Method, Wisdom and the Three Paths
by Geshe Lhundub Sopa

SEARCHING FOR HAPPINESS

The great eleventh century Indian master Atisha said,

Human life is short,
Objects of knowledge are many.
Be like a swan,
Which can separate milk from water.

Our lives will not last long and there are many directions in which we can channel them. Just as swans extract the essence from milk and spit out the water, so should we extract the essence from our lives by practicing discriminating wisdom and engaging in activities that benefit both ourselves and others in this and future lives.

Every sentient being aspires to the highest state of happiness and complete freedom from every kind of suffering, but human aims should be higher than those of animals, insects and so forth because we have much greater potential; with our special intellectual capacity we can accomplish many things. As spiritual practitioners, we should strive for happiness and freedom from misery not for ourselves alone but for all sentient beings. We have the intelligence and the ability to practice the methods for realising these goals. We can start from where we are and gradually attain higher levels of being until we attain final perfection. Some people can even attain the highest goal, enlightenment, in a single lifetime.

In the Bodhicaryavatara, the great yogi and bodhisattva Shantideva wrote,

Although we want all happiness,
We ignorantly destroy it, like an enemy.
Although we want no misery,
We rush to create its cause.

What we want and what we do are totally contradictory. The things we do to bring happiness actually cause suffering, misery and trouble. Shantideva says that even though we desire happiness, out of ignorance we destroy its cause as if it were our worst enemy.

According to the Buddha’s teachings, first we must learn, or study. By asking if it’s possible to escape from suffering and find perfect happiness, we open the doors of spiritual inquiry and discover that by putting our effort and wisdom in the right direction, we can indeed experience such goals. This leads us to seek out the path to enlightenment. The Buddha set forth many different levels of teachings. As humans, we can learn these, not just for the sake of learning but in order to put the methods into practice.

THE REAL ENEMY

What is the cause of happiness? What is the cause of misery? These are important questions in Buddhism. The Buddha pointed out that the fundamental source of all our problems is the wrong conception of the self. We always hold on to some kind of “I,” some sort of egocentric thought, or attitude, and everything we do is based on this wrong conception of the nature of the self. This self-grasping gives rise to attachment to the “I” and self-centeredness, the cherishing of ourselves over all others, all worldly thoughts, and samsara itself. All sentient beings’ problems start here.

This ignorant self-grasping creates all of our attachment to the “I.” From “me” comes “mine” — my property, my body, my mind, my family, my friends, my house, my country, my work and so forth.

From attachment come aversion, anger and hatred for the things that threaten our objects of attachment. Buddhism calls these three — ignorance, attachment and aversion — the three poisons. These delusions are the cause of all our problems; they are our real enemies.

We usually look for enemies outside but Buddhist yogis realise that there are no external enemies; the real enemies are within. Once we have removed ignorance, attachment and aversion we have vanquished our inner enemies. Correct understanding replaces ignorance, pure mind remains, and we see the true nature of the self and all phenomena. The workings of the illusory world no longer occur.

When ignorance has gone, we no longer create mistaken actions. When we act without mistake, we no longer experience the various sufferings — the forces of karma are not engaged. Karma — the actions of the body, speech and mind of sentient beings, together with the seeds they leave on the mind — is brought under control. Since the causes of these actions — ignorance, attachment and aversion — have been destroyed, the actions to which they give rise therefore cease.

Ignorance, attachment and aversion, together with their branches of conceit, jealousy, envy and so forth, are very strong forces. Once they arise, they immediately dominate our mind; we quickly fall under the power of these inner enemies and no longer have any freedom or control. Our inner enemies even cause us to fight with and harm the people we love; they can even cause us to kill our own parents, children and so forth. All conflicts — from those between individual members of a family to international wars between countries — arise from these negative thoughts.

Shantideva said, “There is one cause of all problems.” This is the ignorance that mistakes the actual nature of the self. All sentient beings are similar in that they are all overpowered by this ego-grasping ignorance; however, each of us is also capable of engaging in the yogic practices that refine the mind to the point where it is able to see directly the way things exist.

HOW THE BUDDHA PRACTISED AND TAUGHT DHARMA

Buddha himself first studied, then practiced, and finally realised Dharma, achieving enlightenment. He saw the principles of the causes and effects of thought and action and then taught people how to work with these laws in such a way as to gain freedom.

His first teaching was on the four truths as seen by a liberated being: suffering, its cause, liberation and the path to liberation. First we must learn to recognise the sufferings and frustrations that pervade our lives. Then we must know their cause. Thirdly we should know that it is possible to get rid of them, to be completely free. Lastly we must know the truth of the path — the means by which we can gain freedom, the methods of practice that destroy the seeds of suffering from their very root.

There are many elaborate ways of presenting the path, which has led to the development of many schools of Buddhism, such as the Hinayana and Mahayana, but the teachings of the four truths are fundamental to all Buddhist schools; each has its own special methods, but all are based on the four truths. Without the four truths there is neither Hinayana nor Mahayana. All Buddhist schools see suffering as the main problem of existence and ignorance as the main cause of suffering. Without removing ignorance there is no way of achieving liberation from samsara and no way of attaining the perfect enlightenment of buddhahood.

