One may think: “We concede that our decisions are unreliable, but when we follow the decisions of the Buddha, we are infallible.” Then who decided that the Buddha is infallible? If you say, “The great scholars and adepts like Nagarjuna decided that he is infallible,” then who decided that Nagarjuna is infallible? If you say, “The Foremost Lama Tsong khapa decided it,” then who knows that the Foremost Lama is infallible? If you say, “Our kind and peerless lama, the excellent and great so and so decided,” then infallibility, which depends on your excellent lama, is decided by your own mind. In fact, therefore, it is a tiger who vouches for a lion, it is a yak who vouches for a tiger, it is a dog who vouches for a yak, it is a mouse who vouches for a dog, it is an insect who vouches for a mouse. Thus, an insect is made the final voucher for them all. Therefore, when one analyzes in detail the final basis for any decision, apart from coming back to one’s own mind, nothing else whatsoever is perceived.
The practice of meditation consists of working with thought. As thoughts arise, they are the natural display of the mind, and we simply do not follow them. By not following them, we also don’t try to stop them or get rid of them. By not following our thoughts, we find that the thoughts will lessen and we will begin to experience that underlying cognitive clarity without thought.
Taming the mind takes time. Through good and bad moods, through periods of peacefulness and klesha attacks, we train in being present. Day by day, month by month, year by year, we become better able to keep a rule of life, better able to lead the life of a bodhisattva who can hear the cries of the world and extend a hand.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
The Buddha gave eighty-four thousand different teachings, all of them designed to subdue ego-clinging. This was the only reason why he set them forth. If they do not act as an antidote for our attachment to self then all practice is in vainas was the case with the Buddha’s cousin Devadatta. He knew as many sutras as an elephant could carry on its back but because he could not shake off his clinging to self he went to hell in his next life.
The extent to which we have been able to overcome our self-attachment will show the degree to which we have used the Dharma properly. So let us try very hard.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Another danger is that Buddhism is becoming synonymous with mindfulness, happiness, and nonviolence. Many people think that’s all there is. When they talk about mindfulness, they immediately think of sitting cross-legged on a cushion with a straight back. This kind of thinking will destroy Buddhism. If we choose to emphasize only one technique, the others will start to rot, and when even one rots, like a bad apple, it will spoil the whole bunch. Longchenpa saw this even in the twelfth century. He said if such degeneration happens, it will be like pouring milk inside a clay pot that hasn’t been put in the kiln. The pot will crumble, and the milk will also spoil. So abundance and variety in the teachings is so important. Otherwise, if the mindfulness movement doesn’t work in a place like America, Americans will throw the baby out with the bathwater and discount all of Buddhism. This would be such a loss.
My training had introduced me to the spacious awareness of my natural mind. We compare this awareness to open skies and oceans — references meant to invoke immeasurable vastness, even though awareness is more immeasurable than skies and oceans combined. Once we learn to recognize the ever-present quality of awareness, to let go of the conditioned and contingent mind and recognize that we are this spacious awareness, then our thoughts and emotions manifest as waves or clouds inseparable from awareness. With recognition, we no longer get carried away by the stories that keep our minds spinning in repetitive cycles, or jumping around like a crazy monkey.
Whenever Buddha spoke he stressed the importance of making a personal investigation of his words and their meaning. Only when we are convinced that the teachings are accurate and applicable to our own lives should we adopt them. If they fail to convince us, they should be put aside. He compared the process of testing the truth of his teachings with that used to determine the purity of gold. Just as we would never, without testing, pay a high price for something purporting to be real gold, we are also responsible for examining Buddha’s teachings for ourselves to see whether they are reasonable and worthwhile.
One of the meditation techniques that is good to use — especially if you are busy — is mindfulness of the body. When you get disturbed it’s often hard to settle down again. Instead of going straight to present-moment awareness, silence, the breath, mettā, or whatever other type of meditation you use, sit down and just become aware of the sensations and feelings in your body. Focusing on the physical feelings is a way of giving ease to those feelings. This is particularly useful if you are tired or sick. And it’s not that hard. To make this sort of practice truly effective, use caring attention. Caring attention is not just being mindful but also looking upon those feelings with gentleness and compassion. You’re not just aware of the sensations, but you’re kind and gentle with them.
In talking about discipline and exertion on the Buddhist path, people tend to have the attitude that everything has to be somber and militant. But exertion, discipline, and openness do not need to come along with such confusion. Genuine discipline is very clean-cut, and at the same time, it is powerful and worth celebrating. Mindfulness is very refreshing each time. Every moment the bubbles of mindfulness begin to pop, there is a new creation of fresh air.
