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, August 21, 1999 Afternoon Session
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
In the following verses the method of transcending one’s strong attachment towards one’s friends, family and so on. The verse reads:
Because of the obsession one transient being
78 Has for other transient beings,
He will not see his beloved ones again
For many thousands of lives.
In this verse Santideva is presenting one with the thought process and reflection whereby one understands and recognizes that oneself is subject to death and impermanence, the transient nature of life. There is the certainty of death but when death will occur is unpredictable. So just as this is the case for oneself so it is the case with all others as well. In short, one’s life, bodily powers, fame, power and so on, are subject to the nature of disintegration, change and eventually coming to complete cessation. So here Santideva points out that since this is the case, what ultimate ground does one have as a transient being to feel so strongly attracted and attached towards other beings who are equally transient and impermanent.
Similar reflections can also be applied to overcome hostility. One can read this verse as saying on what ultimate grounds exist for one transient being to feel so hostile towards another transient being. One can extend this reflection on to other characteristics of one’s existence such as the nature of suffering; on what grounds can one suffering being be so attached to another suffering being. Or on what grounds can one suffering sentient being be so hostile towards another suffering sentient being and so on. One can reflect upon the nature of one being under the control of negative karma and actions, the control of the afflictive emotions and thoughts and that all are subject to the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death.
In the two lines of the verse Santideva describes the negative effects of one’s giving in to the power of attachment towards one’s friends and family.
He will not see his beloved ones again
For many thousands of lives.
Not seeing them I am unhappy
79 And my mind cannot be settled in equipoise;
Even if I see them there is no satisfaction
And, as before, I am tormented by craving.
Santideva is suggesting here that strong attachment towards those close to one can give rise to other powerful negative emotions and thoughts. This then creates the conditions for engaging in negative karma which will then obstruct one from actually fulfilling the object of desire and attachment which is to close to one’s loved ones. In fact this attachment becomes counterproductive and furthermore if one examines the nature of attachment carefully there is a seed of destructiveness within attachment.
If the feeling of closeness one has towards loved ones is grounded in attachment then one could say that at the root of that attachment and affection lies a projection of a quality of desirability or attractive quality on to the object of attachment. This quality may be entirely projected and there is an underlying belief that the quality of attractiveness is unchanging, immutable and intrinsic as part of the object. Once one has such a strong apprehension and grasping then attachment arises. Because of this when something happens that does not meet one’s expectations and perception of that individual then one tends to react in a very negative way, a very strong way. So one can say that in strong attachment there is the seed for hatred and hostility as well.
This is very different from a genuine affection that is based on compassion for that individual. Compassion and genuine affection can never lead to that kind of negative reaction to an individual, the object of one’s affection, whereas affection derived from attachment does lead to hostility, anger and hatred towards the very same being. So Santideva is saying that attachment can give rise to other negative emotions thereby giving rise to negative karmic actions that then have a counterproductive result of not fulfilling the very purpose of attachment which is to be with the loved ones.
Therefore when one’s mind is dominated by that kind of fluctuations between extreme attachment on the one hand and hostility and anger on the other then there simply is no possibility of maintaining one’s mind in a settled meditative equipoise. So a person who lacks this kind of equilibrium even if they are able to meet with the objects of their attachment there is no sense of satisfaction, no sense of fulfillment. Just like when one drinks salt water, the more one drinks the thirstier one becomes. In a similar manner when one relates to others with powerful attachment the more one associates with the objects of desire the greater one’s attachment. Therefore one ends up being tormented by this chain of craving.
Through being attached to living beings
80 I am completely obscured from the perfect reality,
My disillusionment (with cyclic existence) perishes
And in the end I am tortured by sorrow.
Santideva goes on to explain that when one’s mind is totally dominated by this kind of powerful and fluctuating emotions particularly extreme attachment then this will obstruct one from gaining insight into any aspects of the perfect reality. This reference to perfect reality should not be limited only to the understanding of the ultimate nature of reality, emptiness but rather one should also include in this perfect reality such as impermanence, dissatisfaction and so on. If one’s mind is dominated by strong attachment then one’s mind will be obscured from these insights into the deeper nature of reality.
