无常与无我
希阿荣博堪布

在不乏痛苦的人生面前,如果我们就此放弃希望、垂头丧气,那未免太愚蠢。对痛苦进行观察和思考之所以有意义,是因为我们有可能、有希望从痛苦中解脱出来。

佛陀宣讲苦谛,目的是让我们认识轮回中生命存在的痛苦本质。对痛苦的了解越深入、越全面,我们就越被激励着去实践离苦得乐的方法。

痛苦和快乐不是凭空而来,它们都有各自形成的原因和条件。

佛陀说,一切痛苦的根源在于我们长期以来对自身及外部世界根深蒂固的误解,执幻为实。

万事万物皆依赖各种内在和外在的条件而生灭,因此不具固有性、恒常性,用佛教的术语说,即无我和无常。

无常并非佛陀的发明,他只是指出了一个显而易见却总是被人忽视的事实。

时间刹那不停地流逝,冬去春来,花开花谢,人有悲欢离合,月有阴晴圆缺,万事万物都在变化之中,这就是无常。无常乃事物普遍具有的性质,可是人们往往要到迫不得已的时候,突然遭受变故、生病、别离,才会去注意它的存在,所以人们误认为是无常带来了痛苦,而实际上造成痛苦的不是无常,而是对无常的恐惧。

克服这种恐惧有两个办法,一是熟悉无常,二是了解恐惧无常的原因。

大概很多人都有过类似的体验:越是怕一个东西,就越不敢看它,越不敢看它就越害怕。人们与无常的关系就是这样。如果能转过身来,面对面地好好端详一下,会发现无常并不像想象的那么可怕。倘若没有无常,离别的人就永远没有相聚的机会,生病的身体就永远不可能痊愈,黑夜永远等不到白天,低落的心情永远快乐不起来。这样的世界不是很糟糕么?

经常地观察自己和周遭的人事变迁,会让我们熟悉并逐渐接受无常。我们不再想方设法减少脸上的皱纹,为日渐松垮的小腹发愁,为离别而心碎,对成败耿耿于怀。我们终于开始学会冷静理性地看待生命之流变,意识到不是只有自己在失去、在衰老、会生病、经历挫折、没有安全感。每个人的生活都充满变化起伏,有得有失,这是普遍的,也是自然的。

熟悉无常令我们的内心真正放松而开阔,另一个好处是我们因此更加珍惜人生,懂得佛法修行的意义。

虽然我们常说人生苦短,但心里真实的感受却是来日方长,要做什么事情,以后有的是机会,急什么?人们总是认为无常离自己很远,不要说旁人的生离死别与自己无关,就算是自己遭遇重大变故,比如罹患疾病、亲友去世,也很难从根本上改变对无常这个基本事实的习惯性忽视。正在麻将桌上的人们,不会因为身旁电视里正在播放的地震灾难的镜头而停止围城酣战。疾病康复的人们很少因为曾经经历的病痛和危险,而认识到自己倾尽全力去追求的名利对生命来说其实没有太大意义。与之相比,内心的平和富足、亲情友情、慈善助人的行为等对自己更有帮助,更容易产生幸福感。

我们是一群得了严重健忘症的人。受苦受难、哭天抹泪、心灰意冷,全架不住健忘,一转眼功夫,又哪儿热闹往哪儿赶。不是说大家不能积极乐观,而是在乐观的同时应该意识到人生何其脆弱、短暂。我们的身体逐年衰老,终将死亡,在生与死之间还有疾病和各种事故的侵扰,一生当中可以用来积累福慧资粮、追求解脱的自由时间并不多,而我们却把这宝贵的人生浪费在琐碎、无聊的事情上,努力想去维持正在不断消逝的事物,甚至为此造下恶业。

当人生走到尽头,除正法外,什么都帮不了你。纵然富有四海,也带不走一针一线;位高权重,也带不走一奴一仆,就连最为珍爱、精心保护的身体也不得不舍弃。那时,唯有恶业对你有害,除此以外哪怕整个世界都与你为敌,他们也无法向你射出一支寒光闪闪的箭。

我们不喜欢无常,因为它总在试图向我们传达另一个让人深感威胁的信息:任何事物包括我们自己在内都是“无我”的,都没有永恒、固有、实存的性质。事物皆观待因缘而生灭。

因缘是指促成事物形成的各种物质及非物质条件。因缘具足就会产生现象,因缘缺乏现象就不会产生,因缘变化则现象变化,因缘消失则现象消失。这就是我们通常说的缘起。“此有故彼有,此无故彼无,此灭故彼灭。”

因为事物都是缘起的,不可能恒常不变,也不可能有一个不需要条件而自生自有、完全独立的“自我”。这彻底打破了我们对安全感的幻想,多么令人绝望!

