The Guru and the Great Vastness
by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

For a follower of the yana of individual liberation or the Mahayana, there are the sutras and the shastras. The sutras contain the direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, whereas the shastras are commentaries composed later by a disciple of the Buddha, such as Nagarjuna. Moreover, there are instructions on how to practice. For instance, many chapters of Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva contain very clear instructions.

Studying the dharma can be compared to learning how to drive. There is a driving manual that explains what things are, how they work, the rules of the road and so on. Similarly, the sutras and shastras contain the basic knowledge you need in order to practice the dharma. When you actually learn how to drive, you receive personalised instructions based on your individual skills, your driving teacher’s style and the various practical situations you encounter. These are not necessarily presented in the same order as the information in the manual. Instructions can come in most unexpected ways.

In Vajrayana, there are the tantras as well as the pith instructions. For centuries, dharma practitioners have studied the tantras while practicing according to the pith instructions. Some students place great emphasis on the tantras, the actual texts which contain the theory of the view. Those who are intellectually or academically oriented can get quite caught up in explanations and theories. Other students who are more emotionally oriented tend to get caught up in the instructions. This was a common fault in the past and continues to be so today.

Let’s suppose you have devotion, trust and the merit of having met a qualified master. For you, a mere instruction from your master can potentially lead you somewhere, even without elaborate explanations on the theoretical aspects of the tantras. Your practice could be as ridiculous as being told to have a cup of tea every hour, but it could still untie your knot of delusion and take you to a state where you are released from all kinds of grasping and fixation. This, however, is quite risky, as our devotion is often temporary and fickle. In fact, because our devotion is most often not based on even a minimal understanding of the view, it is little more than a manifestation of our insecurity. If this is the case, our devotion can become rather unhealthy.

Moreover, the merit to encounter a true, qualified master is extremely rare. Of course, I do not wish to discourage you by any means. You can always aspire to one day meet a qualified master and develop the virtues of devotion and trust. If you have such good fortune, you don’t have to read the driving manual; all you have to do is listen to your teacher and do as he or she says. But that’s quite difficult.

Pith instructions appear in many different forms. Although we often talk about them as supplementary, the ngöndro teachings are actually pith instructions. They come directly from unbroken lineages of gurus, out of lineage masters’ experiences and visions. If you want to know why Vajrasattva, guru yoga and mandala offering work, then it’s good to study a text like the Guhyagarbha Tantra, which elucidates the ideas of equality and purity and explains why everything is pure and equal from the beginning. When applied, the tantric texts and the pith instructions complement one another.

The ngöndro contains advice to help us stop our chain of thoughts. Personally, I have found it wise to follow Jamgön Kongtrül’s suggestion to spend at least half of the session just sitting and developing a sense of renunciation by contemplating impermanence and such. Doing so actually sets the atmosphere and tunes your mind so that at least some inspiration arises to actually practice. Otherwise, as samsaric beings, we have so much to do and everything is so significant — from petty shopping lists to important meetings. If you let such mundane matters bother you, they will. But if you reflect on impermanence and the like, even for just a few minutes, your mundane, incessant thoughts will at least temporarily pause. That’s quite important.

After that, if you want to elaborate, it’s good to clear the stale air. As I said, pith instructions like this one can sometimes seem illogical. For instance, if you are oriented more toward the path of individual liberation or Mahayana approaches, you might wonder what the stale air is and why it is so important in the ngöndro practice. Of course it has its own enormous theory in the Guhyagarbha Tantra, but you might question why we have to subdue the gross and subtle winds [prana] and why this results in our whole perception changing.

In spite of the numerous explanations, there’s the simple fact that clearing the stale air helps us break the chain of thoughts that we are experiencing. Moreover, clearing the stale air tunes us in to renunciation mind and purifies our perceptions. Normally when we practice we don’t spend much time on these things and so our practice tends to be rather weak.

Having evoked renunciation and cleared the air through the nostrils, next be confident that the place where you’re practicing is not ordinary. You will not find such a suggestion in the other vehicles; it is exclusive to Vajrayana.

