by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
In the end, our life won’t just evaporate like a puddle of water in the hot sun. In fact, even a puddle of water does not just disappear into nothingness. The molecules remain in a different form, since atoms do not just disintegrate.
If we do think that life is like this, then our life becomes very small. Believing that this life is all there is, is a very narrow and boring viewpoint. But understanding that this life is an ongoing progression, makes for a passionate life.
A great teacher once said that if we attain only one percent progress in our life, then in one hundred lives we will be enlightened. This is doable and we can actually get there soon!
But what ends up happening is when we do have a day off from our responsibilities, which on one hand is really nice and leisurely, we tend to do something very small-minded, either in the garden or the kitchen. Or, if we do not find something to do there, we look for someone to argue with.
When we do actually have some genuine purpose and meaningful vision to carry out in our day — not just anything, but something we really want to do — we can live passionately, fulfilling our potential enlightened nature, and serving mankind with great joy and zeal. Even over the course of one hundred lifetimes of walking this path and being reborn, there is no sense of suffering in taking rebirth and dying. Instead, there is a passion to walk this path from lifetime to lifetime.
Let’s talk about that sense of responsibility or duty for a moment, and this sense of burden. When people are being lazy, they don’t want to live up to a sense of duty or responsibility. Feeling burdened, they just want to look for a hole to sleep in. But that never ends up working out for one’s well-being or for anyone else’s. It’s a psychological state that we all have at times, when we think “Oh, how nice it would be to just sleep in my cocoon and not come out.”
Acting with a sense of responsibility and duty when it is not imposed from outside, but rather from your own passion to be responsible and carry on with what is in front of you, gives you a feeling of great joy in the privilege to serve others. Through the process of being stretched in this way, we become shenjanged which, in Tibetan, means thoroughly purified and enriched.
So don’t give in to that tendency to hide, cave in, and sleep in your own cocoon, especially if you view yourself as a bodhisattva, and as a meditator.
Some say meditation is passive. But to me, meditation is not passive at all. It is a very proactive use of the mind. Even meditating on the wisdom of seeing the nature of mind, and placing your mind in that state is extremely proactive, because you are completely concentrated and engaged in the profound aspect of the universal enlightened nature. How could that be passive? When you have the realisation that samsara and nirvana are equal, how can such a state be passive?
To get to that place of realising the nature of mind, there is a lot of shedding of your ignorance that must be done. This is the random-label ignorance with all the misunderstanding that it produces, especially when we engage with the world. We may be engaged, but we are engaged in a way that is like seeing a piece of rope as a snake. In other words, we are deluded.
The meditation process is meant to undo that mistaken notion of seeing the rope as a snake, and brings deep clarity to the mind.
This process of meditation is not like carrying a backpack of rocks all day long. This is actually a huge un-burdening! Normally when we see the world, we regard it as intrinsic and solid. This is really due to sheer habit over many lifetimes of confusion and ignorance. Due to the ease with which our emotions determine our viewpoint, we cling to things as real, singular and permanent. After all, without this clinging, and viewing of outer phenomena as real and intrinsic, we could not become attached, or become angry or jealous. So we continue in samsara, believing in this way that things are real, singular and permanent. That is the true sense of burden we carry, and why we suffer.
Through the pithy instructions of a teacher, we come to penetrate the random-label ignorance of believing in things as real and intrinsic. Then we arrive at a more subtle level of mind — of the “co-emergent ignorance.” Looking closely at that, we see what it is. We are no longer that person on the highway who thinks they have to slow down when they see what looks like a big pool of water on the road. We can just keep speeding along, knowing it is just a mirage.
As you move toward it, that pool of water dissipates right in front of you. Similarly, with meditative experience, your mind grows able to look at itself — at its very nature — and is no longer caught up in beliefs and insecurities. In that state, the ignorance dissipates and in its place you find the universal nature, brilliantly shining and present for you to view and experience.
All your reactions, your suffering, your karma and the whole experience of being truly miserable, has been nothing other than the following story.
A man is chased by a ghost, until he can’t run any longer and gives up. When he looks at the frightful ghost and cries “I can’t run any more, what should I do,” the ghost says, “How should I know, this is your dream!”
This actually becomes your own experience and not just something you hear and are amused by in a book. It becomes your experience of recognising samsara and nirvana both being baseless and rootless.
The union of wisdom and compassion, along with the supreme goal to save all mankind from the suffering of samsara, leads to true delight and true joy. This is not a burden, like carrying a rucksack of rocks for a whole day’s journey.
For the person with a realist mindset, the rucksack, the rocks, the day, and the journey, are all very real. But it’s not what we think needs to happen that is the burden for the mind. Rather, its the belief that it is all real! That is where the sense of burden actually comes from.
So I encourage you to appreciate your lives, as well as the duties and responsibilities to serve others. I encourage you to live up to those duties and responsibilities with joy. In this way, being a bodhisattva in the world is easy. This is your stepping-stone to being a bodhisattva, both in this life and the next.
Be like lord Manjushri or Avalokiteshvara, or Vajrapani — do the same things they did!
Watch out for that tendency in your mind that is always wanting peace, peace, peace. “I just want peace!” What is that peace anyway? It is sleep, it is the thought of just not wanting to do this, just wanting to sleep and be lazy.
Don’t keep giving in to feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted. Before that happens, you have to take charge of your life to make it work. If you’re a teenager I can understand this tendency, but not as someone who wants to be a bodhisattva in the world. Even on an ordinary level, one cannot make anything manifest by always just giving in to these habits.
You need oomph! Without oomph you will have no spine to stand tall and walk straight. So before you take on the path and dream of becoming a bodhisattva, you need a certain amount of oomph and the courage to take charge.
This is also how we are going to deal with challenging circumstances and how we will deal with birth, old age, sickness and death. We are all getting older, that is already happening. If you think to yourself, “I am no good. I’m a failure in everything. I can’t get anything done,” that is called “self-disparaging.” This is not the activity of a true noble heart with the integrity of true humility — an actual Buddhist practice. Self-disparagement is not a practice!
It is a loss of your self-pride. Maybe as a young man or woman we used to have some self-pride, but then we lost it. This is shungpa in Tibetan — it’s like purposefully seeking to let your self sink into a lack of confidence. But giving up on life and on the tasks of your life will only bring disaster upon disaster.
So we have to gather our self-pride to become a doer, a “can-doer.” As Shantideva points out, using pride and arrogance in such situations helps you overcome your neuroses. It can serve you greatly for the time being to achieve what you want. So this is a very, very important point for practitioners.
Because we need passion to be a bodhisattva, we have to be willing, and know how that willingness will open a hundred doors. Without this willingness, not a single door will open for us on the path or with life in general. So then what?
We’re left trying to protect this very existence that cannot be protected. That kind of existence will end up without any joy or life, but nonetheless we’ll still try to protect it. We then become like a clam that is tightly shut.
We don’t want to turn into a clam. We want to be bodhisattvas, and for that we need to be willing and brave!