然而,像无常一样,无我也只是事物普遍具有的性质,它本身不好也不坏,只是因为人们坚持认为事物是固有、实存的,并且认为只有这样,人生才有立足点,才会幸福,所以极力抗拒“无我”的观点。

的确,不要说体悟无我,就算在概念上初步理解“无我”,都是一件极为困难的事。我们以及我们周围的万事万物不是明明存在么,我们有各自的身体、思想,我不是你,你不是他,桌子、墙、水,都看得见摸得着,怎么会无我呢?

龙树菩萨在《中论》、寂天菩萨在《入行论》的智慧品中,对无我进行了完整、详尽的阐述。这里,我们只结合现代人的日常生活,对无我的观点作一个简单的介绍。

认为事物具有稳定性、持久性,是一种错觉,若加以分析,就会明白其中的谬误。拿我们自己来说,我们是为了方便指事和沟通,才说“我”、“自己”,其实找不到一个固有、实存的“我”。

如果说肉体是我,那么减肥之后,我是不是就不完整了,不再是原来的我了?若如此,那有一部分“我”去哪里了呢?实际上,减肥之后,我们觉得自己当然还是原来的自己,不但没有缺损,反而更加完美。肉体无论是增加还是减少,也就是说,无论是一个胖的身体还是一个瘦的身体,我们都认为那是“我”,那么“我”就是可变的,可变的事物不具有永恒性,而是随着外部条件及内在成分的改变而时刻变化。既然时时在变,哪里还有一个实存的我呢?可见,以肉体为我,不过是一种幻觉。

如果血液、体液、内分泌物是我,那么每次出汗、流泪是不是“我”都在变小?如果张三的血液就是张三,那么当他向李四输血后,根据血液是“我”的假设,新输入的血液就是李四,而这些血液来自张三,前面说了,张三的血液就是张三,这么一来,岂非李四就是张三了?从另一方面来说,同样的血液,既能在张三体内流淌又能在李四体内流淌,恰恰说明血液不是“我”。构成人体的地、火、水、风四大因素都可以如法炮制加以分析。

其实,得出“身体不是我”的结论并不难。

看看以前的照片,那个被人抱在手里,还没长牙,只知道傻笑的小孩真的是我吗?那个我到哪儿去了?如果那个是我,现在看照片的这个人又是谁?

一般来说,一个人的身体,作为处于连续不断、无穷无尽的逐渐变化中的聚合体,会存在几年、几十年或者上百年,而思想、情绪、感受等心识却是念念生灭,更不具常一性。

如果身体不是我,刹那变化的心就更不可能是我了。然而,无我并非断灭。生命是前后相似相续,非断非常的。

现在的“我”与过去的“我”,固然早非一事,却又相续不断。何以故?因果不虚也。生命的迁流可以理解为一系列前后传递的因果关系。在前的肉体和精神的行为影响在后的行为,每一状态的生起都依赖之前的状态,生生不息,变化不止。死亡不过是一种比较深刻的变化而已。因果的传递不会因为死亡而终止。

人是无我的,物也是无我的。

自然科学的发展让无我的概念更易于理解了。所有物体都可以一再分解,由分子、原子、质子、中子、电子等佛经上称为微尘的东西组成。这些微尘根据一定的结构、比例关系不停地高速旋转、运动,所划出的运动轨迹被人们误认成实在的物体。

就像夜晚手拿一支点燃的香快速划圈,会看见一个光环,而光环并不实存,只是香头划出的轨迹在视觉上产生的错觉。

如果把人体放到显微镜下观察,会发现常人眼中执为实有的这个身体消失了,变成水、钙、磷、铁等矿物质,各种气体及碳水化合物等。若进一步调大显微镜的倍数,上述这些物质又消失了,变成一堆分子。分子再分解,就出现原子,如此无止境地分解下去……

大乘佛教中观派的著作中对此作过详尽的论述,认为常人看似实有的东西与虚空无二无别。

当然现代物理学的发展还没有最终印证这个观点,佛教内部也存在不同见解,但不管怎样,到目前为止的科学研究成果已具有足够说服力,使人们相信没有实存、常一的我,即使物质分解到最后不是虚空,而是有一个终极微小的物质单位,这个单位也不可能是“我”,否则,每个人身体里都会有数不清的“我”,而同时“我”也存在于空气、水、泥巴里,这样又回到开头的问题:如果有实存的我,那么哪个是我?

