Knowledge is as infinite as the stars in the sky; there is no end to all the subjects one could study. It is better to grasp straight away their very essence — The unchanging fortress of the dharmakaya.

— Longchenpa

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Seeking the “I”
by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

All the problems we encounter in samsara: the cycle of repeated death and rebirth, have their source in the ignorance that grasps at things as though they were self-existent. Our situation in this cycle is similar to being trapped in a large building with many rooms and doors, but with only one door leading out. We wander hopelessly from one part of the building to another, looking for the right door. The door that leads us out of samsara is the wisdom that realises the emptiness of self-existence. This wisdom is the direct remedy for the ignorance which is both cause and effect of clinging to self, and which believes the self or “I” to be inherently and independently existent. In other words, the I appears to be something it is not: a concrete, unchanging entity, existing in its own right, and our ignorant mind clings to this mistaken view. We then become addicted to this phantom I and treasure it as if it were a most precious possession. Wisdom recognises that such an autonomously existing I is totally non-existent and thus, by wisdom, ignorance is destroyed. It is said in the Buddhist scriptures that to realise the correct view of emptiness, even for a moment, shakes the foundations of samsara, just as an earthquake shakes the foundations of a building.

Each of us has this instinctive conviction of a concrete, independently existing I. When we wake up in the morning we think, “I have to make breakfast,” or “I have to go to work.” Thence arises the powerful intuition of an I which exists in its own right, and we cling to this mistaken belief. If someone says, “You’re stupid,” or “You’re intelligent,” this I leaps forth from the depths of our mind, burning with anger or swollen with pride. This strong sense of self has been with us from birth — we did not learn it from our parents or teachers. It appears most vividly in times of strong emotion: when we are mistreated, abused or under the influence of attachment or pride. If we experience an earthquake or if our car or ‘plane nearly crashes, a terrified I invades us, making us oblivious to everything else. A strong sense of I also arises whenever our name is called. But this apparently solid, autonomous I is not authentic. It does not exist at all.

This does not mean that we do not exist, for there is a valid, conventionally existent I. This is the self that experiences happiness and suffering, that works, studies, eats, sleeps, meditates and becomes enlightened. This I does exist, but the other I is a mere hallucination. In our ignorance, however, we confuse the false I with the conventional I and are unable to tell them apart.

This brings us to a problem that often arises in meditation on emptiness. Some meditators think, “My body is not the I, my mind is not the I, therefore I don’t exist,” or “Since I cannot find my I, I must be getting close to the realisation of emptiness.” Meditation which leads to such conclusions is incorrect, because it disregards the conventional self. The meditator fails to recognise and properly identify the false I that is to be repudiated and instead repudiates the conventional or relative I that does exist. If this error is not corrected it could develop into the nihilistic view that nothing exists at all, and could lead to further confusion and suffering rather than to liberation.

What is the difference, then, between the false I and the conventional I? The false I is merely a mistaken idea we have about the self: namely, that it is something concrete, independent and existing in its own right. The I which does exist is dependent: it arises in dependence on body and mind, the components of our being. This body-mind combination is the basis to which conceptual thinking ascribes a name. In the case of a candle, the wax and wick are the basis to which the name “candle” is ascribed. Thus a candle is dependent upon its components and its name. There is no candle apart from these. In the same way, there is no I independent of body, mind and name.

Whenever the sense of I arises, as in “I am hungry,” self-grasping ignorance believes this I to be concrete and inherently existent. But if we analyse this I, we shall find that it is made up of the body — specifically our empty stomach — and the mind that identifies itself with the sensation of emptiness. There is no inherently existing hungry I apart from these interdependent elements.

If the I were independent, then it would be able to function autonomously. For example, my I could remain seated here reading while my body goes into town. My I could be happy while my mind is depressed. But this is impossible; therefore the I cannot be independent. When my body is sitting, my I is sitting. When my body goes into town, my I goes into town. When my mind is depressed, my I is depressed. According to our physical activity or our state of mind, we say, “I am working,” “I am eating,” “I am thinking,” “I am happy,” and so on. The I depends on what the body and mind do; it is postulated on that basis alone. There is nothing else. There are no other grounds for such a postulation.

The dependence of the I should be clear from these simple examples. Understanding dependence is the principal means of realising emptiness, or the non-independent existence of the I. All things are dependent. For example, the term “body” is applied to the body’s components: skin, blood, bones, organs and so on. These parts are dependent on yet smaller parts: cells, atoms and sub-atomic particles.

The mind is also dependent. We imagine it to be something real and self-existent, and react strongly if we hear, “You have a good mind,” or “You’re terribly confused.” Mind is a formless phenomenon that perceives objects, and is clear in nature. On the basis of that function we impute the label “mind.” There is no functioning mind apart from these factors. Mind depends upon its components: momentary thoughts, perceptions and feelings. Just as the I, the body, and the mind depend upon their components and labels, so do all phenomena arise dependently.

