Architect of one’s life
We all agree that we would like to end suffering. Each person has weaknesses and faults unique to his/her own set of circumstances. However, there is something good inherent in all of us; we all possess the nature of Buddha mind. We need to remove the veils so that our true Buddha nature may reveal itself. The reality we experience inevitably generates suffering. We need to be aware of and gain an understanding of our situation. We will then be able to apply the appropriate remedy for our maladies. First, we need to be aware of how and who we really are. Only then can we be successful in finding a way to recognize our true nature that is neither superficial nor emotional. We should, therefore, put into practice the following:
Recognize our own situation, Modify our ways to lessen the suffering, and Purify our minds thereby increasing our awareness of the true nature of mind.
Whether we are on a spiritual path or not we still have to live our lives. Though the situations on the outside may remain the same, we can start to change our reactions to them. Because our minds are now very much under the force of habit, any attempt to change the familiar tracks quickly will likely fail. Change can only come about slowly, little by little. We must work on modifying our habits now and gradually our perception of things will change. Big changes hardly ever take place. Only little changes may occur from day to day, which often goes unnoticed. Patience and perseverance are therefore important if we are to succeed.
Our minds are unclear at the moment. We develop stress and frustration invariably as we carry on every day. We should try to minimize the stress in every aspect of our life. We are all different individuals so the results of our practice will be different for each of us.
Our goal is Enlightenment, awakened mind, or Bodhicitta.1 If we look at the achievement of near perfect Bodhicitta on the level of the great Bodhisattvas, it might seem almost unattainable, too far removed from our present situation. Hopelessness might set in. Nevertheless, we have to start by taking the first step now.
Bodhicitta is the complete opening towards what is not oneself. We have to accept that things are not the way we want them to be. Acceptance will naturally reduce stress and enhance greater understanding. This will, in turn, give way to a clearer mind which will facilitate deeper insight into mind. And so the process continues.
In the Bodhicitta of application, we should adopt equanimity. At the moment, we are constantly developing hope and fear whereby our actions are tainted. We are afraid of failure on the one hand, and on the other, we have desires:
“The success is mine.”
“The goal is mine.”
“I have failed.”
We put our hopes everywhere and that conceals the true condition of things and spoils our vision of the world. Consequently, we are lost in trying to orient or adapt ourselves correctly in our lives. Equanimity means to see things as they really are. First, we must see clearly, then we can adapt our actions appropriately without being unduly emotional. To reach equanimity we need mind training to develop good habits. Whether we are seeing things as good or bad, helpful or annoying, we must take the time to examine the situation as it is. Bodhicitta, mind training, equanimity, and clear mind are all interrelated. The progress and development of anyone will have positive effects on others.
Whenever we do something, it is usually in response to a personal need. Otherwise, our efforts in the “something” will not last long and it won’t work. Likewise, to end suffering we must raise a sense of urgency to be rid of it. Suffering comes from others and our milieu. When we are at work, people generate unpleasant situations which could be improved. One possibility for positive change is to observe the relationship we have with other people. Often, where there is a conflict we should observe it like this: “The poison is my own self-preoccupation. The conflict is created because they don’t act as I would like them to act. But, is my method or my way of seeing things good or not? “
The mistake is our general refusal to take other people into account or to “share the cake.” In our relationship with others, we should always consider them first. We should not regard them as obstacles. We should acknowledge that they also have aspirations. They have the same aspirations as we do only from a different perspective. Understanding their point of view will render any interaction easier, more open, and with less conflict. Dysfunction usually comes from a negative attitude. Altruism is the preoccupation with other peoples’ welfare.
Whenever we do not see results from our efforts, we immediately dismiss them as bad. This is a mistake. Our expectations might have been too high. It is important to see our egos at work. We should be patient and be modest in our expectations.
Sometimes, we decide to wait for an ideal situation before we act and as a result, we never get started. The resolve to do what is right was good but lacking in application. The smallest examples are usually the best to start with. Take an everyday event that has gone wrong, determine what happened. Recognize your own reactions before any further undertakings. You might find your reasons for reacting are often: “I don’t like it!” or “That’s just the way I am!” Yet, you never ask: “Why am I like that?” Or, “Why am I always saying, “I don’t want … and so forth.” It is precisely these tendencies which develop aversions. You have created them by yourself. You carry your bias into all your relationships. Ask yourself why. This is where you can affect the big changes. By “yourself,” the method doesn’t work; you need the “other” to provide the opportunity.
