Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche on Happiness

Here is an excerpt of Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche’s talk on Happiness from the Dzogchen Perspective, given at Choompot-Pantip Conference Room, Chulalongkorn University on October 2, 2010. I took notes of his talk and made only small revisions. These are basically his words:

**

Ordinary people have ordinary conception of happiness. Living standard does not necessarily make one happy. You have to discover yourself; otherwise you won’t be really happy. Happy is mental experience of satisfaction of the being your state. We enjoy our lives – we are fully satisfied with our lives.

No satisfaction in our lives, no happiness.

You have to train your mind, like training a wild horse. We are able to train a wild horse. When it’s trained then you can leave it. Ordinary people do not have relaxed mind. Mind always moves about with no relaxing. Closing our eyes does not mean we are meditating. As long as the mind is not in the state of meditation, then we are only sitting still and pretending to meditate.

Our mind always roams to many places; we are always following it, so we are not experiencing the real potential to meditation.

So when I talk of training the mind, this means training ourselves to deal with our everyday experiences. We are so busy that we are all stressed and challenged. Even today in the 21st century, with all the challenges the mind still needs to be trained all the more. There’s competition everywhere, even among monasteries. Each and every moment we are not free from these competition and challenges. All these are based on ignorance. Competition leads to many facts of thoughts – it can be positive and negative. These thoughts can give rise to all the five poisons, namely ignorance, greed, hatred, jealousy, pride.

Sometimes we are out of control, then we say we are tired of it. We need to find a way to relax ourselves. Calm the thoughts that are arising every moment. We are entering into state of inner calm and peacefulness. This will rejuvenate ourselves.

Yoga and other exercises do not help us unless you get them to the mind. Dzogchen says “the sources of everything, both pleasant and unpleasant, is from the mind.” The mind is as pure as gold. You can transform it into anything you desire. Your mind can be beautiful or ugly. If you fully trained your minds will be precious and you will be able to heal people. If we are not trained then it becomes a source of suffering. Your health will be affected also. The happier you are, the healthier you will be.

The main point is that we need to train our minds. We need to know how to deal with everyday challenges. There is no particular formula or method. Also happiness will be generated in this way. Find out what is the source of unhappiness. Put your effort to transforming that, then happiness naturally arises, like the sun which is uncovered by moving clouds.

Clouds are the polluting thoughts inside our minds. If you are in a bad health condition, you can either accept or not accept it. This lies in our hands. If we are suffering from illness, then what we can do is either to accept or reject it. But the illness is already there so it’s not possible to reject it. If we try to reject it we will only bring about sufferings on top of the illness that we already have. What is happening is not in our hands, it’s karma, but how we handle them is in our hands. This makes all the differences.

That is the main quality of training the mind.

I have a student who is paralyzed. He cannot move. He listens to my talk and teachings and try to meditate and read books. I asked him how he looked at and reacted to his situation in life. He said he was very lucky that he was still able to use his mind. If he were not in this situation then he could not have thought clearly. “Everytime I meditate on compassion,” he says. “I am lucky that I have a wife and family members who look after me. I am better than those who do not have anybody to care for me. Then I do compassion to all people whoa re suffering like me, especially helpless people. When I have reactions on my condition and get upset, immediately I think this way, it helps tremendously. May my pain be the pain of all people that comes to me, so that they are free from pain. This is very powerful. Let my pain be the pain of others.”

Of course this will not change his own physical condition, but his mental state is much different. It gives open space to allow the karmic appearances come in and dissipate by themselves. Our belief in karma should not be only intellectual, but discover the realization of karma from within. This has the power to heal everything by itself. This helps us to deal with any situation. You are more determined to carry on. If you have 100 percent trust in the Triple Gems, then you will experience some positive effects. If you are shallow and unclear and doubtful, then this won’t help. We have the culture of bowing to the Buddha, but now we are doing from the inside by recognizing the quality of the Buddha. Either way we are doing this from our hearts, knowing the full potential of what we are doing. My student is looking at things positively, so only his physical condition is in misery, but his mental condition is very healthy. It’s the mind that makes all the differences.

Another example shows how the mind affects our lives. Two persons have arguments with us. One person is our friend or loved one. We know this person well. The other we do not know very well, a stranger. The issue of argument is the same. Both are trying to get us upset. According to our relationship, the one who is our loved one, even if he means what he says, we still have the feeling that he does not mean it. This is what we tell our minds. So we are OK with that. But when the other person says the same thing, we get very angry. How come he or she uses such words to me! Our reactions are totally different, and the differences is only due to the nature of the relationship that we have toward each of them. In this case we feel that we have to prove ourselves, out of our own egos. We have to prove our “dominance.” But in fact egos cannot dominate egos. The main point is based on our minds. Once we accept this and know through this, then things become very different. Problem is internal; the mind is key to our own reaction. This is why the mind needs to be trained. Once you can control your minds, then you can control everything.

This is the same in other situations in our everyday lives. Thus in order to be happy we need to train our minds to know how to be really happy. This is what Dzogchen is teaching — emphasizing the mind. Other traditions have the same goal but perhaps different methods. Dzogchen emphasize that mind is the king. Whatever the king orders, ministers follow. Ministers are the thoughts. Automatically this will lead to peaceful situation. Our egos will not have much job. When egos are jobless then we have wisdom. Wisdom means to realize things as they are. When things are as they are there are no two sides, no doubt. Make effort, make progress and develop the quality of the mind. Understand the mind, nature of mind, energy of mind. This is what we are looking.