These points can best be understood by means of a simple meditation designed to reveal how the I comes into apparent existence. Begin with a breathing meditation to relax and calm the mind. Then, with the alertness of a spy, slowly and carefully become aware of the I. Who or what is thinking, feeling, and meditating? How does it seem to come into existence? How does it appear to you? Is your I a creation of your mind, or is it something existing concretely and independently, in its own right?

Once you have identified the I, try to locate it. Where is it? Is it in your head…in your eyes…in your heart…in your hands…in your stomach…in your feet? Carefully consider each part of your body, including the organs, blood vessels and nerves. Can you find the I? If not, it may be very small and subtle, so consider the cells, the atoms and the parts of the atoms.

After considering the entire body, again ask yourself how your I manifests its apparent existence. Does it still appear to be vivid and concrete? Is your body the I or not?

Perhaps you think that your mind is the I. The mind consists of thoughts which constantly change, in rapid alternation. Which thought is the I? Is it a loving thought…an angry thought…a serious thought…a silly thought? Can you find the I in your mind?

If your I cannot be found in the body or the mind, is there any other place to look for it? Could the I exist somewhere else or in some other manner? Examine every possibility.

Once again examine the way in which the I appears to you. Has there been any change? Do you still believe it to be real and existing in its own right? If such a self-existent I still appears, think, “This is the false I which does not exist. There is no I independent of body and mind.”

Then mentally disintegrate your body. Imagine all the atoms of your body separating and floating apart. Billions and billions of minute particles scatter through space. Imagine that you can actually see this. Disintegrate your mind as well, and let every thought float away.
Now, where are you? Is the self-existent I still there, or can you understand how the I is dependent, merely attributed to the body and the mind?

Sometimes a meditator will have the experience of losing the I altogether. He cannot find the self and feels as if his body has vanished. There is nothing to hold on to. For intelligent beings this experience is one of great joy, like finding a marvelous treasure. Those with little understanding, however, are terrified, or feel that a treasure has just been lost. If this happens, there is no need to fear that the conventional I has disappeared — it is merely a sensation arising from a glimpse of the false I’s unreality.

With practice, this meditation will bring about a gradual dissolution of our rigid concept of the I and of all phenomena. We shall no longer be so heavily influenced by ignorance. Our very perceptions will change and everything will appear in a new and fresh light.

Closely examine the objects, such as forms, that appear to your six consciousnesses, analyzing the way in which they appear to you. Thus the bare mode of the existence of things will arise brilliantly before you.

These lines from The Great Seal of Voidness, a text on mahamudra by the first Panchen Lama, contain the key to all meditation on emptiness. The most important factor in realising emptiness is correct recognition of what is to be discarded. In the objects appearing to our six consciousnesses there is an existent factor and a non-existent factor. This false, non-existent factor is to be discarded. The realisation of emptiness is difficult as long as we do not realise what the objects of the senses lack, ie, what they are empty of. This is the key that unlocks the vast treasure house of emptiness.

But this recognition is difficult to achieve and requires a foundation of skillful practice. According to Lama Tsongkhapa, there are three things to concentrate on in order to prepare our minds for the realisation of emptiness: first, dissolution of obstacles and accumulation of merit; second, devotion to the spiritual teacher; and third, study of subjects such as the graduated path to enlightenment and mahamudra. Understanding will come quickly if we follow this advice. Our receptivity to realisations depends primarily on faith in the teacher. Without this, we may try to meditate but find we are unable to concentrate, or we may hear explanations of the Dharma but find that the words have little effect.

This explanation accords with the experience of realised beings. I myself have no experience of meditation. I constantly forget emptiness, but I try to practice a little Dharma sometimes. If you also practice, you can discover for yourselves the validity of this teaching.

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Without compassion, the view of emptiness will never lead you to the sublime path. Yet meditating solely on compassion, you remain within samsara; so how could you be free? But he who comes to possess both of these will neither in samsara nor in nirvana dwell.

— Mahasiddha Saraha

见贤思齐,征服自我
达照法师

一、见贤思齐

我们学佛人不搞偶像崇拜,因为凡所有相皆是虚妄,但是我们每天都在拜佛像。为什么?因为佛是我们的榜样。但不要与佛一比就很自卑,觉得自己是一个业障很重的人,连佛堂都不敢去了。有些居士说:“我今天没有吃素,不敢到寺院里拜佛。”“我太坏了,不敢到寺院里去。”我说寺院盖起来,就是专门为了让坏人进来改好的,所以坏人也要到寺院里来。不懂的人跟佛菩萨一比,跟修行好的人一比,自己就自卑了,觉得自己干不了好事,就继续干坏事了。其实还是要跟好的比,要把佛菩萨、把修行好的人当榜样。有些女居士说:“我最近有例假,不敢去寺院。”其实来例假到寺院里,香也没有关系,拜佛更没有关系,这是正常的生理现象,不要觉得是罪过。手洗干净了,嘴不要乱说话,做得好一点,心很清静,那么你的身口意三业都清净了。