In this way it will also undermine one’s ability to maintain true renunciation which is the aspiration to attain liberation from samsaric existence derived from a feeling disillusionment towards samsara. Eventually one will create one’s own downfall. The point he is making is that if by leading one’s life in this kind of perpetual cycle of attachment, if there is the possibility of fulfilling one’s object of desire, completely and thoroughly then there would be justified grounds to pursue it. But this is however not the case. The result of lending oneself perpetually to being dominated by strong attachment is one’s own downfall.
By thinking only of them,
81 This life will pass without any meaning.
(Furthermore) impermanent friends and relatives
Will even destroy the Dharma (which leads to) permanent (liberation).
Furthermore he states that those who are constantly preoccupied by objects of desire and attachment also spend their entire lives in meaningless pursuits. This is particularly a problem for today’s age especially in the more materially affluent societies where one is constantly exposed to so many sensory images, which appeal to one’s yearning for immediate gratification. This is so much so that sometimes one doesn’t have the space or the time to be more reflective, withdrawing one’s mind. One spends a great deal of time passively watching television and other powerful sensory images so much so that one has little opportunity to reflect or focus one’s mind inward either on the nature of the mind or simply exploring deeper aspects of reality. In this way there is a danger of spending one’s entire life on this sort of superficial pursuit of gratification. There Santideva concludes by saying that the result of being extremely attached to friends and family who are transient there is the danger of undermining the permanent Dharma which is not transient.
Verse nine reads:
If I behave in the same way as the childish
82 I shall certainly proceed to the lower realms,
And if I am led there by those unequal (to the Noble Ones),
What is the use of entrusting myself to the childish?
The word childish can be interpreted in many different ways. There is of course the distinction between a child and an adult, which is determined by the age. There is another way of distinguishing between the childish and the mature by judging the level of mental capacity. In fact those who are only able to think in immediate terms and not in the long term future are said to be childish. Those who are able to project beyond the immediate concerns and can reflect on the long-term future, having greater powers of judgement and discernment, these are said to be not childish. A further way of distinguishing the childish and those who are not, within the context of the Buddhist discourse, ordinary beings like ourselves whose minds are dominated by the afflictive thoughts and emotions and have not realized the insight into emptiness are said to be childish. The concerns of the childish are said to be limited to the limits of cyclic existence whereas the Arya beings who have gained direct insight into emptiness are said to be Superior beings. The Arya’s vision of existence is not confined within the concerns of this life alone and they are closer to liberation than to samsara. There is that way of distinguishing between the childish and Superior in that way.
In any case what Santideva is suggesting here is that if one maintains one’s way of life and outlook in accordance with the mentality of the childish, being confined and limited only to the concerns of immediate gratification and wish fulfillment then this kind of pursuit leads to birth in the lower realms. Since this is the danger of living that sort of way of life, the practitioner needs to question the whole wisdom of associating with the childish.
Santideva goes on to describe the characteristics of the so-called childish, those who are childish. In fact he suggests that even if one were to strive to make the childish happy, it is a pointless pursuit. He writes:
One moment they are friends
83 And in the next instant they become enemies.
Since they become angry even in joyful situations,
It is difficult to please ordinary people.
He is describing the irrationality of the character of those who are childish, who lack the ability to judge between long-term and short-term of their own interests. The reference to joyful situations is to situations where in order to gain long-term benefit one may have to sometimes let go of immediate gratification. Also one may have to adopt a certain discipline for example the practice of cultivating inner contentment or leading a life based on modest desires. These are ideals, which can contribute towards the attainment of long-term benefits but those who are childish, if one tries to teach them these ideals, instead of being grateful it may in fact annoy them.
Santideva goes on to say that the key point of this discourse on the dangers of associating with negative friends is not to suggest that one needs to abandon them, certainly not. One must insure that one’s perspectives on life, one’s vision of life and one’s outlook and behavior are not influenced by those of childish temperament but that one need never abandon them from one’s compassion. In fact even in one’s behavior or daily interactions with them, he writes:
When they are encountered, though, I should please them by being happy.
