by Tai Situ Rinpoche
Today at the request of Samye Ling, I will be talking about devotion. Devotion seems to be a rather easy term, or convenient, and rather easy to sometimes feel that you have devotion, or that you don’t have devotion. Then one can speculate, ‘why is it like this?’ But the devotion itself, when we really look into it, has many levels, and involves many things and many aspects. So, since we don’t have too much time, I will try to go through different particulars of devotion, and hopefully we will gain an overall understanding and picture of devotion as such.
I really don’t know where the English word ‘Devotion’ comes from. What is ‘De’ supposed to mean, what is ‘vo’ supposed to mean, what is ‘tion’ supposed to mean; so I really don’t know what it is. But I know the equivalent Tibetan words, which the English word ‘devotion’ is used for. So, according to that, of my understanding, which is definitely limited of course, but we will look at what I think the word ‘devotion’ is used to translate particular Tibetan words.
We have ‘Te-pa’, ‘Ngu-gu’ and ‘Te-pa, Ngu-pa and Ku-pa’, and these are what the word devotion is representing. So I will be talking about devotion based on what these terms mean to us. Even ‘Yi-chi’ might go into the same category, for which you might say ‘faith’ I think. Somehow all of that goes into the same area or category.
When we describe this, there are different kinds of devotion. For example; you are devoted to a particular course, or a particular person, or to particular things that you want. So, when we say ‘cause’, this means for others. ‘Person’, means whatever that person is, like the leader of that cause, or some particular person that fulfils your needs or whatever. Also, sometimes this devotion shifts. So, you have devotion to one person, or cause, or something of your own interest, and then after some time you change your mind. So, you are no longer devoted to that person, or that cause, or that personal interest, but for something else. You will have another person to whom you might be devoted, another personal interest, another cause. So, a person who changes a lot, always will change, it’s more likely, and a person who does not change a lot, does not change a lot. You see? So that is somehow the habitual pattern. This way there are many different kinds of devotion, as you see.
However, all the devotion, have one kind of vague, but overall characteristic, namely that you somehow are willing to put time, energy, or whatever towards that. Whether it is a common cause, or something that you really want for yourself, or a person who’s common cause you are willing to fulfil. So, you devote and dedicate your time. So, in this way, there are all kinds of ways in which your time and energy are dedicated. So, that is overall, vague, and superficial aspect of devotion.
For example, maybe I am wrong, but nowadays in this world people are very, very devoted to money. And they are willing to do anything – I can’t say anything but there are many people who will do anything, many who might do almost anything, and many who will anyway put a lot, to get money. So, they are devoted to money, but for influence, to be somebody for power. You see? So, there are others devoted to power. And, so this is another kind of devotion.
Then, we Buddhists, especially Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists are supposed to be totally devoted to Enlightenment. So, you are willing to do anything, to dedicate everything to attain Enlightenment or Buddhahood. So, we are dedicated… supposed to be… devoted to that.
When you look at devotion in this way, then you see the general picture. You are able to devote your time, your energy, your ‘face’ – you know what I mean by ‘face’? The ‘face’ means… hmm… o.k., generally people are supposed to be something, right? So, you don’t mind not being that. So, that is ‘face’, and normally in the world if you are not able to fulfil what you are supposed to represent, then you lose ‘face’… not only you but your parents, your great grandparents who died hundreds of years ago, and even the colour of your skin… you know… the race that you belong to loses ‘face’. But, when we are really devoted, then we don’t mind. Take Milarepa for example; he was from quite a well off family, you know, but for Enlightenment, he lived in a cave, instead of a house, and he just ate… what do you call this real irritating stuff… (Laughing) … nettles, yes… he ate that. And he had nothing, sometimes he didn’t even have clothes, and so he totally disregarded everything that is otherwise important. Because he is dedicated and devoted to his cause, the common cause of all sentient beings, to attain Enlightenment, and the personal cause of attaining the freedom and liberation. Also, to the master to whom he found this example, the Buddha, and the personal human being in whom he found this, his Guru Marpa. So, you can see the outcome of devotion – you are somehow devoted, and so can disregard other things. So, this is very strong and extreme way to look at devotion.
