by His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Translated by Thupten Jinpa
Prior to the Kalachakra Initiation
Barcelona, December 11-13, 1994
Day Two, December 12, 1994
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
As we discussed yesterday one of the unique features of human beings is this gift of the faculty of intelligence. As I pointed out yesterday, because we posses this faculty of intelligence, we humans unlike species of other life forms, have the capability to project into the future and think about the long and short term consequences of our actions. Also if you look at human history as a whole, we can see that human civilization is in some sense the product of this faculty of intelligence.Because it is through the application of this faculty of intelligence that human beings progress, expand our knowledge and increase the body of collective knowledge that we posses. So we have better means to relate to the external world and deal with situations. One could say that the whole history of human civilization is a history of the development and evolution of human intelligence.
When we examine the nature of the intelligence that we posses as human beings, we can see that to some extent intelligence is innate; it is there right from the beginning of one’s birth. We could say it is natural to the human psyche yet at the same time we also see that there is a degree to which this natural intelligence can be enhanced and developed. What seems to be true is that there is this innate or natural potential in all of us to be able to enhance and develop this faculty of intelligence, to be able to expand the scope of knowledge.
When Buddhist teachings deal with the question of intelligence and its potential for enhancement, Buddhism talks about three different types of intelligence or understanding or one could say three levels of understanding. At the initial stage, the level of understanding is known as the understanding derived through listening or hearing. Here one’s understanding is primarily based on an explanation, an accounting by someone else or one has read something and one’s level of understanding is at the level of the intellectual understanding. When one contemplates on this level and deepens one’s understanding through constant reflection and analysis then one can enhance this level of intelligence to the second stage which is technically called in Buddhism understanding developed through contemplation or reflection. This is more reliable and also deeper.
If one pursues further analysis and reflection and constantly compares this with one’s own experience, then through meditation this intellectual understanding is deepened and transformed into a sort of meditative understanding. This is the third level of understanding or wisdom which is called the wisdom or understanding derived through meditation. So we see that there is a progression from the initial stage of understanding based purely on reading or hearing, culminating in an understanding which is more experiential.
Similarly when we talk about intelligence, there are different types of intelligence. Certain types of intelligence could be described as sharp, some people are gifted with this kind of intelligence where they are capable of seeing things in a very fast way, very sharp. Yet at the same time that sharpness need not necessarily reflect a depth of intelligence. Some people may have a very sharp mind but it may be only at a surface level but then some people may not be as sharp and quick. They may take a longer time to understand but once they do develop an understanding it is much deeper. This type of intelligence is known as penetrating intelligence, which is not only to understand a subject or topic in a very penetrating way but also at the same time it, is capable of appreciating the wider dimensions or ramifications of that knowledge.
There are other types of intelligence where people have a vast knowledge such that whenever that person looks at a particular subject, that person is able to bring upon that understanding many different perspectives. So we find in the Buddhist literature discussions of such different types of intelligence such as sharp, penetrating, profound and vast knowledge. It is important to bear in mind that the nature of intelligence is very complex and varied.
When talking about the way in which we can apply this basic or natural faculty of intelligence that we posses in understanding the nature of reality, of course it is very important to apply it and probe whatever topic or subject it may be, to be able to see things in a very clear and correct way. It is very important to have a sort of alertness and precision but what is also important is to have another faculty, which is the faculty of single-pointedness of mind. This allows one to really be able to channel one’s attention fully to whatever topic one may be analyzing. If one is able to single-pointedly focus one’s mind on the particular subject then one will be able to in some sense fuse one’s mind with the subject under analysis. In some sense one identifies with it and become one with it, the probing intelligence of the mind becomes united and one with the object under analysis. One will then be able to enhance one’s understanding in a much more effective and powerful way.
This is particularly true when one is dealing with a topic that is either totally unfamiliar to one so that one can not naturally or spontaneously deal with it at ease or it may be a concept which is quite contrary to one’s normal way of thinking. Under such circumstances then without this faculty of single-pointedness of mind, one may not be able to retain one’s attention, one’s focus on the subject. At the same time one may not be able to channel one’s energy or attention to the subject. So if on the other hand one possesses and has developed this faculty of single-pointedness, which by the way is a natural quality one has within us, then one is in a very strong position to apply the clarity of intelligence and its alertness with a degree of stability and focus. It is because of this that in ancient Indian spiritual traditions the need to unite the combined single-pointedness of mind and penetrating insight has been very extensively emphasized. In other words the union of tranquil abiding and penetrating insight has been emphasized in most of the ancient spiritual traditions of India.
We have by birth the natural capacity to enhance our intelligence. We posses that faculty naturally therefore we have the potential to enhance our intelligence, understanding and insight. Similarly we naturally posses within our psyche the faculty of single-pointedness, the fact that you can pay attention to a particular object, the fact that you can retain your attention or focus on to an object. This is an indication that the seed for single-pointedness of mind is within us. So this can be developed and should be developed so that you have advanced mental capabilities.
In Buddhism there are discussions and also techniques of how to enhance one’s philosophical view through meditative techniques. Similarly there are techniques for enhancing one’s meditative practices, single-pointedness of mind through a philosophical analysis. Now leaving this aside because these are techniques, which are described within the context of the Buddhist meditation, however we are talking about the practice of developing a single-pointedness of mind and enhancing intelligence in general. As this is relevant even to someone who doesn’t believe in any particular religious tradition, what may be more appropriate for us is to discuss how it is possible to develop a single-pointedness of mind by choosing a particular object as the focus of your meditation, an object quite easy to imagine, conceive or something that is familiar to you.
Let us take an example of an object like a flower. When we talk about developing a single-pointedness of mind focused on the flower, we should not have the notion that what is being focused at is the visual image of the flower that is in front of you, the object itself. Of course one may gaze at the flower in order to have a clear, vivid image of the flower. But the direct object of one’s meditation is not the real flower, the physical flower “out there” but rather the image of the flower that arises within one, not at the sensorial level but at the mental level. It is the image of the flower that arises within one’s mind at the mental level. That is the object of one’s meditation and one should be able to retain one’s focus and attention on this object even when not looking at the flower at that moment.