So when he says it’s important to discover the mind, this does not mean the rest can be ignored. If you want to meet the big boss, you still have to make good friends with the subordinate officers. If you don’t do that you can’t reach the boss. One thing is to practice good heart to all sentient beings. Whether you have disagreements, dislikes or enemies. Still that person will enjoy the happiness and compassion. The person whom you mostly hate he or she still have the potential for love and compassion and still have a lot of potentials of benefits for us. Law of karma. Open up your heart. This is essential for making ourselves to have fewer problems We have been very narrow. Often we deal with jealousy, which comes when we have limited space in us. We are not flexible in us to allow goodness of others to come in. We need to be able to rejoice in other people’s happiness. If you look only from jealousy point, then you can’t discover your own happiness at all. If you think that you yourself alone must be happy, then you won’t be happy. True essence of happiness lies in happiness of others. We need openness and flexibility. You are bothered by what is happening because there is enough space inside of you for others to be happy too. When you are OK you are not complaining, then you are OK the way it is. Even if there are disturbances you are not disturbed because you know there’s enough space for us to be happy. We have a lot of problems because of this lack of space and openness — concern of the individual self alone, so we disregard the goodness in others. Do this then you can experience positive changes in your life. Anger is not a solid object. It’s energy raised in you, coming up through external conditions. True anger is energy of your own self. What arises is your ego.

I’ll tell you a story: Dzogchen master was asked by his student. “My main problem is anger. What is the way to overcome anger?” Master says, “if you run after all enemies, your life will be too short to do that. Rather focus on controlling your own mind then you can control all the enemies.”

If I have ten people as enemies and want to conquer them all. I really can’t do that. But if I try to overcome myself and eliminate anger and ego, then I truly win. Trying to defeat other people simply makes more enemies.

You train your mind to be stable and integrated from within. Then there’s no enemy and no friend. All is equanimity. All are equal.

I am born with no name, and I’ll die with no name. Names come afterward.

If you go deep inside, then you will find that there’s no name to the individual. Hence no enemy, no friend. You look at everyone; he has same potential for loving kindness, positive energies.

 

Ordinary people have ordinary conception of happiness. Living standard does not necessarily make one happy. You have to discover yourself; otherwise you won't be really happy. Happy is mental experience of satisfaction of the being your state. We enjoy our lives - we are fully satisfied with our lives.

No satisfaction in our lives, no happiness.

You have to train your mind, like training a wild horse. We are able to train a wild horse. When it's trained then you can leave it. Ordinary people do not have relaxed mind. Mind always moves about with no relaxing. Closing our eyes does not mean we are meditating. As long as the mind is not in the state of meditation, then we are only sitting still and pretending to meditate.

Our mind always roams to many places; we are always following it, so we are not experiencing the real potential to meditation. 

So when I talk of training the mind, this means training ourselves to deal with our everyday experiences. We are so busy that we are all stressed and challenged. Even today in the 21st century, with all the challenges the mind still needs to be trained all the more. There's competition everywhere, even among monasteries. Each and every moment we are not free from these competition and challenges. All these are based on ignorance. Competition leads to many facts of thoughts – it can be positive and negative. These thoughts can give rise to all the five poisons, namely ignorance, greed, hatred, jealousy, pride.

Sometimes we are out of control, then we say we are tired of it. We need to find a way to relax ourselves. Calm the thoughts that are arising every moment. We are entering into state of inner calm and peacefulness. This will rejuvenate ourselves.

Yoga and other exercises do not help us unless you get them to the mind. Dzogchen says "the sources of everything, both pleasant and unpleasant, is from the mind." The mind is as pure as gold. You can transform it into anything you desire. Your mind can be beautiful or ugly. If you fully trained your minds will be precious and you will be able to heal people. If we are not trained then it becomes a source of suffering. Your health will be affected also. The happier you are, the healthier you will be.

The main point is that we need to train our minds. We need to know how to deal with everyday challenges. There is no particular formula or method. Also happiness will be generated in this way. Find out what is the source of unhappiness. Put your effort to transforming that, then happiness naturally arises, like the sun which is uncovered by moving clouds. 

Clouds are the polluting thoughts inside our minds. If you are in a bad health condition, you can either accept or not accept it. This lies in our hands. If we are suffering from illness, then what we can do is either to accept or reject it. But the illness is already there so it's not possible to reject it. If we try to reject it we will only bring about sufferings on top of the illness that we already have. What is happening is not in our hands, it's karma, but how we handle them is in our hands. This makes all the differences.

That is the main quality of training the mind.

I have a student who is paralyzed. He cannot move. He listens to my talk and teachings and try to meditate and read books. I asked him how he looked at and reacted to his situation in life. He said he was very lucky that he was still able to use his mind. If he were not in this situation then he could not have thought clearly. "Everytime I meditate on compassion," he says. “I am lucky that I have a wife and family members who look after me. I am better than those who do not have anybody to care for me. Then I do compassion to all people whoa re suffering like me, especially helpless people. When I have reactions on my condition and get upset, immediately I think this way, it helps tremendously. May my pain be the pain of all people that comes to me, so that they are free from pain. This is very powerful. Let my pain be the pain of others.”