The whole purpose of dharma practice, whether ngöndro or the main practice, is to understand the great purity and equality. This is the great vastness, longchen — the vast space where everything fits. Everything! The different schools of Buddhism variously call it nonduality, the realisation of emptiness, the union of samsara and nirvana, and so on. The fact that everything is nondual is not a recent invention nor a Buddhist one; it is the actual nature of phenomena from the beginning. As the Buddha said, “Whether the buddhas appear on this earth or not, the essence of phenomena never changes.” The nonduality aspect, the great vastness, is unchanging. It has never been fabricated, nor is it something that we create.

What does this mean in practical terms? Devotion is integral to being a Vajrayana practitioner. Wanting to be free of delusion implies accepting that we are deluded. Within our deluded state, we have to learn and believe that we need to create a pure reality. Here comes a pith instruction: this is why we have to think that the place where we are practicing is not an ordinary place. If we never abandon our impure ordinary perceptions of the mundane world and our mundane lives, we will never break out of our delusion. As Vajrayana practitioners we must learn right from the beginning to crack this shell open.

So, when taking refuge you must not think that the setting is ordinary, but rather that it is a pure realm. Then visualise the object of refuge in front of you. It is crucial in Vajrayana to understand that the object of refuge — the guru — is the embodiment of all the buddhas as well as of the dharma, the sangha, and the devas, dakinis and dharmapalas. Basically, all objects of refuge are embodied in the guru.

Now, unless your teacher specifically instructs otherwise, normally one does not visualise the object of refuge, the guru, in his ordinary form. I say this because many of us here have received teachings from the great Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and in his guru yoga he instructs us to visualise him in his ordinary form, as however we have seen him. That’s his instruction and we have to follow that. I’m sure there’s infinite purpose behind it. But generally, in most of the ngöndro instructions, you visualise the guru in the form of Guru Rinpoche or Vajradhara, not in the form of a human being. This too is a pith instruction and there are lots of reasons for it, but they all come down to the same point: recognising the great purity and equality.

In our ordinary human, rational mind, we think that it is much easier to visualise our guru as we remember him or her. Most of us have never seen Vajradhara or Guru Rinpoche. Even if we know what Vajradhara looks like, he is still pretty impossible to visualise: a blue being with thirty-two major marks and eighty minor marks. The thirty-two major marks are incredible and inconceivable, such as webbed hands and a tongue so long it can reach across his face. Are you supposed to visualise your guru as a duck or a dog? It sounds silly, so we would rather simply remember what our guru looked like in the flesh. Besides, that’s how we got inspired in the first place. All these fanciful details go against our normal thinking pattern. Nevertheless, according to most ngöndro instructions, it is necessary to visualise one’s guru not as an ordinary being but rather as Guru Rinpoche.

Our practice is feeble and we have tarried on the path for a long time, primarily because we always see the guru as an ordinary being and not a buddha. We cannot imagine him or her as a buddha. Instead we consider him a normal person who has likes and dislikes similar to our own.

In his explanation of guru yoga, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö notes the importance of how you approach your guru. Usually we think, “I like him because he’s a decent human being; he’s kind, he’s compassionate and he’s a good man.” But according to Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, the blessing you will receive corresponds to your level of devotion, and in this case, it is not much. You too will become tolerant and a good person, but your aim is wrong. Our aim is not to become a good person or a tolerant person. Our aim is not to become a little bit better than the rest but to attain enlightenment. Enlightenment is beyond good and bad and everything.

If you have a high aim such as enlightenment, you have to change your attitude. As Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö explains, believing your guru to be a shravaka or an arhat is much better than thinking that he or she is just an ordinary, decent human being. If you think of your guru as an arhat, then you will receive the blessing of individual liberation. If you think your guru is a mahabodhisattva on the tenth bhumi, you will receive an equivalent blessing. If you think your guru is the Buddha himself — that is, you don’t imagine it but actually see him as the Buddha in person — then definitely you will receive the Buddha’s blessings. And in Dzogchen and Mahamudra, if you realise that it is actually your own buddhanature that is manifest in the form of the Buddha or the guru, you will receive the blessing of seeing everything as the Buddha, everything as the guru.

So it is important to visualise not only the place as pure and special, but also the object of refuge, your guru, as an extraordinary being. If you think about this, you will realise that many of our spiritual difficulties are ridiculous. Many of our doubts and fears are simply due to a lack of pure perception. We try to see our guru as someone special, but not really as a buddha.