84 I should behave well merely out of courtesy,
But not become greatly familiar.
The term greatly familiar suggests that one should not immerse oneself in the vision of life that those of childish temperament have so that one does not become just like them.
An example is given in the following verse:
In the same way as a bee takes honey from a flower,
85 I should take merely (what is necessary) for the practice of Dharma
But remain unfamiliar
As though I had never seen them before.
It is suggested here is that a bee is able to extract the essence, the best part of the flower without destroying the flower. In a similar manner while interacting with those of a childish temperament one needs to insure that one’s own outlook and behavior is not influenced by them in a negative way. This is how one needs to deal with persons of childish temperament.
Santideva then goes on to explain that by reflecting upon the negative effects of being attached to worldly objects of desire such as fame, wealth and so on. He goes on to say that it is important to recognize their true nature which is that in any case at one point one will need to discard them. There is no way that one can take these worldly objects with one when death occurs. So he writes:
Although I may have much material wealth,
86 Be famous and well spoken of,
Whatever fame and renown I have amassed
Has no power to accompany me (after death).
In the following verse Santideva explains the practices of countering one’s attachment to fame and also one’s displeasure at people who belittle one. This is very important because it is very natural for one as a human being to be susceptible to these kinds of feeling. All of us when we hear others praising us are delighted and when we hear someone speaking against us then we feel unhappy. This is very natural so basically one is talking here about the need to overcome one’s attachment to worldly concerns.
For example in my own case if by sitting on this throne and giving a commentary on Santideva’s text, if in the corner of my mind if I have the thought that I wonder if people will praise me, if that thought arises immediately it suggests that I have fallen victim to attachment for worldly concerns. When such thoughts occur then I immediately apply an antidote by saying to myself that I cannot think along such lines. I am a monk who is committed to the monastic way of life and furthermore I am a practitioner who believes in the ideals of Santideva’s text presented here. Therefore I must not let myself be vulnerable to this kind of temptation. It is in this way that one has to tackle this kind of vulnerability.
I think it is very important to take to heart what is being taught to us by Santideva here which is the need for a serious commitment to the practice. One also needs the ability to tackle this vulnerability towards worldly concerns. In this regard I would like to make a comment on the impact images have on us. For example in my own case I find the image of the Buddha in the meditative posture after six years of his meditation practice in a semi-skeleton form very powerful. Normally one doesn’t see this image of the Buddha quite often and in fact when I was little in the Potala I had a small photograph of this image of the Buddha that is found in the Lahore Museum. It has left a very powerful image in my mind. Later while in India I was able to acquire a slightly larger photograph of the same image of the Buddha and I find this a tremendous source of inspiration. It is also a powerful reminder of the need for true seriousness in one’s commitment to the Dharma practice.
As the Tibetan masters say a successful Dharma practice based on an easy life will never get one very far. This is very true. If one wants to have real success in one’s Dharma practice a certain preparedness to commit to a serious pursuit is essential.
Santideva then goes over the actual thought processes of how to overcome this vulnerability to becoming excited after someone praises us or being depressed when someone despises us. The thought processes are certainly very logical. He writes:
If there is someone who despises me
87 What pleasure can I have in being praised?
And if there is another who praises me
What displeasure can I have in being despised?
He is suggesting a way of having the two viewpoints level each other as one cancels out the other. He suggests that there are no grounds to be either too excited over praise or becoming too depressed when someone despises you.
He then goes on to say that:
If even the Conqueror was unable to please
The various inclinations of different beings,
88 Then what need to mention an evil person such as I?
Therefore I should give up the intention (to associate with) the worldly.
Santideva suggests here that one should not live one’s life by becoming a victim to the tendency to seek pleasure through another’s praise or become depressed by someone’s belittling. This kind of vulnerability can actually effect one’s interactions with others as well as ones entire way of life. What is crucial is to maintain an integrity within one’s core so that so far as oneself is concerned there is a clear conscience that so far as one’s heart is concerned there is a purity in one’s motivation when interacting with others regardless of what others might perceive. Once one has this kind of purity of purpose or clear conscience, a sense of abandonment on one’s own part then even if the entire world where to despise one and speak against one, as far as oneself is concerned, one’s own conscience is concerned, it is clear, without stain. This I feel is a very important point.