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You can sit without lying down from the moment you’re born, but when you die, you’ll lie down, never again to sit. How could you build a solid practice on a set of stinking bones?!

— Venerable Hui Neng

Exploring the Garden of Our Consciousness
by Thich Nhat Hanh

As we develop our skills as master gardeners of our consciousness, we become deeply aware of how the quality of our lives is influenced by the seeds that have been watered. Everything that affects our consciousness enters metaphorically as a seed. The master gardener serves as gatekeeper and protector of the mind’s awareness.

Seeds refer to all the emotions and qualities that enter our awareness and get stored in our consciousness. Using this awareness, think of a typical day. What seeds or feelings are you allowing to enter your awareness through the media, the people in your life, and your everyday conversations? For parents and those who tend to the well-being of others, how do we protect the precious potential of the human gardens in our care?

Previous generations cultivate life’s seeds and pass them on through interactions with family, friends and the world around them. From the time we’re born, these seeds are nourished. They grow through every interaction and transform through mindfulness in every season of our lives. A grandmother’s happiness watered the seed of happiness in her daughter, who in turn nourishes that seed in her unborn child. A grandfather’s anger watered the same seed in his son, who continued with his own children. The process of sowing, watering, nourishing and cultivating the seeds of consciousness is an integral part of the life cycle supporting a healthy or unhealthy lineage. Mindful parents learn to rely on being happy and peaceful, transmitting the best gift we can give to our children. Like all living things, seeds go through cycles of birth and death. A cherry pit has the potential to produce a cherry tree — and eventually more fruit and seeds. All seeds require the proper conditions to manifest, just as a garden needs nutrients in order for plants to grow. Master gardeners apply their skills to the seeds that need watering (loving-kindness, joy, compassion and equanimity) and the seeds to be transformed (anger, fear, jealousy and doubt) to develop a beautiful garden.

Through the seed metaphor, we can deeply explore some of the causes and conditions that influence personal growth and development. “Seed language” is comparable to developmental psychology, which centers on the characteristics and changes that occur with time and maturity. Among the various lexicons used to describe relationships, seed language offers an overview similar to the “love languages” popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman. He suggests that each person has their own “language” to demonstrate love including words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. In a similar way, using a Buddhist paradigm, learning which seeds to water in ourselves and how to selectively water those seeds in others is the basis of understanding and love.

Mind and Store Consciousness

Our store consciousness, or the subconscious mind, is everything below the soil; our mind consciousness is everything above the soil. The garden illustrates the concept of the seeds being below the soil, in the store consciousness, and the flowers and weeds being above the soil, in the mind consciousness. Whatever we experience is a manifestation of our awareness of the present moment filtered through our mind consciousness. For example, this spring I was sitting on the shoreline of a small pond in a park, and I jotted down everything I was aware of: I am aware of the blossoming trees, the warm sun on my back, and a variety of sounds, sights and smells. I stop and take a few breaths. I am aware of a cacophony of birds and the sound of a meandering stream cascading down some rocks in the distance. I am aware of some chatter and movement in the bushes behind me of small birds rustling through the dried leaves. The radiating sun warms my body.

Mind consciousness is present-moment awareness — this is a beautiful day. Occasionally my mind drifted to happy experiences in my childhood, like playing in nature. In that intimate moment, I was aware of my thoughts, feelings, body, and the story I was creating about the moment, including how quickly I reflected on similar stories or experiences from the past. The environment and my peace of mind activated memories in my store consciousness, which is also known as the root consciousness — an appropriate name to represent the place where all the seeds are stored in our garden.

