The cause of unsatisfactory experience
Root afflictions: Part 5 of 5 and Secondary afflictions: Part 1 of 2
Part of a series of teachings based on the The Gradual Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim) given at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, Washington, from 1991-1994.
LR 052: Second noble truth 01 (download)
The secondary afflictions: 1-4
LR 052: Second noble truth 02 (download)
The secondary afflictions: 6-10
LR 052: Second noble truth 03 (download)
Review and Q&A
- Review of the session
- The way to meditate
- Overcoming afflictions
- Training the mind
LR 052: Second noble truth 04 (download)
We have been talking about the four noble truths, and what unsatisfactory experiences are. We have discussed in depth about the causes of the unsatisfactory experiences, in particular the six root afflictions.1 We are at the sixth affliction: the afflicted views. There are five subdivisions of afflicted views. We are now at the last of the five subdivisions of afflicted views: wrong views.
Wrong views are afflicted intelligences that deny the existence of things which in fact exist or accept the existence of things which in fact do not exist.
Wrong view: the non-existence of the mind
In the previous session, we talked about how thinking that there is a creator God is a wrong view. Another wrong view is found in science, which is thinking that the mind does not exist (only the brain exists); thinking that the mind is the brain, or that the mind is just an emergent property of the brain in the sense that all there really is, is just physical materials.
That is a wrong view because if you begin to think that there is no mind whatsoever—the mind is just the brain or the mind is just the chemical activities—then you end up negating past and future lives. When you negate past and future lives, then, ethics becomes very wavery.
Also, if you believe that there is just the brain, then it’s very easy to think, “Oh, the path of liberation is just to drug the brain. Since there is no mind and no consciousness but only the brain, any feeling of unhappiness or misery must be due to the chemicals or electrons in the brain. So, just put in a drug to resolve it. That becomes the path to liberation.”
That is why it is considered a wrong view; it leads you to all these very strange behaviors.
Wrong view: Human beings are by nature evil
Another wrong view that is prevalent is to think that human beings are by nature evil. You hear many people talk about that. I remember debating this when I was in school: are human beings by nature good or are they by nature evil?
It is a common belief that people are by nature evil, that selfishness, attachment and anger are all intrinsic parts of the mind, and nothing can be done to eliminate them. That is a wrong view because in fact all these afflictions can be removed.
If you don’t believe that they can be removed, then you will not believe in the possibility of enlightenment, the possibility of any kind of improvement of one’s own mental state, or the improvement of society, because you are just stuck in the belief, “I am inherently selfish. So is everybody else. The whole world stinks!” And then you live your life like that. Without making any kind of effort to improve oneself or to contribute to others, then of course nothing improves.
So, there are all these wrong views and we have to look in our own hearts and see how many wrong views we have. We may not espouse them publicly, but, for example, a corner in our heart still thinks that there is a creator God, that if we just please this creator God, we will be okay. What corner of our heart thinks that selfishness is an intrinsic part of the mind and that human beings are by nature evil? What part of our mind or heart thinks that there is no mind, that the mind is just the brain? So, we have to search these out within ourselves.
Other wrong views
Or we may have certain wrong views about karma. Like I was saying in the previous session, we believe that we were born into this life because we have lessons to learn, as if there is some grand lesson planner who is designing all these lessons. Or thinking karma is about reward and punishment.
Or thinking that there is eternal heaven and hell, limiting karma to just this life and then after this life, you experience eternal bliss or eternal damnation according to your karma; thinking that these afterlife states are permanent, eternal and unchanging. This is a wrong view because those experiences last only as long as the causal energy is there. Any kind of karmic actions we’ve done only last for a limited amount of time. After some time, it expires, it exhausts itself, and those good or bad states and rebirths all end. If we think that they are eternal, then again, we get stuck. So, what part of our mind still thinks like that? What part of our mind kind of thinks that when we die, we are going to get judged, and somebody will send us to heaven and hell?