You would not necessarily expect it to be so difficult to think of your guru as the Buddha. I’m slightly more fortunate than most of you because I have seen numerous great masters. Many of you, especially the younger ones, are quite unlucky because you have to put up with teachers like us. It’s very understandable if you have difficulty thinking that we are the Buddha. But if you find it difficult to think that we ordinary lamas are the Buddha, it is actually because you lack understanding of the great vastness of purity and equality. With the view of great equality and great purity, you can slowly learn to see all ordinary beings, such as many lamas these days, as buddhas. This is quite important to do.

It’s actually the same when you take refuge. What you are declaring is, “I accept that I have the buddhanature. I accept that I can be purified. I accept that my being is the great equality and great purity.” This is essential as the foundation not only of Vajrayana, but also of Buddhism as a whole. Otherwise, we are taking a very theistic approach to our refuge practice. We consider the Buddha, dharma and sangha to be saviours — a panacea of sorts — and we take refuge with the expectation that they will solve all our problems, whether mundane or spiritual. That is a very theistic slant.

Refuge can be understood on many different levels. However, I repeat, do not forget to apply pure perception, especially in Vajrayana. Think, “This place is not an ordinary place but a pure realm. My guru, my object of refuge, is not an ordinary being but a buddha.” When you say this there is a tendency to think that you are imperfect, due to seemingly unstoppable habitual patterns. But as Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö said, “Never forget that this guru who is sitting in front of you, whom you are trying to think of as a buddha, is not an ordinary being but in fact the manifestation of your own buddhanature.” It is a very beautiful path, you know.

Usually when we take refuge there’s a sense of being lower than the object of refuge. You, a pathetic being, need to be saved and you take refuge in this very wholesome, omnipotent being. Refuge usually feels like that. But you will know they are not separate at all if you understand the great vastness and the prana, nadi and bindu,[i] and the guru, deva and dakini of the bigger picture.

A brief summary is in order. Tune your mind, clear the stale air, and think that you are sitting in a pure realm. Next, visualise your guru with all of his or her retinue. When you start you usually invoke your guru as the human being for whom you have to buy the plane ticket to fly here to see. I guess it can’t be helped, but then try to think that this ordinary form is your own perception. In reality this being is not what you see with your eyes and hear with your ears; he is Vajradhara or Padmasambhava, depending on the text you are using. Finally, think that your guru, as Vajradhara or Padmasambhava, is actually a reflection of your own buddhanature. By doing so, you complete the circle of taking refuge, from the most ordinary level to the highest, which has such a great benefit. It actually makes you familiar with this idea of the great purity and equality, which is the whole purpose. It’s really incredibly important.

Nowadays, many people think that the guru is like a dictator, which is a big misunderstanding. Of course, I’m sure that some gurus do act like dictators but that has nothing to do with the true notion of a guru. Moreover, the Asian concept of a master as a father figure, like Confucius, is also incorrect. I’m bringing this up because I think that as the East and West are now so closely connected, Western Vajrayana students might tend to think guru yoga is another system supporting the roles of master and servant. Superficially, guru yoga can appear almost criminal: whatever the guru says is right, and even if he says something wrong, you should think that it is right. If you see him do something impure, it is due to your lack of pure perception. My goodness, there is no justice at all! So it is really important not to forget the great purity and equality. This becomes extremely clear at the end of the practice when you dissolve with the guru. Confucius never said the servant and the master should dissolve into one. That’s a big difference. The whole purpose and very essence of both the ngöndro and the main practice is to mingle your mind with the guru’s.

When we say dissolve, it does not mean that you are like a bag and the guru’s mind dissolves and pours into you. That would still be hierarchical. Instead think of a pot. Inside the pot there is space, and if I break the pot, the space inside it and the space outside it becomes one. So whether it’s your mind mixing with the guru’s mind or the guru’s mind mixing with your mind, it’s basically the same. That is the Vajrayana approach. Vajrayana students should never forget this.

At the end of your session there is the dissolution stage. This is where we become indivisible from the guru. We know that everything is nondual, that everything is equal and pure from the beginning. When we talk about equality, we are talking about the equality and purity of samsara and nirvana, along with that of the guru and disciple. We can grasp intellectually that the guru is a perception resulting from our merit, devotion and so on, but when we practice we can’t help actually thinking that the guru is out there.

