His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge
The Right View, Meditation, and Ethics
Before speaking about the Buddhadharma, I want to ask you to generate the pure motivation of the enlightened mind. Please cultivate the altruistic motivation, bodhicitta. What is the altruistic motivation? It is the pure motivation to receive the teachings in order to be able to help a limitless number of sentient beings.
Lord Buddha presented a great variety of teachings. The quintessence of all Dharma teachings is wisdom-awareness, correct meditation, and ethical behavior. Nothing is excluded within the scope of these three topics. They are better known as the right view, right meditation, and right actions or ethics. It is very important to integrate all three aspects in one’s life while treading the spiritual path that the Buddha showed us.
The Right View
Wisdom-awareness, prajna in Sanskrit, is the right view. What is the right view? We know that samsara entails suffering and want to become free of the inadequacies of conditioned existence by achieving nirvana, which is freedom from suffering and pain. Yet, merely knowing that samsara denotes suffering and nirvana denotes peace does not suffice if one hopes to achieve perfect liberation. One needs to know what both mean in order to have the right view of the ultimate reality of all things, which is dharmata in Sanskrit, translated into English as “suchness, being as such.” It is impossible to follow the right path that leads to fruition without having established the basis, which is having the right view. For example, if one wants to reach a destination without knowing where it is located or how to get there, one will not arrive. It is necessary to study all details of the journey before setting out. In the same way, one needs to have the right view before embarking on the spiritual journey to enlightenment, and the journey is meditation practice. One is confined to spiritual materialism and will err if one thinks one can engage in the path without having gained certainty of the view. What is spiritual materialism? Only having an intellectual understanding of emptiness and thus drawing one’s own conclusions, e.g., trying to gain power and fame by practicing the instructions of the path or believing that nothing exists when hearing about emptiness. But, the right view, which is the ground of Mahayana that is attained by receiving and contemplating instructions on the Madhyamaka philosophy and meditating them until one has integrated them fully in one’s life, is indispensable when aspiring to attain fruition. Therefore the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje wrote in The Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra:
“ The two truths, free from the extremes of realism and nihilism, are the reality of the ground.
And through the supreme path, the two accumulations free from the extremes of superimposition and denial,
The fruition that accomplishes the two benefits free from the extremes of existence and peace is attained –
May we meet with this Dharma that is flawless and sure.”
What are the two truths? One apperceives the world of appearances, which are relative truths, in dependence upon one’s ordinary way of apprehending experiences and appearances. Ascertaining the true nature of experiences and appearances is realization of the ultimate truth of reality.
The relative and ultimate truths do not stand in opposition to each other. Due to failing to perceive and apprehend that every experience and appearance arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, ordinary beings perceive and believe that phenomena exist of their own accord, i.e., that experiences and appearances have a solid, inherent existence and are unique, which is having the extreme view of eternalism. There is the other possibility of believing that things that exist do not exist, which is having the extreme view of nihilism. Buddhist scholars explain the wrong views so that their students do not go astray and do not become stuck in one of them. Some students might think that non-Buddhists have a wrong view and judge them, which is certainly not a sign of having the right view. Having a wrong view means having an eternalistic or nihilistic view and both are impediments to realization of the true nature of being. What, then, is the right view?
The right view is appreciating and acknowledging that all experiences and appearances arise due to the fact that nothing exists as a solid, independent, single entity, i.e., the right view is ascertaining that all things are empty of inherent existence and merely arise and exist in dependence upon other things, i.e., in dependence upon causes and conditions. Should a phenomenon exist from its own side, i.e., independently, it could not arise and appear in the first place. In other words, being and becoming are only possible because all things that can be apprehended and known arise in dependence upon causes and conditions. This fact is summarized in the short line of The Prajnaparamita Sutra, which states: “Form is empty – emptiness is form.”
Emptiness isn’t like a cosmic black hole that destroys forms and forms do not conceal emptiness, rather form and emptiness coexist. Emptiness is the fact that all outer and inner things lack independent, inherent existence. It is the universal ground for dependent being and becoming to take place at all when causes and conditions prevail. That is the only meaning of shunyata, the Sanskrit term that is inadequately translated into English as “emptiness.” Maybe it will be clearer if I give an example.
