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Friday, March 13, 2009

Just an Illusion


In buddhist gatherings you will often overhear someone say, “Oh, forget it! Anyway, everything is just an illusion”. They might briefly reflect at some difficulty that they created in the past and affirm now, “Oh, it was all just illusory”. Or like sour grapes, “Oh, who cares anyway!.” I feel some concern to hear this in this way because the illusory might become a handy trashcan, dumping place for a misplaced sense of responsibility.

I can appreciate from one point of view the wish to avoid inner stress but on the other hand it demonstrates a lack of practical knowledge. The very dynamic that is a healing of the view that takes the impermanent to be permanent is set aside in order to continue bad behavior and blame it on the mythical “illusory”!

When you affirm that something is an illusion with poor motivation or lack of skills that leads to the intellectual correct view, this is practicing a defective process that depends upon defective components and produces defective results. It also develops poor habits in a number of ways. This wrong calculating method is like old days, maybe India side, when I had a lousy calculator. I would press 2 + 2 and wouldn’t come out 4.

If you’re adding up 422343 and 64365845 on your calculator, you trust that whatever number come up must be the number because you not able to do in the head. Any defective method of identifying illusion only become apparent when you get down to deeper contemplation. As you get to more sophisticated or subtler levels in contemplations that require discernment of energetic distinctions for transformation, it will prove your energetic display or result is wrong that not apparent on more casual levels. However we are capable of correcting errors at simple levels such as 2 and 2 should be 4 (in casual display of your knowledge) and when it comes up 3 or 5 or 87, then you have a clear indication that there is something wrong so that you can apply the antidote.

However, we should not indulge more than we can tolerate by becoming afraid to think, or act because, “Oh my gosh, everything I’m producing is dysfunctional.” We cannot be afraid to live life just because we have just discovered that our mind is not enlightened. However, once we do gain that realization, the next thought that should arise is, “I’m going to really watch my step because I now realize I am working from mental distortions.”


“Even more awful, distortions are coming from the outside world combined with my own distorted thinking and that is producing something that I cannot exactly trust.” This is when reliance on values of valid objects of refuge such as the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings of the path to enlightenment) and the Sangha (the community of enlightened practitioners) becomes more sophisticated and important for practitioners.

Reliance on the Three Jewels of refuge becomes like the main mast of a ship in a storm at sea. In the high wind a practitioner will hang on to the main pole of reliance so they don’t get thrown overboard and become lost at sea even though they are not yet in the safe port of the enlightened state.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chained to Suffering


Shantideva- Guide to Bodhisattvas Way of Life - "Although wishing to be rid of misery, they run toward misery itself. Although wishing to have happiness, like an enemy they ignorantly destroy it."-There is a basic confusion in samsaric living beings. By primordial ignorance, living beings are misled as to the intention and purpose of being alive. The prime characteristic of living beings is seeking happiness and avoiding suffering, isn’t that so? If that is so, then why is it that misery has not decreased? If it’s the prime directive, then why has misery not been reduced, or eliminated? Given beginningless time, how is it that living beings can’t get rid of suffering?

Student: They’d have to be escaping samsara.
Rinpoche: But that is the prime directive of samsara to seek happiness.
Student: If the efforts are not put to escape samsara but to grasping after it, it continues.
Rinpoche:That is a logical inconsistency,how could the method for avoiding suffering and seeking happiness could be different than the script that you were handed?

How the mind functions naturally is a dynamic of attraction and aversion. This process creates confusion due to an attraction to what it has an aversion to. So you are just as connected to what you hate as what you love. Yet this is not what you are seeing because then you would be upset to think- if you have a strong aversion toward suffering that must mean you have a connection to suffering. But, in fact, the harder you push it away the easier it is for it to actually come to you.

When you think about something you really do not want to be connected to, you think about it, how much you dislike it, you are thinking about it all of the time. You can’t get it out of your mind, and in it’s unimaginably close to you. It becomes your closest companion.