Even at the beginning of the Longchen Nyingtig ngöndro there are many stanzas taken from the various tantras and sutras reminding us of why a spiritual companion or master is so important. After that there is Calling the Guru, a beautiful composition by Jigmey Lingpa, invoking the guru from the heart. It clearly elucidates that the guru is not an ordinary human being out there, nor is the guru someone who is going to dictate how you should live your life. It’s not like that at all.

The first stanza of this song invokes the guru from your heart. It is a very beautiful and poetic metaphor: the guru dwells within your own heart. This is totally different from our ordinary perception, whereby we think that the guru is external and separate from us. The heart refers to buddhanature. And one of the infinite manifestations of buddhanature is faith, and as a reflection of this, devotion. For instance, when passionate people look at another being, because of their passion, they see a beautiful object. When aggressive people see another being, because of their aggression, they see an ugly enemy. When devoted people see through the devotion manifested from their buddhanature, they see their guru or spiritual companion.

Jigmey Lingpa says, “From the blooming lotus of faith in the center of our heart, kind guru, our only protector, please arise to protect us from misfortunes. We are tormented by intense kleshas and karma; please remain on top of our head.” We invoke the guru from our heart and place him above us as if he’s a higher, superior being. But please never forget that in all the Vajrayana practices, and especially the Anu and Ati Yoga practices, one always dissolves the guru, or merges with the guru. This is called receiving the empowerment (abhisheka) or initiation from the guru. Light radiates from his forehead, then from the throat and next from the heart, and this light dissolves into you. Finally, you or the guru dissolve into the light and the two of you merge and become indivisible.

I think this aspect should be emphasised because many of our practices seem to have gone a bit off course. We exert ourselves in visualising the guru in front of us, praising him, supplicating him, begging for his blessing and so on. But we are content with doing the dissolution and merging for only a minute or two. Instead we should spend an equal amount of time, if not more, on the dissolution phase. My father, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, emphasised this a great deal. He told some of his students in Bhutan to practice receiving each of the four empowerments for a year. I think this is good advice because we tend to spend so little time on the dissolution stage.

Dissolve the guru into yourself, like water dissolving into water, then remain in that state of oneness as long as you can. If you prefer, you can visualise the guru instantaneously and repeat the process over and over. In fact, that’s encouraged, especially if you have received any Dzogchen instructions from your masters. If you have recognised, of course, train in rigpa, the nature of mind. But because of our habitual tendency, as soon as we watch the nature of the mind, or the state of merging our mind and the guru’s mind, we drift into all kinds of distractions. Therefore, it is often helpful to “fence in” the mind. If you have a flock of sheep or herd of cattle that you want to lead in a certain direction, you build a fence so that they go where you want them to go. Likewise, continuously visualising the guru in front of you, dissolving into him and watching that state of mind is called fencing.

It is very easy for us to say, “Rest in the nature of the mind.” But who knows whether we really are doing so or are simply in a coma? Are we in the state of experiencing the all-ground (alaya), which is like complete numbness? Or are we totally distracted, making plans for the future or rushing after the past? Are we so completely distracted that we don’t even realise it? If we continue in that vein, it’s all a big waste of time. Instead, a wise approach would seem to be repeatedly visualising the guru and dissolving him into you while watching your mind. As Longchenpa said in the Treasury of Pith Instructions, “Again and again, meditate in short periods but many times.” And when finishing the session, of course, never forget to dedicate the merit.

Though much he recites the Sacred Texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who counts others’ kine. He has no share in the fruits of the Holy Life.

Though little he recites the Sacred texts, but acts according to the teaching, forsaking lust, hatred and ignorance, truly knowing, with mind well-liberated, clinging to naught here and hereafter, he shares the fruits of the Holy Life.