The reason I am emphasizing this is because we grew up with all sorts of beliefs. It could be that we didn’t examine the things we listened to when we were little. We just believed them and they got kind of mixed up with our feelings about acceptance and society, so that we believe certain things not because we have really thought about them and believed them, but because we think if we don’t, we are not going to fit into society. And so, it is very important to look inside and see what is really going on, and what we believe in and why.
Another wrong view is thinking that there is one universal mind. This is another very popular belief these days. “Everything is one. One universal mind; we are all chips off the old block.” I remember Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching on this. He said, “Well, if there is one universal mind, then, I am you and you are me. That means I can go into your house and take anything I want because it is my stuff.” [laughter]
So, we get into certain difficulties again with this idea of one universal mind. And also, if there is one universal mind, then, it being one single thing, how can there be many parts to it? And then, how did one universal mind get fragmented into all these different bits? So, you come into quite a few difficulties in terms of explaining all these.
All these things are very interesting to look at. I was thinking about the philosophical study that we [sangha members] do a lot of in the process of our training. The studies are designed very much to take out a lot of these wrong views that have been found in previous cultures and in our own culture. We take them out, lay them on the table and look at them in a logical way and see what’s going on.
A lot of the philosophical studies are aimed at that, because if we can clear away all of our intellectual wrong views, then at least there is a chance that we can develop a correct intellectual understanding of emptiness. On the basis of that, we can then meditate and actually experience emptiness. If our mind is cluttered with all sorts of wrong views, and we make up our own philosophy, then, we tend not to follow karma very well and create a lot of causes of suffering, and also we tend not to meditate on emptiness or on altruism because we don’t believe in them.
So, that’s concluding this root affliction of wrong views. We have finished the six root afflictions on the outline.
The secondary afflictions
The next category is the secondary afflictions. There are 20 of them. Actually, there are more than 20. Some day, we will go into these in depth and also discuss the ones that we think exist that aren’t listed here. This isn’t an exhaustive list.
These 20 afflictions are called secondary afflictions because they are aspects or extensions of the root afflictions. Also, they are called secondary or proximate because they occur in dependence on the root attitudes. They derive from the six root afflictions that we have just discussed. I am not going to go very in depth into these 20 because some time in the future I would like to teach Lorig—the study of mind and awareness—and we will go much more in depth then.
So here, I will just briefly go over them to give you a little bit of a taste, but I think even that will give us a lot more awareness of our own mind. When you hear the definitions of these, try and recognize them in yourself and understand how they work in yourself.
All this stuff that we have been going over now is really rich for meditation because this is basic Buddhist psychology. So, when you go home, reflect, “What is anger? What are wrong views? What is this wrong view of the transitory collection? When I have this, what does it feel like? What does it feel like when I have attachment? What am I attached to?” It is a framework with which to look at what is going on in our mind and be able to identify different mental events which are our own experience.
When we say we feel out of touch with ourselves, it basically means that we are not able to identify what is going on in our own mind. Hearing about the 20 secondary afflictions1 will give us some tool to look at our own experience.
The first one is called wrath. Wrath is a mental factor that, due to an increase of anger, is a thoroughly malicious state of mind wishing to cause immediate harm.
[laughter] Have you ever felt that? Wishing to cause immediate harm because I am totally bananas and out of control?
When you know the definition, you can then think of specific examples in your own life, so that the next time you start getting into that state of mind, you are able to notice, “This is an affliction. This means that I am not viewing things in accordance with reality.” Even if you just remember it for a minute, it gives you a little bit of space in there right away, so that the wrath doesn’t completely overwhelm you.
When you read the newspaper tomorrow about what all these different people are doing, relate them to the six root afflictions and the twenty secondary ones, “Which affliction was this? What could be motivating that guy? Could it be wrath? Could it be any of the other ones?” Maybe some kind of wrong view thinking he is doing people a favor by destroying their property because it helps them renounce attachment. [laughter]
Also, when we look at the afflictions that others might have in this way, we should also try to recognize these in our mind and think of the actions that they caused. You go both ways between motivation and action, and, action back to motivation. Then it helps you to understand.