When you begin the session developing the single-pointedness of your mind focusing on the example of the flower, you should begin by developing a very strong will and determination or resolve that you will maintain your attention, focused on that object, without any distraction. You should develop that strong resolve and then once you begin the actual meditation make every effort to try and retain that focus, not being distracted.
If you make a constant effort it is possible to be able to extend your ability to retain focus on the object of meditation. Through this way you will be able to increase your capacity for stability of mind. Along with it what is also required is developing the luminous quality of the subjective experience of the mind itself. It is not merely enough to have a vivid image of the object of your meditation; there should also be a sense of alertness, a sense of clarity. This is such that although your mind may be stable and undistracted but it may be beginning to sink, beginning to lose its alertness. This should not be the case. Along with the stability of mind, along with the ability to retain your attention, there should also be a high degree of alertness and subjective clarity.
When you are engaged in a meditation aimed at developing single-pointedness of mind and attempting to attain tranquil abiding, there are certain factors that obstruct your ability to make progress and attain single-pointedness of mind. There are two factors generally speaking, which are the main obstacles that prevent you from developing the stability of mind. These two obstacles are mental scattering or distraction, which is more general and then mental excitement, which is a form of attachment. These two obstacles, these two factors of mind are the key obstacles that hinder your development of the stability of mind. Similarly mental sinking is the main obstacle that hinders your development of alertness and clarity, subjective clarity of mind.
Among the two, mental distraction and mental excitement, generally speaking excitement is considered to be the more serious obstacle because it is a form of attachment. So for a practitioner whose primary aim or objective is to attain single-pointedness of mind, it is important to first of all identify these two key obstacles, mental excitement and mental sinking, and then seek means by which the practitioner can confront and counteract them.
Of course when we speak of these two primary obstacles, mental sinking and mental excitement, they are many different levels even within these two factors of mind. There are subtleties and coarse levels. Generally speaking the way in which the meditator or practitioner should confront them and counteract them is like the following. If you find in your meditation that your mind is beginning to be distracted, your mind is starting to lose its focus then that is an indication that you may be at a slightly more excited state. Under such circumstances the right antidote is to try to bring the state of your mind lower and try to withdrawal your consciousness a bit more.
On the other hand if you find that you are beginning to lose the clarity and alertness, although there is no distraction it is beginning to lose its grip and its intensity, then it is an indication that mental sinking is arising. So under such circumstances the right antidote is to try to uplift your mind; try to make your mind more alert and awaken yourself.
So what we find is that the right approach is to try to find the right balance between the two, kind of an equilibrium. Of course what constitutes an equilibrium will differ from individual to individual depending upon different physical makeup of the person. It depends on many different factors. Age might make a difference and also the physical health of the individual may make a difference. In some cases even the food you may have eaten previously might make a difference; the diet may make a difference. There are many factors which need to be taken into account so therefore there is no standard sort of point where one can say this is the equilibrium everyone needs.
So far as this state of equilibrium is concerned it is something that every individual needs to find out for themselves through experience and through practice. You will arrive at a point where you can in some sense intuit that this is the right balance, the right equilibrium for me. Once you have found it, then it is important to retain it. It is through pursuing such a balanced approach that you will be able to advance and make progress in your meditation.
What is important here is to give a caution that especially at the beginning it is very important not to exert too much, not to put too much exertion in your meditation. What is important is not to put yourself in a situation where you may end up feeling put off by the experience. At the initial stage even though the session may be very short, let’s say one or two minutes, during which one can maintain one’s focus on the object, that is fine. What is important is to pay more attention to the quality of the state of mind you arrive at in your meditation rather than trying to push yourself too hard in trying to have an extended period of meditation. Pushing too hard may lead to a situation where you are in some sense being dragged along in your meditation without much clarity but rather in a foggy state. This will lead you to acquire bad habits, which may in the future be quite difficult to overcome. So at the initial stage it is important not to put too much exertion but rather to pay more attention to the quality so that you can, even though initially it may be very short, be able to slowly extend the duration of your single-pointedness of mind. In this way whatever duration you manage to achieve will be of a very good quality. This is the way in which you should progress.
Sometimes it is also very beneficial if one could develop single-pointedness of the mind focused on one’s own consciousness, the nature of one’s own consciousness. This will have a very powerful effect but in order to do this first of all it is important to have some idea or some sort of image of what the object of meditation would be like, i.e. the consciousness. Of course when one says meditate on consciousness and take one’s own consciousness as the object of meditation, one is not referring to the mere term “consciousness”; that’s not the object of meditation. What is required here is to be able to take consciousness itself and focus one’s attention upon it.
So in order to be able to do this first of all one needs to identify what the consciousness is. This is of course quite difficult. One technique, which can be used to assist one in enabling one to identify consciousness, is following a particular meditation. For example in one’s normal, ordinary state, one finds oneself constantly immersed either in a sensory state or in a conceptual state where one is totally distracted or preoccupied by either external sensory objects, be it colors, shapes or odors, or internal feelings and sensations, be it pleasurable, painful or whatever.
In some sense one could say that since one’s consciousness, since one’s states of mind are so dominated by these sensorial or conceptual experiences that the basic nature of the consciousness itself, which is the mere luminosity, mere experience, is in some sense obscured or covered. This is such that it no longer becomes apparent to one; it is no longer manifest to one’s experience, at least to one’s conscious mind.
So in one’s meditation, what one can do is to deliberately adopt a stance resolving that one will not allow oneself to become distracted by past experiences, recollections of past experiences nor allow oneself to become distracted about future events, with expectations and hopes. Rather one retains one’s focus, the focus of one’s mind and consciousness only on the experience of the present moment. When one starts practicing in this manner, of course it is difficult, but slowly and gradually one may be able to distance one’s mind from recollections and memories of the past as well as expectations and anticipations projected into the future. One will be able to retain one’s awareness fully to the present and through this way slowly begin to have a glimpse of a certain vacuity. When one takes the path and the future out of the stream of consciousness, what one experiences is this vacuity.