I saw a movie about two prisoners who hated each other but the prison guard chained them together. They somehow managed to escape, yet they continue to be chained together and torment each other. Like that, you and what you dislike are chained together. The powerful energetic compulsion of attraction and aversion keeps your mind fascinated in a process that doesn’t allow clear thinking to arise.

Student: Also, pushing things away and pulling things close makes one separate from life itself. As I see it, it’s impossible to be happy when you’re not living your life. The active pushing things away and pulling things close that are in the natural flow kind of takes you out of the river of life and puts you on the shore, stranded by yourself.

Rinpoche: Being free of attachment and aversion does not mean allowing the winds to buffet you here and there. The mind works by seeking an object to attach itself to. And when it can’t find one, it invents one. When it can’t invent one, it will look at its own energy. People who are severely dysfunctional can become fascinated by the imagining energy that is not even there. Yet to them, it exists. They can become fascinated with the energy of some internal process that is not related to outer reality as though it had substance.

Clinically disturbed people are on that end of the spectrum and the enlightened being is on this end of the spectrum, and perhaps you’re somewhere in between. Maybe you’re not over here with the ones we say, “They’re really crazy. I’m OK but they’re really crazy.” And yet the same process of mental function or dysfunction is operating steadily in them as it is just putzing along in your mind. Perhaps you don’t have strong fascination to the point of obsession – you’re just a little bit obsessed.
Student: We call it neurotic.

Rinpoche; So, although wishing to be rid of misery, ordinary living beings run toward misery itself because of magnetic attraction to fascination itself…they’re not fascinated with suffering like a masochist who has kind of total opposite thinking and takes pleasure in something that is suffering.

Imagine that there truly is not a support in reality beneath your feet, and yet this illusory process by which one is moving step-by-step is being created by the process of their own mind. Like walking in air, there is no actual support, and yet as one takes a step there are discs of stepping stone that magically appears under your foot. The one you have just lifted your foot from disappears, you lift your foot again and another magically appears. This may not be easy to understand. I am explaining in a simile one method that your own personal illusion is able to maintain a continuity when no continuity exists.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The End of The World: Smithereens!

Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life by Shantideva chapter 1 verse14a. "Just like the fire at the end of an age, it instantly consumes all great evil." History books don’t mention the fire at the end of a great age, do they? Perhaps the book burned up. Nothing survives, nothing survives.
You might think, “If there was just one man and one woman left, they could repopulate the whole world again, like Adam and Eve. We could hide them in a little cave under ground, and when it was safe they could begin again.” This is a version of the story of Noah’s Ark. When Tibetans heard this story, we thought that this was a memory of the great destruction and beginning. At the end of a minor age will be destruction by fire, water and wind. At the end of a great age, there will be the bursting of a planet, the entire planet would disappear. Is that scary for you?
Student: No.
Rinpoche: Alright, then I’m going on. Worlds have disappeared before. From physics and astronomy, we already understand that other worlds have blown up or perhaps a comet crashes into the Earth. We live in a fragile environment, and this world has gone on for quite a long time, so far. It has evolved to a point where society has a very sophisticated technology.
American society and world society today is still not at the height of technology. It’s just our own system of technology. Even in this world-system there are fragments of stories of technological societies that have come and gone, disappeared with hardly a trace. However, now we have a technology combined with a huge population.
I’m not saying the world is coming to an end any time soon. However, even great mountains, which appear to be so solid, will quickly turn to dust when the final event comes. You are not going to be around to see that. Before that mountain turns to dust, living beings will not be there to witness because they will have been gone by then.
This is the ultimate disaster, meaning this world would be entirely gone. Forget about pollution of the oceans, forget about the tigers’ population going down, forget about the endangered salamanders. There’s not going to be any water, any salamanders, anything. There’ll be no life at all, not even the smallest plant. And there will be no one left to blame anyone because this is the cleansing-- into what? Smithereens. You’ve heard of the Big Bang, how it started. Well, this is the smithereens where it goes to.
“Like the fire at an end of the age.” Those studying this in the Orient might nod here, saying, “Yes, yes, yes.” However, the main point is this: Shantideva says by entrusting yourself to the emerging awakening mind, liberation is so certain that it will instantly consume every single one of your dysfunctions, yes. Every dysfunction, every distortion that you have will be instantly annihilated within the awakening mind.