UTILISING THE FOUR TRUTHS

Buddhism talks a lot about non-self or the empty nature of all things. This is a key teaching. The realisation of emptiness was first taught by the Buddha and then widely disseminated by the great teacher Nagarjuna and his successors, who explained the philosophy of the Middle Way—a system of thought free from all extremes. Madhyamikas, as the followers of this system are called, hold that the way things actually exist is free from the extremes of absolute being and non-being; the things we see do not exist in the way that we perceive them.

As for the “I,” our understanding of its nature is also mistaken. This doesn’t mean that there is neither person nor desire. When the Buddha rejected the existence of a self he meant that the self we normally conceive does not exist. Yogis who, through meditation, have developed higher insight have realised the true nature of the self and seen that the “I” exists totally in another way. They have realised the emptiness of the self, which is the key teaching of the Buddha; they have developed the sharp weapon of wisdom that cuts down the poisonous tree of delusion and mental distortion.

To do the same, we must study the teachings, contemplate them carefully and finally investigate our conclusions through meditation. In that way we can realise the true nature of the self. The wisdom realising emptiness cuts the very root of all delusion and puts an end to all suffering; it directly opposes the ignorance that misconceives reality.

Sometimes we can apply more specific antidotes — for example, when anger arises we meditate on compassion; when lust arises we meditate on the impurity of the human body; when attachment to situations arises we meditate on impermanence; and so forth. But even though these antidotes counteract particular delusions they cannot cut their root — for that, we need to realise emptiness.

COMBINING WISDOM AND METHOD

However, wisdom alone is not enough. No matter how sharp an axe is, it requires a handle and a person to swing it. In the same way, while meditation on emptiness is the key practice, it must be supported and given direction by method. Many Indian masters, including Dharmakirti and Shantideva, have asserted this to be so. For example, meditation upon the four noble truths includes contemplation of sixteen aspects of these truths, such as impermanence, suffering, and so forth. Then, because we must share our world with others there are the meditations on love, compassion and the bodhicitta, the enlightened attitude of wishing for enlightenment in order to be of greatest benefit to others. This introduces the six perfections, or the means of accomplishing enlightenment — generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom. The first five of these must act as supportive methods in order for the sixth, wisdom, to become stable.

REMOVING THE OBSTACLES TO LIBERATION AND OMNISCIENCE

To attain buddhahood the obstacles to the goal have to be completely removed. These obstacles are of two main types: obstacles to liberation, which include the delusions such as attachment, and obstacles to omniscience. When the various delusions have been removed, one becomes an arhat. In Tibetan, arhat [dra-chom-pa] means one who has destroyed [chom] the inner enemy [dra] and has thus gained liberation from all delusions. However, such liberation is not buddhahood.

An arhat is free from samsara, from all misery and suffering, and no longer forced to take a rebirth conditioned by karma and delusion. At present we are strongly under the power of these two forces, being reborn again and again, sometimes higher, sometimes lower. We have little choice or independence in our birth, life, death and rebirth. Negative karma and delusion combine and overpower us again and again. Our freedom is thus greatly limited. It is a circle: occasionally rebirth in a high realm, then in a low world; sometimes an animal, sometimes a human or a god. This is what samsara means. Arhats have achieved complete liberation from this circle; they have broken the circle and gone beyond it. Their lives have become totally pure, totally free. The forces that controlled them have gone and they dwell in a state of emancipation from compulsive experience. Their realisation of shunyata is complete.

On the method side, the arhat has cultivated a path combining meditation on emptiness with meditation on the impermanence of life, karma and its results, the suffering nature of the whole circle of samsara and so forth, but arhatship does not have the perfection of buddhahood.

Compared to our ordinary samsaric life, arhatship is a great attainment, but arhats still have subtle obstacles. Gross mental obstacles such as desire, hatred, ignorance and so forth may have gone but, because they have been active forces within the mind for so long, they leave behind subtle hindrances — subtle habits, or predispositions.

For example, although arhats will not have anger, old habits, such as using harsh words, may persist. They also have a very subtle self-centeredness. Similarly, although arhats will not have ignorance or wrong views, they will not see certain aspects of cause and effect as clearly as a buddha does. Such subtle limitations are called the obstacles to omniscience. In buddhahood, these have been completely removed; not a single obstacle remains. There is both perfect freedom and perfect knowledge.

THE WISDOM AND FORM BODIES OF A BUDDHA

A buddha has a cause. The cause is a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva trainings are vast: generosity, where we try to help others in various ways; patience, which keeps our mind in a state of calm; diligent perseverance, with which, in order to help other sentient beings, we joyfully undergo the many hardships without hesitation; and many others.

Before attaining buddhahood we have to train as a bodhisattva and cultivate a path uniting method with wisdom. The function of wisdom is to eliminate ignorance; the function of method is to produce the physical and environmental perfections of being.

Buddhahood is endowed with many qualities — perfect body and mind, omniscient knowledge, power and so forth — and from the perfection of the inner qualities a buddha manifests a perfect environment, a “pure land.”

With the ripening of wisdom and method comes the fruit: the wisdom and form bodies of a buddha. The form body, or rupakaya, has two dimensions — sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya — which, with the wisdom body of dharmakaya, constitute the three kayas. The form bodies are not ordinary form; they are purely mental, a reflection or manifestation of the dharmakaya wisdom. From perfect wisdom emerges perfect form.