Through one’s practice one will be able to extend that experience of vacuity. At the initial stage it may only be a glimpse or a momentary experience but slowly and gradually one will be able to extend that experience. When one extends that experience gradually and slowly then the basic nature of the mind, which is the clarity and the luminosity, will become more and more apparent to one, more and more manifest. One will then get to a point where when one encounters the term consciousness, it will give one a different meaning, a different sense. This experience is the one, which needs to be taken as the object of meditation when one is meditating on consciousness, developing single-pointedness focused on consciousness.
An analogy used often here is the example of murky water. When water with sediment is shaken it becomes murky. If one then lets the container rest without motion, slowly one will begin to see the sediment settle and the clarity of the water becomes more and more apparent. This is the analogy used to describe when one separates out the past and future anticipation from one’s mind from the stream of consciousness. The vacuity is like the clarity of the water.
So far as this meditation on identifying the nature of consciousness is concerned, the technique that I just described; it does not require any religious presupposition or any particular belief in any religious ideas. It is universal; it is something that could be adopted by any person even a non-believer. Even in the case of a non-believer I think that pursuing such a meditation and through this meditation focused on the experiential luminous nature of the mind and developing single-pointedness of mind, may have a very positive beneficial effect on the individual. This is especially in terms of helping the person have a certain degree of the relief of stress.
For example in modern society the pace of life is so fast that it may be quite difficult to control the pace of events around one. However one possibility that the individual has is to take control over one’s own response to that fast pace of life. By engaging in such meditative practices one can in some sense slow down and have a respite internally so that one no longer feels driven the mechanistic pace of life. Rather one exerts one’s own control and one chooses to slow down the pace and also to seek respite. It is possible through this way to have less stress and have more relaxation in one’s own mind. I think this is possible. This may also have beneficial effects enhancing one’s natural capacity of intelligence as one can develop and enhance alertness of mind, clarity of thought and so on and so forth.
In the case of a religious believer, for example a Christian practitioner … following single-pointedness of mind by taking the figure of Jesus as the object of one’s meditation or the figure of Mary. Focused on that one can develop single-pointedness of mind. However this type of meditation is slightly different when one talks of meditation on love or compassion. In that context one is not talking about taking love or compassion as the object of meditation but rather one is talking about generating one’s mind or consciousness in the nature of love or compassion. There is no subject-object duality. So in such meditations one’s aim is to try to strengthen and enhance one’s natural capacity for love and compassion. For example in the case of the meditation on love as well as the Christian meditation on love what one is trying to strengthen is one’s own natural capacity for love and insure that in one’s meditation on love that one’s mind is not distracted or lax.
So one could say that as far as the meditative techniques for developing single-pointedness of mind are concerned it is truly a universal and common practice. Because of this in ancient India all the techniques having to do with developing single-pointedness of mind are known as methods and meditations common to Buddhist and non-Buddhist practitioners.
When one can combine one’s faculty of intelligence with the faculty of single-pointedness, a powerful single-pointedness of mind then one’s intelligence acquires a very penetrating power or ability. When we speak about the need and the importance of enhancing and developing one’s faculty of intelligence and having that intelligence penetrate into the nature of reality, it is important to bear in mind for what purpose one is trying to enhance this capability. It is not purely out of academic interest or out of a sense of enjoyment; there must be a purpose. Otherwise one’s intelligence might become trivial.
In the Buddhist context to the question of to what purpose does one enhance one’s faculty of intelligence, the answer is that in order to bring about an internal transformation within the mind or to bring about an inner discipline one develops one’s faculty of intelligence. However when we speak about internal transformation and inner discipline, I personally feel that it is actually the states of emotion, which directly bring about the transformation. For example in the case of positive transformation, it is emotional factors like compassion, love, trust and faith, which directly and actually bring about the transformation. The role of intelligence is to complement or reinforce the emotional factors. In the case of compassion, love and so forth, they are in some sense drawn out and reinforced by the factor of intelligence. Through intelligence one understands the value and importance of compassion and through intelligence one understands the need for trust. One understands the grounds under which one can trust one’s spiritual wellbeing to someone. Through one’s intelligence one understands the benefits and value of compassion and the need for compassion. One sees an intimate interplay or dynamic between one’s faculty of intelligence on the one hand and the various positive emotional factors which intelligence brings forth and enhances within one.
I feel that these types of emotions are in some sense rooted in reason and are valid experiences. So generally when we say don’t be emotional there is the idea that emotions are negative. But it is important to make a distinction between two types of emotion. There are of course negative emotions like anger, hatred, strong attachment and so on. These are negative and also quite different from emotions like love, compassion and so on in that the former emotions are instinctual, impulsive, reactive and arise without reason. They are destructive as well so when we talk about emotions it is important to make a distinction between the positive ones and the negative ones. The positive emotions as I explained earlier, when these are complimented by intelligence then true internal transformation can take place.
Similarly when we look at our sense of self and our sense of ego, we find that we have naturally within us a very powerful, strong concrete sense of a self as it is the core of our existence. One’s whole attitude or perception of the world in some sense reflects this sense of self and this strong sense of self is a grasping at the inner being or the self is very egoistic, projecting one’s view of the world. This sort of egoistic grasping at a sense of self leads to all sorts of complications. It leads to strong emotions, deluded states of mind, frustrations, sufferings and so on. This is definitely a negative sense of self.
On the other hand we can are positive senses of a self, which in some sense arise as a result of constant reflection and deep thought. For example in the context of Buddhism, the scriptures tell us that all sentient beings possess the Buddhanature, there is within us by birth this germinal seed for attaining full enlightenment. Also there is the fact that the ultimate nature of the mind is emptiness, the fact that clarity and luminosity are the essence of the mind which is totally untainted. Based on these reflections and also the fact that oneself at this juncture as a human being has all the intellectual and mental capabilities of understanding what is the correct path and by pursuing it one has the ability to activate the Buddhanature within one so that one can fulfill one’s altruistic aspiration to help other sentient beings. So based on these considerations then one can develop a strong sense of confidence that one can achieve full enlightenment, one can do this for the sake of all sentient beings. This sense of self is positive and more one thinks about these reasons, the more one reflect on the underlying reasons the stronger this positive sense of self will become which is in marked contrast to the earlier sense of self which is deluded, unfounded and egoistic. So one can see even within the sense of self there are positive and negative senses of self just as with the emotions.
