being. One then thinks, I need to achieve that state. That is Bodhichitta.
First though, one has to find within oneself those feelings of love for all living creatures and sorrow at the suffering of all living creatures. So how does one bring that up within oneself? There are two mind training methods, the so called sevenfold cause and effect method, and the method of changing oneself into others.
The cause and effect method causes love and compassion to arise by contemplating that every living being has been as close to one as one’s own mother in this life. One cultivates that understanding. Having cultivated that understanding, the second stage is to remember how much kindness one has received from every living being as one’s mother. Having remembered that, one then allows the thought to come that one should repay such an amount of kindness. If you’ve got your mind around the idea of coming back in life form after life form, it’s not very hard to think that everybody has been your mother at some point.
There is an infinite number of living beings but one has oneself come forth in lifeforms of a number which is a greater infinity than that. Since that is the number of life forms I have come forth in, each of those needed a mother. There was a mother for me in each life so there was the kindness of that mother in each life. Remembering the kindness of a mother, the kindness of fathers and so forth comes in it’s wake. If you cultivate this long enough, then when somebody or any living creature comes toward you, it’s like seeing your own dear children coming towards you.
Naturally then, up comes the thought that if somebody is that much beloved, it’s natural that upon contemplating their problems, one wishes them free of their problems. This kind of love is defined as ‘love for the beloved’, and naturally brings with it compassion such as that of a parent who wants to help their child to be free of problems, even the smallest trouble that they’d meet with. It’s that tremendous amount of concern given to what’s happening to a particular person. That love in the face of the beloved is what causes the wish for everything to go well and no problem to come.
If one is thinking then, how much benefit one has received from one’s own mother, that appearance of a beloved one brings with it an unbearable feeling when one contemplates any of the problems that the person has. In other words, if you have love in the face of the beloved, it’s not long before you’ve got love and compassion. If you get feelings of love and compassion and you allow them to go on long enough, it won’t be long before this thought comes to do something personally to help them get free of their problems. That’s called the ‘exalted attitude’ or ‘exalted thought’. In the sevenfold cause and effect method, that would benumbed six. This is how you get that chitta or thought of bodhi or Enlightenment, that I have to do something to get rid of their suffering.
Because of that feeling of love and compassion, because of having thought in that way, the thought that I must become Enlightened with a commitment to do so is what is called Bodhichitta. As it says in the Lamachopa, which is a Tibetan ritual, by thinking over and over again of how much I have been the recipient of the kindness of every living being, please send forth over me waves of splendor such that my mind will develop this authentic feeling of compassion for them all.
Like the hermit Milarepa sang to his Guru Marpa, ‘if I don’t include in my spiritual life a recollection again and again of how I am a recipient of the kindness of every living being, I will soon turn into a Small Vehicle, not a Big One. Through the production within myself of a feeling of concerned compassion for all living beings, is produced the thought that I must become Enlightened for their sake’.
It doesn’t make any difference what sect you think you are. You can consider yourself Gelugpa, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyü or whatever you want, but regardless of this one must find within oneself this thought, this chitta to be Enlightened for the sake of all living beings. If you want to produce within yourself this thought of Enlightenment, this Bodhichitta, it has to be produced from within a feeling of great compassion for all living beings, and that compassion can only be produced from within a feeling of love for all living beings.
Similarly with this reality, regardless of how one characterizes one’s religious affiliations, one still has to do good deeds and avoid wrong deeds in order to stop oneself ending up in a form of life that is ongoing suffering. It doesn’t make any difference if one is a Tibetan or is from any other western culture. One’s ethnic background is irrelevant. If we want to stop ourselves from ending up in an experience of unending suffering we have to cultivate good behavior and stay away from nefarious behavior.
When you come to India, from a foreign country, you have stamped in your passports a visa which allows you entry into India. One does not have stamped into one’s passport a visa which precludes you entry into a state in which you will have suffering. In other words, one has to make an integral part of one’s spiritual practice this restraint from unwholesome behavior, and the practice of wholesome behavior.
Similarly, for freedom from this stream of existences it is necessary to cultivate an understanding of emptiness regardless of one’s religious affiliations. Unless one finds within oneself a love for all living beings and through that, a feeling of commiseration or sorrow or compassion for the suffering of all living beings, there’s no way that one will ever find within oneself the thought to be Enlightened for their sake. That’s simply the way it is. These are the stages of spiritual development. A spiritual practice that keeps one from suffering unendingly in a future state of existence. A stage of spiritual practice which delivers one into a state of total freedom and beyond that, a spiritual practice in which one finds rising up within one, this thought to be Enlightened for all others.