— The Buddha, Yamaka Vagga (The Twin Verses)

从佛法观点谈感情问题
惠空法师

感情问题,从佛法立场来看,势必从生命现象的角度分析;因为感情,就是人与人之间的关系,譬如中国人讲的‘五伦’,就是讲君臣、父子、夫妇、兄弟、朋友之间的关系,也就是感情,而这正是实际的生命现象。这种生命现象,佛教把它分析为三个元素,就是惑、业、果报。但在这里我们把业跟果报看成同一个主体合起来讲,所以惑和业(果报)就是今天所要探讨的两个要点。

谈到惑,首先我们要了解‘感情’的内涵其实是非常复杂的,它是我们整个心性综合的表现。佛法把我们一般所讲的心绪、情绪、个性、感情通通列入‘心所’这一个观念,对于不同的心理现象、情绪变化,归纳分析成五十一个心所,这就是人性的内涵。人生有两种特质,一是善(善心所);一是恶(烦恼心所),在善、恶的特质中,各有很多的成份(心所),而这些成分彼此错综复杂的交合,就形成了种种不同型态的感情表象。所以,感情问题,如果我们只是从感情的表象去了解,就会受困于感情的多样化而掌握不到问题的核心。

比方说夫妻之间的关系,有的像兄妹,有的像父女,有的像朋友,有的像情人,甚至有的像仇人;同样的,爸爸对女儿,妈妈对儿子,也都有很多不同的类型。所以,只有当我们理解到人与人之间感情的最后关键点是人性深处的综合表现,是人性的本质,我们才能对感情问题做一个最忠实的评鉴。

什么是人性善、恶的特质呢?基本上,烦恼心所,是对我们心性有污染的成分,包括贪、嗔、痴、慢、疑、不正见等根本烦恼及一些随烦恼;而善心所,是指对我们生命有所提升的,如信、精进、禅定、慧、无贪、无嗔、无痴、轻安、不放逸、惭愧等等。一般说来,如果感情是纯净的,多半是从信、惭愧、无贪的立场出发,比方对元首效忠,对爸爸孝顺,这是从信出发,也就是他认为这样做是好的,正确的,接受这个观念,所以就产生了孝心、忠心的心理。可是就男女的感情来说,最核心的元素是贪(当然父子、兄弟、朋友、君臣之间也有部分是靠贪来达成的。)因为有贪,我们心性无法达到最深刻的纯净,而产生感情,感情的产生,是彼此得到协调、得到沟通。而如果两方面变成排斥,就是嗔。为什么会贪?会嗔?就是因为痴,这是人性最深刻的烦恼。

从上,我们已经到人性中,贪的元素,是男女感情的症结,接著我们再继续从贪的角度来分析男女的感情。贪的对象有很多,其中色贪第一、眷属贪第二,其它还有财、名、食、睡等,譬如有人贪太太的美貌,有人贪太太的钱财,有人贪太太烧的好菜,有人贪甜言蜜语,这都是贪著。但是男女之间贪著最深的情欲,这是维系男女感情最根本的东西。

男女的情欲有四个层次,这四个层次本质是一样的,但是程度有差别。第一层次是色,也就是贪著外在的美貌;第二个是情。所谓情是两个人心灵有了沟通点,不管任何沟通点,都会产生情。不但男女之间如此,朋友之间也是这样。所以,有时专家建议夫妻之间要找共同的爱好,其实就是找沟通点,也就是感情的培养。第三个是爱,爱已经是一种执著,就是不管你爱不爱我,反正我爱你!这跟情是不一样,它是不需要沟通的。第四个层次是淫欲。淫欲是生理的反应,比较污浊,不管有没有色、情、爱,它只是一种须要解决的心理反应。这四个层次,就是男女之间互相贪著的情执。所以如果没有办法超越这四个层次,就一定会堕入男女情欲的漩涡而苦恼。以上所讲的,是说男女的感情,不可以从某一个上来看。今天为什么会离婚?一定是彼此的贪著已经没有了,或是外面的贪著比对太太的贪著更强烈;而有的夫妻之间根本没有了吸引力,为什么又不离婚?这可能是为了面子,为了小孩。所以感情的问题,不是爱不爱的问题,而是心性清净与否的问题。

今天为什么他会爱一个不该爱的人,而舍弃他该爱的人,就是因为他烦恼重、太愚痴、善性太弱了。如果这个人他心灵纯净,他站在任何角度,都会把他的烦恼降伏,让他的善性激发,对方再怎么无理,面对再大的困难,他都不会使感情破灭。所以如何激发人的善性,降伏人的烦恼,才是彻底解决人与人之间感情问题的关键。今天我们看到任何感情的案子,都必须反省到人性的缺憾,知道必定是有烦恼障蔽他的心性,让他人性陷入无知的状态而造成错误的决定。这就是今天的第一个主题–惑。