Seeds of Suffering and Seeds of Love

Seeds of consciousness fall into two distinct categories — seeds of love and seeds of suffering. Consider what happens when we witness or experience someone’s anger, hatred, violence, abuse, jealousy or craving. The behavior is first noted in our mind consciousness. Immediately thoughts, feelings and perceptions arise and cause us to create a mental formation or story. We then experience this story in our mind consciousness — the part of the garden that we see — which simultaneously triggers a response in our store consciousness, underground. When the “seeds of affliction” are experienced or watered, our typical response is to avoid or suppress them by pushing them deep into the store consciousness. The same holds true when the seeds of love are experienced or nurtured. We don’t suppress them, but we do allow them to take root in our store consciousness. Thus we must become aware of and water the positive seeds of love and embrace and transform the negative seeds and afflictions that have been suffered.

Over the years, my experience as a prison volunteer has taught me how the seeds of affliction can dramatically impact a person’s life and happiness. In the prison I visit, one of the inmates (JR) is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole. Living in the small Intensive Management Unit with nearly twenty other inmates, he is constantly bombarded by the collective seeds of suffering that have been planted in the store consciousness of his “cellies.” During his own early years, the seeds of suffering — primarily anger, jealousy, fear, hate and violence — were watered by an abusive family, alcohol and drug abuse, and numerous attempts to assert himself in destructive ways. The soil and conditions for his life were already primed at an early age. Unlike this inmate, some children grow up in a family where love abounds and where they are nurtured and held by parents who recognize the importance of positive interactions for their beloved child. The seeds of joy, love, compassion and peace are visible in such families. Every smile is a celebration, every cry an opportunity for compassion, and the overall home environment is peaceful. Family and friends support this child in loving ways. At school she is surrounded by other loving people who truly see her as a miracle and fortify her positive attributes or seeds. Her parents take time to “be” with her and convey that she is valued and important. It is easy to imagine what this child’s life will be like as she grows and learns. With such an upbringing, she will be less inclined to stealing, violence and/or self-medicating to avoid the pain of life. Despite the horrific life my prison friend experienced, he writes to me and shares that his mindfulness meditation practice has been a saving grace, a refuge to cope with the ongoing violence and verbal assaults that take place in the prison environment.

He continues to transform the seeds of affliction on a daily basis through his meditation and understanding of how to cultivate the garden of his consciousness. In a recent letter, he wrote, “Cultivate peace in the garden of your heart by removing the weeds of selfishness and jealousy, greed, anger, pride and ego. Then all will benefit from your peace and harmony.”

I often pause to reflect on the seeds that have been watered to lead me to this place in time, in which I have the opportunity to share these ideas. Likewise, I have learned through my own difficulties the importance of transforming the seeds of affliction that arise from my store consciousness. In every moment, I recognize that I have choices regarding the people with whom I interact, the materials I read, the programs I watch on television and video, and the music I play. As every master gardener knows, you must tend to your own garden to have the skill to tend those around you.

If you were to gather all the glory, enjoyment, pleasure and happiness of the world and put it all together, it would not approach one tiny fraction of the bliss that you experience upon realising the nature of mind.

— Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche

禅心
星云大师

一般佛教徒大都喜欢到寺院参禅。什么是禅呢?所谓「禅」,平常心是禅,花开花落是禅,人生人死也是禅;把对待泯除,把分别丢弃,不可说有,不可说无,所以禅离语言文字,不假思惟、分别,在那个时候,才有一些禅意。

禅是言语道断,禅是不按牌理出牌的一种超越人生思想的境界。禅不是哲学、辩论,禅也不是一种思惟、探讨;禅是一种通过悟道,对宇宙人生有另外的一种看法,另外的一种安排。禅可以说是我们的心,是一种心之用;心悟道了,禅在心上自然发出一种另外的功用。兹将「禅心」述说如下:

一、在受苦的时候,感到快乐:一般人在世间上,都会有生老病死的苦、爱别嗔会的苦,或者是大自然、社会,甚至政治迫害加之给我们身体或人格上的痛苦;但是一个真正的禅者,他的看法和修养,就不是一般人的模样。须菩提甘愿被外道打死,飞锡禅师把生死当作游戏,普化禅师以游四门与人开玩笑的方式告别人间,德普禅师令弟子办斋祭祀,在享罢祭祀之后怡然长辞。生死是最苦的事,禅者在最苦的事上能够嬉。

二、在委屈的时候,觉得公平:人生在遭受冤枉委屈的时候,都会感到痛不欲生,但是禅者被冤枉,受了委屈,都是心平气和。像舍利弗被佛陀批评他受不净食,舍利弗即刻将所食之物吐出,并对自己的粗心大意,诚心感谢佛陀的教导;寒山大师被误会挪用国库的公款整修寺院,因此放逐边疆,寒山大师神色自若向师友告假,宛然要到远方旅行。神秀大师本来已是五祖弘忍的首座,但半路杀出六祖惠能,神秀禅师仍然欢喜承担,尤其在北方指导禅法时,一样赞叹南方的惠能,如果他不是在禅修的过程中得到平等心,何能有这么豁达的表现呢?