Now, the lighter side; that is when we go into a place, that is something very special, where somebody has done something very special, and we admire and are inspired. In this way, for a couple of minutes or hours, we feel devoted; we feel good, somehow a little bit high, and a sense of security. That is also in the family of devotion. So, it is there and we will say, “It was inspiring day…”, “It was moving situation…” So, that has some flavour of devotion there.
So, as we look at devotion as it is, we see these aspects. If we go a little further into the same subject, then we have to go beyond this, because whatever I have described does not happen on, its own you see? Any kind of devotion happens with many other conditions and circumstances. To be very rough, I should say, devotion happens because of compassion. And true devotion and true compassion are one. You cannot have true devotion and no true compassion, so we can consider them as two wings. If your devotion is deep, then naturally your compassion is deep. If you compassion is deep then naturally your devotion is deep. If either one is shallow then the, other is shallow too. So taking things a little bit deeper like this, we see that compassion is also the crucial thing.
So we get devoted to somebody who becomes an example for us, for the common cause, and personal interest. That then is our devotion. And how that person becomes that is because of their devotion you know? And since it’s for a common cause, it has to be mixed with compassion, right? If it is a personal cause, for me, then I have devotion for some body, for my personal cause. Then it also has to be mixed with compassion. So in this way, the cause and condition for devotion, is the devotion itself and the compassion. So the other side of the most important ingredient or conditions for devotion is compassion. That is one more thing then.
Now, when we look at worldly things, which many people are devoted to, and then the spiritual aspect to which people are devoted – what is the difference between the two? The difference is the depth of the motivation.
Some people can be very, very devoted to their power or their wealth, even just for the sake of having it. And some people ant to have power and wealth to abuse others, and that is really no compassion there. But normally that is considered evil. Means, well I don’t want to be rude or anything, but that means a little bit, you know, problem up there. If you have any capability and you want to make others suffer, just because you have the ability to cause suffering, then already something is wrong. Of course it is defilement, of course ignorance and all of that, but it goes a little bit beyond that. When you wanted to have lots of money and you wanted to have a comfortable life, that is worldly of course, but that is not bad. But, if you want to have it so you can exploit others and make them suffer, that’s quite rare, not too many actually, that’s the good news. That means something is very wrong, not only defilement wrong, crazy… I mean let’s say it… little bit mad. Mentally ill, and it’s the same with power. You wanted to have power, alright? Power to do good for others and to protect yourself so others can’t hurt you. You are master of your own life. You can help others overcome their undeserved problems.
You know every problem in the whole universe is undeserved problem. Because every sentient being is Buddha, so they deserved to be Enlightened. They don’t have any reason to be suffering in Samsara. Of course they create the karma, of course, but karma is also unnecessary to be created. So then going back; you really wanted to help others through your power, it is also Samsara, but it is good. Somebody who wants a lot of power to make everybody’s life miserable, that is, also sickness, craziness, and madness. It’s not defilement. It’s more than that. It is so defiled it becomes, you know, mental problem.
Now we put that a little bit aside, the sick ones. The mental problem type of worldly devotion for one’s power and money, and so on, we put in a different category. Then all the others, who are not trying to be Enlightened, who are not trying to be liberator of every single sentient being like Buddha; but just ordinary people who are devoted to wealth, power, face… I think you Westerners too, but we Asians re very much looked at by people, or very worried about the ‘face’. Maybe in the West it is more sophisticated, more hidden ‘face’, but still there, very strong. Anyway, this also involves some kind of compassion there, because your heroes to whom you aspire, they’re your example. So, you devote your time and energy to doing certain things because somebody has done it and they are your example. So, they have done good things. They had power and helped people, they had wealth and they have done lots of good things. That way, some level of compassion is also involved there. So your inspiration involves somehow what has been done for others. So, compassion is there.
But, by definition of Samsara, it is something for just this life, right? You do it and become somebody, and you might be sitting right next to the one who’s, example you followed. So you do it just for one life. Dharma, however is for all life, and for the end of devotion, and the effort of Dharma goes very far, forever actually. Until you become Enlightened and what your Enlightenment will be all about and for whom. So in this way it is very far reaching. The worldly things are very short distance and then after one dies, best thing one could be is have a bronze statue look-a-like, but little bit oversized always, and sometimes people can admire and sometimes people can knock down. So that is how far you can reach; sometimes just statue of the head… oversized head, yes… that is the worldly sort of, if you really are devoted and really make it. Then you will be like that.