The second one is called vengeance or grudge-holding. This is a knot in the mind that, without forgetting, firmly holds on to the fact that in the past one was harmed by a particular person, and wishes to retaliate.
Vengeance is deeply entrenched anger. Somebody harms us, and we make a very strong determination never to forget it or forgive the person. We hold on to our anger as if it is our most valuable possession. And of course, we wish to retaliate. We want to get even in whatever way we can.
Sometimes we can be very upfront about it. Other times, we don’t feel so good about feeling angry at somebody. Instead of feeling angry, we just sit there with our hurt. But if we examine our mind closely, we may find that there is a part of us that really wants to let the other person know that they have hurt us. We want to retaliate, don’t we? We want to cause them some kind of harm so that they recognize what they have done to us and how badly we are hurting. Hurt, grudge-holding, anger and lack of forgiveness—these things are all intertwined there.
[In response to audience] We think that if we get our revenge, we are resolving the conflict. But are we in fact resolving the conflict? Does vengeance really bring what we think it’s going to bring?
[In response to audience] What does abuse mean? What’s getting abused? Is abuse what the other person is saying to me, or does abuse also have to do with how I take what the other person says to me? If the other person is condescending towards me and I look at them and say, “This person has some kind of problem that they are acting out. Their behavior towards me really has very little to do with me and my qualities. It is more a statement of where they are at.” Then, am I being abused?
I don’t think so. Maybe from the other person’s side, they might have the motivation to be abusive. But from my side, it becomes water off the duck’s back; it isn’t the oil that soaks into paper.
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): There are two things we have to do here. First, figure out how our mind is going to react to it. Second, figure out what we will do in the relationship.
Sometimes we forget to look at how our mind is reacting to a situation; we think resolving a situation means just changing the external situation. This is our old habit, isn’t it? Something happens, we don’t like it. We don’t check our reactions; we just want to change the outside.
So, I think the real challenge in the situation is to use it in this way, “How am I reading this situation? Why am I reading it this way? How is that making me feel? When this person talks badly to me, do I believe what they are saying at some level? Is that why I don’t like it? Or, even though I don’t believe what they are saying, I’m afraid other people are going to believe it, and I am going to lose my reputation.”
In other words, what is it I don’t like about what this person is saying? Use the situation to do some research about ourselves. Use it to understand ourselves better, to understand what is going on within us, what we are attached to or what we are feeling uncomfortable with, and resolving that at some level.
We could then look at the external situation and we might say, “Well, these are just stupid remarks. If I say something to the other person, they might not understand it; it might make the situation worse. So, I am just going to ignore it.”
Or, we might look at it and say, “I have the kind of relationship with this person whereby I can give them some feedback. It might help them.” It really depends upon the situation.
Also, if we want to give feedback, how do we do it? Here is where communication training comes in. Using what they call the xyz statement, we go in and say, “When you do x, I feel y because of z.” We are saying how we feel in response to somebody else’s behavior without telling them that they are the cause of our behavior. That often becomes a very effective way, or a more effective and less offensive way, of resolving things.
But as I have mentioned, before we immediately jump in to fix the situation with the person, first look at why this thing is bothering me so much. This is where it gets interesting, isn’t it? Somebody else is gossiping about me, saying all these harmful things … have you ever heard how people gossip about you? Sometimes I have the great fortune of hearing what people say behind my back. It is so interesting. It’s like, “Hmm, that’s very interesting. I did that. Really?” [laughter] “Is this really what is going on? This is very interesting.”
And then watch that part of the mind that feels, “Oh, maybe what they are saying is true.” Or watch that other more fishy part of the mind that says, “What they are saying is garbage and it doesn’t hurt my image of myself. But, oh my goodness, what happens if the people I like believe it? Oh no! Then, I am not going to have any friends!” Watch how the mind gets so fearful about “What happens if other people don’t like me because they believe all this horrible stuff? And they are all wrong!”
And then, it is very interesting to just try saying to yourself, “Well, so what if other people don’t like me? Am I going to die because a few people don’t like me?” Kind of, “Can I make some space in my mind to consider what it might be like to actually give people permission not to like me?” It is very interesting. Why does everybody have to like me?