第二部分谈到业、果报的问题。我们常讲的一见钟情就是如此。今天你不是碰到他,就结不了婚,这就是业力,就是你的果报(当然这并不是每个人如此的。)所以,中国人讲夫妇结合的两种因素,一是报恩,一是报仇。恩爱夫妻是报恩来的,恩尽义绝,下辈子就不会结为夫妻;要是恩情还未了或 越结越深,下辈子还是要结为夫妇,跑不掉的,所以我们不能随便喜欢人。今天我们了解业力的力量就知道,夫妻之间反目,一半属于业力,一半属于烦恼。就是因为你跟他有仇,所以他故意让你跟他结婚,让你爱他爱得很深;让你痛苦。如果夫妇间有这种情形,不要怨对方,从业力立场来看,你今天被报仇了,要知道这是你以前对不起人家,你要甘之如饴的接受,而且反过来要感谢他、珍惜他,不要再结仇了。今天你跟他做对,他也就跟你做对,仇就结得更深了。他恼害你,你承受下来,我好好对你,将恩情来赎我以前的不好,只有这样,才能把怨仇解掉,否则怨仇没有解掉,下辈子还要再来结仇,何苦呢?

所以今天要了解到,生命的现象确实如此,以前种下恶因,今天要承受恶果,如果你没有业力的正确观念,就会埋怨,就没办法把恶果解掉。所以结论就是:从佛法的观点来看感情问题,在心性的立场上,要净化我们的心灵来解除烦恼的束缚而超越对众生的感情;在业果的立场上,要用报恩的心情跟行动来对待我们的怨仇而消除业果。这样才是面对感情问题,最有智慧的处理方法。

The dominant ignorance leads to the karmic cycle. Because of this ignorance, you have karma. Because of karma, your ignorance gets stronger. It covers the rigpa more. The sequence begins with ignorance in Tantra as well as in Sutra. For example, the twelve nidanas begin with ignorance. Because of ignorance, we commit wrong actions such as harming oneself or others. Therefore, ignorance comes first in the sequence.

Because we have gone through the cycle of the twelve nidanas so many times, often we feel that it comes from karma. Because of this, we have further ignorance and go around the loop again. So the cycle begins with ignorance, which can be intensified further with negative karma.

— 7th Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

因为活给别人看的时候比较多,所以我们需要面子,需要掩饰,需要给自己加上一件一件皇帝的新衣,到最后,连自己也不清楚到底是在演给自己看,还是在演给别人看。轮回是剧场,但不要忘记这一次难得的人身,不要沈溺在如梦似幻的剧情中迷失了自己的方向。

———尊贵的萨迦如意法王

The Power of Unbearable Compassion
by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Practices of loving-kindness and compassion are indispensable elements of all religious traditions. These are qualities everyone can practice, regardless of their religious affiliation or ancestry. In fact, training to develop loving-kindness and compassion provides a bridge between all religions and all the many parts of our global society.

I am a Buddhist, but I still have to live my life as a member of the larger world community and take full part in society, where Buddhism is not the only spiritual tradition. There are many different forms of religion and spirituality, and there are also many different types of people, including those who are inclined toward religious or spiritual approaches and those who are not.

Since our world community is so very vast and diverse, it is important for us to respect the entire range of religious and spiritual traditions, not setting ourselves up as “opponents” of any other tradition. The way to accomplish happiness in the world is to do meaningful work in one’s own life, with a positive motivation that sees all people and all traditions as equal.

Humans are set apart from other types of sentient beings by their ability to naturally connect with sharp intelligence and with nonviolence, loving-kindness, and compassion. From the moment we are born, we are constantly chasing after happiness, thinking of ways we can become happy and free from suffering, and we actively try to bring those desires to fruition. The propensities toward loving-kindness, compassion, and nonviolence we display in following this quest for happiness demonstrate what makes human beings unique.

For any species of sentient being to continue existing, the members of that species must have affection for each other and they must support each other. In order for our human community to survive, we must nurture and sustain connections of love, compassion, nonviolence, and altruism. These connections are what will allow us not only to survive, but to make our lives meaningful. If we concentrate on ensuring that these connections are present, that in itself will be enough.

