by His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Prior to the Kalachakra Initiation
Chapter Eight of the Bodhicaryavatara
Kalachakra Bloomington, Indiana USA, August 20 – 22, 1999
Day 2, Morning Session, August 21, 1999
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
I defined compassion as the aspiration wishing that other sentient beings to be free from suffering and the focus of one’s compassion are the suffering sentient beings. When one refers to suffering here one is not talking only about manifest suffering such as painful experiences but also one includes the causes and conditions that lead to suffering, including the imprints and propensities towards the afflictive emotions. These sentient beings who suffer in this way are the object of one’s compassion. The actual apprehension of compassion, the sentiment itself is to wish these sentient beings to free from all those sufferings.
If compassion is an aspiration wishing other sentient beings to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering then it becomes crucial for the practitioner to have some kind of deeper understanding of what is meant by suffering. What kinds of sufferings are there? Generally in one’s normal daily interactions one’s understanding of suffering, the nature of suffering is fairly limited. Although one may have spontaneous feelings of compassion and empathy towards someone suffering a painful experience but when one confronts individuals enjoying worldly success such as fame, wealth and so on one does not feel compassion. One does not see them as preoccupied with things and events, which are essentially causes of future suffering. Instead of feeling compassion towards these individuals one’s normal reaction is that of admiration and adulation. If one lacks such excellent resources one can even generate envy and jealousy towards these individuals. This indicates that one’s recognition and understanding of suffering is not deep enough, as one is unable to recognize the suffering of change as essentially being suffering. It is important to therefore have a deep understanding of suffering.
Finally in order for one to have genuine compassion that aspires for others to be free of suffering, one’s understanding of the nature of suffering must even go further, extending towards the subtlest level of suffering. This is the suffering of pervasive conditioning. This suffering is the very fact of one’s existence under the power and control of the negative emotions and thoughts and karma. It is important to cultivate such a deep understanding of the nature of suffering. Now when one has actually cultivated such an understanding it is much more effective when one does so by shifting the focus upon oneself, imaging oneself going through these experiences of suffering. When one imagines oneself going through these various experiences of suffering there is a greater effectiveness in cultivating a deeper understanding of suffering. It is important to cultivate this understanding of the nature of suffering in a gradual manner.
Of course even animals are capable of recognizing painful experiences as undesirable. So when one says that one must develop an understanding of the nature of suffering at the first level what is meant is that one needs to understand even the causes that lead to those kinds of painful experiences as being of the nature of suffering. These causes are negative actions, thoughts and emotions that lead to painful experiences. What are the consequences of engaging in such negative activity? One therefore needs to reflect on the sufferings of the lower realms of existence.
Once one has a deeper understanding of the nature of suffering based on one’s own personal experience then when one shifts that focus on to other sentient beings, reflecting on their suffering then there is the greater possibility of genuinely attaining compassion. When one meditates on the nature of suffering such as the lower realms of existence sometimes there is the danger that one may think that those sufferings may happen sometime in the distant future. If this kind of thought occurs it is important to counter it by meditating on impermanence, the transient nature of life, meditate on death. One will then develop a sense of urgency realizing that there is no certainty that one’s lifespan will continue, that one’s life is transient. So by reflecting upon death and impermanence one will be able to gradually let go of excessive attachment to and preoccupation with this life. One will then regard the fate of one’s future lives as important and in this way one will be able to then move on to cultivating the genuine desire and aspiration to seek freedom from the unenlightened existence itself. It is important to approach these meditations in the right sequence and order.
It is in this way that one cultivates the altruistic aspiration to bring about the welfare of all sentient beings. Now once one has generated this altruistic aspiration then in order to have the actual experience of bodhicitta one must cultivate the aspiration to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of other sentient beings. Here it becomes critical to have some understanding of what is meant by enlightenment. In fact when one speaks about bringing about others’ welfare in the ultimate sense, others sentient beings’ realization of nirvana. This is the ultimate meaning of others’ welfare. So it becomes crucial to have some kind of understanding of what is meant by perfect enlightenment.
Perfect enlightenment as I spoke about earlier is the state of total enlightenment that is completely free from all limitations and obscurations of negativities. It becomes crucial to cultivate the aspiration to attain this perfect enlightenment because otherwise although one wishes to bring about others’ liberation but at the present one does not even have the capacity one’s own aspirations. Therefore how could one, given one’s current capacities and level of realization, bring about the ultimate welfare of all sentient beings equal to the expanse of space? Therefore it is only by attaining perfect enlightenment oneself that one will then be able to engage in fulfilling one’s aspiration to be of ultimate benefit for all sentient beings.