CHERISHING OTHERS

As we can see from the above examples, the bodhisattva’s activities are based on a motivation very unlike our ordinary attitudes, which are usually selfish and self-centered. In order to attain buddhahood we have to change our mundane thoughts into thoughts of love and compassion for other sentient beings. We have to learn to care, all of the time, on a universal level. Our normal self-centered attitude should be seen as an enemy and a loving and compassionate attitude as the cause of the highest happiness, a real friend of both ourselves and others.

The Mahayana contains a very special practice called “exchanging self for others.” Of course, I can’t change into you or you can’t change into me; that’s not what it means. What we have to change is the attitude of “me first” into the thought of cherishing of others: “Whatever bad things have to happen let them happen to me.” Through meditation we learn to regard self-centeredness as our worst enemy and to transform self-cherishing into love and compassion, until eventually our entire life is dominated by these positive forces. Then everything we do will become beneficial to others; all our actions will naturally become meritorious. This is the influence and power of the bodhisattva’s thought — the bodhi mind, the ultimate flowering of love and compassion into the inspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all other sentient beings.

LOVE AND COMPASSION

Love and compassion have the same basic nature but a different reference or application. Compassion is mainly in reference to the problems of beings, the wish to free sentient beings from suffering, whereas love refers to the positive side, the aspiration that all sentient beings have happiness and its cause. Our love and compassion should be equal towards all beings and have the intensity that a loving mother feels towards her only child, taking upon ourselves full responsibility for the well-being of others. That’s how bodhisattvas regard all sentient beings.

However, the bodhi mind is not merely love and compassion. Bodhisattvas see that in order to free sentient beings from misery and give them the highest happiness, they themselves will have to be fully equipped, fully qualified — first they will have to attain perfect buddhahood, total freedom from all obstacles and limitations and complete possession of all power and knowledge. Right now we can’t do much to benefit others. Therefore, for the benefit of other sentient beings, we have to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible. Day and night, everything we do should be done in order to reach perfect enlightenment as soon as we can for the benefit of others.

BODHICITTA

The thought characterised by this aspiration is called bodhicitta, bodhi mind, the bodhisattva spirit. Unlike our usual self-centered, egotistical thoughts, which lead only to desire, hatred, jealousy, pride and so forth, the bodhisattva way is dominated by love, compassion and the bodhi mind, and if we practice the appropriate meditative techniques, we ourselves will become bodhisattvas. Then, as Shantideva has said, all our ordinary activities — sleeping, walking, eating or whatever — will naturally produce limitless goodness and fulfill the purposes of many sentient beings.

THE LIFE OF A BODHISATTVA

A bodhisattva’s life is very precious and therefore, in order to sustain it, we sleep, eat and do whatever else is necessary to stay alive. Because this is our motivation for eating, every mouthful of food we take gives rise to great merit, equal to the number of the sentient beings in the universe.

In order to ascend the ten bodhisattva stages leading to buddhahood we engage in both method and wisdom: on the basis of bodhicitta we cultivate the realisation of emptiness. Seeing the emptiness of the self, our self-grasping ignorance and attachment cease. We also see all phenomena as empty and, as a result, everything that appears to our mind is seen as illusory, like a magician’s creations.

When a magician conjures up something up, the audience believes that what they see exists. The magician, however, although sees what the audience sees, understands it differently. When he creates a beautiful woman, the men in the audience experience lust; when he creates a frightening animal, the audience gets scared. The magician sees the beautiful woman and the scary animals just as the audience does but he knows that they’re not real, he knows that they’re empty of existing in the way that they appear — their reality is not like the mode of their appearance.

Similarly, bodhisattvas who have seen emptiness see everything as illusory and things that might have caused attachment or aversion to arise in them before can no longer do so.

As Nagarjuna said,

By combining the twofold cause of method and wisdom, bodhisattvas gain the twofold effect of the mental and physical bodies [rupakaya and dharmakaya] of a buddha.

Their accumulation of meritorious energy and wisdom bring them to the first bodhisattva stage, where they directly realise emptiness and overcome the obstacles to liberation. They then use this realisation to progress through the ten bodhisattva levels, eventually eradicating all obstacles to omniscience. They first eliminate the coarse level of ignorance and then, through gradual meditation on method combined with wisdom, attain the perfection of enlightenment.

THE KEYS TO THE MAHAYANA PATH

The main subjects of this discourse — renunciation, emptiness and the bodhi mind — were taught by the Buddha, Nagarjuna and Tsongkhapa and provide the basic texture of the Mahayana path. These three principal aspects of the path are like keys for those who want to attain enlightenment. In terms of method and wisdom, renunciation and the bodhi mind constitute method and meditation on emptiness is wisdom. Method and wisdom are like the two wings of a bird and enable us to fly high in the sky of Dharma. Just as a bird with one wing cannot fly; in order to reach the heights of buddhahood we need the two wings of method and wisdom.

RENUNCIATION

The principal Mahayana method is the bodhi mind. To generate the bodhi mind we must first generate compassion — the aspiration to free sentient beings from suffering, which becomes the basis of our motivation to attain enlightenment. However, as Shantideva pointed out, we must begin with compassion for ourselves. We must want to be free of suffering ourselves before being truly able to want it for others. The spontaneous wish to free ourselves from suffering is renunciation.