Maitreya said this Bodhichitta is a desire to be perfectly Enlightened for the sake of every living being. So if you want to practice Tantra, this has got to rise up within you, this thought to be Enlightened. An analogy would be that Tantric practice is like being on an aeroplane and the stages of spiritual practice I was just talking about would be like having a ticket in your hand to be on the plane. In other words, if you don’t have a ticket in your hand you can’t get on the plane.
These stages are called Lam Rim in Tibetan. They are like a ticket, the necessary prerequisite. You know, it’s a sign of bewilderment in people who come from other countries to want to do Tantra but not be interested in the Lam Rim. It’s a sign of confusion. In other words, confusion in the sense that the person understands the place of Tantra in a noble spiritual practice, but doesn’t understand the place of the stages of spiritual development.
I am saying that doing Tantric practices is indeed important and fine, very important no doubt. If a spiritual practice includes Tantra which arises from within a thought of being Enlightened for the sake of others, and an insight into emptiness which is the nature of the reality; and a sadness or disgust with cyclic existence, then even in a lifetime, one can achieve Enlightenment.
So when one’s spiritual practice includes Buddhist Tantra one can gain insight by utilizing a very subtle part of the mind/awareness to view the ultimate nature of emptiness. Without that, with just the Sutra practices one is looking at emptiness with a rougher part of the mind. In other words, the ultimate, which is emptiness, is the same emptiness being described or being known by one who’s spiritual practice is in accord with Sutra, and one who’s spiritual practice is in accord with Tantra. The emptiness known is the same, but from the point of the view of the subject, the mind or awareness knowing it, the awareness knowing it described in the Sutra literature is of a rougher order than the awareness knowing it as described in the Tantric literature.
Milarepa sang that when you’re eating the food of adsorption, when you are living on the food of meditation, this body is not so important. In other words, when one’s personal identity is no longer projected on to this rough body, all of the problems of associating our identity with such a body, like being hungry, and so on, are gone. Because one’s identity is properly projected or labeled onto an extremely subtle awareness with its accompanying energy, and lives simply through being absorbed into that awareness, it goes on through the food of adsorption.
That’s the seven fold cause and effect method and is one way to get Bodhichitta, the thought of Enlightenment to come up. The second is changing oneself into others. In this practice you’re trying to make the same thought rise up, that I must be enlightened for the sake of all living beings, but you use a different thought pattern to cause it to come about. There is an innate wish to be happy that I find within myself. I’m no different in having that innate need for well being than any other living being. Every other living being has that. So since everybody equally has that wish to be happy, why should I focus on my own wish and not on everybody’s wish. That is the way to think.
What you are doing is allowing to subside the domination of one’s thoughts by selfish concern. Ours is a world in which we are individually the main thing. But in fact the Enlightened One, the Buddha, by having changed that inner perspective to one where everyone else is the main thing, got to be Enlightened where as we are stuck within our own little narrow self-focused world. In other words, the way one let’s oneself think is this. ‘There is such a downside in being stuck in allowing my own personal well being to be dominant. There’s such an tremendous profit to me by allowing the needs of others to be dominant’. One thinks of the profit and the loss to oneself.
You get to be Enlightened if you allow the domination with one’s own well being to subside and allow the concern for others to be stronger and stronger. That’s a big personal profit. If you go and light a candle with the thought ‘may I get…’, and if you light that same candle with the thought ‘may every living creature in the universe get…’, you can see the difference in punja, or merit, can’t you?
If something is done for an infinite number of beings the benefit to oneself is that much greater. And if you think of the incredibly long periods of time that a spiritual practice will have to be pursued, if during those periods of time everything one does is being done not for ones own benefit but for the benefit of the entire universe, you can see how through this you get to Enlightenment.
So when one’s spiritual practice includes Buddhist Tantra one can gain insight by utilizing a very subtle part of the mind/awareness to view the ultimate nature of emptiness. Without that, with just the Sutra practices one is looking at emptiness with a rougher part of the mind. In other words, the ultimate, which is emptiness, is the same emptiness being described or being known by one who’s spiritual practice is in accord with Sutra, and one who’s spiritual practice is in accord with Tantra. The emptiness known is the same, but from the point of the view of the subject, the mind or awareness knowing it, the awareness knowing it described in the Sutra literature is of a rougher order than the awareness knowing it as described in the Tantric literature. http://sites.google.com/site/praiseofdependentorigination/del-4