Anyway, both involve the similar things. The depth is different. Real motivation have depth or not, that is the difference. Otherwise they involve the same kind of ingredients, the same kind of material. Now, we see, in this way, roughly what devotion really means in one certain way, and what the devotion is, namely devotion itself and compassion. So that is one level.
To go a little bit further into this, the devotion and compassion are both coming from understanding the relevantness of you and everyone else, including Buddha, from heaven to hell, and you. The relevantness, the connection between everything that is, actually the real heart of the devotion and compassion. If you are relevant to Buddha…, and Buddha is relevant to you, then there is a base for the compassion and devotion. If not, then there is no basis, but there is connection. It is relevant. When Buddha says, “May I attain Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings,” that includes all of us, right? And it includes all sentient beings, not just humans, all beings. So it is relevant. When we say, “May I attain Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings,” then every single sentient being is relevant. Now, right now, my problem, and my suffering, and my qualities, and my happiness is relevant to everyone else. And their suffering, and their ignorance, and their happiness, and their wisdom is relevant to me. The same thing with every single person. The connection is even there physically. How? Buddha says in the sutra, “Every single sentient being has been our mother, our father, our brother, our sister, and everything else,” – everything… name it. So every sentient being has been everything to everyone of us. Not one time, countless times. So that is our connection. This life, everybody has parents, and friends, and enemies, and some people make one very happy, others make one miserable, and all of that is there regardless of how strong or weak, it is there. So in some way, everyone has been everything to everyone. In that way, it is not just relevant, but it is involved; we’re all involved with everyone… you see? There isn’t one single sentient being in the whole universe that each one of us isn’t involved with. And with everything you can think of… good things… bad things…so, so… everything. So in this way everyone is relevant to everyone, including Buddha. So we have been Buddha’s brothers, sisters, father, mother, you know, everything. Countless times. Buddha is not excluded you see? In this way we are connected to every single sentient being and they are all connected to us. So in this way, the devotion and compassion develops and derives from that.
Also, just in this life, for example, the compassion and devotion, it is also relevant, because if you see somebody suffering, you will have compassion, if you see the relevantness. What is the relevance? I’m not saying that… ‘Oh my brother or sister is suffering,’ not like that… even not think like that, even just straight forward, you know, I’m just born and will just die, and that’s it, no beginning, no end… fine… absolutely fine… still you look at somebody suffering, and if you are a sensitive, kind, clear minded, considerate, mature person, then it is relevant. Because, if you are that person, and that person is you, how would you feel? If you are that person, and they are you, just come across you and even smile at you… how do you feel? You see? So that relevantness you see in yourself. So you can feel what it’s like to be in another’s shoes, and then you feel compassion.
And devotion is also the same thing. Because you see somebody who has done a lot, who’s Enlightened, like Buddha, then you put yourself in Buddha’s place and feel Buddha’s compassion to all sentient beings, including you. And you feel Buddha’s dedication and devotion and effort for countless lifetimes to attain Enlightenment, so you develop devotion to Buddha. Then you sense and know what it takes, and the admiration, the faith, the trust, the compassion, and the concern comes naturally. Like this, the compassion and devotion is involved with the relevantness of you and everyone else, you to Buddha, to Bodhisattvas, to all sentient beings. This way you’re in the middle and you are involved. That is the devotion and that is compassion.
Now, there are so many different levels and different aspects to it, so of course we have to remember that though we have dealt with quite a few things here, this is nothing as far as actually what it is. There is so much more, so let’s go a bit deeper.
Okay. The true compassion and true devotion of your level, of my level, of somebody else’s level, is the personal level of maturity. Intellectually you can speed things up, you can slow things down, you can magnify things, you can miniaturise things, you can do all kinds of tricks. But, trick is a trick; it is not real. On what level of compassion, what level of devotion that you have, is according to your true maturity. And what level of compassion and devotion you would like to have, is you inspiration. And what level of compassion and devotion you act out, is your expertise. This way, the true devotion and true compassion that is really within each one of us, is our level of maturity on the way to liberation, or Enlightenment; that’s as far as Lord Buddha’s teachings will say. So this is our real maturity. Maybe that might sometimes be more than it appears, sometimes less than it appears. Sometimes we can act much more advanced than our self, sometimes we are not a very good actor, so we really under act. So there is overacting and under acting, but I wouldn’t say anybody under acts intentionally… very seldom, very seldom… unless sometimes there is vested interests… (laughing). Anyway, anyway, the true compassion and devotion, where we are, is our own level.
