Beings long to free themselves from misery,
But misery itself they race to catch.
They long for joy, but in their ignorance,
Destroy it, as they would a hated enemy.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
One of the great blights suffered by modern people is a lack of self-esteem or healthy sense of self. It leads some new students to ask if taking on the suffering of others in tonglen practice might cause them to lose confidence in themselves. Quite the opposite is true. The attitude we cultivate as bodhisattvas — of longing to offer the best of everything to others and willingly accept all loss, unpleasantness or difficulty — actually bolsters our confidence and completely eradicates a lack of self-esteem.
We all have an innate sense of self or self-grasping – a sense of autonomy or independence from others. We feel that we can do without others, and hold on to a sense of ourselves as separate from them. Yet if we consider carefully the actual reality and ask whether or not there truly exists any such self-sufficient or autonomous self, we see that what we are mainly taking as a basis for this label ‘me’ is our body. This physical form that we can perceive serves as the primary point of reference for our sense of an independent self or ‘me’, yet our body is very clearly not something independent. On the contrary, it depended on our parents to bring it into existence, and, in a more subtle sense, it came from the substances of others. Moreover, just having a body is insufficient.
We also need to sustain that body. If we do not have clothes, food and the many other additional resources we need to stay alive, this body becomes nothing but a corpse. Where do the food and clothing our body depends upon come from? These too come from others. Particularly now in this context of globalisation, much of what we use comes from far away. We eat fruit grown in another country, and wear clothes manufactured in distant parts of the globe. We might live in a developed country, dressed in garments produced by people in an underdeveloped country or impoverished area. We do not see the people who make our clothes, or know them, yet we are wearing clothes that they worked to produce.
Jetsün Kushok Chimey Luding
How would you suggest integrating Dharma into daily life, based on your own example? Especially, how to overcome the excuse of having no time?
You have to make time. There is enough time. You work eight hours a day. Some people then say: I have no time to practice. But instead they go to a bar, sit front of the television, go to the movies, or do other things. If you really want to practice, then you have to give up those things. It is not necessary to cut yourself off from life completely, but you must slowly eliminate distraction. If you practice all the time, then your mind becomes tired. That is not so good — you lose concentration. Then you can watch a little television, read some books (not Dharma books), you can go for a walk in the forest or on the beach, or work in the garden — you can do those sorts of things. Also, if you work in a job where you do not need to talk, you can recite mantras while you are working. At work, or when I do my house duties, I recite a lot of prayers; sometimes I do mantras, sometimes I sing Tibetan songs.
Setsuan Gaelyn Godwin
As much as possible, I attempt to step toward my distress rather than turn away at the first whiff of discomfort. A better way to put it might be to turn toward, rather than immediately turn away from, distress — turn toward, then take a good look. It’s clear that responses are often governed by habits that have carved a path over time, and we can develop a habit of turning away from — or rushing toward — distress.
In Europe and the West generally, it is considered very important to protect one’s individual rights, personal freedom and interests. These should not become mixed with selfishness, and I believe there is a danger that the two do become mixed. For that reason, we need to ensure that we are able to distinguish correctly between selfishness, on the one hand, and the protection of individual rights, personal freedom and interests, on the other.
To that end, it is very important to understand what is meant by ‘self’. There is a vast difference between actual reality and how the self appears to us. We assume that how things appear to us or how we experience them is how they really are. But, ultimately, there is a distinction between appearances and reality. Many people normally have a feeling that the self – or what we refer to when we say “I” – is something self-sufficient and not dependent on others. However, in reality, if we think about it, our very body, from our head to our toes, arises entirely based on others. Our ability to survive is thoroughly dependent upon others. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, even the air we breathe – this all comes from others. This is perfectly obvious.
There is nothing wrong with feeling that we have a self, but we need to ask what kind of a self exists. What is this ‘I’ that exists? We must question whether it is singular and independent, as we usually assume. That kind of ‘I’ in reality does not exist. But sometimes we can make up reality. It is not reality, but we think that it is. This is why we should have a very clear understanding of how this ‘I’ exists. We need to examine carefully so that we see that in actual fact, our self is utterly interdependent on others, and is in no way independent or unrelated to anything else. It is not that ‘I’ do not exist. We do exist, but we need to understand how we exist. When we see that we exist as an interdependent arising, in mutual dependence on others, then without a doubt we will feel a sense of responsibility for others. This is why I feel that interdependence is not just a philosophical view, but a value or a way of life.
If we have this awareness of our self as arising interdependently, then, when we consider all the resources we enjoy that come from the natural environment, we see how thoroughly we rely on it. From that awareness, a sense of concern and care will definitely arise, naturally. We will naturally think of protecting the environment. This is how a sense of responsibility is supported by an awareness of interdependence and of the preciousness of our human life.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
We must keep in mind that the goal is not just understanding simplicity. Far from it. A good guru will mock a yogi who displays even the most advanced comprehension. A yogi should not be satisfied with mere understanding; a yogi must aspire to experience the truth. But a brave guru will even disregard the yogi’s prized experience. The most sublime yogi will not settle until he actualizes the truth. How is actualizing different from understanding and experiencing? To know the answer, you need a guide, a guru. At the end of the day, you and only you will decide which particular being can guide you, who can enlighten you, who can tame your emotions, who can lessen your selfishness, who can encourage your enlightened qualities to grow. So your decision-making faculties need to be clear and sharp.