Contentment is key to openness. Avarice is natural in all of us: “I want things to be like this for me!” This type of thinking gives rise to frustration. There is no longer contentment. Contentment is not pining always “for better,” or “for more,” etc. Instead, be reasonable and set realistic and effective goals. Bodhicitta requires us to look at other people’s viewpoints. This principle should always be our prevailing interest. But we neglect our efforts to develop contentment. We should examine for ourselves what is really unpleasant in a given situation. Contentment is a state where things are deemed satisfactory. It is a matter of reasonable balance.
Bodhicitta which includes benevolence is often absent from our mindstream. Most situations are fluid. We should try to be flexible. We are not computers, and profit and efficiency should not be our only concerns. We should act out of benevolence even though this is not yet spontaneous for us at the moment. We cannot be only charming and nice to people whom we like. We should be vigilant lest we quickly give up after a few attempts. Natural benevolence does not stay for long. The law of cause and effect functions well and without exception, benevolence leads to better resolution of conflicts. Always engender benevolence when facing aversion. There is a danger in taking the teachings too intellectually. Peace of mind is not measurable unlike a stethoscope probe is. The result of positive action is assured though it might not be evident.
Benevolence always leads to positive mental states. Feeling grateful is generally considered a positive state. For example, if you bought some rice at the market, then went home and cooked it for supper, reflect on the people who grew the rice and give them credit. In this way, benevolence will increase. Because of benevolence, we forge recognition. Each time you recognize a link, it makes you feel much better. The opposite of benevolence is tension. Contrary to the natural tendency of deluded mind, which is usually not even aware of thoughts, try to see if your thoughts make any sense. When we are more centered and focused, a deeper understanding is then possible. Always examine the meaning of what you are doing. Be aware of and develop mindfulness. A non-distracted mind is present in meditation. When our mind is less preoccupied, we will see more of the present moment. The same attitude that we adopt in our formal meditation should be applicable likewise in our active life. Reflect and keep check of your thoughts and actions. A deeper understanding of the teachings will develop. Usually, we think that once we have heard something, we understand it all. The same applies to people; we see them and we think we now know them. Remain open. Always make allowance for other possibilities rather than being closed-minded, or too definite about your own views. On the subject of meditation, the object of training is to allow for a clearer mind. The mind has the capacity to find its original clarity. Meditation is not to add something to, or to change the nature of mind, but to remove the veils that obstruct the mind from manifesting itself properly. When the mind is disturbed, it is not focused. It is wandering or following various chains of ideas. Through meditation, we can bring it back to the “here and now.” Stability of mind will enhance a deeper awareness of the mind itself. Stability, clarity, and lucidity are the original qualities of the mind.
To attain mind’s original qualities we need to practice equanimity. We have to accept that which occurs without changing anything. We are prejudiced about what mind is and here are some misconceptions: “mind is empty,” “we have to stop the emotions and thoughts.” Our idea is we have to do something, but this runs contrary to meditation.
Meditation is not doing anything. It is being in the presence of mind where there is equanimity. Whatever happens, inside or outside us, we do not stop or block it. It has no importance and we just leave it. The disposition of mind during meditation is such that there is no expectation or any idea of consequences. For meditation to be effectual there has to be no expectation. Humility about who we are or what we do is important. We constantly have hopes and fears thereby giving rise to tensions, even when we are supposed to be calm. For example, during meditation, when you don’t know how to meditate, after a few seconds, you’ll be looking both internally and externally: “Am I meditating well? Is the room quiet? When will that noise stop?” The real obstacle is at that point when you expect or fear something. Lighten up … whatever happens, just let it go. There is really no “good” or “bad” meditation. You should not worry about whether or not you are contemplating.
Be aware of how you function. Meditation is making room for this awareness. Just be there, not doing or adding anything. Meditation is like any activity. There is first the theory; then it has to be put into practice. We have to leave behind our habitual tendencies as described earlier. The effort is necessary for meditation with the knowledge that it is a clear state without any expectations. We have a tendency to always judge what we did in the past, denying our actions if they were deemed negative. It is more effective if we reflect and consider whether an experience is useful for whatever reason. We should look upon it not as a source of conflict with the self, but for a better understanding of self.