All of the Buddha’s teachings are based on refraining from harming others and engaging in helping others. It is therefore of great importance for Buddhists to have these two principles as the ground of their practice. The roots of Buddhist practice are the attitudes of altruism and non-harm. In other words, the roots of Buddhist practice are loving-kindness and compassion.

Of these two qualities, compassion is foremost: in general, we develop loving-kindness by relying on compassion. In the beginning, therefore, compassion is more important. Our compassion must have a broad focus, not only including ourselves but all sentient beings.

Why must our compassion include all sentient beings? Because all sentient beings — oneself and others — want to be happy and free of suffering. This basic desire is the same for everyone. Nevertheless, most of the sentient beings we see experience only suffering; they cannot obtain happiness. Just as we have a desire to clear away the suffering in our own experience and to enjoy happiness, through meditating on compassion we come to see that all other beings have this desire as well. Other beings are not only worthy of our compassion, they are also what cause our meditation on compassion to be possible at all.

According to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism, all sentient beings are our parents of the past, present, and future. This means that, of all sentient beings, some have been our parents in the past, some are our current parents, and some will be our parents in the future. There are no beings who are not, in the end, our parents. For this reason, all sentient beings have a connection of affection toward us. They have a connection of kindness toward us. But these affectionate and kind parents are trapped in a state of suffering, unable to actualise their desire for happiness. So it is crucial for us to begin meditating on compassion for them, in this very moment.

When we practice various kinds of meditations on compassion, it is not enough for us simply to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds. We must bring our meditation on compassion to the deepest level possible. To make our compassion as deep as possible, we must reflect on the suffering of sentient beings in all six realms of samsara, the wheel of cyclic existence. These sentient beings who are undergoing such intense suffering are the same beings who are our kind parents of the past, present, and future. In short, we are intimately connected with all of these sentient beings.

Therefore, since we are connected to all of these beings, it is possible for us to further our connection to them by bringing them benefit. The most excellent connection we could possibly make would be to cultivate the heart of compassion for them and to think of ways we can reduce their suffering. Reflecting on our connection to these beings, we must engender a level of compassion that cannot bear their suffering to endure any longer. This great, unbearable compassion is extremely important. Without it, we might be able to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds from time to time, but this sensation will not bring forth the full power of compassion. It cannot form the basis of a comprehensive practice.

On the other hand, once unbearable compassion takes birth in our hearts, we will immediately be compelled to altruistic action. We will automatically start thinking about how we can free sentient beings from suffering. Therefore, the way to develop altruism is through meditating on compassion. When our compassion becomes genuine and deep, our actions for the benefit of others will be effortless and free from doubt. That is why it is so crucial for us to deepen our practice of compassion until our compassion becomes unbearable.

Unlike our usual kind of compassion — meditating now and then on the general notion that sentient beings experience suffering — unbearable compassion penetrates and moves our heart. If we were to see someone trapped in a raging fire, we would not hesitate to assist that person. Right then and there, we would immediately begin thinking of and engaging in ways to extract him or her from the fire. Similarly, with unbearable compassion, we witness the suffering of all sentient beings of the six realms and immediately seek ways to free them from that suffering. Not only do we genuinely try to free them from suffering; we are also completely willing to endure any obstacles we may encounter on our path to freeing them. We are unfazed by complications and doubts.

All sentient beings have basic compassion. Even people we would generally consider ill-tempered have compassion; they simply have not brought their basic compassion to a refined level. If ill-tempered people did not have any compassion at all, it would be impossible for them to develop compassion by practicing on the path. All beings have compassion, but their door to the mastery of compassion has thus far been locked. So even though it may seem that some people have no compassion whatsoever, everyone has at least a small seed of compassion. That small seed can grow into great compassion; the potential we all have for great compassion can be made manifest.

Though the great, noble beings can let the full extent of their potential for compassion shine through, we ordinary beings cannot. Though we have the seed of compassion, we do not have the compassion we want. Precisely when we need compassion the most, we cannot access it; the door of our compassion is closed.