Just as the Kadampa masters said in every act in one’s daily life one must always maintain two witnesses, first is others and the second is oneself. Of these two witnesses, being witness to one’s own actions and thoughts is more important. This is because we are the only ones who truly know ourselves as far as our own state of mind is concerned. Oneself is a better judge of this than others are, as one’s own state of mind is not hidden to oneself. If one is acting as one’s own judge and as one’s own witness being clear with a clear conscience then even if the entire world were to speak against one that wouldn’t alter the fact that one’s own conscience is clear. On the other hand if deep down one’s conscience is not clear and one is acting out of negative motivations and one is acting in a gentle and peaceful manner with the entire world singing one’s praises, there is no clarity, no purity in one’s own thought. One could say that such a person is rotten within although they wear a veneer of good appearance.
At the end of the day whether or not one has good character and conscience or not is a question of how many people like one. It is not a Gallop poll where the majority wins. It is a question of being true to oneself and one’s own conscience.
Santideva goes on to say:
They scorn those who have no material gain
89 And say bad things about those who do;
How can they who are by nature so hard to get along with
Ever derive any pleasure (from me?)
Here he acknowledges the difficulty of trying to please those with a childish temperament.
He goes on:
It has been stated by the Tathagatas
90 That one should not befriend the childish,
Because unless they get their own way
These children are never happy.
Thus having explained the negative results of being too attached to objects of desire and also having explained in great detail the negative results of being distracted by external and internal conditions, Santideva goes on to extol the virtues of seeking solitude. He writes in the following way:
When shall I come to dwell in forests
91 Amongst the deer, the birds and the trees,
That say nothing unpleasant
And are delightful to associate with?
When one lives in solitude like the forest and among the animals then one can live in a state of total abandonment. One need not worry about what others think of you or what someone might do to you. None of these concerns effect one’s state of mind.
When dwelling in caves,
26 In empty shrines or at the feet of trees,
Never look back –
The point of never looking back is that when one’s mind is occupied by mundane matters like wealth, livelihood, friends, family and so on, there is always something that holds one back. However when one seeks solitude then there is a sense of total abandonment so that one does not need to look back. In this way Santideva suggests that one needs to cultivate detachment.
When shall I come to dwell
92 In places not clung to as “mine”
Which are by nature wide and open
And where I may behave as I wish without attachment?
These are the characteristics and virtues of seeking a place of solitude which no one owns and where one remains free of any circumstances of having one’s thoughts dominated by mundane concerns of what others think.
This sort of ideal is also reflected very strongly in Kadampa expressions. There is an expression whereby the Kadampa teachers say that the true Dharma practitioner needs to have such a simplicity of life and sense of abandonment that one should be like a stick of incense. It is either one piece sticking straight up or if laying flat it is the same one piece. Similarly the Kadampa masters said that the true Dharma practitioner who undertakes practice in solitude needs to be like a crow flying off from a rock. When a crow flies off from a rock there is nothing left behind. There is a directness there, a simplicity, a sense of abandonment. This is how one should seek solitude.
Santideva then goes on to explain in verse twenty-eight that it is not adequate to simply be physically present in a wilderness but one must also insure that the lifestyle one leads, even in such a solitary place is that of simplicity. It needs to reflect the ideal of modest desires and inner contentment. He goes on to write:
When shall I come to live without fear
Having just a begging bowl and a few odd things,
Wearing clothes not wanted by anyone
And not even having to hide this body?
The point made here is that even in solitude one must have a basic simplicity of lifestyle. In fact it is said that for a true practitioner apart from the single set of clothes that one is wearing all other possessions should not be regarded as belonging to oneself. One must not ascribe the first person possessional pronoun they are “mine” but rather even if one has a spare set of robes one must view them as belonging provisionally under one’s care, a common property which one can dispense with if the necessity occurs.