exerpt from teaching 9-2-2002 High Holy Theater http//www.white-conch.org

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great Atisha, Motorcycles and Your Mind


Where does the courage to examine your own mind come from? At what point did you feel strong enough to peek…“Ew I don’t like that about myself. I see anger here.” You lift up the cover, “Oh I see jealousy. I don’t like that.” Perhaps at that point you put the cover down and pretended it not exist so on the outside you can still be the sweet person and inside you have all of this anger hidden. Other strategies need to compensate also. You cannot come into contact with potential objects of anger or jealousy. Since you and your nemesis cousin rarely meet you remain like strangers. Like that you might go through life. Don’t do that! It’s not even being alive. It is a fake kind of life.

When we continue meditation practice we learn that everything not just love and light. Progress happens by our own efforts and courage to expose our self, like a kind of self-anarchy. There are anarchists with bombs wanting to blow up the world, but who wants to expose themselves? Who wants to expose the rascal? Nobody wants to expose the rascal, but bodhisattvas do! There are stories of great meditators who turn upon themselves shouting, “Aha! Now I’ve got you! (Breathes heavily) Don’t you move” (laughter). And they point at their own noses.

Like that, they have courage to expose their weakness so they can work with it. This is what bodhisattvas do. This is what the enlightened do. Even enlightened beings are working in this same way. When great Atisha, an enlightened being, was on his way to Tibet, it is said he experienced a negative thought toward the potential success of his work in Tibet. He was the holder of the lineage of compassion affiliated with Tibet. What does he do but jump down off of his horse, sit down and talk to himself. He corrected his own behavior so that he could be alive again.

Have the courage to do self-examination turn by turn. This means your aspiration must be sought, defined and brought to life. Just because you do not have strong aspiration doesn’t mean you cannot get it! It would be foolish to say, “Oh I don’t really have that much aspiration. I think I’ll give up now.” No! What you do is jump-start aspiration. You take the energy from some place else that is useless. Remove the energy from hopeless, stupid, useless situations and inject it into your aspiration. This is your life; this present moment is the only time that you are alive! You are not alive in the past; you are alive in the present. Remove your strictures and inject your life force into the aspiration to achieve the enlightened state. Then you come alive.

So you have aspiration fully ready. Just like old-fashioned motorcycles with a foot pedal, you take your foot and you go poom! That is your aspiration pushing toward engaging behavior. Now your motor is going, you actually doing something about it. And turn-by-turn you gather your aspiration and put it into stronger aspiration. Then you are doing something about it. Otherwise it is just like vanilla pudding – it just lies there. You know, pudding always seeks its own level. Your energy should not be like that. Not in my tradition, but there are some techniques that teach you to have a smooth level where you are not being aroused; nothing can get to you. That in it self is not bad, but if energy is just lying there like a pool of vanilla pudding this is not the kind of energy that I mean. More like a magnet around metal filings that are caused to arise like- vvoooooo and wherever the magnet goes…your mind can be alert like that toward awakening.

When the opportunity comes for entering enlightenment, it is so dramatic that every fiber of your being is attracted to the enlightened state. Then your freedom, your liberation, your enlightenment is not far away. Do not be afraid to rise up aspiration as much as possible and then go farther than that. There is no maximum on your aspiration and you can do it. You can do it, you can do it!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sweet and Salty Buddhist Practice


It is not necessary to study everything in Buddhism to become enlightened. It is actually only necessary to study what you need to know to make your very next breakthrough. There are things that you know very well. However, you don’t know what you don’t know, You might be the kind of person who reads everything you can find on reincarnation because it is interesting to you and develop quite a good understanding about reincarnation. Another person might choose to pursue studies and practices to understand the nature of compassionate activity in the world.

So, there are things that you know very well and things that you have never even heard about yet. In a way, most western practitioners are like Swiss cheese. There are many gaps in understanding and many things they know well.