In Tibetan there is a word that points to the root cause of aggression, the root cause also of craving. It points to a familiar experience that is at the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression, and greed. This word is shenpa. The usual translation is “attachment,” but this doesn’t adequately express the full meaning. I think of shenpa as “getting hooked.” Another definition, used by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, is the “charge” — the charge behind our thoughts and words and actions, the charge behind “like” and “don’t like.” Here’s an everyday example: Someone criticizes you. She criticizes your work or your appearance or your child. In moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste, a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever. That sticky feeling is shenpa. And it comes along with a very seductive urge to do something. Somebody says a harsh word and immediately you can feel a shift. There’s a tightening that rapidly spirals into mentally blaming this person, or wanting revenge or blaming yourself. Then you speak or act. The charge behind the tightening, behind the urge, behind the story line or action is shenpa.
You can actually feel shenpa happening. It’s a sensation that you can easily recognize. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. Someone looks at us in a certain way or we hear a certain song, or walk into a certain room and boom. We’re hooked. It’s a quality of experience that’s not easy to describe but that everyone knows well.
Now, if you catch shenpa early enough, it’s very workable. You can acknowledge that it’s happening and abide with the experience of being triggered, the experience of urge, the experience of wanting to move. It’s like experiencing the yearning to scratch an itch, and generally we find it irresistible. Nevertheless, we can practice patience with that fidgety feeling and hold our seat.
When practicing and studying, it’s important to have a motivation that is free from affliction. Among the various pure motivations, the most important is the wish to help ourselves and others, the vast motivation of the Mahayana, which means acting for the sake of all our former mothers, all sentient beings, who are as limitless as space. You may already have faith, respect, and excitement about the Dharma, and the pure motivation of bodhichitta. Still, it is good to recall and reinforce that motivation from time to time. It helps your mind to go toward the Dharma, the Dharma to become the path, and the path to dispel confusion.
14th Dalai Lama
The problem with having expectations is that we usually do not expect the right things. Not knowing what spiritual progress is, we search for signs of it in the wrong areas of our being. What can we hope for but frustration? It would be far better to examine any practice with full reasoning before adopting it, and then to practice it steadily and consistently while observing the inner changes one undergoes, rather than expecting this or that fantasy to become real.
Know that there are three types of people:
Inferior, mediocre, and superior.
The inferior are said to be those
Who by any of the various means
Strive for their own benefit
To merely attain the pleasures of samsara.
The mediocre are said to be those
Who turn their back on samsara’s pleasures
And also refrain from evil deeds,
Yet pursue a personal peace.
The superior are said to be those
Who through understanding their own suffering
Deeply desire to completely end
The sufferings of all other beings.
Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche
Every kind of teaching is transmitted through the culture and knowledge of human beings. But it is important not to confuse any culture or tradition with the teachings themselves, because the essence of the teachings is knowledge of the nature of the individual. Any given culture can be of great value because it is the means which enables people to receive the message of a teaching, but it is not the teaching itself.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Remembering everything you experience is created by mind is also the direct antidote to pride and ego, and once it becomes second nature, you will no longer cling to your dharma activities. This does not mean you will not practise. On the contrary, in the same way someone dying of thirst cannot resist taking large gulps of water, once you know everything is an illusion, your only thoughts will be about the dharma. Of course, the dharma itself is the antidote to ego, but for those who take pride in being good practitioners, dharma activities can be just another means of boosting their egos. And this is why it is so important to remember that absolutely everything we experience is just a product of mind, even if it’s only for five minutes a day.
If you exaggerate the value of external objects, thinking that they are the most important things in life, you ignore your inner beauty and internal joyful energy; if you look only outside of yourself, you neglect your most precious human qualities — your intellect and your potential to communicate in higher ways. Thus, meditation shows you clean clear which objects of attachment confuse you and with which kinds of mind you relate to them.
3rd Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche
The Tibetan word for Buddhism, nangpa, has the meaning of internalizing, indicating that we need to turn inward and work within ourselves. By doing so and gaining a clearer sense of who we really are, we develop a sense of our existence as it relates to all that surrounds us. If we look outside and try to figure out what is out there based on confused mental projections, we will never recognize who we are. What is fundamentally true is that the experience of pain or pleasure is not so much what is happening externally as it is what is happening internally: the experience of pain or pleasure is mainly a state of mind. Whether we experience the world as enlightened or confused depends on our state of mind.
Giving, opening, sacrificing ego is necessary. It is like performing an operation. It might be painful because finally we realize that we cannot take part in our own burial. Very painful. We lose our grip on the wishful-thinking world of pleasure and goodness. We have to give up trying to associate ourselves with goodness. Having a relationship with this may be extremely difficult. It’s an organic operation without any anesthetics.
Thoughts are just displays of the mind. They may be waves stirring up the all-ground consciousness, but this is not a fault. If you just rest loosely in them, they will disappear right there. This is why when we meditate we should let the thoughts that occur in the sixth mental consciousness relax into the all-ground consciousness.
Patience is not learned in safety. It is not learned when everything is harmonious and going well. When everything is smooth sailing, who needs patience? If you stay in your room with the door locked and the curtains drawn, everything may seem harmonious, but the minute anything doesn’t go your way, you blow up. There is no cultivation of patience when your pattern is to just try to seek harmony and smooth everything out.