To sum up Buddhism the objective or the purpose of developing the faculty of intelligence is to bring about an internal transformation. The ultimate purpose of bringing about such an internal transformation is for a Buddhist practitioner to seek enlightenment or to seek nirvana, freedom from cyclic existence. Further then a Buddhist practitioner seeks full awakening not just for one’s own sake but also for the sake of all sentient beings. So what we see is that at the initial stage the motivating factor that brings about internal transformation is really this genuine desire to seek freedom from the bondage of suffering and cyclic existence. At the second stage the motivating factor is the altruistic attitude and aspiration to seek full enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. In both of these cases it is the faculty of intelligence that compliments and makes these motivations effective and powerful.
It is with this background that one should then look at the fundamental Buddhist teachings on the Four Noble Truths as the whole framework of the Four Noble Truths is setting a context within which a spiritual trainee can use their natural capacities towards fulfilling their spiritual aspirations. This aspiration is to obtain freedom from suffering.
In brief the essence of the teachings of the Four Noble Truths is the following. What we don’t desire is suffering and pain. Where does suffering come from? From its origin or source. So the first two truths have to do with suffering and its origin. What we all seek and naturally aspire to attain is happiness.
When we talk about happiness in the context of spiritual practice like aspiring to attain liberation from samsara, our conception of happiness is not confined to ordinary pleasurable sensations alone. In fact those pleasurable sensations which in worldly terms are known as happiness are in the true sense of the word not experiences of joy but rather transient and unreliable experiences. These experiences can easily turn into suffering. So the true happiness one is seeking is the total freedom from suffering and even the potential for suffering. This freedom is in Buddhist language is described as a state beyond sorrow or nirvana. The methods or the process by which an individual can arrive at such an ultimate joy or happiness or in other words the state beyond sorrow are called the true paths. Freedom and its cause, which is the path, are the last two truths, the truth of cessation and the truth of the path. They point out the causation between what we seek which is happiness and the conditions or causes that lead to such a state of happiness.
In other words the essence of the teachings of the Four Noble Truths is that it states that all things and events including one’s own experiences of pain, pleasure, suffering, happiness and so forth come into being as the result of their causes and conditions. If one does not desire suffering then the logical thing to do is to put an end to the processes that lead to suffering. On the other hand if it is happiness one seeks, then the logical thing to do is to seek the causes and the processes that lead to attaining that happiness. So this is the morale one should draw from the teachings on the Four Noble Truths.
In the sermon, which is the teachings on the Four Noble Truths when the Buddha taught the individual truths, he taught them in terms of four characteristics each. So let us first deal with the characteristics of the First Truth which is the Truth of Suffering. One can speak in terms of three characteristics or four characteristics. For convenience sake let us say three characteristics. Suffering is described in terms of three characteristics of impermanence or transitory nature, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness.
When we reflect on the first characteristic of suffering which is impermanence or the transient nature of existence, of course there are two levels, the coarse and the subtle levels. At the gross level from one’s own experience one knows that every aspect of one’s life and all the conditions of one’s existence, be it one’s own belongings, shelter and so on which one requires for one’s survival, are transient in the sense that they are finite. None of them can last eternally and this is a fact we all know. However when one relates to them sometimes one totally forgets their transient nature, we ignore this fact.
For example when one desperately want something, when one covets something one feels as if that object, whatever it may be, holds the answer to all of one’s happiness. One feels as if one attains this object, all of one’s life will be no problem at all and one would in some sense obtain eternal happiness. There is this sense and one invests so much into the task of obtaining it. So in some sense one does forget occasionally the finite nature of one’s own existence. Not only are all these conditions, be it wealth, friends, health or so on, finite but also the very being for whose purpose these are sought itself is also finite, must come to an end. So it is important to reflect upon the transient nature even though it is at a gross level.
However more powerful contemplation is to reflect on the subtle nature of impermanence which is to appreciate that all things and events are transient in the sense that none of them have the ability or capacity to endure for more than an instance. Every phenomenon is undergoing changes in every instance and there is nothing that endures in the true sense of the word. This is one understanding of subtle impermanence. More powerful still is to appreciate the very fact that when something has come into being that in itself is an indication that it has the potential to cease. In some sense one could say that built within the cause of something’s production there is also within the object the cause or mechanism for its cessation or demise. One can understand that the causes and conditions, which gave rise to its production, are the very causes and conditions, which plant the seeds for its disintegration or cessation. One should not have the notion that things come into being first, endure and then cease to exist. This is not the case. In order for a thing or event to come to an end there is no need for a further third factor to intervene and bring about that cessation as built within the very causal mechanism which produces the thing itself is the cause for its eventual demise or cessation. When one understands impermanence in such a profound way it will have a very liberating and powerful effect.
When one’s understanding of the transient and impermanent nature of existence is brought to such a deep level then one will be able to draw out its full implications. So long as an event or thing has come into being as the result of causes and conditions then that event or thing has no power over itself. It is not self-governing. In some sense it is under the power of other factors, in other words it is other-powered. It has no control over itself and it is governed by other factors. When this understanding is then applied in the context of meditation on the Four Noble Truths then one realizes that the suffering which is the unsatisfactory nature of one’s own existence characterized by the nature of one’s psychophysical existence, the five aggregates, and one’s very existence is the product of causes and conditions. When one examines this further one begins to identify what those causes and conditions are and principal among them are one’s karma, the volitional actions which lead to one’s existence and the underlying delusions which motivated those karmic actions.
The delusory states if examined further have their roots in fundamental ignorance or avidya. This fundamental ignorance if one examines its nature, one finds that it is a distorted state of mind. It is a state of mind, which misapprehends the nature of reality; it conceives reality in a distorted way.
So through following this line of thought one comes to the realization that one’s very existence is rooted in a distorted state of mind. Because it is a product of this distorted state of mind, so long as it remains chained to that cause, one will have no control over its forces. Just as one avoids a particular food grown from a poisonous plant, in one’s own life since its primary cause is ignorance and karma and as long as one remains in such a state of existence then one’s existence can not be characterized as joyful or satisfactory. Through this way one can understand the full meaning of the second characteristic of suffering which is the unsatisfactory nature of existence.