三、在忙碌的时候,仍然安闲:过去的禅者,并不是每天只图安然,不做事情;一个禅者,能忙能闲,甚至在闲中能忙,忙中能闲。真正的禅者,禅堂里一坐数小时,下坐以后,田里的春耕秋收,一样的晨昏作息。有的禅者悟道以后,仍然讨单典座,有的请求服务耘田,像临济栽松、云门担米、仰山牧牛、赵州扫地、云岩作鞋、丹霞除草,他们把忙闲打成一片,所以生活一切皆是禅也。

四、在受责的时候,知道慈悲:临济义玄禅师在黄檗禅师座下参学三年,前后请问三次,三次都挨了打。后来到江西请谒大愚禅师,经大愚指点:「黄蘖禅师对你是老婆心切,他是大慈大悲啊!」临济一听,彷佛打破虚空、拨云见日一般,豁然大悟。一般人受到责备,就会心生怀恨,但是禅师们反而感谢师长的慈悲教导,所以才能在禅门更上一层楼。参禅有什么用?禅就是开悟,只要一开悟,你在生死的边缘没有生死,你在寒暑的时候没有冷热,你在荣辱的当头感觉平常,你在生活中处处都有禅悦法喜,这就是禅者的自在解脱。

If Dharma practitioners are holy, it follows that wherever they go they leave in their wake an increase in faith and compassion, a diminishing of sectarianism and emotionalism, and beings who are more gentle and relaxed.

When faith, respect, and compassion diminish, when sectarianism, factionalism, and negative emotions increase, and when beings therefore become coarser — given to argumentation, lies, and strife — these are signs that someone has been a worldly influence.

— Jetsun Taranatha

The Distortions We Bring To The Study of Buddhism
by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Transplanting anything from a foreign culture is a difficult process which may corrupt what is being imported. Buddhism is certainly no exception; in fact, among imported foreign goods, dharma is perhaps the most prone to corruption. Initially, to understand dharma even on an intellectual level is not at all simple. Then once we have some understanding, to put dharma into practice is even more subtle, because it requires that we go beyond our habitual patterns. Intellectually, we may recognise how our narrow-minded habits have brought about our own cycle of suffering, but at the same time we may also be afraid to engage wholeheartedly in the process of liberating these habits of ours.

This is cherishing of ego. For even if we think we want to practice the Buddhist path, to give up our ego-clinging is not easy, and we could well end up with our own ego’s version of dharma — a pseudo-dharma which will only bring more suffering instead of liberation.

For this reason, most Oriental teachers are very skeptical about exporting dharma to the Western world, feeling that Westerners lack the refinement and courage to understand and practice properly the buddhadharma. On the other hand there are some who try their best to work on the transmission of the dharma to the West.

It is important to remember that a thorough transplantation of dharma cannot be accomplished within a single generation. It is not an easy process, and as when Buddhism was brought from India to Tibet, it will undoubtedly take time. There are enormous differences between the attitudes of various cultures and different interpretations of similar phenomena. It is easy to forget that such supposedly universal notions as “ego,” “freedom,” “equality,” “power,” and the implications of “gender” and “secrecy,” are all constructions that are culture-specific and differ radically when seen through different perspectives. The innuendoes surrounding a certain issue in one culture might not even occur to those of another culture, where the practice in question is taken for granted.

In recent years there have been numerous critiques of both the Buddhist teachings and certain Buddhist teachers. Unfortunately, these often reveal a serious degree of ignorance about the subject matter. Many Tibetan lamas adopt the attitude that “it doesn’t matter,” because they genuinely don’t mind such attacks. I think the perspective of many lamas is vaster than trying to keep track of the latest likes and dislikes of the fickle modern mind. Other Tibetan lamas adopt the attitude that Westerners are merely spiritual window-shopping, telling the younger lamas like myself, “See, we told you! They are not here for the dharma. For them, we are a mere curiosity.” In an attempt to adopt a good motivation, I would like to propose some alternative perspectives.