The third one is also very interesting. It is called concealment. This is a mental factor that wishes to hide one’s faults whenever another person with a benevolent intention (who is free from non-virtuous aspirations such as closed-mindedness, hatred or fear) talks about these faults.
Concealment wants to hide our faults whenever we get bad feedback from a person who has a good intention when they are giving us this negative feedback.
This isn’t necessarily a denial of the faults. It isn’t, “No, I am really not a mean, nasty person.” It can be that, and we have some anger mixed in it. But concealment can also be just putting it on the shelf. You know how we close down sometimes when we get negative feedback? We just say, “Oh yes, you are right.” We put it on the shelf and forget about it. So it is like not really acknowledging and wanting to hide our faults.
It could also be called “repression.” [laughter] We repress it, we suppress it, we just shove it down. Or we deny it. “Faults? Me? Oh really? No, I am sorry. You are talking about the other person.” [laughter]
VTC: Sometimes we think of denial as an active thing, saying, “No I don’t have it.” Kind of a forceful counteraction, “No, I don’t have it!” Whereas concealment can be more subtle; it can be just a brushing away of somebody’s comment or a pooh-poohing of it. Or just a general dismissal of it, instead of this active thing of, “No, you are not talking about me.”
It is interesting to think about this. When the concealment gets mixed up with anger, then you tend towards defensiveness. If the concealment gets mixed up with pride, then you may start denying, “Not me, surely not me.”
The next one is called spite. This is a mental factor which is preceded by wrath or vengeance. It is an outcome of malice and it motivates one to utter harsh words in reply to unpleasant words said by others.
So, what it means is you get pissed off at the other guy and swear at him. [laughter]
[In response to audience] Yes, it is an outcome of malice—you do want to do the other person harm—and it motivates you to utter harsh speech in response to their harsh words, their unpleasant words.
It may lead to a lot of fantasies of telling the other person off. It can be the one that motivates you to go to a punching bag or go in the middle of the field and scream or throw pillows. Spite can build up because of vengeance, or it can come just “Boom!” right there.
The next one is jealousy. This is a mental factor that, out of attachment to respect and material gain, is unable to bear the good things that others have.
We are attached to respect, popularity, approval, or material possessions. We cannot bear that other people have these things and we don’t, that other people have opportunities, possessions, talents that we don’t. This makes our mind incredibly unhappy. Jealousy is one of the real “good” ways to make ourselves miserable.
Audience: Why don’t they call it envy?
VTC: It could be called envy; it is just a matter of translation.
The next one is miserliness. This is a mental factor which, out of attachment to respect and material gain, firmly holds on to one’s possessions with no wish to give them away.
It is quite interesting to see that on one hand, attachment to respect, popularity, approval and material things can lead us to jealousy where we can’t endure that other people have these and we don’t. On the other hand, it can lead us to miserliness where, what we do have, we don’t wish to share with anybody. Behind miserliness, there is this tremendous fear. “If I give it, I won’t have it, then what?” There is a lot of fear that leads to this clinging, so that even though we may not use something, we won’t give it away.
There is a kind of miserliness where we can’t even use what we have ourselves. You have these nice clothes, but you can’t wear them because you are afraid of getting them dirty and ruining them. [laughter] Or you have this money saved up but you won’t spend it because “Then I won’t have any money left in the bank account.” Meanwhile, the money is sitting in the bank account and you are not using it. “But if I give it away or if I spend it, I won’t have it.” “If I spent this money, then I won’t have this money to spend, so, I can’t spend it.” [laughter] So we have it all the time. “Oh, if I eat all these cookies now, I won’t have them later.” Forget about sharing them with anybody else. [laughter] It’s just like, “Oh, I can’t eat them now because I might want them later and I won’t have them later.”
The next two are very interesting. One is called pretension. An alternative translation is “deceit.” This is a mental factor which, when one is overly attached to respect and material gain, fabricates a particularly excellent quality about oneself and then wishes to make it evident to others with the wish to deceive them.