All the “wrong” meditations are in fact “good’ support for contemplation. Terms for the contemplation are no fabrication, no production. The consciousness is present and exposed to the multitudes of phenomena. Even the checking to ensure that there is no fabrication is fabrication again. Naturally, meditation is not a state which can be described in its usual sense. We should dispense with words and the descriptive terms for they are not “the state.”
A good technique to apply is “to allow to settle,” that is, let the body and mind to calm. An analogy is like agitated water – leave it for a while, then, whatever particles are there will sink to the bottom and the water will become clear again. The body must be in a calm state. Walking is all right but running might make it difficult. There should be no talking. Reduce the production of thoughts, which means to let go and be in the present. Don’t try to do anything. As with water, if you try to take anything out it will not stay clear anymore, so don’t interfere. This state of calm and lucidity of the mind is a perfect presence like a tape recorder taking in everything that is happening without selection or judgment. The point is not to cover up the eyes or ears with our fingers. For example, during meditation, a change in light may be construed as: “It is becoming more cloudy and then, later, it might rain.” You are no longer meditating if you think like that. Or if you hear people talking, and you think, “what are they saying,” there is no meditation again. One should come back to the meditation and not follow the thoughts. Like someone watching a show, you look at everything.
A more favorable condition for meditation is a calm place with no rock music band playing. Complete silence is not necessary all of the time. You will gradually learn to integrate all external events in the meditation such as people talking outside. It is just like that – not good or bad. Initially, you will fall again and again into the trap – not serious contemplating. The only obstacles to your meditation are your reactions to thoughts and judging whether something is good or bad. Slowly integrate all the events into the meditation session. If you are sometimes distracted and you realize it, you are no longer disturbed. A common stumbling block is that we practice meditation to achieve some improvement or result. There is always the tendency to check if it is good or bad, better or worse. These are really the only real obstacles to meditation. Even if your meditation was calm and then afterward you judge it to be good, then it means that the previous session or the one to follow will not be as good.
Recognition is important – when you see something wrong it also means that you were able to see it. The ability to see means there is recognition. This understanding will reduce tension. Whatever happens, it is good because mind is there and it is aware.
Meditation and daily life are not the same. The value of what happens during meditation session has no importance. The point is to see and let go. We can carry the same training in contemplation into our daily lives. Always being present in the moment, progressively we will form the habit of being able to accept any given situation.
How do we settle the mind? How do we establish “new tracks” and habits? We do it through training. Choose an appropriate period of time, a few minutes in the beginning, as long as it is pleasant without tension. You ought to feel relaxed and comfortable while doing nothing. When you start to feel restless and not so pleasant anymore, stop the session. But your meditation does not end there. In the same way, you carry on the meditation in daily life as mentioned before. Venture deeper into life’s situations, become closer to other people, be more open, and develop your understanding. If you hold Bodhicitta in theory only with no application, it is useless.
We should clearly recall at any one moment that our ultimate goal is to reach Buddhahood. In the meantime, until the goal is reached, the veils which are blocking us have to be removed. How we live and experience our lives now is important to help us reach the goal. Look at all the events of any given day. You will find that some events are easy to remember while others very difficult. That means during the day you had presence of mind only sometimes. You were totally absent in some parts of the day. If we look carefully enough, we will realize that very often we are actually somewhere else. During these periods, emotions come on stage. The process of training leads to more presence of mind both in meditation and also in daily life. When we are present and focused, we can build a whole lifetime in one sitting, if not 100%, at least 10%. The greater the presence of mind, the more suffering will be removed. Gradually we can build up this presence of mind. The process takes time but our condition will start to change for the better and the improvement will continue.
You can practice meditation at any time, however, some moments are deemed better than other times. The early morning is a good time. We begin with a non-fabricated state when there is not a tendency to fall asleep again. Mind is relatively clearer and more aware than at other times. We should take refuge and develop Bodhicitta. We start the day in a state or attitude of benevolence. During the day we make real effort to benefit everyone whom we might meet. Then, slowly and gradually, day by day, things will improve. At the end of the day, we finish in a similar way. It is recommended that we focus the mind and dedicate our actions to all beings, wishing that all beings may reach enlightenment. We should recall again this state of mind before going to sleep. This could be reinforced during the day at any time, but more importantly, we should begin and end the day in this frame of mind.