Furthermore one should reflect on the fact that one will attain perfect enlightenment only as the result of engaging in the path where it is a union of method and wisdom overcoming all negativity and obscurations. Similarly when one speaks of bringing about others’ wellbeing, others’ ultimate wellbeing can only be attained by those sentient beings themselves engaging in the path that is the union of method and wisdom, perfecting themselves through that way by overcoming their own negativities and obscurations. In order to do that one must teach or show the path leading to enlightenment to all sentient beings. However given the diversity of the mental dispositions, interests, levels of mentality as well as individual inclinations, it is impossible to show this path unless oneself is completely enlightened, to be able to judge the appropriateness of what is to be taught to whom. Otherwise sometimes it is possible that one may, although out of a compassionate motive give a particular teaching which instead of being beneficial to that individual may in fact be harmful. Therefore in order to lead other sentient beings through the path properly to the state of full enlightenment, the aspects of the path should be introduced to individuals in perfect accordance with their level of mental faculties, inclinations, disposition, interests and so on.
Therefore even from this point of view although one’s ultimate aspiration is to bring about the welfare of other sentient beings but in order to fully engage of that task it is a requirement for one as a practitioner to first attain the state of perfect enlightenment oneself. This is so that one will have no limitations or no obstructions that would hinder one from judging the appropriate teachings that one will give to other sentient beings. It is from these considerations that one must then conclude that in order to bring about the ultimate wellbeing of all sentient beings one must first attain perfect enlightenment. This state of mind when generated spontaneously is said to be bodhicitta, the mind for enlightenment. Maitreya in the Abhisamayalamkara, The Ornament of Clear Realization defined bodhicitta as the altruistic mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
This altruistic aspiration which is an amazing and wondrous sentiment is the source of all excellences. Not only does it enable one to bring about the welfare of other sentient beings but also one’s own self-interest is fulfilled as a by-product.
When one combines these two approaches together, the Seven-Point Cause and Effect method and the Exchanging and Equalizing Self with Other, the first step in the combined practice is the cultivation of equanimity. Equanimity here refers first to the equanimity as explained in the Seven-Point Cause and Effect method where equanimity is the cultivation of a level-mindedness towards all sentient beings along with a sense of equality towards all sentient beings. The key here is to try to find a way of overcoming one’s normal discriminating and fluctuating emotions towards other sentient beings. Generally one tends to have a feeling of closeness and affection only towards those whom one considers loved ones such as friends and family. One then tends to have a feeling of distance and even hostility or aversion towards those who one considers strangers and enemies. This is how one normally interacts with other sentient beings.
Although the eventual aim is to cultivate of single-pointed love and single-pointed affection towards all sentient beings, however given that one’s mind normally is so dominated by the fluctuating emotions and discriminatory thoughts, it becomes critical to bring about an even-mindedness or level-mindedness first. This requires one to level one’s emotions of closeness towards one’s friends and family. Even towards one’s friends there is an element of love and affection, but that sense of closeness is heavily influenced by attachment and relatedness to one’s ego. One needs to level these emotions as well as one’s feelings of hostility and aversion that one has towards one’s perceived enemies.
One needs to develop a feeling of equanimity towards all sentient beings. This then provides the ground for generating genuine affection towards all which is powerful enough even to extend towards those whom one considers to be enemies. Otherwise there is the danger that although one may use the words “May all beings be happy” but in reality when one reflects on this one may in fact exclude from “all sentient beings” one’s enemies and so on. In fact those are beings who one sometimes actually wish harm and misfortune to occur to them. One’s genuine affection that one is cultivating here towards all beings should be powerful enough to extend even to those whom one considers to be enemies. This is why cultivating equanimity, as the first step is so critical.
So when one actually engages in the training of this mind, in cultivating equanimity towards all sentient beings, it is helpful to do some kind of experiment or imagination where one imagines three different individuals in front of one. One is a neutral person, the others a friend and one whom one considers to be an enemy. Let one’s normal reactions towards these three individuals arise. Of course in one’s normal state of mind, one has a feeling of indifference towards the neutral person, feelings of affection and closeness for one’s friend and feelings of aversion and even hostility towards the one whom one considers an enemy. This is the normal reaction towards these three types of people.