When we say that our very existence is in some sense the result of delusions and karma, it might give the impression to some people that there are these autonomous forces called karma and delusions somewhere out “there”. This is a totally wrong impression. Let me clarify this statement that our very existence is a product of karma and delusion. We will leave aside for the time being the question of rebirth and previous lives before this present one.
Even within this lifetime we can from our own experience see the connection between how our varying states of existence and the delusory states with the actions that follow them are connected. As Chandrakirti said in his Entering into the Middle Way, first we have the innate sense of self and then we expand it by projecting a sense of mine. This is followed by grasping which then leads to the rotation of the cycle of existence. This process goes on without any control like a machine, which once started, is propelled on and on.
For example if we examine our own very existence and our own experience we find that underlying all of our experiences there is a strong sense of self spoken about earlier. There is a grasping or clinging to this core, to this inner being within ourselves which is felt to be the true referent of the notion of me or self. Our whole existence, our whole perception in some sense springs from this grasping, this clinging. From this strong identity of a self then we cling to our body and mind, which are in some sense the basis from which this sense of “I” or self arises. We begin to embrace our mind and body as “mine”. In order to nurture and protect what you think is your mind and your body, you cling onto many factors of existence like shelter, food, companions, wealth and so on and so forth which you see as essential needs of the self. Thus the scope of your clinging becomes expanded, becoming wider and wider. Along with this your emotional reactions increase towards events and people who you see as posing a threat to the things you consider yours. You feel anger and hatred towards people and things who you consider as threatening and attachment towards that which you perceive as helpful to your sense of self.
You can see how you fluctuate in your emotional reactions to different objects and persons based on what you project or perceive in their relationship to you. These fluctuating emotions be it attachment or hatred or anger, they impulsively lead you to certain actions either positive or negative. These actions then lead to further consequences leading to a chain reaction. So you see within this single lifetime or this present state that there is a complex nexus formed between your sense of self, your sense of “mine”, your clinging to various factors of existence and how they give rise to emotional responses in yourself leading to actions which cause new circumstances. You can see the nexus that is formed.
If this is the case we can then extend this kind of understanding of the connection between this type of life with the experiences of previous lifetimes and so on and so forth. One can in some sense apply the same scheme onto other lifetimes as well. It is in this way that one can understand the statement that our existence is the product of karma and delusions. (Break)
Question: There are numerous deities to whom one prays with great fervor. What is the relationship between the deities and emptiness? Do they exist only in a relative way?
Answer: Perhaps it important here to give a context to the position of deities in Buddhism as a whole. If one were to look at Buddhism in its general form, the sermons that the Buddha gave in public, according to these teachings there is no reference to any meditational deities or supernatural beings other than worldly devas like Brahma, Indra and so on. In the Mahayana sutras there mention of Bodhisattvas on high levels of realization, some of who are not in a human form.
However it is only when it comes to the discussion of tantric practice is there reference to supernatural beings or divine beings like meditational deities. If one looks at the idea of a meditational deity, tantra and the underlying reasons for it, one finds that one of the principal features of tantra is that in tantra one is engaging in a meditative practice where one’s whole purpose is based on a reflection of emptiness. This is not just of one’s ordinary self but also of one’s own perfected state. In some sense one deliberately adopt and assume an identity which is one’s own perfected state. Focusing on this one develops an identity, a sense of perception directed towards that image while at the same time acknowledging its empty nature.
So there is a discussion of this meditative method called deity yoga where there is a union between meditation of the visualization of the deity and being fully aware of its empty nature. What this implies is that there is no autonomous, independent form of a deity of a particular color, totally independent of the meditator. The implication is that there is no such external, independent deity.
However the meditator as he/she advances along the tantric path and gains progressively higher realizations becoming fully enlightened, in the tantric terminology this experience is described as the practitioner attaining the state of the particular deity. For example if the meditational deity is Manjusri, one can say that the individual meditator has now attained the state of Manjusri.
With regard to such a deity in relation to emptiness, there is no reason why these deities should have a particular relationship with emptiness. As I pointed out earlier when one talks of emptiness, one is talking about a dual perspective of the nature of reality, the ultimate nature and the relative nature. So far as this dual aspect of the levels of reality is concerned, it is universal, common to all phenomena both things and events. As I pointed out earlier as far as emptiness is concerned, it embraces the entire expanse of reality including the Buddha and the state of nirvana.
Answer: It is true that when people hear and come into contact with the Buddhist doctrine of no-self for the first time they often react by thinking that Buddhism denies the self and the very existence of the individual. If this is the case then who or what incarnates? This question naturally seems to arise. I would like to point out that personally I feel that so far as the existence of the individual or self is concerned, the fact that there is a being, an individual who creates karma, engages in actions, who faces the consequences of those actions, who perceives things and events, so far as to the existence of that individual being, I don’t think there is any dispute between Buddhists and non-Buddhists. It is a universally accepted by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists that such an individual or being exists.
The dispute really lies on the question of in what manner does that being or self exist. What is the ontological status of that being? In what sense does this self or individual exist? As I pointed out yesterday, Buddhism as a whole rejects the idea that the self or individual is something independent from the mind-body aggregate, the self or being as being something separate from the psychophysical constituents such as the five aggregates. Buddhism rejects an external agent or eternal principle. All the schools of Buddhism deny this sort of a conception of the self or personhood.
Within the various Buddhist schools the highest school of Buddhist philosophical thought even rejects the possibility of identifying the self or the individual with any of its designated bases, be it body, mind or perception. However this highest school of Buddhism also accepts the reality of the individual or being and its continuum. The individual is beginningless and also endless. As far as the continuation of an individual being is concerned, it has come from beginningless time so there is not a denial of such a being or individual in any of the Buddhist schools of thought.