It is very interesting how attachment to respect, popularity, approval and material things can motivate so many other things, isn’t it? It motivates this pretension, where we fabricate a good quality that we don’t have at all, but we make it look like we have it to others. And then we try and convince others that we do have it because we want to deceive them.
This is the mind that, even though we have no idea what we are talking about, volunteers to give a speech because we are attached to praise, reputation and promotion. It’s the mind that, even though we don’t have a particular spiritual quality, puts on a big show like we do. “Oh look, I am so generous. Please take this.” We appear to be very generous because we want them to think that we are such generous, incredibly nice people.
Pretension is the mind that fabricates a quality that we don’t have and tries to deceive other people into believing it. We present ourselves as some kind of extraordinarily fine meditator who understands things, presenting ourselves as this creative person who knows exactly how to solve all the problems in our workplace, presenting ourselves as a talented musician whenever we meet somebody who values this talent, and wanting to impress them. Very pretentious!
VTC: Sometimes we do deceive ourselves. Sometimes we do know what we are doing at some level, but … it’s like we know we are being pretentious, but at the same time, we don’t know. You know that state of mind? Where you kind of, you know, you are not acting completely up-front, but you can’t actually admit it to yourself. But if you just sit for about two seconds and look at your mind, it is quite clear and obvious that you really know it. You know that kind of mind? Where you actually know what is going on in your own mind but you don’t want to even admit it to yourself? So, it can be that also.
I heard an incredible story when I was in Singapore. There was one family—a very refined, educated family. Their daughter came home with this fiancé whom she met at college, who was going into economics. The father was talking with his future son-in-law about a prominent economist, but the future son-in-law didn’t know who that person was. So, he got a little bit suspicious. He started investigating, found out and told his daughter that this guy had been lying to her up, down and across, completely fabricating this person that he was.
How do we feel when we are actually taken in by somebody else’s deceitfulness and pretension? I think it’s sometimes worse when people do fall for it than when they don’t.
We have to check whether it is due to a lack of confidence in ourselves—we can do something but we think we can’t, and so we’re afraid to say we can. Like maybe we can actually do this work but we’re afraid we’re not going to be perfect at doing it. And so, out of our fear of not being perfect, we exaggerate that and think we can’t do it at all. It is like if I can’t do it perfect, it means I can’t do it at all. We undersell ourselves. So, it boils down to developing some ability to evaluate ourselves instead of getting caught up in our fears.
Now, there is another one that is related to pretension. It’s called dishonesty. Or it’s sometimes called dissimulation. This is a mental factor that again, is overly attached to respect and material gain, and wishes to cheat or confuse others by keeping one’s faults unknown to them.
So, this is deliberately hiding our bad qualities.
Concealment is when somebody gives us some negative feedback and we say, “What are you talking about?”
Dishonesty, on the other hand, is “I know this isn’t really true, but I’m definitely putting this under the rug and I am not going to reveal the truth to anybody.” This is hiding our dirty laundry. That is what it should be called instead—hiding your dirty laundry. [laughter]
It’s very interesting, because there is a lot of talk about being vulnerable. And I think when we are very attached to our dirty laundry, we make ourselves vulnerable. When we are completely willing to admit our dirty laundry, then we are not so vulnerable in front of other people, because whether they know or whether they don’t know, we don’t feel that their knowledge harms us. But when we feel that other people’s knowledge of our bad qualities harms us, and we try and hide them, then we will feel vulnerable.
[In response to audience] I think in many ways it does, when we are not just honest in saying what our garbage is, but also feel comfortable about saying what it is. In other words, there is a certain level of honesty with ourselves.
If we are honest with ourselves, but we do not want anybody else to know (because if they know, they might not like me), then at some level I am not totally accepting this about myself. In this case, I will feel very vulnerable, because what happens if they find out what a real idiot I am? But if we feel kind of okay about being an idiot…. [laughter]
I mean … why can’t we feel okay about being an idiot? Why not? Who is perfect? So, if we are idiots, we are idiots—there we are. If we feel okay about whatever our weakness is … okay doesn’t mean being smug and complacent, it just means that we don’t feel, “I am a horrible person because I have this!”