Once one has let the normal reactions occur then take the neutral person and try to cultivate a feeling of equanimity towards them. Follow this by taking one’s enemy as the focus of one’s meditation, trying to undermine the intense feelings of aversion and hostility towards that individual. One does this by reflecting upon the reasons why one feels this particular way for this individual by reflecting in the following way. Such a person who may be one’s enemy was not born one’s enemy harboring ill-will towards one; this is not an essential characteristic of that individual. This individual due to circumstances, incidents and conditions developed ill-will towards one becoming one’s enemy. It is only those emotions and activities that define that individual as one’s enemy. However circumstances could change and this very person whom one considers an enemy may in fact be transformed by those circumstances becoming a close friend. There is no guarantee or absolute status to this person as always being an enemy so there is no ground for harboring such hostility and aversion towards this individual.
One then shifts the focus on to one’s friend towards whom one feels attachment, whose company one wishes to keep. One examines the grounds on which one bases these feelings towards that individual. This person who may be one’s closest friend may if circumstances change have the potential to become one’s worst enemy so much so that one would avoid coming into contact with them but even just the mention of their name may annoy one. By reflecting on these unreliable and relative conditions and circumstances one labels one person a friend and another an enemy and to overcome this one needs to cultivate equanimity towards all beings.
It is important that one should do this by beginning the meditation first by taking individuals known to one so that there are concrete examples to whom one can relate to and then cultivate the various thought processes. Otherwise if one try to cultivate equanimity towards all sentient beings in a general way without any specific individual content to one’s meditations, then when one actually confronts a situation where one is dealing with an enemy or friend, one will revert back to one’s normal reactions. Whereas if one is able to cultivate equanimity by taking specific individuals as objects then gradually one will be able to extend this feeling of equanimity to all others regardless of whether one knows them or not.
Once one has cultivated this kind of feeling of equanimity towards all other sentient beings then what is required is to build on this level-mindedness towards all other sentient beings. The second step is to cultivate a feeling of empathy and closeness towards all sentient beings. Here one can take the model of someone who has been the embodiment of kindness towards you whether it is one’s parents or a close friend. Take this person as a model and examine how one feels deeply grateful and indebted towards this individual. In a similar manner one tries to cultivate a feeling of closeness, empathy and affection towards all other sentient beings.
For example if there has been someone who has been good to you and you are grateful towards that individual, then so far as the time is concerned it shouldn’t make any difference whether that kindness was performed this year or last. So far as you are concerned, you have been the beneficiary of the kindness of that individual, one in the past and one in the present. As far as you are concerned your respect and gratitude towards this individual is equal. In this is the case then one should then extend the thought process. Imagine that there isn’t any individual in the whole universe who hasn’t been at one point or another during one’s countless lifetimes one’s friend, parent, relative or mentor who has been an embodiment of kindness towards one. Therefore if one feels a sense of gratitude and affection towards those whom one considers as being kind to one in this life, one should also have a similar attitude towards all sentient beings who have been such an embodiment of kindness to one at one time or another. In this way one develops a feeling of affection and closeness towards all sentient beings.
Once one has done this then the next step, the third step is to reflect upon their kindness when they have been an embodiment of kindness to one. The fourth step is known as the special meditation on the kindness of other sentient beings. Here one’s contemplation on the kindness of other sentient beings is not limited only to when they were one’s close friends, family or mentors but rather a universal feeling of gratitude towards all sentient beings with the full recognition that all sentient beings have contributed in one way or another, directly or indirectly to one’s wellbeing. Even enemies, for example give one an opportunity to cultivate patience, tolerance. Also even enemies give one the opportunity to fortify one’s inner strength and so on.
If one reflects deeply every aspect of one’s life, be it fame, food, shelter or everything that are conditions for one’s happiness and survival, all of these have relevance to other beings’ contributions. They are dependent upon contributions of other sentient beings. So one needs to realize that there isn’t a single aspect of one’s existence where there is no participation by others’ contributions. Especially from a practitioner’s point of view one can extend this interrelationship and one’s dependence on others even further. Not only when one is in the unenlightened state of cyclic existence is one dependent on others but also even when one embarks on the path to enlightenment one again is dependent upon other sentient beings.
For instance even at the initial practice of the Dharma such observing the moral discipline within the context of abstaining from the ten negative actions, even this ethical activity can only be practiced in dependence on other sentient beings. Whether it is refraining from an act of killing or refraining from telling lies and so on, the participation of other sentient beings is critical. One’s dependence on others is obvious and furthermore the powerful sentiments such as great compassion and bodhicitta, these amazing altruistic sentiments, the cultivation of these rely upon other sentient beings. These sentiments can only be cultivated when one focuses upon the suffering of other sentient beings.