There is however a common difficulty to overcome and that is: “I have no time.” A few minutes in the morning and at night are all it takes. It depends on how our minds are attuned. It is really all relative. Look at the time wasted during the day. Every evening, reflect upon what we have done during the day. If the events and activities are easy to recall it shows that you have presence of mind – this could be construed as positive. Probably you would have some days which are not so good. This is normal. You should examine yourself and try to reach some balance. Try to gain understanding and to see clearly in this way. Hopefully, you will not repeat the mistakes because you are not stupid and will not persist in doing wrong. Generally, wrong deeds become “refuse” for the basement. If you forget about it, after a few years, it will smell! This is not good. It makes sense then to look at ourselves every evening and start again tomorrow with modifications. Otherwise, with every tomorrow we carry the garbage of yesterday.
We apply the same technique when we feel overwhelmed. Look at that state of mind. Meditation enables us to relate to our experiences and learn to accept what is not so good. Look at guilt, another experience from our repertoire of experiences. Take advantage of “guilt” by being aware of it so that you could do something positive to counteract it and develop a habit of doing so. This is possible due to the free time during meditation when you are doing nothing.
We have seen how meditation is the heart of the path to enlightenment. Although to attain enlightenment may not be the goal for every-one, those of us who wish to do the same as the Tathagatha (1) will decide to tread the path to enlightenment; for us, med-itation is necessary. Others will lead a normal life but may wish to improve their circumstances. They come to know about the nature of mind one way or another, and ultimate-ly are led to Buddhahood. Some of us want to stop suffer-ing. Since the premise of the entire Buddha’s teachings is that suffering is the cause or root of everything, whether our motivation is to reach Buddhahood or to stop suffering, the path is the same.
Some people believe that the Dharma or teachings are altruistic and therefore exclude those people who only want to look after themselves. Regardless of whether the point of departure is selfishness or not, when we start practicing the Dharma, we start to see things as they truly are. At some point we will understand that nothing is possible when we are not concerned with the welfare of others. Whatever the motivation is at the beginning, the practice will inevitably reveal that others are vitally important and our motivation will naturally change.
On a practical level, the first thing is to be aware that each person is endowed with Buddha nature, a clear con-sciousness able to apprehend the whole universe. We think on the one hand, “I’ll try to experience this consciousness free from suffering,” and then on the other, “I live in a world made by happiness and suffering.” We have to under-stand that everything is suffering. Even happiness is a cause of suffering because happiness has an end. Open any book about the “Four Noble Truths.” Does it not state that every-thing is suffering? We need to understand this fundamental axiom in order to be aware that happiness is suffering. We need to be aware that our mind is the Tathagatha, and to see this world of suffering as it is, to understand it clearly.
Secondly, we look at ignorance. Some regard it as a demon, but ignorance is not an evil force nor is it some energy out to destroy us. Although it is not malevolent, it is true that it underlies the root of all suffering. When ignorance diminishes, so does suffering. For example, if my leg hurts and it does not stop, I might start to imagine that it might be cancer. If someone tells me that there is a splinter there, all my mental suffering immediately disappears. I can then tend to the pain. But if I cannot see it clearly, my actions might be inappropriate and harm me instead.
So most of the time an incident might be trivial, but if we do not see it truly for what it is, it can be very dangerous. Fighting ignorance is not like starting a war. It is simply opening our eyes to notice the little things that, if not recognised, might become problematic and dangerous for others and ourselves.
We have a tendency to want everything right now. After hearing the teachings, we think that we have the keys, but somehow they don’t fit. We may then turn away without considering our own efforts and input. For example, as in the case of the splinter, even though I knew that it would not get worse, it would still be painful for some time. Thus we need to develop an attitude of being relaxed while doing what is necessary. It may take time, but improvement will gradually come. The danger here is the tension we experience while waiting for a result. In fact, such anxiety actually slows or blocks the improvement. Whatever we do, it is done better in a relaxed way. If we rush, it will take longer.