Of course this will not change his own physical condition, but his mental state is much different. It gives open space to allow the karmic appearances come in and dissipate by themselves. Our belief in karma should not be only intellectual, but discover the realization of karma from within. This has the power to heal everything by itself. This helps us to deal with any situation. You are more determined to carry on. If you have 100 percent trust in the Triple Gems, then you will experience some positive effects. If you are shallow and unclear and doubtful, then this won't help. We have the culture of bowing to the Buddha, but now we are doing from the inside by recognizing the quality of the Buddha. Either way we are doing this from our hearts, knowing the full potential of what we are doing. My student is looking at things positively, so only his physical condition is in misery, but his mental condition is very healthy. It's the mind that makes all the differences.

Another example shows how the mind affects our lives. Two persons have arguments with us. One person is our friend or loved one. We know this person well. The other we do not know very well, a stranger. The issue of argument is the same. Both are trying to get us upset. According to our relationship, the one who is our loved one, even if he means what he says, we still have the feeling that he does not mean it. This is what we tell our minds. So we are OK with that. But when the other person says the same thing, we get very angry. How come he or she uses such words to me! Our reactions are totally different, and the differences is only due to the nature of the relationship that we have toward each of them. In this case we feel that we have to prove ourselves, out of our own egos. We have to prove our "dominance." But in fact egos cannot dominate egos. The main point is based on our minds. Once we accept this and know through this, then things become very different. Problem is internal; the mind is key to our own reaction. This is why the mind needs to be trained. Once you can control your minds, then you can control everything.

This is the same in other situations in our everyday lives. Thus in order to be happy we need to train our minds to know how to be really happy. This is what Dzogchen is teaching -- emphasizing the mind. Other traditions have the same goal but perhaps different methods. Dzogchen emphasize that mind is the king. Whatever the king orders, ministers follow. Ministers are the thoughts. Automatically this will lead to peaceful situation. Our egos will not have much job. When egos are jobless then we have wisdom. Wisdom means to realize things as they are. When things are as they are there are no two sides, no doubt. Make effort, make progress and develop the quality of the mind. Understand the mind, nature of mind, energy of mind. This is what we are looking.

So when he says it's important to discover the mind, this does not mean the rest can be ignored. If you want to meet the big boss, you still have to make good friends with the subordinate officers. If you don't do that you can't reach the boss. One thing is to practice good heart to all sentient beings. Whether you have disagreements, dislikes or enemies. Still that person will enjoy the happiness and compassion. The person whom you mostly hate he or she still have the potential for love and compassion and still have a lot of potentials of benefits for us. Law of karma. Open up your heart. This is essential for making ourselves to have fewer problems We have been very narrow. Often we deal with jealousy, which comes when we have limited space in us. We are not flexible in us to allow goodness of others to come in. We need to be able to rejoice in other people's happiness. If you look only from jealousy point, then you can't discover your own happiness at all. If you think that you yourself alone must be happy, then you won't be happy. True essence of happiness lies in happiness of others. We need openness and flexibility. You are bothered by what is happening because there is enough space inside of you for others to be happy too. When you are OK you are not complaining, then you are OK the way it is. Even if there are disturbances you are not disturbed because you know there's enough space for us to be happy. We have a lot of problems because of this lack of space and openness -- concern of the individual self alone, so we disregard the goodness in others. Do this then you can experience positive changes in your life. Anger is not a solid object. It's energy raised in you, coming up through external conditions. True anger is energy of your own self. What arises is your ego.

I'll tell you a story: Dzogchen master was asked by his student. “My main problem is anger. What is the way to overcome anger?” Master says, “if you run after all enemies, your life will be too short to do that. Rather focus on controlling your own mind then you can control all the enemies.”

If I have ten people as enemies and want to conquer them all. I really can't do that. But if I try to overcome myself and eliminate anger and ego, then I truly win. Trying to defeat other people simply makes more enemies.

You train your mind to be stable and integrated from within. Then there's no enemy and no friend. All is equanimity. All are equal.

I am born with no name, and I'll die with no name. Names come afterward.

If you go deep inside, then you will find that there's no name to the individual. Hence no enemy, no friend. You look at everyone; he has same potential for loving kindness, positive energies.

แลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ

Buddha11การปฏิบัติสำคัญอย่างหนึ่งของพระพุทธศาสนามหายาน ได้แก่การปฏิบัติ “การแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับผู้อื่น” หรือกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ ซึ่งเรียกในภาษาทิเบตว่า “ตงเล็น” (tong len) เราได้เคยพูดเกี่ยวกับเรื่องนี้ไปบ้างแล้วในโพสก่อนหน้า หลักการก็คือว่า เรารับเอาความทุกข์ของสัตว์โลกมาไว้ที่ตัวเรา แล้วแผ่ความสุขกับบุญกุศลของราทั้งหมดไปให้แก่สัตว์โลก

ในการสนทนาธรรมเมื่อวันเสาร์ที่ 30 ที่ผ่านมา มีผู้ตั้งคำถามขึ้นมาว่า “ถ้าเราจะเอาความสุขของเราไปให้สัตว์อื่น แล้วเรามีความสุขนั้นจริงๆหรือเปล่า?” คำถามนี้เป็นคำถามดีมากๆ และช่วยให้เรากระจ่างแจ้งมากขึ้นเกี่ยวกับการปฏิบัติธรรมอันสำคัญยิ่งนี้