When one reflects along these lines, especially from a Buddhist practitioner’s point of view one’s dependence on other sentient beings is very deep. In this way one can reflect upon the kindness of other sentient beings in a very profound way. To summarize it is useful to reflect upon the passage in Santideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life where he states that even the highest attainment of Buddhahood is dependent on half of the Buddha’s enlightened activity and guidance and half the results of the contributions of other sentient beings. Therefore it is critical for a practitioner of bodhicitta to cultivate this kind of recognition of the kindness of other sentient beings.
Once one has developed this kind of powerful recognition of others’ kindness then the next step, the fifth step is the equalizing of self and others. This kind of equalizing is very different from the first step of equanimity. Here one is cultivating a recognition of the fundamental quality of self and others by reflecting upon a basic fact. Just as oneself naturally and spontaneously aspires to happiness and to overcome suffering, similarly all limitless sentient beings equal to the expanse of space, also aspire for happiness and overcome suffering. Also just as oneself has this natural aspiration and the natural right to pursue the fulfillment of this basic aspiration so do all other sentient beings. So this fifth step of equalizing is the cultivation of a recognition of the fundamental equality of self and others.
One then moves on to the sixth step which is reflecting upon the pros and cons of self-cherishing thought and the thought that cherishes the welfare of all other sentient beings. By reflecting upon the shortcomings and disadvantages of excessive self-cherishing, judging from one’s own personal experiences, one can conclude that the state one is in now reflects the excessive obsession with self-cherishing thoughts in the past. Whereas when one looks at the opposite examples of the fully enlightened beings like the Buddha and the great Indian masters such as Nagarjuna and Asanga as well as the highly realized masters of Tibet, all of these great beings embody this principle of cherishing the wellbeing of other sentient beings. What they represent is the fruition of cultivating the thought cherishing the wellbeing of other sentient beings.
So by comparing the pros and cons of these two thoughts, one cherishing the wellbeing of only oneself and the other cherishing the wellbeing of all sentient beings then one can conclude that it is critical to exchange oneself with others which is step seven. Here as the result of contemplating on the pros and cons of self-cherishing thoughts and the thought cherishing all others’ wellbeing, one arrives at the point where one concludes that one must now reverse one’s normal attitude towards self and others. From now on as the result of this meditation when one thinks about self there is a lessening of intensity and attachment whereas when one thinks of others, one’s meditation needs to be powerful enough so that from the core of one’s being there is a genuine caring towards the wellbeing of other sentient beings. There is a genuine sense of commitment, a genuine sense of a willingness and commitment to bring to bring about others’ wellbeing. So this is the seventh step.
I received the teachings on Santideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life from the late Khunu Lama Rinpoche. Santideva’s text is really one of the key texts that presents the practices of Exchanging and Equalizing Self with Others. The source of these practices lies in Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali where there is a passage that reads:
May I be able to take upon myself all the misfortune and the sufferings of others and may I be able to give to others all of my positive qualities such as health, resources, accumulation of virtues and so on.
Khunu Lama Rinpoche himself in turn received these this transmission from a Dzogchen master and the lineage of this transmission is that of Dzapato (SP?) who was a great master, like a real Santideva himself. So this is the lineage of the transmission that I have.
According to one of the oral instructions of Dzapato Rinpoche there is a way of relating the entire ten chapters of the Bodhicaryavatara, The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life as an elaboration on the single verse of prayer that reads:
May the precious mind of enlightenment, which has not been generated, be generated; that which has been generated may it not decline but rather be enhanced higher and higher.
According to this instruction the first three chapters, the Merits of Bodhicitta, Compassion and Disclosure and Upholding the Altruistic Aspiration, are seen as presenting practices and methods for generating bodhicitta at the initial stages. This is for those practitioners who haven’t yet generated bodhicitta. The following three chapters, the fourth chapter on Introspection, the fifth chapter on Conscientiousness and the sixth chapter on Patience and Tolerance, present instructions on insuring that one’s bodhicitta does not decline. These three chapters present the practices and methods for safeguarding the already generated bodhicitta.
The next three chapters, chapter seven on Joyous Effort, chapter eight on Meditative Concentration and chapter nine on Wisdom, are seen as presenting instructions that enable the practitioner to not only safeguard bodhicitta but also to enhance it ever higher and higher.
