More pleasure, more ignorance
by Lama Thubten Yeshe
The person who practices Highest Yoga Tantra must be both fortunate and intelligent. Intelligent means having the capacity and skill to transform the experience of pleasure into the path to liberation.
Why does one need to be an intelligent person to engage in this practice? Intelligence differs from cleverness. Someone who is clever may succeed in doing things in this way or that, using sneaky tricks, but that person is not necessarily intelligent. Intelligence means, “touching the natural state of reality.” In Tibetan we have a phrase that means “the blissful feeling that arises from comprehending nonduality and thereby becomes the wisdom of nonduality.” When you have reached this point, any joyful, blissful feeling you have automatically becomes nonduality wisdom. But it is difficult, very difficult, to actually realise this.
When we ordinary people experience some pleasure, we tend to become dull and ignorant. The more pleasure we experience, the more ignorant we become. More pleasure, still more ignorance. While you were in school and under your parents’ care, they probably restricted the choices you could make. Later, when you left your parents and went out on your own, you probably went to work and as a result had more opportunities for pleasure, which in turn resulted in greater insensibility, dullness. You achieved a middle-class lifestyle yet you became even more ignorant and dull. Then you went into business and became richer, so you could go here and there, able to buy this or that, and you became still more confused, more ignorant. As time went on, in your life there was more grasping, more pleasure, more squeezing, more confusion, more pleasure, more attachment, more pleasure… more disaster!
The core purpose of all Buddhist practice, whether Paramitayana or Tantrayana practice, is for human beings to achieve happiness. The Buddhadharma is not against being happy or having pleasure. Some people think that religion is opposed to pleasure, that you should not have pleasure and you should only be miserable. Is religion trying to make people suffer and be miserable? That does not make any sense. It is a misunderstanding.
Every day, from morning until evening, our moods constantly swing up and down. But when we consider the examples of Milarepa and St. Francis, neither of them experienced ups and downs the way we do. Both Milarepa and St. Francis lived in caves — Milarepa lived in a cave in Tibet and St. Francis in a cave in Italy — and both experienced continuous great bliss. If Milarepa — or St. Francis— were living in a cave nearby, and I said to you, “He is happier than we are,” you would most likely reply, “How can he be happy? I cannot believe that he is a happy man.” That is because you have preconceptions. You think that without eating mozzarella cheese and chocolate, it is not possible to have pleasure. That is what you believe.
How can we avoid becoming more ignorant when we experience more and more pleasure? According to the highest yoga tantra point of view, the only way to avoid this is for us to transform blissful pleasure into nonduality wisdom energy. Right now, when we feel pleasure, we don’t understand its reality. Instead, we bury its reality under the many concrete illusory projections that we fabricate. The more pleasure we experience, the stronger become our illusory projections.
Let me give you an example: When an Italian man marries an Italian girl, in his mind he says, “Now I am secure. I have my own lady, and she is beautiful. She is permanently beautiful, permanently my companion, and she has a permanently warm heart. Everyone thinks that she has a warm heart when they meet her. Everyone thinks she is beautiful and that everything about her — her smell, her touch, everything — is fantastic.”
Everything that this man is constructing in his mind is a fantasy. ”Permanent,” “concrete,” “self-existent”: he has already projected everything. So he becomes more and more dull, confused, ignorant. It works this way with ladies too. I should be realistic and not take sides… otherwise, I’m being chauvinistic! This is simply how our minds work, whatever our gender.
Then one day, however, this man loses his wife. He cannot understand how this could possibly happen! His cultural fixation completely breaks down, and he has a nervous breakdown. For as long as he was married, he felt totally secure, but now his security has suddenly been shaken. He does not understand and does not want to accept it.
This man has two minds: rational and irrational. Previously, his rational mind created a completely fixed view, rationalising his experience by thinking, “This is like this. That is like that. The world works like this because of that. Life is that way, because of this.” He constructed a strong concrete fantasy and he believed that fantasy to be true. But then he lost everything, and his fixed rational view no longer works. Not only did he lose his external wife, he also lost his internal values, his internal view of reality. He is no longer sure of anything and so his irrational mind takes over because now NOTHING MAKES SENSE. It is as if there is no good reason for anything. He feels completely weak, without strength, without confidence. No confidence in himself or in his wife, no confidence in any woman, and no confidence in any man. Can you imagine?
My point is this. When we project a permanent entity on a transitory object of pleasure, as this man did, when we project a self-existent entity on a non-self-existent phenomenon, as this man did, we suffer. Our preconceptions, our concrete illusory projections, are the actual source of our problems.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that Buddhism is merely talking philosophy here, merely expressing an opinion about pleasure. Since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha 2,500 years ago, millions and millions of people have spent the equivalent of millions or even billions of dollars researching the characteristics of suffering and pleasure. Maybe all the money currently in Europe would not be enough to equal what generation after generation of Buddhists have spent on observing and investigating the real nature of pleasure and pain! And throughout the centuries, all of these Buddhist meditators have reached the same conclusion — that any experience of pleasure is transitory, impermanent, and non-self-existent.