หัวใจของการปฏิบัติ “ความเสมอเหมือนของตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่น” กับ “การแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ” ก็คือว่า เรามุ่งภาวนาให้เกิดโพธิจิตขึ้นในจิตใจ โพธิจิตได้แก่จิตที่มุ่งมั่นปรารถนาอย่างแท้จริงที่จะบรรลุธรรมเป็นพระพุทธเจ้า เพื่อประโยชน์สูงสุดของสรรพสัตว์ทั้งปวง เหตุที่เราตั้งจิตเช่นนี้ก็เพราะว่า มีแต่พระสัมมาสัมพุทธเจ้าเท่านั้นที่สามารถช่วยเหลือสรรพสัตว์ให้พ้นทุกข์จากสังสารวัฏได้ ด้วยการจำแนกธรรมสั่งสอนสัตว์ตามแต่จริตของสัตว์นั้นๆ และการทอดทิ้งสรรพสัตว์เอาตัวรอดแต่ผู้เดียวไม่ใช่เป้าหมายของการปฏิบัติธรรมที่สูงสุด แนวทางในการปฏิบัติเพื่อให้เกิดโพธิจิตขึ้นมาในจิตใจอย่างแท้จริง ไม่เสแสร้ง ก็คือการปฏิบัติเกี่ยวกับความเสมอเหมือนของตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ และการแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆนี้เอง

ในที่นี้ผมจะพูดเฉพาะเรื่องการแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ หัวใจของการปฏิบัตินี้อยู่ที่ว่า ในระหว่างที่เราทำสมาธิ เราตั้งจิตมั่นว่าจะรับเอาความทุกข์ของสัตว์โลกทั้งหมดมาไว้ที่ตัวเรา และแผ่ความสุข แผ่บุญบารมี บุญกุศลของเราทั้งหมดให้แก่สัตว์โลก เราทำเช่นนี้ก็เพราะเราปรารถนาที่จะให้สัตว์โลกทั้งหลายมีความสุขและพ้นจากทุกข์ และที่สำคัญก็คือเป็นการชำระล้างกำจัดความยึดมั่นถือมั่นในตัวตนหรืออัตตาของเราเองด้วย

ทีนี้กลับมาที่คำถาม เราตั้งใจจะให้สัตว์โลกประสบกับความสุขสูงสุดเช่นเดียวกับเรา คือเราแผ่กระจายความสุขออกไปจากตัวเรา เหมือนกับเราเปล่งแสงแห่งความสุขแผ่ซ่านไปยังสรรพสัตว์ ที่เมื่อสัตว์ใดได้รับแสงนี้แล้ว ก็จะมีความสุขอย่างสูงสุด แต่คำถามก็คือว่า เรามีความสุขนั้นหรือเปล่า?

คำตอบก็คือว่า มีแน่นอน เพราะในประการแรกจิตใจของเราเป็นสิ่งแปลกประหลาดยิ่ง พระพุทธเจ้าทรงสอนว่า ทุกสิ่งทุกอย่างขึ้นอยู่กับจิตใจ “ใจเป็นหัวหน้า ทุกอย่างสำเร็จด้วยใจ” ดังที่กล่าวไว้ในพระธรรมบท ดังนั้นเมื่อเราตั้งจิตอย่างจริงใจให้สรรพสัตว์ทั้งหลายมีความสุข สรรพสัตว์ก็จะมีความสุขจริงๆ

ประการที่สอง ในขณะที่เรากำลังปฏิบัติอยู่นั้น เราไม่ได้มองโลกจากมุมมองส่วนตัวของเราเอง นี่เป็นเรื่องสำคัญมากของการปฏิบัติแบบนี้ คือว่าเราไม่ได้มองออกไปจากมุมมองอันได้แก่ตัวตนของเรา ที่เราเคยมองแบบนี้มาตลอด ซึ่งก็เป็นเหตุให้เรายังมัวเวียนว่ายตายเกิดอยู่ในสังสารวัฏเช่นนี้ เราไม่ได้มองออกจากตัวตนของเรา แต่เรามองออกจากมุมมองของสรรพสัตว์อื่นๆทั้งหมด นี่เป็นเคล็ดลับสำคัญของการปฏิบัติแบบนี้ เหตุที่การปฏิบัตินี้ได้ชื่อว่า “การแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ” ก็เพราะเหตุนี้เองที่ทำให้เราไม่มองโลกจากมุมมองส่วนตัวของเรา แต่เรามองจากมุมมองของผู้อื่น

การทำเช่นนี้ฟังดูเหมือนง่ายๆ แต่ของง่ายๆนี้แหละที่เราไม่ยอมทำกัน จนทำให้เราต้องทนทุกข์อยู่ในสังสารวัฏ รวมทั้งสัตว์โลกอื่นๆด้วย การมองออกจากมุมมองของผู้อื่นก็คือการมองว่า ตัวเรานั้นเองก็คือผู้อื่น เราจะเกิดความรู้สึกนี้ได้ง่ายกับคนที่เรารักมากๆเช่นลูก พ่อแม่จะมีความสุขเมื่อเห็นลูกมีความสุข เมื่อได้ให้อะไรแก่ลูกและลูกมีความสุข พ่อแม่ก็มีความสุขแล้ว เราก็ขยายความรู้สึกนี้ออกไปให้แก่สัตว์โลกทั้งหมด เหมือนกับว่าสัตว์โลกทั้งหมดเป็นลูกของเราเอง