The term “human being” subsumes many attributes and parts that need to have come together, such as a body, a head, limbs, etc., and seem to be a whole when apperceived and designated. Relatively, there are human beings. Ultimately, a human being is the mere coming together of specific substances and parts to make a whole, which one clings to as an inherent, real existent. If one examines a human being, though, one will never find anything that confirms that he or she exists independently and inherently, i.e., through and by himself or herself. By investigating well, one discovers that the limbs, organs, etc. of the object one calls “a human being” are not the same as the mind. If one examines carefully, one realizes that the body of a human being consists of many parts and one understands that a head is not a human being, that a hand isn’t a human being, and that the legs aren’t either, and so forth. One learns that the name given to the collection of parts and components that make a whole is nothing but a label, an imputation, a name that is used conventionally in order to distinguish a specific aggregation of many parts from another. Taking a head as another example to show that nothing exists of its own accord: A head, too, is comprised of eyes, ears, a nose, mouth, and so forth and isn’t an independently existing entity. Eyes are also an aggregation of many parts. Even tiniest molecules and atoms consist of parts. And so, nothing exists the way one perceives and believes, i.e., nothing one refers to and designates as a truly existing entity is an independent existent, and that is the truth about everything that can be perceived and known.
The problem is that one clings to an apprehending subject and apprehended objects as single, self-existing, solid, permanent entities and thus has an eternalistic view. Or one denies the existence of existents and has a nihilistic view. Having the middle view means realizing the indivisibility of the two truths, the ultimate and relative truths. An advanced practitioner realizes that a human being exists on the relative level of reality while knowing that ultimately all things are transient and that nothing lasts. An existent cannot be said not to exist and a non-existent cannot be said to exist, but one’s mind creates oppositions because one clings to the one or other supposition. Some people think that it is necessary to negate relative reality in order to affirm the ultimate truth. Others think that emptiness is created by meditating and, by practicing, then nothing exists anymore. Emptiness, the universal ground, is not created because it is the true nature of all things. One needs to understand this correctly if one aspires to have the right view.
Many misunderstandings arise and, in the absence of having the right view, cause confusion. Unfortunately, many people are confused. So I want to stress that phenomena arise because the ground of all being is shunyata, emptiness. Relatively, things exist, and practice doesn’t mean that one creates their non-existence since the nature of everything that exists is emptiness, i.e., the lack of inherent existence. And the lack of inherent existence and the appearance of existents are indivisible. One doesn’t create emptiness – it is the nature of all that ever was, is, and ever will be, otherwise nothing would ever be or could ever become what it is and eventually stops being. It is important not be stuck in the extreme views, but to abide in the middle, which means being free of suppositions about existents and non-existents. The right view is being aware that existing appearances by nature lack inherent existence, i.e., lack self-supporting existence. One realizes that one’s mind clings to the idea that things either exist forever or don’t exist at all. Objects are free of discriminating. What makes one be divisive?
The mind has two aspects, emptiness and clarity. Due to failing to realize one’s mind’s empty nature, one creates the belief in one’s self-supporting existence and calls it “I” and “me.” Due to failing to realize one’s mind’s clarity, one creates the idea that the experiences and appearances that one apprehends have inherent existence and calls them “other.” Then, due to clinging to the thought that an apprehending subject and apprehended objects are separate, divisiveness, i.e., duality, is born in one’s mind, which is an illusion and is referred to as “ignorance.” In other words, it is due to ignorance that one fails to realize one’s mind’s empty nature and thus clings to an apprehending subject, a self, and it is also due to ignorance that one fails to realize mind’s clear nature and thus clings to apprehended objects and thinks that they are other than what one thinks is one’s self. Failing to realize that both aspects of one’s mind are inseparable, one falls into the one or the other extreme belief of eternalism or nihilism.
Lord Buddha taught his disciples: “You will not achieve liberation from suffering in conditioned existence, samsara, as long as you do not cut through dualistic fixations.” All apprehensions are manifestations of one’s own mind. One will continue wandering in samsara and consequently experience suffering and pain as long as one doesn’t stop clinging to a self and others. A practitioner will have attained peace, nirvana, when he or she has overcome clinging to duality. Nirvana isn’t situated in another realm or on another planet, rather nirvana means cessation of clinging to the belief that there are self-supporting, solid existents and therefore it is cessation of creating and clinging to duality.
