Because we cling to this notion of a self, we continue to aggrandize this self and work for its benefit. By eliminating the illusory notion of a self, directionless working for all sentient beings occurs spontaneously as in the activities of a Buddha.
When we think of containers, we often overlook the ways in which the contents can affect the container itself — warming or cooling it, staining or bleaching it, stretching or strengthening it and even breaking it. The word used in Tibetan for “contents’ in this analogy also literally means “nutrients”, such that we ourselves are like the nourishment for the world that contains us. Indeed, as I have mentioned, the carbon dioxide we exhale nourishes the trees and plants, and our bodies also return to the earth and nourish it after we have died. The natural environment, in turn, nourishes us and provides us with the conditions we need for life. What this signals is that the connections of interdependence between us and the world we live in are far closer and more reciprocal than we normally envision.
Every one of us has been hurt by people we have cared for, and although we may insist we have forgotten all about it, we rarely have. To help ease any lingering pain, visualise them in the place of honour, and as you arouse bodhichitta, wish them everything that is good. If thinking about them continues to be painful, it is a sign that you have not let go of feeling they have wronged you. Try not to focus on it. Instead, admit to yourself that you are still holding on to your pain. Then concentrate on wishing them every happiness and long to take all their sufferings on yourself. And do bear in mind that for those who are really serious about practising the dharma, difficult relationships provide the most fertile ground for practice.
When I began to practice meditation on compassion, I found that my sense of isolation began to diminish, while at the same time my personal sense of empowerment began to grow. Where once I saw only problems, I started to see solutions. Where once I viewed my own happiness as more important than the happiness of others, I began to see the well-being of others as the foundation of my own peace of mind.
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.
Imagine yourself as a child lying on your back, gazing up into a cloudless sky, and blowing soap bubbles through a plastic ring. As a bubble drifts up into the sky, you watch it rise, and this brings your attention to the sky. While you are looking at the bubble, it pops, and you keep your attention right where the bubble had been. Your awareness now lies in empty space.
Six things are taught to be indications of excellent gurus:
If those who rely on gurus are inspired and turn toward the dharma, this is an indication that, through spiritual accomplishment, these gurus have amassed clouds of blessings.
If gurus encourage students to practice and their students in turn display many positive qualities, this is an indication that these are gurus who transmit the great instructions of the profound oral lineages.
If gurus are not jealous of others to whom they might lose their retinues or possessions, this is an indication that mundane attitudes of ownership and personal ambition have fallen away from them.
If gurus know how to involve anyone at any level of understanding on the spiritual path, this is an indication that they have innate compassion and skill in benefiting beings.
If gurus are able to greatly benefit those who suffer, this is an indication that they have trained in compassion and developed immeasurable bodhichitta.
If gurus have spacious and contented minds and are free of ordinary concerns, this is an indication that they have indwelling confidence that comes from realizing the way things actually are. Seek out and rely on such qualified gurus.
There are six ways in which students are contaminated by the faults of poor teachers:
Students who rely on poor mentors are tainted by fixation on the extremes of naive affirmation and nihilistic denial because of their teachers’ dubious belief systems.
They are led to commit harmful, negative actions because of their teachers’ improper conduct.
They become increasingly quarrelsome and mean-spirited because of their teachers’ signs of inferior spiritual attainment.
They indulge in their confused perceptions and habit patterns because of the poor meditation they are taught.
They are obsessed with mundane affairs because of the questionable spiritual methods in which they train.
They fall into lower realms of samsara because of the inferior goals they are taught to seek.
Therefore, for those who have faith and seek the path to liberation, a poor teacher is the greatest obstacle caused by maras. So identify such teachers and avoid them at all costs.