Ven. Geshe Yeshe Tobten: Refuge

Ven. Geshe Yeshe Tobten

Ven. Geshe Yeshe Tobten

5 – Praise of dependent origination. Teaching by Ven. Geshe Yeshe Tobten in Bodh Gaya, 13-17 December 1996.

Part 5 – Refuge

Remember that fist line of this praise to the Buddha, ‘You taught Dependent Origination, having understood that’. So the Enlightened One understands and then explains. The spiritual practice then, is a cessation or the cooling down of the problems which drive one towards that spiritual practice. In order to continue with that spiritual practice one needs support in the form of a spiritual community or a Sangha. These are the three places one resorts, the three refugees as a follower of the Enlightened Beings. What about the philosophical aspect of those who follow the Enlightened Ones? Their practice or their emotion is one of compassion for all beings and their view of things, their opinion on things, is that everything is a Dependent-arising. Everything leans on something else for it’s being. Everything else is contingent upon other things in order to remain. The opposite to that is the total absence anywhere in the universe of that which does not depend, which does not lean on something else for it’s being.

I am not talking about nihilism or some sort of nihilistic apprehension that there is nothing here at all. What one’s talking about when one says empty, is empty of ‘not being contingent on’ or ‘not dependent on’ things. That emptiness of ‘not leaning on’ or ‘not being contingent on’, causes one to see that everything is dependent. It works back and forth. Because everything comes up dependently, everything is empty. And working backwards, because everything is empty of independent existence, it is dependently-originated. Thus you get the ultimate truth that everything is empty of an independent, inherent existence.

That is the ultimate nature of everything, and it’s ‘covering surface level’ of being is just that; the covering level of reality, the surface level of reality. Thereby you get a starting point in the Two Truths, the ultimate truth and the covering level of truth, a path made up of a method and a wisdom, and a result made up of two bodies, a body of forms and a body of Dharmas. If you can see the truth of the Two Truths, the ultimate and covering level, you can see these Four Noble Truths as well. The Four Noble Truths say this is suffering, that this is the cause of suffering, that this is the recession of suffering, that this is the path to the end of suffering.

From the cause of suffering comes suffering. That’s why one has to avoid causing problems to others, because causing problems to others is in essence the cause of suffering. By getting rid of the cause of suffering one gets rid of suffering. That’s why, the cause of suffering meets back to and is rooted in Dependent Origination. If one is governing oneself by this precept of not hurting others, and thereby one is keeping to an ethical standard, the so called higher training in morality, one has the opportunity for wisdom to come into the mind. Through that, one can truly cause suffering to cool down or cease. Thus the third Nobel Truth, the cessation of suffering coming from the practice of morality.

Where do you find the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the path to that cessation, the last two of the Four Noble Truths? One finds them in the minds of spiritual practitioners. That’s the Sangha, those in whose mind streams are to be found the cessations of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering. A cessation of suffering in the sense of removing even the smallest hindrance to knowing anything at all, is what is meant by Omniscience or the state of Enlightenment. When one has achieved a state in which every blockage has been unblocked, every talent has been developed to the highest degree, one is at an Enlightened state has the capacity to lead others to that Enlightened state as well.

That’s an outline of the so called Three Jewels, which are what a follower of an Enlightened One resorts to for help. But why does one pray to this refuge, why does one, as it were, direct a prayerful attitude toward that? Because right now, one cannot do everything that has be done for living beings, so one tries to be as a channel, as it were, or simply tries to get help in that work.

If the reason why one has a faithful, prayerful attitude is because one is scared of future sufferings, then one’s spiritual practice is defined as that of a person of small capacity. If it’s done because one wishes for freedom from any sort of future life, then it would be a spiritual practice of somebody of middle capacity. If it were done within being informed by the wish to be Enlightened for the sake of all, it would be the refuge of a Great Vehicle practitioner.