我们每天在皈依三宝,在诵经,在观察佛菩萨的言行,目的何在?就是让我们不停地和圣贤相比。古人说“见贤思齐”,看到佛菩萨,我们就希望自己也要像佛菩萨那样。有没有想过自己要像佛菩萨一样?可能不多。我们一定要这样发愿:“我一定要像佛菩萨一样!”因为佛告诉我们:每一个人都有佛性,都是可以像佛菩萨一样的!向好的比,越比就越有智慧。因为一个人一旦想要像佛菩萨一样,这种愿望的力量是无穷的,因为榜样在那里。所以我们需要亲近善知识,亲近有修行的人,亲近有德行的人。

《吉祥经》里面说:“勿近愚痴人,应与智者交,尊敬有德者,是为最吉祥。”不要亲近愚痴的人,要不停地向好的人学习。这样,你越比较越觉得自己有差距,有差距你就知道自己应该在哪里下手了。很多人寺院跑了很多,师父也见过不少,居士也见过不少,但他看来看去,觉得这些居士、师父都没有自己好,是什么道理呢?是他没有善根福德因缘,遇不到好的人。

有个简单的经验:在寺院里,喜欢用功修行的师父,基本上都待在房间里不出来,因为他们没有时间到处游逛——诵经打坐都来不及,哪里还有时间到处游逛,除非他在干活;而那些游逛的人往往都不太修行,东看看,西跑跑,找几个居士攀谈一下。很多人喜欢逛庙,这个庙逛两下,那个庙跑两下,庙跑得很多,游来游去像老油条了,我们叫他们庙油子;而他们看到的基本上也都是在外面游逛的人,所以在他们脑海中的师父可能不怎么样。

以前有个居士在开会时说:“现在已经没有好和尚了。”会场上有位师父接过话说:“看不到好和尚的人都是没善根、没福德的人。”事实上确实如此。因为观世音菩萨已经发过这样的愿,“应以何身得度者,即现何身而为说法”,也就是三十二应。这句话什么意思?就是如果以什么样的身份能够度你的,观音菩萨马上就会示现这个身份来度你。《普门品》大家有没有读过?里面有天龙八部、童男童女、宰官、妇女、婆罗门、比丘、比丘尼、优婆塞、优婆夷……三十二应身,只要能以哪种身份度你,观音菩萨马上就示现这种身份来度你了。你没有看到能度你的人,这说明什么问题?说明观音菩萨没有办法度你。观音菩萨都没有办法度你,那就说明你条件不够,你还没有发起希望被度的心。

见贤思齐、见圣思齐,这是智慧的比较。通过比较,我们会发现差距。我们跟一个好的师父在一起,马上就会发现自己心胸狭窄、固执、得少为足,很容易沾沾自喜,很容易自己不懂就去推销。有些人去推销佛法——去推销也挺好的,大家都应该去推销,因为佛法本身是好的,但是如果自己还不懂就去推销,别人两个问题一问就糊涂了,这样别人就不信了。所以最好是先改变自己,用自己进步的表现来感动别人。

二、征服自我

在这个世界上,任何一个众生都不能被他人征服,唯独可以被自己征服。有句话讲”最大的敌人就是自己”,其实最大的好人也是自己,而且最大的敌人总敌不过这个好人。因为好是我们的佛性,坏是我们的无明;不论需要多久,无明总会破的,而佛性谁也征服不了!我们内心的善心、智慧是与生俱来、不可颠覆的。

世界上有些人很了不起,被称为伟人,可是伟人身边的人往往不觉得伟人有多伟大。为什么?因为伟人征服了别人,但征服不了自己。历史上有多少伟人他能征服天下,征服其他国家,但是征服不了自己,征服不了自己的心魔。而圣人是通过征服自己来感动别人的。

释迦佛早在两千五百年前就告诉我们:人生是苦的,苦是可以解脱的。两千五百年后,大家还坐在这里,这么安静地听佛法,我们是被征服的吗?不是!我们是被感动的!没有人能征服我们。我们感动了以后,就要开始通过佛法来征服自己了;当我们征服了自己,身边所有的人都会被我们感动,确实如此。凡是能感动别人的人,他一定有征服自己的能力;一个连自己都征服不了的人,即使偶尔能感动一下别人,那也只是表面的。如果你身边的人真的被你感动了,那说明你征服了自己。如果家里人不修行,同时非常反对你修行,是什么道理?你反省一下,你是想做伟人去征服他人,还是想做圣人去感动他人?被感动,是心甘情愿的;被征服,是迫不得已的,是口服心不服的。