But most of us don’t have it. We don’t see the faults of samsara. However, there’s no way to really work for the benefit of others while continuing to be entranced by the pleasures and activities of samsara. Therefore, first we have to generate personal renunciation of samsara — the constant wish to gain freedom from all misery. At the beginning, this is most important. Then we can extend this quality to others as love, compassion and the bodhi mind, which combine as method. When united with the wisdom realising emptiness, we possess the main causes of buddhahood.

MAKING THIS LIFE MEANINGFUL

Of course, to develop the three principal aspects of the path, we have to proceed step by step. Therefore it’s necessary to study, contemplate and meditate. We should all try to develop a daily meditation practice. Young or old, male or female, regardless of race, we all have the ability to meditate. Anybody can progress through the stages of understanding. The human life is very meaningful and precious but it can be lost to seeking temporary goals such as sensual indulgence, fame, reputation and so forth, which benefit this life alone. Then we’re like animals; we have the goals of the animal world. Even if we don’t make heroic spiritual efforts, we should at least try to get started in the practices that make human life meaningful.

Whatever temporary goals you may set, with bodhichitta they’ll come through effortlessly. And, your ultimate goal of bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment will also come along through the force of bodhichitta. Once you’ve developed engaged bodhichitta, you continually accumulate vast merits and purify negativities whether you’re sleeping, walking, eating, meditating, or doing other activities. And, you should understand that if you put the right effort into the correct meditation methods for generating this, there’s absolutely no reason why you should not succeed in realising bodhichitta in your own mind!

— Ribur Rinpoche

生活的藝術(五)
淨空法師

中國古老的教育是教我們懂得做人,所以起心動念、與人往來都有分寸,而佛教的教育除了這些東西之外,還告訴我們盡虛空遍法界跟我們是一個什麼關係,這是儒家、道家都沒有講到的。佛在大經上講「情與無情共同一體,十方三世佛共同一法身」,這是我們中國的古聖先賢沒講到的,這個說法千真萬確。如果明白這個道理,你才會自自然然對一切眾生,真是情與無情一切眾生,生起真正的慈悲心、真實的愛心,所謂是「無緣大慈,同體大悲」,無緣就是沒有條件。關懷、愛護、協助沒有條件,為什麼?同一個體,「體」就是自性,就是真心。一切法都是自己真心、自性變現出來的幻相而已,無論變得怎麼複雜,無論變得怎麼多,實際上就是一個自己,這個道理很深。

佛法的教學,它是把學校跟博物館結合在一起,這就是中國寺院教育的一種特色。我們現在一般社會是學校跟博物館分開的,它是結合在一起的,所以用種種藝術來表達教學的目的。譬如諸位所見到的,在古代的寺院裡面,現在這個寺院還是依照古代的方式來建,其實這是不必要了,我們現在已經進入到二十一世紀,佛教修學的場所不必用從前宮殿式的建築,用不著。古老的寺院在中國依舊很多,現在恢復不少,我也曾經到中國去訪問,他們恢復,我也表示非常贊成,這些道場現在都是國家觀光旅遊的重點,太好了。你看這個道場裡面,一磚一瓦說起來都有千百年的歷史,都有很多故事在裡面,很能夠吸引觀光客。全世界的觀光客到中國去觀光旅遊總離不開佛教的道場,到那邊去送錢,替國家賺取大筆的外匯,好事一樁。可是我們對這些觀光客也要有回饋,用什麼回饋?機會教育,把佛法教給他們,他們的錢沒有白花,學費沒有白繳。旅遊的時候,我們給他介紹,給他說明,他就學了佛。

我們舉一個最淺顯的例子,像他參觀到一進寺廟門,第一個是天王殿,天王殿裡面供養的四大天王跟彌勒菩薩,彌勒菩薩是坐著對著大門的,一看到就是他,跟他介紹彌勒菩薩。彌勒菩薩代表什麼?代表肚子要大,要能包容,代表的是包容,能夠包容一切人事物,你看他笑面迎人,他教我們這個。台灣在前幾年提倡「微笑運動」,我們佛門第一個,幾千年前就提倡了,彌勒菩薩就是提倡微笑運動,提倡包容,他代表這個意思,你看這就是給我們上課,教我們這個。

四大天王,東方持國天王代表的是負責盡職,我們人在社會上都有身分,都有職責,你在某一個身分、某一個地位,你要把你的工作做得圓圓滿滿,代表負責盡職。天王手上拿的是琵琶,不是他喜歡唱歌,表法的,琵琶代表中道。你看那個弦,緊了斷掉了,鬆了不響了,要調到恰到好處。你處事待人接物平常辦事要合乎中道,不能過分,也不能不及,表這個意思。儒家講中庸,佛家講中道,它表這個意思。南方天王叫增長,增長今天就是講進步。我們儒家講「日日新,又日新」,佛家講「精進」,你的德行天天要進步,你的智慧要進步,你的技術要進步,你的生活水平也要往上提升。他手上拿的是劍,劍代表智慧,必須有高度的智慧才能夠前進不退轉,它表這個意思。西方天王叫廣目,廣目的意思就是叫你多看。北方天王叫多聞,要多聽。我們今天講「讀萬卷書,行萬里路」,增長見聞。你要多看、要多聽,然後你才能把你自己本分工作做得更圓滿、做得有進步,你看它的意思多好。