This is how one needs to cultivate the ideal of simplicity by practicing having modest desires and cultivating inner contentment. In this way one will be able to overcome attachment and craving. Generally one has attachment for things one already possesses and one wants to increase these possessions then craving for things one does not have. So by deliberately cultivating the ideal of modest desires and inner contentment one will be able to transcend these cravings and attachment.
I feel that this spiritual principle of living a life of simplicity, reflecting the principles of modest desires and inner contentment, is common to all spiritual traditions. For example one sees the same principle in the Christian monastic tradition. Some of the lifestyles recommended to Christian monks and nuns are truly reflective of the ideal of modest desires and inner contentment.
In the next verse Santideva points out the importance of letting go of strong attachment even to one’’ own body. Of course everyone must seek to maintain one’s physical wellbeing and health but at the same time excessive attachment and obsession with one’s bodily appearance is an obstacle to one’s practice. Therefore Santideva writes:
Having departed to the cemeteries,
93 When shall I come to understand
That this body of mine and the skeletons of others
Are equal in being subject to decay?
One must reflect upon the transient nature of the physical body.
He goes on:
Then, because of its odor,
94 Not even the foxes
Will come close to this body of mine;
For this is what will become of it.
When death strikes what was once held as one’s precious body becomes nothing but a corpse. This is the true nature of the body that one is so attached to. So in these verses Shantideva underlines the importance of having no attachment to one’s body which can also become an obstacle to one’s practice.
In the next three verses Shantideva explains further considerations on how to let go of excessive attachment to one’s body. He writes:
Although this body arose as one thing,
95 The bones and flesh with which it was created
Will break up and separate.
How much more so will friends and others?
Compared to friends and others at least the body is one phenomenon that simultaneously emerged when one was born. So in some sense it is a more permanent but even this body at the time of death will separate from one.
He makes further observations:
At birth I was born alone
96 And at death too I shall die alone;
As this pain cannot be shared by others,
What use are obstacle-making friends?
The point made here is that perhaps in one’s existence the two most important facts of existence are birth and death. In both of these occasions one has no companions. When one was born from one unknown into another state of unknown that passage was experienced only by oneself. Similarly at the time of death when one dies one is again going into the unknown and at this point too one dies alone. So these two most important events of one’s life one has to pursue alone.
Santideva then explains what is the most appropriate way of relating to one’s body, what is the appropriate attitude that one needs to have towards one’s body. He writes:
In the same way as travelers on a highway
97 (Leave one place) and reach (another),
Likewise those traveling on the path of conditioned existence
(Leave) one birth and reach (another).
The point made here is that if one is passing by and stopping for a few day’s rest, such a person because of the very nature of that person’s relationship to that place is not going to invest time and resources building heavy infrastructure. Rather one insures that the little time spent in that place is spent in the most effective way. Similarly one attitude towards one’s bodily existence needs to such that it is a medium through which one travels the path to enlightenment. One needs to view one’s bodily existence in this way so that one does not excessively preoccupy oneself simply for the maintenance, glorification and sustenance of the physical body.
Santideva goes on to explain that by reflecting upon cultivating the right attitude towards one’s bodily existence then one needs to think in the following manner:
Until the time comes for this body
98 To be supported by the four pall-bearers
While the worldly (stand around) stricken with grief,
Until then I shall retire to the forest.
Before death strikes one needs to insure that one makes one’s existence meaningful by engaging in the practice of the Dharma in solitude.
He then explains the kinds of thought processes one needs to engage in:
Befriending no one and begrudging no one,
99 My body will dwell alone in solitude.
If I am already counted as a dead man,
When I die there will be no mourners.
And as there will be no one around
100 To disturb me with their mourning,
Thus there will be no one to distract me
From my recollection of the Buddha.
Therefore I shall dwell alone,
101 Happy and contented with few difficulties,
In very joyful and beautiful forests,
Pacifying all distractions.
Thus Santideva he extols the virtues of solitude.