Since the nature of existence of the individual being or person seems to be a very important concern in many spiritual traditions of the world including Buddhism and since there are many possibilities of how to conceive of this person or self, we find in Buddhist philosophical literature discussions of various misconceptions regarding the true identification of the self. For example the Madhyamika literature lists four principal types of misconceptions regarding the identification of the self. The first is to conceive the self as something that is eternal, permanent, unitary and self-governing. This is at quite a gross level of mind. Another misconception identified by Buddhism is one which conceives the self in terms of an agent that is independent from the mind/body composite, something in the mode of a servant and its master. It conceives the relationship between the self and the mind/body aggregate as like the relationship between a master and his servants.
A third misconception is where the self is conceived as part of the designated basis, self as ultimately identifiable either as the collective of the five aggregates or one of the individual five aggregates. The fourth which is the subtlest form of misconception is to conceive the self as having some sort of intrinsic identity that is not derived from the aggregates but rather has an intrinsic reality. Out of these four misconceptions, the first two are considered to be more gross conceptions of the self and these are more intellectually based misconceptions of the identity of the self. These two result from philosophical speculation and therefore are not found in persons who are not philosophically trained or in animals. They are not instinctual or innate feelings. However the last two forms of the misconception of the self are said to be innate and deeply ingrained in all of us.
Question: Over the next few days we will be required to have some imagination. As I am someone not familiar with imagination but clearly familiar with illusion, please explain the difference?
Answer: According to one scripture it is said that apart from highly realized and spiritually evolved beings on the levels of Arya bhumis in meditative equipoise totally focused on emptiness, all other beings are always at some level of illusion. The reason for this is because ordinary sentient beings always have a perception of some form of intrinsic reality, some form of objective experience.
So although as I pointed out earlier, in ordinary states of consciousness one is always at some level of illusion, however within the illusions there are differences. Some forms of illusion although they are illusions from the perspective of emptiness, however they can have beneficial effects. They can be beneficial in bringing about certain desired state of mind within one. Therefore these types of illusions are deliberately cultivated and enhanced in one so that one can achieve the desired beneficial effects. Some types of illusions need to be eliminated from one’s mind and so on.
To go back to the questioner’s own concerns, over the next few days during the initiation one will be performing visualizations but on the part of the initiates what is of most importance is to continually keep in mind one’s understanding of emptiness. One combines this understanding of emptiness with a strong feeling of altruism, a strong feeling of bodhicitta. Maintaining and cultivating these two factors is of most importance in an initiation.
Question: Does anything permanent exist?
Answer: There is a slight semantic problem here. When we use the terms permanence and impermanence in the Buddhist context, the way it is understood in Buddhist philosophy, they are defined in terms of whether or not the phenomenon in question is a product of causes and conditions; whether it is a composite or a non-composite. All things and events which are composite, i.e. products of causes and conditions, are said to be impermanent, transient and changeable. All phenomena, which are not subject to causes and conditions, are said to be permanent. So this is the basic definition.
So according to this definition let’s take the example of a vase or pot. The pot is impermanent but the emptiness of the pot or vase would be permanent. But in some sense one can say that the emptiness of the pot is not permanent because if the object (the pot) on which the emptiness is qualified no longer exists then its emptiness no longer exists either. The standard example found in Buddhist philosophical literature is that of space. Buddhists define space as the mere absence of obstructive quality. One can say that space is permanent and eternal. Similarly one aspect of a human being is that it is not a horse. This “non-horseness” quality is said to be permanent but it is a quality of a human being by the fact that a human being is not a horse.
Question: You spoke of human intelligence as in some sense as the foundation of civilization. This would seem to imply that you believe that the mind has played a more important role in human evolution than the heart. Is it therefore that the reasoning faculty is to be valued over and above that of the creative, intuitive faculties?
Answer: To respond to the last part of the question first, it is difficult for me to say that there is a difference between the English definition of the term intelligence and the Tibetan equivalent sherab. However my premise for stating that it is the faculty of human intelligence which is the foundation of human civilization is the following. If we compare humans to other species, we know that there are other life forms on the planet who have had millions of years of evolution. So far as the fundamental instinct for seeking happiness and avoiding suffering is concerned, I would say that humans as well as other species are equal in having this instinctual sort of drive or aspiration.
Similarly based on this drive both humans and other species seek ways and means to fulfill that aspiration, to avoid suffering and to bring about happiness. However we wouldn’t call the simple processes of survival and reproduction civilization. We would call the evolutionary process of human progress civilization because there we see the very direct role played by the factor of intelligence, which is not found in the historical evolution of other species. This is the main premise on which I base my idea.
For example one principal difference between humans and other species is that some marine biologists believe that whales may have a fundamental language; they can communicate with each other. But I would conjecture that in terms of the range and scope of such a language there wouldn’t be differences in the same species of whales from different parts of the world divided by geography.
This is not the case with human beings. Human beings of course have the natural capacity for communication and develop language. But human beings by using their intelligence have developed a multiplicity and diversity of languages. Though all individuals have this capacity biologically speaking different environments and geographical locations has given rise to the diversity and multiplicity of languages which appear in some cases to be independent of each other.
Question: If it is necessary for a person practicing meditation to have a teacher to orient and guide them, how does one know that one has met with an appropriate master?
Answer: First of all we be clear on what is meant by meditation practice. In some forms of meditation practice such as the one I described earlier, developing the single-pointedness of mind focused on consciousness, in such a practice I feel it is possible that one can pursue the practice by reading on one’s own without seeking guidance from a guru. It is possible to make progress simply by reading, developing one’s understanding and practicing.
However if one wishes to engage in more advanced religious practices then of course it is very beneficial to have a guru. Now as to the question of how does one know that one has met the right guru or is qualified, one reads in the biographies of the great masters of the past that when a spiritual trainee has met the guru with a karmic connection with the trainee, there are instances of very moving experiences. They feel immediately drawn to the guru, deeply inspired. They feel in some sense a deep spiritual experience with them. So the indications could be finding someone most inspiring, someone whose teachings affects you most and so on. These may be indications.
However as to the point of whether or not the person is qualified to be a guru, first of all it is important on one’s part to be familiar with what are the standard requirements on the part of a teacher. What are the basic, minimum qualifications that someone must possess in order to be a spiritual teacher? These one can read from texts. Once one is familiar with these qualifications then use that standard to judge the person to whom one is considering as taking up as one’s teacher. Not only test this once or twice but for a long time examine the person and his or her behavior. It is through such examination that one can make a decision whether that person is qualified or not.