การที่เราพ่อแม่มีความสุขได้เมื่อเห็นลูกมีความสุขก็เพราะว่า พ่อแม่ไม่แยกตัวเองออกจากลูก คงไม่มีพ่อแม่คนไหนทำเช่นนี้เพราะนั่นแปลว่าไม่รักลูกเท่าใด รักตัวเองมากกว่า เป้าหมายของการปฏิบัติได้แก่การทำให้ความรู้สึกรักตัวเอง เห็นแก่ตัวเองนี้เบาบางลง จนหมดไปในที่สุด

และนี่ก็คือคำตอบว่า ทำไมเราจึงมีความสุขมากมายไม่จบสิ้นให้แก่สัตว์โลก ก็เพราะว่าสัตว์โลกมีมากมายไม่จบสิ้น และแต่ละคนก็มีความสุขสูงสุดทั้งนั้นด้วยความตั้งใจจริงของเรา ไม่ใช่ว่าเรามีความสุขอยู่แล้วปริมาณหนึ่ง แล้วไปแจกให้แก่สัตว์โลก คนทั่วไปที่ยังไม่ปฏิบัติหรือเพิ่งเริ่มปฏิบัติอาจคิดเช่นนี้ แต่ความจริงก็คือว่า เรามองออกมาจากมุมมองภายในของสัตว์โลกแต่ละคน แต่ละคน ซึงเมื่อแต่ละคนมีความสุขสูงสุด เราก็ย่อมมีความสุขสูงสุดไปด้วย เพราะเรานั้นแหละคือสัตว์โลกนั่นเอง

Three Stages of Compassion

In the practice of generating compassion toward sentient beings, Deshung Rinpoche teaches that we need to distinguish among three kinds of compassion. in fact they all go with one another and to focus on only one or two would not be complete.

The context is meditation on the need for compassion and on how to generate compassion. This is the beginning and end point of Mahayana Buddhism and in fact all Buddhism, because without compassion it becomes very difficult to go any further on the path of a practitioner.

As is perhaps well known, compassion, or karuna in Sanskrit, is the desire to rid sentient beings of their sufferings. We feel compassion when, for example, we perceive a suffering being and feel the same pain as it does and wishes to help free it from the suffering. If we can do it, certainly we will do it, such as when we see an insect being drowned or other situations. However, the most effective way of all is to generate a thought, a sincere wish out of the bottom of your heart, so that not only some beings here and there, but ALL beings there are in the six realms, be free from suffering. This is the beginning of the meditation on compassion.

Now we are entering into the three kinds of compassion mentioned earlier. The first kind is the compassion that naturally arises when you perceive the beings who suffer. There are so many beings around; the text says that they fill the entire space, and all of them do suffer. Now no one wants to suffer; everyone, every sentient being wants to be happy. We also want to be happy and don’t want to suffer. We keep on thinking of these beings and feeling the same feeling that they are having. We recognize their sufferings.

Now the second stage of compassion occurs when we realize that the reason why these beings do suffer is their illusory belief that there exists a self. Each being suffers because of this erroneous belief. It is the root cause of all sufferings in samsara. We survey all the suffering beings, and all of them do suffer because of this belief. How good it would be then for these beings to be free from the shackle of this belief!

So we contemplate during this stage on the root cause of suffering, which is the illusory belief that there is an existing, enduring self, and keep on doing this until this stage of compassion becomes our nature to the very bones. Now we enter the third stage of compassion, which Deshung Rinpoche calls “objectless compassion.” This is the awareness and understanding that in the ultimate reality there are no beings, no suffering, no meditator, nothing to be compassionate to. Beings do not realize this, instead they think that things have their inherent characteristics and their independent beings; that is why they continue to suffer in samsara. We meditate on this too.

Among all the practices in Buddhism, meditation on compassion is among the most powerful. This is a sure path toward true realization of non-self and emptiness. Emptiness and compassion do go with each other and cannot miss each other. You have genuine compassion when you realize emptiness, and you do appreciate and realize emptiness when you have the three stages of compassion described here.

Mind and Life

The conference on “Mind and Life: Perspectives from Science and Buddhism” took place last weekend and it was a great success. More than two hundred people attended the opening session on Saturday and stayed on to listen to great talks by leading scholars and scientists in the country. There was a lively discussion session afterwards.

The key theme in the conference is, of course, the mind. Buddhism has a lot to say about it, as do the sciences. That is why we organized this event. The morning sessions consisted of two talks by Charas Suwanwela and Prasarn Tangjai. Charas is now Chairperson of the Chulalongkorn University Council and one of the leading neurosurgeons in Thailand, and Prasarn is a well respected scholar who is knowledgeable is just about anything.

In the afternoon session on Saturday there was a panel discussion on “Mind, Body and Self.” Three panellists were invited — Somparn Promta, Anand Srikiatkhajorn and Vuthipong Priebjariyawat. Somparn is a Buddhist scholar, while Anand is a neurophysiologist and a medical doctor, and Vuthipong is both an economist and an engineer. The topic was a very interesting one, and we discussed a number of deep questions in both science and Buddhism.