We might have a certain weakness, or we might have done something very nasty in the past. The more we try and cover them up, the more they ferment inside our own mind. And then they poison our relationships with other people. So these two—pretension and dishonesty—go together.
We hide all of our garbage and pretend to be this great person. Everybody thinks we are really wonderful. But how long do we keep it up? How long can we keep it up? And then, as the guise begins to break and all of our stuff begins to come out, we are putting ourselves in worse positions. Other people have been harmed and hurt. We’ve all been on the side of somebody else’s deceit, pretension and dishonesty. We remember how lousy we feel when we wake up to what that person is, when they haven’t been square with us. And now we are hurting other people with our own dishonesty.
And so, this is coming back to the first precept in Buddhism about non-harmfulness. Harmfulness does not necessarily mean going out and punching somebody in the nose. I am sure you have seen so many people who work in service jobs suffering from this. So, make sure we don’t inflict it on others.
The next one is called complacency or smugness. This is a mental factor that, being attentive to the marks of good fortune one possesses, brings the mind under its influence and produces a false sense of confidence.
“Attentive to the marks of good fortune one possesses”—in other words, we know what our good qualities are, brings our mind to the awareness of our good qualities, and it then produces a false sense of confidence in response. So we get complacent. We get smug. We get haughty, kind of like, “I am so good at doing this. Why should I make any effort to change? Why should I?”
[In response to audience] It is definitely a lack of humility. It functions in the same way as lack of humility, in that it prevents our growth. We have become very smug, very complacent. Whatever level we’ve got to, whatever qualities we have either in a worldly way or a spiritual way, we are kind of self- satisfied. And so, this is a false sense of confidence.
This is different from having an accurate sense of confidence. Having an accurate sense of confidence is perfectly okay. We actually need to recognize our good qualities—that is important to do. But complacency sets in when we get a false or afflicted sense of confidence in reaction to it. Instead of saying, “Yes, I have this. I can use it, and I am going to use it for the benefit of others,” it just kind of sits there. You know how smugness is. [laughter] It prevents a lot of growth. And it can lead to pride.
The next one is harmfulness. Another translation is “cruelty.” This is a mental factor which, with a malicious intention devoid of any compassion or kindness, desires to belittle and disregard others.
We want to be cruel. We want to hurt others. We want to put them down. So, it causes a lot of harmfulness towards others.
Compassion, we can see, is the opposite of this one. This one wishes to cause harm to others, compassion wishes to remove the suffering of others.
So, let me just do a review. We will finish the rest of them next time.
And then we moved on to the proximate afflictions which are called “proximate” or “secondary” because they are aspects or extensions of the root ones, and they occur in dependence on them.
We talked about:
Wrath, which, due to an increase of anger, wants to cause immediate harm
Vengefulness or grudge-holding, which firmly holds on to a wrong which is done to us and wishes to retaliate
Concealment that wishes to hide or not acknowledge our faults when other people point them out with a kind motivation
Spite, which is preceded by wrath and vengefulness and motivates us to speak harshly. It makes us want to speak harshly in response to other people’s unpleasant words.
Jealousy or envy which, out of attachment to respect and material gain, is unable to bear the good things that other people have.
Miserliness which, again, out of attachment to respect and material gain, firmly holds on to what we have without wishing to share it, or even use it ourselves.
Pretension which, out of attachment to respect and material gain, fabricates an excellent quality about ourselves and then wants to make other people believe it.
In conjunction with that, there is often dishonesty, which again, out of attachment to respect and material gain, hides our dirty laundry, our bad qualities, our past, in an attempt not to make them known to others. To make people think we are other than what we are.
Complacency which, being aware of our good qualities, brings the mind into a false state of confidence, a kind of smugness and self-satisfaction.
Harmfulness which, with a malicious intention devoid of any compassion or kindness, desires to belittle and disregard others.