He then goes on to explain the very purpose of seeking solitude. He writes:
Having given up all other intentions,
102 Being motivated by only one thought,
I shall strive to settle my mind in equipoise (by means of calm abiding)
And to subdue it (with superior insight).
The point being made here is that the whole purpose of seeking solitude is to engage in the sustained practice of Dharma so that one directs one’s mind on the practice of the Dharma. Here the key practice is the cultivation of mental equipoise, which is tranquil abiding. This is combined with the cultivation of penetrative insight the combination of which then becomes a powerful antidote for overcoming the afflictive emotions and thoughts.
Question: If all the arising moments of our lives are the fruits of past karmic seeds planted in our mental continuums, is there any free will or are we continually reacting to past karmic events?
Answer: In this context perhaps it is helpful to reflect upon the very sequence of the Twelve Links in the chain of Dependent Origination. One begins with fundamental ignorance leading to volitional action. Immediately after actions one doesn’t talk about existence. So the cycle of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination suggests that it is not adequate simply to have fundamental ignorance and volitional karmic acts. In order for the karmic acts to ripen into fruition, for it to have a fruition one needs other conditions such as craving and clinging. Whether or not the karmic seeds can come into contact with such activating forces again depend upon many other factors and conditions.
Even for Arhats who have attained liberation from samsara there are still karmic seeds but because they have destroyed the activating factors such as craving and clinging, these karmic seeds have no potency to produce their effects.
If one also looks at the way in which karmic potentials are activated especially at the point of death, although according to the Abhidharmakosa it is said that within each of us there are many karmic seeds that have the potency to take one to lower or higher realms of existence. Of those karmic seeds those which are powerful come into fruition first and within those that are equally powerful, those karmic seeds towards which one has the greater affinity or familiarity come to fruition first. However it is also possible that at the point of death even though one may have a greater propensity and inclinations towards negative actions, but if at the point of death either as the result of one’s own deliberate contemplation or as the result of someone else reminding the dying person…
Also if one follows the principle stated in the Pramanavartika which suggests that when all the factors, the causes and conditions that are fully gathered then there is nothing one can do to stop the actual fruition of the effect. This implicitly suggests that although the seed may be there, the causes may be there if the right conditions are not created then the cause by itself cannot produce the effect.
All of this suggests that whether or not one creates the right conditions for a karmic action to be activated, whether or not one can insure that certain karmic seeds are deprived of the conditions needed to activated them to fruition, this is all in one’s own hands. Let’s take the simple example of someone taking a flight from here to New York. One may have booked one’s ticket and will fly the following day. Of course the time to fly, which is the fruition of the act is coming closer and closer but even then there is the possibility of reversal of the causal chain. One then takes a taxi to the airport and the time for fruition is coming closer. There is still a scope for it to be reversed. One arrives at the airport but there is still there is a chance of reversal. Only when one has boarded the plane, the door shuts and is taking off, only then is the karmic chain fully activated and one has no ability to change the situation. But before one boards the plane even though one may have bought the ticket and actually arrived at the airport, through all those stages there is still the possibility that one can decide not to fly. There is always that scope for the reversal of the causal chain.
Also if one analyzes the whole issue of karma further, in the ultimate sense one can asked the question, who created the karma in the first place? The individual. So I feel that there is no contradiction with the concept of karma and that of free will. There is however an understandable danger that sometimes people misunderstand or misinterpret the theory of karma and feel that everything is karma so there is nothing they can do. So there is the danger of interpreting karmic theory as a form of fatalism so that the individual has no say in the matter. It is also sometimes used as an excuse especially by those who disrobe saying that it was their karma that forced them to disrobe.
Question: When dealing with afflictive emotions is there a method of overcoming strong emotions like anger before they take hold? Is it wrong to suppress our emotions?
Answer: I basically believe that in terms of handling one’s emotions and on the question of whether or not one should express them, on this question I think there are actually two situations. There could be a situation where the anger and hostility are directed towards a past experience such as being hurt, abused or traumatized. In such cases keeping the resentment inside can actually be very negative. Just as the Tibetan expression says if the conch shell is blocked the best way to clear it is to simply blow into it. Under such circumstances it may be more effective and appropriate to let it out as it were.