In another way, it is necessary to study everything. However, there seem like there is not enough time learn everything. When I first came to America in the early 1970’s I brought a few few books from India written in English, not very well translated. However, that was all that was available at that time. Now you can buy shelves and shelves of books on Tibetan Buddhism alone, and other kinds of Buddhism as well. Many of these are anthologies of interesting stories and not the classic Buddhist texts that require extensive commentary and study.

Should you have time to read a book a day, still a lot of books will remain on the shelf. Even this is not going to get you very much into actual interior practice. The actual practice comes from transmission, initiation energy, and loving care and relationship developed with a qualified mentor that awakens and aligns the interior real student.

It is also not likely that someone will approach you on the street and say, “Hey, you look like the kind of person who should really learn about the twelve links of interdependent origination.” In my just before when I was in the monastery, my guru told me, “Now it is time for you to study the twelve links of interdependent origination,” and so I did it. There is a big difference between the opportunity of having a continuous education from the time I was small until I became Geshe and non-monastery self study.

So, what you are attracted to study is what you probably already know. You might not know it well enough but enough to focus on. In a way, the unmonitored education you have created for yourself is like going to one of those buffet restaurants. You go because you are hungry but head straight for the dessert table. I suppose that is because, as they say, life is short and so eat dessert first. You choose something sweet that you are already familiar with and enjoy it. Some will be happy with potato chips, salt crackers and tea with no regard for cupcakes or pudding at all!

This is like a spiritual practice of someone who only interested in compassion or peace or emptiness subjects. You eat it up but you’re still a little bit hungry, so you go back to the dessert table. In this way, your spiritual practice is so sweet, but the sweetness of it has not given you an opportunity to hear something else that you need.

We need a well -rounded basic buddhist education such as finding in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand by Je Pabonka Rinpoche. The concepts of reincarnation, karma, compassion and much more will be introduced in the order that we need to develop realizations. In that way, as I wrote earlier, you will easy to discover what you resonate with and what is very unfamiliar. What is unfamiliar, logically, is what you do not know yet. Then we need to have a good relationship with a qualified mentor to help direct the studies toward the very next thing need to know for the next breakthrough in development toward enlightenment.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Runaway Horses and Buddhism


For those who have ever received twenty-four hour Mahayana ordination vows I should tell the real agenda behind these Mahayana purification vows. The grand agenda is to tame your mind. This is not like taming a domesticated animal, like training puppies not to pee on the fancy living room carpet. Not like that kind of a taming, although I am feeling that in the process of gaining enlightenment for many meditators might feel that the enlightenment process should be like the untamed wild West. They want a sense of excitement, anticipation and infinite possibilities in an untamed rush toward the awakened state.

An untamed mind is like a horseman whose stirrup straps slipped. I saw this in a movie – the rider is sliding underneath the horse, the horse is on top and the rider is on the underbelly of the horse just barely hanging on; his head is almost in the dirt. The reins are just flying in the wind and the horse goes anywhere it chooses. This kind of feeling comes more like the untamed mind. Imagine how distressed and confused the rider feels. However, the rider whose stirrups are tight on the horse, like the one living in the vows, who is the caretaker of their vows, is firmly seated on the upper part of the horse with the reins in their hands. This taming allows him or her to be the horseman and not the horse.

When the mind is untamed, mental energies are out of balance. When the mental energies are seriously out of balance, the mind is shaking, like the reins of a runaway horse. The mind is rising and falling like a sick dog about to heave. Have you ever watched a dog about to vomit? Like this, an extremly suffering mind is going up and down and not able deal with ordinary life, much less be able to resonate with higher states of mind with undamaged energies.

Another poor method to tame your mind is to squash down your mental energies. If there is some success there is a lethargic behavior that might appear that the mind is tamed, which perhaps is not too bad an idea for social unacceptables. This is what they do in American prisons, ideally. They control the behavior of violent or dangerous people by preventing their mental energies from moving by behavior control by rules and environment control. I am giving an extreme example. However, these techniques are used to prevent danger to others from arising. But the moment any outer environmental issue arises, the original untamed energies can erupt like a volcano in anger or other delusions. Then it not take too long before the horseman is back underneath the horse, the harness are all undone again.