I hope you understand why the right view is indispensable if you aspire to engage in the meditation practices that Lord Buddha transmitted to his disciples, who, having attained fruition, unfailingly handed them down in an unbroken and pure lineage to us. Gaining certainty of the right view protects one from going astray and from falling into the one or the other extreme view and it enables one to reliably cut through divisive patterns and thoughts. When one has the right view, one has attained prajna, discriminating wisdom-awareness, and can perfectly discern the true nature of all things. Then one can practice the right path correctly and will attain liberation.
Having presented instructions on the right view, I want to remind you to contemplate the teachings on prajna, wisdom-awareness. Now I wish to speak about meditation. What is meditation and why does one practice it?
One practices meditation in order to be calm and serene and, being so, one will be able to be aware of everything that takes place in one’s mind. Meditation without awareness is not meditation. An intellectual understanding of the Buddhist view is insufficient and not really helpful. The right view is beneficial when one has integrated it fully in one’s life by means of meditation practice. Presently, one loses control of one’s mind by giving in to distracting emotions that everyone has and as a result one cannot realize one’s mind’s true nature, which is the perfect and pure Buddha nature. Being over-powered by disruptive emotions occurs when one is overwhelmed by distractions, which one can work with if one is aware and recognizes them the moment they arise in one’s mind. The purpose of meditation is to become habituated to being aware of any thoughts and emotions that arise in one’s mind the moment they do and learning not to give in to them. It is important to know that it is possible and to have confidence that one can relinquish emotional distractions that impede realization of one’s true nature by engaging in meditation practices. By resting in calm and ease during tranquillity meditation, one becomes wakefully aware and gradually develops profound insight as to the nature of all things, which is impossible as long as one clings to wrong views. Right meditation is based upon knowledge that is free of mental constructs and erroneous beliefs.
Clinging to peace that one experiences while practicing is an obstacle to meditation and is not correct. Clinging to one’s knowledge of emptiness while practicing is another obstacle to meditation and is also not correct. In fact, thinking one has entered the state of deep tranquillity while having succumbed to emptiness is the biggest obstacle one has ever encountered in one’s life. It may sound funny, but many people think that meditation means not thinking, which is true because thoughts distract one from abiding in calm and ease. But thoughts as such are not wrong, after all, they arise due to the empty nature of one’s mind. The problem is that one is attached to one’s thoughts and clings to them as definitive and real.
In The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer, the great yogi Bengar Jampäl Zangpo wrote: “The essence of thoughts is dharmakaya, it is said. They are no things whatsoever, and yet they arise.” Instead of working with thoughts, many practitioners fall into mental torpor and think they have achieved deep meditative absorption by rejecting thoughts; they don’t even notice that time has passed and think they will achieve profound insight like that. But it is impossible because they lack awareness. Lacking awareness isn’t meditation, rather it is a hidden obstacle. So it is important to be very careful and to know that thinking one is meditating while not being aware is not meditation.
The great masters of the past taught that meditation means becoming familiar and habituated to being mindful and aware of what arises in one’s mind so that one can alter and improve one’s habits. Mindfulness and awareness are conditions for self-improvement, and becoming habituated to both is right meditation. And right meditation doesn’t mean accepting or rejecting obstacles to meditation by resorting to discursive thoughts.
The great teachers of the past explained that the foundation for pure knowledge and for all qualities we aspire to develop is discipline or ethics. It functions just like the foundation of a building, is just as decisive, and pertains to body, speech, and mind. How can it be the foundation for omniscience?
Due to not knowing how things are, a student who does not have ethical behaviour clings to the duality of a subject and objects, fostering sympathy and antipathy that lead to attachment and aversion and thus to an accumulation of negative karma. How does this happen? Having attachment and aversion, an individual is over-powered by his or her mind poisons and neglects ethical behavior. This doesn’t mean that he or she does not have Buddha nature, rather the pure potential is covered and concealed when reacting to what is called “the obscuration of disturbing emotions.” Then it is not possible to experience the enlightened nature within. At the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma, Lord Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, the first of which is the truth of suffering that should be known. The second is the truth of the origin of suffering that should be abandoned. And the causes for suffering are the kleshas (“the disturbing emotions, mind poisons”) and the ensuing negative karma.
Buddhism teaches its disciples to investigate the kleshas, the first being the inability to know mind’s true nature. Due to not knowing the mind’s true nature, one creates mental constructs about subject and objects and clings to them as real. Not knowing is simply called “ignorance” and means not knowing the empty and clear aspects of one’s mind. Attachment and aversion evolve due to ignorance, attachment to persons and things that make one happy and aversion against persons and things that make one unhappy. These three kleshas – ignorance, attachment, and aversion – move one to engage in negative mental, verbal, and physical actions and in the process to accumulate negative karma. The origin of all suffering and misery in short: One lives one’s life completely over-powered by the three mind poisons, and many other mind poisons arise from the initial first three. As a result, one is not free, but under their control and accumulates negative karma of body, speech, and mind.