Spiritual practice is small capacity when we think ‘I’m going to definitely die at some point, and after I die, I either end up like this again or I end up in some suffering state. I’m scared of that, I need some help to keep away from that. Somehow Enlightened beings can see what’s happening’. Resorting to refugee with that in mind, is what’s called a spiritual practice of a person of the small scope. One should expand the practice a bit more and think that even people one doesn’t know right now and people one doesn’t particularly like right now are themselves locked in and going to die. Either they end up like this again or they end up in some unfortunate situation, so one wants to help them out too. One should allow one’s meditational practice of going for refuge to include those thoughts as well.

Here one has got in mind the thought that one has not been born into a suffering situation like that, nor have these others I am thinking about. There are also those beings who are in those situations now. One can also go for refuge with the thought to help them all get out of those problems, that’s also a thought included in this refuge practice, this meditation practice.

But there you’ve only wanted them to be free of those sufferings which are in the stream of existence, but you can also for refuge thinking that you want them all to be free, all to be in Nirvana. Similarly even within a state of Enlightenment, ‘I want that too, I need that also’, again with that prayerful attitude which is called going for refuge. The truth is, that having those sorts of attitudes is beneficial. At the very least the psychology of it causes one to accumulate punja or merit.

That’s the spiritual practice they call going for refuge, or that’s the aspect of a spiritual practice which is defined as going for refuge. When is one a great vehicle practitioner? When one is keeping all others in mind whilst going for refuge, that’s what’s called the Mahayana charanom or the refuge of the Great Vehicle.

Do you know that little prayer at the beginning of teachings ‘Sang gyä chö dang tsåg kyi chåg nam la…’. It says that I go for help to you Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until the time I am Enlightened so give me a hand, help me out. The metaphor which lays behind the language, trying to describe the attitude of this spiritual person who is going for refuge, is that you are being dragged along to be executed because you have done something terrible and have been caught and are scared of the punishment that is coming. This is the analogy, that one is worrying about what is going to be happening to one, and one is looking around for somebody who can somehow help one not experience these things. In the analogy, you look around, and there is an important government official with power to commute the sentence. That analogy is used to say you have an attitude toward one’s spiritual practice, those who taught you spiritual practice and those in the community who are practicing it which says, ‘please help me in this quest to get away from these problems’. In other words, nasty things like the problems I have caused others, and the unwholesome deeds that I have done. May I somehow within my mind be pure of these.

So in that prayer, which is customarily said in the beginning of everything one does, ‘Sang gyä chö dang’…the first two lines are, ‘ from now until I get to Enlightened I look upon you to help me, three Jewels of Refuge’. The last two lines are, ‘by my being charitable and so forth, the six perfections, I will establish every living being in a state of Enlightenment’. So everything one does should have the kemdro as they say in Tibetan and Bodhichitta as they say in Sanskrit.

One can’t get that thought to be Enlightened for the sake of all living beings unless one has a feeling of compassion and love for them. Therefore one has to include in one’s spiritual practice, love and compassion. One has set one’s mind on spiritual practice in order to help other living beings. But if one of those living beings upsets you then you can let yourself fall into feeling hurt by them. Then, feeling hurt by them, you get angry and harm them. That anger can destroy all of the good that one has done over many many eons.

Anger is really not a good thing and being patient is a very good thing. As it is said, if you want to perform religious austerity, if you want to crank up your spiritual practice so that it hurts, the best way to do some religious scourging is to practice patience. And the worst sin that you can allow yourself to involve in is anger. If you let your anger grow, you’re unhappy just because you’re angry. You can sit down to a good meal and you won’t enjoy it. You try to go to sleep and you can’t fall asleep. If you have hatred or anger you’ll lash out and hurt somebody. Even somebody who has been kind and descent to you, if you are in a rage, you can lash out and hurt them too. And the truth is nobody likes an angry person. What I am trying to say is, don’t let yourself get angry.

Where does it come from, one’s anger? The thought that I need something, and the other person is not giving what I need. Or, there is something I don’t need, and that person is doing what I don’t’ need. So it’s one of those two.