Certain critiques of Buddhism actually enhance my devotion to the teachings and to my teachers, because I feel the dharma defies any such criticisms. But I also feel that some of these writings can be harmful in their effect. There may be many beings whose connection to the dharma is just about to ripen, and these writings can jeopardise their opportunity. In our life we encounter a multitude of obstacles and difficult circumstances. But the worst possible obstacle is to be prevented from engaging in an authentic path to enlightenment.

In this age, when people naively jump to conclusions based on the writings of those who try to warn about the hazards of guru-disciple relationships, such critiques may result in the tragic destruction for many people of their only chance of liberation from the ocean of suffering. In the sutras, it is stated that someone who rejoices even momentarily over something that leads to such a lost opportunity will not encounter the path of enlightenment for hundreds of lifetimes.

Generally, I think that when we want to expose a fault or present an opinion, two attributes are necessary: one should know the subject thoroughly, and one should not oneself have the faults that one is criticising. Otherwise, one will be, as the Tibetan proverb describes, “a monkey who laughs at another monkey’s tail.” Let us not forget that as human beings we are victims of our own narrow-minded interpretations. We should not give so much authority to our limited points of view: our interpretations and subjective perspectives are limitless and almost always stem from our own fears, expectations and ignorance.

It would be of great amusement to many learned Tibetan scholars if they could read some of the presentations written by Westerners on such subjects as Buddhism or gurus. It is like imagining an old Tibetan lama reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or listening to a beautiful aria. He would most probably think the former uninteresting and that the latter sounded like a cat being skinned alive!

It is better not to distort things with our limited interpretations at all, but if we have to, then at least we should be more aware of how powerful and one-sided our interpretations can be. For example, I could claim all kinds of things about the way that Westerners approach the study of Eastern cultures. I could easily put forward an interpretation, one that might seem entirely valid, that claims Western conceptual frameworks stem from a basic attitude of arrogance in the way that they construct themselves and others.

In almost all departments in Western universities that allegedly teach Buddhism, the teachers usually have to hide the fact if they happen to be Buddhists themselves. Do the mathematics teachers hide the fact that they believe in the logic of mathematics? Western scholars need to be more questioning about their own rigid biases that prevent them from being able to appreciate other perspectives. I find heartbreaking the imperialist attitude that arrogantly isolates one aspect of Eastern culture, analysing it at a careful distance, manipulating and sterilising it to fit Western agendas, and then perhaps concluding that it is now suitable for consumption.

Another example of the hypocrisy involved with this kind of attitude is the Western “benevolent” wish to “liberate” Eastern women from the clutches of what is imagined to be the oppressive tyranny of a misogynist system, resembling the Western missionaries wanting natives to adopt Christian morals and values. In the West, amongst other things, women are photographed naked and the pictures are published in magazines. Many other cultures would regard this as exceedingly embarrassing, as well as extremely exploitative and oppressive of women. So from their point of view, Western criticism of another culture for its subjugation of women is a highly contentious matter.

Surely no culture should claim to have the deep appreciation and understanding necessary to produce a thorough and justified critique of an important aspect of another’s culture (especially when the topic is as sophisticated and complex as Buddhism) without having the humility to make the effort to accurately and deeply learn about that topic on that culture’s own terms.

Sometimes it might help Westerners to develop more respect and appreciation for the East if they remember that 3000 years ago, when the East was flourishing with philosophy, arts, languages and medicine, the Western natives still didn’t have the idea to brush their own teeth! And in many cultures’ perspectives, so-called Western science and technology has not really done much besides destroying the world’s resources. Ideas such as democracy and capitalism, as well as equality and human rights, can be seen to have failed miserably in the West, and to be nothing but new dogmas.

I find it difficult to see the advantage of incorporating these limited Western value systems into an approach to the dharma. These certainly do not constitute the extraordinary realisation Prince Siddhartha attained under the Bodhi tree 2500 years ago. The West can analyse and criticise Tibetan culture, but I would be so thankful if they could have the humility and respect to leave the teachings of Siddhartha alone, or at least to study and practice them thoroughly before they set themselves up as authorities.