Sometimes people come to me and tell me they have lots of compassion but no devotion. Sometimes they say they have lots of devotion and no compassion. And other times they say they have both so much they don’t know how to handle… (lots of giggling)… and it drives them crazy, that’s what they say sometimes. And sometimes they’ll say they don’t have any at all. Well, I mean, all of these could be true, could be untrue, you can never tell. And anyway, where we are, is where we are regardless of if we overplay or underplay. It doesn’t make much difference.
Then another thing is to talk about what would be the practical level of devotion and compassion that we in this life can try to reach. That means… a level of compassion and a level of devotion that is true and correct and that will not be stained that will not be lost easily. That is what we should be looking forward to establishing in this life. We Tibetans say a lot about ‘fear of death’. And fear of death means one single thing… because after we die we don’t know what is our next life, we don’t know. Therefore in this life, while we know what we are, and while we remember things that we know, then we do our best to secure it. That is the definition of ‘fear of death’. It doesn’t mean 24 hours you have to be afraid of dying. You go crazy, quite soon actually, if you think like that. It means, use this life meaningfully and value every moment of living time. This time we know we are human beings, quite clear. Therefore instead of taking for granted, and loosing or wasting the time, we do our best to use the time in this life. So that is actually the ‘fear of death.’
This means in this life we have to secure our future. Okay, how best we can secure our future based on compassion and devotion is this…. In this life, if we recognise the essence of our mind, which is the embodiment of compassion and embodiment of devotion, which is most relevant to all the Buddhas and all the Bodhisattvas, and all the sentient beings; if we are able to recognise this in this life, then we are secure. Why? Because, we recognise our nature of mind one time, that will be forever. There is no such thing that you recognise your nature of mind clearly and you have forgotten. You see?
In this way, it is this kind of effort we should put to develop our compassion towards all sentient beings, to develop our devotion towards all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and the masters of the lineage. This is the ‘nature of mind’, the Buddha essence which is the essence of all of us. Of course, the recognition can mean many things. First intellectually recognising, second you just have a glimpse of experience. All of this is not really true recognition. After going through all of that then you finally come home, you see? You finally confirm your ultimate essence, and have realisation of that, the first step of realisation of that. That is little bit before the first level Bodhisattva, but not too far away. In the neighbourhood of first level Bodhisattva. If we are able to recognise and realise the nature of mind, then that should be the kind of aim that we can and should pursue in this life.
If that happens, then all future lives are always better. Even if that realisation doesn’t happen though, of course we shouldn’t worry too much. Because I totally believe, and this is according to the Dharma…. We did not come here by accident. You are where you are right now is not by accident. It happened because you have all the cause, all the conditions to manifest as you are. And if you have done your best in this life with this manifestation, why should your next life become worse, why? See? So in this way, if you have done your best in this life, which definitely you have done in your past life, then your next life will be slightly better or the same. That way we shouldn’t be obsessed by the fear of death. Although not to waste this life is important, we will not be worse in the next life by accident because we are not here in this life by accident.
So in this way, I don’t think we should be desperate about it, but then 100% security of successful passage to Enlightenment is through attaining the realisation of the nature of mind. But one should never misunderstand that for Buddhahood. Buddhahood is very different from that. Recognising the nature of mind is, I think, I should say, you just joined the kindergarten. Yes, then after that Enlightenment is guaranteed. I mean, every sentient beings Enlightenment is guaranteed in principle, but somehow, if you recognise the nature of mind, you will not fall back into the lower realms unless you intentionally wanted to be born to help sentient beings, then that will happen. But, it will not happen by karma though, because all the negative karma of all previous lives is purified in that moment of you recognising you nature of mind. Because there is no Ultimate karma, and so all the negative karma will be purified in that moment.
From there to the first level of Bodhisattva is quite close anyway, that would be the ideal realisation that we can and should pursue in this life and if not, then we should pray that it will be in the next life. So that is the highest or deepest we can go about compassion and devotion. After that you become embodiment of compassion and embodiment of devotion, so it is not really worth talking, you see?
Now I think we see roughly the definition of devotion and compassion, based on devotion, quite clearly. I hope this is beneficial for you.