One is confused as to the true nature of things and therefore wanders in samsara because one’s mind is controlled and driven by one’s disturbing emotions. One acts in reliance upon negative thoughts relating to one’s disturbing emotions. These actions become habits that subside into and are stored as imprints in one’s ground consciousness throughout one’s many lives, arising again when conditions prevail. Habitual patterns cause one to repeat and intensify negative behaviour that ripens as karma. It is possible to become free of all habitual patterns. One first needs to appreciate and acknowledge that it is possible. Then one needs to stop accumulating further negative karma and, instead, develop positive habits. Ethics is a force that causes one to develop mindfulness and awareness of karma and to act in a way that is beneficial. Having mindfulness and awareness, one is restrained from blindly following after negative thoughts that one has and can reverse them into positive thoughts, actions, and deeds.
One might think that ethical behaviour is only valid for monks or nuns. This is not so. It is important for everyone to cultivate ethics by becoming mindful and aware of every thought and action. Having ethics means having control over one’s kleshas that dominate one’s life so powerfully and for as long as one doesn’t have mindfulness and awareness.
What I am trying to say is that ethical discipline is an essential practice. A disciple doesn’t take vows for personal gain. Someone who isn’t over-powered by emotions and who is mindful and aware needn’t take vows, but it is very difficult to always be heedful. Mature individuals know that they shouldn’t misbehave, but are overwhelmed when emotions arise. This is why Lord Buddha said that it is important to take vows, because they are reminders. Even wearing the robes is a reminder of one’s commitments. I don’t like when people stare at me because I am wearing robes. They don’t know why I am wearing them and that I took vows, but I have a feeling of more value having done so. The real meaning of taking the vows and of upholding them is to develop and increase one’s mindfulness of what is worthy and good. I hope I made this clear and haven’t confused you.
I was asked about the transformation of emotions into wisdom. When students hear this, they think it is important to take vows and then negativity will automatically be transformed. This is not what is meant. One needs to be able to control oneself in order to transform one’s negativity. We have teachings stating that emotions are the path to enlightenment. The instructions on transforming one’s emotions into omniscience can be misleading, though. They don’t imply that it is all right to arouse negativity and to misbehave, rather teach disciples how to learn to control their mind by not being dominated by emotional defilements, which everyone has. It is possible to transform one’s kleshas by realizing their essence, which is emptiness.
Ethical discipline means giving up negative activities and maintaining mindfulness and awareness at all times, whether one has taken vows or not, i.e., when one is meditating in the shrine room and during all activities in one’s life.
It is especially important to persevere in one’s practice and to cultivate love when things go terribly wrong. Having love and compassion in the midst of difficulties make one’s actions right. The Sanskrit term for perfect ethics is shila. It is the essence of bodhicitta and is the conduct of a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva who has perfect conduct never feels discouraged, is never impeded by hindrances when helping others, and isn’t stopped by thinking it will take too long to help others. Bodhisattvas never forfeit their pure intention to help, even if it takes aeons. If you have any questions, please ask.
Questions & Answers
Question: “Rinpoche, would you please explain a little bit the difference between emptiness and interdependence? Are the two the same at any point?
Rinpoche: The great master Nagarjuna explained the connection between interdependence and emptiness. He said that there can be no interdependent origination without emptiness. Every existent is an aggregation of many parts, and an aggregation is the manifestation of the interdependence. Take a bundle of sticks leaning against each other to form a stalk. There is only a stalk because of sticks. Should some sticks be removed, the bundle would collapse. The bundle exemplifies interdependence. Another example: We define something to the left side in dependence on something that is to the right side, and what is said to be left isn’t the left side of its own accord. Also, where there is something one calls “tall,” there has to be something that one calls “short”; both descriptions are merely concepts and only pertain due to dependence. Everything arises due to emptiness, so the arising of things in dependence on other things occurs due to the lack of an impediment, which is emptiness.
Next question: “Is it possible to achieve beneficial results through an intellectual analysis?”