If people could put some effort into being respectful and open-minded, there is so much knowledge available that could liberate them from all kinds of suffering and confusion. It is only now that I have come to realise the significance of the great respect that the Tibetan translators and scholars of the past had toward India, their source of dharma and wisdom. Instead of being critical or even resentful of their source, they called it “The Sublime Land of India.” This kind of attitude is very different from the Western shopping mentality that regards the dharma as merchandise and our own involvement as an investment — only wanting to accept what sits well with our habitual expectations and rejecting what we don’t find immediately gratifying.

This is not to say that Westerners should not he critical of the Buddhist teachings. On the contrary, as the Lord Buddha himself said, “Without melting, beating, weighing and polishing a yellow substance, one should not take it for gold. Likewise, without analysis one should not accept the dharma as “valid.” Logical analysis has always been encouraged in the Buddhist tradition, and Buddhism has always challenged the promotion of blind faith.

The difference lies in the attitude you take towards the criticism. In the process of analysing that “yellow substance,” the analyser must not only maintain an open mind, but also acknowledge that he/she may not have an adequate knowledge of the subject matter. That is the whole point of analysis. Otherwise we are just seeking confirmation of what we already believe. Being skeptical and seeking faults are two completely different things.

Nowhere is the difference between these two attitudes more obvious and more important than when it comes to criticisms of the guru in Vajrayana Buddhism. Unfortunately, the guru is a must for Vajrayana practice. However, all great masters and teachings repeatedly advise that one should always be skillful in checking the lama before one takes him as one’s master. We have that option, and we should take advantage of it. It is vital to study the teachings extensively in order to be prepared to take on a teacher. In fact, some of the Vajrayana scriptures mention that one should check a potential teacher for twelve years before becoming his student.

However, I think it is also important to remember that Buddhism is not only Vajrayana. There are other paths such as Theravada, which is the foundation of all Buddhist paths. This is a straightforward path, which does not spark off all kinds of mystical expectations.

What sometimes seems to happen is that people want to practice Vajrayana because they see it as something exotic, when in fact they would be better off with the sanity and simplicity of the Theravada.

In Vajrayana, in order to enable the guru to help us and work on our dualistic ego-centered preoccupations, we are supposed to think that the guru is no different in wisdom than the Buddha. This is the highest form of mind training. We are literally making a hero out of someone who, because he sees our potential, has no qualms about challenging and even abusing our narrow minded and habitual patterns. This is a very radical, difficult and revolutionary method. From a conventional point of view, or from the point of view of ego-cherishing, the whole notion of the guru-disciple relationship is something almost criminal. Yet the point to remember is that the only purpose of the existence of the guru is to function as a skillful means to combat habits of dualistic conceptualisations, and to combat the tricks and tenacity of ego-clinging. In this way the guru is a living manifestation of the teachings.

It needs to be emphasised that it is our perception of the guru which enables the guru to function as a manifestation of the dharma. At first we see the guru as an ordinary person, and then as our practice develops we start to see the guru as more of an enlightened being, until finally we learn to recognise the guru as being nothing but an external manifestation of our own awakeness or buddhamind. In a subtle way then, it is almost irrelevant whether or not the teacher is enlightened. The guru-disciple relationship is not about worshipping a guru, but providing the opportunity to liberate our confused perceptions of reality.

Looking at it from the teacher’s point of view, if someone assumes the role of a teacher without being qualified, the negativity of this deception obviously will remain within their mindstream. It is important to understand that unless a lama is completely enlightened, he or she must carry the burden of what they do. Obviously, if he is an enlightened being, he has no karma, but if not, the consequences of his actions will come to him; his actions are his responsibility. From our point of view as students, if we have chosen him as our teacher, we should just learn from him, according to whatever path we wish to follow.

The principle of guru and devotion is much more complicated than creating a role model and worshipping him or her. Devotion, when you really analyse it, is nothing more than trusting the logic of cause and effect. If you cook an egg, putting it in boiling water, you trust the egg will be boiled. That trust is devotion. It is not blind faith or insistence on the illogical. The Buddha said, “Do not rely on the individual, rely on the teaching.” Yet it seems that we nonetheless decide to continue judging individual teachers without remembering the wider perspective and context of the purpose of the teachings.

One issue that can be controversial, and which has attracted a great deal of attention, is that in the vajrayana pleasure such as sex is not rejected as a threat to spiritual practice, but rather is used to enhance spiritual purification. While this may sound fascinating, it is important to remember that such practice requires an immense theoretical and practical grounding, without which, when viewed from the outside, it is easily misinterpreted.