西方天王手上拿的道具是龍或者是蛇,龍、蛇在中國人的傳說都是很會變化的,代表社會一切人事物變化很多,你要觀察清楚,變化當中掌握一個不變的原理。他右手拿著一個珠子,那就是不變的,掌握這個原理,你才能應付千變萬化的社會。北方天王拿的道具是傘,傘是防止污染的,現在講環保,大家一聽就懂了,你看北方天王老早就提倡環保。不但環境我們要保護,心地更應當要保護,心地決定不能被污染。所以你想想看,天王殿給你上這一課多好!意義多好!我們能把這個東西介紹給觀光客,他的學費就沒有白繳,我們很對得起他。

佛門裡樣樣都是表法的,佛菩薩形像、天龍八部的神像,代表裡面意義非常圓滿,乃至於香燭、供花、供果都代表教育的意義。最普通的供一杯水,水代表心地,心要像水一樣乾淨、平等。所以叫你看到這些物,你就要想到自己回光返照,佛法殊勝的功德利益你都得到了。所以它的教學在幾千年前就運用藝術的方法來表達,不必用口說,讓你看,讓你接觸,你自然逐漸就通達了,所以是非常高明的教學手段。我們今天把這些教學的方法都當作神明、迷信來看待,這是很大的錯誤,我們必須要恢復世尊這樣圓滿的教導,我們才對得起諸佛菩薩,才真正接受到佛陀究竟圓滿的教學,我們得到真實利益、得到真實的受用。

Loving kindness is giving others happiness. Compassion is removing others’ bitterness. Joy is freeing others from suffering.

— His Holiness Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche

Everyday Life Is the Practice
by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

SIX TIBETAN REALMS OF REBIRTH

Leaving everyday life and committing yourself to formal meditation practice is one way to enter the dharma, as demonstrated by the many yogis practicing in remote places and monks and nuns living a simple monastic lifestyle. Perhaps in your own life, you are considering this approach. You may be retired and financially secure and can clearly decide that this is the time to completely commit your life to practice, renouncing your ordinary lifestyle. For most of us in the West, however, it is hard to leave our lives in order to practice dharma. In fact, to do so could cause harm to our family and loved ones. So we have no alternative but to bring our dharma practice fully into our lives, which is just as valid an approach as leaving our life behind to practice dharma.

There are certainly times when you can leave your daily working life — times for learning and for personal retreats — but these events should not be the primary emphasis of your spiritual development. Such special occasions are opportunities to gain a clearer idea of how to practice and to find some perspective as you reflect upon how you are going to integrate practice into your life. But you should not depend on them to grow and achieve liberation.

A conflict may emerge for those of us who pay bills and have children and have an ordinary, beautiful life. We feel creative and self-motivated within our ordinary life. We also know the value of formal practice, yet that sometimes conflicts with family or job responsibilities. On top of that, we don’t even know if we are making progress in our practice, because we feel we are not doing it enough. Many times, with the pressures of daily life, we find ourselves saying “Oh, I didn’t do any formal practice at all last week. I am a bad practitioner. I committed to do this, and now I just dropped everything.” We feel bad about ourselves and our path.

So we end up with a big gap between the reality of our everyday lives and our formal meditation, and big gaps like this are a problem. Because we are consumed by the fact that we are not practicing enough, we don’t apply the antidotes we learned to counteract our habitual patterns. We don’t deepen our experiences of practice. Overall, we are uncertain how to judge the success of our meditation practice. We are not skillful enough to bring the practice into our lives and build a bridge between dharma and the challenges of everyday life, including the many relationships it involves.

To illustrate this gap, I give the example of a friend of mine who wants to have a loving relationship with her mother. Fighting and arguing between them has been a pattern for a long time. Since her mother is quite old, she wants to change this pattern of arguing. She is now determined to make a change. With this in mind, she plans for a wonderful time with her mother on a weekend visit, thinking “I’m going to try my best, take some time off, and spend quality time with my mother. We will go out for dinner and a movie. We’ll relax together and enjoy each other’s company.” On Friday, as she leaves work and drives out of the city, she encounters lots of traffic and arrives late. When she arrives, her mother opens the door with, “You’re late,” followed by, “Oh, what have you done to your hair?” That is just enough to awaken the old karma, the spontaneous manifestation of the same mother and the same daughter, and they are back in the same argument. Sparks fly.

GOD REALM

This experience shows that my friend was not really engaging deeply enough in her practice for the change she desired to spontaneously manifest. Intellectually, she wanted it to, but internally things hadn’t really changed. If they had, perhaps she could have responded to her mother’s comments with humour, exaggerating her comment and laughing. “Oh yeah, Mom, my hair. It’s very civilised all week, but come Friday it goes wild.” Some humour, something that changes the direction, is often all it takes. If her practice had ripened in her, or touched her as deeply as her mother’s comments had, she could make that shift. Or perhaps she would not even hear the comment. She would be focusing on putting her bag down and washing up rather than listening for and identifying herself entirely as a target for her mother’s comments.

If we were following the path of leaving daily life in order to practice dharma, perhaps we would be focused on renouncing negative emotions, such as anger. And certainly, if you don’t have anger, you’re not missing anything. But if you do experience anger, it doesn’t help to pretend it’s not there, or to suppress it. Rather, consider how you can give some space to it, because it is already in you, and cultivate its antidote, which is love. Then your anger can actually become the foundation for the achievement of wisdom.