But on the whole I think it is important that some kind of discipline with regard to these powerful emotions such as anger, hostility and so on. Otherwise if one simply lets oneself be overtaken by such powerful experiences without any degree of restraint then what one will do is to repeat the experience of the emotions, habituating one more and more. This is such that one becomes more prone to anger and so on. Instead if adopts a certain discipline based on a full awareness of the destructive nature of anger then that cleat realization of their destructive nature itself will create a certain distance between oneself and these powerful emotions. This is itself can have a certain effect.
Also this depends on the individual. In some cases if the person has deeper experiences of practices such as renunciation, compassion or bodhicitta then even if strong emotions like anger arise that person may be able to directly confront them by recalling their previous experiences of compassion, renunciation and so on. This is particular effective if these are at a level where they bring about impact in the practitioner’s mind. Otherwise when such powerful emotions arise in one’s mind there is not much that one can do and in fact it may be more effective to divert one’s attention towards a more neutral object such as focusing on the breath. In this way one can gradually divert attention from the negative emotions towards more neutral objects. Again it depends here on the individual.
Question: My spouse is a strong practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and he has told me he would prefer to live by himself in the woods to practice the Dharma. He is not inclined to show me affection. Do you advise your followers to follow his example or to consider his wife’s feelings also?
Answer: Of course one should consider the feelings of one’s partner. There may be exceptional circumstances where the practitioner is so advanced that there is a real certainty that if they seek such solitude that there may be a tremendous increase in the pace of their progress. Under such circumstances it may be possible but otherwise there is the danger that one seeks the wilderness but there nothing really happens. In addition the person has disappointed and damaged someone’s feelings in a very profound way. Under such circumstances one gains nothing.
My personal advice to Dharma practitioners is to try to be an effective and constructive member of society, to be fully engaged in the society. One should not isolate oneself from the society and in fact one should be part of the society. Occasionally it may be important to set aside specific periods of time to engage in intensive practices and meditation so that one can build strength. But in normal life one can set aside time to practice meditation either in the morning or in the evening. During the rest of the day one needs to be an effective and engaged member of the society. This is the most appropriate way in which one pursues one’s practice.
Question: How is it possible to perform in human interactions any true acts of kindness in this lifetime since the true effects are not known at this point? Our moral judgement is relative and our best intentions sometime lead us the wrong way.
Answer: Any acts that are motivated by the wish to relieve others from pain and suffering can be regarded as positive from any standard of ethical theory. Of course from the Buddhist point of view if one goes further then one talks of the relativity of the content. For example in order to be of benefit to human beings if one sacrifices the wellbeing of many animals the ethical nature of that act from the Buddhist point of view is a questionable one. This cannot be considered a positive action because from the Buddhist point of view just like human beings animals are fundamentally equal in having the natural aspiration to have happiness and avoid suffering. Similarly animals are also felt to possess the Buddhanature, the potential for perfect enlightenment.
Question: Will you please comment on the meaning of attachment with regard to friends and family? Certainly those relationships are very important in life. What is the proper basis according to the Buddhist view for establishing relationships?
Answer: I think the key here especially in a male/female relationship or partnership is respect. I think it is important to base one’s relationship on firm respect towards the individual so that one’s relationship is not entirely based on sexual attraction towards each other. Once one has deep respect for the individual or the person then if one has affection based on that, it will be much more stable. Also in one’s affection and relationship with that individual there will be a recognition of other person in their own right. This I think is critical.
Question: It is said that rebirth as a man is more fortunate than rebirth as a woman is. Looking around it appears as if there are twice as many women as men here. If rebirth as a man is more fortunate why is it that fewer men seem to take advantage of it?
Answer: I think the point about rebirth as a man as being more fortunate needs to be understood within its proper context. I personally understand this in terms of the physical condition of the two forms of existence. It is generally believed that women are more physically vulnerable to harassment, abuse and so on because of the differences in strength. For example this is obvious in society as well that although there can be cases of men being raped we hear much more about the crime of rape against women. This suggests that there is a greater vulnerability on the physical level. I don’t think this idea of rebirth as men as being more fortunate has anything to do with the deeper potential for spiritual attainment or spiritual practice.