When we start to get problems we get riled up too. So one is getting really irritable over some situation which can probably be dealt with? Is there something that can be done to cause the irritable situation to go away? If so, do it, but don’t get angry, don’t get irritated about it. And if it’s something about which nothing can be done then what’s the use of getting irritated about it? That’s the way to think. You can think that if one puts up with a relatively small irritation, just puts up with it, just bears it, then it’s very possible that later when one is caught in a situation which is almost unbearable, that due to having practiced patience one will have the capacity to bear it.

One thing is for sure. If you are trying to cultivate a spiritual practice, you’ll feel many times great irritation and great difficulties. So one is there in the middle of one’s attempt to pursue a spiritual practice and it’s very difficult. You may think ‘let’s cancel it, let’s stop it’. But this is wrong, you should cultivate this thought instead. ‘Yes, very difficult, but excellent, I’ll go right into that difficulty, this is just what I was looking for in my spiritual practice’. And find within oneself the power or the capacity to just go straight into it and literary take it up and embrace it.

One is at war in one’s spiritual life. At war against these cankers, these attachments and hatreds within me. And so obviously in any battle there is hardship to be faced. But no problem, one advances on the battlefield as a great hero, thinking of the heroism which will serve one well when the battle is over, because the battle no doubt is not an easy one. Nobody would ever expect it to be easy, when you think of those enemies, the strength of those attachments and hatreds.

But what a hero or heroine to find deeper and deeper resources within oneself to fight without ever stopping. To totally carry the battle through and overcome such enemies, leading to standing victorious on the ground which is freedom or the state of Enlightenment. Who would ever think that the word war-hero, war-heroine, would really apply to those who kill other people, because the person would die even if he didn’t kill them. What’s so big in killing somebody who is going to die anyway? That’s not a war hero or a war heroine. A true war hero or war heroine is one who battles against something that truly needs to be destroyed, these inner hatreds and attachments.

Anyway, when I come to think about it, it’s rather good that there are problems because I tend to get extremely arrogant. And when I face problems, it tends to make me a little less so. Not only that, but thinking of these problems being faced by others, I get this feeling of compassion coming in my mind, and I need that feeling. This suffering is also needed, because these problems make me ask where such things come from, and I locate the cause of these irritations and problems in earlier unwholesome behaviors and attitudes that I allowed myself to foster. This leads one to think that states of pleasure come from my having fostered wholesome behaviors and attitudes.

This canker of hatred or anger or irritation is definitely something to prevent, because if I get stirred up when I have a problem it makes me behave in way that tends to be unwholesome. Such unwholesome behavior leaves a residual impression that will ripen into an experience in the future which is very hard indeed to bear.

What about somebody coming at me trying to hurt me? That person is trying to cause me a problem on account of certain conditions which have occurred. There is not some independent person there, who has independently decided to come and hurt me, but rather in this person is anger which causes them to behave that way. That anger is on account of conditions, it’s not an independent action by an independent person. Say a mad person suddenly runs in here and tries to hurt us with a knife or whatever. We don’t have a feeling of hate towards the person because we all understand they are being governed by their madness, we don’t think the person is acting independently of that madness. Similarly, the person causing us problems is governed by their anger, they are not doing it independently of that, and that anger is the result of something I did before.

By this anger the result of my previous actions is exhausted and in that narrow sense, I am benefited by having got rid of that result. This means that when a person causes me a problem, by experiencing it some earlier bad karma that I have created is exhausted. The other person, however, is doing it for themselves right now. They are setting down the cause of problems for themselves in the future. This means I am gaining when the person is causing me a problem, I am winning, that person is losing. It’s as though they are stealing my bad karma from me, and taking it upon themselves.

Anyway, a part of my spiritual life is cultivation of patience. If that person wasn’t hating me and causing me that trouble, I couldn’t cultivate patience. In other words, if I get to cultivate patience, I win, I am the beneficiary. So I am the one who benefits by somebody causing me a problem. And if there wasn’t anybody out there who didn’t like me and wasn’t trying to cause me problems, I wouldn’t have anybody to feel patient about and to have to put up with, and I couldn’t develop patience. I need people like that.