One of the well-known practices in the Bön Buddhist tradition is called the six lokaspractice. While it is a formal meditation practice done on your cushion in a quiet setting, I introduce it because discussing it will help to address how each of us can work to have the results of our formal practice manifest in everyday life. According to the Bön tradition, the six lokas, or six realms, are the actual dimensions of suffering which make up samsara, or cyclic existence, and beings migrate from one to another of these realms through countless lifetimes. It is only through the attainment of buddhahood that one is free from this cycle of birth and death. The underlying cause of the suffering of all of cyclic existence — of each of these realms — is ignorance, or not recognising one’s true nature as open, clear, and perfected. Until you do, you are reborn in a realm if the root cause for that realm drives you as you transition through the bardo, or the stage between one life and the next.

Anger is the root cause to be born as a hell being; greed and attachment leads to the hungry ghost realm; ignorance and doubt are the seeds to be born in the animal realm; jealousy is the root cause of the human realm; pride results in the demi-god realm, and a balanced array of emotions in blissful self-absorption causes one to be born in the god realm. These emotions may be familiar to each of us as troublemakers in our everyday lives. Psychologically, from one moment to the next we may experience ourselves transitioning from one realm to another, driven by conflicting emotions. Certainly, as we look at our families, corporate organisations, and countries, we can observe each of these realms playing out as the various manifestations of human suffering. In fact, the human realm is an ideal place to work with these emotions, to cultivate their antidotes, and to recognise one’s true nature.

DEMI-GOD REALM

In this six lokas practice, the practitioner examines and reflects upon the causes and conditions of the various forms of suffering in cyclic existence. Through visualisation and mantra, the practitioner burns, clears, purifies, and overcomes the causes and results for each of the realms of suffering. Through this practice, we are reminded of the truth of impermanence, we deepen our compassion for the suffering of all beings, and we clear away the obstacles to realising our natural mind, which is Buddha.

Here is a simple description of how the practice works. If you are working with the purification of the hell realm, for example, where the suffering is caused by anger, you reflect deeply on the times in your life when you have acted or spoken driven by anger. You would then take refuge and rouse devotion in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; purify anger and the potential for anger to manifest in the future through a visualisation practice and mantra; and cultivate love, the antidote to anger.

Self-reflection on our negative actions of body, speech, and mind is essential to the practice. We can use the ten precepts — ten actions to be avoided and ten virtues to be cultivated — as a very useful guideline to support self-reflection by considering how we violate the precepts with our body, speech, or mind. For example, we may reflect upon our negative speech by thinking “Driven by anger I spoke harshly to my mother. I am aware of the suffering this action caused. In my spiritual development, changing that behaviour would make a difference.” The precepts allow us to be more definite in seeing and working with our negativity.

You could look at the ten actions to be avoided in relation to greed, the root cause for the suffering of the hungry ghost realm, as you seek to clear the causes and conditions of this realm of suffering. Look at your actions in the past, remembering those times when you were stuck in your version of the hungry ghost realm, feeling incomplete and empty and needing so much to be filled up. You may realise that you gossiped because of an underlying feeling of being inadequate and hungering for attention. Reflecting upon the suffering of yourself and others caused by this action and developing sincere remorse, you can now connect to your inherent open awareness.

This open awareness is represented by the Buddha, and is also at the very foundation of your being. When we take refuge, this is what we are truly taking refuge in. It is this open awareness that allows you to look very closely at the suffering that arises in your life due to being driven by greed and attachment. Then, after reflecting on the nature of greed and how the realm of the hungry ghost manifests in your life, and reflecting that countless others are suffering in this way, you apply the skillful means of visualisation and mantra. The causes and conditions of the suffering are penetrated, destroyed, and purified, and the antidote of generosity is cultivated.

As important as your hour session of meditation is — reflecting on the causes of the hell realm and cultivating the antidote of love, or reflecting on the greed of the hungry ghost realm and cultivating the antidote of generosity — the time when you really grow spiritually is when you are challenged in your life. You grow when your mother opens the door and greets you in that familiar way that invites you to either manifest the seeds of your anger or to exercise your awareness. In the same way that you build muscle when you lift weights, your wisdom muscle is built when you are challenged in life. The challenges are not easily found in a comfortable retreat setting. But they are certainly found in everyday-life settings.

In daily life, there are many times when we unexpectedly encounter problems, and we don’t always greet these encounters joyfully or with strength. Sitting on our meditation cushion is a good time to bring these situations to mind, and then to look directly at those encounters, with the support of our refuge in the Buddha as open awareness. In order to bring the fruit of practice into the realities of everyday life, it is important to look deeply and directly at yourself, to examine your actions of body, speech, and mind. The teachings and practices give you ways to overcome and transform negative emotions, so you can examine yourself with confidence. It is not the case that the closer you look the scarier it gets.

You also do not take this opportunity for reflection as a means to over-analyse your behaviour or to develop guilt. You look closely and directly because you feel like a warrior. You can look at your life with strength, with power, with motivation, and with a solution. Because you have a means to transform your life, you actually feel grateful when you can see your stuck places, rather than being fearful, overly intellectual, or guilt-ridden.