The practice of joyous effort is of critical importance because generally speaking our relationship with the Dharma practice is like the following. At the initial stages one does not have much interest in the Dharma practice but then as the result of reading or listening to the teachings if one does generate interest in Dharma practice one often goes to the other extreme. One develops expectations of progress in the short term, immediate expectations and one exerts oneself beyond one’s capacity, pushing oneself. Since the results are not easy to come by there is the danger of feeling disillusioned or discouraged, losing hope. It is therefore very critical to insure that there is a steady application of joyous effort that as the Tibetan masters say, one’s effort in the practice should be steady like the flow of a stream.
It is important to recognize that when one talks about the Dharma practice that one is talking about bringing about inner, spiritual disciplines, an inner transformation within one’s mind. This inner transformation of the mind from one point of view may be simple because unlike other physical constructions such as building a large house, the inner construction or transformation does not require all of those material facilities. However from another point of view it is in fact more difficult because the inner transformation only occurs in a gradual process, one cannot bring about this transformation overnight.
Furthermore another difference between external construction and inner transformation is that in external construction, someone else can lay the foundation, someone else can initiate the task and then others can build on it completing the construction. In contrast when one talks about inner transformation, every individual has to begin the process and complete the process by themselves. There is simply no possibility that someone else can initiate the process and then one completes it for oneself. This simply isn’t possible. So every individual has to go through this process of transformation in a gradual way, initiating the process themselves and complete it by themselves. Therefore it is very important to insure that one’s application of effort is a skillful one as well as a steady application. Because of one’s habituation to many negative aspects of one’s mind there is an inborn procrastination within all of us therefore there is a hindrance to maintaining a steady application of effort. However it is important that one does so and that one applies effort in a steady and skillful way.
Once one has developed this sort of skillful application of joyous effort in one’s practice then one is able to engage in the meditative practice which is the subject matter of Chapter Eight in Santideva’s Bodhicaryavatara. Although in the eighth chapter many of the conditions and the various steps for cultivating single-pointedness of mind are taught but once one develops this single-pointedness of mind is attained, the main focus of maintaining this single-pointedness in this chapter is bodhicitta. The next chapter, chapter nine, the chapter on wisdom presents the practices for enhancing one’s attainment of bodhicitta by the complimentary factor of wisdom and insight. It is important to realize that even from the beginning, even from the initial practices such as taking refuge in the Three Jewels and genuine renunciation, even for these practices the application of insight or wisdom is critical.
Of course in other texts such as Madhyamikalamkara, The Ornament of Madhyamika there is a discussion of two types of trainees. One type of trainee begins the practice with compassion and bodhicitta and then moves on to generating the wisdom of emptiness. However for the intelligent practitioner, the intelligent trainees with higher faculties it is said that they should proceed from the understanding of emptiness and then this understanding of emptiness will provide the basis for a powerful experience of compassion and bodhicitta. This kind of compassion and bodhicitta that is grounded in the understanding of the wisdom of emptiness is said to be more powerful and effective leading to the successive stages of practice. (Break)
I will now read from the chapter on Meditative Concentration, which is the eighth chapter of Santideva’s text. The first verse of the chapter reads:
Having developed joyous effort in this way,
I should place my mind in concentration;
These first two lines refer to the earlier chapter, which is the chapter on Effort. Joyous effort is defined as a joyful enthusiasm to engage in virtuous activity. So here the virtuous activity is the activity of developing single-pointedness, focused on the altruistic aspiration of bodhicitta of exchanging and equalizing self with others.
The next two lines give the reason why it is critical to cultivate this single-pointedness of mind.
For the man whose mind is distracted
Dwells between the fangs of disturbing conceptions.
The text states that it is important to confront the obstacles to single-pointedness of mind, which are the internal and external distractions, distractions towards external circumstances and distractions towards inner experiences. Therefore one must seek solitude, isolating one’s body and mind from the objects of distractions. The reason given here is because those who minds are distracted give rise to the powerful negative emotions and thoughts. Such a person not only is deprived of the opportunity to cultivate single-pointedness but also remains vulnerable to all of the afflictive emotions and thoughts. Here the afflictive emotions and thoughts are compared to the fangs of a dangerous animal.
In the second verse Santideva identifies the importance of dealing with the obstacles, which obstruct one’s cultivation of single-pointedness of mind. The key obstructions are distractions towards external or internal objects. It reads:
But through solitude of body and mind
No distractions will occur;
Therefore I should forsake the worldly life
And completely discard distorted conceptions.
What Santideva is saying here is that the root cause of one’s distractions is attraction towards mundane concerns whether they are related to one’s friends and family or whether they are related to certain aspirations such as fame, wealth and so on. One needs to discard these kinds of distorted, discursive thoughts and conceptions.