Vajrayana male-female symbolism is not about sex. The practice can only exist in the context of a correct view of the unity of compassion and wisdom. Furthermore, as the tantric path works on a personal and non-conceptual level, it is not possible to make judgments about a practitioner. Tantra transcends completely the conventional idea of a man and woman having a sexual relationship. It is about working with phenomena to bring about the extraordinary realisation of emptiness and bodhicitta in order to liberate all beings from samsara. To expect a yogin or yogini, who is aspiring to go beyond the chauvinism of the confused mind, to worry about sexual rights issues seems absurd in the context of such a vast view.

Yet for the neophyte Westerner, certain Tibetan traditions must be very annoying, and seem sexist or male chauvinist. Western perspectives on sexual relationships emphasise “equality,” yet this is very different from what is meant by equality in Vajrayana Buddhism. Where equality in the West stands for two aspects reaching equal footing, in Vajrayana Buddhism equality is going beyond “two-ness” or duality all together.

If duality remains, then by definition there can be no equality. I think social equality between men and women is less important than realising the equality between samsara and nirvana which, after all, is the only true way to engender a genuine understanding of equality. Thus the understanding of equality in Vajrayana Buddhism is on a very profound level.

The notion of sexual equality is quite new in the West, and because of this there is a certain rigid and fanatic adherence to the specific way it should be practiced. In Vajrayana Buddhism, on the other hand, there is a tremendous appreciation of the female, as well as a strong emphasis on the equality of all beings. This might not, however, be apparent to someone who cannot see beyond a contemporary Western framework. As a result, when Western women have sexual relationships with Tibetan lamas, some might be frustrated when their culturally conditioned expectations are not met.

If anyone thinks they could have a pleasing and equal lover in a Rinpoche, they couldn’t be more incorrect. Certain Rinpoches, those known as great teachers, would by definition be the ultimate bad partner, from ego’s point of view. If one approaches such great masters with the intention of being gratified and wishing for a relationship of sharing, mutual enjoyment etc., then not only from ego’s point of view, but even from a mundane point of view, such people would be a bad choice. They probably will not bring you flowers or invite you out for candlelit dinners.

Anyway, if someone goes to study under a master with the intention to achieve enlightenment, one must presume that such a student is ready to give up his or her ego. You don’t go to India and study with a venerable Tibetan master expecting him to behave according to your own standards. It is unfair to ask someone to free you from delusion, and then criticise him or her for going against your ego. I am not writing this out of fear that if one doesn’t defend Tibetan lamas or Buddhist teachers, they will lose popularity. Despite a lot of effort to convince the world about the pitfalls of the dharma and the defects of the teachers, there will still be a lot of masochists who have the misfortune to appreciate the dharma and a crazy abusing teacher who will make sure to mistreat every inch of ego. These poor souls will eventually end up bereft of both ego and confusion.

I know there are plenty of people who will disagree with much of what I have said. For as much as I am set on my interpretations, so are others set on theirs. I have met great teachers whom I admire enormously and although I may be a doomed sycophant, I pray I will continue to enjoy the company of these teachers. On the other hand, people may have other ideas and be happy with them. My practice is devotion to the Buddhist path; others may choose doubting the Buddhist path. But as Dharmakirti said, ultimately we must abandon the path. So I hope in the end we will meet where we have nothing to fight over.

Mind’s ultimate nature, emptiness endowed with vividness,
I was told is the real Buddha.
Recognising this should help me
Not to be stuck with thoughts of hierarchy.
Mind’s ultimate nature, its emptiness aspect,
I was told is the real Dharma.
Recognising this should help me
Not to be stuck with thoughts of political correctness.
Mind’s ultimate nature, its vivid aspect,
I was told this is the real Sangha.
Recognising this should help me
Not to be stuck with thoughts of equal rights.
One cannot disassociate emptiness from vividness.
This inseparability I was told is the Guru.
Recognising this should help me
Not to be stuck with depending on chauvinist lamas.
This nature of mind has never been stained by duality,
This stainlessness I was told is the deity.
Recognising this should help me
Not to be stuck with the categories of “gender” or “culture.”
This nature of mind is spontaneously present.
That spontaneity I was told is the dakini aspect.
Recognising this should help me
Not to be stuck with fear of being sued.