Among the questions was whether there is a ‘seat’ of the sense of the self in an individual person. That is, whether the feeling or the consciousness that there is a ‘self’ can be located somewhere exactly inside the brain or not. Those who are familiar with Buddhism is immediately reminded of the challenge that Buddhist masters give to their students to search for the self. Look inside your body, so the challenge goes, and find where exactly is your self. Is your self at the heart, or is it inside the brain? Or is the self not physical at all? For those who believe that the self might be in some way physical, the challenge then is directed to finding any physiological evidence of that. Being the moderator of this session, I asked Dr. Anand this question and he answered that it was not possible to locate any particular region of the brain that is responsible for the sense of the self, but somehow the sense emerges as a result of a normal working brain that relates all of its episodes together to form a coherent whole. This is supported by an analysis of those who suffer from disassociative type of mental disorder, or schizophrenia, where the personality is split. There might be a physiological or genetic cause to that, which shows that shizophrenia is physiological and not purely mental. But since schizophrenia is a symptom of perhaps the brain’s failure to form a coherent picture of the personality, then this shows that the sense of self — our sense of who we actually are — is something emerging from a normally working brain that relates all its mental episodes together so that there is such a coherent picture.

This seems to go along with Buddhism. The doctrine of No-Self states that what we understand as our *selves* is a result of some kind of action that relates or binds together certain number of mental and physical episodes together. Buddhism does not deny that there is a sefl. To say that would be certainly absurd. On the contrary, Buddhism says that what is actually conceived of as someone’s self is a construction, a result of conceptual imputation, or ‘fabrication’ that naturally arises. Suffering then arises for those who do not fully realize this truth. For such people, they believe that their *selves* are real. That is why when they feel that their selves are threatened, they react out of fear or anger. This is a natural mechanism of the body to protect itself. What the Buddha did was then very revolutionary, for he denies that such mechanism (which we normally feel as an instinctive belief that there is a self) really exists. This is because whatever we take to be the self is always composed of mental and physical episodes and the binding mechanism itself that must be in place for a normal sense of self to emerge can also be analyzed so that they are also nothing more than the brain’s attempt to create a coherent picture that would enable the person to function normally.

In Buddhist terms, the sense of self arises out of avidya, or ignorance. Those who fully realize the truth, that is, those who fully destroys ignorance, know that the self is only a projection, much like a hologram picture. It functions as what is referred to when our names are called, or when we refer to ourselves using the first-person pronoun, for example. But that is only something constructed, something emerging out of assmbling of various episodes. Since all sufferings arise because of this false belief in the self, then when one realizes this truth, there is no suffering. Remember that ‘suffering’ is here an awkward attempt to provide an English equivalent of ‘duhkha‘ in Sanskrit; some translated this as ‘stress’ to point out that even when we are not normally speaking suffering we also suffers from duhkha.

This is only a part of the talks during the past two days. I’ll try to report further in the next posts.

Is this me?

Is this me?

The Wave and the Ocean

Just a couple of pages after the long quote from the Lankavatara Sutra that I mentioned in the previous post, there is a well known text where the Buddha compares the store consciousness (Alayavijnana) with the ocean, and the discriminating, conceptualizing mind as the wave. Now we all know that waves and the ocean are one and the same. There can be no waves without the ocean, and there can be no ocean without the waves (it just is not physically possible). So in essence the ocean and the waves are one the same, so are the conceptualizing mind and the Alayavijnana.

Now let us look at the text:

Like waves that rise on the ocean stirred by the wind, dancing and without interruption,

The Alaya-ocean in a similar manner is constantly stirred by the winds of objectivity, and is seen dancing about with the Vijnanas which are the waves of multiplicity

(The Lankavatara Sutra, D. T. Suzuki transl. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2003, p. 42).

Now the alayavijnana is usually translated as ‘store consciousness’ and refers to a seed of awakening that is already inside of us. It is the very nature of individual consciousness itself and has the characteristic of knowing and being conscious. All of our past karmic patterns are recorded in the Alayavijnana, and these will cease to be operative only when we have achieved total Liberation or nirvana or become a bodhisattva at the eighth stage. Basically speaking, the karmic patterns in the store consciousness will cease to function to us individually when we manage to merge ourselves totally with nature, or more accurately speaking, when we realize what is already there from the beginning – that there is no ‘ego’, no ‘I’, who functions as the perpetrator of actions and who thus receives the fruit.

The reason why we are still struggling in the ocean of samsara is because we do not realize this truth. However, this is not just a matter of being told and telling oneself. You have to become ‘one and the same’ with the teaching; every breath and every pore of your skin has to become one the same with the teaching. It is not just an intellectual exercise. All kinds of sufferings arise because the individual mind thinks that there is this thing and that thing and so on, and these imagined things are perceived and cognized to be affecting us in one way or another. This is only possible because the mind thinks of itself as something, some durable thing, that is, the ego.

Now when we do meditation, we try to observe the goings on of our thoughts. This is easier than it sounds, believe me. The key is to let the mind become still and calm on its own, through practices such as breathing meditation or hearing meditation that I talked about in an earlier post. Then when thoughts pop up, let us not follow them. We have been following our thoughts for no one knows how long. Now let us try to reverse the process and instead of immersing ourselves in whatever topic we happen to be thinking about, let us take a distance from that and see the thinking from outside. See the content of the thinking and its nature. Try to see when the thinking happens and when it ends, and — this is most important — try to be aware of the small gap that takes place after a previous thinking stops and before a new thinking starts. This is where the luminosity and the alayavijnana is.