Question: For what karmic reasons was it decided to hold the Kalachakra initiation in Barcelona?
Answer: Unfortunately as far as the answer to that question is concerned, until one becomes fully enlightened there is no hope to understand. Of course one can guess, one can speculate, one can rationalize but so far as to the detailed understanding of the various connections of karma that led to the holding of Kalachakra here is concerned. Until one has eliminated all obstructions to knowledge in one’s mind, one can not possible realize it. It is for this reason that in the Buddhist scriptures it is said that so far as understanding the minute details of the workings of karma is concerned, it can only be known by a fully enlightened mind.
Question: What is the position of women in Buddhism?
Answer: When we think about the position of Buddhism about the question of gender as a whole it is important to bear in mind that there are various perspectives within Buddhism itself. One perspective is that of monasticism and as far as this perspective is concerned although in terms of opportunity, there is equal opportunity for men and women for full ordination. However in terms of seniority a fully ordained monk is considered in some sense higher than the fully ordained nun. So from a feminist point of view of course this reflects a bias based on gender. Of course there have been complaints about this but as I pointed out earlier, as far as the opportunities are concerned, there is an equal opportunity.
Being mindful of this bias and one could say male domination in the practice of monasticism of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition; I have wanted to convene a meeting attended by various members of the Sangha. I want the meeting held soon having representation from countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka and so on. Unfortunately although we have been able to collect papers for various would-be participants we have not been able to hold the meeting and look at these issues. Of course there is quite diversity, some are orthodox and some are quite progressive and liberal. However I’m very committed to the idea of a meeting so that some of these customs which reflect gender distinctions can be corrected. One of my reasons for advocating and pointing out the need to reassess some of the aspects of monasticism and the monastic tradition is based on the fundamental standpoint of Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. Since Tibetan Buddhism perceives itself as a complete form of Buddhism embracing not just monastic practice but also general Mahayana Buddhism and esoteric, tantric Buddhism, the standpoint is that from within the precepts of Vinaya, Mahayana and Vajrayana if there are any conflicts or contradictions, then it is the higher precepts such as the Mahayana and Vajrayana which need to take precedence and modification is to be made in the lower precepts. This is my premise from which I am arguing that there is a need to modify some aspects of the monastic tradition.
In the general Mahayana Buddhism, from this perspective there are certain aspects of thought where there appears to be a gender distinction. For example in Mahayana Buddhism in the sutra tradition the bodhisattva who is at the point of becoming fully enlightened, a characteristic used to describe them is that they are male. Similarly in the first three levels of tantra again in the practices and beliefs are certain instances of gender distinction.
However from the standpoint of Highest Yoga tantra which is considered by the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as being the apex of Buddhist practice and tradition, there is no bias what so ever. Not only both male and female can become fully enlightened in both forms of gender, but also during initiation or in sadhanas there is the need for representation from both male and female deities. Similarly in Highest Yoga tantra there seems to be a greater emphasis placed on respecting women. For example in the tantric vows, one of the root precepts is not to disparage women. The disparagement of women is considered to be an infraction of one of the root precepts. So there is a greater sensitivity to the position of women. Also according to Highest Yoga tantra both in male and female forms can practitioners attain full enlightenment within their current lifetime.
Of course if one thinks about it, definitely it makes sense because in Highest Yoga tantra the main emphasis is placed on understanding the subtle nature of mind and body. So far as the gender distinction is concerned the distinctions between men and women are only physiologic and are relevant only at the gross bodily level. Whereas in the Highest Yoga tantra where one is involved in practices aimed at and developing perfecting the subtle level of physiologic energies, the channels and so on. At this level gender distinctions make no sense, as it has no relevance what so ever. Therefore Highest Yoga tantra makes no distinction between male and female practitioners as far as the potential for attaining full enlightenment in this lifetime is concerned.
Question: Because the Buddhist deities are so strange; many colors, arms, several heads, how can an intelligent person regard these as anything other than superstitions?
Answer: You are quite right. Unless one is fully aware of the underlying philosophy of tantra and also the whole model process of procedure on the tantric path, the way in which various techniques are used to enhance the psychological and physiological aspects of the practitioner, these deities seem rather weird. In some sense they can be seen as mere products of imagination or superstition.
However when a practitioner who is mindful of the deeper significance and symbolism of the various aspects of these deities as well as their mandalas and so on, engages in the practice of tantra related to a particular meditational deity, what seems to be true is that within that practitioner’s mind a positive transformation occurs. The practitioner is able to enhance their compassion, tolerance, awareness, insight and so on. So this indicates that when these practices are engaged in with full knowledge of the symbolism and its significance, it does have certain power.
Question: You have said in a book that mental suffering is worse than physical suffering. What do you think of Western psychiatric methods? How can one help others with great mental suffering? What can these people do for themselves to get out of their difficulties?
Answer: Generally speaking various forms of therapeutic practices which have evolved in the West over the last several decades in psychiatry, as these practices have naturally evolved as a response to coping and dealing with emotional problems, in general they are very beneficial. I must admit that I have not studied any of them so I can not claim any deep familiarity with any of these practices. I don’t have much to say either than making this general point.
As to the last two questions, when one deals with how best to help people with psychological and emotional problems, what is most important is to be very sensitive to the context and how each individual case differs from another. One has to take into account the person’s background particularly the person’s spiritual inclinations, whether or not the person is a believer, whether or not rebirth figures into their world view and so on. It is important to be sensitive to that aspect of the individual so that one is in a better position to help them overcome their problems.
First of all when practicing Buddhists think about happiness and the wellbeing of sentient beings, one attempts to embrace within one’s aspiration for happiness all sentient beings. There is an all-inclusiveness, all-encompassing aspect to one’s aspiration to seek happiness. Secondly there is the idea that one has had beginningless lifetimes and this current life is not the only one. So when one has such a world-view where the interconnectedness of all sentient beings is accepted, where one’s aspiration for the happiness of others is part of one’s outlook, where one’s outlook is not confined to this as the only life then when one has such a perspective a particular suffering which may be very real, intense or acute however within such a perspective, this suffering is seen as part of a wider context. One does not see it in isolation so that one does not feel to be in a fix where one feels that this is everything; everything is at stake as far as one’s own well-being is concerned, a make or break situation. This sort of anxiety, this acute sense of suffering is lessened, the sting is taken out.