During our attempt to decrease our suffering, we must not exclude other people. They are essential to our success because through them we build up our strength of awareness. When we meditate, we have a clearer mind, but when we come out of our practice and face others, we find that we have not improved that much. Meditation makes us more sensitive to others around us. When we are alone, there is no problem, but when facing other people, our emotions will surface. It is in our experiences with other people that we find fuel for improvement. If we want to have enduring results, we have to strike a balance between being with others and our solitude. The attitude to develop is a reasonable balance of reaction and acceptance. There is no pre-established standard. Through our interaction with other people we will improve, but each of us has to find our own limits.
The key is to be aware so that we can see things clearly and dispense with any preconceived points of view which only cloud perception. We want to recognise what is really taking place. Every time we look, we find “ego grasping.” It is the first movement of our consciousness. We all have this first reaction of, “I perceive.” At the base of any experience is ego grasping which is the root of suffering. When we discover this ego grasping there is a tendency to fight it. The point is not to fight it but to recognise it, directly or indirectly perceiving it: I want,” which is desire, or, “I don’t want,” showing our aversion, or, I don’t care,” our ignorance. All the emotions are due to ego grasping, a dualistic mode of perception, “I” and “others.” It produces much suffering yet we cannot get rid of it by waving a magic wand. It is interesting to look at the ego grasping in any experience, and to start working with it.
The term, -disturbing emotions” is merely a label. In fact, when we do examine these emotions, we will see mental events, images, sensations, etc. and not know to what they correspond. Take, for example, the study of botany. We first gain understanding of the connection between flowers and fruits, how they grow, and the sequence corresponding to the seasons. In the same way, we first gain awareness and then understanding of the “disturbing emotions” and “ego grasping.” Generally, we only investigate or question ourselves when something has gone wrong or we are not happy. When we are happy, we don’t do anything. At the base of our consciousness, there is the ego grasping, “What I like, what I don’t like, I don’t care, etc.” The more we know about ourselves, the better our chance of liking and accepting ourselves. Ego grasping is also the root of pride, jealousy, and the other disturbing emotions. Slowly and gradually we will realise that ego grasping pervades all of our experience. We will see our jealousy and pride. In the example of botany, this is like seeing the seed or the sprout. If we want to get rid of the plant, it is easier to get rid of the sprout.
Mind is ever on-going, a continuum. This on-going process cannot be adequately described with words. The mind moves forward on “tracks” derived from habits. When we let our consciousness drift away, we find ourselves following our habitual tendencies that are nothing other than our egos at work. We have developed these tendencies from past experiences. We need to realise that when we are not vigilant, we tend to drift toward jealousy or pride or any of the other emotions that are habitual. We can weaken these tendencies by modifying our reactions in a more balanced way, and we can slowly start to affect some changes in our habits. We can cultivate openness and benevolence if we have first noticed our habitual tendencies.
With practice, we will learn over time to see ever more clearly how, because of ego grasping, the mind reacts with pride, jealousy, greed, and so on. In our relationships with others, we are always expecting something. This is extremely important to realise, because our expectations cause conflicts when they are not fulfilled. Within our familial and work surroundings, we usually have a lot of expectations. We often pretend that we are acting for the welfare of others while at the same time harboring expectations which will then lead to frustrations. I expected from so and so… now, I am frustrated. I thought I was right. They have let me down. Either I was in the wrong, or, they did not come through!” We should be aware that everyone everywhere is like this, including ourselves. It is common to think like this, but nevertheless we need to be aware of it.
To be able to see this attitude with some sense of humor is helpful and necessary. Don’t imagine that there is a “quick fix” to modify it. The habitual reflex will change somewhat after having first noticed it, but we cannot force a change to take place. Ever since our childhood, we have been told: It is not good to be proud, not good to be jealous, etc.” What was not said is that these emotions, anger, pride, jealousy, etc., are generally what our minds are preoccupied with. The same mind experiences both greed and generosity. In fact, there is really no “bad” versus “good;” rather it is a mere mislabeling. This why it is so important to see and understand. The key is not to reject these emotions but to recognize them. What appears as pride can be changed into the energy of action. Insofar as it is recognized, it becomes a quality. jealousy can be transformed into the quality of perseverance, leading us to bodhicitta, to enlightenment. Anger arises when something goes wrong. The same anger could be a quality of lucidity able to help correct a situation and thus could be very useful.