Rinpoche: One cannot achieve realization through an intellectual analysis. As said, one needs to have three conditions in order to practice correctly, and they are the right view, meditation, and ethical behaviour. Therefore it is said: “It is necessary to develop the three knowledges that arise from hearing, contemplating, and meditating the instructions in order to practice Dharma correctly.” One must practice all three together. One will not know what and how to meditate and cannot attain realization if one doesn’t have an intellectual understanding. The great master Saraha warned when he said: “Without knowledge, meditation can cause one to become more foolish.” The path, which is meditation practice, is based upon the view. The view, path, and fruition are connected with each other. The view describes and clarifies one’s knowledge of the ultimate nature. It is important to practice all three aspects, learning the view, meditating, and engaging in ethical conduct. It is impossible to learn the view or to attain realization by reading books.
Next question: “Rinpoche, I wonder if you would describe what the clarity aspect would be like from the point of view of experience, clarity as opposed to the aspect of emptiness. Are the two not separable?”
Rinpoche: Actually, realization of emptiness is the experience of the inseparability of clarity and emptiness. Experiencing one aspect isn’t experiencing perfect emptiness because emptiness possesses the aspect of clarity, clarity being appearances, i.e., because the mind is empty of inherent, solid existence one can arouse loving kindness and compassion.
Student: “What would clarity actually be like? It seems in some ways that when one practices, it is easier to experience emptiness, dropping conceptualizations and so forth.”
Rinpoche: The real experience of clarity is self-knowing, self-seeing. When one looks for one’s mind, one cannot find it and discovers its non-existence. At the same time, though, one’s mind has the potential to know, rang-rig in Tibetan (“self-knowing”), which is one’s mind’s clear aspect. Compassion is also clarity because it arises.
Student: “It sounds like emptiness can be aroused by calm abiding meditation and clarity by insight meditation.”
Rinpoche: One can’t say that because one focuses more on emptiness when one looks at one’s mind. Insight meditation can pertain to the emptiness aspect too. It depends. One can’t really separate the two.
Next question: “Could you talk about how the view relates to good and bad? It seems as human beings we search for pleasures and try to push away negative experiences. From this point of view it seems that both somehow have equal quality. What is the correct view of good and bad?”
Rinpoche: From the relative view, yes, there is difference between good and bad. But genuine goodness is freedom from such ideas. Ultimately, everything is always good because nothing is not good. One seeks what one thinks is good from a dualistic vantage point, which can change any moment or any time. There is transient joy, but it doesn’t last. So, people are never content, no matter how much pleasures they have. Genuine happiness is changeless.
Next question: “How do we transform emotions into wisdom?”
Rinpoche: Your question is very advanced. One first needs to have realized emptiness in order to transform emotions into wisdom, otherwise it’s impossible, and it isn’t something one thinks. One doesn’t think that one’s anger is wisdom when one is angry. Transformation means freedom from clinging, which alone enables one to transform negativity. But, one first has to be able to control one’s anger and other emotions the moment they arise, which means that one has to recognize them so that one can control them. Having won control, one can transform one’s emotions; otherwise it’s impossible.
Next question: “Would Rinpoche speak about the transmission of the mind?”
Rinpoche: One must have completed certain practices in order to receive the transmission and words will not do. What I can tell you is that ignorance is caused by ego, ignorance being not knowing mind’s empty essence and thus clinging to a self, calling it “I, me.” Not knowing mind’s clarity, one clings to the identity of objects, calling them “other.” Both faults give rise to the experience of samsara. Due to clinging to a self, one feels animosity towards others. One’s feelings of sympathy and antipathy give rise to one’s emotions, which determine one’s activities. One accumulates habits due to one’s activities, and one’s habitual patterns subside into one’s ground consciousness and are stored there as imprints. They arise again as karma when causes and conditions come together and, if not recognized and stopped, one intensifies one’s clinging.
Next question: “Your Eminence, I want to follow the question about controlling the kleshas by first recognizing them in order to control and then transform them. I was wondering about the controlling step. Is it pushing them away or not acting by just watching them go away?”
Rinpoche: Yes, but sometimes you can push them away, which isn’t the best way to deal with them. If you push emotions away, they come up again. It’s better not to act.
Next question: “We were told that there are three levels of practitioners. The first is one who practices virtue over non-virtue. The second level of practitioner is one who sees life as a dream, and the third is one who does nothing. This seems to be a bit of a contradiction. If the highest form of practitioner does nothing, I see great Lamas building Stupas and doing all kinds of things. It seems a contradiction. Do you agree with the statement that there are three levels in those categories?”