Verse three reads:
Worldly life is not forsaken because of attachment (to others)
And due to craving for material gain and the like;
Therefore I should entirely forsake these things,
For this is the way in which the wise behave.
What is being stated here is to identify what obstructs one from being able to let go of one’s preoccupation with mundane matters. The two principal factors are identified here. First is one’s attachment towards one’s friend, family and so on. The other is one’s attachment to worldly success such as fame, wealth, power and so on. One needs to find a way of letting go of attachment to these objects. For example by reflecting on the fact of friends and family that no matter how close one feels towards them, no matter how beneficial they are to oneself, from the ultimate point of view their effectiveness in bringing about one’s ultimate wellbeing is very limited. They are also unable to contribute towards one’s future lives. Even within this lifetime, at the time of death regardless of how many friends and family one may have, at the time of death none of them can be of benefit to one. One cannot take any of one’s friends or family with one. So one needs to reflect in this way.
Similarly one’s resources, wealth, fame, power or position are unable to contribute to one’s ultimate wellbeing. In fact in some cases instead of bringing one benefit they are actually an obstruction, especially for a Dharma practitioner. These mundane concerns can be great obstacles. So by reflecting along these lines one therefore develops the thought that enables one to let go of one’s preoccupation and attachment towards mundane concerns. It is in the following way that the wise practitioner judges their concerns.
One recognizes that the ultimate source of one’s suffering and the ultimate source of one’s downfall are the afflictive emotions and thoughts along with self-cherishing. Therefore it is only by cultivating meditative concentration that is the union of tranquil abiding and penetrative insight grounded in the altruistic motivation of bodhicitta, it is only this meditative concentration that can counter self-cherishing and the afflictive emotions and thoughts. Therefore a practitioner who’s ultimate aspiration is to attain the highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings needs to be able to let go of attraction and attachment to immediate mundane concerns such as attachment to one’s friends and family. One must also relinquish attachment to fame, power, position and so on. Therefore the following verse reads:
Having understood that disturbing conceptions are completely overcome
By superior insight endowed with calm abiding,
First of all I should search for calm abiding.
This is achieved through the genuine joy of those unattached to worldly life.
Question: You have indicated how we can effect personal change. How can we best be an example of change to those who serve at work, working with the homeless, domestic violence victims and so on?
Answer: Of course as is suggested here it is possible for an individual who previously may have been totally self-centered and had no concern for others’ wellbeing or others’ suffering, but as the result of spiritual transformation that person has become more caring. It is possible for such a person to become more tolerant and accepting of others and so on. In this way such a person if they are able to bring about such change in others by serving them, especially those unfortunate ones such as the homeless and victims of domestic violence and if this is done from a pure altruistic motivation with no regard of reward such as fame or recognition, then surely that act itself will become a powerful example and symbol for those whom one is working for.
However when one speaks of transformation of the mind here in the context of Buddha’s teaching, one is talking about transformation is a deep sense where one envisions the possibility of totally eliminating or separating one’s mind from the afflictive emotions and thoughts. When viewed for this perspective of the Buddhist practice it is certainly very important to engage oneself in the service of others through social work or whatever it may be. But at the same time it is important not to neglect the need for further development of one’s own level of realization by occasionally taking time off to pursue single-pointedly in one’s practice along side one’s service to others. There is also a process of growth within oneself, spiritually.
For practicing Buddhists I think it is very important not to neglect this dimension of the practice, implementing the practice of compassion and bodhicitta in society through service. Otherwise there is the danger as it has been historically that Buddhists tend to have tremendous reverence and admiration for the ideals of bodhicitta but there have been shortcomings when it comes to the real implementation of this in real life. This I think has been a major shortcoming and in fact an old friend on mine who is himself a Buddhist once made the comment to me was that especially in Nepal over the last thirty years there has been the building of many large and impressive, opulent monasteries and temples. However during those thirty years there hasn’t been the construction of many new hospitals, schools or clinics. However if these temples and monasteries were to be Christian then along side these numerous monasteries and temples would also be numerous schools, hospitals and clinics. I think he has a valid point and once many years ago when I had the opportunity to meet with the supreme patriarch of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, I made the remark that we need to learn a lesson from Christianity. This would be such that Buddhists would not only admire the ideals of compassion but actually have a program to implement such practice in the society.
Question: Aren’t deep sleep and fainting for instance natural antagonists or enemy of mere fact of knowing and luminosity? By definition fainting is the absence of clear consciousness.