If somebody hits you, you don’t get angry at the implement that delivers the blow, you get angry at the person. By extension, you shouldn’t be angry at the person, you should get angry at the hatred that caused the person to strike. If you think it through, by putting up with it and cultivating a wholesome behavior, it is going to serve me well in the future. In this way one should think about it. One can’t feel much so hatred, so much upset, if these kind of ideas can be entertained. Notice also the peace that comes with being able to put up with such things. This is a peace that one experiences oneself, and therefore one should make strong aspirations that one will be able to find a capacity to bear these things and be patient toward them.

One may say, ‘yeah, but I’m talking about a really evil intent in that person who is coming to try to hurt me. I’m talking about a really horrible attitude over there, there is nothing descent at all in that person’. That, then is exactly the point. If there was something descent, something wholesome over there then you wouldn’t need to have any patience for it. That’s not what you have patience for. What one has patience for and forbearance for are those really malicious, horrible attitudes, which motivate people to come to hurt one. So you can then find a path to feel compassion even for those who are ill-behaved. Even people who are really gross, really horrible.

By cultivating patience even in the face of such people, one can find a door through which one can develop compassionate feelings for them also. I mean, after all, is there really a lot of need to feel compassion for those who are well behaved, for those who are descent people? They are looking after themselves by their behavior. But it’s those who are really horrible, really nasty, who need us to feel compassion. One has to find a way to feel authentic commiseration and compassion for them in their plight. In other words, those who are well behaved and easy to get on with aren’t the ones to be continually cultivating feelings of love and compassion towards. It’s the ones who are not well behaved, the one’s who are always hard to get on with, always irritable and nasty who are the ones one should feel sorry for, who one should feel empathy and commiseration for. If you can find within yourself a feeling of compassion for that sort of person, then compassion for those who are descent will just be there naturally. You won’t have to work on it at all.

Contemplate the many different living beings popping up in one form of life after the other, and the different behaviors in the different forms of life they find themselves in, from a time which has had no beginning. Spontaneously one will begin to feel pity or compassion for them in their plight. It’s not far from there to thinking that I myself have a responsibility to all of those living beings. I myself have a responsibility to give them happiness. Since I have a responsibility, I have to structure my spiritual life in a way that it will lead to my acquitting myself of that responsibility.

Such a spiritual practice, if it’s constructed out of charity, ethical standard, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, meditative stabilization and wisdom will lead one into a perfect state of Enlightenment. And if one includes in one’s spiritual life also Tantric Buddhist practices, then one can speed up the process and even in a single lifetime achieve a state of Enlightenment. So there is no better method to relieve all suffering and bring about all happiness. There is no better way then the Dharma or a spiritual life.

So I think we are finished. At least I’ve finished giving my series of talks here. So for everybody taking the trouble to come here to listen to me, thank you very much.

One more thing. The temple of Enlightenment here in Bodhgaya and the tree of Enlightenment are very special. Go there and voice your hopes, and make your prayers there. It’s a very special place. From our point of view, it looks like just one tree coming up. But you can think that the tree grew because in that place a being was able to remove all of the obscuration from the mind and achieve Enlightenment.

Even though it looks ordinary to us one can think like that. You notice how people light their candles, kneel and so forth. That means that it’s given great importance by people. It’s a very special place. So go around it and voice your hopes there, because it’s a place to do those things. A woman I know in Dharamsala went and voiced her hopes near that tree. Her mother was living in Nepal and she voiced her hopes that her mom would come to see her. Sure enough, that very year she did come to see her in Dharamsala. So that shows it works then. (Laughter…)

This teaching was transcribed by Stig Jonsson and edited in the 1997 Bihari summer by Tony Simmons. Any mistakes are solely the responsibility of the editor, for which he truly apologizes.