Recognising our emotions does not mean that we should go against or get rid of them. There is nothing to reject, there are only different energies to be used in potentially beneficial ways. By being aware, it is possible to change the expression of the energy from negative to positive.
Buddha said, I can give you the means to liberation but I cannot set you free. I can give you the tools to reach the goal.” He also taught that it is not possible to free oneself without the “others.” Ultimate enlightenment is attained only through bodhicitta. We cannot develop qualities when isolated because, to overcome ego grasping our success depends on our contact with others. We can seize the chance to take advantage of our emotions when they arise in order to modify and change our habitual tendencies. Bodhicitta, or loving-kindness, is the antidote to apply to bring about the changes. There is no other way. We need to put ourselves in the place of others, be aware that they are unhappy, and see for ourselves that our own happiness depends on theirs. This also means that our view encompasses all points of view, so that our vision of any situation becomes more complete and thereby more precise. The immediate result of the application of bodhicitta is that we stop rejecting our responsibility for whatever is happening.
How do we develop the necessary vigilance and integrate it into our experience? The goal is to perceive the true nature of our mind, the true nature of both mental and outer phenomena. Slowly and gradually, we improve the way we live our lives and elevate ourselves by following the guidelines given in the teachings. Then we will arrive at a stage where we can take control over our existence. We embark on a spiritual path taking into account all the implications of the law of cause and effect. We make an effort to be aware of what is positive and negative while on the path to enlightenment. Unless we retreat into solitude, we will continue to lean more toward negative acts. However, if we are vigilant we can see through all the negativity. We will then have an opportunity to work with our negative perceptions through our practice and turn them into useful qualities. By being conscious, not only do we live with less suffering, but we are striving toward enlightenment.
We also need to be able to perceive the true nature of the mind. There is an all-base consciousness that underlies all the sense consciousnesses and ego grasping called the alaya vinyana or tathagatagarba. We obscure this all-base consciousness by both our habitual tendencies and our dualistic mode of perception. We can only work on ourselves, but unfortunately, we don’t have access to these levels of consciousness. It is precisely in the alaya vinyana that all the karmic imprints are stored. The effects of negative actions generate suffering while at the same time increasing the two veils of habitual tendencies and tainted modes of perception. Positive actions, on the contrary, enhance our progress on the path to enlightenment and provide the much needed relief of immediate suffering.
To practice the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings), we don’t necessarily have to become Buddhists. It can be just as effective if we learn to take control of our lives by using the methods discussed above. What is ordinarily referred to as virtue becomes transcendental virtue, or paramita (2). Ordinary qualities enable us to go beyond suffering. One of the six paramitas is ethics. Positive behavior is deemed positive depending on personal experience and these positive acts always help to remove the veils that obscure consciousness. There are no external rules to follow. Everyday we need to keep a watchful eye on what we do. In time, our awareness during meditation will gradually become more clear, and in our daily lives, we will be able to perceive the positive results in our actions. This positive improvement will spread to our relationships with others. Our awareness will guide us to minimize suffering for others and ourselves. When we behave wrongly, we will realize our responsibility and no longer make excuses. We will correct and adjust ourselves, and eventually we will act appropriately.
The spiritual path demands a sharp awareness of negative action because recognizing the character of what we do is crucial. We need to feel regret for our bad actions as if we have swallowed poison. It is important to think that, “If I could go back into the past, I would not do it again.” It is also important to note that we do not necessarily need to feel guilty. The benefit of regret is that it urges us not to do wrong again. We can then engage in practices that purify the negativity and spur us on to do what is right. All this can happen if we feel real regret. The process of self-correction can start at a mundane level and can eventually evolve into a superior path of practice where we employ more powerful tools and means to remove our mental veils. We can form new habits, such as reflecting every night on the activities of the day. This awareness helps us create a habit of performing more positive acts because we can see that we can create our experiences and results every day.
The path of Dharma is based on the infallible axiom of karma, that all causes and all actions have results. This does not just stop at the gross and outer levels but also permeates our whole being. The emotions of jealousy and anger for example not only generate consequences, but also leave imprints in the all-base consciousness. These imprints will condition our perceptions that are the fruit of previous actions and explain why we are as we are now. We realize with caution that any anger, however small, will leave imprints in our base consciousness and this will have an impact on our future existence. A positive example, on the other hand, is the Chenrezig practice of compassion. It strengthens the positive imprints in the consciousness which will in turn condition our perception of the universe.