The Great ‘I’

Last night Phakchok Rinpoche delivered a very clear lecture on “The Great I”. The key message was that it is our attachment to the ego that is the root cause of sufferings and wanderings in samsara. This is the heart of the Buddhist teaching, and Rinpoche delivered the talk in such a lively and forceful way that the message was pushed to the hearts and minds of the more than 300 people who gathered in the ballroom of the Tawana Hotel.

The event was one of the series of the Dharma events organized by the Tawana Hotel itself. I saw a lot of people who must have been coming on a regular basis, and my hunch was confirmed when it was announced that the event last night was the 39th the series of Dharma talk practice sessions that have taken place here. Rinpoche’s talk was preceded by a prayer and meditation session led by Phra Rajapatiphanmuni from Wat Prayuravongse. There is a close relationship between Wat Prayoon and the Tawana Hotel as both are very close to the Bunnag family. 

After the prayer and the meditation, Rinpoche went up on stage to deliver the lecture. He asked us to consider the sufferings that we all have. It could be jealousy, hatred, anger, depression, anxiety, whatever, but since there was an answer from the audience that anger mattered for them most Rinpoche focused on it. He asked us not to repress anger; that would only make us more susceptible to serious diseases, he said. Repressing anger does not make it go away; it merely increases the pressure. But to let it all out every time is not advisable either, because if you do that too often then it becomes an ingrained habit so you always overtly express anger every time, and then it could well become destructive.

The key is to let it happen and we then examine the anger or other negative emotions as they arise. We see how it stay for a while and then naturally we see them subside. Anger is but part of the overall nature of things. It arises; it stays and it goes. During the meditation we need to be aware of the goal of what we are doing the meditation for, which is to eliminate causes of sufferings. We could not eliminate everything at first, but we can chip away at it, bit by bit. We could watch the anger and see it as waves on a sea, or clouds in the sky. The key point is that we neither embrace the anger nor reject it. But we merely look at it as it happens. This sounds easy, but to some it may sound difficult. At least you have to try, said Rinpoche.

So the talk went on for about an hour. The audience were thrilled. I was fortunate to be a part, so did Krisadawan, as one of the interpreters of the talk. More will follow.

 

Is it me that exist in the past lives?

Well, I used to be advised not to title a post (or an essay or a paper) with a question sentence, but somehow I could not resist it here. I kind of don’t agree with the advise anyway. Continuing from the previous posts about karma, it seems that there is something that is still left unsaid or unclarified. That is, what is the identity of the persons who existed in one’s previous lives? Are they one and the same as the one who is living now, or are they different persons?

The doctrine of reincarnation is a very old one and it certainly predated Buddhism. The simple picture of the theory is that there is a soul which transmigrates. It changes the bodies as if it is changing its clothes. So in this sense my previous lives essentially belong to me, because there is this *me* that travels around in various “clothing” or bodies. This is subscribed by the Hindus and Jains and I think in some way this belief did penetrated into Greek thinking also (viz. Pythagoras and some others).

However, the Buddha did deny that doctrine. Since he emphasizes that there is no such thing as an ego, there is nothing that transmigrates and there is certainly nothing that remains the same in these various “clothings.” However, the Buddha did not deny that past lives exist either. Which makes the whole thing much more difficult. The usual explanation of this is through an analogy. Let us look at a flame on a candle. In one way it is one flame, because it is there. We can see it. But on a closer look the flame is strictly speaking not a thing at all. It is an appearance of a rather complex chemical phenomenon when oxygen is entering into some other elements in the candle such as carbon and water and gives out heat, light and carbon dioxide (well, I am not a chemist, as you can see but you get the point). Since this is a process, we had better call this an event rather than a thing. It is “flaming” rather than “a flame.”

According to the Buddha, the picture is the same for our bodily and mental composition that we usually call our body or our “self.” First of all, we are all breathing every moment we are alive (we are just not aware of this all the time). The oxygen enters our lungs and sparks the very same kind of process that is taking place on the candle. Each cell in the body is also a chemical factory, consuming energy and oxygen and gives out enzymes, or whatever that is needed for the survival of the body. So everything is a process. We can also look deeper than the chemistry and get into the physics of it, to the basic physical structure of the atoms that make up the body, and then we see the process picture will be more pronounced.

Now let’s look at our mental episodes. Right now I am typing on this editor in WordPress, trying to say what I would like to say. The doctrine of the soul would have it that there is a soul, a ‘homunculus,’ one might say, that ultimately does the thinking and the directing of the movements of the fingers on the keyboard to type out all these words. However, this is not borne by empirical fact. All there is is the brain and the brain is nothing but a very huge collection of nerve cells, none of which can lay claim to being the soul that is mentioned in the theory.

So perhaps the soul might be something immaterial. Perhaps it is something that is purely in the mental realm in the Cartesian dualistic sense. Or perhaps in the Hindu sense of the immaterial soul that animates this body. Or perhaps it is there in the Kantian sense of the “Transcendental Unity of Apperception” (oh how I love these high sounding words) that does the binding together of all these disparate mental episodes so that they make sense.