ANIMAL REALM

By looking closely with the bravery of a warrior, we can grow and transform the self that encounters issues and problems in life. We can shift from being driven by anger or greed or ignorance to abiding in the open space of awareness. We may discover that in this open space of awareness, the antidotes of love, generosity, clarity, openness, peacefulness, and joyful effort naturally and spontaneously arise.

If you are ripened through your practice, if you have allowed your practice to touch those places of weakness in you, when anger arises in daily life, you will not be driven by that anger. In the best case, anger becomes the fuel for the spontaneous expression of love or kindness, or at the very least, you may find some space to host that anger without being driven by it.

In order to love fully, you need to understand the wisdom of emptiness, which I often translate as openness. Openness is the ground of our being. But how do you actually become more open in the face of anger? I have clear advice: keep silent; don’t act. Usually we think acting out is a way of taking care of things when we are angry. “I really have to speak up about this!” Instead, create space by not acting. Give more time. You may think that not acting sounds too simple, but that is my advice. If you are able to give time, you will create space. If you are not able to give time, if you are not able to not act, you will have driven actions, driven speech, and driven thoughts, all of which result in the ten negative actions to be avoided. Instead, guide your actions, speech, and thoughts with the antidotes and with the ten virtues. Guide yourself rather than being driven by your emotions. To make this possible, you must give time, even though it is sometimes very hard. When people are angry, they have to do, do, do! How fast you feel the urge to act is often the clear message that it is not time to act. The thought “Now I have to act” is a clear message that you need to allow more time and space. And when you give space, you often make the amazing discovery that you don’t have to say or do anything. Have you felt that?

If your practice is ripened, awareness is spontaneous. If your practice is not that ripened, a little conscious effort is useful. When you reflect on your life, you try to prepare the causes and conditions for ripening. When you take personal time to practice, you build the foundation and reflect, so you are ready, or almost ready, to change something in your life. When a situation that challenges you arises, you apply a little extra effort to shift your behavior and make the change. Once things change, the benefit of change itself brings power to your awareness, and the next time a challenging situation arises, your awareness is stronger, and you need less effort to shift your behaviour. In this way you experience the completion or the result of your practice in your everyday life.

HELL REALM

The gap between the opening of your heart in your practice and seeing the fruit in results in your daily life is a very important gap to bridge. We have already discussed reflecting upon our challenges and bringing this reflection to the cushion, looking directly with open awareness at our emotions and conflicts. When we have developed our practice of reflecting with openness, we must keep creating bridges between our practice and our behaviour, so that we can make changes in our lives. Perhaps we experience love, but it is only half-ripened, and so a little encouragement to manifest that love would be nice. If you can manifest love in your kitchen or your workplace or with colleagues or with your family, if love can manifest in those particular situations where it seems necessary, that will be a practice. It is not a formal practice, but definitely it is a practice. I would give more credit to those times when you are conscious and aware even when you are challenged and pushed. In those cases, your spiritual muscles are exercised. When you pay attention to the difficult places and are able to shift them, that is great joy. You can see right in front of your eyes the areas where you have difficulty and the shifts you are able to make.

Perhaps as you have grown through your meditation practice, you have learned to be nice where otherwise you were not. Think of that as a practice, instead of thinking, “I missed my practice, my half-hour of sleepy meditation, this morning.” What is the big deal of missing that meditation when you have been kind to somebody in that difficult situation? Consider the success of your day rather than the failure of missing a session of practice. It is important to think, “Yes! I am practicing!” The idea of feeling guilty and inadequate because you are not on the cushion doing your silent meditation is not useful.

I’m not saying formal practice is not important. It is. But we can expand our notion of practice in order to bring the results into everyday life. If we look closely at our lives, we always have time to practice. Do I need to meditate quietly in order to create a little extra problem to work with? No, the long line for the security check at the airport is perfect. I can get agitated and manifest my six realms there — and in many other places — quite easily. In terms of the practice, that time is completely available to practice the virtues and the antidotes. That time becomes wonderful practice as you live your everyday life, conscious and working with the situations of life, and your formal practice supports you to make the changes that benefit you and others.

The biggest supernatural power is to find one’s own mistakes and correct them.

— Droge Yonten Gyatso Rinpoche

生活的藝術(四)
淨空法師

佛教傳到中國來,最早的時候在中國歷史上有記載的,大概在戰國時代就有往來,但是那是民間不是正式的,正式受中國朝廷帝王派特使去迎請到中國來是在公元六十七年,後漢明帝永平十年,那個時候漢朝的首都在洛陽。摩騰、竺法蘭兩位大德從西域隨同中國的使節來到中國,接受中國國家的禮遇接待,當時接待也像我們現在主管外交的這個部門來接待,那個時候國家主管外交的是直接歸皇帝管轄的,而不是歸宰相的。歸皇帝直接管轄的這些機構名稱就叫做「寺」,所以諸位要懂得寺的來源,稱之為寺。

寺的長官稱之為「卿」,古時候講的三公九卿,三公就相當於現在的國策顧問,那是皇帝的國策顧問,九卿是他底下辦事的一級單位的主管,那時候管外交是鴻臚寺。到了中國之後,跟中國朝野一接觸,佛陀教育我們一交談就非常歡喜。中國古時候,可以說中國的教育制度是漢武帝時候才真正建立,以儒家孔孟學說為教育的主流,這一直到滿清可以說都沒有改變。這個教育是歸宰相管的,所以宰相下面有個教育部,那時不叫教育部,叫禮部,部長稱為尚書,禮部尚書就是教育部長,主管國家的教育。