As we advance on the path, the practice of ethics becomes more and more important. As explained already ethics is not a set of external rules but it has its base in being vigilant in the need to always keep a watchful eye on what we do. Having understood this about karma, we might be afraid of falling down. What if we are unable to perceive the negative character of an action and think instead that it was positive? The ten negative actions involving the three categories of body, speech, and mind are a useful guide:
Mind: envy, malevolence, wrong views
Speech: lying, slander, callousness, idle talk (e.g. about the faults of others)
Body: killing, stealing (taking what is not given), harming beings sexually
We have a tendency to go and ask a lama, “Is this good or not?” If we look closely enough and we are honest, we really do not need to ask. Ethics will steer us into looking at things as they really are, that is, to do “good.” We can use our own understanding and can refer to external rules if sometimes we are not sure. On the surface, ethics do not seem very important, but the consequences can be grave. Small actions, positive or negative, can bring big, unpredictable results. We are responsible for our actions and do not want to take for granted the little things that we can do. We can protect even the smallest life. Our generosity will open us to the ten positive actions. We can deter someone from committing wrong. We can strive to perform small positive things and refrain from small negative actions, ever aware that all actions will bring results. By acting in a positive way, we diminish the agitation of our minds. This in turn will facilitate more positive actions leading to more peace of mind. Everything is of consequence, be it positive or negative, and we have to encourage ourselves to do what is positive.
We can see that the spiritual path is pervasive in all aspects of our lives. There is not one period of time for practice, and another when we are not in practice. It is essential to be aware of how we communicate with others. If possible, with awareness we can try to be kind. We can practice the two accumulations: performing positive actions that lead to good results and having lucidity of mind with ever-present awareness. The latter requires our vigilance all the time. Both accumulations are important and are interrelated. If we find ourselves more engaged in one accumulation, we can expand our time and energy in the other.
There are two qualities relative to the spiritual path that transcend the rationale of ordinary life, faith, and confidence; both are beyond intellectual understanding. We can speak of ethics, perseverance, and other qualities. We need to go beyond the confines of our ordinary perception and reasoning, which is only possible if we have a proper foundation. Our practice will not work if we do not have a solid grounding in ethics. Only then can we try to enter a formal spiritual practice. We need to develop the aspiration to achieve enlightenment. We begin our practice with simple and ordinary experiences that are readily available and easily understood directly in our everyday life. Our practice can take us to higher levels. To explain what we mean by going beyond the ordinary level, we use the example of bodhicitta and our good wishes for all beings. Even though it cannot be explained in words, the power of making wishes to benefit all beings can and will bring about strength in our mind that can purify negativity and make use of the power of wisdom. Although this cannot be explained in ordinary terms, it can be experienced. What is necessary is the accumulation of positive actions in order to transcend the existing boundaries. At that point we can perceive what seems otherwise irrational and can truly understand that we can only be happy by caring for the welfare of others.
Through our formal practice, our understanding will become deeper and sharper. We will understand emptiness, not to be misunderstood as nothingness, that is the nature of all things. We will understand why the practice of yidam (3) can be so effective, how the purification practice works, and why we need a lama. We can go beyond the rational through rational logic and meditation. We will gradually grasp the meaning of the ‘developing phase’ and ‘completion phase’ of the practice and how the different phases of the practice are useful. We will gradually understand why some practices are long while others are short. It is necessary to venture forward and investigate for ourselves. The practice works, yet the explanation lies beyond logic. Gradually, we will go farther and farther. This is what we mean by the “understanding of the practice.” Of course, our formal practice and daily life are not on the same level, but are of the same path.
To become architects of our own lives, we have to stand on a proper base. The base is essential for our daily life while integrating all the aspects of practice to reach enlightenment. The base also serves to provide comfort and peace of mind while we are on the spiritual path. With a solid foundation, everything is possible. Without it, nothing is possible.
1. Tathagatha refers to the essence of the Buddha. [back ↑]
2. Paramita – the perfection that leads to enlightenment. The six paramitas are: generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom. [back ↑]
3. Yidam – An enlightened aspect of Buddha in the form of a deity that helps a practitioner on his or her path to enlightenment. [back ↑]