We think we are conscious but we are not
by Lama Thubten Yeshe
The nature of emotional pride is such that you go around with your nose in the air. You never want to see what’s in front of you or look down. The antidote is to do prostrations.
When I talk about prostrations I don’t mean that you prostrate to only the Buddha. As Shantideva said, we can also prostrate to all mother sentient beings by remembering that the basic, fundamental nature of their minds is as equally pure as that of an enlightened being.
Furthermore, doing prostrations doesn’t necessarily mean doing either the full length or five-point ones. If you’re out on a busy city street and suddenly go down on the sidewalk people are going to freak out. Instead of doing that you can simply make mental prostrations. Remember, there are three ways of prostrating: with body, speech and mind.
The Buddha was so skillful. He gave us methods for every situation. So even if you’re on a crowded street and want to make prostrations, instead of putting on a big show and doing them physically, where everybody’s going to think, “What on earth is that?” you can just prostrate mentally.
If you do things with understanding, it’s so worthwhile. If you do them without understanding and then ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” you’ll conclude that you’re going backwards instead of advancing. Practicing with understanding is helpful in treating your uncontrolled mind. If you practice like that everything will become worthwhile.
The same applies to making offerings. We don’t offer food to the Buddha because he’s hungry. We do it as part of training our mind to release emotional miserliness. The way we should look at charity is that no matter what the material value of what we give, the real value of generosity is in what we gain: knowledge wisdom. Of course, it depends on your attitude. Even if you offer only one dollar you can still gain a lot. Basically you have to understand the psychology of the various Dharma practices you do, especially those that automatically make you uncomfortable.
But everything has meaning. For example, incense symbolises the pure energy of body, speech and mind, especially pure thoughts. The real essence of incense is within you and the sticks we burn are external symbols of that. The real incense is in your mind. You have to know that, otherwise when you offer incense you’re just imitating people you’ve seen doing it, just copying Easterners. That’s not right. The real incense is your pure thought that gives pure vibrations to others.
It’s the same when you’re offering light. External lights have the function of destroying darkness, of making things clear. But the real candlelight is within you — it’s your wisdom. So whenever you offer incense or light you should do so with a dedication like, “May my mind and those of all mother sentient beings be filled with the light of knowledge wisdom and completely purified of the darkness shadow that makes us totally unconscious and causes all suffering.”
In other words, everything we do that might look like ritual is actually training our mind and freeing us from agitated states and impulses. It’s very useful.
Then why do we have all these physical objects on our altars? Buddhists are supposed to renounce material things and then we put all these statues and paintings here? That’s kind of strange. Well, we think it’s far preferable to having pictures of fashion models and rock stars on our walls. Those things automatically draw our attention and stimulate attachment. It’s like when we’re in the supermarket and see all these desirable foods and think, “Fantastic! How much money do I have? Oh, not enough, how can I get some?” and then we go, “Mom, Dad, can I have some money please?” “No, you can’t!” and we’re so disappointed.
That’s all visualisation. Expert marketers know how to display products in order to trigger our attachment and make us want to buy them. They understand people’s basic psychological energy and how the combination of appealing object and craving desire reacts. That association makes us go pam! There’s contact and we go berserk. We lose wisdom and become unconscious.
We have to know this. We think we’re conscious but we’re not. When we’re overwhelmed by attraction and attachment we actually become unconscious. If you check carefully at such times you’ll find that perhaps at first your mind is very clear but as attachment takes over, something dark seems to envelop your mind. Check up. That’s experience. You see, Lord Buddha’s psychology is not about what you believe but what you experience. Go into town right now and see what happens! That’s reality.
And that’s why I always say that Lord Buddha’s teachings are so scientific. They’re very different from Western modes of religious expression. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that Buddhist psychology and teachings may be different from what you were brought up with. They’re not about believing certain things and then going to heaven when you die; not about doing something now and waiting for a long time to experience the result. No! If you act correctly with wisdom right now you can see the result in the next second. It’s so simple.