Answer: When one talks of the nature of consciousness one should look in the teachings of Highest Yoga Tantra for a deeper understanding of the various levels of subtlety of consciousness or mind. Generally or conventionally when one talks about states of the absence of consciousness like fainting, deep sleep and so on, one is speaking in terms of gross levels of consciousness, the more manifest levels of consciousness. As far as the subtlest level of consciousness is concerned this is thought to be never ending in its continuum. Even in states that are conventionally regarded as absent of consciousness, one can say that the subtlest level of consciousness is still present.
As for the grosser levels of consciousness one could say that there are natural antagonists to these. For example in the terminology of the Kalachakra Tantra one can speak of natural antidotes to the various levels of perception. Similarly in the terminology of the Guhyasamaja Tantra one can speak of the various levels of perception, of appearances which are indicative of different conceptual thought processes. So all of these subtle levels of consciousness can cease and eventually the subtlest level of consciousness, which is described as the innate, fundamental mind of Clear Light, is said to remain alone. But so far as the continuum of that subtlest consciousness is concerned, there is no natural antagonist, no antidote.
Also I think one needs to be sensitive to the distinction between what could be called the adventitious levels of consciousness and the ever-present or the fundamental dimension of consciousness. In fact in Longchenpa’s writings, particularly in the text known as The Treasury of the Wish-granting Jewel he correlates the adventitious levels of consciousness and the subtle levels of consciousness with the idea of the Two Truths. He thus identifies the adventitious levels of consciousness as the conventional truth and the ever-present level of consciousness as the ultimate truth.
Question: If we are to be altruistic and care for others and their suffering how do we protect ourselves for becoming totally overwhelmed by others’ misery?
Answer: In fact this problem was entertained by Santideva and responded to it in his text where he raised the issue by saying that since everyone has their own suffering, why should one as part of the practice of compassion further complicate it by taking upon oneself others’ suffering? Why does one need to complicate one’s own situation by taking on others’ suffering? Wouldn’t one become overwhelmed by it? Santideva responded in the following manner. If one has the full conviction or recognition that by taking upon oneself a particular pain or hardship that it can fulfill a long term benefit, a much higher purpose, then all have the capacity to actually confront that hardship and go through the experience without being overwhelmed. Similarly in the case of taking upon oneself others’ suffering as part of the practice of compassion, since the ultimate aspiration that one has is the attainment of perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, a state totally free from all suffering, therefore as part of that practice it is valid to take upon oneself others’ suffering.
Furthermore if one reflects carefully one will also see that there is a fundamental difference between the sense of unease and discomfort that one experiences as the result of taking upon oneself others’ suffering and undergoing one’s own suffering. In the case of undergoing one’s own suffering, as a Tibetan expression puts it, they descend upon one without one having any say. There is a total lack of control when oneself undergoes one’s own suffering. The sufferings just seem to descend upon one. Whereas when one experiences pain and discomfort as the result of sharing another’s suffering, because it has not descended upon one but rather has been voluntarily accepted as a part of one’s practice, there is a deep strength and courage, a willingness to embrace that hardship and pain. So the state of mind between those two experiences of pain or discomfort is entirely different.
When one reflects deeply upon the powerful sentiments expressed in Santideva’s prayers such as, “As long as space remains, As long as sentient beings remain, May I too remain and dispel the miseries of the world.” When one truly engages in the thought processes expressed in these verses, in these lines and then reflects deeply, dedicating one’s life for the sole purpose of bringing about others’ wellbeing then as a result of engaging in such powerful, altruistic sentiments one experiences a sense of fulfillment. One will experience a deep sense of satisfaction as if one had genuinely fulfilled the purpose of one’s existence, fulfilled the purpose of one’s human existence in a precious way.
So when one reflects deeply in this way there is the genuine possibility of having a deep satisfaction. This kind of sense of fulfillment and joy is not connected with physical sensation, not sensations of pleasure but rather a powerful and deeply felt sense of satisfaction and fulfillment within oneself. In fact when one looks at the description of the first Bodhisattva level or bhumi, it is described as the Thoroughly Joyful One, the Joyful Path. This indicates that the sense of satisfaction and joy that is experienced as the result of the bodhisattva practice is so deep and profound that it can excel the joy and peace that is said to be experienced by the Arhats as a result of their attainment of liberation. One could say that the bodhisattvas on the first level of the Bodhisattva bhumis their joy is a hundred-fold more powerful and profound than the joy and peace of the attainment of an Arhat.