The way to meditate
The way to meditate on these is to go home and think about what these are. Think of examples in your own life, of when you have had these in your mind. And kind of think back. “What was I thinking? What was my mind like? How did it make me act? How did it affect other people? Which of these are active in my mind right now? Am I being pretentious and dishonest to somebody now? Am I harboring a lot of hurt and vengefulness right now?”
See what mental factors are kind of there, under the surface, if we scratch a little bit. And then, what things have been manifest and active in the past and how have they made us act?
Questions and answer
Audience: How do we overcome these afflictions?
VTC: This is where thought training and the application of antidotes come in. For example, the antidote to all the afflictions related to attachment to respect, approval, and material things, is to meditate on impermanence. Think about how respect and material things are transient—they come and they go. Then that eliminates that attachment, which in turn eliminates the miserliness or the jealousy or the pretension or the dishonesty.
Or, when you see spite or vengefulness or wrath, you do the meditations on loving kindness and remembering others’ kindness to us, or remembering that the harm that they give us is due to our own negative karma.
So, this is where we have to pull out all the other teachings that we have received and think about them in a way that helps us see the situation from a Dharma point of view, so that all these different confused emotions don’t arise.
Training the mind in a new worldview
This again reminds us that all the Dharma teachings we have received is not just information. This is like a world-view. If you train your mind in the new worldview, then you will be able to prevent the afflictions from manifesting in the mind, simply because you are seeing the situation in a very different way.
So, it’s not just a thing of saying to myself, “Oh, I shouldn’t feel this; this is naughty!” Rather, it is viewing the situation in a different way. Sometimes, it also involves recognizing the disadvantages of these things, which then stimulates in us a feeling of integrity, like, “Hold on, I don’t want to act like this. I have my own dignity as a human being and I don’t want to act like this.” Just that kind of stimulation of our sense of integrity or self-respect, makes us look at those attitudes and say, “I don’t really believe that. I am not going to act according to that.”
Audience: Could you explain how to do the thought-training technique of giving our suffering to the self-centered attitude?
VTC: We see ourselves and our selfishness as somewhat separate. It is like the selfishness is attached on to us, but it isn’t our intrinsic nature. So then, when we have some unpleasant experience, instead of feeling, “I am having this unpleasant experience,” to recognize, “This is coming to me because of my own self-centeredness. Since my own self-centeredness caused it, it can have the pain.” So we take all this pain, we look at our self-centeredness and we say, “Okay, here’s the result of your action. You feel the pain!”
VTC: Conventionally speaking, there is “I” and “other,” but these are not inherent categories. We can say that my Buddha nature and your Buddha nature are the same in the sense that both of our minds are empty of inherent existence, but this is not saying that we have the same mind. We have the same Buddha nature, but on an ultimate level of existence, neither one of us has any inherent existence.
The idea of one universal mind—my understanding of it—is different from what we were just talking about, about everybody having Buddha nature. One universal mind is this idea of there being just one universal mind, one self, one God, one Brahma. Somehow, that got broken down into all these false senses of individuality. And so, the path to liberation is to merge with this one universal mind. So instead of the path to liberation being to realize your Buddha nature and your own lack of inherent existence, it is this merging process. According to these philosophies, the path to liberation would be to merge with this one universal thing; it has nothing to do with realizing emptiness.
VTC: Yes. It’s very interesting that Buddhism talks of “non-duality” but not of “oneness.” Buddhism only goes as far as saying “non-dual,” because the thing is, as soon as you say “one,” one implies two. So, Buddhism only talks about non-duality. It’s a subtle thing that I find that is actually quite powerful, because to me, there is a different taste when we talk about non-duality than when we talk about oneness.
Oneness is like trying hard to put everything together, whereas non-duality is really in the spirit of emptiness. It’s saying, it is not dual, but it is not saying what it is. It’s just it is not dual. So, there is nothing to grab onto—don’t grab on to duality. When you say “oneness,” it is very easy to grab onto oneness.
So, let’s sit quietly for a few minutes.
“Afflictions” is the translation that Venerable Thubten Chodron now uses in place of “disturbing attitudes.” ↩
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.