佛教育到中國來之後就歸皇帝直轄,直轄當然不能夠長住鴻臚寺,鴻臚寺是外交部,外交部是臨時招待外賓的。現在要把他留在中國不讓他回去了,希望他長住在中國,於是就再增設一個單位,再加一個寺,就是白馬寺,所以漢明帝下面的一級單位就變成十個。白馬寺是第一座佛寺,用現在話說,是佛教的教育部,是這麼一個性質,寺跟廟跟神完全不相干,你要懂得這個歷史。

當年到中國來,白馬寺的工作是什麼?是翻譯佛經,講解佛經,指導人修行,它做這個工作的,所以它是佛教的教學機構,跟宗教、神明完全不相干,我們要把寺的來源認識清楚。

我們還必須要把這個歷史的沿革認識清楚,印度這些高僧到中國來之後,諸位必須要曉得,不要說是在古代,就是在半個世紀之前,資訊交通沒有現在這麼方便,一個地方的居民往往鄰縣在一生當中都沒有去過,所以生活的圈子很窄小,正所謂「老死不相往來」,在從前社會確實是如此的,封閉的,於是要推行教育是一個很艱難的工作。中國古時候的人非常聰明、非常有智慧,《禮記.學記》裡面就說得很清楚,「建國君民,教學為先」。

建立一個國家,領導人民,什麼最重要?教育。我們古老的祖先都懂得,要教。要「作之君」,君是領導人;還要「作之親」,所以說父母官要把人民當作子女看待,親情;還要「作之師」,要做人民的老師。要具備君、親、師三個條件才能把國家治理好,社會帶到安定、繁榮、興旺。這個教育的理念、治國的理念一直到今天都是正確的。

古代的中國人民,由於接受傳統道德的薰陶,所以都懂得孝親、尊君,對於國家的領導人尊重,尊敬老師,所以社會能夠長治久安,中國歷史能夠綿延幾千年而沒有被淘汰,這是重要的一個因素。老百姓心目當中最尊敬的是皇帝,皇帝有幾個人一生能夠見過?所以見到皇宮的建築那已經就是非常的欣慰。

在古代,皇宮的建築,民間是不可以隨便模仿的,人民要到首都去看看皇宮,那就不是一樁容易事情。佛教育推行之後,皇帝接受佛教育,認釋迦牟尼佛為老師,老師所居住的房舍當然跟皇宮可以比美了,於是佛教的道場,佛教的辦事機構,分支出去之後,建築的形式統統模仿皇宮,於是皇宮這種建築就遍布在中國的民間。佛教育的成就、效果遠遠的超過宰相底下禮部所管的教育,所以佛教對中國文化的影響非常深遠,這個事實真相我們也要了解。

佛法的教學,它有原理、有原則,這是不變的,至於它教學的方式、手段那是千變萬化,沒有一定的,所以佛也在大乘經裡常說「佛無有定法可說」,它是非常活潑、圓融。要用現代話來講,它是懂得現代化與本土化,所以它能夠普度一切眾生,能夠利益九法界的眾生。

你看它到中國來了,並沒有用印度那個建築來建一個佛堂,它採取中國的建築,不採取印度的。印度高僧到中國來也穿中國的服裝,生活起居完全中國化,我們中國人跟他非常親切。如果他還執著他那種方式,那我們總覺得那是外國文化,格格不入,就困難了,這一點我們要深深去體會。所以佛教到中國來沒有多久,它的教化就能夠普遍深入到中國民間,塑佛菩薩像都塑中國人的面孔,我們一看很親切。

基督教在中國大陸,好像在民國四十年間,有一位基督教的傳教士,是個美國人,我們也很熟悉,我們也常在一起。他非常感慨的告訴我們,「中國人好像很難度化,基督教在中國有一百年的歷史,中國有幾億人口,基督教徒還不到一百萬人」。他跟我說這些話,好像中國人很難接受他們的教育。那個時候我還沒有學佛,還不懂得佛教,我要是懂得佛教,我就會告訴他。

以後學了佛之後,我明白了,基督教在中國為什麼不能像佛教這麼普遍?它不懂得本土化,它不懂得現代化,它一定要中國人去做外國人,這我們中國人辦不到。一定要中國人不愛祖宗去愛上帝,這個做不到,中國人做不到。中國人是你愛祖宗再愛上帝,這個聽得很歡喜,也合情合理。說不要祖宗要上帝,這中國人不行,不能接受。它不懂得本土化與現代化。建的教堂是外國的形式,我們一看,洋鬼子,就不願意進去。

如果佛教當年建的佛堂也是印度的方式,我們中國人就很難走進去,所以它建中國宮殿式的,哪個不願意進去?各個都願意,所以我們明白這個道理。早期到美國來弘法的這些法師,有幾位我認識的,我就勸他們,你們到美國建佛堂要建白宮的樣子,塑的佛像要塑美國人的樣子,表示佛教到美國了,他們一看是他本土的文化,自然就進來了,佛教到美國要度美國人。