As you yourself confront a suffering, a painful experience, undergoing your experiences of pain and suffering, at that instant one’s immediate reaction is that of anxiety. This anxiety leads to a sense of fear and insecurity. It also leads to unhappiness and a loss of confidence. On the other hand hen one develops a deep sense of satisfaction by sharing in others’ suffering as part of one’s spiritual practice of generating compassion then instead of feeling anxious and insecure, deep down there is a real sense of confidence and courage.
Question: If in fact there is no full proof of rebirth, what aspects of Buddhist thought would remain valid?
Answer: Of course to a large extent whether or not something is a proof depends from one individual to another. Even in the Buddha’s time there was no general agreement of everyone following the teachings of the Buddha or agreeing with his positions. In fact one finds references in the Buddha’s own sutras such as, “Of the infinite number of sentient beings, those who consent to my teachings are as minute as the space of my thumbnail, whereas those who disagree and hold a divergent opinion are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges”. Even Buddha himself had the awareness of the infinite diversity of opinions of sentient beings.
Furthermore when one refers to matters such as rebirth to a large extent one needs to understand these issues in relation to the Buddhist three categories of phenomena. The first category of phenomena is evident phenomena which more or less everyone can have some kind of consensus because they are directly visible or tangible. They are obvious to all of us. One could say that even in this realm sometimes due to some obscurations some people may have a divergent opinion but on the whole there can be a wide consensus of matters that belong to this category of evident phenomena.
However there are two further categories of phenomena. One is known as obscured phenomena and the other is very obscured phenomenon. Both of these require the application of inferential reasoning and rational thought processes to understand. So there is simply no way that a broad consensus on this or that standpoint can be reached.
At the same time one also needs to find a way of accounting for individuals who are capable of recalling past lives. Not only have these occurred in previous generations but even in current generations there are individuals who not only have memories but vivid memories of events from previous lives. So we must have some way of accounting for this phenomenon.
Furthermore I think it is important to realize that one should be able to make a distinction between not finding something and finding its absence. There is a fundamental difference between these two especially when one relates this distinction with regard to scientific knowledge. My personal feeling is that if in scientific discovery there are proofs for the existence of something, if as the result of scientific investigation one uncovers proof for the existence of something, then even Buddhist practitioners need to accept these. However on the question of not finding something even through scientific means then the question is whether the results of that research is the result of not finding it or whether it is a question of finding its absence, negating its existence. These are two very different outcomes. Because one simply cannot find something doesn’t entail that the object does not exist. Here I think it is important to that distinction.
I feel that within Buddhist thought and ideas there are broadly two categories, one that lends itself to scientific investigation and verification and others that may not lend themselves to current scientific investigation. Ideas that fit into the second category are ideas such as rebirth and the attainment of liberation. However there are aspects of Buddhist thought which do lend themselves to current paradigms of scientific investigation and analysis. For example in the Abhidharma literature as well as the Kalachakra literature there are detailed descriptions of cosmology. In fact there are detailed descriptions of the size of the sun and moon, the distances between the planets and also a description of Mount Meru, the center axis of the universe. These descriptions of cosmology I feel, especially those dealing with the measurements of the planets and so on, are contradicted by current scientific understanding, negating these Buddhist teachings. It is not a question of not finding but rather of actually contradicting the descriptions in the scriptures in the Abhidharma and Kalachakra collections.
One way of reconciling these is to look at the discourse especially in the Kalachakra as a symbolic discourse and in the case of the Kalachakra there are grounds to read the descriptions as representing a symbolic discourse. This is because there is a very complex symbolism of correlation between the Inner and Outer Kalachakras and the Ultimate Kalachakra. There is also the co-relating the cosmological description to the symbolism of mantra OM HAM KHAH MA LA VA RA YA and also correlating the description of the Kalachakra cosmology to the generation and perfection stages of practice. In this way one can say that these Buddhist cosmological discourses are not meant to be taken literally as a factual description of the universe but rather they need to be seen as a symbolic discourse referring to the complex psychology of the Kalachakra teaching. (End of morning session)
Notes on texts
1. The translation of Santideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life is the one by Stephen Batchelor, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
2. The translation of Nagarjuna’s Fundamentals of the Middle Way is by Jay Garfield, Oxford University Press.
3. The translation of Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland is by Jeffery Hopkins, Harper & Row.
Transcribed and typed by Phillip Lecso from audiotapes obtained from Tibetan Cultural Center entitled The Kalachakra Preliminary Teachings. 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.