Now I’d like to share with you one example. This is my favourite example of devotion. It is little cynical so watch out! But, really very special for me and this really, truly helped me to truly understand devotion in many ways. It’s a story about a great yogi, Drukpa Kunleg. You know he’s an Enlightened person, a great siddha, but he’s very mischievous. So one day he came to a beautiful temple… and I think temple should be like this you know, very beautiful, lots of gold, lots of wonderful things, nice alter and everything, and Buddha image is sitting there, wonderful one. But he is, with due respect, dressed and appearing quite terrible. He always looked like that, never wished etc. etc. Definitely not wearing a robe and very dirty, and I think you can image the worst. So he came into the shrine very disrespectfully, really disrespectfully, and walked right up to the alter and staring at Buddha, not even bowing. And he stood there for a long time staring at the Buddha. Then he said four sentences.
He said; “Long time ago you and I are the same, you are diligent, therefore you got Enlightened. (T.S. you know, sort of made it) I am lazy therefore I’m still wandering around, therefore, I bow to you.”
Then he behaved himself. Then he respectfully did three prostrations to the Buddha. After long staring. You know, it’s like a very old friend that you have been, you know fooling around, and all of a sudden that old friend made it, and you’re still running around. And one day you come to the palace of the old friend. So how would you behave… something like that.
So that is the truth. Buddha is nothing less and nothing more than one of us, same. But Buddha, because of the compassion is Enlightened 2,500 years before us. We, because obviously, slightly maybe having too much good time, I don’t know, but anyway, staying behind. So the devotion to the Buddha comes from exactly the Buddha’s deed. What Buddha is, and also relevantness of Buddha and us. So Drukpa Kunleg bowed to Buddha because he knows that Buddha’s compassion includes him also. So therefore it is relevant.
So this is a very important example for me, because in our society, our culture, devotion is very natural, just part of the family, part of the culture, part of the society. Very much like, if I’m not mistaken, in your society many things like that are, quite natural, maybe not the devotion, but many other things. You don’t have to put any effort it’s somehow built in. The culture becomes almost embodiment of certain things. So like that, the devotion is built in to our society and very natural. But when I come to the West where devotion and compassion have to be explained, it is difficult, because something you always had quite naturally as part of your life, and then somebody asks you about it, because you never thought about it. So you have to really say a lot and be adequate so many times to be more adequate. So in this way, for me, my understanding of devotion or feeling of devotion was there, but Drukpa Kunleg’s example shows me very clearly how to explain it. So that is one thing.
Then another area there, and this is an ordinary Tibetan saying, just worldly saying. But it also says a lot. For example, compassion and devotion is actually honour, isn’t it. If you are an honourable person, with principle, with clarity, you stick to your word, you stick to your commitment, and if you have that kind of grounding, then naturally good things happen. Even some circumstances very, very bad, you can handle it. We have a saying, maybe you will get shocked, but I will say it anyway. “Instead of being a friend with a dishonourable friend, it is better to be a friend with an honourable enemy.”
So this means, even you have an enemy, you know bad things; enemy supposed to harm you and hurt you. That is what enemy is for…(laughing)… but, an honourable enemy does not do that you see. Honourable enemy, if you are close to them, they will take care of you, because now you are being close, no more enemy, right?
Dishonourable friends will pull you apart. So even though friends are supposed to take care of you, honourableness is the most important thing. I think true devotion and compassion also builds on the honour and dedication with honour, which then give us another aspect of devotion.
So this much is enough for us today. Anyway, if you are a Buddhist, it is extremely precious to have the devotion to Buddha, and to you common cause to be Enlightened for the benefit of all, and to the living lineage which represents the Buddha, all the way up to now, and all the way in the future. And have that pure as possible is extremely important. On top of that, the other side is pure compassion, but if you have pure devotion, if you are totally devoted to attain Enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings, then compassion is just there.
So I think the purpose of any of us trying to learn about this is to attempt to develop that. Not so much develop by putting special effort for compassion or devotion, I really don’t know there is such. But to be more honourable, more sincere, more clear in your mind and devote to Buddha and Enlightenment for what it is. And to be compassionate to all sentient beings for what it is. And you have it because of the relevantness of what you are and what they are, and the connection between you and them, between Buddha and sentient beings. So in this way it will happen naturally.
Okay, let’s dedicate the merit now.