If one looks at for example the Vinaya scriptures, the monastic codes, although in terms of hierarchy the fully ordained monk is said to be higher than a fully ordained nun, one would suspect a certain societal bias of a particular historical period in ancient India. Still one finds that so far as the full opportunities of a full ordination is concerned, just as there is full ordination for men there is also full ordination for women. Particularly in one looks further in Highest Yoga Tantra there is an acknowledgement that because there is a danger in society generally to despise women, in highest tantric practice belittling or despising women is explicitly counted as a root downfall. One can see a conscious and deliberate safeguarding of women’s rights in Highest Yoga Tantra teachings.
In relation to this I would also like to make an observation about what will come later in Santideva’s text that I will be covering tomorrow. There is a long discourse on the meditation on transcending attachment to women’s bodies. One mustn’t misread this discourse. In fact a Buddhist friend of mine often used to attack Santideva’s text on the grounds that it is anti-women. I think such criticism is unjustified because one must appreciate the context in which this particular text evolved. This Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life was not taught at a public gathering, it was not written for the general public. It was presented within the context of a monastic environment to a group of monks who just like Santideva had to struggle to deal with attractions and desires, particularly sexual attachment as celibacy is a foundation of monastic life. This discourse, particularly the meditation on the impurity of a woman’s body and so forth is specifically targeted for an audience of monks, one of whose main practices is to maintain a celibate life, free from sexual attachment.
Similarly if the practitioners are nuns then they need to reverse the gender of the object and subject the male body to the same kind of analysis and deconstruction so that they could transcend sexual attachment. I think it is important to carefully read the discourse in its proper context appreciating the intended audience. Otherwise there is a danger of misunderstanding the discourse.
In the dedication verse of Santideva’s text in chapter ten and also in Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali in the section on prayers and aspirations, one does find references such as may all women be reborn as men. Again here one can appreciate these from the point of view of wishing everyone to have physical strength and a body capable of performing many physical activities and so on. These are sentiments expressed in a particular context from a particular point of view. In any case these sentiments can not be fulfilled, they not realizable sentiments. Even if they were to be realized it would be disastrous because if such sentiments came to pass then that would mean the end of the human race.
I think it is important that the same sensitivity to context under which a particular text evolved needs to be appreciated. For example in Patrul Rinpoche’s text The Perfect Words of My Teacher there is an extensive discussion on the negativities of eating meat. A tremendous amount of energy has been expended on that discussion but hardly any discussion has been spent on the disadvantages of alcoholic substances. This doesn’t mean that the author of the text like alcohol but rather he wrote the text within the locality where the majority of the local people were nomads where there was an excessively reliance on meat. The dangers of eating too much meat were so evident and because the locals were not farmers they had few excess grains from which to make alcohol. This is why Patrul Rinpoche hardly mentions the negativities and disadvantages of drinking alcohol in that particular text. When approaching any text it is very important to try to have a sense of the overall intent of the text.
I would like to congratulate those who are attending here only for the preliminary teachings and not the Kalachakra. Because in actual fact the topics I am covering in the preliminary teachings are the more important elements of the practice. So I would like to express my appreciation for those who are just attending the preliminary teachings.
Those who do the opposite, not attend the preliminary teachings but rather come just for the Kalachakra Empowerment Ceremony, I must admit that these people are more clever than I am. When I announce a Kalachakra Empowerment, because Kalachakra is so popular it attracts people, but what I really intend is to spend time during the preliminary teachings and speak more about the general aspects of the path of the Dharma. So these people have in fact managed to fool me but of course if among those people who are just attending the Kalachakra teaching if they have a firm grounding in the common paths, the general practices of the Dharma then of course it is fine. But if people simply come for the empowerment with no real grounding in the preliminary practices then simply attending the Kalachakra ceremony alone, I do not know what benefit that can have. (End of the day)
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.