Rinpoche: Yes, I agree, but I want to say that the third type of practitioner does not sleep. Speaking about doing nothing in this context has a meaning. I’m sure you have heard many times that the Buddha said from his perspective that he never taught any teachings. Since he had achieved omniscience, he was beyond to the someone needing to be taught. From the students’ point of view, there are so many teachings taught by the Buddha who taught without effort.
Next question: “What is the best way to achieve the best view if meditation alone isn’t sufficient?”
Rinpoche: Being subject to the relative view, one goes back and reviews one’s view.
Student: “It’s a practice on its own?”
Rinpoche: You have to apply the view, meditation, and action. That’s the best way to achieve the right view.
Next question: “As one contemplates emptiness, one comes to a point where everything disappears. The teacher disappears, but the devotion one has is still there. Then that disappears too and one says, ‘No, I have to have that to practice.’ So, one is rather attached to one’s devotion. What I’m trying to ask is where do you put him? Is the teacher emptiness too?”
Rinpoche : The ultimate teacher is not a physical form; his physical form is a tool one communicates with. The essence of one’s Lama is the dharmakaya, which has no form and is beyond life and death. The real teacher is said to be inseparable from one’s own mind. Since it is hard for a beginner to understand this, he or she needs a physical teacher to communicate with. I think your question has to do with the level of teacher you are communicating with. Even though you contemplate emptiness, the dharmakaya doesn’t disappear.
Student: “To separate the three kayas is rather difficult. I have to relate to the physical presence of the teacher and view the teacher in his form. If this is a projection, then how am I to judge or view my own projection?”
Rinpoche: It is said that one has to work with relative reality in order to understand ultimate reality. You cannot just reject reality – it is a truth. It is not good understanding of emptiness when something disappears, and in that case you should be careful. Maybe you are falling into the nihilistic view. You should contemplate more.
Next question: “If I’m meditating and the I-consciousness arises, it seems to become interpreted as a thought. As I hear a bird and ‘bird’ comes to my mind, if I let go of this thought, still maintaining awareness and not being blank, what am I aware of? Does this mean that when I hear or see things, I don’t label them or is there some other level of awareness all together?”
Rinpoche: First, when you meditate and a thought arises, you need to be aware of the thought. You need not do any more. When you recognize a thought, you just ignore it and bring your mind back to the practice you are doing.
Student: “If I’m not being aware of something, how do I know I’m not being blank?”
Rinpoche: Even though you don’t have specific thoughts during meditation, the mind has the potential to know. This is what is called “awareness,” to know or to see what is happening. You should maintain that awareness.
Student: “You said that familiarization is necessary.”
Rinpoche: First you need to apply effort. As you develop, it comes naturally. You needn’t develop awareness because it is always present. When you do something, your mind is always aware.
Next question: “Blanking out as opposed to mindfulness doesn’t happen then. If you then familiarize yourself with awareness, you will not blank out. I guess my question is similar to the previous one. I made a note when you described that, so how do you develop awareness that you are being mindful rather than being blank? If one develops the familiarization you speak of, then you have awareness during the time you are familiar and not blank. Am I correct in that?”
Rinpoche: In our ordinary state of mind, whatever we engage in, our mind is distracted by our engagement. Familiarization means developing an awareness that is mindful, even when you are engaging in daily activities. That ability to maintain mindfulness is familiarization.
Next question: “What is mind, actually?”
Rinpoche: Mind is mind. What is mind? Mind is emptiness and clarity. When we say its nature is emptiness, it means that when you look at the mind, there is no form, color, or mind you can find. When the mind watches the mind and you look at who is watching what, there aren’t two separate things. At the same time, there is the potential to know everything, which is the aspect of clarity or self-knowing. The combination of both is mind. You asked, “What is mind?” There is no mind, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We are taught that the mind is beyond description. Mahamudra is freedom from mental contrivances. Meditation that is created by the mind isn’t meditation. Real meditation is resting in the natural state, free of mental fabrications. You have to experience the mind and can’t describe it as such. Nobody can show it to you. Even Lord Buddha never found the mind.
Next question: “It seems in the talks I’m hearing that if you are going to the end of a path, it sounds like you have to be at the end to begin with. If you want to travel from Vancouver to Delhi, you already have to be in Delhi. I wonder where are we going to get the ticket and get on the plane?”