Even as we understand that loving-kindness and compassion are so important, we will also find it is quite difficult to fully and genuinely incorporate them into our experience. What prevents us from cultivating our heart of loving-kindness and compassion further is the mental afflictions, especially anger. Emotions such as anger inflict the greatest harm on our path to authentic compassion. For this reason, we must take an honest look at our emotions and ask ourselves, is this emotion benefiting me? Or is it of no benefit at all? We need to engage in a detailed, introspective analysis. If our investigation reveals that these negative emotions are of no benefit, the vital next step is for us to take a similar outlook toward our emotions altogether, all the time; we must see problems as problems, shortcomings as shortcomings.

Let us consider the example of anger. The Buddhist teachings contain rich descriptions of the shortcomings of anger. They describe how anger and aggression produce a slew of unpleasant results, both in the immediate future and in future lifetimes. While some of those teachings might seem to apply only for those who actually believe in the existence of future lifetimes, the buddhadharma’s descriptions of the shortcomings of anger are still relevant for those who do not hold this belief. When we become angry, our face changes and we take on a frightful appearance. We become unattractive to others; even those who are close to us find it difficult to be around us. Since anger in us instills fear in others, it greatly hinders our relationships.

When we clearly see the shortcomings of anger and the positive qualities of loving-kindness, our practice of loving-kindness and compassion becomes strong and we feel delighted about training in these qualities. When we are delighted about training in these qualities, we exert ourselves all the more strongly. When we exert ourselves more, the results we experience also become much more powerful. Being able to discern what is beneficial and what is faulty, therefore, is very important.

Without such discernment, our compassion can become susceptible to the same old habits. Perhaps, when trying to practice compassion, we are treated angrily by someone. We habitually respond by looking at that person in a negative light and resenting him or her. But if we have a deep understanding of the problematic aspects of our negative emotions, and can see them to be like illnesses, we will no longer see aggressors who harm us as bad in themselves. Rather, we will understand that these aggressors are not acting out of their own free will; they are afflicted by the illness of their own negative emotions. Once we are freed from resentment in this way, we are free to grow our loving-kindness and compassion limitlessly, without obstacles.

There are many other obstacles that can prevent our practice of compassion from reaching its full power. From among all of these adverse conditions, one of the foremost is jealousy. Jealousy can rob us of our freedom and interrupt loving relationships between people. Jealousy occurs when we cannot tolerate others being happier than we are. When we continually feel we need to have others below us and have no one equal to us, that is jealousy. When we are controlled by jealousy, we only feel comfortable when others come to us for assistance; we only feel at ease when others are looking to us with hope. We cannot stand being in situations where others have something that we need.

Moreover, in this era many people in society feel that these manifestations of jealousy are justified. Many people seem to believe that when we have competitive attitudes toward others, and when we want to vie aggressively against others for some reward, this is not only acceptable but to be encouraged.

To make our compassion strong and to make our seed of compassion ripen, we need the path. When we enter the path of compassion, we begin to connect with the compassion we need in order to help others, and beyond that we begin to develop the compassion we need in order to attain enlightenment. We already have compassion, wisdom, and many other positive qualities, yet our mental afflictions are far stronger than all of these most of the time.

It is as if the afflictions have locked all of our positive qualities away in a box. One day, we will open that box and all of our good qualities will spring forth. We will see that we do not have to go looking for our compassion, trying to get it or buy it somewhere. It is not available for purchase anywhere in any case. What we will discover is that compassion is present in our minds spontaneously. At that point, a wealth of excellent qualities will become immediately available to us.

One of the ways that people in Tibet generate compassion is by visualising the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, and reciting his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM. I have memories of my mother’s mother from when I was young reciting the mantra of Avalokiteshvara all the time. Even though she was blind, she continued to recite mantras with great diligence. She always had a cheerful demeanour and smile, as if she didn’t have any problems at all. She always maintained a graceful and dignified presence, and the gaze of her eyes was like that of a normal, seeing person. Such is the power of practicing loving-kindness and compassion. The great affection for and continual supplication to the bodhisattva of compassion was a binding force for our family. My grandmother passed it to my mother, and my mother passed it to me, and I am passing it to you, like an heirloom or an inheritance. My family was not wealthy in a material way, so this is what I have to offer as my main family heirloom.

錯誤的思想產生煩惱,有智慧是不會產生煩惱的。反過來講,你的所有煩惱都只在證明一件事,那就是當時你是沒有智慧的。

— 法傑法師