Similarly with the idea of karma, the idea of rebirth, recognizing the destructive nature of karma and the delusions and recognizing the basic unsatisfactory nature of existence, all of these considerations play an important role in assisting the practitioner to cope with adverse circumstances and situations. As explained earlier as a result of one’s deepened understanding of the transient nature of existence, the impermanent nature of existence, one realizes that one’s very existence is in some sense the product of karma and delusions. Delusions have their root in fundamental ignorance, avidya. This fundamental ignorance is a state of misconception, a totally distorted state of mind where one misapprehends the nature of reality. One apprehends things and events as well as one’s own self as possessing a form of intrinsic existence or intrinsic identity. One then clings to one’s self-existence or own-being.
Once one realizes this then one understands that it is only by seeing through the illusion of this ignorant mind, in other words it is only by developing an insight into the nature of the emptiness of self-existence that one learns that true liberation can take place. In some sense the process of unwinding begins with insight into the realization of selflessness. It is because of this Buddha taught the third characteristic of suffering which is selflessness, no self or no-soul. When one understands the inter-relationship between impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness in such a manner that what one realizes is that the first two characteristics, impermanence and unsatisfactoriness, give rise to an insight into the suffering nature of one’s existence. One’s very existence is ultimately unsatisfactory; it is ultimately deluded. By then reflecting on the third characteristic, the characteristic of selflessness, one receives a vision of a new alternative, an alternative way of existing. Therefore this gives rise to hope that there is a way out. Otherwise if one’s understanding of existence is confined only to the first two characteristics, impermanence and unsatisfactoriness then it could lead to a loss of hope, a sense of discouragement. A sense of hopelessness, thinking that one’s existence is only suffering but the characteristic of selflessness shows one the way out. In some sense it points one towards the way of freedom. So it is through this way that one begins to develop a genuine sense and genuine aspiration to seek freedom from suffering.
When the entire teachings of the Four Noble Truths are summarized one can understand it within the formula of the Four Seals of Buddhism. First is that all composite phenomena are impermanent or transient. This points towards the first characteristic of suffering which is that all things and events are transient, impermanent or subject to change. The second principle or seal states that all contaminated phenomena are unsatisfactory and this points towards the second characteristic, which is the underlying unsatisfactory nature of existence, itself. As I pointed out earlier this insight is gained on the basis of understanding that one’s very existence is in some sense a product of karma and delusion. The third seal states that all phenomena are empty and absent of all self-existence. This points towards the hope that I spoke of earlier, pointing a way out, showing one an alternative way of existence by pointing out the doctrine of selflessness. It is through the realization of selflessness, through generating the insight into the selfless nature of things and events that one can ultimately attain a state of freedom, a state beyond sorrow or nirvana. Therefore the fourth seal is that nirvana or cessation is true peace.
In brief all that I have said over the last two days points towards this simple statement that for a practicing Buddhist, what is the ultimate aspiration? The ultimate aspiration is the attainment of nirvana, freedom from suffering, the state beyond sorrow. It is towards this aim that a practicing Buddhist would employ the faculty of intelligence and generate insight and understanding of the Four Noble Truths, the inter-relationship between the Four Noble Truths and their underlying causal principle. To reach that understanding one needs to understand the Two Truths. So it is through the understanding and developing insight into the Four Noble Truths and the Two Truths while at the same time bringing about internal transformation that the practicing Buddhist seeks to fulfill the ultimate aspiration which is to attain nirvana or the freedom from suffering.
As I pointed out earlier the ultimate aspiration or aim is to attain nirvana, the freedom from suffering. However when we talk about the freedom from suffering and the freedom from cyclic existence, we are talking of a manner of existence which is cyclical, situated within a cycle. The very concept of a wheel or cycle entails beginninglessness. One can not state that any certain point on the circle is where the circle begins. The idea of a circle or wheel is that there is an infinity, one can keep going around and around. In the idea of the samsaric cycle, the cycle of existence as I pointed out earlier, even when one is experiencing the consequences of an action, which one has done in the past, one has many instances of a sense of I or of ego arising. This gives rise to emotional responses which then lead to positive or negative actions. This leads to further consequences so there is an interlinked chain in the cycle so that even when one cycle is not completed, the seeds for other cycles are being planted. So there is a vicious kind of a cycle going around and around all of the time.
In an ultimate sense there is no real beginning because although ignorance is seen as the first of the twelve links of dependent arising, ignorance itself comes from another factor and so on and so forth. However when one tries to understand the very process or mechanism which leads any individual to take rebirth in samsara and which allows the individual to put an end to the whole cycle, one has to try and understand in a manageable way. Therefore one takes a starting point and the fundamental ignorance is seen as the starting point. Just as ignorance leads to volitional action and then on to consciousness and so on and so forth, similarly when the practitioner embarks on the path, the task of putting an end to the cycle, it is only be ending or cutting the earlier link that the connections with the subsequent link is severed. By putting an end to ignorance, one puts an end to volitional action. By putting an end to volitional action, one puts an end to consciousness and so on and so forth.
Within the idea of the wheel of life one can understand both the process through which one exists in samsara and also one can appreciate the possibility of a reversal of the cycle. One thus puts an end to the rotation of the cycle. Let’s meditate for four to five minutes reflecting upon what we have discussed about the Four Noble Truths.
Transcribed and typed by Phillip Lecso from audiotapes obtained from QED Recording Services entitled Kalachakra for World Peace: Kalachakra Initiation Preliminary. I take full responsibility for all mistakes that have occurred, through hearing and writing incorrectly what was taught, for these I apologize. May all be auspicious. May any merit from this activity go to the long life and good health of His Holiness. May all sentient beings quickly attain the state of the Glorious Kalacakra even through these imperfect efforts.