Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.
- The difference between how we think and how we act
- The “mere I” and the self-centered thought
- Thinking about the long-term results of decisions
- Why the Dharma is our best possession
- The meaning of “Dharma”
Gems of Wisdom: Verse 89 (download)
What supreme possession brings its owner everything beneficial?
The practice of Dharma for it protects from every negativity.
In our lives do we really think that the Dharma is the supreme possession? Do you think that the Dharma’s the supreme possession that will bring you everything beneficial? Do you think that from your day to day life? The way you live, the choices you make?
Audience: We think it but we don’t act like it.
Venerable Thubten Chodron: Yes. We think that way, kind of intellectually, but in our behavior does it seem like we hold the Dharma as our most important possession? When we make decisions do we consult the Dharma about what decision we make, or do we just go according to “I want this and I don’t want this. I like this and I don’t like that?”
[In response to audience] No, I don’t think you consult your “mere I.” I think you consult your self-cherishing thought. And our self-cherishing thought is not the mere I. No. The mere I is the “I” that exists by being merely labeled. The self-centered thought is all this fabricated “I am most important,” and “I matter the most,” and, “everything revolves around me.” They’re very different. The “mere I” you cannot get rid of because it exists. The self-centeredness exists, but you can get rid of it, and you’d better get rid of it. Because the self-centered thought is what makes such a mess.
Like you said, we talk like we value the Dharma but really when it comes to making decisions do we even think about what’s best in the long term in this life? Forget even the future of this life, we don’t even want to do what’s good for us long term the future of this life. We just think about what I want right now. Or as soon as possible. Don’t we? When there’s pleasure to be had take it now and forget if it brings difficulties even later in this life.
For example, people have a hard time saving money for something in the future because the ability to get chocolate right now is too strong. Or the difficulty people have in being generous, even right now—which is a good way to put your money to use right in the present is through creating merit by generosity. We have a hard time doing that because “why should I waste it on that when I can get what I want, my own person version of chocolate.” (I’m using that as a metaphor for whatever we’re attached to. It could be a brand new comfortable bed. It could be a new car. It could be a vacation. It could be a lollipop.)
This is something that it really takes a while for our worldview to change and our priorities to change. And to really think about why the Dharma is our best possession. And how to make the Dharma a possession. Instead of the Dharma being out there somewhere, and then when we need it to help us with a problem we’re lost because it’s not in here it’s out there in our notebook that we haven’t looked at since we wrote it down. [laughter]
The word “dharma” has many, many different meanings. Here it means “to hold.” And what it does is it holds us back from suffering. It holds us back from negativity. To want to be able to be held back from negativity and its resultant suffering, to want to hold our mind in virtue and be able to create good causes, then we really have to integrate the Dharma in our own mind as much as we possibly can. And that takes resetting our priorities, really thinking about what’s important in our lives, thinking in the long term, especially in future lives. What’s really good for future lives. Thinking (with a) long term perspective. Do we want to remain in samsara for another three countless great eons or do we want to start turning that around? What’s really important to us.
Pondering these kinds of questions is actually something very, very important. And then as our mind changes it becomes easier to practice and we really see how the Dharma holds us and protects us, and how it is the best possession to have.
Because you think about aging. Most people don’t like the idea of getting old, even though we’re all getting older. And it’s like, if we’re fortunate enough to live until old age what kind of old people do we want to be? What’s really going to help us? Will having a million dollars help you when you’re old. It could be helpful in the sense of not having to live out on the streets. But I don’t think you need all million of it to avoid living on the streets when you’re old. A smaller portion would do. But even within that, even if you have the money to take care of your body when you’re old, does that guarantee that you’re going to be happy when you’re old? Not at all. Because you can have a very nice external situation when you’re old, and the mind is terribly unhappy.
What is really going to make us be able to be a happy person when we’re old? And to be happy even when our body’s falling apart. And to be happy when our mind is getting more and more forgetful. And to be happy even when the younger people forget that we even exist. What is really going to help our mind when we’re old so that we can be peaceful and still feel that our life is meaningful?
Did you know the highest suicide rate is amongst white, older men? That’s the highest suicide rate. So for many people, getting old it’s like all of a sudden “my life has no value, no purpose, nothing. I’m retired and it has no meaning.”
What is going to make our life meaningful when we’re old, and to have a sense of purpose and peace and happiness in our mind. Is it having a new TV with all the gidgets and all the cable stations so that you can flick through it and be constantly entertained? Or having a new computer? You can’t use the small ones then because your eyes don’t work so well. So you have to have something with a big screen.
What’s really going to make our old age happy is mentally—what we’re doing with our mind mentally. Not how much money we’ve saved and how much we’ve constructed a nice environment for ourselves. But to have the Dharma be important to us in our old age, and to be able to grow old gracefully and happily, then we need to practice the Dharma right now.
I look at my teachers, when I first started the Dharma many of my teachers—70s, 80s, and of course getting older. The ones that were in their 50s and 60s got to be in their 80s. And just to watch them and how they had a happy mind. And how they were still going around teaching and doing all sorts of things even as they’re old and they’re panting, and their body hurts and everything like that. But mind, quite okay.