Rinpoche: If you already know what enlightenment is, then you are beyond the need of engaging in the path. I’m not talking about that. You said, “… from Vancouver to Delhi.” If you have never heard anything about Delhi, you won’t have the wish to go there. You also need to have a reason to go there, which doesn’t mean that you have to go. Of course, you can’t compare Delhi with enlightenment – nobody can issue a ticket to enlightenment.
There are many ways to explain enlightenment or the ultimate state. Different religions teach different views of fruition. Buddhism speaks about liberation. Every religious proponent believes in liberation. It is important for you to know the Buddhist view of liberation, otherwise your view might not coincide with the Buddhist view. It is also necessary to know what liberation means, otherwise you won’t want to practice. I hope I didn’t lead you not to want to practice.
Next question: “I understand what you are saying about the patterns, making negative patterns come up. I’m a therapist and engage in remembering negative experiences. My partner and I work with sexually abused women who talk about their negative feelings, their negative thoughts, and the negative words that hurt them in their childhood. I am nervous if I continue perpetuating further negativity or whether I’m wrongly in the illusion of believing the methods I am using can also cause benefit by working a method that is different than the method you suggested, that we continue perpetuating negative patterns for the future. I need advice because I spend a lot of time listening to how they feel. It’s like an awareness they try to go through. Are you suggesting that the therapy causes more negativity?”
Rinpoche: During a conference on Buddhism and psychotherapy in N.Y., I saw that the approaches are very different. After you bring up all those feelings, what do you do then?
Student: “We use things like paper, art, and play to let their emotions out of themselves into objects.”
Rinpoche: If that technique really helps to eliminate an individual’s pain, it is good. It depends on final help. The aim of practice in Buddhism is to pacify emotions. If feelings and pain can be put into inanimate objects, I think nothing is wrong with that. We also deal with such situations because people approach us for help, too. It depends on the situation of an individual, though. Some people need to talk and we let them. It’s necessary. What I understood from the conference was that psychologists listen and then blame the parents who did such horrible things. We never do that, but we listen and bring people through their experiences. I don’t know if you have that tradition. When you blame others, you encourage hatred, and we do not think that that helps them, even though they have found a cause for their pain. We listen and deal with the situation in a different manner.
Next question: “Rinpoche, one cultivates beneficial actions and that also builds habit patterns. Is there a fixaton that could be harmful in that or is it simply better to engage in beneficial actions and not worry about fixations?”
Rinpoche: I spoke about combining skilful means with wisdom-awareness so that whatever one does is not the cause of fixations.
Student: “I see. If the background of our actions comes from prajna, it doesn’t have a fixation on self?”
Rinpoche: Right. That’s why it is very important to check your attitude and motivation before engaging in any practice.
Next question: “For those of us who are therapists and work with people who are in a great deal of pain, I’d appreciate the suggestion around retreat. I’m also wondering if on a day-to-day practice that you could recommend something so that we could continue to be helpful?”
Rinpoche: Taking and sending is the best practice.
Student: “That scares me. I fear taking on the pain of others. Working with the pain and tension of others seems to wear me down after a while. That seems to be part of the struggle.”
Rinpoche: There are two ways to practice. In order to take on somebody’s suffering, you have to have some experience of shunyata. You cannot really share as long as you are fixated on duality, and that’s why it is necessary to practice giving and taking. Your fears are not justified because you cannot really take on other’s sicknesses and pain. Saying it directly, it’s not easy to take on somebody’s suffering and give your happiness away - it isn’t possible by just thinking it. One also doesn’t accomplish enlightenment by just imagining it. One has to practice. If you have fear, it might happen that you get sick from your fear.
Through this goodness may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha and then
Lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
And may precious bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
Long-life Prayer for His Eminence the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Lodrö Chökyi Nyima
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent.
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities,
May I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of buddhahood.
The instructions that His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche offered were presented in Vancouver, Canada, in 1990. Translated into English by Chöjor Radha, transcribed by Gaby Hollmann from Munich in 1991 & edited in 2009, solely responsible & apologizing for all mistakes. Photo of Rinpoche courtesy of Lee from Puli-Nantou. Lotus kindly offered by Yeunten, Nguyenthi Mydung from Paris. Copyright Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang, Pullahari, Nepal, 2009.
May the truth of the teachings spread throughout the world &
bring peace and happiness to all living beings!