But then Buddhist would say something like — are we putting the cart before the horse here? It is because we (or most of us) tend to have this sense of our selves that we devise all these fanciful ways of accounting for them? What if there is no such sense at all? Would that make any difference in terms of how the body is functioning or how the mind works? It is clear that such a self does not exist in bodily or physical terms and in mental terms since all our mental episodes are changing rapidly and we do not remember everything so there is no thing that stays the same in all the memory episodes that substantially connect all our episodes either. (The picture is more like there is a thread in the memory that links up with other threads and one usually gets a sense of who one is by remembering only some of these threads rather than the whole thing. But this means that there has to be something deeper that tells us that these threads are enough and we are now “convinced” that we are one and the same.)

It is precisely this sense of believing that there has to be something, some enduring thing, that answers to the pronoun “I” that is the root cause of our wanderings in samsara, the root cause of all the defilements. More on this later. But the point here is that, if this is the case, then strictly speaking we cannot say that the person who existed in the past was or is the same person as I am right now. Even though there might be some connection, some cause and effect relations, between a particular person and myself, still it would be wrong to say that that person is ‘me.’ This is because that person had to exist in a context — his society, his community, his circle of friends and relatives and so on — and within that context he had an identity, which is definitely not ‘me’ at all.

So he (or she) is his own person, and I am my own person, although what he did did have some effects on me. So on the one hand, it is not me who existed in the past, but that does not mean that there is no cause and effect relation either. Past karmas do have some effects on our present constitution, but that is not the point. The point is for us to realize the truth that the sense of there being an ego, a self, is the root cause of defilements that are binding us within this samsara. And we need to get away from that.

Buddhism and Fear

During the question and answer period at the World Buddhist University after Kris’s talk on the Bodhisattva Tara, a member of the audience asked about whether Buddhism was governed by fear as is, according to him, Christianity. In Christianity, he said, people are motivated because they fear the fires of hell and the like, and he seemed to think that Buddhism offers a way out of this. However, when he heard the idea that there were a lot of hell beings in Buddhism as well as hungry ghosts, who are wandering around in samsara, he felt rather uneasy and proclaimed that Buddhism was not governed by fear. For him this would return to the same situation. Buddhists appear to be motivated also by fear, fear of having to wander around in samsara, spending some lives as hell beings, others as hungry ghosts, etc.

This is a good point for reflection. Is Buddhism governed by fear? Does the teaching of the Buddha demand credence and obedience because you will taste the fires of hells if you fail to do so? Nothing is further from the truth. The first difference between Buddhism and a theistic religion like Christianity is the absence of the supreme being who upholds the laws. According to the questioner here, the Christian God is a fearsome creature, one who metes out punishments to those who do not obey his commands. You had better behave well, or else God will punish you. This is a very popular picture indeed. And one could then extrapolate that onto Buddhism. If you do not behave well, then watch out for the lives of hell beings, hungry ghosts or non-human animals.

I am not an expert of Christianity, but I think he is wrong on both counts. I don’t believe that Christianity is governed by fear in such a way that anyone who does not behave will immediately be angrily punished by an unforgiving God. If that is true, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross? But I leave a more nuanced answer to the Christian theologian. My concern is with Buddhism. Since there is no God, the impersonal law of karma seems to stand in His place as the ultimate law giver and upholder. But do things really work that way in Buddhism?

Not at all. Fear is one of the defilements and destructive emotions that we need to get rid of in order to have any hope for Liberation or nirvana. We fear because deep down we believe that there is this individual self, this ‘me’ inside that we need to protect. And whenever we feel that this ‘I’ is being threatened, we fear and we react as a result. We either run away, or confront the threat head on, fully intent on destroying the threat, all in order to protect this sense of the self, this ‘me’ inside.

According to this picture, the questioner’s fear is perhaps due to his unexamined and unfounded belief that there is his ‘self’ that he thinks is there and needs protection. Since he does not want his self to be grilled and boiled in one of the Buddhist hells, he fears that this will happen so he is motivated to follow the Buddha’s teaching. However, he feels that this is not right because there should not be any fear; more importantly, any teaching that is based on fear is not a right one.

He is right in thinking that no teaching should be based on fear. But his problem is that he has this rather strong sense of fear inside. So whenever he hears about hell beings, hungry ghosts and the like, he feels very uneasy. Instead of looking at these creatures with compassionate eyes, thinking of how they have come to suffer like this and how they should be helped, he wants to run away from them with fear.

The key is to eliminate all fear altogether. This cannot be done unless the sense of the individual self, the ego, the ‘I’, is totally eradicated. Then one has no fear and in that situation instead of looking at hell beings or hungry ghosts with fear, one realizes that they are intensely suffering and then shares a lot of their sufferings, feeling the same thing as they actually do. Out of the compassion, one then does anything in one’s power to help them. Actually these beings happen to be there because of their strong defilements, strong mental obscurations. Having eradicated all the sense of the ego, the Bodhisattva then has no boundary between herself and all beings around her. Everything becomes one and the same. Thus the sufferings of hell beings thus become hers too.

Tara Khadiravana

One of the most powerful meditation techniques is known as “Realizing the Sameness of Oneself and Others and Exchanging Oneself with Others.” Shantideva said that this is the path undertaken by all the realized Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. A necessary element in that is the total elimination of the ego. Having no ego, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas thus have no fear. Shantideva said that they enter the deepest and hottest level of hell out of their compassion for those trapped there as swans lowering themselves onto the lotus pond.