人这一生也许有很多快乐,也有很多痛苦,也许你的人生可以平平淡淡地度过,也许有非常多的坎坷在前面等着你,但是只要你告诉自己四个字——“心甘情愿”,就什么问题都没有了。有人问我:“吃素难不难受?想不想吃荤?”不想,真的不想。我二十年来一个吃荤的念头都没有,习惯了。为什么?因为我心甘情愿。特别是学习佛法以后,我们知道每一个众生都是一条命,怎么忍心吃呢!出家人的日子比较清贫,有人问出家人:“你出家是不是很开心?有没有后悔?”如果有后悔的人,他一定不是心甘情愿的,只要是心甘情愿的,他会非常舒服,在家居士也是如此。

What is the nature of Bodhicitta? Bodhicitta is divided into two, awareness mind and realised mind. Awareness means to remain in tranquillity. It also means having eliminated our selfishness and the wish for self – liberation. Realised means having arrived or achieved the mind that work only for the benefits of all sentient beings. Therefore, if we can eliminate or selfishness and work only for the benefits of all sentient beings; at the same time, generate the wish for the good of all sentient beings then this is called the realised mind. So what is the benefit of generating Bodhicitta? First of all, it can benefit oneself because we will gain peace in our mind. Secondly, we can benefit all others so that they will also gain peace in their mind. Therefore to quote the sutra; “there is only one source of happiness, that is Buddha’s dharma” Happiness and benefits of all sentient beings emanate from the one source of Buddha’s Dharma. Without Bodhicitta, the effects of 84,000 different methods would be useless. If we can grasp Bodhicitta then we would have all 84,000 methods to benefit all sentient beings.

— Garchen Rinpoche

Entrance to the Great Perfection
by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

If we are missing nonduality, our every act will lead to disappointment. How far do you go if you are a therapist trying to help an alcoholic or drug addict? If this person has somehow decided to become a drug addict for the next five thousand lifetimes, you, as a bodhisattva, must have the determination to be reborn wherever they are going to be reborn. You might, for instance, aspire to be reborn at the right time and place to be nearby him or her. Say for example, you are a bodhisattva and have been trying to help this drug addict for over two thousand lifetimes. Now, somewhere in an obscure place, their 2,042nd rebirth is going to happen. Although you need to appear for only half a day, in order to do that you actually have to be reborn there. It is almost a waste of a complete whole life, to be reborn there just to do something that will take only half an hour, or half a day, but as a bodhisattva you must do it. That is what we call the strength and quality of relative compassion.

Now we come to the real quintessence of bodhichitta. Why does a bodhisattva have this degree of compassion? Why don’t they give up? What is the real basis of their confidence? The bodhisattva realises that the notion of “drug addict,” “problem,” “healing,” and “being healed” are all in their own mind. The bodhisattva knows that none of this exists “out there” somewhere, externally and truly. Based on this wisdom, the bodhisattva can develop compassion.

This understanding can really help. My own experience is like being a firefly in front of the sun. Even so, when I try to help people and things don’t work according to plan, I say to myself, “How can I get frustrated?” In the first place, I myself have set up a certain goal based on my own interpretation. In helping a person, I imagine that he or she should reach a certain level, but this is my own idea. After becoming obsessed with the idea of success, when the person is not there, I might lose hope and confidence in this person. Sometimes we do realise that it is all our own projection, but most of the time we don’t. Instead, we think: “This is how it should be. This is real success!” We don’t realise that it is all our own interpretation. This is where we go blind. When you are helping, if you know that your so-called “help,” “success,” and “failure” are all in your own mind, you won’t get worn out. Because you realise that it is all your mind’s doing, you won’t get tired. This is a very general and somewhat course example of ultimate bodhichitta. If you have this understanding, you have a complete picture of bodhichitta.

To reiterate, ultimate bodhichitta is an understanding of emptiness. Only when this is included is there a complete picture of bodhichitta. When we talk about bodhichitta, usually we make reference to something simple, such as a kind, compassionate heart, but that’s not all. This is something many people have. It does not necessarily make you a bodhisattva. Of course this is not to deny that there are very kind and compassionate people. There are people who may even sacrifice their lives for others, but still they may not be bodhisattvas. In fact, they are in danger of acting out their obsession and could end of being victimised by their goal-oriented mind. Being too obsessed with a goal can produce a lot of side effects, such as thinking, “This is how it should work!” With this approach, a bodhisattva can lose hope and determination when things do not work out; they may even stop being a bodhisattva. Having said this, a bodhisattva should not just do things aimlessly.

Just as you would try to protect the flame of a lamp by covering it with your hands – you want to protect the mind that sustains a state of equanimity, silence, and simplicity.

— Khandro Rinpoche